November 23rd, 2009, by KAREN CHILTON

While the introduction of three new voices to talk TV–all African-American and all women–is historically significant, what is equally relevant is the relative ease with which they’ve been acknowledged and accepted by viewers across the demographic spectrum.

Whether it is the shoot-from-the-hip style of Mo’Nique, the bawdy comedy of Wanda Sykes (pictured below), or the girlfriend-next-door gossip of former on-air radio personality Wendy Williams, television networks now offer audiences a choice of Black female hosts, marking a real milestone in the medium’s history.

While Tyra Banks maintains a firm footing among ‘tweens, teens and young adult women, and the doyenne of daytime talk, Oprah Winfrey, will continue to hold sway over the airwaves worldwide until her scheduled farewell in 2011, the cultural and historical purport of this viable handful of Black women hosts goes beyond sheer numbers and their ability to engage a niche audience. It speaks volumes about the freedom with which each is able to fashion her own distinctive image and message, a freedom that is, for the most part, taken for granted today, making it difficult, especially for younger generations, to fathom a time when there were scarce few Black faces on television of any kind, whether actors or entertainers, journalists or news anchors, much less a Black woman hosting her own show. Nevertheless, a quick glance back puts progress in perspective.


When the DuMont network (owned by DuMont Laboratories, maker of televisions) set out to compete with broadcasting giants NBC and CBS, they had to be innovative in their operations and programming. Unlike most networks, which had a single sponsor for each show, DuMont was one of the first to sell advertising to multiple sponsors, which gave producers greater freedom and creative control over their programming. When they approached jazz/concert pianist Hazel Scott with the idea of her own show in 1950, she had already achieved international renown as a star of stage and screen, performing with major orchestras all over the world and having made a name for herself as the premier headliner at New York’s Café Society. She welcomed the opportunity, becoming the first Black star to host her own show–solo, without variety acts, a sidekick, or a studio audience.

The Hazel Scott Show aired on July 3, 1950 as a standard fifteen-minute show that ran locally on DuMont’s New York affiliate, WABD, every Friday night. Each live broadcast opened with a performance of her theme song, “Tea for Two,” as the camera panned over a cityscape before focusing on the set, which was designed to resemble a penthouse terrace. Always costumed in gorgeous gowns, diamonds and neatly coifed hair, Hazel, seated at the grand piano, played and sang jazz standards and popular show tunes. Variety wrote, “Hazel Scott has a neat little show in this modest package. Most engaging element in the air is the Scott personality, which is dignified, yet relaxed, and versatile.”

Contrary to the producers’ concerns, white viewers did not object to Hazel’s image, which was in stark contrast to the prevailing image of Black women on television at the time (think: the subservient Negro maid or the nervous, giggling incompetent). Audiences across the country appeared willing to tune in to the elegant pianist, whose confidence and beauty were a stunning addition to her brilliant piano playing. The show garnered such great ratings that DuMont expanded the show from a local once-a-week broadcast to a national broadcast that aired three times a week.


Hazel Scott’s name appeared in Red Channels, the unofficial guide of Communists and Communist sympathizers issued by the right-wing journal Counterattack, which specifically targeted the entertainment community. It was used regularly by the U.S. government during the McCarthy Era to rout out suspected subversives. Despite the fact that Hazel Scott was not a member of the Communist Party, guilt by association was enough to warrant her name on the blacklist. And even though her husband was Harlem’s own Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) showed no mercy when she appeared voluntarily to clear her name. Immediately following the HUAC trial, sponsors pulled their support from her show. The Hazel Scott Show was promptly cancelled that September, just a few short months after its premiere. Hazel Scott would eventually be forced to join the Black expatriate community in Paris.

Though her time on the tube was short-lived, and her name is lesser known today than many of her contemporaries like Ethel Waters, who did a test pilot of The Ethel Waters Show in 1939 for one night only on NBC, and legendary vocalist/pianist Nat King Cole whose variety show aired in 1956 and lasted for 13 months, Hazel Scott’s contribution as one of the pioneers in the industry is undeniable, an inspiring and instructive example for all the women who now tread the trail she blazed.

