50 Years After the Kerner Commission, Little Progress for People of Color in Media

50 Years After the Kerner Commission, Little Progress for People of Color in Media

I didn’t know that my family was “broken” until I heard it on the news. Although my parents divorced when I was five years old, my father was still in my life. So, too, were my attentive stepfather, a doting grandfather, wonderful uncles, cousins and neighbors. My siblings and I grew up in an all-important “village” filled with caring people who still care about us as adults, now with our own children and grandchildren. I’m also the first-born of an immigrant family from a “shithole” country, according to the president of the United States. In addition to what the president dreams up on his own, his views and other stereotypes held by too many people often stem from media portrayals that are distorted or nonexistent. Fifty years ago, the Kerner Commission blamed such media portrayals, or lack thereof, for contributing to nationwide uprisings in the summer of 1967 by African Americans who were sick and tired of being sick and tired, to paraphrase Fannie Lou Hamer. The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, as it was officially called, appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to investigate the underlying causes of the unrest, made some sobering findings, concluding, “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.” It also found that the media presented a fragmented picture to the public that failed to show the everyday lives of black and brown people and that underplayed disparities in areas such as education, housing, employment, income, health, and policing. To mark the 50th anniversary of the report, commemorative conferences, studies, and other research have assessed progress, or lack thereof,...
Gwen Ifill’s Profound Impact on African-American Women Journalists

Gwen Ifill’s Profound Impact on African-American Women Journalists

Gwen Ifill made it easier for Sonya Ross to cover the White House. She set a great example, provided pointers, and boosted her confidence. “She blazed a trail,” said Ross, a White House reporter at the Associated Press for nearly seven years who is now AP’s race and ethnicity editor. “She didn’t just teach me how to do it; she showed the world how to do it.” Indeed, people around the world were stunned by reports of the 61-year-old Ifill’s death from cancer in mid-November—two days before she was to receive the 2016 John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism at Columbia University. Everyone from President Obama to people on the street praised the way in which she protected “the public’s right to know” throughout her career, most recently as moderator and managing editor of Washington Week as well as co-anchor and managing editor of PBS NewsHour. However, her loss is especially profound for African-American journalists, especially women. The pool of black journalists covering national politics is small, and it’s even tinier for coveted beats like the White House and presidential campaigns, of which Ifill covered seven. “She showed that, number one, black journalists can do that,” said Vanessa Williams, a national reporter at the Washington Post who covered the recent election. “There are not a whole lot of us, but there are more because of Gwen.” Click here to read more...
African-American History Museum Does Justice to Women

African-American History Museum Does Justice to Women

Like a tsunami, the highs and lows of the past rush over visitors to the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. It isn’t so much that the information is news to us, but we aren’t used to being hit with so much of it at once. As one misty-eyed woman visitor put it, “They told it all”—from Black Power to #BlackLivesMatter. They told the good, the bad, and the downright ugly, but it’s an inspiring kind of sensory overload that makes you want to come back for more. The curators start the story below ground, evoking the feeling of being in the bowels of slave ships that stole our ancestors from Africa. Through a glass wall of a descending elevator, time travels in reverse as the years roll back to the 1400s. Walls on the lower level tally the millions of Africans that Portugal, Spain, France, and other countries pushed through the Middle Passage. The evidence is also there in tiny shackles, a sparse cabin, slave narratives, and instruments of torture. They told it all—deeply in some places, but with broad and sometimes light strokes in others. The museum displays only a fraction of its holdings, about 3,000 of 37,000 objects. And for the most part, it does justice not only to the whole of African-American history, but also to the stories and contributions of women within that history. Click here to read more...
Hanging at LeBron’s High School: A Sweet Night for the Akron Faithful

Hanging at LeBron’s High School: A Sweet Night for the Akron Faithful

Preston Clark was so sure that the Cleveland Cavaliers would win Game 7 that he wore a championship T-shirt to a watch party at LeBron James’ alma mater in Akron, Ohio. By halftime, Ace Epps was envisioning the Cavs pouring “golden” champagne all over the locker room in Oakland, California, even though they were down by seven points at 49-42. And Edith Cunningham-Bowman spoke about the possibility of a ring as if she were about to be betrothed. They were among their own at the LeBron James Arena at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School with perhaps a stray Golden State Warriors fan or two among the 500 followers of King James who cheered his every block and basket, wearing No. 23 jerseys from his high school and pro careers. “What better place to be than at St. V, where it all started,” Cunningham-Bowman said of the gym renamed for and renovated by Akron’s favorite son. The watch party was organized and hosted by Willie McGee, who returned as athletic director at St. Vincent-St. Mary, where he and James were part of a local fab five who captured the state championship in 2003. Long before the NBA Finals, people laughed and called such talk of Cleveland winning it all crazy — especially when Golden State had a 3-1 lead and home-court advantage for the deciding game. People also laughed two years ago when I speculated that James might head back to Ohio. Not only did James have unfinished business in his quest to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to a championship, but he was also feeling the tug of home....
Dealing With Dementia: Caring for My Mother

Dealing With Dementia: Caring for My Mother

Todd Shurn braces his mother from behind, her arms resting on his as they shuffle into a restaurant in lockstep. Alice Shurn is frail and a fall risk, but she has no chance of hitting the ceramic tile floor. Her only son is determined to keep her safe. It’s what he has done day after day for nearly four years. It doesn’t matter to Shurn that he’s a single man in a vibrant city like Washington, D.C. When friends try to nudge him out of the three-bedroom house that he shares with his mother for a night on the town, he usually declines. His world orbits around his mother, and he’s OK with that. Their lives are in lockstep. “My life is dedicated to making her happy,” Shurn says. “The loss of my personal freedom — I’ve accepted that. I can’t do anything.” Men like Shurn are not as rare as they used to be, but they are still in the minority when it comes to caregiving. Only a third of caregivers are men, according to a study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. Men are less likely to be the main or only person in this role. They’re less likely to be involved with personal care and more likely to pay for it. Not Todd Shurn. He has a sister in Atlanta — more than 700 miles from their family home in Benton Harbor, Mich., and she has two children. So, Shurn does it all with the help of an aide who relieves him when he goes to work at Howard University, where he’s an associate...
Stuck in the Hospital: Some Patients Wait Weeks and Months for Long-Term Care

Stuck in the Hospital: Some Patients Wait Weeks and Months for Long-Term Care

Samantha Hawkins marked the seasons of 2010 from a hospital bed at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. She was admitted in the spring for 83 days, came out for two weeks in early summer, and returned for five and a half months spanning fall and winter. Finally, Hawkins went home for the holidays on Dec. 21. For her family, the homecoming was a Christmas miracle. At times, her relatives thought she might not make it, said her mother, Lula Hawkins. They held her hands, praying and shoring up each other through one complication after another from kidney disease, congestive heart failure, diabetes and a mysterious inflammatory ailment finally diagnosed as sarcoidosis. “That’s when things started going downhill,” said her older sister, Gwen Cooper. Hawkins has endured a 10-day coma, three mini-strokes, three bouts of pneumonia, plus surgery in August to implant a heart pump. Despite her list of ailments, part of what kept the 45-year-old stuck in the hospital was her lack of insurance. Once upon a time, Hawkins had medical coverage as a housekeeper at a hospital in Westchester County, New York. After she left that job three years ago, she took out a policy on her own, but then the insurance company dropped her. When Hawkins ended up at Montefiore, weeks turned into months as she lay in a hospital bed with no way to cover her stay there or her next level of care. In the meantime, the hospital absorbed her bill while trying to help her find a way to pay for nursing care at her mother’s apartment or for long-term care at a facility willing...