Laverne Cox is on the Cover of Vibe Vixen

Laverne Cox is on the Cover of Vibe Vixen

Laverne Cox is the new cover girl of Vibe Vixen Magazine and she opened up about her difficult childhood in Alabama. Here’s a snippet:

What can you tell us about your worst experience with bullying?
When I grew up in Alabama, I was called a sissy, a fag and kids basically wanted to beat me up every day. There was a time in middle school when some kids hit my brother and I with drumsticks and a parent from the school saw it. We knew we could never tell our mother because she would blame us and question why we weren’t fighting back, but the principal called her. It was really awful and painful.

How supportive was your twin brother through the transitioning process? 
He’s amazing. It’s never been an issue for him. He loves me and wants me to be happy. He gets it. He’s a musician with a beautiful voice and an absolutely wonderful performer.

Who has your transition been the hardest on?
My mom had a weird adjustment period with it. A lot of it was just educating her. It took years to get her to use the right pronouns. Anytime there is surgery and hormones, it freaked her out a bit, but I wouldn’t say it was hard on her or anyone. Before I started the medications and surgical procedures, I didn’t have people in my life that would have a problem. For the people that know me, this wasn’t a weird thing. It wasn’t like this was out of the blue. They always knew who I was. I’m really the same person.

Read more over at Vibe Vixen

Black Man Repeatedly Arrested and Jailed for ‘Trespassing’ at His Workplace

Black Man Repeatedly Arrested and Jailed for 'Trespassing' at His Workplace

In an extreme new case of a man getting arrested for walking while black in Florida, the Miami Herald today published an investigation into the case of Earl Sampson, a black convenience store employee who’s been stopped-and-frisked 258 times by Miami Gardens Police in the past four years. Sampson, 28, has been searched at least 100 times often during work hours, arrested 62 times, and jailed 56 times. His most serious charge is for possession of marijuana, but most other charges are for trespassing—in and around the store where he is employed. 

Alex Saleh, the owner of 207 Quickstop where Sampson works, says he’s not the only black employee who’s been harassed by police. In a series of disturbing videos captured by 15 security cameras Saleh had installed (to catch police, not people attempting to steal), among other things you see police walking into the convenience store multiple times to take workers into custody (seemingly without warning) and slam a customer to the ground.

Miami Gardens Police officers appear to be acting under a new “zero-tolerance” program intended to take a hard-line approach to stopping crime in a neighborhood that has an increasing homicide rate, and is home to mostly black residents. Saleh signed on to participate initially, but says he didn’t realize the extent to which police officers would go to enforce, and regrets having signed on. 

Saleh, whose store is tucked between a public park and working-class neighborhoods, contends that Miami Gardens police officers have repeatedly used racial slurs to refer to his customers and treat most of them like they are hardened criminals.

“Police line them up and tell them to put their hands against the wall. I started asking myself ‘Is this normal?’ I just kept thinking police can’t do this,” Saleh said.

Last year, Saleh, armed with a cache of videos, filed an internal affairs complaint about the arrests at his store. From that point, he said, police officers became even more aggressive.

One evening, shortly after he had complained a second time, a squadron of six uniformed Miami Gardens police officers marched into the store, he says. They lined up, shoulder to shoulder, their arms crossed in front of them, blocking two grocery aisles.

“Can I help you?” Saleh recalls asking. It was an entire police detail, known as the department’s Rapid Action Deployment (RAD) squad, whom he had come to know from their frequent arrest sweeps. One went to use the restroom, and five of them stood silently for a full 10 minutes. Then they all marched out.

Saleh is in the process of filing a federal civil rights lawsuit on Sampson’s behalf.

Read the full story at the Miami Herald.

The Chicago Reader Has a Comic on How to Survive a Shooting

The Chicago Reader Has a Comic on How to Survive a Shooting

There’s no step-by-step guide on how to deal the violent loss of a loved one. But in a place like Chicago, a city that’s been ravaged by hundreds of homicides over the past several years, people are sharing their coping strategies. Darryl Holliday and E.N. Rodriguez teamed up to produce a comic for the Chicago Reader that traces the real-life ordeal of Nortasha Stingley, who’ 19-year-old daughter Marissa was shot and killed earlier this year.


