Category: Family

Michigan State University Receives $1.5 Million Grant to Build Slave Trade and Ancestry Database

MSU African Studies Center Facebook Cover Photo (via facebook)


$1.5 million grant gifted to Michigan State University by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will go towards the cultivation of a database that harbors information about former slaves, MSU Today reported.

The database, which is part of the institution’s Enslaved: The People of the Historic Slave Trade initiative, will encompass data surrounding those who came to America during the Atlantic slave trade; giving individuals the opportunity to explore their ancestry, the news outlet writes. Individuals who utilize the database will also be able to view maps, charts, and graphics about enslaved populations.

The project is being spearheaded by Dean Rehberger, director of Matrix: The Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at MSU, Walter Hawthorne, professor and chair of MSU’s Department of History and Ethan Watrall, who serves as an assistant professor of anthropology at the university.

MSU Today reports that the project will go through several phases and take nearly a year and a half to be completed.

Hawthorne believes that the database will allow scholars to delve deeper into the dark history of slavery. “By linking data compiled by some of the world’s foremost historians, it will allow scholars and the public to learn about individuals’ lives and to draw new, broad conclusions about processes that had an indelible impact on the world,” he said in a statement, according to the source.

Michigan State University has one of the top African history graduate programs in the country and leaders at the institution believe that this new project will further its impact in this space. Institutions who have partnered with MSU for the project include Emory University, Vanderbilt University, Harvard University, the University of Maryland and others.

Slavery has been a common topic at colleges and universities across the country with many institutions coming forward to acknowledge and come to terms with their ties to slavery. Rutgers University recently paid tribute to former slaves by renaming parts of its campus after individuals who built the university from the ground up.

Source: MSU Today

Author Jacqueline Woodson Named National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress

Author Jacqueline Woodson, whose professional accolades include a National Book Award (Brown Girl Dreaming), four Newbery Honors (Brown Girl DreamingAfter Tupac and D Foster, Feathers and Show Way) and a stint as the Young People’s Poet Laureate, has been named the sixth National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, for 2018–2019. Her appointment will become official at an inauguration ceremony on Tuesday, January 9 at the Library of Congress, presided over by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. And Woodson will accept the proverbial torch, passed from author-illustrator Gene Luen Yang, who has just completed his two-year term as Ambassador and played a key role in recruiting her.

The National Ambassador for Young People program is sponsored by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, the Children’s Book Council, and CBC’s charitable arm, Every Child a Reader. The Librarian of Congress selects the Ambassador based on the recommendations of an independent committee comprised of various children’s literature experts including educators, librarians, and booksellers. Among the criteria for the Ambassador post are: contributions to young people’s literature, the ability to relate to kids and teens, and dedication to fostering literacy in all forms.

In a statement, Hayden shared her enthusiasm for Woodson’s selection. “We are delighted that Jacqueline Woodson has agreed to be the new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature,” she said. “I have admired Jacqueline Woodson’s work for years, especially her dedication to children and young-adult literature. The Library of Congress looks forward to Jacqueline’s tenure of encouraging young readers to embrace reading as a means to improve the world.”

Woodson says she never saw herself as Ambassador. In fact, she had contacted Yang, a friend, about a year ago to put forward the name of someone else (who she declines to name) she thought would be a great choice. “I had called Gene to put a name in the hat,” she said from her Brooklyn home during a telephone interview. “He told me, ‘Well, we have someone else in mind.’ I figured he was blowing me off.” And even when talk of the honor came up in passing, years ago, Woodson wasn’t sure she would ever be a good fit. “Earlier on, when the position was first starting to get some traction, and Jon Scieszka was the Ambassador,” she recalled, “people were asking me if I would ever do it, and I said, ‘Heck, no! There’s no way I could do that.’” She was busy with her writing and had just welcomed a new baby at that time. Over time, “I kind of had the sense that I had put the kibosh on it,” she added.

But more recently, Yang called and asked if Woodson would consider taking on the appointment. She continued to champion another author (“someone younger!” she joked), but Yang persisted. “He went through all the ways in which he thought I would bring something to the Ambassadorship that was needed at this time,” Woodson said. “I thought about it, I talked to my partner about it, and I was still a bit reluctant. But then Gene said that Dr. Hayden was really into me taking this position. And I love Dr. Hayden.” Woodson explained that one of the rules in her life has always been, “When it comes to Enoch Pratt Library [Hayden’s former library, in Baltimore], I can never say no to them. I did my first reading there way back when Last Summer with Maizon came out, and I have loved everyone there. I thought, OK, if Carla Hayden is asking me to do this, I’m not saying no to it.” On a more philosophical note, she continued, “I think you are often called to do the work you’re not quite ready to do, or willing to do. And for me that’s a sign that I need to push through and do the work that’s needed.”

