Denise Velez

A team who will take on gerrymandering – Obama and Holder

President Barack Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder

President Barack Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder

As the time draws near, when we will no longer have Barack Obama as our beloved POTUS, there has also been quite a bit of speculation about what he will do as a private citizen.

Here’s a short, but very interesting article at Politico:

Obama, Holder to lead post-Trump redistricting campaign. The former attorney general heads up a new Democratic effort to challenge the GOP’s supremacy in state legislatures and the U.S. House.

As Democrats aim to capitalize on this year’s Republican turmoil and start building back their own decimated bench, former Attorney General Eric Holder will chair a new umbrella group focused on redistricting reform — with the aim of taking on the gerrymandering that’s left the party behind in statehouses and made winning a House majority far more difficult.

The new group, called the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, was developed in close consultation with the White House. President Barack Obama himself has now identified the group — which will coordinate campaign strategy, direct fundraising, organize ballot initiatives and put together legal challenges to state redistricting maps — as the main focus of his political activity once he leaves office.

“American voters deserve fair maps that represent our diverse communities — and we need a coordinated strategy to make that happen,” Holder said. “This unprecedented new effort will ensure Democrats have a seat at the table to create fairer maps after 2020.”

Obama strongly endorsed Holder’s selection, and is planning more involvement in state races this year. But it’s in his post-presidency that redistricting will be a priority for his fundraising and campaigning.

“Where he will be most politically engaged will be at the state legislative level, with an eye on redistricting after 2020,” said White House political director David Simas, who’s been briefing Obama on the group’s progress since it started coming together at the beginning of the summer.

#WeTrumpHate

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#WeTrumpHate is a film inspired by the values and beliefs that connect young voters in America and a rallying cry to participate in the process this November by electing Hillary Clinton.

Take time out to watch this powerful short film. Share it far and wide.

Langston Hughes, Gentrification, and preserving Harlem’s legacy.

Langston Hughes

Harlem has multiple and layered meanings in our world of black art, history, and socio-political activism. Recent events surrounding attempts to rescue and preserve Langston Hughes’ Harlem brownstone from encroaching gentrification raise questions, and hopefully will evoke more interest in a powerful legacy that should be preserved for us all—no matter our race or location.

“Saudade” — Black Brazil

“Saudade” — Black Brazil.

Brazilian Rafaela Silva smiles holding her Olympics gold medal in judo.

I’ve been thinking over the Brazil Olympics and feeling “saudade” (can be pronounced sow—dahd-Jee) which is often dubbed a Portuguese word that is untranslatable.

…a Portuguese and Galician term that is a common fixture in the literature and music of Brazil, Portugal, Cape Verde and beyond. The concept has many definitions, including a melancholy nostalgia for something that perhaps has not even happened. It often carries an assurance that this thing you feel nostalgic for will never happen again. My favorite definition of saudade is by Portuguese writer Manuel de Melo: “a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.”

I will more than likely never return to Brazil. My dearest friend there has died, and I just don’t want to attempt to revisit what I shared there with her. However, what she did teach me about Brazil, I will never forget. I waited impatiently to watch the Olympics from Rio, hoping to recapture just a bit of the Brazil Maria introduced me to.

Congressman John Lewis honors the legacy of Dr. Benjamin E. Mays

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Civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John R. Lewis delivers keynote address at Bates College 150th Commencement. May 29 2016

There are living legends among us. No need to open history books — we simply have to listen and learn. John Lewis—civil rights activist and Congressman is one of those who not only talks the talk—he has walked the walk. We are blessed to have him— alive —to tell us his story and serve as a power of example.

Lewis recently delivered the keynote address to graduates at Bates College.
Bates, located in Lewiston Maine seems at first look to be an odd place for Lewis to be giving a keynote speech at graduation. We learn through his address the Bates connection to the civil rights movement.

The first Black graduate from West Point – Henry Ossian Flipper

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I recently wrote about the controversy swirling around black female cadets graduating from West Point, in Much ado about raised fists. While researching their story, I grew interested in the history of the first black graduate from West Point, Henry Ossian Flipper.

Henry Ossian Flipper (March 21, 1856 – May 3, 1940) was an American soldier, former slave, and the first African American to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1877, earning a commission as a 2nd lieutenant in the US Army.
Following Flipper’s commission, he was transferred to one of the all-black regiments serving in the US Army which were historically led by white officers. Assigned to A Troop under the command of Captain Nicholas M. Nolan, he became the first nonwhite officer to lead buffalo soldiers of the 10th Cavalry. Flipper served with competency and distinction during the Apache Wars and the Victorio Campaign, but was haunted by rumors alleging improprieties. At one point, he was court martialed and dismissed from the US Army. After losing his commission in the Army, Flipper worked throughout Mexico and Latin America and as an assistant to the Secretary of the Interior. He retired to Atlanta in 1931 and died of natural causes in 1940.

