Monthly Archives: January 2013

Infographic: How the Earned Income Tax Credit Helps Low-Income Working Families This Tax Season


Many low- and moderate-income families will claim the earned income tax credit this tax season—and all Americans will reap the benefits. In the recent fiscal showdown deal, Congress voted to continue the 2009 expansions of the earned income tax credit, which also acknowledged the increased costs to families raising three or more children and corrected the “marriage penalty,” by which some married couples risked losing a portion of their earned income tax credit for the five years following their union.

Not only does the earned income tax credit keep millions of working families from slipping into poverty each year, it also leads to positive outcomes for family health and student education. Earned income tax credit dollarsbenefit our economy, and most families who receive the credit end up paying billions of dollars more in net federal income tax than they receive in the earned income tax credit over time. With the 2012 tax season kicking off next week and today being Earned Income Tax Credit Awareness Day, now is the time to get the facts on one of the most important tax credits helping to ensure that work pays for working families.

Katie Wright is a Research Associate at the Center for American Progress.

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Posted by on January 31, 2013 in African American News



Impoverished Mom Lost in Milwaukee Family Court

By Anna Limontas Salisbury

Dulce Guerrero lost her job and home a year ago. Now she feels abused by Milwaukee’s family court system for taking away her parental custody rights. “There is no help for poor families when they are falling apart,” says a woman close to the case.

sign reads, if your children are taken from you, demand a jury trial

Credit: Anna Limontas-Salisbury

(WOMENSENEWS)– Like many parents, Dulce Guerrero and Cesar Compan spent Christmas 2012 watching children open presents.

The three girls unwrapped Barbie dolls and Barbie’s Dream House and the couple savored having their new baby girl, born in October, celebrate her first Christmas with her half-sisters. But the day was cut short when the family loaded into their car and returned Guerrero’s three daughters–ages 9, 6 and 4– to the home of their maternal aunt.

In January 2012 the Circuit Court of the State of Wisconsin awarded temporary non-secure physical custody to Guerrero’s estranged sister, Maria Guerrero.

“I feel raped. And I still have to deal with the people who violated me,” says Dulce Guerrero, who arrived in the United States from Mexico in 2000.

Her custody battle began with a dispute with her sister, with whom she jointly owned and ran a restaurant.

The rights and wrongs of her interaction with her sister aren’t primarily what Dulce Guerrero talks about. She dislikes some of the ways her sister has handled the girls in the past year. But mainly she feels an anguished frustration with her treatment by the family court system.

Dulce Guerrero is just one among tens of thousands of parents currently fighting in child welfare courtrooms, where cases drag on for months, sometimes years, and where women are penalized for existing on meager salaries that barely pay the rent.

When Women’s eNews emailed Arlene Happach, administrative director of Milwaukee Child Welfare Administration, for comment on Dulce Guerrero’s status, a form email came back from Sara Buschman,communications director of the Department of Children and Families.

“Due to confidentiality requirements under state and federal law, the Department of Children and Familiescannot confirm or deny Ms. Guerrero and-or her children are known to the child welfare system or provide any details,” it said.

Indifferent System

That sense of an anonymous, inflexible and indifferent system–in which she has no right to timely attention–is exactly what Dulce Guerrero says she is up against. In the year since her children were taken away, the case has been meandering through the family court system and she’s had no way to speed things up.

The rules and rhythms of family courts vary from state to state. But a case usually begins when a public official or private citizen makes a complaint and gets interviewed by a caseworker who arranges for a preliminary hearing with a judge. That can lead to the prompt removal of children, perhaps in 24 hours or less.

What drags on for someone such as Dulce Guerrero is the process of meeting the conditions of return set out by the judge. This can involve drug and alcohol testing, counseling, supervised visits and a gradual return of children by overnight, weekend and holiday visits. All this is punctuated by something the judge does not specify but is normal: numerous adjournments and delays.

Pat Gowen is the founder of the MaGod Project, an advocacy group in Milwaukee for mothers with children wrongfully removed. She says that women often suffer from confusion about who’s legally in charge after a removal.

In Dulce Guerrero’s case, for instance, she arranged a meeting with Happach to ask her to authorize overnight visits that a judge had allowed but a caseworker was blocking in a way Gowen considered abusive.

Gowen said Happach conceded that a caseworker didn’t have the authority to block the visits. But Chief Judge Joseph Donald also attended the meeting and said something different: that judges depend on caseworkers to determine abuse and neglect and set conditions because they go into the home, not the judge or lawyers.

“So each party conveniently passes the buck to the other, so there is absolutely no accountability and we are spinning our wheels,” says Gowen.

