Next week, Baltimore is expected to open the Office of African American Male Engagement to reduce the Black male incarceration rate, at a time when the city’s homicide rate is sky high–setting a record per capita rate in 2017. This program will hopefully save lives and end the cycle of incarceration.
“We want to save lives. The reason the office is important is because too many Black men are either the perpetrators of crime or victims of it. It is about saving lives,” said Andrey Bundley, who’s leaving his position as safety director for Baltimore City Public Schools to lead the new office, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Mayor Catherine Pugh opens the new office on Feb. 12. Modeled on a similar program in Philadelphia, the Baltimore initiative focuses on providing mentoring and a range of services for boys and men. It will connect to existing mentoring programs and includes a focus on men returning home from prison.
This effort is much needed. Baltimore was one of the most dangerous cities in America in 2017, setting a new per-capita homicide record of 343 killings. The police arrested tens of thousands of African-American males last year. And in many cases, once these young men were caught in the criminal justice system, many of them become repeat offenders. It was estimated in 2015 that 73 percent of former inmates in Baltimore City re-offend within three years.
The program seeks to create a support network, Bundley said. “We need that kind of space for individuals who don’t have a father or who have come out of prison or who are going through the process of getting a job,” he added, noting that scores of young Black men in the city lack families that can help them readjust and stay out of trouble after incarceration.
NEW YORK — “Girls Trip” changed the game for Tiffany Haddish, and now she’s being honored as one of Essence Magazine’s “game-changers” at its annual “Black Women in Hollywood” awards.
“Girls Trip” was one of last year’s big hits and made Haddish a breakout star. The comedian is one of four women being honored at the March 1 event in Beverly Hills, California.
“The Chi” creator and “Master of None” star Lena Waithe will also be celebrated; she became the first black woman to win an Emmy for comedy writing last year.
Danai Gurira of “The Walking Dead” stars in the upcoming “Black Panther.” Gurira also created the Tony-nominated “Eclipsed,” among other works. Tessa Thompson broke new ground in her role in last fall’s superhero hit “Thor.”
Essence magazine editor Vanessa De Luca says the honorees are “raising their voices to benefit all women.”
Tens of thousands of Philadelphia sports fans flooded the city’s streets on February 4 to celebrate the hometown Eagles’ 41-33 win over the returning champion New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII. According to U.S. News and World Report, many fans’ belligerence led to various instances of property damage, including a collapsed Ritz-Carlton Hotel awning, an overturned car, destroyed traffic poles and two reportedly stolen police horses.
Photos detailing this destruction on Getty Images and Twitter largely show white male perpetrators. The Philadelphia Police Department has not yet released a final arrest tally for the vandalism, but Ajennah Amir, a spokesperson for the the mayor’s office, told CNN of just three arrests. Black Lives Matter of Greater New York president Hawk Newsome called out the department’s treatment of these people—as compared to the aggressive policing of Black protesters at actions against police violence—in an interview with Newsweek.
“Somehow, it seems there’s a line drawn in the sand where destruction of property because of a sports victory is okay and acceptable in America,” Newsome explained. “However, if you have people who are fighting for their most basic human right, the right to live, they will be condemned.”
Newsome pointed out city officials’ seeming reluctance to condemn the property damage, including police sergeant Brian Geer’s tweet telling people to simply “go home”:
Newsome told Newsweek that this response was “a glaring example of White privilege.”
“You can riot if you’re White and your team wins, but if you’re Black and being killed, you can’t speak out,” he added.
Newesome also contrasted the situation in Philadelphia with the Baltimore Uprising, when Black city residents demonstrated following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. Newsweek says those actions led to 34 arrests. “I can’t condemn them and neither can anyone else, especially not the media, especially not politicians when they condone people who are just drunk and destroying property because their team won,” Newsome said.
Tarana Burke first launched the #MeToo campaign in 2007 to build solidarity and healing power among Black girls and women who survived sexual assault. Nearly 11 years later, the organizer and activist will chronicle her and the movement’s journey in a memoir.
The Associated Press (The AP) reported today (February 2) that Burke is working with writer and fellow activist asha bandele on the upcoming book, titled “Where the Light Enters.”Simon & Schuster will publish it next year through 37 Ink, its imprint that previously released books by Issa Rae and Dr. Willie Parker.
Burke told The AP that the memoir will address her own “ordinary, extraordinary journey from victim to survivor to thriver,” as well as the evolution of the movement.
