UNH 2009 MLK Jr. Celebration

One in 100: Dismantling a Prison Nation

The University of New Hampshire is pleased to present its 2009 MLK Celebratory events commemorating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A series of six major activities with an overarching theme entitled, One in 100: Dismantling a Prison Nation, will highlight King's struggle to create a beloved community where social, political, and economic justice are more the norm than the exception. This year's theme centers on the conclusion of a 2008 PEW Report that revealed the sobering results of the steady growth of America's prison industrial complex, a system that has more than one in every 100 adults confined behind bars. UC Berkeley Prof. and internationally known civil rights activist Angela Davis, will deliver the keynote address

In recent years a persistent theme of Davis' work has been the range of social problems associated with incarceration and the generalized criminalization of those communities that are most affected by poverty and racial discrimination. She draws upon her own experiences in the early seventies as a person who spent eighteen months in jail and on trial, after being placed on the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted List".

Angela Davis

PBS: The Brazilian Barack Obama

You may remember PBS FRONTLINE/World's story about the Brazilian Barack Obama.

That story has been re-edited and included in our broadcast nationwide on Tuesday January 27th, so if you or your friends are in the U.S, tell them to tune in to PBS tonight (check local listings for time)!

If not, check out the website - the full video will be available to watch on January 28th, and there are many new, wonderful features on the site that address the different ways that race and racism affect both Brazil and the U.S.

There is also a terrific photo slideshow following the Brazilian politician Claudio Henrique to the U.S, where he attended Obama's inauguration wearing a fedora!



We have a Facebook page now too - please join our community: http://www.facebook.com/pages/PBS-FRONTLINEWorld-Global-Storytellers/36142430249

Please share the news widely!


Annual Report on Human Rights in Brazil

An electronic version available at the following site:


The site is of the Rede Social de Justica e Direitos Humanos.

The latest (2007) report is available in English and Portuguese.
Those interested are invited to check the site again soon for a
forthcoming report on the 2008 Brazilian human rights situation.

The reports are valuable documents made by reputable scholars and
activists who are long-time observers of Brazil's human rights
situation, both in the urban and rural areas. There are annual
reports going back to 2000 so that recent diachronic trends
may be analyzed as well.


Congratulations, President Obama!

The official portrait of the 44th President of the United States -
Barack Hussein Obama


Obama: The Face of Brazil's Carnival

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) -- Barack Obama is the new face of America, and his likeness will be represented in force during this year's bawdy Carnival bacchanalia.

Plastic replicas of the U.S. president-elect's face are the top-selling masks this year, said Olga Gibert Valles, owner of one of Rio's oldest Carnival costume producers.

That means come Feb. 22, when Carnival begins, thousands of half-naked ''Obamas'' will take to the streets during the countless freewheeling parades throughout the city.

About half of Brazil's 190 million people are black and many were elated by Obama's election. The incoming U.S. president is so beloved, at least eight Brazilian politicians changed their names to ''Barack Obama'' on the ballot of local elections in October.

''First, he isn't Bush,'' said 24-year-old Mascaras Condal mask designer Victor de Quadras, explaining the Obama masks' appeal. ''Second, there are many blacks in Brazil and it's important that he's the first black president in the U.S.''

Valles said her company has already made 7,000 Obama masks.

The company is well known in Rio for its clever designs featuring politicians or other news makers.

The biggest selling mask depicting a real person?

''It's Osama,'' Valles said, referring to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. About 50,000 of his masks have been sold since the Sept. 11 attacks, which Valles attributed to dark humor rather than support for terrorism.

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Granddaughter of slave: I was 'afraid' for Obama

Story Highlights

  • Mary Dowden, 80, is the granddaughter of a slave
  • She says she was afraid for Barack Obama because "I didn't want nobody to kill him"
  • CNN.com traveled to Como, Mississippi, to talk with blacks about Obama
  • Obama's inspiration: "You can be young, you can be black, and you can do anything"

COMO, Mississippi (CNN) -- Mary Dowden smiles when she thinks about this moment in history. At 80 years old, she's the granddaughter of a slave who was born in a cotton field outside of Como, Mississippi.

Mary Dowden, 80, is the granddaughter of a slave. Barack Obama is bringing white and blacks together, she says.

It's difficult to put into words how she feels about Barack Obama, the issues so complex for a black country girl who lost both her parents by the age of 18 and then had to work a hard-scrabble life as a sharecropper.

"I was really afraid for him, because I didn't want nobody to kill him," she says when asked about casting her ballot for Obama.

But she pauses and smiles. "I'm awfully proud of him, as a black person." Video Watch "white and black is coming together" »

Did she ever think she would see this moment?

"No, I didn't," she says. "I always thought that, you know, the white was over the black, that they was the leading folks, that one nation is gonna be over another one, and that would be the white over the black. I never thought it would be a black president."

With Obama's election, CNN.com traveled to the town of Como to talk with African-Americans about their experience growing up black in Mississippi and what this moment in history means to them.

Como is a town of 1,400 people 45 miles south of Memphis, Tennessee, along Interstate 55. It is a hard-hit rural community, home to a school with the dubious distinction of being among the worst-performing schools in the nation. In 2007, the IRS froze the town's bank accounts for not paying payroll taxes.