In 1994, his descendants applied to the US military for a review of Flipper’s court martial and dismissal. A review found the conviction and punishment were “unduly harsh and unjust” and recommended Flipper’s dismissal to be changed to a good conduct discharge. Shortly afterwards, an application for pardon was filed with the Secretary of the Army, which was forwarded to the Department of Justice. President Bill Clinton pardoned Lieutenant Henry O. Flipper on February 19, 1999.

On researching Black and Brown communities

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Dr. Yasser Arafat Payne, Social-Personality Psychologist and Associate Professor of Black American Studies at the University of Delaware.

As more and more issues affecting communities of color, like police violence, and incarceration are highlighted in the media, due in part to the protests generated by groups like #Blacklivesmatter and the Dream Defenders, we are also inundated with research data and statistics. A lot of that data is generated by academic researchers who are not part of the communities they study, and those under study are “subjects” of the research and have little or no say or participating in or framing the studies.

Though I often reference research data in what I write about here, I have rarely discussed “research methods” and my own thoughts about the best theoretical approaches to doing sociological and anthropological research in our neighborhoods. I am a staunch proponent of what is called “Participatory Action Research (PAR) which engages researchers and community members as equal members of a process involving both study and taking action.

Flint Hearings: Rep. Elijah Cummings rips into Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder

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There were fireworks today at the Flint Hearings. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder finally showed up. There were calls from Democrats on the committee for him to resign, as Republicans attempted to shield him, and deflect the responsibility onto the EPA, and the Feds.

The ranking Democrat on the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee issued a blistering indictment of the Snyder administration on Thursday moments before the Michigan governor began his own testimony over the Flint water contamination crisis. Rep. Elijah Cummings suggested that Republicans were “desperately” trying to blame the crisis on the federal Environmental Protection Agency. “I agree that EPA should have done more, they should have rescued the people of Flint from Gov. Snyder’s vindictive administration and its utter incompetence at every level,” Cummings said. Cummings suggested that if Snyder had been the CEO of a children’s toy company that sold toys with lead “he would be hauled up on criminal charges.” “The board of directors would throw him out and shareholders would revolt,” Cummings said. Snyder, in his opening remarks, outlined steps the state is taking to address the man-made disaster and highlighted ongoing probes of the Michigan environmental quality and health departments. “We are taking responsibility and taking action in Michigan, and that is absolutely essential here in Washington, too. Inefficient, ineffective, and unaccountable bureaucrats at the EPA allowed this disaster to continue unnecessarily,” he said.

A Muslim Migration: Somalis in Maine

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Sahro Hassan, a young Somali Muslim immigrant to Maine who is designing fashions

There are parts of the United States that I think of as populated by white folks. With the rise of anti-immigrant rhetoric from the right, and specifically anti-Muslim spews, I certainly didn’t think of a state like Maine as a place to examine African migration to the U.S. And yet, one of the most interesting immigration and re-settlement success stories, is that of the Somali-Americans who live, flourish, and have re-vitalized the economy of a depressed area — the Somalis of Lewiston, Maine.

The Accidental Melting Pot

Take an economically struggling Maine mill town of 36,600 and add to it nearly 5,000 Somalis seeking haven in a new country. On the surface, it hardly looks like a formula for success. When the first substantial numbers of Somalis began arriving in 2001 in Lewiston, they were not welcomed with open arms. Unemployment was high, and locals feared that new arrivals would overburden social services and increase competition for the few jobs left after the closure of once-thriving textile mills.

Despite Lewiston’s economic slump, it was one of the US cities that Somali refugees themselves found attractive—through websites and word of mouth: good schools, affordable housing and, most important of all, a safe place to raise a family. Many brought a strong sense of community and entrepreneurship; they enrolled their children in the local public schools, signed up for English courses and found—or created—jobs.

Today, per-capita income in Lewiston is rising. The crime rate has dropped. The center of town, once called “The Combat Zone,” has new, family-owned grocery stores offering halal meats (prepared following the Islamic method of slaughter), and there are storefront mosques in between new organic-food cafes as well as other more conventional businesses. “Challenges still exist,” comments Julia Sleeper, founder of Lewiston’s Tree Street Youth Center. “Acculturation is messy.” But relations, she says, continue to improve. This, she says, is “testimony to the strength of both communities.”