“The book will also help readers understand the often overlooked historical connections of the role sexual violence plays in communities of color, specifically Black communities, even today, while exploring ways the same communities have been both complicit and resilient,” Burke added. “More than anything, this memoir will provide survivors across the spectrum of sexual abuse a road map for healing that helps them understand that the ‘me too’ movement is more about triumph than trauma, and that our wounds, though they may never fully heal, can also be the key to our survival.”
Gabrielle Bullock, 56, is the Los Angeles-based head of global diversity for the international architecture and design firm Perkins+Will, an 83-year-old company with a workforce of more than 2,000 professionals. Bullock is also something of a pioneer, one of only 404 African American women who are licensed architects in the U.S. In 2017, Bullock was appointed as president-elect of the International Interior Design Assn., which has more than 15,000 members in 58 countries.
“I’m an architect, so I lead projects 50% of my time,” Bullock said. “The other 50% of the time I’m the firm’s director of global diversity. I lead the strategy, monitor it, lead the diversity council that we have and try to build a more inclusive culture for the firm.”
Bullock said she discovered her natural artistic ability early on. “I always drew. I used to make my own stationery when I was 9 or 10 years old. I believe I had some talent from my mother, who was an artist. Art was my thing.” It was also what earned her a coveted spot at the Fiorello H. Laguardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in her hometown of New York City.
Listening well, Part One
Mentors were few and far between, but Bullock was careful to listen intently when she heard someone give important information. One was a teacher named Mrs. Kravitz. Even though Bullock preferred drawing portraits and album covers, Mrs. Kravitz said, “‘You could be an architect.’ I only needed to hear that once. I went home and told my mom I was going to be an architect.” Bullock switched gears and began drawing buildings that she liked.
Bullock was a very observant child growing up, noting the differences when she traveled from the relative comfort of her family’s home in the Riverdale section of the Bronx through other parts of the borough that were stricken by poverty and blight.
“I had friends and family who lived in public housing,” Bullock said. “I saw how the black community was living, and it was an embarrassment. I wanted to change that. I thought about how I could redesign the housing environment for low-income people. If the windows were really small, I’d make great big windows. Everybody loves sunshine, right?”
Bullock attended the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, becoming only the second African American female graduate, in 1984. Not only did it help buttress her belief in more livable architecture, she got a reverse course in diversity when it became clear that the school’s professors didn’t know how to reach out to her. “Few seemed to know how to tailor their instructional approach to people of different cultures.”
When Jessie Carney Smith arrived at Fisk University in Nashville in 1965, she says many people there did not know about black literature. Smith, the dean of the library, says, “Many scholars were told that blacks had no history.” But African Americans within the library profession have certainly had a long history, with one of the first librarians of color, Edward C. Williams, joining the American Library Association (ALA) in 1896—20 years after the founding of the Association. And today, African Americans comprise roughly 14,250 of the estimated 190,000 librarians in the United States, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
American Libraries spoke with five leading African-American librarians about their careers, the changes they have witnessed over the decades, and the current issues in librarianship. While no two people have the same story, all five interviewees note inclusivity as an important theme. They discuss libraries as safe havens, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the history and future of the Association, as well as their legacies within the profession.
As library professor Alma Dawson says, “Even in this day and age, we still have to tell our own stories.”
When Satia Orange, 75, was growing up in the 1950s, she saw what she described as “the grinding work” of her parents, both librarians.
Her father was A. P. Marshall, an ALA Councilor and director of libraries at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, and Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. Orange saw him come “home for dinner and then return to the library until 9 or 10 p.m., doing budgets.”
Orange herself later went on to become director of ALA’s Office for Literacy and Outreach Services, retiring from ALA in 2009. “I was pulled into the profession kicking and screaming,” she jokes.
She began her career in education, teaching in Milwaukee in the mid-1960s, when she received a call one day from Virginia Lacy Jones, dean of Atlanta University’s School of Library Sciences and the first—and at that time only—black library school. Jones offered her a fellowship, promising Orange that she would be able to work with young children, something she enjoyed as part of her prior experience working in the library in the Atlanta school system.
It wasn’t until she started attending conferences that Orange began to view librarianship as her profession. As she participated in midwinter meetings and annual conferences, she recalled what her father had told her years ago: “This was a profession that has a national and international impact.”
Robert Wedgeworth, 80, knows well about the profession’s impact. Wedgeworth became ALA executive director in 1972, at a time of significant financial challenges, with one library publication suggesting that bankruptcy was imminent. But Wedgeworth said he received “some very good advice from friends in the banking industry”; after analyzing the Association’s finances, “they advised me that ALA didn’t have financial problems—it had control problems.”
