STAFF & GUEST BLOG
November 27th, 2009, by Staff
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 Staff
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.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
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.

FLASHBACK TO 1950 …

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.

BUT BEFORE SHE COULD ENJOY HER TREMENDOUS BREAKTHROUGH …

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.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
November 18th, 2009, by Staff
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.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
November 16th, 2009, by Staff
Foodbank-RS

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.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
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  Adoption.com 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 Adoption.com. She is an adopted adult, a birth mother and has served as a licensed foster care provider. She writes about her experiences on AdoptionBlogs.com.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
November 11th, 2009, by Staff

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.” 

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
November 9th, 2009, by Staff

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.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
November 6th, 2009, by MARTA EVRY

This post was first published at VeniceforChange.com.

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 www.VeniceforChange.com.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
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 Everydayhealth.com. She has appeared in “Beyond” and “Mamm” and is also a panelist debating healthcare reform for thewashingtonpost.com. Kups is a breast cancer survivor.

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