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When the past is present…


“In My Genes,” Feature Debut By Lupita Nyong’o, Actor in “12 Years A Slave”

By Tambay A. Obenson, Shadow and Act


Movie poster for “In My Genes”

The first feature-length documentary by talented Kenyan director Lupita Nyong’o, In My Genes, follows eight individual Kenyans who have one thing in common: they were born with albinism, a genetic condition that causes a lack of pigmentation.

In many parts of Africa, including Kenya, it is a condition that marginalizes, stereotypes, and even endangers those who have it. Though highly visible in a society that is predominantly black, the reality of living with albinism is invisible to most. Through her intimate portraits, Ms. Nyong’o lets us see their challenges, their humanity, and their everyday triumphs.

[In addition to her filmmaking, Ms. Nyong'o has] been cast in quite a meaty role in Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years A Slave. [Produced by Brad Pitt, this movie in production also stars Alfre Woodard, Paul Giamatti, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and other well-known actors.]

Lupita Nyong'o

Lupita Nyong’o, filmmaker and actor.

Read more about the filmmaker and the film In My Genes here.

12 yrs a Slave

Cover of Solomon Northup’s memoir, “Twelve Years a Slave,” upon which the new movie of the same name is based.

Read more about Twelve Years a Slave here.




9-year-old Brooklyn rapper pens rap against pants sagging, ‘Pull Ya Pants Up’

By Alexis Garrett Stodghill for

Nine-year-old Amor “Lilman” Arteaga of Flatbush, Brooklyn is so irate over the continuing pants sagging trend that he wrote a rap about it — aptly titled “Pull Ya Pants Up.”

The song sends a punch with the catchy hook, “Think that your swaggin’, ’cause your pants are saggin’? Pull your pants up! Pull your pants up!”

Amor punctuates his message with the line, “It’s not just your pants, your pulling us all down!”

His message is catching on. The pint-sized performer has already debuted his first single to “cheering crowds,” according to the Daily News….

In fact, pants sagging is seen as so distasteful that some locales across America have passed ordinances banning the practice. Even President Obama has weighed in on the style, stating “brothers should pull up their pants. You’re walking by your mother, your grandmother, and your underwear is showing.”

Amor’s inspiration for penning the timely ditty with his dad, Juan, was similar to those feelings voiced by the president.“It’s disrespectful showing your butt off,” the fourth grader said. “I’m always seeing boys, girls, rappers, singers — everyone is sagging out.”

Amor hopes to next bring “Pull Ya Pants Up” to the airwaves with appearances on BET and radio play. Until then, he will continue creating music focusing on social issues such as violence.


William Parker and the Resistance at Christiana, September 11, 1851

Adapted from Wikipedia

On this day we remember the Christiana Resistance, the first slave revolt against the Fugitive Slave Laws.

William Parker, an escaped former slave from Roedown Plantation in Maryland, was an anti-slavery activist and a principal character in the events of September 11, 1851 in Christiana, Pennsylvania.fugitive slave poster The Christiana “Incident” resulted in the death of a Maryland slaveowner. It brought the attention of the country to the perils and challenges of attempting to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

Parker had escaped to Christiana, Pennsylvania, near the Maryland border, where he married and settled. Inspired by the speeches of William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass, Parker encouraged members from the community to form a mutual protection society. Slave catchers would often come into the area seeking escaped slaves to return to their slaveholders. They were paid handsomely for their services and in many cases would capture freed blacks as well.

Parker and other members of the mutual protection society were well known for using whatever force necessary to prevent the recapture of blacks in the area. They had a great intelligence network to know when slave catchers were about and would readily spring into action to retrieve any captives before they could be taken back across state lines. If the laws of the country would not protect them, their family, friends and neighbors, then they would protect themselves.

slave resistance 1 by 1

Resisting slavery

One such incident of resistance occurred on September 11, 1851 when a slaveholder from Maryland, Edward Gorsuch, came bearing a warrant to recover his slaves. Gorsuch had information that his slaves were at Parker’s farmhouse. Parker had received intelligence that Gorsuch, a federal marshal and others were on their way to his farmhouse. So when Gorsuch arrived, Parker and his cohorts were prepared. Eliza, Parker’s wife, sounded a horn alerting neighbors that slave catchers were out and that help was needed. Both sides were resolute in their determination to prevail – Parker convinced of the immorality of slavery – Gorsuch confident in the law and his right to own slaves. There are conflicting stories of why and how the shooting started but in the end Gorsuch was dead and his son severely wounded.

U.S. Marines were brought in to stabilize the situation. There was significant pressure from the South to obtain justice for Gorsuch, the slain white slaveowner. Following an extensive search, a group of 38 men (including four white Quakers) were accused of treason for their defiance of the federal order.  All the accused were eventually released, signalling a major win in the fight against slavery and strengthening the resolve of anti-slavery forces across the country.