Karen Chilton is author of Hazel Scott: The Pioneering Journey of a Jazz Pianist from Café Society to Hollywood to HUAC.

November 18th, 2009, by
Job seekers at an employment fair in Southern Florida.
Job seekers at an employment fair in Southern Florida.

There have been Op-Eds in The New York Times saying that “blacks are the ones who are taking the brunt of the recession, with disproportionately high levels of foreclosures and unemployment.”

But a recent article in the paper asserts that the recession is helping bridge the racial divide in a suburb of Atlanta. The article quotes an African American woman, Keasha Taylor, who is seeking help at the Division of Family and Children Services:

“Right now, a lot of white people are in this situation,” Ms. Taylor said. “We’re already used to poverty; they’re really not.”

Does this shared economic suffering change any underlying racial dynamics?

If more whites are using social services, will people be forced to reconsider their stereotypes about who uses these services?

And what does this all mean once we pull out of this recession?

Please share your opinions and experiences and they may be included in an upcoming video blog.

November 16th, 2009, by

As the three-day World Summit on Food Security in Rome began addressing the more than one billion people worldwide who are going hungry Monday, an annual report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture revealed that 17 million American households (14.6%) had “difficulty putting enough food on the table at times during the year” in 2008.

Looking for a way to help? Donate or volunteer at one of Feeding America’s more than 200 food banks.

November 12th, 2009, by BRANDY HAGELSTEIN

Each year, the President of the United States issues a proclamation that sets aside November as National Adoption Month. In addition to the presidential proclamation, many state governors also issue proclamations, in an effort to raise awareness of the need for loving and permanent homes for children in their states.

National Adoption Month, which was originally put in place to make adoption from the foster care system an important social issue, has now become the one month in which members of the adoption community come together in an effort to raise awareness about the different types of adoption and share their experiences.

With well over 100,000 children currently waiting for a forever family to call their own, the need for homes for children in the U.S. foster care system is great. But the need doesn’t stop there.

Globally, there are an untold number of children who will never have a family to call their own. For that reason, National Adoption Month has evolved into a movement that raises awareness for not only children in the U.S. foster care system, but also for children around the world who are waiting for a family.

There are a number of things you can do to help children in the U.S. foster care system, even if you can’t provide a permanent home for a child in need.

Consider volunteering as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) — a non-legal advocate who gives a voice to children in the court system and makes recommendations based on the best interest of the child.

Become a licensed respite provider, offering short-term or temporary care for children in the foster care system who need a place to stay for anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks. Typically, respite care is provided to children who are currently in a long-term foster placement, but for whatever reason, the foster family needs to have the child cared for by someone else for a period of time.

Contact your local or state agency and find out where they have the greatest need.

In addition to the things you can do in the United States, there are a number of opportunities to help children in other countries as well. When donating to help orphans in other countries, make sure to research the charity you are considering. There are a number of reputable and trustworthy nonprofit organizations based in the U.S. that provide for the basic needs of orphans from across the globe; so finding something that fits your needs shouldn’t be a problem.

If you’re interested in providing a loving and permanent home for a waiting child, the Photolisting features more than 3,000 children currently waiting for a family.

To learn more about becoming a licensed home for a waiting child in your state, contact your local state agency or complete the Homestudy Assistance Form and someone from your area will contact you to tell you how to get started.

Brandy Hagelstein is the Director of Social Media and Web Content for She is an adopted adult, a birth mother and has served as a licensed foster care provider. She writes about her experiences on

November 11th, 2009, by

As the House managed to pass a healthcare reform bill over the weekend, the recession continued to impact the ability of American families to maintain healthcare coverage. In October alone, the unemployment rate rose from 9.8 to 10.2 percent.

So we want to hear from you.

Have you lost healthcare coverage because of the recession? Please share your story and it may be included in an upcoming video blog.

And for more on this issue, visit our site for the “PBS Special Report on Healthcare Reform.” 