Wedgeworth balanced ALA’s budget within two years.
During his 12-year tenure, ALA membership increased by more than 25%, and its annual budget more than doubled. The Association also resolved an ongoing building development issue with the construction of Huron Plaza, which has since brought more than $18 million into ALA endowments, and took over operation of National Library Week from the National Book Committee.
Wedgeworth’s forward-thinking approach is also evident in how he applied what he learned from the 1962 Century 21 Exposition in Seattle. He was one of 75 librarians that ALA chose to work at the futuristic Library 21 exhibit, and he was, as he says, “in the first group of librarians to apply computers to library problems” when he became assistant chief acquisitions librarian at Brown University in 1966.
His career in libraries has spanned decades: working as a 14-year-old in libraries over the summer and continuing throughout his four years in college, where a librarian “influenced me to consider librarianship as a career.”
Since leaving ALA, Wedgeworth has served as dean of the School of Library Service at Columbia University in New York and university librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and he is currently president of ProLiteracy Worldwide, a nonprofit that promotes adult literacy.
As Russell Long professor and professor emeritus in library and information science at Louisiana State University (LSU), Alma Dawson, 74, was one of the primary forces in the long-term rebuilding of libraries after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. She led Project Recovery, an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant-funded project to educate librarians in south Louisiana to compensate for staff losses after the hurricanes. “It was important to me to make sure that we were connecting what the students were doing in the classroom to everyday experience,” Dawson says. Students recruited for Project Recovery met LSU graduate school requirements and were then admitted into the library program, and all of them went on to professional library positions.
Dawson has also worked to document the history of African Americans in librarianship. “Even in this day and age, we still have to tell our own stories,” she says. “We can stress the importance of figuring out where people are, the kind of positions they have, and the research they’re doing.”
Dawson was, if not recruited to librarianship early, at least welcomed to the library in her youth. “I worked with a librarian in high school who let me help with the library and helped me get scholarships,” she says. “I was the first person in the family to go to college, and it was all on scholarships.”
She didn’t initially work at the library as a student at Grambling (La.) State University, but she was friendly with the librarians there. She also worked in a segregated public school during the Jim Crow era, in the 1960s. “We didn’t really have the resources for students, so we had to raise all the money to buy materials for the library. It was always my goal to find a way to have the resources that the students needed,” she says.
Gladys Smiley Bell
It was Dorothy Porter, curator of Howard University’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center and the major force behind building it into a premiere collection for the study of African-American history, who encouraged Gladys Smiley Bell, 68, to go to library school. “When I was a student, I didn’t know about ALA and the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA), so I try to encourage people to join now,” she says.
She’s also worked to help librarians forge connections through professional activities. Bell cochaired the first Joint Council of Librarians of Color (JCLC) in 2006, the first-ever shared conference among ALA’s five ethnic affiliate associations: BCALA, the American Indian Library Association, the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association, the Chinese American Librarians Association, and Reforma.
With that conference, she says she “was very excited for how we could change the profession in terms of diversity and how we could come together to serve the people,” Bell says. A second JCLC was held in 2012, and a third will take place in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in September.
Bell is now the Peabody Librarian of the William R. and Norma B. Harvey Library at Hampton (Va.) University.
Jessie Carney Smith
Jessie Carney Smith, 87, is not a historian even though some people call her that. “I’m a librarian who has done some historical work,” she says. As dean of the library at Fisk University in Nashville, she has published extensively on African-American history, including three books of biographies of black women and two books of biographies of black men. “I looked for areas that had not been talked about,” Smith says.
After college, she moved to Nashville but couldn’t find a teaching job because of the limited openings in segregated schools. She found a job as a clerk-typist at Fisk University under librarian and writer Arna Bontemps. “I was impressed by his work and the contact he had with other writers and publishers,” Smith says.
She earned a master’s and eventually a PhD in library science, returning to Fisk when Bontemps retired. “When I became familiar with what was then called ‘Negro collections,’ I thought, ‘Why not do some work that would use those materials and promote them to others?’”
And that history is important to having a complete picture. “You may have an interest in one particular topic, and that’s fine,” she says. “But you need to know about the whole of America, not just white but black and Hispanic and other ethnic groups as well.”
Many recent events have been extremely disruptive to communities, ranging from natural disasters to unrest following police shootings or white nationalist rallies. What should a library’s role be in responding to events like these?