Parker went into hiding that fateful evening. Using the underground railroad he later made his way to Rochester, New York where Frederick Douglass assisted him into Canada. He, his wife, and their three children eventually found their way to a black settlement in Buxton, Ontario where they purchased a 50-acre lot of land and had more children.

Read more about Parker and the Christiana “Incident” here and here.


Discovering Black America’s Jailed Gems

By Jarrett L. Carter,

It’s no secret that black and brown men are leading the numbers of incarcerated in America, but what is a mystery is how this country plans to rehabilitate its inmates.

black-man-laptop-Brand X Pictures

Photo credit: Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock

Enter Southern University System President Ron Mason and his “Five Fifths Agenda for America,” which proposes that HBCUs take a vested interest in the intellectual lives of prisoners.

Enter Southern University System President Ron Mason and his “Five Fifths Agenda for America,” which proposes that HBCUs take a vested interest in the intellectual lives of prisoners. “Try to envision most HBCUs making the investment in admissions and recruitment to uncover the ‘hidden stars;’ Black men who don’t have the test scores or grades to qualify for regular admission, but have demonstrated a talent and character indicating a solid probability of college completion and life success.”

Read more here.


Bobby Jindal Appeals Ruling On Bernette Johnson, Black Supreme Court Justice

By Kathy Finn of Reuters, in the Huffington Post

NEW ORLEANS, Sept 8 (Reuters) – Lawyers for Republican Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal have challenged a U.S. federal judge’s ruling that would allow a black state supreme court justice to become the court’s next chief justice.

Bobby Jindal

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Jindal, who is Indian-American, on Friday asked an appeals court to review a lower-court decision to allow black justice Bernette Johnson’s to succeed a white chief justice retiring next year. The dispute over whether Johnson should be the first black justice to head the Louisiana court has highlighted long-standing racial tensions in the state.

In a statement released by one of his lawyers, Jindal said the matter should be settled by the Louisiana Supreme Court and the federal government should not be involved. A lawyer for Johnson called Jindal’s position a throwback to the days when Southern states used the principle of “states rights” as a smokescreen for racism.

Read more here.


Today Marks the Founding of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History

From the ASALH website

Dr. Carter G. Woodson  (1875-1950), known as the “Father of Black History,” founded the ASALH (Association for the Study of African American Life and History) on this day in 1915.


Carter G. Woodson, son of former slaves, earned his PhD from Harvard and came to be called the “Father of Black History.” He founded ASALH in 1915.

The son of former slaves, Woodson understood how important gaining a proper education is when striving to secure and make the most out of one’s divine right of freedom. Although he did not begin his formal education until he was 20 years old, his dedication to study enabled him to earn a high school diploma in West Virginia and bachelor and master’s degrees from the University of Chicago in just a few years. In 1912, Woodson became the second African American to earn a PhD at Harvard University.

Under Woodson’s pioneering leadership, ASALH created research and publication outlets for black scholars with the establishment of the Journal of Negro History (1916) and the Negro History Bulletin (1937), which garners a popular public appeal.

In 1926, Dr. Woodson initiated the celebration of Negro History Week, which corresponded with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.  In 1976, this celebration was expanded to include the entire month of February, and today Black History Month garners support throughout the country as people of all ethnic and social backgrounds discuss the black experience.  ASALH views the promotion of Black History Month as one of the most important components of advancing Dr. Woodson’s legacy.

The organization continues Woodson’s legacy of speaking a fundamental truth to the world – that Africans and peoples of African descent are makers of history and co-workers in what W. E. B. Du Bois called, “The Kingdom of Culture.” ASALH’s mission is to create and disseminate knowledge about Black History, to be the nexus between the Ivory Tower and the global public.


The Gift, by Charles Bibbs.

In honor of all the work that Dr. Carter G. Woodson has done to promote the study of African American History, an ornament of Woodson hangs on the White House’s Christmas tree each year.

ASALH is holding its 97th annual convention in Pittsburgh PA from September 26 to 30th on the theme: Black Women in American Culture and History.


When Family Trees Are Gnarled by Race

By Brent Staples in the New York Times

DNA testing and access to electronic databases make it easier now to uncover the truth of family origins. But the news has tended to focus on the white ancestors of black families, and far less so on the hidden black forebears and their “white” descendants. Even now, discoveries of black ancestors in white family histories generate surprise.

