‘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. 

Charges Dropped Against Man Accused of Beating Islan Nettles to Death

Charges Dropped Against Man Accused of Beating Islan Nettles to Death

The Manhattan District Attorney has dropped misdemeanor assualt charges against a Harlem man who was accused of beating 21-year-old transgender woman Islan Nettles to death.

From DNA Info:

The family of Paris Wilson, 20, broke into applause when Judge Steven Statsinger announced that misdemeanor assault charges against him were dismissed. Outside the courtroom, Wilson hugged and kissed his family.

But Assistant District Attorney Nicholas Viorst said his office is still “aggressively investigating”  what he called a “deeply complex” case.

“It should be emphasized, however, that the crime we are investigating, homicide, has no statutory speedy-trial deadline,” said Viorst in citing speedy trial requirements as a reason for dropping the misdemeanor charges.

After Wilson was arrested in the case, his mother brought another man to police who confessed to the crime, but claimed not to remember much because he was intoxicated. Police initially believed the confession of the second man to be false.

Nettles was walking with a group of friends in Harlem on August 17 when she was attacked by a group of men and later died from her injuries at Harlem Hospital three days later. According to prosecutors, the men shouted homophobic insults during the attack and the inconsistency among witnesses has been a major setback in purusing criminal charges in the case.

Philly Students Turn Current School Crisis Into Art

Philly Students Turn Current School Crisis Into Art

For students at Philadelphia’s Kensington Creative and Performing Arts High School, the real-life tragedy of the city’s current public schools budget crisis is both the current backdrop and the inspiration for a new art project. The “Alphabet of Hope and Struggle,” unveiled this week in the city, takes viewers through every letter, accompanying every letter with a photo and a word inspired by the crushing crisis which has left schools stripped of counselors, nurses, librarians, teachers, textbooks, and more.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on the photo-based project led by art teacher Joshua Kleiman:

A is for abandoned - a student sitting against a stark black background, head down, arms around her knees.

B is for budget - a thin wallet opened to reveal no cash inside.

C is for crowded - too many students packed into a tight space.

F is for future, a student in cap and gown … Z is for zipped, a student with tape over his mouth, symbolizing voicelessness.

It’s a poignant, beautifully produced project. Check out the Inquirer page for their gallery of photos.

National Labor Relations Board: Walmart ‘Unlawfully Threatened’ Workers

National Labor Relations Board: Walmart 'Unlawfully Threatened' Workers

For months Walmart workers agitating and organizing for better wages have complained that those who speak out have been illegally disciplined and even fired from their jobs. On Monday the National Labor Relations Board announced that it agreed with them. The agency, which enforces federal labor law, said that Walmart workers’ complaints had merit and decided that it will pursue charges against the company.

In 13 states—California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Washington—Walmart “unlawfully threatened” or followed through with disciplinary actions or termination when workers protested or went on strike, both of which are legal activities. Separately, the NLRB found that in California, Florida, Missouri and Texas the company surveilled and punished workers as retaliation or even in anticipation of future worker organizing. And Walmart also illegally threatened workers when Walmart spokesperson David Tovar went on television and warned, “there would be consequences” for workers who didn’t show up to their Black Friday shifts last November.

“The Board’s decision confirms what Walmart workers have long known: The company is illegally trying to silence employees who speak out for better jobs,” Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs With Justice and American Rights at Work said in a statement.

The NLRB didn’t find merit in two other complaints against the company involving shift changes and moving protesters off Walmart property. The decision comes as more protests are expected in the coming week. This year’s Black Friday is next Friday.

Congress to Consider Military Rape Legislation

Congress to Consider Military Rape Legislation

This week, Congress is set to consider legislation that would increase protections and loosen bureaucracy for military servicewomen and men who have been sexually assaulted. Women in the military are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted than non-military women, and about 71 percent of women and 85 percent of men do not report the crime.

Championed by Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), the Military Justice Improvement Act would enable assault survivors to take their cases outside of the military chain of command. Gillibrand has support from 47 Senators, but military leaders have been pushing back, arguing new measures would weaken the command structure.