Woodson has chosen the phrase “Reading = Hope x Change,” as her platform as Ambassador. “I definitely believe that reading can change us and shape us in so many ways, and through it we can be exposed to people and places and ideas that we might not otherwise come across or confront in real life,” she said. “A platform about the importance of reading and having conversations across the lines of books is really important to me.”

Woodson says she will use her message to address something she has been noticing. “Young people are getting labeled ‘reluctant reader,’ or ‘advanced reader,’ and the labels in front of their names begin to try to tell them who they are,” she lamented. “I would like to see less of that and more of just kids who read.” What they read shouldn’t matter and how they read it shouldn’t matter, she said, “just so long as they can have conversations and have a deep understanding of and a deep love for what they’re reading.”

One of Woodson’s foremost goals as Ambassador is to reach young people in areas of the country that are traditionally underserved. “My family and I are going to the opening of the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice [acknowledging victims of lynchings] in Alabama this spring. I’m going to stay and try to visit some schools in Alabama and Mississippi in some of the places where they don’t get to meet writers or ambassadors every day,” she said. Additionally, she says she’s looking forward to going into juvenile detention centers and other places “where the underserved can begin to tell their stories.”

Though she’s not exactly sure how kids will relate to her in a new role, she’s excited to find out. “The thing that always brings me the greatest joy is meeting the young people,” she said. “I’m always surprised when a kid’s in awe of me as an author—I think ‘I’m just Jacqueline Woodson and I wrote a few books.’ But they’ve been studying you so long and you walk into the classroom and you’re like this superstar to them. Then you work yourself back to connecting to them so that they see you as a human being and they see themselves as young people who can do what you do. In this position it’s the same. I would love for young people to see themselves as national ambassadors of many things, today and always.” She cites the example of her own family. “I always tell my kids when we go to other countries, ‘You are ambassadors for this family. When you walk out there people are going to have ideas about this family, and how you represent yourself is going to make a difference in how they think.’ ”

The opportunity to talk about reading is another high point she’s anticipating. “I am excited for the young people’s reactions and the interactions that we’ll have around literature, and really talking about reading,” she said. “In the past mostly I’ve talked about my books and my writing process. Now I can talk much more about my reading process and the reading process, and the conversations that can be had where there isn’t a right or wrong. Did you infer from the book? Who cares? I want to know what you loved about the book and what made you mad and I want you guys to agree and disagree and have real true conversations and make amazing text-to-life connections about the book.”

Asked if there’s anything that might be scary or daunting about her new position, Woodson is reflective. “It is a very scary time to be alive,” she said. “And given that, I think of [poet and activist] Audre Lorde saying ‘we can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles and we will still be no less afraid.’ I do believe this is all I have—my words, I have the words that I write down, I have the words that I speak out, I have the words that I take into classrooms.” Woodson says she accepts that there will be hatred in general, and hatred online questioning why she would be chosen as Ambassador. “Risk of backlash and people not being kind, but that’s been the risk my whole life,” she said. “It’s not going to keep me from what I’ve been called to do.”

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New Study Shows News Outlets Skew Towards Negative Portrayals of Black Families, Contrary to Government Data

Photo: ABC
Photo: ABC


According to the Washington Post, a recent Color of Change and Family Story study found that the news media has had a significant hand in negatively skewing the perceptions of black families.

The study’s researchers reviewed over 800 local and national news pieces published or aired between January 2015 and December 2016, sampling major networks such as ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC as well as major print publications such as The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune.

The study — conducted by  University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign communications professor Travis L. Dixon — found that national news outlets were more likely to show black families as broken and dysfunctional while white families were depicted as possessing social stability.

These images are not only distorted, but contradict government data.

Dixon found that black families represented 59 percent of poor people portrayed in media, but actually only make up of 27 percent of Americans living in poverty. In contrast, white families only make up 17 percent of the poor representated in media, but make up 66 percent in reality. As far as criminal depictions go, black criminals represented 37 percent of the media’s criminals while only 26 percent of those arrested on criminal charges are black in real life. White criminals represented 28 percent the criminals portrayed in the media, but make up 77 percent of real life’s crime suspects.

The report argues that constant depictions of black people living in poor, welfare-dependent and broken homes due to absentee fathers has created a negative image of black families in general.

“This leaves people with the opinion that black people are plagued with self-imposed dysfunction that creates family instability and therefore, all their problems,” said Dixon.

Further, these depictions can affect black families on a systematic level. Dixon noted that the images can spark political rhetoric and the powerful buying into these narratives are what causes Congress to “gut social safety net programs,” bosses to implement harsher work and drug testing requirements and general disdain for welfare programs.

