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.


“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.

January 13th, 2010, by

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, 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 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

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.

December 6th, 2009, by RYAN BOWEN

A version of this post was first published at

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

December 1st, 2009, by

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.

November 30th, 2009, by
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.

November 27th, 2009, by
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.

November 24th, 2009, by
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.

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.

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.

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