According to the New York Times, military sexual assault claims are on the rise: 

There were 3,553 sexual assault complaints reported to the Defense Department in the first three quarters of the fiscal year, from October 2012 through June, a nearly 50 percent increase over the same period a year earlier. Defense Department officials said the numbers had continued to rise.

Information on the racial or ethnic makeup of sexual assault survivors is not readily available, but a recent study suggests black women enlist in the military at higher rates than white or Latina women.

Esperanza Spaulding Protests ‘Guantanamo Injustice’ In New Video

Esperanza Spaulding Protests 'Guantanamo Injustice' In New Video

Grammy Award-winning singer Esperanza Spaulding has a new video out called “We Are America” in which she urges Congress to close Guantanamo. In an interview with the ACLU, she credited the recent Guantanamo Bay inmate hunger strikes as a moment that inspired her to use her platform to make a political statement. 

What motivated you to start this whole project to begin with, what was the spark?

It was the first time I heard about the hunger strike. I was touring in Europe and I was appalled and embarrassed about what was happening. I remember I started researching online to see what I could do about it and I saw that I could download this action pack. With that you had some important info to use to call your representative. And I did, I did call my representative and Senators. In fact, I got a letter back from one Senator who basically said that she was not going to proactively deal with it but that they would ‘keep my comments in mind’, or something like that. But I really wanted to do more. And my band actually came to me first and said they wanted to do something too.

Read more at the ACLU.

Earlier this year, rapper Yasiin Bey (fka Mos Def) released a video that brought attention to the practice of force-feeding inmates who had gone on hunger strike.

Watch Margaret Cho Talk About Being Queer in Comedy

Watch Margaret Cho Talk About Being Queer in Comedy

In a recent video for MAKERS—a PBS and AOL digital storytelling collaboration that showcases women trailblazers in the U.S.—Margaret Cho shares her story of coming of age as a queer woman of color, and growing up in San Francisco during the AIDS crisis. She says AIDS activists, particularly those who worked at the gay bookstore her parents owned, inspired her to take the stage and pursue comedy.

Cho also says her intersectional identity has inspired her unique brand of comedy, and enables her to push boundaries other comics often don’t cross. 

“You do get to a point in your minority status where you become unassailable. Especially for me, because I’m queer, I’m a woman of color, somebody that is normally perceived as policing all the things that people say are racist or sexist or homophobic. You can go to a more outrageous place because of your identity,” she says.

(h/t HuffPo Gay Voices)

NYC Graffiti Haven 5Pointz Gets Whitewashed Overnight

NYC Graffiti Haven 5Pointz Gets Whitewashed Overnight

Sometime in the early morning hours of Tuesday, November 19, someone went ahead and whitewashed  New York City’s iconic graffiti haven 5Pointz. We reported last week that the New York City Council recently apporved a plan to replace the buildings, which draw thousands of tourists and graffiti writers each year, with high rise condos.

Marie Cecile Flageul, a 5Pointz spokesperson, said the paint crew, along with police protection, came around 1 a.m. and finished around 7 a.m, according to the Queens Courier. A candlelight vigil will be held for 5Pointz at 5 p.m. Tuesday night.

5Pointz curator Jonathan Cohen reacted to the destruction of the area this morning.

Tumblr User Gets Hate Mail After Being Incorrectly Linked to Frida Kahlo Makeover

Tumblr User Gets Hate Mail After Being Incorrectly Linked to Frida Kahlo Makeover

Last week we posted an item from Buzzfeed that captured an artist’s attempt to give Frida Kahlo a cover girl makeover. But it turns out that we, along with several other websites that covered the story, wrongly attributed the piece to Tumblr user alisonofagun, who cleared everything up in a recent post:

 In December 2012, a dude using the name “toonsketchbook” (he either deleted his blog or changed his url) created the Frida “makeover” repaint.

I reblogged the picture and added a comment condemning it.

Buzzfeed picked up the post and quoted my comment and the comments present on my particular reblog. They used my url as the “image source.” I began getting hate mail (some of it incredibly nasty). Because I didn’t know why people were coming to my blog, I deleted the post hoping that would stop the hate mail, but it just makes it look even *more* like I’m actually the artist because people can’t see that it was a reblog. (Not that that prevented people from thinking that I was artist in the first place, but it definitely made it worse.)

