STAFF & GUEST BLOG
February 3rd, 2010, by
Coretta Scott King leads a march in Memphis, TN five days after her husband, Martin Luther King Jr., was killed.
Coretta Scott King leads a march in Memphis, TN five days after her husband, Martin Luther King Jr., was killed.

Now that we are a few days into Black History Month, there has been some discussion (see here and here) about the relevance or irrelevance of the month-long celebration.

What do you think?

Is it still necessary to designate an entire month to celebrate Black History? Does the election of Barack Obama as president somehow mean that Americans have learned the lessons about African American contributions to this country?

And is Black History Month still relevant? Why or why not?

Please share your thoughts and opinions below, and they may be included in
an upcoming video blog.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
January 26th, 2010, by
Obama_SOTU2010_RS

Ahead of Wednesday’s State of the Union Address at 9 p.m. EST, we want to hear from you.

What is the one issue that you hope President Obama addresses Wednesday night?

Share your thoughts with us here, and come back after the speech to let us know what you thought of the address.

And if you still have more to say, YouTube has come up with a way to submit follow-up questions to the president at http://www.youtube.com/citizentube.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
January 26th, 2010, by MASON JAMAL

This post was first published at www.masonsays.com.

Haiti,
unfortunately, is no different from the others. Tragedy strikes and the media
arrives in full occupying force. It’s the story of the moment. Everyone cares.
The information and images take up temporary residence in our collective
conscience. Our hearts go out. But, invariably, so do the lights. The bulbs
stop flashing. The cameras stop rolling. Heads stop talking. Then what?
Do we look the other way, as usual, and forget about the people of
Port-au-Prince and its surrounding provinces? Sadly enough, most of us will.

Prompted by the media, our attention and focus will turn
elsewhere; this way folks – on to the next story. Meanwhile, the death
toll will continue to soar and, for the survivors, so will the pain and
suffering. Haiti is haunted by the reality that it will be a country of
amputees for the foreseeable future, many of whom are orphaned children.

Relatively speaking, it wasn’t nearly as horrific, but the aftermath of
Hurricane Katrina provides a similar case study in media attention deficit
disorder. Nearly 2,000 people died, and countless more were permanently
relocated by the natural forces of the hurricane coupled with the economic
forces of government neglect. For the poor, it’s a one-two punch in the gut.
And even though media coverage bubbled over at first, it eventually fizzled out.
And with it so did public interest. If this is how American citizens were
treated and nearly forgotten, can we really expect anything different in Haiti?

Pardon my cynicism, but human tragedy is big business for the news industry.
It’s not that members of the media don’t have hearts. It’s rather difficult not
to, even for the most hardened journalist in a situation as catastrophic as
this. But while this story has legs for now, they too will be amputated soon
enough. And will the American public care as much then when the cameras stop
rolling? Most won’t. Just as we saw with the coverage of New Orleans and
all the talk about how America will never be the same, this too shall be out of
sight and out of mind. Then what?


Mason Jamal blogs for AOL Black Voices, as well as his own
site, www.masonsays.com.
You can also find him on Twitter @masonsays.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
January 18th, 2010, by JOHNATHAN REESE

This post is from Reese’s travels to Somalia. The East African nation has been devastated by factional fighting that has lasted for two decades and has been without a functioning central government since 1991. About 1.5 million of Somalia’s people are internally displaced.

The sun burned my skin through my t-shirt and the ocean wind was relentless. The beautiful white sands were thrown with each gust to batter me inside the bombed-out building that we called home.

I was worn after only two days in the world’s most dangerous city – Mogadishu. Small arms and anti-aircraft fire were the sounds of nature. I’d never been in combat and had only recently fired a weapon, but these blasts quickly became background noise.

Just two days before, I had jumped off the ramp of an IL-76 Russian cargo plane at Mogadishu International Airport. A tall Somali greeted me, loaded my bags into a pick-up truck and carted me off to an abandoned building, sluggishly refurbished.

“It’s not much, but we once lived in tents.” he apologized.

I learned that he had once lived in Canada and the United States and was part of the Somali diaspora, (seemingly more far-reaching than the entire African diaspora). It was comforting that I’d already found someone that had at least known the world from which I came. Now I needed to learn his reality.

“Do you know the AK-47?” he asked as he handed me a rusty Beretta.

“Yes.”

“It works the same,” he said, referring to the Beretta. “This is for protection. If the insurgents penetrate the perimeter, take this and hide until real help comes.”