A railroad track cuts through the middle of town. Even to this day, blacks largely live on one side of the track; whites on the other side. Photo See the hard-scrabble life of a slave's grandson »

Dowden is a living testament to a life of struggle, sacrifice and ultimately success. When she was 10 years old, her mom cooked a dewberry pie after working the cotton fields all day. She then went to a friend's house and died.

"It was real devastating," Dowden says softly. "I was 10. My sister was 12, and we didn't know how to do nothing. And we had to take care of our little brother."

She missed one year of schooling because her father, Moses Wilson, couldn't afford schoolbooks. He died four days after she turned 18.

She had two photos of her parents, but they were lost over the years. She knows even less about her grandparents.

"All I know is, he said that his momma was sold. She was auctioned off," Dowden says. "I don't know where she was from. I don't know anything about her."

Dowden is a mother of 12. One son died when he was 3; another died when he was 47. "It was hard both ways."

Across town, a group of African-Americans have gathered at Cistern Hill Church to talk about the good times and the hard times -- and hope for a better future. They range in age from 74 to 18. Video Watch "I started working when I was 6 years old" »

Aubrey "Bill" Turner, 26, perks up when talking about Obama.

"He's going to bring a sense of respect in Mississippi, that it's not just a white man's country. You can be young, you can be black, and you can do anything that you want to do," Turner says. "You do have a chance. And he's gonna put that all on the table for us."

Turner has a tattoo across his neck that reads "Mr. Ssippi." His grandfather was well-known fife musician Otha Turner, whose music was featured in the movie "Gangs of New York."

His grandfather, he said, always taught him "to respect white people, because one day you're gonna want that respect, too."

Others nod with excitement about the prospects of a black president. They point out that they've supported white presidents over the years and always voted for them.

"It just happened to be a black man [this time] that was qualified to be president and enough people wanted him in that position and voted for him," says William C. Wilbourn, 59.

But Wilbourn acknowledges, as a black man, it's an awesome moment in the nation's history. "It feels real good."

Elnora Jackson, 74, says she was robbed of the privilege to vote for decades. So whenever there's an election, she votes "every time I get a chance."

Those gathered here chuckle when they talk about the town of Como. It was, they say, always a bit different than the rest of Mississippi. The downtown strip was built in such a way that there weren't really any back doors. Blacks could walk in the front doors of businesses in the old days.

That's not to say it was a honeymoon, either. There was a white water fountain in town that was guarded; blacks could cook at a burger stand, but they couldn't buy food there. School buses with white kids would pass black children walking to and from school. They'd hurl bricks and insults at them.

"When I was growing up, it was painful," says Arilla Kerney, 63. "I prayed and asked the Lord to forgive them."

There's one day that all the elders remember well. It was in June 1966. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. swung through Como on a march through Mississippi to motivate black people to register to vote. Black children had been told to stay away for fear of any reprisals.

But Lucy Thomas, a 4-foot, 8-inch woman with a "small frame and big voice," gathered about 20 black children. They walked hand-in-hand, barefoot and dirty, down the road to the intersection of Highways 51 and 310, where King and the Freedom Marchers were huddled. Descendant of slave owners crosses the tracks

One by one, the children shook King's hand.

"It was just amazing to see Dr. King come through Como, Mississippi!" says Dorothy Kerney-Wilbourn, who was among the children that day.

She says that about 20 miles down the road, there was a peach orchard where white men were up in trees with guns.

"We were walking down the highway, marching and singing freedom songs, and they were up in trees with guns. That was a frightening moment," Kerney-Wilbourn says with a laugh. "Their concept of the blacks was just so different. But we showed them that we were there for peace."

Mary Dowden remembers that day, too. She said a white man said to her, "They should send all the black boys back to Africa."

Dowden got in the man's face. "I told him, 'You can't send me back to Africa, because I didn't come from Africa! I was born and raised here. Where you gonna send me back to?' "

She smiles. "He didn't like that. ... He didn't say nothing. He shut his mouth up."

Obama has helped change the conversation in these parts like few others.

Dowden, the granddaughter of a slave, holds her chin high. Referring to Obama, she says, "It's his time."

He hasn't taken office yet, but he's already brought change.

"Right now, I think the white and black is coming together."

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Color of Change: Justice for Oscar Grant

Thirteen days after the murder of Oscar Grant on New Year's Eve, the police officer who killed him has finally been arrested and charged with murder.1 Even the District Attorney admitted it was only because of massive public pressure that he moved so aggressively, pressure that included more than 20,000 of you speaking up.2

That's why it's so important for each of us to commit to staying involved. Johannes Mehserle's arrest is important, but it's only the first step. In cases like this, history has repeatedly shown that as soon as the public eye turns away the prospect of justice fades.

We need you, and so does Oscar Grant's family. Making sure the prosecution does its job and pushing for much-needed reforms will continue to require your voice.

Are you in? Click below--it takes just a moment:


In 14 years as Alameda County District Attorney, Tom Orloff had never before charged a police officer for an on-duty shooting. And when asked, several legal experts were unable to come up with any examples of officer-involved shootings becoming murder cases in California.3

But over 20,000 of you, along with citizens and organizers in the Bay Area, made it impossible for Orloff to ignore Oscar Grant's murder. He said that "because of the intense public interest I think more resources were put into wrapping this up than would be put in in other situations."4 Orloff made it clear that due to your efforts, he poured investigative resources into this case that his record tells us he never would have otherwise.