The study also notes that during the Great Depression, white families suffering from poverty were presented in the media as having run into “hard luck,” and that there were campaigns to “help them through tough times.”

However, over time, the media and political leaders have “worked to pathologize black families in the American imagination to justify slavery, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, widespread economic inequity and urban disinvestment — as well as to gain and maintain political and social power,” argues Nicole Rodgers, founder of Family Story.

And this effort has borne terrible fruit, according to Color of Change’s executive director, Rashad Robinson, who said, “There are dire consequences for black people when these outlandish archetypes rule the day: abusive treatment by police, less attention from doctors, harsher sentences from judges.”

Overall, the report concluded that in order to make real change in the news industry, stricter sourcing requirements will have to be implemented, journalists must be encouraged to provide social and historical context and the editorial standards process should include people of color.


Akron Board Greenlights Plan for LeBron James’ Foundation to Open “I Promise” Public School

LeBron James (photo via


NBA star LeBron James is using his platform to advocate for education. Through his organization—The LeBron James Family Foundation—he will open up a public school in his hometown Akron, Ohio, USA Today reported.

The educational institution—dubbed the “I Promise” school—was recently approved by the city’s board, the news outlet writes. It’s specifically designed for students who have faced obstacles and setbacks when it comes to excelling in school. In efforts to get students who have fallen behind in their studies on the right track, the new school will have extended school days and start classes during the summer season to ensure that learning and education becomes a priority in the lives of its students. The school is an extension of his foundation’s “I Promise” program that was created to prevent kids from dropping out of school. According to the news outlet, the school is slated to accept third and fourth graders next fall and other grades will subsequently be added in the coming years.

James said that his experiences while coming of age in Akron inspired him to open the school. Through his organization’s initiatives, he wants to provide the youth in his hometown with a sense of hope. “I walked those streets, and it was just like there’s no way I’m going to be able to get out of this situation. I just thought about that every day. I had dreams and I had mentors, and they allowed my dreams to become who I am today,” said James, according to the source. “The basketball thing, I love it and I enjoy it, but to give back and open up a school, that’s something that will last way beyond my years.”

USA Today reports that James’ company SpringHill Entertainment and the production company Warrior Poets will team up to work on a documentary about the creation of the school.

In an age where activism and sports are intertwined now more than ever, James has continually used his platform to speak out about social and political issues. This summer he called out Donald Trump for his failure to condemn White supremacists who were involved in the Charlottesville chaos, he’s been outspoken about the NFL’s treatment of Colin Kaepernick, and during the Cavaliers’ season-opener against the Celtics this season he wore sneakers that read “equality.”


Shabazz Daughters Launch Malcolm X Legacy Clothing Line to Honor Father and His Principles

Malcolm X's Daughters L to R: Qubilah Shabazz, Gamilah Lumumba Shabazz Malaak Shabazz, Attallah Shabazz, Ilyasah Shabazz (Image:
Malcolm X’s Daughters L to R: Qubilah Shabazz, Gamilah Lumumba Shabazz Malaak Shabazz, Attallah Shabazz, Ilyasah Shabazz (Image:


During a time in our country where the political climate has been heated and racial tensions were seemingly at an all-time high, the daughters of the late civil rights leader Malcolm X were using fashion as an avenue for social activism, Black Enterprise reported.

Ilyasah Shabazz, Qubilah Shabazz, Attallah Shabazz, Gamilah Lumumba Shabazz and Malaak Shabazz have all teamed up with the tech company Hingeto to create a clothing line that pays homage to their father’s legacy. The line, dubbed Malcolm X Legacy, features items that are inspired by the activist’s twelve principles which stressed the importance of human rights, education, economic independence, cultural pride, and justice. The collection features hats, t-shirts, sweatshirts, and will soon include artwork.

Leandrew Robinson, the CEO of Hingeto, told Black Enterprise that a clothing line like this is more fitting now than ever with all of the turmoil that has been happening within our country. “It was clear Malcolm’s principles are as relevant today as ever. We all thought it was imperative to represent his message and today’s human rights movement as a brand that people can outfit themselves in daily,” said Robinson. He also added that Colin Kaepernick has cosigned the new brand and has taken to Twitter to share info about the line.

Malcolm X Legacy’s site delves into his contributions to the Civil Rights movement. “Malcolm X will be remembered for his contribution to society of underscoring the value of a truly free populace by demonstrating the great lengths to which human beings will go to secure their freedom,” read the site.

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THIS WAY FORWARD: Community-Based Solutions for the African-American Childbirth Crisis

(Photo via
by Dena Crowder

Kyira “Kira” Dixon Johnson and her husband Charles seemed to have it all: a healthy baby boy, flourishing entrepreneurial careers, and vibrant health. Which is why no one could have predicted that 24 hours after welcoming their second son into the world, Kyira would be dead.