Meeting the Requirements

According to court documents, Dulce Guerrero was required to undergo drug, alcohol, psychological and medical evaluations.

Dulce Guerrero says she has completed supervised visitations with her children, which gained her the right to unsupervised visits, such as the family’s Christmas day together.

She has also completed both the drug and alcohol evaluations. But she is balking at the psychological evaluation. She says she has complied with everything asked of her and a year later still doesn’t have her children back.

Dulce Guerrero was accused of being unavailable and unable to provide adequate supervision and care, according to documents served on her by the State of Wisconsin, Circuit Court of Milwaukee. Her sister accused her of neglect. By the time she received the letter from the court notifying her of the situation,Dulce Guerrero had missed the first court hearing.

Communication was complicated by her loss of work at the restaurant she and her sister formerly ran together and then by getting evicted from her apartment for failure to pay.

“This happens to poor people,” says Amanda Morales, a transportation provider for a mental health program, during an interview last fall at the office of Welfare Warriors, an advocacy group for low-income women. “Poor people being mad at each other and calling the system on each other . . . There are no services for the poor family being ripped apart, no services like housing options.”

An analysis of U.S. Census data by the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, an advocacy groupbased in Alexandria, Va., shows Milwaukee having the third-highest rate of removing poor children from their homes in the nation. It falls behind Philadelphia and Los Angeles County, according to data collected byWisconsin’s Department of Children and Families in 2009.

That same data show a much higher rate of removal from impoverished households, raising the question of whether a parent’s lack of income is being conflated with abuse and neglect.

Unstable Arrangement

According to a statement taken by a court investigator, a child care arrangement between Dulce Guerreroand the father of her children, Victor Tello, was unstable. Tello understood the arrangement to be temporary, for only a few days. He took the children to Maria Guerrero’s house and then she called Child Protective Services.

A year ago Dulce Guerrero lost her job at the El Fogan restaurant, in which she held a $10,000 stake and helped run with her sister, who controls the business.

When Women’s eNews reached Maria Guerrero by phone at her restaurant she declined to talk. Her husband,Filberto Lando, had this to say: “We are not to talk about the girls or anything about the case. We would like to but we can’t.”

As foster parents, Lando says they were taking care of the children until their mother got herself together. “The girls are going back,” he says. “She just has to meet the requirements of the court.”

Dulce Guerrero says the dispute with her family started when she arrived late to work one day. At that pointMaria Guerrero and Lando accused her of not working as hard as them and said she needed to put in more hours.

Dulce Guerrero says she refused, arguing that she needed at least one day off to spend time with her children. The argument escalated and Dulce Guerrero wound up losing her job at the restaurant, her only source of income.

Shortly after that she was evicted from the apartment leased by her sister.

Dulce Guerrero contacted Tello, the biological father, who was living in Chicago. She says they agreed that he would care for the children until she got back on her feet.

At that point Dulce Guerrero turned to Compan, a route sales representative for Aramark Uniforms, a company based in Burbank, Calif., that delivers uniforms, towels, aprons, and mats to businesses across the country. He said she could stay with him.

Compan and Dulce Guerrero met in August 2011 at El Fogan, where she was doing everything from serving customers to cooking and cleaning. Compan would stop in for meals while on break from his delivery route.

Compan says at a certain point they exchanged numbers and began spending time together. He says he didn’t meet Dulce Guerrero’s daughters until a few months after she’d lost custody. It was after the children were removed, and Dulce Guerrero had nowhere to go, that he says she told him about what the whole family was going through.

“I told her to stay here until you figure it out,” Compan said in a phone interview recently from Milwaukee. “I love Dulce with all my heart; she had my daughter.”

Stepping Up

Compan has accompanied Dulce Guerrero through court dates, meetings with her lawyer and appointments to counselors. He says he worries about her daughters. “No one is stepping up to help them,” he says. “I consider them my daughters.”

Dulce Guerrero said she feels good about Compan being involved now. “The girls never had a dad. They feel real comfortable with him. They say he is a real good person.”

She and Compan are dissatisfied with their assigned caseworker, Jamie Hatch, of Children’s Service Society of Wisconsin. They say she has removed bilingual site supervisors, consistently used English-only documents, including some that she tried to compel Dulce Guerrero to sign. The couple says she has botched transportation for the children to visit her and has canceled scheduled visits once they were granted by the court judge.

When reached by phone, Hatch declined to comment on the case.