We've exposed a chink in the armor of a system that protects trigger-happy cops instead of regular folks. Now there's a real opportunity to create systemic changes that would introduce transparency and accountability to police forces across California, and especially to the BART Police Department. We need to keep the pressure on Tom Orloff to make sure he keeps devoting time and energy to Mehserle's prosecution.

Help honor the memory of Oscar Grant and others who have fallen victim to police violence. Please sign up to stay involved in pushing for justice in this case and for real accountability for police. Join us:


Thanks and Peace,

-- James, Gabriel, Clarissa, William, Dani, and the rest of the ColorOfChange.org team
January 16th, 2008


1. "Behind murder charge against ex-BART officer," San Francisco Chronicle, 1-15-2009

2. "Highlights Of DA Tom Orloff's Wednesday News Conference On Murder Charge," KTVU, 1-14-2009

3. See reference 1.

4. See reference 2.


Talk About Race? Relax, It’s O.K.

BECCA KNOX AND GEORGE RICE “There’s a more readily accessible conduit into the conversation about race if it begins with Barack Obama,” Mr. Rice said.

THE awkward conversations usually start with something like, “You look like Tiger Woods.”

Or, “Your last name is Rice — are you related to Jerry? Condoleezza?”

In bolder moments, maybe after a few drinks at a cocktail party, a white acquaintance might say to George Rice, 45, who is biracial: “You don’t seem that black. I have no worries with you.”

In what Mr. Rice calls the “everydayness” of race relations, his interactions with whites can be stilted and strained, even when there is no overt racism.

Even Mr. Rice’s wife, Becca Knox, 43, who is white, said that despite being married to a black man for six years, finding a comfortable way to talk about race with people of other races, particularly African-Americans, that is sensitive but not self-conscious, candid but not offensive, is still “a constant, constant struggle and process.”

But over the last few months, both Mr. Rice and Ms. Knox, who live in Washington, have been struck by the slight easing of these examples of what psychologists describe as “interracial anxiety” between blacks and whites. That is because there is a now an omnipresent icebreaker: Barack Obama.

“There’s a more readily accessible conduit into the conversation about race if it begins with Barack Obama,” said Mr. Rice, the executive director of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials — International, a professional law enforcement group. “In my experience over the last few months, it’s easier because it’ll begin with who he is, the differences between his parents, what he had to deal with.”

In his one major speech on race relations during the campaign, during a furor over remarks by his former pastor, Mr. Obama chided anyone so naïve as to think that “we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy.” He warned that race is something in American history and life “that we’ve never really worked through.”

But in the person of a president-elect who is the son of an African father and a white mother, Mr. Obama does seem to have inspired many to take a step on the road to improved relations — namely, conversation.

Cross-racial discussion about the topic of race seems to have become more common, and somewhat less fraught, with the rise of Mr. Obama, according to historians, psychologists, sociologists and other experts on race relations, as well as a number of blacks and whites interviewed around the country.

“All this exposure to this very counterstereotypical African-American has actually changed — at least temporarily — what is on the tip of the tongue,” said E. Ashby Plant, a psychologist at Florida State University and an author of a new study examining the impact of Mr. Obama on the attitudes of whites. “It may have very important implications.”

In Dr. Plant’s study, 400 white college students in Wisconsin and Florida were asked, between Mr. Obama’s nomination and his election, questions like, “What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of African-Americans?”

The unpublished study found that the answers revealed little evidence of antiblack bias, in sharp contrast to many earlier studies (including one by Dr. Plant) showing that roughly 80 percent of whites have some degree of bias.

Polls have captured increasing optimism among Americans about the future of race relations. The day after Mr. Obama was elected, a Gallup poll found that 67 percent of Americans believed a solution to black-white racial problems would eventually be worked out. Gallup said that it had been asking the same question for four decades, and that a poll last summer also reflected substantially more optimism than previously. The polls did not account for the race of respondents. A New York Times/CBS News poll in July showed sharp differences between blacks and whites on a similar topic: Nearly 60 percent of black respondents said race relations were generally bad, while only 34 percent of whites agreed.

Psychologists and sociologists have long drawn a link between the amount of anxiety that occurs in interracial interactions and one’s previous exposure to the other race; a guiding principle of desegregation was that it could help detoxify race relations by making whites more comfortable with blacks in daily life.

Christophe E. Jackson, 28, a black Ph.D. candidate in biology at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, who is also pursuing a medical degree, recalled that in the past he had uneasy conversations with white students and colleagues about affirmative action. He believed that many whites thought he had an edge, and were sometimes blunt about saying so. But Mr. Obama’s campaign and election seem to have changed those perceptions.

“Before Obama, there was always this thing — ‘He’s a black doctor,’ ” Mr. Jackson said. “But now I’m going to be a physician who also happens to be black. That’s become the perception now, which is really nice.”

At the same time, some African-Americans said they were skeptical that Mr. Obama’s presidency would meaningfully whittle away at the discomfort between races, or decrease the frequency of their own sometimes painful interactions with whites. Some said the president-elect’s sheer star power, their growing sense that he is viewed by whites as an individual who transcends race — a Michael Jordan or an Oprah Winfrey — would do little to improve race relations.