The Johnsons represent an alarming reality that’s only recently gained attention in the national media: African-American women are dying in childbirth at 3-4 times the rate of their white counterparts. When I first read the statistics, I was stunned. “This isn’t the 19th century!” Yet facts prove otherwise.

For a recent Essence article, Meaghan Winter wrote:

“In some rural counties and dense cities alike, the racial disparity in maternal deaths is jaw-dropping: Chickasaw County, Mississippi, for instance, has a maternal death rate for women of color that’s higher than Rwanda’s. In New York City, Black women are 12 times more likely than White women to die of pregnancy-related causes—and the disparity has more than doubled in recent years.”

While experts agree that the causes are multi-faceted, and include factors such as diet, poor pre- and post-natal care, existing high-risk conditions (like hypertension and diabetes) and lack of access to properly trained medical staff, by far the most troubling thing I heard was this comment from Darline Turner, an Austin-based physician’s assistant and certified doula:

“This goes across socio-economic status. Even a high achieving Ph.D. – who is a six to seven figure earner – still has worse birth outcomes than a white woman without a high school education who is smoking,” she said during a phone interview.

“How is this possible?” I wondered.

Darline explained that the “issue no one wants to talk about” is the experience of chronic mental, physical and emotional stress experienced by black women living in modern America, and its negative impact on birth outcomes. (For more thoughts on this topic from Darline Turner, click here.)

Disturbed by the seeming nonchalance at what should be declared a national health emergency, she began the Healing Hands Doula project, a grassroots effort aimed at supporting healthy pregnancies and births for women of color in Texas.

Her belief that “we’ve got to return to community” is borne out by scientific studies from a variety of fields. “We know that loneliness is a major factor in disease.” According to her, a mom who isn’t connected to a strong and vital community offering robust emotional and medical support is more susceptible to complications.

The good news is, with proper care, the statistics can be reversed. This fact is demonstrated by Jennie Joseph of Common Sense Childbirth, a prenatal clinic, birthing center, and school of midwifery in Florida where she applies her holistic maternity care model. The results are astoundingly positive and are changing the status quo. By making a difference, Joseph is not only increasing the well being of the families she serves, but also her own. To learn more about her and her mission, visit her website here: (Additional resources can be found via Sister SongCenter for Reproductive RightsBlackMamasMatter and The Afiya Center.)

The kind of purpose-driven work that birth professionals like Turner and Joseph are doing on behalf of women of color falls into the category of purposeful contribution. Over the past few years, research has shown that when you answer the “call” to do good for others, you actually strengthen your immune system.

What about those who lack a sense of purpose? They develop genetic patterns equivalent to people under constant stress. (This correlation between chronic stress and purpose is based on studies done at UCLA, The University of North Carolina and in the work of Dr. Mario Martinez.) The only cure for what ails the purposeless is to give meaningfully. Continue reading “THIS WAY FORWARD: Community-Based Solutions for the African-American Childbirth Crisis”

National Museum of African American History and Culture Digitizes Vintage Photos For Black Families

The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington D.C. harbors pieces of history that illustrate the story of the Black experience in America, and now the institution is giving African American families the opportunity to preserve memories of their own, The Baltimore Sun reported.

The museum launched a free program—dubbed the Community Curation Program—which provides Black families with the tools and equipment needed to preserve old photographs and footage by converting them into digital records, the news outlet writes. The program is supported by the Robert Frederick Smith Fund and travels to different cities across the country. The museum also provides the same equipment at the institution in Washington. One of the project’s latest stops was at the Impact Hub Baltimore in Station North, Maryland.

“In a very radical way, we recognize the importance of these vernacular, homemade images, this folk cinema, as an alternate history to the kinds of history that the mass media tells,” museum media archivist Walter Forsberg told The Baltimore Sun. “We wanted to render a public service free of charge because we knew there was a lot of material out there trapped on obsolete formats.”

Krewasky A. Salter, another museum curator, told the news outlet that the museum hopes to include some of the images, footage, and objects in their upcoming exhibitions; stating that the content provided by families will help fill in missing gaps in history. Several families have already taken advantage of the resource. Individuals who have digitized their family mementos say that the Community Curation Program has allowed them to weave their personal family stories into the larger fabric of Black history in a significant way. “These are stories in my family, and now I can share them with others,” said Pia Jordan, assistant professor at the School of Global Journalism and Communication at Morgan State University, according to the source.

The National Museum of African American History has been dedicated to capturing the essence of all facets of Black culture. The institution is currently working on crowd fundraising for a hip-hop anthology that will delve into the influence of Black music and African American culture on the world.


The Good Things Black People Do, Give and Receive All Over The World
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