November 9th, 2009, by

Questions abound. People want to know why former Chicago Cubs player Sammy Sosa appeared several shades lighter at the Latin Grammy Awards last week (pictured right) than he did several months ago at a People En Espanol event in May 2009 (pictured left).

What the heck happened?

His friend and former Cubs employee, Rebecca Polihronis, told the Chicago Tribune that it was a skin rejuvenation process.

Why does any of this matter?

Because historically, deeply entrenched racism and discrimination conditioned many people of color to believe that dark skin is bad. And therefore, lighter skin (and straight hair, and blue/green/light brown eye color, and thinner noses) are good.

So when Sammy Sosa goes off and rejuvenates his skin, people don’t just laugh and say, “I think you overdid the rejuvenation! LOL. Lay off the skin treatment, Sammy.”

Instead, people question whether his lighter complexion isn’t the result of deep-seated self-hatred, especially since it appears he also wears green contact lenses. They compare him to Michael Jackson and ask, “Do you want to look white, Sammy?”

What do you think? Does Sammy Sosa’s appearance have larger implications? Do you think the light skin vs. dark skin issue is still prevalent? Is it relevant? Share your thoughts below.

November 6th, 2009, by MARTA EVRY

This post was first published at

I have a tiny, 750 square-foot house. But I’ve somehow made room for one of those enormous Obama “Hope” posters. You know the one. You’ve seen it a million times. This one sits framed in my kitchen. On it are the signatures of many of the volunteers I worked with on the Obama campaign last year.

Every day I am reminded of the miracle we pulled off. Every day I’m reminded how, in our congressional district alone (CA-36), 1,500 volunteers made over 600,000 phone calls to swing states all over the country, and sent hundreds of volunteers to Nevada and New Mexico to get out the vote and turn those states blue.

Every day I am reminded that change can only happen when citizens stand together and take ownership of their government, their country, their communities and themselves. Every day I am reminded that our work does not end with a campaign, but rather begins with a new
president, a new government, and a new day.

Republicans have taken the governorships of Virginia and New Jersey. Yet in NY-23, Democrat Bill Owens beat out Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman. And Democrat John Garamendi easily defeated Republican David Harmer in CA-10 by running as a staunch progressive in what had previously been considered a moderate Democratic district.

And in a heartbreaking reminder of Proposition 8 in California, gay Americans were again denied their rights – this time in Maine.

Every day I am reminded that our work does not end with a campaign.

Our president inherited a series of crises from one of the most venal and incompetent administrations our country has ever known. It is all he and his administration can do to keep our country from sinking into another Great Depression or stumbling into World War III.

What’s left of the Republican Party is becoming the American Taliban right before our eyes while conservative Democrats threaten to derail health care legislation at every turn.

President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize this year, and we are poised to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan. My brother-in-law will be returning to Iraq for his third tour of duty this month, leaving a wife and three children behind. He joined the Army 15 years ago because when his wife became pregnant with their first son they couldn’t afford health insurance. They still can’t.

Every day I am reminded that our work does not end with a campaign.

I believe in my president. But I don’t expect him to “rescue” us. We entered into an implied contract when we helped get Barack Obama elected. We expected “change.” We expected to be respected, empowered and included. We expected him to fight, and we expected to join him in that fight.

That contract, in many ways, has only been partially fulfilled.

As way of example, I take Obama at his word when he says he believes the public option is the best way to reform our health care system. But here’s what I’ve never heard him say:

While the public option may be the best way to bring reform to our health care system, it’s not the easiest or surest road to passing health care reform through Congress – in fact, it may be the most difficult. I understand this risk and am willing to take it, because together I believe we can make this dream a reality.

Instead, I believe the president and his advisers have chosen a different path. One they hoped was less risky. One that would more likely give them a victory that’s eluded every president since Roosevelt. They chose triggers. They chose Olympia Snowe. They have, along the way, chosen to manage expectations for the public option instead of drawing a line in the sand and fighting for it. Not because they’re corrupt, or deceitful or because they don’t believe in efficacy of the public option, but because they don’t believe the system would allow it to happen.