“I think they will see Obama as the star,” said Gilda Squire, 39, who owns a public relations firm in Manhattan. “That’s already begun, if you ask me. Yes, we’re celebrating the historical event and it’s a major feat, I get it. But in terms of the day-to-day, I don’t know.”

“I remember people saying Michael Jordan’s ‘not really black,’ ” Ms. Squire added. “It’s like Obama supersedes race. And this doesn’t mean that Gilda Squire who lives in New York City isn’t going to have to deal with the issues of racism every day.”

Denene Millner, 40, who is black and moved to a small town outside Atlanta from northern New Jersey three years ago, has been debating her husband, who is also black, about whether an Obama presidency will smooth interracial communication. He thinks so, she does not. She often experiences what psychologists call “strategic colorblindness” on the part of whites, even among her friends, who can be so uncomfortable talking about race that they think the most sensitive approach is to avoid the subject entirely — such as not describing African-Americans as black in conversation.

“I can’t stand it when folks feel like they have to watch what they say around me,” said Ms. Millner, a columnist for Parenting Magazine and a book author. Recently a white friend from New Jersey was visiting; Ms. Millner wanted to have a movie night where she screened her favorite black films. She started a discussion about the difference between bad black movies (“Soul Plane” tops her list) and good ones (“Love & Basketball” is her favorite), but her white friend became flustered and embarrassed.

“She turned 40 shades of red,” said Ms. Millner, who said she later worried that she had been too blunt. “This is a learning experience for both of us.”

Two studies on strategic colorblindness conducted by researchers at Tufts University and the Harvard Business School (the former appeared in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in October, and the latter in Developmental Psychology in September) concluded that whites, including children as young as 10, may attempt to avoid talking about race with blacks, or even acknowledging racial differences, so as not to appear prejudiced.

The studies also found that blacks viewed that tactic as evidence of prejudice.

“There really are still some issues that have to do with the historical legacy of race and racism in this country, and we can’t deal with those in a serious fashion if we have this hypersensitivity whenever race comes up,” said Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, a history professor at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University and the author of “Race Experts: How Racial Etiquette, Sensitivity Training, and New Age Therapy Hijacked the Civil Rights Revolution.”

Mr. Obama “was so careful not to let his candidacy use those usual messages about race, so he really stands for something different,” Ms. Lasch-Quinn added. “This shakes up the status quo because here we have someone who is willing to talk about race, but doesn’t talk about it in the usual ways. Once we have one person doing that, we now have a model for how other people can do that.”

During his campaign, Mr. Obama almost entirely avoided the topic of race, as did the other candidates, continuing a tacit understanding among national leaders dating from the close of the civil rights era that race is just too explosive an issue for public discussion. The one exception was the speech last March in which Mr. Obama was forced to defend inflammatory statements by the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. Mr. Obama described the nation as still deeply beset by black anger and white resentment, especially older generations, who might not express themselves freely among co-workers or friends of the opposite race, but give vent when safely among members of their own race.

In the end, Mr. Obama was elected with 43 percent of the white vote and 95 percent of black voters.

The actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith, whose work has often focused on race relations, said she was heartened that the historic victory didn’t somehow make it seem like the race problem in America has been solved, and that people of different races are still soul-searching about how to talk to each another. She was encouraged, she said, by the notion that Mr. Obama’s election had appeared to ease some interracial tension, adding: “But I don’t think that’s just the white man’s work. Plenty of people of color still have great anxieties about white people.”

On the morning after the election, Kristin Rothballer, 36, who lives in San Francisco, kissed her female partner goodbye on the train while commuting to work. A black woman who sat down next to her turned and said she was sorry that Proposition 8, the amendment to ban gay marriage in the state, looked like it was going to pass.

“We grabbed hands,” Ms. Rothballer recalled. “And I said, ‘Well, I really want to congratulate you because we have a black president and that’s amazing.’ ”

“Our conversation then almost became about the fact that we were having the conversation,” she said.

Something moved her to apologize to the black woman for slavery.

“For two strangers riding a train to Oakland to have that conversation about race, it wouldn’t have been possible if Obama hadn’t been elected,” she said. “I always felt open with my colleagues, but to say to a stranger on the train, ‘Hey, I’m sorry about slavery,’ that just doesn’t happen.”

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Top Jobs Not Welcoming for Black Women, Study Says

Jesse Washington, The Associated Press: "Black women face special challenges in their efforts to reach the top levels of corporate America, according to a new study."

Commentary: Race is still an issue for America

CNN Editor's note: Susan Glisson is director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, based at the University of Mississippi. It helps communities cope with racial issues and promotes research on race. Glisson is co-author of "First Freedoms: A Documentary History of First Amendment Rights in America."

Susan Glisson says it's a mistake to think charismatic leaders are the only source of social change.

Susan Glisson says it's a mistake to think charismatic leaders are the only source of social change.

Story highlights:

  • Susan Glisson: Race isn't disappearing as an issue due to Obama's election
  • There are many disparities that still need to be addressed, Glisson says
  • Glisson says effective social change comes from grassroots movements
  • She says it's a myth that a single charismatic leader can bring about change

(CNN) -- As the inauguration of the first African American president approaches, the national news is full of race-related stories.