Satia Orange: Our Librarian of Congress [Carla Hayden] provided an example of how to respond [as director of Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore]. After the police confrontation, she opened up the library the next day. They were busy because people needed to do what they needed to do but also to understand what was happening in their neighborhood.
In Ferguson, Missouri, the director [of Ferguson Municipal Public Library, Scott Bonner] was brand new, but his training and intuition let him go in and keep the library open and make it the center of the community for information, safety, and resources.
Robert Wedgeworth: Libraries have to be responsive to their constituents, and they need to present themselves as a place where people can find information that helps to explain and understand the current issues affecting their lives. That has been a very important role for libraries over the years, and it will continue to be one. It’s not the social issue itself but that the library can be an active place in helping people to respond to issues as they present themselves.
In the 1960s, librarians were asking what extent they should be active participants in protests and combating certain topics. That continues to be a question raised in the ranks of professionals, and it will always be controversial. Different people will feel different levels of responsibility in dealing with various circumstances, but there will always be a professional role to helping people understand what’s going on in their lives and in their world.
Alma Dawson: First of all, people need information. If they’re just running on emotion, they don’t have the correct info. If we’re talking about Black Lives Matter and other issues of the day, the library has background information that is not just emotional. They have the history right there. When the hurricanes came, people went to the library because that’s where they could connect with family and the community. Librarians can be the right group of people to help.
Gladys Smiley Bell: In my opinion, those protests are political. It’s just appalling to know that things like that are happening today. But libraries can open their doors during times of crisis to provide resources and displays. Schools tend to shut down, but libraries seem to gear up. There is someone out there archiving those events for the future, maybe with the collection of what happens over the years, so that things can be better in the future. Libraries play a role in that because their doors are open to everybody to come and find out for themselves why, who, and what to do about these issues.
Jessie Carney Smith: We have a difficult job to do to help people cope with natural disasters and increasing violence. One has a right to protest, but keep violence out of it. Libraries can help by becoming involved in local dialogue, as we are doing in Nashville. But what works in one community might not work in another. You have to find ways to soften the ugly, tense moments that we have to face. Having grown up in the South, I have seen a lot of ugly and tense moments. We must find a way to deal with the bad as well as the good and let people know that we are dealing with community problems. Continue reading “HISTORY: Pioneering African-American Librarians Share Their Stories”→
Lots of the news from sub-Saharan Africa is about war, famine, poverty or political upheaval. So it’s understandable if many Americans think most Africans who immigrate to the United States are poorly educated and desperate. That’s the impression that President Trump left with his comments to members of Congress opposing admission of immigrants from “s***hole countries” in Africa and elsewhere.
But research tells another story.
While many are refugees, large numbers are beneficiaries of the “diversity visa program” aimed at boosting immigration from underrepresented nations. And on average, African immigrants are better educated that people born in the U.S. or the immigrant population as a whole.
“It’s a population that’s very diverse in its educational, economic and English proficiency profile,” said Jeanne Batalova, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute think tank in Washington and co-author of a report last year on sub-Saharan African immigrants in the U.S. “People came for a variety of reasons and at various times.”
Overall, their numbers are small compared with other immigrant groups but have risen significantly in recent years. The U.S. immigrant population from sub-Saharan Africa (49 countries with a total population of more than 1.1 billion) grew from 723,000 to more than 1.7 million between 2010 and 2015, according to a new report by New American Economy, a Washington-based research and advocacy group. Still, they make up just half a percent of the U.S. population.
Drawing from U.S. surveys and Census Bureau data, the report found that the majority come from five countries: Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa.
The Pew Research Center reported that African immigrants are most likely to settle in the South or Northeast, and that the largest numbers — at least 100,000 — are found in Texas, New York, California, Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Virginia. Many African refugees have also relocated to or have been resettled in states such as Minnesota and South Dakota.
The Refugee Act of 1980 made it easier for people fleeing war zones to resettle in the U.S., and today there are tens of thousand of refugees from Somalia, Sudan and Congo. About 22% of African immigrants are refugees, according to Andrew Lim, associate director of research at New American Economy.
At the same time, the diversity visa program — also known as the visa lottery — has opened the door to immigrants from more peaceful places. Of the sub-Saharan immigrants who have become legal permanent residents, 17% came through the program, compared with 5% of the total U.S. immigrant population, according to Batalova.
Applicants to the program must have completed the equivalent of a U.S. high school education or have at least two years of recent experience in any number of occupations, including accountant, computer support specialist, orthodontist and dancer. As a result, the influx includes many immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa who are highly skilled professionals.