Here’s your daily dose of cuteness.
Over at the New York Times, Questlove reflects on Amiri Baraka’s constant quest to merge culture and social change.
When he wrote “Blues People” and “Milneburg,” the apogee of American music was bebop. When I read “Blues People” and “Milneburg,” it was hip-hop. But Mr. Baraka was onto something. People sniffing around art that’s trying to change society, and then dabbing on the scent of that art so that they, too, can seem like they’re part of the solution — that’s as much of a danger as it’s ever been.
The Roots recorded with Mr. Baraka once. It was for our “Phrenology” album, in 2002, which was titled for the absurd, discredited science of taking a measure of a man’s character by feeling his head. The album was also about racial profiling, social Darwinism, and hip-hop itself: If you’re a hip-hop head, what can you expect from the world, and what can the world expect from you?
It’s an important tribute from a contemporary black artist who’s grappling with the legacy of another. Read the rest over at the Times.
So, here’s what we know about those who’ve enrolled for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act: As of December 31, over two million people have signed up through the market exchanges, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
This is a huge improvement over the 106,000 who enrolled in the first month the state and federal marketplaces were opened for business, somewhat in haste, in October.
This progress is credited mostly to the Obama administration’s dogged attempts to fix the many problems with Healthcare.gov, the primary web portal for health insurance shopping. But there are still many unresolved issues with the website, along with those created by each state for purchasing plans.
But while the number of enrollees are increasing, what we don’t know is how many Africa-Americans, Latinos Asians and Native Americans now have plans. We know that there are millions of uninsured black Americans who qualify for Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and other forms of financial assistance, but we don’t know how many of them have been able to actually benefit from them.
When asked for this data, an HHS spokesperson said that this aggregation hadn’t been done yet.
“For our first two reports, we shared metrics which provided the most accurate snapshot available of Marketplace enrollment-related activity. We will provide additional metrics when we are able to do so,” said HHS’s Sherice Perry Dillard by email.
Asked for a timeline on when the racial breakdowns might be available, Dillard couldn’t say, but pointed out that applicants are not obligated to include their race or ethnicity when signing up.
The racial checkbox is voluntary on most, if not all applications. It seems that the government agency could track or collect racial data on those enrollees who at least chose to disclose their race. With over 30 percent of Latinos, almost 21 percent of African-Americans and 18.1 percent of Asian-Americans uninsured, compared to a 11.7 percent uninsurance rate for white Americans, the federal government might want to follow these figures.
It’s also important to have this information publicly available for advocates who’ve been fighting for better access to adequate healthcare for years. I interviewed with Anita Johnson at KPFA’s “Hard Knock Radio” about this issue in November. She told me that many uninsured black people in her Oakland and Bay area neighborhoods weren’t reaping the benefits of Obamacare. This is a shame because California is often touted as the state with one of the best functioning Obamacare websites. Racial data would help us determine who the sites are best functioning for.
Ahead of a February 5 misdemeanor hearing, big sister Valerie Poquiz is trying to get a California district attorney to drop battery charges against 16-year-old Jewlyes Gutierrez. According to Poquiz’s Change.org petition:
On November 13, 2013, Jewlyes defended herself against three girls who were tormenting and then physically attacked her. This was captured on video and you can see Jewlyes trying to run away. The students involved were suspended but to our disbelief, District Attorney Daniel Cabral then filed charges against Jewlyes for battery - she’s the only one charged.
The school district disagrees with the prosecution. “It doesn’t seem to be fair,” Charles Ramsey, president of the West Contra Costa district tells Contra Costa Times. “You’re prosecuting a victim here?”
California last year passed the School Success and Opportunity Act to protect transgender students. But opposition is mounting, as mainly evangelical Christian groups are rallying around a ballot initiative to repeal the law this November.
A week before Gutierrez’s November fight, a transgender teen’s skirt was set on fire while the victim slept on an Oakland public bus. The accused firebug is a 16-year-old boy.
Since last Wednesday, Poquiz’s petition has close to 30,000 signatures of support.
(h/t Contra Costa Times)
Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” won the award for best drama at last night’s Golden Globes. The film has long been considered a top contender for the Oscars, nominations for which will be announced on January 16. Read more at the Los Angeles Times.
The Cleveland baseball team’s* logo, a redfaced Native-American man named Chief Wahoo, is problematic, to say the least. And it looks like the Major League Baseball team’s owners are inching forward with their slow phaseout of the logo. For the 2014 season the Ohio team is replacing “Chief Wahoo” with a block letter ‘C’ as the team’s primary logo. The cartoon man’s face will become the secondary logo for the team.
Good luck confirming that with the team, though. While first reported by ESPN, the team has actually denied that they are making such a move to avoid alienating people who are emotionally attached to the redfaced caricature, according to ESPN. Still, changes are on the way.