Rioters have been arrested in Oakland, California, in protest of an police officer allegedly killing an unarmed black man; the Centers for Disease Control report that Mississippi has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the country, predominantly among black and Hispanic teens; and the journal Science reports that "many people unconsciously harbor racist attitudes."

Combine these issues with continuing demonstrated disparities in health care, education, housing and criminal justice, and it would be productive to admit the obvious: the election of Barack Obama did not end the America's problems with race.

It is important to note what has changed, due largely to the successes of the black struggle for freedom, especially during the 1950s and 1960s. Because of these hard-won gains, the narrative that "if you work hard, you can be anything you want to be, no matter how many obstacles racism and poverty might place in your way," is now more appropriate than ever before.

A new generation of young people, for many of whom legal segregation is an almost unbelievable part of history, reached across racial and ethnic lines to help elect a president and even now work to engage in substantive community service wherever they live.

Challenges, however, remain.

The U.S. Census notes that the United States will no longer have a white majority by 2050. Social Security payments for an aging white population will have to be paid by an increasingly brown and black work force, which may resent such support.

Clashes over immigration and tensions between blacks and Latinos suggest that we have much work to do to fulfill the vision of "a more perfect union."

While news media and the Internet often sensitize us to these issues, it can also often overwhelm us. It is important, therefore, to understand not only the potential obstacles we may face but also how we might respond to them.

Sherrilyn Ifill offers the most useful characterization of successful solutions in race relations in her book "On the Courthouse Lawn." Ifill argues that conversations on race are often stymied because they attempt to include the whole of racial history in one conversation.

Thus we try to discuss the Middle Passage, Jim Crow segregation, and Don Imus' comments simultaneously and therefore end up solving nothing. The most productive conversations -- and the ones that occur the least, Ifill suggests -- are local ones.

The need for such locally focused, community-based conversations is tied to a basic principle of social change: effective social change occurs by focusing on local issues, using grassroots, nonviolent strategies.

This brings us to another stumbling block on the road to creating a more perfect union. We are quick to laud leaders such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy for their contributions, which were very significant. But much of what we have been taught about those contributions is a myth perpetuated by the most egregious shortcoming in teaching history: the savior narrative.

We have all been told that a charismatic leader transformed the South and brought everyone to freedom. For example, everyone knows the story of Rosa Parks. Most students are taught that Rosa Parks was simply just too tired to get up from her seat on the bus that day in Montgomery, Alabama. She was a simple, brave woman who answered the call to stand -- in this case, sit -- for the Greater Good.

It's a great story.

The reality, however, goes something like this:

In the spring of 1955, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin was arrested for violating the segregation ordinance of Montgomery, Alabama. A group of local activists debated using her case to challenge segregation on buses there but decided to wait for a more appropriate case.

That opportunity came in December of that year, when a secretary of the local NAACP, who had been attending leadership and organizing training sessions at Highlander Folk School, chose to remain in her bus seat with the goal of being arrested, allowing the Montgomery group to launch their challenge to the segregation code. That woman was Rosa Parks.

Today, we call that woman the "mother of the civil rights movement."

The savior myth suggests that social change occurs only from a charismatic leader; and that in the absence of such a leader, we cannot accomplish social change on our own. The opposite and more accurate characterization is a more useful model for change.

As we hear near-messianic descriptions of President-elect Obama, we would be mindful not to deify him and assume he can fix all problems.

The reality of social change during the civil rights period is more complicated and more accessible than any savior myth. Social change begins from the bottom up, with everyday people joining together to make a change. They learn the necessary tools for investigation as well as for resolving conflicts in a nonviolent fashion and for engaging the community.

These first steps are followed by careful analysis of the problems and negotiation with stakeholders who can make a difference. Massive protests are actually a final step when all previous work has failed, not a first-strike response. In the absence of such work on the ground, massive protests fail.

Obama tapped into this rich legacy and changed the course of electoral history.

The challenges we face in race relations remain difficult but are not insurmountable. And we have, within our own histories and communities, the tools to secure a more equitable and inclusive future for all of our children.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Susan Glisson.

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Cosby hails Obama family values

Cosby told Washington’s WTOP radio station that the Obamas were examples of the parenting he’s challenged black America to strengthen.
Photo: AP
Bill Cosby, the entertainer-turned-activist known for his controversial comments on race, told Washington’s WTOP radio station Saturday that Barack and Michelle Obama were examples of the parenting and family values he’s challenged black America to strengthen.

“Who is Barack Obama and what did he tell us, when he talked about his mother? What was it he was saying when he said his mother woke up, 4:30 in the morning…to correct his homework, to get it done?” Cosby asked rhetorically. “Let’s listen to Michelle Obama who talks about her father with a disease, but he doesn’t call in work and say, let me call in later. He gets up an hour earlier.”

“There are statements made which tell us, you know, that people make it because they try,” Cosby said.

Cosby brushed back the criticism that his past comments about African-Americans could be taken out of context by critics of the black community – taking a crack at Fox News commentator Sean Hannity in the process.

“I’m not worried about white people. Hannity – I’m not worried what he says, ” Cosby said. “I’m not worried about any racist people who are going to bring it up.”