Dulce Guerrero says that Hatch has allowed the custodial aunt to make parental decisions about the care of the children without her consent, including cutting six inches of their hair and not permitting her to treat a rash on the leg of one daughter for five months. Dulce Guerrero insists that from January to July 2012, the two younger children spent up to 13 hours a day at the restaurant where the aunt worked before they were finally placed in daycare.

She says that she has requested a jury trial on four occasions from her assigned lawyer Tom Miller and has been denied. Dulce Guerrero says court proceedings have been delayed a number of times when no interpreter was available.

Morales was a bilingual site visit supervisor from Lad Lake, a mental health program overseeing Dulce Guerrero’s visits with Hatch. She provided a letter to Miller on Dulce Guerrero’s behalf to demonstrate thatDulce Guerrero had completed some court requirements–such as satisfactory supervised visits–and that Hatch refused to provide her lawyer.

Morales was dismissed from the case in July 2012.

MaGod Project’s Gowen set up a meeting in late October 2012 with the Happach, the administrative director of the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare. At that meeting she presented a written petition on behalf ofDulce Guerrero’s and Compan’s complaints. They requested to have Hatch disciplined or dismissed from the case.

It didn’t work.

“As long as Jaime is the only case worker, she can do whatever she wants,” Gowen told Women’s eNewsafter the meeting with Happach. “And with no access to a trial, the court never has to prove your guilt.”

Anna Limontas-Salisbury is a reporter living in Brooklyn, N.Y. This story is part of a series on Child Protective Services and low-income women made possible by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

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Posted by on January 30, 2013 in African American News


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Egyptians Patrol Tahrir Square for Mob Sex Assaults

By Jessica Gray

A massive gathering is planned today in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to mark the second anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution. Activists working to curb mob sex assaults won’t be celebrating. They’ll be watching for these assaults and victims who need help.

Young woman displays HarassMap web site on a laptop computer
Eba’a El-Tamami of HarassMap, an Egyptian organization that collects reports on harassment and publishes it online. Credit: Jessica Gray

CAIRO, Egypt (WOMENSENEWS)– It was two years ago today that Egyptians began flooding the streets to protest decades of tyranny and corruption, marking the start of a revolution that drove former PresidentHosni Mubarak from power.

Activists focused on the danger of mob sexual assault aren’t planning to join Friday’s massive celebrations set for downtown Cairo. Instead, they plan to patrol the capital’s iconic Tahrir Square, on high alert for women in need of bodily rescue.

“The main objective is to get the girl out. It is crisis management,” says Eba’a El-Tamami, marketing and communications unit head for HarassMap.

Based in the capital, HarassMap collects data about harassment, conducts community awareness and outreach programs and is part of a campaign called Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment-Assault, which draws strength from a coalition of groups.

The organization’s goal, says El-Tamami, “is to counter what we suspect are organized, mob sexual assaults.”

Verbal sexual harassment is a common nuisance on Egyptian streets. However, HarassMap and other groups claim these mob attacks constitute something far more sinister.

“We think it’s organized and planned,” says El-Tamami. “We think it’s probably paid thugs, but we don’t know who is paying them. There are quite a few eye-witness reports . . . People who have had this happen say it’s very difficult to imagine this is random or sporadic . . . . I don’t want to speculate but there are definitely people who have interest in positioning the square as dangerous and make protesters look like harassers or thugs.”

Female victims have turned to social media to share their harrowing experiences. Some recount being stripped, molested and beaten with weapons. Others say they faced even worse tortures, such as kidnapping and repeated sexual assault.

In response, nonprofits, women’s groups and human rights organizations in the capital formed the Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment-Assault campaign to intervene and rescue victims from mob attacks.

International Attention

Lara Logan, a South African war reporter and correspondent for the TV program “60 Minutes” was the first victim to garner international attention after being brutally beaten and sexually assaulted by a male gang in the square on Feb. 11, 2011, while working for American network CBS. It was same night Mubarak announced his resignation.

Since then, several women have described the shocking sexual and physical violence suffered at the hands of swarming packs of men that they believe are part of organized gangs hired to cause trouble.

To prevent the attacks, male and female volunteers from Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment-Assault campaign hand out hotline numbers during major daytime protests and marches. If an assault is reported, volunteers in the group’s control room direct the closest patrols to the scene.

When they arrive, patrol members–some of whom are female–insinuate themselves inside the mob, form a protective ring around the victim and do their best to keep her safe. Then, a female volunteer rushes in to help clothe the victim before volunteers hurry the victim and volunteers out of the mob and to a nearby safe house.

El-Tamami says these confrontations can be tense and dangerous. “Our objective is to not use violence, but it’s possible that people get involved in it; that’s the nature of these situations.”