The Indians have no [uniform] alterations slated for 2014, which means Chief Wahoo will still be on the team’s home cap and on the left sleeve of all the team’s jerseys for at least one more season. In that sense, the impact of the logo redesignations would be more symbolic than practical. But symbolism matters, especially when discussing Chief Wahoo, whose own symbolism has become controversial. Although most of the debate about Native American imagery in sports has centered on the NFL’s Washington Redskins, there’s been a rising chorus of voices calling for the Indians to retire Wahoo. … Moreover, the logo redesignations would have ripple effects because media outlets — including “SportsCenter” and newspapers — would start using the block-C, instead of Wahoo, as their visual shorthand for the team.
No doubt the Major League Baseball team’s owners are aware of the campaign to get Washington, D.C.’s NFL team to change its name.
*Story has been updated since publication
For the first time in history, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, most members of Congress are now millionaires—or pretty close to it. Also announced this week is news that members are finally nearing a deal on the embattled 2013 Farm Bill, which will contain an additional $9 billion in reduced food stamp benefits over the next decade. It’s a compromise deal from $40 billion in cuts initially proposed by House Republicans.
Last November’s $5 billion cut to food stamp benefits hit 47 million Americans. The new reductions target nearly a million residents in 15 states who receive benefits through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
On Monday Chrissy Guzman and Lori Yuan, two Adelanto, Calif., mothers, will be arraigned in Victorville Superior Court on charges that the two vandalized Desert Trails Elementary School just before it was converted to a charter school last June. It’s the most recent development in the saga of the nation’s first parent trigger takeover of a public school.
Guzman and Yuan could face up to three years in county jail for allegedly spraying ketchup, mustard and paint throughout the school and damaging rugs, window coverings and classrooms, San Bernardino County DA spokesperson Christopher Lee told the San Bernardino County Sun. The damage, done days before the school was handed over to a private charter school operator, came to $8,000. The school is now called the Desert Trails Preparatory Academy.
Guzman and Yuan were the most outspoken local critics of the town’s use of the parent trigger, which allows parents whose kids go to a school with chronically low test scores to pull a one-time lever to overhaul their children’s school by choosing from a menu of options, including replacing the principal, firing all the staff, and converting a school to a charter school. Ostensibly a tool of parent empowerment, critics have called the parent trigger a ruse which props up parents as the face of a very specific set of market-driven, test-focused education reforms. The parent trigger has since become an education reform and media darling, but the real-life story of it is complicated, and often ugly.
For more, read Colorlines’ parent trigger coverage.
There were a lot of big releases from black artists in 2013 — Jay Z and Kanye West, for starters — but not one had a number one hit single, according to Billboard. It’s the first time in Billboard’s 56-year history of tracking number one songs that not a single black artist has topped the list.
The top spot on the Hot 100 — today’s version of the singles chart — was dominated by white acts throughout the past year. Perhaps even more intriguing is the fact that white artists even sat atop the R&B and Hip-Hop Songs chart for 44 out of 52 weeks of 2013. Compare this to ten years ago, when every No. 1 Hot 100 single was performed by an artist of color.
And in a final interesting twist, there are no living black artists being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014 — although Clarence Clemons will be inducted posthumously as part of the E Street Band. That’s only happened once before in Rock Hall history.
Days after the Omaha police union helped publicize a shocking video showing a local African-American toddler swearing and being sworn at, Omaha police are back in the news. Two officers have been fired, the latest fallout from controversial arrests stemming from a parking dispute last March. That incident was also caught on video.
“A parking ticket turned into officers storming my house and me being thrown to the ground and put into a chokehold,” Octavius Johnson says, according to a statement released by the ACLU of Nebraska. “When I was on the ground and police ran towards my house, I was worried about the family that raised me. I have seen incidents like this happen to other people. I now know that something like this could happen to not just my family, but any family.”
A call from a tow-truck operator in front of the Johnson family home resulted in Omaha police dispatching at least 20 officers to the scene. After video of the arrests spread via YouTube, OPD immediately fired four officers.
A federal lawsuit filed earlier this week by the ACLU on behalf of the Johnson’s, alleges excessive force and illegal search and seizure. In addition to 32 police officers, the suit names police chief Todd Schmaderer who this week distanced his department from the union’s posting of the toddler video, saying:
“I strongly disagree with any postings that may cause a divide in our community or an obstacle to police community relations.”
Amiri Baraka died today. He was an controversial writer, and is heavily associated with the civil rights and black arts* movements. He is probably best known for his poetry, and was New Jersey’s poet laureate in 2002 and 2003. But Baraka also wrote music criticism and was a prolific playwright. His brilliant play, “Dutchman,” premiered in 1964 and received an Obie Award. Baraka, who was born Everett LeRio Jones, was also a professor who taught at various universities, including Yale and Columbia.
It’s impossible to find any one piece of work that illustrates the depth of Baraka’s work, but this video, in which Baraka reads “Dope,” gives us an idea of how Baraka was able to connect race, Christianity, economics, and domestic and foreign policy in a historical framework.
Baraka was hospitalized in December. He died today at the age of 79.
*Post has been updated since publication.