The former “I Spy” and “Cosby Show” star’s comments came on the eve of an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He is scheduled to appear Sunday opposite Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty and Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), less than 10 days before the inauguration of the first black president.

Cosby stood by his controversial 2004 speech on the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s school-integrating Brown v. Board of Education decision, in which he told the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that stronger parenting and more supportive communities were needed to improve the condition of black Americans.

“I’m dead serious,” Cosby said. “Our children are being murdered, and they’re murdering each other, and I should not try to say something to wake people up to the fact that our children are not valuing themselves?”

“We’ve got to take the neighborhood back,” Cosby said in his headline-making 2004 address. “We have to begin to build in the neighborhood, have restaurants, have cleaners, have pharmacies, have real estate, have medical buildings – instead of trying to rob them all.”

In his WTOP appearance, Cosby also joked about Obama’s inauguration.

“By the way, I want to tell you that I think January 20 is going to be a big day,” Cosby said, adding: “However, I will make this prediction: It will still come in second, as far as big days are concerned, to the Penn Relay weekend.”

Though Cosby’s D.C. media appearances are drawing special attention because of the historic nature of Obama’s inauguration, Cosby was initially skeptical about Obama’s national appeal.

Appearing on CNN’s “Larry King Live” in October 2007, Cosby brushed back King’s question about his opinion of Obama, asking: “Do you ask white people this question?”

“How many Americans in media really take him seriously, or do they look at him like some prize brown baby?” he asked.

The entertainer is scheduled to perform at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Jan. 24.

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Abolitionists still have a cause...

A Brazilian government official takes notes as he talks with workers about to be freed.

Government fights slave labor in Brazil

  • Story Highlights
  • More than 12 million people worldwide estimated to be working under forced labor
  • Between 25,000-40,000 Brazilians may be slave laborers, U.N. estimates
  • Brazil task force has worked to eradicate slave labor
  • Poverty seen by experts as primary factor leading to slave labor

(CNN) -- Slavery may seem like a quaint notion in a 21st century world, but that distinction is lost on up to 40,000 Brazilians who find themselves toiling for no real wages and can't leave the distant work camps where they live.

Brazilian government officials and human rights activists call it slave labor, a condition they are aggressively trying to eradicate. A special government task force established in 1995 says it freed 4,634 workers last year in 133 raids on large farms and businesses that rely on workers driven to take these jobs by hunger and the empty promises of labor recruiters.

"Slavery is the tail end of a lot of abuse of poor people and workers in Brazil," said Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based policy center. "Bad treatment reaches over to abusive treatment to treatment that becomes virtual slavery."

In Brazil, it often works this way: A recruiter known as a "gato," or cat, plumbs the slums and other poor areas of the vast country and gets people to agree to jobs in distant places. Once separated from home and family, workers are vulnerable to all sorts of abuses, such as being told they owe money for transportation, food, housing and other services.

"This is known as debt bondage, which also fits official definitions of slavery," says Anti-slavery International, a lobbying group based in Great Britain. "A person is in debt bondage when their labor is demanded as the means of repayment for a loan or an advance. Once in debt they lose all control over their conditions of work and what, if anything they are paid ... often making it impossible to repay and trapping them in a cycle of debt."

The United Nations International Labour Organization estimated there were between 25,000 and 40,000 Brazilians working under such conditions in 2003, the latest year for which it offered figures.

Leonardo Sakamoto, the director of the human rights group Reporter Brasil, says he's certain there are still more than 25,000 slave laborers in Brazil.

According to Anti-slavery International, the greatest number of slave laborers is employed in ranching (43 percent). That's followed by deforestation (28 percent), agriculture (24 percent), logging (4 percent) and charcoal (1 percent). Though those figures are from 2003, Sakamoto says they still apply, with cattle ranches and sugar cane plantations among the top employers.

Anti-slavery International estimates there are 12.3 million people working under such conditions worldwide.

"Forced labor exists in Sudan, Nepal, India, Mauritania as well as many wealthier countries (including the UK), where vulnerable people are trafficked into forced labor or sexual slavery," the group says. "A similar situation to the use of forced labor on estates in Brazil can be found in the Chaco region of both Paraguay and Bolivia."

But what may set Brazil apart are the government's attempts to wipe out the practice. One of Brazil's chief tools is a "Special Mobile Inspection Group" that consists of labor inspectors, federal police and attorneys from the federal labor prosecution branch. The group often raids workplaces, looking for abuses and laborers held against their will.

In 2007, the task force freed 5,999 workers, a record number. In 2003, the agency freed 5,223 laborers.

Since the group's inception in 1995, it has freed 33,000 people.

Labor Minister Carlos Lupi vowed in a recent interview with the state-run Brazilian news agency that efforts will be stepped up this year.

"The Brazilian government is to be commended for rescuing more than 4,500 people from the nightmare of slavery during the past year," Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, said in a statement to CNN.

"Their commitment to step up their efforts in 2009 is even more heartening. The vocal and effective leadership we are seeing from Brazil is rare. Even India, like Brazil a democracy and a G20 member, seems content to remain the country with the most slaves in the world."

Poverty fuels slave labor, experts say

But everyone agrees it's going to take more than police efforts to seriously dent the practice.