According to her, during a major protest in Tahrir Square last November, the group got between six and eight calls, some at the same time, between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. Despite the frequency of the mob assaults, no one knows who is orchestrating the violence or why.

El-Tamami and others say the social acceptability of sexual harassment partly explains why the courts have punished so few men so far. The first successful prosecution saw a man sentenced to three years in prison and hard labor in 2008 for groping film director Noha Rushdi Saleh, also known as Noha Ostadh.

Watching in Horror

Pakinam Badran, a media representative at the Cairo-based anti-harassment group Imprint Foundation, was in the square during one such attack and watched in horror as the mob surrounded its intended victim, brandishing all kinds of weapons.

“I saw two mob attacks on the same day,” she says. “I stood there and watched, feeling an adrenaline rush, thinking I might know someone involved. The guys had sticks, whips, electric shocks, everything. But then a group took the woman out and made a barricade around her.” Before this attack, she had personally seen only one-on-one sexual harassment. A few days before this attack, however, she had seen a televised report on mob attacks.

Like HarassMap, Imprint Foundation’s goal is to make harassment of all forms taboo.

The foundation sent out its own downtown Cairo patrols during Eid holidays last year. Badran says they confronted more than 50 harassers and helped five women press charges.

The group’s patrollers are male. Female members feel it is still too dangerous to confront sexual harassers and don’t want to become victims themselves.

Egypt is also plagued with a culture of victim blaming, say critics, where women are told they deserve to be harassed for the way they dress, if they are wearing makeup or whether they wear a traditional Muslim veil.

“Our mission at HarassMap is to end the social acceptability of sexual harassment in Egypt,” says El-Tamami. “We think that the increased social acceptability over the years is what has led sexual harassment to reach such a crisis level. If a girl screamed out ‘harasser!’–which she probably wouldn’t do because she is scared of what will happen–you get bystanders who might join in [the harassment], be passive or blame it on you, your hair or what you are wearing.”

Jessica Gray is a Canadian journalist reporting on the Middle East from Cairo.

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Posted by on January 30, 2013 in African News



Sex-Selective Abortion Trending in Albania

By Besar Likmeta

Albanian officials deny any evidence of widespread sex-selective abortion. But on the heels of a critical U.N. report the government is ordering a task force to consider a problem that researchers say is rooted in a cultural bias for male heirs.

A young girl walks in Tirana during celebrations for Albania's 100th independence anniversary, Nov. 28, 2012.
A young girl walks in Tirana during celebrations for Albania’s 100th independence anniversary, Nov. 28, 2012.

 Credit: Besar Likmeta

TIRANA, Albania (WOMENSENEWS)– A declining fertility rate, a gender gap favoring male babies and the introduction in 1995 of prenatal screening technology provide the demographic backdrop to a recent report of widespread, illegal sex-selective abortion in Albania.

What makes the story of female feticide so believable, and difficult to fix, one researcher says, is the culture’s strong preference for male heirs.

“Boys are expected to support the parents financially, provide for their security and protect their honor, while girls are expected to provide emotional support and care for ailing parents,” said Kristina Voko, aprofessor of psychology at the University of Tirana. “Although girls are seen as a great source of emotional support and affection for the parents, boys are seen as necessary.”

Voko coauthored research for a December 2012 report by the U.N. Population Fund and World Vision, “Sex Imbalances at Birth in Albania.”

The study finds that as many as 15,000 female fetuses may have been aborted between 2000 and 2010, which corresponds to 7 percent of female births over the same period.

Voko noted that girls in Albania are not seen as an economic burden and that religion does not play a role, as in countries such as India, where the practice has been well documented. “In India families have to pay expensive dowries to marry off girls, or only men can carry out certain religious rituals, which is not the case in Albania.”

An estimated 500,000 female fetuses are aborted each year in India, according to a May 2011 study in themedical journal The Lancet. Albania’s much smaller population of only 3 million is 400 times smaller than India’s 1.2 billion, which makes the scale of sex-selective abortions comparable.

Although the release of the study has focused some public debate on the issue in Albania, health authorities deny any evidence of the problem.

“We have no indications that sex-selective abortions are carried out either in public hospitals or private clinics,” Pullumb Pipero, general director of policies and planning at the Ministry of Health, said in an email interview. “Because the sex ratio at birth is a bit above the normal trend, this brought forth the hypothesis that such abortion are carried out.”

Task Force Assembled

Nonetheless, Pipero said that due to the sensitivity of the issue the Minister of Health, Vangjel Tavo, has ordered a task force to review the enforcement of the abortion law. “We are looking at the possibility of issuing new legal directives that strengthen the application of the law,” he said.