Learning about Death and Tanks

In the morning the boss asked me to return the weapon. I handed it over. He explained that the camp was surrounded by 1,700 African Union troops, and there was no need to worry unless the tanks started up; that had never happened. The tall Somali’s name was Abdulqaadir. I told him that the boss took my gun.

“He’s a retired Marine. Maybe he knows something we don’t.”

“How do you deal with the fact that you can die at any time?” I asked.

“It’s not up to me. Allah decides when you go, and you can only accept.”

I wondered how one could accept death with such indifference.

…… 

A week passed and every night our team of eight sat down to watch “24” on DVD. The Somalis sipped tea, browsed the internet, and chewed khat. We watched at least two episodes a night.

Fighting was unusually heavy in the city one night. Some blasts were too close for comfort. I watched for a reaction from the team, but no one seemed to care. I continued to watch Jack Bauer when the next blast sent pieces of the ceiling crashing to the floor of the structure.

The mechanic was sent to switch off the generator.

We sat in complete darkness with only the glow of laptops to fill the void of the night. Each one slowly packed his laptop and tea cup and retired to his room. Suddenly the void was filled by the deep growl of a tank. I missed my Beretta. The tanks sped out of the compound destroying a concrete barrier. The boss had been asleep for an hour.

Since the tanks had first stormed out of the base there had been only twenty minutes of intense fighting, but it was now 3 a.m. and I hadn’t closed my eyes (too busy planning my escape). In reality I was pinched between a violent society and a shark-infested ocean.

“An idle man is a wasted man …”

I awoke in the morning. Life continued: we joked, we argued, we worked as if no one could have died the night before.

It was then that I opened the discussion with Abdulqaadir about why he returned to Somalia.

“Do you think you are here to help Somalia?” he asked.

“I know my personal effort won’t make an immediate impact, but in the long run I guess every bit counts, right?”

“Absolutely not. These warlords disturb lives to make money, and they make too much to stop now. As long as no one intervenes, Somalia will continue this way. They are all rich, but now it comes to power. They could go to Europe or America, anywhere, and be satisfied. But they continue … everyone has his time. It is you and only you that will become your demise.”

He continued, “I don’t want to die here. I am here because there is a job here. I risk my life for my family, but there is no risk really.”

“How is there no risk?”

“The risk would be not to come here. Although mortars pound our camp, insurgents are only a kilometer away, I am providing for my family. An idle man is a wasted man. Everyone, everyday must seek their daily bread, no matter where or how.”

Johnathan Reese is a contractor for a private company that focuses on nation-building, infrastructure and stability worldwide. He has been working in Somalia since 2008.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
January 13th, 2010, by
HaitiQuake_RS

If you have seen the images of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after the magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck the city Tuesday, then you have probably been wondering what you can do to help.

Here is a brief round-up of ways you can assist.

1) The White House: If you would like to support the urgent humanitarian effort in
Haiti, visit www.whitehouse.gov/haitiearthquake, where you can learn more
about how to contribute. Americans trying to locate family members in Haiti are encouraged to contact the State Department at 1-888-407-4747.

2) American Red Cross: To help, you can make an unrestricted donation to the International Response
Fund at www.redcross.org or by
calling 1-800-REDCROSS (1-800-733-2767). You can also help by
texting “Haiti” to 90999 to send a $10 donation to the Red Cross,
through an effort backed by the U.S. State Department. Funds will go to
support American Red Cross relief efforts in Haiti.

3) The Salvation Army: The Salvation Army is accepting monetary donations to assist in the effort via Online Credit Card Donations,
1-800-SAL-ARMY and postal mail at: The Salvation Army World Service
Office, International Disaster Relief Fund, PO Box 630728, Baltimore,
MD 21263-0728. Designate donations “Haiti Earthquake.” 

4) Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières: You can give to Doctors Without Borders’ Haiti Earthquake Response; for questions or assistance with your online donation, you can speak to
Doctors Without Borders Donor Services at 1-212-763-5779 Monday-Friday
from 9am – 5pm EST, or email them at donations@newyork.msf.org.

And if you want to get the skinny on any non-profit before you make a donation, check out Charity Navigator, an organization that evaluates charitable non-profits.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
December 6th, 2009, by RYAN BOWEN

A version of this post was first published at BikingforObama.com

This week marks the one-year anniversary of that fateful Tuesday last December when I took off on my bicycle from Los Angeles, en route to see President Obama’s inauguration in Washington D.C. to document this historic moment in our nation’s history.