Read the full comic over at the Chicago Reader

How Race Shaped the Senate Filibustering Games

How Race Shaped the Senate Filibustering Games

Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid lowered a procedural hurdle that Republicans used as a firewall against some of President Obama’s recent nominees to key federal posts. By changing rules regarding Senate filibusters, now a simple majority of 51 votes are needed to move a nominee through confirmation as opposed to the 60 needed before Thursday.

An example of how this filibustering game played out recently came when Obama appointed Rep. Mel Watt, an African-American congressman from North Carolina, to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Republicans banded together to ensure the 60-vote threshold couldn’t be met, hence blocking the nomination. There has been fear that Republicans would do the same to Obama’s nominee Debo Adegbile for head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. 

Democrats currently have a 53-45 edge over Republicans, with two independents to boot. For Democrats to breach the 60-vote filibuster wall, they would need the two independents and at least five Republicans to vote with them.

Now, with the 51-vote simple majority rule in play, Democrats can overcome the filibuster easily, as will Republicans if they ever become the Senate majority. This rule only applies to presidential nominees, though, and not those for the U.S. Supreme Court.

It’s not a stretch to say that Republican obstructionism with Obama’s nominees have been racially discriminatory, whether consciously or not. Besides Watt, there was a filibuster this week of the African-American judge Robert L. Wilkins to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Of 13 of Obama’s judicial nominees who’ve been blocked or sidelined, seven are African-Americans, one is Asian-American and one is Native-American, as reported in Huffington Post

In Roll Call, Rep. G. K. Butterfield of North Carolina and the Congressional Black Caucus, said that of Republicans’ recent nominee blocks, race is “not the controlling point but it’s a factor, no question about it,” while New York’s Rep. Charles B, Rangel said that a racist motive “goes without saying.”

According to the Congressional Black Caucus, 82 of Obama’s nominees have been filibustered compared to 86 filibustered under all of the pre-Obama U.S. presidents in total. That doesn’t factor in those who under Republican obstruction threats withdrew their names from consideration, like National Security Advisor Susan Rice. Rice was on the short list to succeed Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State until Republicans committed themselves to blocking her. 

President Obama high-fived the Senate yesterday for their game-changer, as did a number of high-profile civil rights advocates concerned with how people of color have been denied seats under the old rules. 

Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, also co-signed the Senate rules change, saying filibustering has “interfered with President Obama’s praiseworthy efforts to diversify the federal bench with women, people of color, and lawyers from a broad range of practice experience.”

Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina said there is historical precedence for changing filibuster rules from the 1960s, when the vote threshold was lowered, allowing for civil rights legislation to finally pass through.

President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated 50 years ago today, found difficulty pushing civil rights bills through the U.S. House because back then the head of the House Rules Committee could simply refuse to pass them. In the early ’60s, the House was dominated by Southern segregationists who stood in the way of civil rights legislation the way Republicans try to stand in the way of healthcare legislation today. Kennedy helped change those House rules, which led, finally, to the passage of stronger civil rights protections through Congress. 

Students Charged with Hate Crimes Against Black Student at San Jose State

Students Charged with Hate Crimes Against Black Student at San Jose State

San Jose State students Colin Warren, Joseph Bomgardner and Logan Beaschler have been charged with a hate crime for bullying and harassing their black roommate. The black male student, who is a 17-year-old freshman and has not yet been named, alleges his roommates gave him the nickname “Three-fifths,” and later referred to him as “Fraction.” Warren, Bomgardner, and Logan have been accused of tormenting and ridiculing him continuously in a number of ways, including:

  • Outfitted the shared dorm room suite with a Confederate flag
  • Barricaded the claustrophobic student in his room
  • Wrote “nigger” on a dry-erase board in the living room
  • Put a U-shaped bike lock around his neck and then told him they lost the key
  • Tried the bike lock trick again a few weeks later
  • Put up Nazi symbols and pictures of Hitler in the dorm
  • Drew pictures of pentagrams to alarm the Christian student

The student says he was terrified of his roommates, locked his doors at night, and was afraid to report their actions. School administrators and other students at San Jose State have come out in support of the student, and hosted a rally on Thursday to raise awareness. 