Under Albania’s 2002 reproductive health law, the use of prenatal screening technologies to provide for sex-selective abortions is not permitted and abortions after the first trimester are illegal.

Voko said she would welcome measures to strengthen the enforcement of the law but added that authorities’ denials of the study’s findings won’t help the country change attitudes that make sex-selective abortion socially acceptable.

Although a better monitoring of health services might curb sex-selective abortions, Voko said the government must also target the ingrained preference for male heirs. “There is a need to have a public debate on gender roles that in Albania are strictly defined. In essence this is a problem of women’s rights and inequalities,” she said.

Sex-selective abortions face few social or administrative barriers in Albania, researchers of the report found. Currently Albania does not have in place a directive that would ban the disclosure by doctors of the baby’s sex during pregnancy.

Interviews with doctors and women indicated that sex-selective abortions are commonplace in Albanian hospitals and private clinics, Voko said.

Voko added that in most cases, especially outside the capital Tirana, sex-selective abortions are carried out in public hospitals and they are cheap enough that any Albanian family can afford them. And few efforts are made to prevent them.

During interviews with members of the general population and also medical professionals, most expressed views indicating they were against sex-selective abortions, yet only in few cases did they report legal or administrative barriers, Voko said.

Gender Gap

Boys here outnumber girls by 112 to 100.

That’s a gap that Arjan Gjonca, a co-author of the report, ties to the rise of sex-selective abortions after the 1995 introduction of prenatal sex-screening technology.

“Sex-selection is incredibly widespread in the whole country and also in the neighboring Albanian populations as well as Montenegro,” said Gjonca, a senior lecturer at the London School of Economics, in an e-mail interview. “We find evidence in all regions, in rural and urban areas, amongst the educated and uneducated, among professionals and non-professionals.”

Although prenatal sex screening became widespread only two decades ago, popular beliefs on ways to predict the sex of the unborn child have been around for much longer and show how the culture favors a male.

If a woman showed marks on her face and put weight on her thighs, the unborn child was believed to be a girl. But if her skin remained flawless and her body slim, a male heir was on the way.

The rise in proportion of young boys, the authors note, will translate in a few years to similar imbalances among the adult population, with young men outnumbering young women by 10 percent.

“In the future it will create a surplus of men in the marriage market, triggering migration among single men and further discrimination of women by lowering the age of marriage and re-introducing arranged marriages,” Gjonca predicted.

In Between India, China

Albania’s sex ratio is skewed more towards boys than it is in India and less than in China, where respectively 110 and 118 boys are born for every 100 girls, according to the WomanStats Project and Database. The database is one of the most comprehensive sources of information on the status of women in the world, created by seven leading experts at five U.S. universities and updated by dozens of researchers.

“My understanding is that the overall birth sex ratio in Albania is 111 boy babies born for every 100 girl babies, and that the birth sex ratio in Tirana is 119 boy babies for every 100 girl babies–which puts Tirana on a par with China,” said Valerie Hudson, a professor at Texas A&M University and a founder of theWomanStats Project, in an email interview. Tirana is the largest city in Albania.

The Albania study finds that parents were twice as likely to abort a female fetus if the previous child had been a girl, which is a reflection of the efforts made by families to ensure that at least one of their children was male.

In 1960 an Albanian woman had on average seven children, in 1990 three children and by 2010 the average had fallen to just 1.6 children.

Besar Likmeta is an editor for the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, based in Tirana, and a winner of the 2009 CEI-SEEMO Award for Investigative Journalism.

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Posted by on January 30, 2013 in African American News


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Black Loyalists in 18th Century London

It was during the War of Independence in the colony of America that Britain gained herself these unlikely allies. Black loyalists fought for Britain against the American colonists. Free blacks were joined by thousands of slaves who had been promised freedom and land by Britain if they joined in this battle. The idea of British freedom, i.e. complete freedom in the shortest possible time, was appealing to the escaped Africans who in the 1770s made their way to the British army position to fight for Britain and for freedom.

The Death of Major Peirson, 6 January 1781 - John Singleton Copley

The Death of Major Peirson, 6 January 1781 – John Singleton Copley

In September 1783, the independence of the United States and the formation of its boundaries were formally recognised. The new country was founded by an egalitarian movement and based on the philosophy of ‘equal rights’ for all.  After this treaty had been signed, the whole British faction had to leave the United States. In the eight months between April and November 1783, over 3,000 black people leaving the country on British ships for destinations as varied as Nova Scotia, the West Indies, England, Germany, Quebec or Belgium, were recorded in the ‘Book of Negroes’ .