Meet Lakeisha, a Bay Area-based woman who made this incredibly inspiring video of her journey at the gym to lose more than 70 pounds. What’s great about the video is that it’s not just a vain attempt to lose weight and look slimmer, but a glimpse into one woman’s journey toward more self-confidence.
The effort was part of Give It 100, an initiative that challenges participants to try something new for 100 days and make videos of themselves doing it. Another one of my personal faves: the woman who learned how to dance.
CNN is reporting disturbing video of a diapered African-American toddler swearing, and being sworn at, by at least three persons who are off-camera. It’s not clear from the video whether the off-camera voices belong to adults or teens. Though authorities found no evidence of a crime in the video, child protective services has taken the unusual step of removing the infant and three other children from the home, citing unexplained “safety concerns.”
The police union, the Omaha Nebraska Police Officers Association, has come under fire for initially posting the video, which also did not blur the child’s face, on its site. They say their attempt at social uplift has been misunderstood:
“…we have an obligation to share it to continue to educate the law abiding public about the terrible cycle of violence and thuggery that some young innocent children find themselves helplessly trapped in.”
Right. Because that’s how law enforcement helps small children.
Will any real parent—in this video or at the Omaha Nebraska Police Officers Association—please step up?
Teju Cole just told a short story in a whole new way. Cole, whose current Twitter bio asks, “We who?” retweeted 35 users to tell a story that begins with a narrator seeing “a man on the ground”:
… to the subway, I saw a man on the ground. He sat on the sidewalk, under trees, with his feet out to the quiet street.— rünty reader (@runtyreader) January 8, 2014
We soon learn that others are there:
Four others were there: a young man busy with a phone, a young woman, a baby in a pram, a girl who was with the woman.— George Szirtes (@george_szirtes) January 8, 2014
The scene is solemn:
There was a stillness in the scene, as in an altarpiece. There was a helpless air in those who stood around him.— ; (@murab) January 8, 2014
Part of the genius here is that Cole is weaving together many voices to tell one story—which good storytelling always aims to do. And Cole does so on a medium that is best known for hastags, yet he doesn’t use one to here. One also has to read from the bottom up in order to understand its meaning.
By defamiliarizing something that might otherwise read as an everyday story on an everyday medium, he adds an incredible amount of depth to the way the reader discerns it. In a word, it’s brilliant.
Want to read the whole story? Head over to @tejucole.
On Tuesday New Jersey Governor and rumored GOP presidential hopeful Chris Christie publicly celebrated the enactment of his state’s DREAM Act. The law will give students who’ve grown up and gone to high school in the state the right to pay in-state college tuition, regardless of their immigration status. Christie quietly signed the bill into law late last month, the New Jersey Star-Ledger reported, and on Tuesday signed a copy.
“You are an inspiration to us,” Christie said in his address to New Jersey students this morning at the signing ceremony. “In you we see all that the future of our country can be. In you we see the infinite possibilities that exist in a human mind that’s challenged and taught and maximized. In you, most importantly, we see the infinite possibilities of the human spirit.”
New Jersey wasn’t alone in its movement on tuition equity for undocumented students. In 2013, the Garden State joined Colorado, Minnesota and Oregon, which passed similar bills. Over a dozen states now have similar laws on their books, which are instrumental in allowing undocumented students to continue their education. Because undocumented students are ineligible for federal student aid or grants, they must pay out of pocket for their higher education. But unless states proactively extend tuition equity to undocumented residents, those students are considered out-of-state students, and have to pay the tuition to match. In-state undergards at Rutgers University, for example, pay $13,499, the New Jersey Star-Ledger reported. Out-of-state students pay $27,523.
There are two basic versions of laws which grant in-state tuition to undocumented students: one that extends in-state tuition equity to students regardless of their immigration status, and another which does that as well as offer state financial aid eligibility to undocumented students. Christie got New Jersey lawmakers to strip the financial aid eligibilty portion from the New Jersey law before agreeing to sign the bill.
New Jersey immigrant advocates have attempted to pass versions of the bill in prior legislative sessions, and during a similar effort in 2011 Christie said he’d veto any such tuition equity measure. But with the 2016 presidential elections looming and the growing importance of the Latino and immigrant vote, things have clearly changed in Christie’s calculus.
“Holler If You Hear Me,” a new musical that’s inspired by the life and work of rapper Tupac Shakur, will begin performances on Broadway at the Palace Theater in New York City on May 26 and officially open on June 19.
The musical, which was developed in closed-door workshops, will open on Broadway without an out-of-town tryout run. It has a script by Todd Kreidler, who wrote a new stage version of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” that opened last month in Washington. The director is Kenny Leon, a Tony Award nominee for the 2010 revival of “Fences.” Casting and other production details will be announced later.
Among the producers of “Holler if Ya Hear Me” is Afeni Shakur, Tupac Shakur’s mother; Eric L. Gold, a television producer (“The Wayans Bros.”); and Shin Chun-soo, a prominent theater producer in South Korea.
The show will feature some of the rapper’s most beloved songs, including “Keep Ya Head Up,” “California Love” and, of course, “Holler If You Hear Me.”