I gained so many positive things from that 3,000-mile trip: new friends, a passion for cycling, a belief in the American people, optimism unbound and a deep knowledge that anything you dream can be achieved if the intentions are pure and your efforts are supported by like-minded individuals.

As I reflect on what the past year has brought me, I must say that I am filled with emotions — some happy, others quite sad. This past year has been such a wild ride through life that I find myself disillusioned and fizzling on my pro-Obama platform.

And the headline this week…30,000 more troops to Afghanistan?!

If this all goes through, and Mr. Obama becomes just another war president, then I am obliged to state, along with Michael Moore, that he “will do the worst possible thing [he] could do — destroy the hopes and dreams so many millions have placed in you…You will teach them what they’ve always heard is true — that all politicians are alike. I simply can’t believe you’re about to do what they say you are going to do. Please say it isn’t so.”

If there’s one thing I learned about politics in this last year, it’s that it is much more challenging than anything I could ever see myself doing. But I do hope we can get some pro-peace momentum going forward.

Ryan Bowen is a photographer and social justice advocate who lives in New York. In 2008 and early 2009, he rode his bicycle from Los Angeles to the presidential inauguration in Washington D.C. and documented the experience on www.bikingforobama.com.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
December 1st, 2009, by
WorldAIDSDay_2009-RS

Since 1988, December 1st has been World AIDS Day — the day to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS around the world. The theme this year — HIV: Reality — focuses on real accounts of life with HIV and AIDS.

And at a White House event on the eve of World AIDS Day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the 2012 International AIDS Conference will be held in Washington, DC.

That announcement is significant, as the United States only recently lifted the entry ban for HIV-positive travelers. The ban will be lifted on January 4, 2010.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
November 30th, 2009, by
Phoenix Suns' Amar'e Stoudemire during the Nov. 25th game that led to his fine.
Phoenix Suns' Amar'e Stoudemire during the Nov. 25th game that led to his fine.

Social Media Rule #18,526: Don’t tweet while playing in an NBA game.

If you do tweet while playing in an NBA game, Amar’e Stoudemire (@amareisreal) and Tyson Chandler (@tysonchandler), the NBA will fine you $7,500 each.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
November 27th, 2009, by
Black Friday shoppers carrying bags up Fifth Avenue in New York City.
Black Friday shoppers carrying bags up Fifth Avenue in New York City.

If you were among the throngs of Americans out shopping and buying a bunch of items marked down from their original marked-up prices, then you might have missed these news items that are (arguably) interesting but have little-to-no impact on your life.

1) The FAA released the recordings from Northwest Flight 188. If you recall, the pilots of that flight were out of radio contact with air traffic controllers for more than an hour and flew 150 miles past their destination, all because of “cockpit distraction.”

2) Some schools are encouraging students to use their cell phones for schoolwork.

3) An iPhone developer created a Web site that documents the applications that Apple rejects. The site is called App Rejections.

4) The Secret Service apologized for allowing a couple to crash a recent White House state dinner and meet the very people the agency was supposed to be protecting (you know, like President Obama).

5) And speaking of the White House — the Obamas received the White House Christmas tree today — an 18.5-foot Douglas fir.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
November 24th, 2009, by
UNAIDS Exec. Dir. Michael Sidib
UNAIDS Exec. Dir. Michael Sidib

Check out these stats released Tuesday in Shanghai by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization:

Globally 33.4 million people are living with H.I.V.

– In 2008, 2.7 million people were newly infected with the virus and 2 million people died from AIDS-related deaths.

– The total number of people living with H.I.V. in 2008 was 20% higher than the 2000 number.

The report — “AIDS Epidemic Update 2009” — attributes the continued rise in the H.I.V.-positive population to high rates of new infections and to the “beneficial impact of anti-retroviral therapy.”

The report also lists priority areas that should guide policy and investment, which include stopping violence against women, ensuring that people living with H.I.V. receive treatment and removing “punitive laws, policies, practices, stigma and discrimination that block effective responses to AIDS.”

And speaking of stigma and discrimination, when President Obama signed the reauthorization of the Ryan White CARE Act in October, he also announced the elimination of the 22-year travel ban that prevents H.I.V.-positive people from entering and traveling through the United States without a waiver. That rule will take effect in January 2010.

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