Many of these Black Loyalists travelled to London.

London had a severe poverty problem in the 18th century. This became more pronounced as growing numbers of African-American loyalists arriving from America ended up living on the streets. The black loyalists, along with their white counterparts had all been promised compensation for their losses in the War of Independence, however, the majority of claims from the black loyalists were denied or they were given derisory amounts condemning them to lives of destitution. The Parliamentary Commission Compensation Board reviewing the claims stated, on several occasions, that they believed the black claimants were being deceptive in claiming they were free men with property and should adopt a state of gratitude that they were now at liberty rather than pursue applications for financial assistance.

In 1786 there were over 1,000 black loyalists living in London. As the negative sentiment regarding the presence of Africans in England increased there were suggestions of where to relocate these black people; the main areas proposed where the Bahamas, where other loyalists had moved to or Sierra Leone, on the West African coast.

The following year around 200 of this impoverished group migrated to Sierra Leone with government assistance; the government wanted to remove the problem of black poverty and the presence of large groups of free black people from the streets of England. There were 344 poor black people on the ship Myro that sailed from London in 1787.  The plan was to move the burden of the ‘troublesome’ black person from the attention of the public, forever . This was an indication of the racially nationalist philosophy that was to perpetrate the abolitionist movement.

Further reading and research

  • The Book of Negroes – that listed all the Black Loyalists evacuated from America – can be found in the archives at Kew (Public Records Office).There is also a copy available online here
  • The National Archives contain records, that can only be viewed in the reading room, about the Committee for the Relief of Poor Blacks and their emigration to Sierra Leone; this covers the details of events between May 1786 to April 1787.This article was contributed by Marjorie Morgan.Writer, Researcher. © 2013 | Blackpresence has special permission to publish this article.
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Posted by on January 30, 2013 in African Diaspora News


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Howard University has become incubator for cinematographers

Matt McClain/For The Washington Post – Bradford Young poses for a portrait at Howard University on Monday January 28, 2013 in Washington, D.C. Young won the Excellence in Cinematography award at the Sundance Film Festival for his work on “Mother of George,” and “Ain’t them Bodies Saints.”

At the Sundance Film Festival last weekend, Howard University graduate Bradford Youngwon the dramatic-feature cinematography award for his work on the films “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” and “Mother of George” — his second time accepting the honor, having won in 2011 for the coming-of-age drama “Pariah.”

The Sundance recognition reinforces what many in the industry have known for a few years now: Howard, best known for its law and medical schools, has become an incubator for people whose work with lighting, lenses, camera movement, film stocks and visual textures has profoundly influenced contemporary cinematic grammar.

“The interesting thing about it is that there is no formal cinematography department,” filmmaker Ava DuVernay says. “It’s jaw-dropping that you’ve had so many come out [of Howard] with such distinct styles.”

The floating-camera dolly shot and super-saturated color palette that are trademarks of Spike Lee’s work are the best known among several innovations that Howard-trained cinematographers have contributed to the films they’ve worked on. Early in his career, Lee developed these techniques in close collaboration with a Howard graduate, Ernest Dickerson.

Just as revered among aficionados are Arthur Jafa’s lyrical work on the 1991 period drama “Daughters of the Dust,” the vibrant, edgy visuals Malik Sayeed helped create for the gangster movie “Belly” — and now, the new sense of subtlety and layered surfaces that Young, 35, has introduced to the African American film vernacular.

DuVernay, who enlisted Young to shoot her features “I Will Follow” and “Middle of Nowhere,” notes that Howard-trained cinematographers emerge not just with practical knowledge of photochemistry and camera mechanics but an understanding that African American culture “is political, and what we do is important and the way that we see ourselves and the way we’re seen start with the person behind the camera.”

The fact that cinematographers are image-makers both in the cinematic and sociological sense has never been lost on the teachers or students at Howard, which formed its radio, television and film department in the early 1970s and began offering an MFA in film in 1983. Howard is the only historically black college with a graduate film program; the country’s best-known film departments are at New York University, the University of Southern California, the American Film Institute and UCLA, where in the 1970s and 1980s a group of African American filmmakers formed the “L.A. Rebellion.”

It was out of that revolutionary cadre in 1975 that filmmaker Haile Gerima arrived at Howard, where he has since taught writing and directing, and guided film to becoming a force of substance and bold expression.

“The whole philosophical idea of the program is leaving their destiny to them,” Gerima says. “We try to prepare them and keep talking about the disconnects, especially in motion pictures and on top of that being African Americans, so that when they go out into the world, at least they won’t shortchange themselves in the way they should perform the tasks they happen to be in.