(h/t Gawker

Pharrell’s New 24-Hour Music Video ‘Happy’ Is Exactly What Your Friday Needs

Pharrell's New 24-Hour Music Video 'Happy' Is Exactly What Your Friday Needs

Pharrell Williams has released the world’s first 24-hour music video and it’s so good. Seriously, watch it. Entertainment Weekly has two great reasons to love the video, which looks like it’s been shot around some of Los Angeles’s most iconic places:

1.) The song, “Happy” (which comes from the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack), rules. It’s absolutely perfect for listening to on repeat—groovy and gorgeous. It’s like that Daft Punk album from this year, if that Daft Punk album were something everyone could enjoy.

2.) The dancers! Many of them are sexy, yes, in a young, athletic, L.A., I’ll-do-anything-for-high-concept-entertainment  sort of way (there are men as well as women, although in my viewing I seemed to happen on more women). But almost as importantly, they are infectiously upbeat and enthusiastic. You might even hate them a little bit, if people much more lithe and contented than you are tend to inspire that. But if you are in the right frame of mind you’ll just want to squeeze them to pieces. (There are famous people in it, too, including Pharrell himself in multiple iterations, but the anonymous people are the best.)

Watch the video at

Alabama’s ‘Scottsboro Boys’ Receive Pardon 80 Years After Arrests

Alabama's 'Scottsboro Boys' Receive Pardon 80 Years After Arrests

Eighty years after nine black teenage boys were arrested and falsely accussed of raping two white girls in Scottsboro, Alabama in 1931, they have all finally been given posthumous pardons by the state’s parole board.

The parole board was unanimous in its decision in the case that came to symbolize racism in the Deep South. All but one of the defendents served lengthy prison sentences and the last surviving defendent died in 1989.

The boys who were arrested were: Olen Montgomery, 17; Clarence Norris, 19; Haywood Patterson, 18; Ozie Powell, 16; Willie Roberson, 16; Charlie Weems, 16; Eugene Williams, 13; and brothers Andy, 19, and Roy Wright, 13.

From the Associated Press:

The founder of the Scottsboro Boys Museum in Scottsboro, Shelia Washington, said the pardons “give the history books a new ending — not guilty.”

The Scottsboro Boys case became a symbol of the tragedies wrought by racial injustice. Their appeals resulted in U.S. Supreme Court rulings that criminal defendants are entitled to effective counsel and that blacks can’t be systematically excluded from criminal juries.

The case inspired songs, books and films. A Broadway musical was staged in 2010, the same year a museum dedicated to the case opened in Scottsboro.

Five of the men’s convictions were overturned in 1937 after one of the alleged victims recanted her story. One defendant, Clarence Norris, received a pardon before his death in 1976. At the time, he was the only Scottsboro Boy known to be alive. Nothing was done for the others because state law did not permit posthumous pardons.

Read more about the case at the AP.

Vitamin D Deficiency Often Misdiagnosed Among Black People

Vitamin D Deficiency Often Misdiagnosed Among Black People

For years health care providers have been sounding the alarm on low vitamin D levels among black folks, equating the deficiency to a “hidden epidemic” that could be connected to elevated cancer rates and other health problems.  But according to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine, doctors may have been misdiagnosing many black patients with vitamin D deficiency, due to genetic differences in blood types between white and black people. The blood test most commonly used to determine this particular vitamin deficiency doesn’t account for a unique protein found among many black people, and researchers say this genetic traits can be traced back to African ancestors.