That was the case in the announcement earlier this summer by, an online genealogy company, that President Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, a white woman born in Kansas, was very likely related to John Punch, a black man who lived in Virginia in the mid-17th century. Punch, a well-known figure in the history of slavery, was one of three runaway servants — the other two were a Dutchman and a Scot — who were captured in Maryland, returned to their master and hauled into a Virginia court.

The Dutchman and the Scot had their terms of service extended, but the court ruled that the “Negro named John Punch” would serve said master for life. The difference in their treatment led historians to view Punch as a figure whose story crystallized early attitudes toward the Negro and anticipated the formal legal and social constructs that would be used to justify chattel slavery.

To avoid an increasingly hostile legal climate, one branch of the Punch family decamped to North Carolina, where its members were recorded as “mulatto” in early records. Another branch that remained in Virginia — and became known as white — eventually migrated to the frontier, forming part of the Dunham family line.

All of this makes for interesting reading. But the anguish that families often endured when close relations cut them off in the process of shedding their colored identities cannot be overstated.

Imagine being rejected by a parent, sibling or child for racial reasons and you get some sense of the suffering that befell black families whose members set sail into whiteness, never to be heard from again.

Read the full article here.

Additional Resources

Williams, Gregory Howard. Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black, 1996.

Broyard, Bliss. One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life–A Story of Race and Family Secrets, 2007.

Johnson, James Weldon. The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, 1912/1995.


Michelle Obama’s DNC Dress Designed by African-American Designer Tracy Reese

By Jorge Rivas of

First Lady Michelle Obama’s dress at the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday was designed by designer Tracy Reese.


First lady Michelle Obama takes the stage during day one of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 4, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Mrs. Obama wore a custom designed dress by designer Tracy Reese. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Reese, 48, is originally from Detroit, Michigan, and a graduate of New York City’s Parsons School of Design. Before launching her own label, Reese was head of the Women’s Portfolio for Perry Ellis.

“I found out Mrs. Obama was wearing one of our designs when she stepped out on stage to make her beautiful speech,” Reese told Entertainment Weekly. “In the midst of [New York Fashion Week] preparations, seeing [her] in one of my designs was a truly extraordinary moment.”

“This particular fabric is a rich Italian silk jacquard in a great formal design,” Reese went on to point out about the one-of-a-kind dress.


Rep. Emanuel Cleaver Ditches Prepared Speech and Takes DNC to Church

By Jorge Rivas of

Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, ditched his prepared DNC remarks half way through his speech on Wednesday night and urged Obama to “hope on!” [Congressman Cleaver was famously spit upon by a Tea Party protester while walking to the Capitol in March 2010 to vote on the healthcare reform bill.]

[Watch Rep. Cleaver's entire address, or begin at about 5 minutes into the speech to see the unscripted portion – and the very enthusiastic audience response to it.]

“There is something essential in the human spirit that searches for hope. We are driven by hope,” said Cleaver. “President Barack Obama has been lampooned for speaking of hope; hope for a better America. I want to encourage our president and all of us to continue to hope for an America that remembers, recognizes, and fervently protects its greatness.”

“Yes, Mr. President, hope on. Continue to hope, Mr. President,” Cleaver, who is also a United Methodist pastor, went on to say.


New Study Confirms Racial Bias in Criminal Sentencing

University of Pennsylvania Law School

Taking a fresh approach to long-standing problem in the study of crime, a University of Pennsylvania Law School professor and colleagues at the University of Chicago and Harvard University have demonstrated conclusively for the first time that racial bias affects judicial sentencing decisions….

LA prisoners NewOrleansTimesPicayune

Prisoners in a Louisiana jail

In their study, they take advantage of the fact that the criminal justice system randomly assigns cases to judges. “What that means,” Abrams says, “is that if you have a large enough sample of cases, on average across judges they’re going to get the same types of cases, meaning the same mix of race of the defendant, the same mix of crimes.  Everything about the cases, assuming they’re randomly assigned, should be the same on average for each judge, including the variables we can’t observe.”

Working with a large data set of felony cases from Cook County, IL, the investigators use a statistical technique called a Monte Carlo simulation to show that judges take race into account in their sentencing decisions.

The New Jim Crow

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

They look at what they call the “racial gap” in sentencing – the difference between sentences for black defendants and white defendants – and find that it varies across judges, showing that race is affecting sentencing decisions. “We find evidence of significant inter-judge disparity in the racial gap in incarceration rates, providing support for the model where at least some judges treat defendants differently based on their race,” Abrams and his co-authors note in the study. “The magnitude of this effect is substantial. The gap in incarceration rates between White and African-American defendants increases by 18 percentage points (compared to a mean incarceration rate of 51% for African-Americans and 38% for Whites) when moving from the 10th to 90th percentile judge in the racial gap distribution.”

Read more about the study here.

Read a review of Michelle Alexander’s book here.