They say politics is the art of the possible.

This is what they believe is possible.

I believe they’ve created a self-fulfilling prophecy, and by doing so, have made the possible finite.

Every day I am reminded that our work does not end with a campaign.

So it’s up to us – all of us – to hold our president accountable. To support him when he needs it, but also to hold his feet to the fire when he chooses the merely possible over the audacity of hope.

We have to make sure the path against the public option, against withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq, against the climate change bill, against repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and against federal marriage equality is more difficult than the path for it.

This is our end of the contract. We have to understand what the issues are, and understand that merely supporting the president’s agenda may not be enough.

Every day, when I walk by my kitchen wall and see that poster and see my volunteer’s names scrawled across his face, I am reminded that our work does not end with a campaign.

We did not ask permission then and we do not need permission now.

We will be the change we seek and we will move our country towards the possibilities of the infinite.

Marta Evry is a film editor and community organizer. During the Obama presidential campaign, she worked as a Regional Field Organizer for California Congressional District 36. Her musings on the state of local and national politics can be found at

October 29th, 2009, by KATHY-ELLEN KUPS

I have been taking some college classes recently, with students just out of high school. It is exciting to get to know these young men and women and hear about their goals, their dreams and their strategies for the future.

When I tell a woman in her twenties that I had breast cancer, I see her eyes glaze over. It is pretty obvious that this is a topic that she is just not interested in.

Thirty-year-olds give a different response. I generally get a sympathetic sigh and genuine concern; they want to know if I am okay now. Eventually though, the conversation turns to their kids or something that is happening at their workplace or in their relationship.

Women in their forties, however, are another story. Generally, when I mention that I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 44, these women want to know how I found it. They also want to know if my mother had it and what kind of treatment I received. Many are interested but afraid to ask if I lost my breast. These women are aware that they could be at risk for breast cancer, and many of them have already discussed it with their doctor.

Breast cancer awareness is just that – it’s being aware of your personal risk and how to detect breast cancer. And although women in their twenties shouldn’t have to think about breast cancer, they, like all women, should be aware of their risks.

Often that involves a brief review of family history with the doctor, who can determine if you are a candidate for genetic testing. In addition, learning to do a self-breast exam is invaluable at an early age. The more familiar you are with your breasts at a younger age, the more you will notice any changes as you age.

There are ways that every woman can reduce her risk. It may be through simple changes to diet or daily exercise. It might involve regular mammograms beginning in your thirties if you are in a high-risk group. Still, if you are a candidate, genetic testing is one of the best weapons we have against the disease.

When breast cancer develops, it is a formidable foe. It targets our breasts, but strikes at the heart of our home. Our partners, children, family and friends are affected too. It leaves no one unscathed. The best defense against breast cancer is an informed offense. Making yourself aware of your risks for breast cancer is the first step in preparing your army.

Kathy-Ellen Kups is the breast cancer blogger for She has appeared in “Beyond” and “Mamm” and is also a panelist debating healthcare reform for Kups is a breast cancer survivor.

October 23rd, 2009, by ADRIANNE GEORGE

I remember summer vacations with my family–my sister and I in the back of our parents’ station wagon. We traveled from Washington, DC as far and as wide as Canada, Mexico and many states in between. But I never left the continent until I was an undergraduate and joined a group of African American students on a pilgrimage to Dakar, Senegal.

I made a point of kissing the ground after deplaning. And I will never forget how thrilling it was to see Air Afrique’s all-black flight crew, to hold currency with a black person’s face on it, to meet the legendary Ousmane Sembène, to participate in a naming ceremony, to cry at Île de Gorée and to hear “welcome home” from the many friendly people I met.

Not long after my pilgrimage, I visited London for the first time. I was a guest of Mad Professor who owns Ariwa Records and has the largest black-owned recording studio in London. I fell in love with the coolness of the music, art, club, pub and theater scenes, the vibrancy of Brixton and the freedom one feels when being an American abroad. I decided then that I wanted to live in Europe.