Ask the cinematographers themselves what the secret is, and you’ll get a range of answers: Dickerson, who came to Howard in 1972 to study architecture, credits an atmosphere of free-ranging experimentation that permeated not just the campus but Washington film culture at large. (He’s gone on to become a director in his own right and is visiting the Howard campus this week to lead a series of seminars.) Jafa, who came later and studied under Gerima and his L.A. Rebellion colleague, Ben Caldwell, recalls Caldwell speculating about a film version of traditional black art forms. “I was interested in [finding] the cinematic equivalent of Cecil Taylor or Jimi Hendrix or James Brown,” Jafa says. “My temperament was very much to question: What is black cinema? ‘Not Hollywood’ wasn’t a viable definition for me. How do we transpose these aesthetic, philosophical, existentially driven values onto this medium that did not develop in response to our needs and expressive desires?”

Associate professor Alonzo Crawford, who has taught cinematography since 1974, agrees that, if Howard has a secret to minting talented cinematographers, it’s in the mix of theory and pragmatism that go hand in hand with one of the country’s premier African American educational institutions. “I impress upon the young people that there’s more to it than just pointing the camera,” he says. “It’s very interesting that the fundamental building block of the motion picture is termed ‘shot.’ Therefore, the camera must be a weapon. And the shot has to be at the enemy or the of your oppression, or else you blow your own brains out with it.”

Crawford teaches the basics, too: He puts his students through overnight “boot camps,” where they’re urged to “shoot and shoot and shoot.” He immerses them in Caravaggio and Rembrandt in order to study the painterly use of light. Dickerson, Jafa and Young — each of whom Crawford taught — internalized those values in their own manner, he says. “They all relate that to their social and political consciousness. So when it comes to lighting someone a certain way, there is Hollywood and then there is Brad, who’s doing it a different way.”

Young has developed a versatile but also consistently poetic, oblique visual style. He lights his subjects softly, which not only looks lovely but has deep aesthetic and political implications, according to Hans Charles, a Howard alumnus and Young’s frequent camera assistant. “On a micro-level, he’s coaxing out different hues within different skin tones,” Charles explains. “On a macro-level, he’s trying to express the diversity within the African diaspora.”

Andrew Dosunmu directed “Mother of George,” worked with Young on ”Restless City” and has also worked with Jafa and Sayeed. He notes that as divergent as they are in visual style, they share a philosophical sensibility.

“I think being men of color, the way they want to photograph people of color is a big objective for them,” he says. “They all come from Howard [and] they’ve seen the way people of color have been photographed since the inception of cinema, that the way we’re represented is not truly justified, and I think that drives them a lot.”

For his part, Young credits another film professor, Daniel Williams, and especially Gerima as the spiritual godfather of what may be, by now, fairly codified as a bona fide successor to the L.A. Rebellion — the Howard Continuum. “I think Haile is the beginning of it all,” Young says. “He made us believe and understand that if we were going to engage in image-making in a filmmaking context, a form that was forged with ‘The Birth of a Nation,’ we had to be on point.” If you were coming from Howard, he notes: “You weren’t just going to be cinematographers who would be part of a whole Hollywood machine. You’re going to represent excellence in our community. Because you’re emerging from the mecca of black education.”


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Posted by on January 29, 2013 in African American News


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Innovative Nebraska Program Brings Diversity To Some Highly Segregated Public Schools


Fifth graders Alyx and Nolan survey the after-school offerings at the diverse, dynamic Wilson Focus School in Omaha, Nebraska. 