(h/t NPR Health

Ava DuVernay’s Directorial Debut of ‘Scandal’ Airs Tonight

Ava DuVernay's Directorial Debut of 'Scandal' Airs Tonight

Independent filmmaker Ava DuVernay, whose film “Middle of Nowhere” captured audiences in 2012, will make her directorial debut of ABC’s “Scandal” tonight. DuVernay shared her excitment with fans Thursday morning on Facebook: 

I could say what’s going on here… but I’d get thrown in the B613 hole. So, just watch this Thursday! The next episode of SCANDAL is entitled “Vermont is For Lovers Too” and is directed by yours truly. Hope anyone who tunes in enjoys! Xoxo.

Scandal will be broadcast tonight at 10 p.m.

(h/t The Grio)

‘Catch an Illegal’ Game Thwarted, Becomes Immigration Reform Rally

'Catch an Illegal' Game Thwarted, Becomes Immigration Reform Rally

The proposed “Catch an Illegal” game, which was organized by a conservative student group at UT Austin to “spark debate about illegal immigration,” was instead replaced by an immigration reform rally. It appears their plans backfired after college administrators cancelled the event, and approximately 500 students joined a large demonstration on Wednesday. 

Among the attendees was actress American Ferrera, whose husband is a UT Austin alum. She says she was horrified by the intent behind the game, where immigrants were supposed to be hunted down and turned in for a $25 giftcard bounty, and came out to support students who she said were being intimidated by fear tactics. 

M.I.A. Performs Songs From ‘Matangi’ On The Colbert Report

M.I.A. Performs Songs From 'Matangi' On The Colbert Report

M.I.A. sat down for an interview with Stephen Colbert on Wednesday night to talk about why it’s important for her to talk about politics in her music. She followed up the interview with performances of “Y.A.L.A.” and “Come Walk With Me” off of her new album, “Matangi.”

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Video Archive

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Video Archive

‘Street Knowledge 2 College’ Profiles Students at FREE L.A. High School

'Street Knowledge 2 College' Profiles Students at FREE L.A. High School

A new PBS web series takes a close look at an innovative Los Angeles charter high school that aims to provide alternatives for youth who have been expelled, are reentering school after being incarcerated, or have other special needs not addressed by traditional school settings. “Street Knowledge 2 College” is a 15-episode series exploring FREE L.A. High School, and the strategies they use—such as youth leadership, community organizing, and college prep classes—to engage students and get them on track to graduate. 

Among the youth featured in the series is Chrystal, a young mother who dropped out of high school when she became pregnant. FREE L.A. High School allowed her to bring her daughter to school, which gave her a chance to complete her courses in a supportive environment while caring for her newborn child. Other youth profiled in the series have equally compelling stories, such as Cris Carter, who’s been in and out of detention for the last four years and now has a chance to complete high school.  And, Henry, who works as a community organizer using skills he learned at FREE L.A, and aspires to be elected to public office.

You can watch the full web series on PBS.

James McBride, Cynthia Kadohata Among National Book Awards Winners

James McBride, Cynthia Kadohata Among National Book Awards Winners

James McBride was the surprise winner of the National Book Award in fiction. The writer, who’s black and grew up in Brooklyn’s Red Hook Houses, won the award for his novel “The Good Lord Bird,” which chronicles the experiences of a teenage runaway slave.

Considered an underdog in a category filled with critically acclaimed names, McBride said that he wrote the book amid the deaths of his mother and niece. “It was always nice to have somebody whose world I could just fall into and follow him around,” he said. The author was previously known most for his memoir, “The Color of Water.”

New Yorker staff writer George Packer won the non-fiction award for his book, “The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America.

Japanese-American writer Cynthia Kadohata won the award for young people’s literature with her book, “The Thing About Luck.”

Toni Morrison presented Maya Angelou with the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community.

Who’s Ready for an Outkast Tour? Andre 3000 and Big Boi to Reunite

Who's Ready for an Outkast Tour? Andre 3000 and Big Boi to Reunite

After years of speculation, Big Boi and Andre 3000 are going to take a break from their solo projects and reunite for a 2014 Outkast tour. They duo have been on hiatus since 2007 after releasing 2006’s “Idlewild,” according to Revolt TV.