It was during graduate school that I discovered Brussels and how affordable it is (at least compared to Paris). I moved to Brussels, practiced my French, worked at the American Chamber of Commerce, earned a second master’s degree, joined a small communications agency, and four years later moved to Sweden.

My move to Sweden prompted me to launch the Black Women in Europe blog and later a social network, in answer to the question Americans often posed to me: “Are there black women in Europe?”

Then, a fellow black expat introduced me to Reginald Smith. Reggie is a smart Chinese-speaking brother who wanted to start an online magazine for black expats. We both understood how living abroad forces one to grow and stretch and discover news things about one’s self.

So, together, we launched and set about finding black expats around the world to interview. Through that work, we have found that the reasons for moving abroad are as diverse as the individuals who have done the moving, but that there often is the common element of self-discovery.

While living abroad, I have discovered how adaptable and resourceful I am and also what it actually feels like to be an American. In my experience, I get treated like an American first and foremost. When I was in Brussels, that meant being met with hostility caused by the local’s extreme dislike of former President Bush. But now that pendulum has swung wildly. Instead of being asked menacingly if I voted for Bush, I am often greeted with, “Yes we can!”

Adrianne George is an award-winning blogger and a Washington, DC native who has lived in England, Belgium and currently in Sweden. She has been published in, Black Meetings and Tourism, The Scandinavian Insider, Afro European Sister’s Network, Boston Technical Recruiter and The Turnip.

October 14th, 2009, by AMITA PARASHAR

It was an unseasonably hot day in Washington D.C. when tens of thousands of activists marched to the capitol Sunday demanding federal rights for gay and lesbian Americans. Supporters walked two miles past the White House, decked out in rainbow flags, rainbow tights, rainbow scarves. There was even a giant rainbow flag stretched on the Capitol lawn. If there ever was a day to march, this was it.

Not everybody was seeing rainbows, though. Openly gay Congressman Barney Frank called the march “useless” and said “the only thing they’re going to be putting pressure on is the grass.” Instead, he urged people to use their time to press their congress members to support pending legislation.

The timing of the march was deliberate. Forty years ago, the Stonewall rebellion sparked the American gay rights movement. And now, a sympathetic president and Democratic congress could be the key to passing some long-awaited legislation on a federal level.

The Matthew Shepard Act, a hate crimes prevention bill, just passed in the House and President Obama said he would sign it.

Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) just introduced a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars same-sex married couples from federal benefits.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit employers from firing a worker because he or she is gay or transgender, has also been introduced in the House.

However, many in the LGBT community feel Congress and President Obama have been too slow to act.

Obama spoke the night before the rally and vowed to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the policy that bans gays from the military. He repeated his support to the gay community: “It’s not for me to tell you to be patient anymore than it was for others to counsel patience to African Americans petitioning for equal rights half a century ago.”

I noticed one supporter holding a sign that read “First Class Taxpayer, Second Class Citizen.” This march, fundamentally, was about elevating that status.

A recent analysis by The New York Times estimated that gay couples spend anywhere from $41,000 to nearly $470,000 more during their lifetimes than their heterosexual counterparts in health benefits, legal fees, social security and more. Nearly all of these costs would be eliminated if federal benefits were extended to same-sex couples.

Will the march spark a new movement like Dr. King’s historic speech did 46 years ago? Probably not. But it served as an important reminder to Congress, to President Obama, and, most importantly, to ourselves that there is a lot of work to be done and that we all need to be on the same page to do it.

Congressman Frank didn’t approve of the equality march, but that’s only a piece of a heavily fractured movement.

Gay bloggers are angry (see here, here and here) with the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT lobbying group in the country, for allowing President Obama to speak at their dinner.

State marriage activists are angry at march organizers for detracting attention from pending marriage fights in Maine and Washington D.C.

But if we’re going to get anything passed, we have to stop shooting ourselves in the foot and get some national leadership and a cooperative agenda. Really, we all want the same thing.

The shirt I saw at the march that summed it up had one simple message: “Legalize Gay.”

Amita Parashar has covered LGBT, health and international news for The Advocate, Channel One News and NBC News.

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