by Susan Eaton, America‘s Wire
Omaha – Fifth-grader Alyx has trouble naming the “absolute coolest” thing about Wilson Focus School,part of an innovative educational model called the Learning Community that provides students opportunities to attend diverse schools in highly segregated areas.
Alyx says it’s not just the snakes and other reptiles, not just the “totally amazing and beautiful” Australian blue-tongued skink caged in her classroom. It’s not just her teacher, Mr. Mitchell, “who is so great, who is the best.” And it’s not just her friend Nolan who is “funny and kind.” But Alyx, who is white and lives in the suburbs, and Nolan, who is African American and lives in Omaha, agree that one of the “coolest” things is as Alyx says, “There are kids from all over. Everywhere.”
Well, not quite everywhere. But unlike the typical school in this highly segregated region, or the typical school in many still-segregated communities across the country, Wilson Focus School reaches across two counties to bring together students from a mix of racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds. Yet, even with its well-documented successes, the Learning Community is being threatened by public officials who question the value of the diversity it brings.
Wilson offers the standard diet of mandatory reading time, science reports and oral presentations. However the schools’ specialized leadership, communication and technology curriculum nudges kids into constant negotiations with each other. Each day, students must solve problems collectively, acknowledge and negotiate differences and learn how to balance individual desires with community needs.
In Alyx and Nolan’s fifth grade classroom, students hone these skills within their own “micro-society” they named “Diverse City.” Nolan explains: “Students have jobs, like cops or lawyers or secretaries and there are rules and you sure can bet there are disagreements that you need to resolve.”
Fifth-grader Nicholas Vollmer notes that in Diverse City, “you can sue people,” adding, “But you don’t want to overdo that because . . .usually the goal is to get to some peaceful kind of resolution.”
Diversity is not just an add-on feature, here, teachers say, but integral to the mission of the school.
“The students,” teacher Glenn Mitchell says, “Really get,” that “diversity-be it racial socioeconomic, cultural, in learning style…is a reality of life and that our diversity is going to help them learn how to leaders. They can’t really be leaders if they can’t communicate and interact successfully in a diverse setting. Isn’t that obvious? I mean, it seems pretty obvious to me.”
The Focus School is but one element in metropolitan Omaha’s regional education model known as the Learning Community. Created by Nebraska’s legislature in 2007, the Learning Community is designed to reduce funding disparities between Omaha and its suburbs and to create more socioeconomic diversity in schools.
Eleven school districts pool money that the Learning Community then redistributes via a needs-based formula. The money also provides free transportation to certain students who wish to attend schools not located in the districts where they live.
Finally, Learning Community dollars pay for an array of education-related services, including high-quality preschool, to young people and their families who live in Omaha’s poorest neighborhoods.
The Learning Community emerged following anguished debate over the kinds of messy issues most elected leaders, even in ostensibly more progressive states, prefer to avoid discussing – segregation, economic inequality, social cohesion and righting past wrongs of discrimination. There is still a lot of hopefulness surrounding the Learning Community, both locally and nationally, among civil rights advocates, educational leaders and scholars. But it is not clear that the program will survive the political threats that it faces.
This month, a group of state legislators introduced a bill that would dismantle the Learning Community, although it’s unclear whether the bill will reach Nebraska Gov. David Heineman’s desk. Five years ago, Gov. Heineman signed the legislation to create the Learning Community, but in recent years he has questioned whether the program is still needed. ”I don’t know what purpose it really serves,” Gov. Heineman recently told a local reporter. However, the Learning Community still has strong support among the state legislature’s education committee and certainly among parents and children who have benefitted from it.
“This was really exactly what we were going for,” says Willie Barney, who five years ago created an organization called The Empowerment Network, to in part, provide African Americans a stronger voice in civic matters. Barney, whose son Neremiah attends Focus School, adds, “If you want your child to go to a school that is diverse and that is high performing, then that should exist.”
The Learning Community is but a light counterweight in a region that records some of the highest rates of inequality between whites and blacks and between whites and Latinos, particularly in jobs and income. According to the Urban Institute, Omaha ranks 91st of 100 metros (100 represents the largest gap) on these two measures. The region’s high rates of residential segregation earn it a “D” on the Washington-based Urban Institute’s Metrotrends report card.
In 2011, the Learning Community allowed about 2,250 students to transfer schools, with about half of those increasing diversity in their new schools. Another 180 students attended Wilson Focus School, with the number projected to grow to 250 in a few years. Another few dozen students attend the Focus School program in middle school, which offers a continuation of the leadership and technology curriculum used at Wilson.
“The Learning Community is a work in progress. We have here a structure that provides a beginning, a foundation,” says Ben Gray, an Omaha city councilor. “We need to give this a fighting chance.”
The Native American word “Omaha” translates from the Hokan-Siouan language to “the upstream people” or a tribe that travels “against the current.” There is something of that against-the-grain mentality in this contemporary effort. But the Learning Community also reflects a pragmatism that has long characterized this state.
“I love telling people that 30 percent of Nebraska’s children under the age of five are Latino. I love saying that because people just don’t believe it and it makes them pay attention,” says Ted Stilwill, CEO of the Learning Community. “People have their image and their stereotypes about Nebraska — that it’s cornfields and white people. But of course the data is right there. It tells the story about the fact that we are changing, that we really need to provide ways for all children to prepare for that diverse world, to be part of that world.”
(For more information on the Omaha Learning Community, go to’s Wire is an independent, nonprofit news service run by the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. Our stories can be republished free of charge by newspapers, websites and other media sources. For more information, visit or contact Michael K. Frisby at )

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