TAGS: Outkast

Immigration Advocates Fast for Reform

Immigration Advocates Fast for Reform

Immigration advocates have been ramping up efforts in recent weeks, coming up with different strategies to try to pressure Congress to pass immigration reform.  But last week Speaker John Boehner dashed hopes that immigration reform would happen this year, and just yesterday President Obama softened his stance on the need for comprehensive reform, saying he would accept a piecemeal approach and “leave behind some of the tougher stuff that still needs to get done.”

Still, advocates across the country, including Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and other elected officials, are protesting Congressional inaction by fasting. On November 12 a coalition of labor, immigration, and faith-based groups launched Fast for Families, a nationwide campaign that appears to be growing and is expected to continue through Thanksgiving. 

Among them is Sang Hyung Jung, a Korean immigrant and father, and Christian Avila, a 23-year-old DREAMer from Phoenix, Ariz. And on Monday, a group of 11 undocumented immigrants, many of them youth, began a 5-day fast in protest.  Fast for Families and partners are raising awareness for the fasting campaign via social media using the hashtag #Fast4Families

White Supremacist Craig Cobb Arrested for Terrorizing Neighbors

White Supremacist Craig Cobb Arrested for Terrorizing Neighbors

Craig Cobb’s plans to create a white supremacist enclave in the small town of Leith, N.D. aren’t going so well. On Saturday Cobb, 62, was arrested along with 29-year-old Kynan Dutton following complaints that the pair were harassing local residents while patrolling the town armed with a rifle and a shotgun. The two are being held without bail in the local county jail on seven counts of felony terrorizing and, if convicted, they could face 10—35 years in prison. 

Now, it also seems Cobb is losing support from other white supremacists, among them former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard Tom Metzger who told the Associated Press he had been encouraged by his attorney to distance himself from Cobb, and return property Cobb had given him in Leith. The town’s residents have openly condemned Cobb’s plans since they came to light earlier this summer, and continue trying to find ways to block him from moving forward. 

Obama Says He’d Accept Piecemeal Immigration Reform

Obama Says He'd Accept Piecemeal Immigration Reform

In a change of course, President Obama said Tuesday that he would move forward on a piecemeal approach to immigration reform. During an interview with The Wall Street Journal’s annual CEO meeting, the president remarked:

“If they want to chop that thing up into five pieces, as long as all five pieces get done, I don’t care what it looks like,” Mr. Obama said. “What we don’t want to do is simply carve out one piece of it…but leave behind some of the tougher stuff that still needs to get done.”

Obama has long touted one big comprehensive bill, and championed a Senate version passed in June, but the bill has essentially died in the House. Republicans have made clear, however, that there isn’t enough time left in the legislative year to deal with immigration. 

Five Books that Reframe the Thanksgiving Narrative

Five Books that Reframe the Thanksgiving Narrative

November is Native American Heritage Month, and as Thanksgiving looms, too many people scramble—and fail—to make sense of its meaning. A good portion of Awkward Family Photos about Thanksgiving, for example, feature people dressing up in ways that are often more offensive than they are awkward.   

Over at Indian Country Today Media Network (ICTMN), Debbie Reese, who researches the way Natives are represented in children’s books, offers a list of five books that challenge the dominant Pilgrim and Indian narrative. Although the books are written for a young audience, some adults might also benefit from reading and thinking beyond Thanksgiving.

Among the five books is Cynthia Leitich Smith’s “Indian Shoes.” Reese writes:

This easy-reader chapter book is about Ray Halfmoon, a Seminole-Cherokee boy, and his grandfather, who live in present-day Chicago. Indian Shoes is one of six stories in the book. Sprinkled with humor and warmth, each story is rich with details about Native life. Being set in Chicago, it makes clear that Native people are part of today’s America, and that some of us—be it by choice or other circumstances—live away from our homelands.