"Slave labor is not a disease," Sakamoto said. "It's like a fever. Fever is a symptom that something is wrong."

That something is widespread poverty.

Although the poverty rate dropped recently to its lowest levels in 25 years, nearly one of every four Brazilians still lives in poverty, according to a 2006 survey by the Getulio Vargas Foundation's Center for Social Policy Studies. The Web-based Index Mundi, which says it obtains its figures from the CIA World Factbook, estimates the poverty rate could be as high as one of every three Brazilians.

With a population approaching 200 million people, that means at least 49 million Brazilians live under squalid economic conditions.

"We have poverty. We have greed. And we have impunity," Sakamoto said. "We have to fight these three pieces at the same time. We have been fighting against impunity and we have been fighting against greed, but we are just starting to fight against poverty."

The situation is made worse because of Brazil's vastness -- about the size of the United States.

"Brazil is a big, huge country and there are lots of poor people," said Hakim of the Inter-American Dialogue. "The farther you get away from the populated, industrialized areas, you'll find large populations of people who do whatever they can to make a living."

And slave labor seems to be spreading.

"We are discovering new occurrences of slave labor in regions where we hadn't registered slave labor in Brazil," the Rev. Xavier Plassat of the Catholic Pastoral Land Commission told the independent Radioagencia NP.

Opposition to laws

By most accounts, the administration of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who took office in 2003, has done much to reduce poverty and fight slave labor. But Brazil's agricultural, mining and manufacturing sectors are large and well-developed. And they are politically powerful.

"We have a very, very strong agribusiness sector," Sakamoto said. "It is very, very difficult to get other measures to fight against slave labor."

For example, he said, a proposed law for the government to confiscate land on which slave labor is used has languished in congress for years.

"There's a group of very strong congressmen fighting against it," said Sakamoto, who is also a member Brazil's National Commission for the Eradication of Slave Labor.

There are those who object to use of the word "slavery" or the phrase "slave labor," saying it mischaracterizes the situation.

"The word has very heavy connotations regarding 19th century slavery," said Latin America scholar Robert Pastor, a former National Security adviser to President Jimmy Carter and now a professor of international relations at American University in Washington. "Modern-day practices are quite distinct from what we normally thought of as slavery."

But Pastor agrees that no matter what you call it, what is happening in Brazil and elsewhere is "a phenomenon that is based on a simple intent to exploit individuals."

Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, also believes that calling the practice slavery overstates the case.

"To use the word 'slave labor' sometimes does not describe what it is," Sotero said from Washington. "It's more unfair, abusive labor conditions."

He points out that Brazil's sugar cane industry employs 900,000 people but only 4,000 Brazilians were freed last year for being held as slave laborers. Many businesses, he said, are being smeared by the bad actions of a few.

"One case of slave labor is one too many," Sotero said. "But at the same time, some of their considerations are valid. Claims of abuse tend to be exaggerated and more general than they are."

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Obama's win brings firsts for African-American press

By: Nia-Malika Henderson
January 3, 2009 06:45 AM EST

Barack Obama’s election as president is prompting major changes in the nation’s black press, ushering in a series of firsts that editors say will reshape print, Internet, radio and television coverage aimed at African-American audiences.

Essence, the top selling magazine among black women, will have a full-time White House reporter for the first time. Ebony magazine will add a White House reporter, either full-time or as needed. Its sister publication, Jet magazine, will have a weekly two-page Washington report in every issue.

And Black Entertainment Television is scrapping its usual fare of videos and sitcoms for a four-hour live broadcast of Obama’s swearing in — just as the leading cable network in black households did for both party conventions last summer, and on Election Day. TV One will do the same, airing 21 hours of inauguration coverage throughout the day.

In some ways, the moves mark a return to a time when the black press — particularly magazines — were newsier. Jet first published photos of the battered and swollen body of Emmett Till, sparking outrage and galvanizing a still-young civil rights movement.

“Who we are is really evolving right now, in this post-civil rights era,” said Bryan Monroe, vice president and editorial director of Ebony and Jet. “Our readers really need the black press.”

April Ryan, who has been covering the White House for American Urban Radio Networks for 11 years, wonders what took so long.

“Katrina happened under Bush and Rwanda happened under Clinton,” said Ryan, who has been one of a handful of black reporters in the White House press corps during that time. “If more reporters of color were here, maybe those issues would have garnered more attention, and it could have made a difference.”

She said that the addition of black reporters could mean more focus on the urban agenda—failing schools, crime, job loss, poor health care.

“I am five generations removed from a slave. I was here the night [Obama won] and I had goose bumps,” Ryan said. “Yes, we pause for the history of a black president — but it’s not the reason to be here. There’s real work to be done.”

The press as a whole has faced charges of pro-Obama bias – including respected names like PBS’ Gwen Ifill, who is black – but the magazine editors say they know they must provide balanced coverage to their readers.

Yet, if what happened to Tavis Smiley, a popular guest on the Tom Joyner Morning Show and host of his own PBS show, is any guide, serious questioning of Barack Obama might not always sit right with black audiences.

Smiley ended up leaving his post as a commentator after he was roundly criticized for taking a harsh stance on Obama—his point, he said, was that black folks should kick the tires before getting on board.