Since “toonsketchbook” no longer exists on Tumblr, the original makeover artist’s identity is still unclear. 

TAGS: Frida Kahlo

SF ‘Batkid’ Festivities Turn Violent When Cops Attack Black Cyclist

SF 'Batkid' Festivities Turn Violent When Cops Attack Black Cyclist

The city of San Francisco was entralled last week when Batkid came to town. The Make-A-Wish Foundation made young Miles Scott’s dream of becoming a superhero come true and more than 13,000 people turned out to cheer him on. But one of those people didn’t make it home.

D’Paris “DJ” Williams, 20, had just left the Batkid festivities and was returning to his home in the city’s Valencia Gardens apartment in San Francisco’s Mission District. Williams had just ridden his bike up to his front door when he got into an altercation with a group of plainclothes police officers who were reportedly talking to him for riding his bike on the sidewalk. Photographer Travis Jensen, who witnessed the incident, told Uptown Almanac that as Williams tried to enter his home with his sister standing in the doorway with a newborn baby, officers grabbed him from behind. After searching him, officers uncovered a cupcake and juice that Williams had just purchased from a corner store and began to beat him. 

Williams was then taken to a local jail. In the above video, he is seen bloody and screaming as he’s led away to a police cruiser. Meanwhile, angry neighbors who witnessed the incident were then targeted by police officers. In total four people were arrested, including, according to Uptown Almanac, an elderly HIV-positive man whose medical complications require him to use a cane that police determined was a “deadly weapon.”

Here’s another video from a different witness that shows bystanders being arrested by police:

KTVU is reporting that the District Attorney has dropped charges against Williams and another man who was arrested at the scene, but a protest is planned for Tuesday at 5pm PST outside of the Mission District police station. 

The SFPD later released the following statement:

At approximately 3:41 PM Friday, officers from the Violence Reduction Team, working a plainclothes assignment attempted to stop a bicyclist in the area of Maxell and Rosa Parks for a California vehicle code infraction.  The suspect fled from the officers after they identified themselves as police.  The suspect attempted to flee into a residence.  The officers confronted the suspect near the doorway and requested additional units for assistance.  The suspect failed to comply with lawful orders from the officers and continued to resist the officers.  Reasonable force was used by the officers to effect the arrest.  During this incident, multiple subjects came from the rear of the residence and formed a hostile crowd around the officers.  One subject attempted to strike an officer with a cane, while another suspect bit an officer.  Two officers suffered non-life threatening injuries.  In total, 4 suspects were arrested. 2 felony and 1 misdemeanor arrests resulted in bookings.  One misdemeanor arrest resulted in a cite.

(h/t Uptown Almanac)


Lauryn Hill Announces ‘Homecoming’ NYC Concert Date

Lauryn Hill Announces 'Homecoming' NYC Concert Date

Lauryn Hill is performing in New York City at the end of the month. The singer, who was recently released from federal prison on charges of tax evasion, will perform two shows on November 27 at the Bowery Ballroom. The first will be at 6pm EST and the second will be later that night at 10pm. Tickets are available.

(h/t Okayplayer)

TAGS: Lauryn Hill

College Conservatives Plan a ‘Catch an Illegal Immigrant’ Game

College Conservatives Plan a 'Catch an Illegal Immigrant' Game

The Young Conservatives of Texas are the same folks who brought you that affirmative action bake sale a while back. Now they wanna host a “Catch an Illegal Immigrant” game on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin on Wednesday. From their Facebook page:

YCT will be having a “Catch an Illegal Immigrant” event this upcoming Wednesday. The details of the game goes as follows:

There will be several people walking around the UT campus with the label “illegal immigrant” on their clothing. Any UT student who catches one of these “illegal immigrants” and brings them back to our table will receive a $25 gift card. 

The purpose of this event is to spark a campus-wide discussion about the issue of illegal immigration, and how it affects our everyday lives.

Even though folks like Senator Rand Paul are listed as alumni, some conservatives — some of whom are desparate to court Latino voters — aren’t too happy

(h/t Gawker)

TAGS: immigration
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