You can read the full list over at ICTMN

Congressman’s Cocaine Bust Illuminates Race and Gender Sentencing Disparities

Congressman's Cocaine Bust Illuminates Race and Gender Sentencing Disparities

Today, freshman Florida Congressman Trey Radel pleaded guilty to cocaine possession and was sentenced to one year of probation after buying 3.5 grams of cocaine from an undercover agent in D.C.’s Dupont Circle neighborhood. To put that in perspective, when former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry was arrested for smoking a “little speck” of crack cocaine that was not in his personal possession back in 1990, he was sentenced to six months in a federal prison. That about sums up the racial disparity crisis between cocaine and crack possession sentencing in our nation, which despite recent reforms, still allows white men leniency in the courts compared to African-Americans.

Rep. Radel was known as the hip-hop lovin’ politician who loved to Tweet, kind of like Cory Booker, but without receiving the same criticism for it. But his record in Congress firmly reflected the extreme conservative agenda of the Tea Party. Despite his co-sponsoring of a bill to reform mandatory minimum sentencing — from which he would benefit had he been arrested with that legislation in place — he also voted for a farm bill amendment that would allow states to drug test all food stamp recipients.  

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pointed out the irony of Radel’s arrest given his support of that amendment. “It’s really interesting it came on the heels of Republicans voting on everyone who had access to food stamps get drug tested. It’s like, what?” said Pelosi at a Buzzfeed news event.

Last week, The Sentencing Project released a report on the impact of the federal prohibition of welfare benefits for those convicted of felony drug crimes. Called “A Lifetime of Punishment,” the report reminds us that as of 2011, three-quarters of states have a full or partial prohibition on TANF benefits and 34 states have a full or partial SNAP benefits prohibition for those with felony drug convictions. The federal welfare reform law allows states to opt out or modify the felony drug prohibtion. In Radel’s state of Florida, thouse found guilty of felony drug possession are allowed to collect TANF benefits, but not those convicted of felony drug manufacturing or distribution.  

This federal ban, passed unanimously by both parties, has been in place in various states since 1996. The Sentencing Project’s analysis focused on women with felony drug convictions in the 12 states with a full ban on TANF benefits — Arkansas, Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, MIssissippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and West Virginia. They found that over 180,000 women in those states have been affected by the benefits ban since 1996 — 65,900 in Texas, and 58,100 in Georgia. Loss of SNAP eligibility is similar, says the report. 

As with all things related to the so-called War on Drugs, the benefits ban has impacted black and Latino Americans more roughly than whites. As of 2011, 40.7 percent of state prisoners were African-Americans, and 21.1 percent were of Hispanic origin. The Sentencing Project’s report says that this translates to a racially disproportionate impact on who’s left out of welfare benefits in those states with the ban. 

Since women comprise the majority of TANF and SNAP benefit recipients, they have been more likely impacted by these prohibitions than men. The War on Drugs in general has had a disproportionate effect on women — by 2011, over a quarter of women in state prisons were there for drug offenses, while 16 percent of men were incarcerated for the same crimes. 

After his arrest, Radel saidAs the father of a young son and a husband to a loving wife, I need to get help so I can be a better man for both of them.” 

Had he been convicted of drug possession as a poor, black mother in another state, he’d need a lot more help, especially with finding a way for his family to eat. 

Transgender Workers in the U.S. Still Face a Bleak Landscape

Transgender Workers in the U.S. Still Face a Bleak Landscape

Last week the Movement Advancement Project released a comprehensive report laying out the issues lesbian, gay, bisexual, and particularly transgender people of color face disproportionately face in the workplace. More so than their white counterparts, these include barriers such as equal access to education, hiring bias and discrimination, and unequal pay, benefits, and taxation. According to the report, are more likely to have been homeless, to have children, bad credit, or have a criminal record—which often come up in background checks and disqualify people from employment. In addition, the report presents LGBT people of color as a large, diverse, and geographically dispersed population of people that are more likely to have a number of strikes against them when finding employment.

And to add to the barriers LGBT people of color disproportionately face, only 34 states in the U.S. currently have laws that protect transgender people from workplace discrimination. The National Center for Transgender Rights created the image featured in this post to show the (slow) progress of state-based transgender rights laws across the country. These resources suggest that if ENDA again fails to pass, LGBT people, particularly those who are of color, will be left particularly vulnerable to economic instability based on a hostile or discriminatory work environment. 

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