“A whole bunch of black people turned on me in the blogosphere and they called me everything but a child of God,” Smiley said. “They thought I was hating on Barack Obama.”

The latest issue of Essence, which reaches 8.5 million readers a month, has two different covers—Barack or Michelle—and features famous African-Americans, ruminating on the moment. Ebony named a person of the year for the first time in its 63 year history, dedicating its entire January issue to Obama.

But all the coverage won’t be like that, one editor said.

“We’ll be asking what he is going to do on specific issues that African-Americans are interested in, unemployment, AIDS, housing, health, we are going to be following all of those things,” said Tatsha Robertson of Essence. “It is historic but we are going to take him to task.”

Robertson said Essence will use its website to break news, and it already started an Obama watch section on its website, one of the most popular features.

The moves are also an indication of the deep ties Obama formed with the black press — and by extension the black community — over the course of the campaign. Black support for the president-elect was 95 percent, a record.

“We did do a very good job of fostering strong relationships during campaign…and the community had unprecedented access,” said Corey Ealons, the campaign’s director of African-American media. On weekly conference calls during the general election, Ealons said he would put the campaign’s core issues — heath care, joblessness, education — in the context of the black community.

“It was just a matter of spelling it out and making it plain — that the unemployment rate in our community is double the national average, that 95 percent of black children go to public schools — so they could report it back to the community,” Ealons said. “And they did so. The desire now is to maintain and sustain that.”

For Ebony, the nation’s oldest black magazine with a monthly readership of 12 million, the coverage paid off — the Chicago-based magazine landed Obama’s first post-election interview.

The newsier turn, is due, at least in part, to the black brain drain from mainstream publications, due to massive industry buyouts and layoffs. And black publications like Ebony and Essence have reaped the rewards, landing reporters and editors from top newspapers like The Baltimore Sun, Newsday and the Boston Globe and organizations like Knight Ridder.

“There is a sense of going to back to the roots of where we used to get our news,” said Barbara Ciara, president of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ). “When we first learned of something that was going to happen in our community it hit the black press long before it hit the mainstream.”

BET, which will host an inaugural ball for the first time in the network’s history, ran 10 hours of election night coverage and reached 10.7 million viewers, beating out CNBC’s coverage. Correspondents, who were spread out in cities across the country, were expected to report the news, but also reflect on the moment.

“We made the decision that we needed to cover the visceral aspects of the election as well,” said Keith Brown, senior vice president of news. “Reporters had a responsibility to give the information but also say what it felt like and what it meant to our community. They were our story tellers and not just reporters.”

BET, long criticized for running too many booty shaking music videos, is in the process of expanding their news coverage beyond the current 25 hours a month. But don’t expect “Meet The Press” or a nightly news-style broadcast.

“People are demanding change and accountability and they want to know what’s happening and they want people who they trust to break it down and help them understand it,” Brown said. “And we have a very key role in doing that. Sometimes the most traditional way isn’t the most effective, but it’s going to be grounded in solid reporting.”

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Anti-apartheid icon Suzman dies


Helen Suzman's battle for racial equality in South Africa

Helen Suzman, a celebrated South African MP and anti-apartheid campaigner, has died at the age of 91.

Mrs Suzman, a member of parliament first for the opposition United Party and later the Progressive Party, was an outspoken critic of apartheid.

For 13 years, Mrs Suzman, the daughter of Jewish Lithuanian immigrants, was the only MP to openly condemn South Africa's whites-only apartheid regime.

She was made an honorary dame by the Queen in 1989.

She was also twice-nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The family plans to follow a private funeral this weekend with a public memorial in February, the SAPA news agency reported.

Mandela supporter

The former MP, who had been in a frail condition recently, died at her home in Johannesburg early on Thursday.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu said his country owed her an enormous debt in the struggle against apartheid.

"She really was indomitable," he said.

Nelson Mandela Foundation chief executive Achmat Dangor told the Associated Press news agency that she was a "great patriot and a fearless fighter against apartheid".

Mrs Suzman, who first entered the South African parliament in 1953, was a thorn in the side of the apartheid regime, says the BBC's Peter Biles, in Johannesburg.

She was a frequent visitor of jailed African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela when he was held on Robben Island prison for 18 years.

Helen Suzman in 1999
Mrs Suzman campaigned against the cruelty of South Africa's race laws

Mr Mandela wrote of her in his biography: "It was an odd and wonderful sight to see this courageous woman peering into our cells and strolling around our courtyard. She was the first and only woman ever to grace our cells."

Former President PW Botha once referred to her as a "vicious little cat". For her part, she said that if he were a woman, "he would arrive in parliament on a broomstick".

Despite her frailty in recent years, Mrs Suzman, who stepped down from parliament in 1989, continued to speak out against what she saw as the failings of South Africa's post-apartheid ANC administration.

Mrs Suzman was born in Germiston, Gauteng, on 7 November 1917 to Jewish Lithuanian immigrants.

In 1937, at the age of 19, she married doctor Moses Meyer Suzman. The couple later had two daughters.

Mrs Suzman received honorary doctorates from leading universities across the globe, including Oxford, Cambridge, Columbia (New York), Harvard, Witwatersrand and Cape Town.

She was also awarded an honorary Fellowship of the London School of Economics (LSE).