The former first lady is teaming up with several celebrities to launch a new voter registration initiative ahead of this year’s midterm elections. The new nonprofit, “When We All Vote,” is a nonpartisan organization with the goal to get more voters registered.
“Voting is the only way to ensure that our values and priorities are represented in the halls of power,” Obama said in a statement “And it’s not enough to just vote for president every four years. We all have to vote in every single election: for mayor, governor, school board, state legislature and Congress. The leaders we elect to these offices help determine just about every aspect of our lives and our democracy.”
According to Politico, the initiative is scheduled to be launched on Thursday and will also involve several other high-profile names, including actor Tom Hanks, singer Janelle Monae, “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and singers Faith Hill and Tim McGraw.
Also, former Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett will serve as president of the board. The initiative is its own non-profit entity and will operate independently of the Obama Foundation, the personal offices of Barack and Michelle Obama, and Citizen 44.
The official trailer has been released for the docuseries Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story.
The docuseries, produced by Jay Z, has been in the works for about a year. The Trayvon Martin Story comes after the Jay Z-produced Time: The Kalief Browder Story, which debuted on Spike. This new docu-series will air on Paramount Network, the recently-rebranded Spike.
Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story is based on the life and legacy of Trayvon Martin. The six-part non-scripted documentary series will be the definitive look at one of the most talked-about and controversial events in the last decade that spurred the impactful worldwide Black Lives Matter movement.
Executive producers for the series include Shawn Carter, Sybrina Fulton, Tracy Martin, Chachi Senior, Michael Gasparro, Jenner Furst, Julia Willoughby Nason and Nick Sandow. Furst and Nason will serve as co-directors on the project.
A new scholarship fund has been established at Vanderbilt University to honor James M. Lawson Jr., a leading figure in the civil rights movement and an associate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The new scholarship was made possible by a gift from Doug Parker, an alumnus of the Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt, the CEO of American Airlines, and a new trustee of the university, and his wife Gwen.
The new scholarships will be given to students from underrepresented groups who have shown a commitment to civil rights and social justice.
Lawson, enrolled at the Vanderbilt Divinity School in 1958. While a student he helped organize sit-ins at lunch counters in downtown Nashville. In 1960, he was expelled from the university for his participation in civil rights protests.
Lawson completed his divinity studies at Boston University and then served as director of nonviolent education for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. From 1974 to 1999, Rev. Lawson was the pastor of the Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles.
Lawson returned to Vanderbilt as a distinguished visiting professor form 2006 to 2009. An endowed chair at the Divinity School was named in his honor in 2007.
According to CNN, protesters also marched by the White House in Washington and the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. They reportedly yelled, “shame, shame, shame” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald trump has got to go.”
And in Atlanta, John Lewis was ready to inspire protestors with a message honed over the years he marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and others.
“Look, you know, I’ve been talking for some time and getting in trouble. It’s time for some of us to get in good trouble, necessary trouble,” the venerable Democrat told the crowd at the Families Belong Together rally in Atlanta.
“In the final analysis, we may have to turn America upside down to set it right side up, but whatever we do, do it in an orderly, peaceful and nonviolent fashion,” he said.
Lewis shared the sentiments of Rep. Maxine Waters who has energized her base with fiery speeches calling for disgruntled Americans to confront Trump administration officials after migrant children were snatched and separated from their mothers because of Trump’s harsh immigration policies.
Lewis also wrote a letter in June criticizing Trump’s immigration policy and calling it a “shame, a disgrace and an outrage.”
John Lewis urged the crowd to stay passionate, but peaceful. “Never, ever, ever hate.”
Two students now have some relief after being bullied for months at their Nevada high school because of race.
Jayla Tolliver and Taylissa Marriott, who are 15-year-old sisters and freshman at Yerington High School in Yerington, have won a settlement in their federal lawsuit against Lyon County School District on Monday (June 25), the Reno Gazette Journal reported. Their case has pushed the school to re-examine how it deals with bullying and racist behaviors from students, and it is making changes to existing policies.
Tolliver and Marriott suffered through some of the worst taunts and bullying from their peers — actions that are known to have driven many students of color to consider or commit suicide. The young women were called slurs on social media and were targeted in an online photo of the son of a Lyon County sheriff’s deputy holding a gun with the caption, “the red neck god of all gods…we bout to go [racial slur] huntin” last October.
Yerington school officials didn’t do enough to help the teens, who were harassed for at least six months over the 2017-18 school year. While the school was supposed to be a welcoming safe space for them, it became a nightmarish hell.
Police weren’t involved in any investigation of the social media threats against the teens. Yerington Police Chief Darren Wagner told the Reno Gazette Journal last October that the threats were protected by free speech, and the family’s statements to police about the matter were shredded accidentally. However, what was called “free speech” was in fact hate speech.
Fast forward to now. Tolliver and Marriott, who filed the lawsuit in January, have renewed hope despite their horrible experience. “In the beginning, we didn’t realize how much of a change we have made, and by us being some of the many to stand up and let their voice be heard, [it] made me feel that we did change the way people judge and look at someone before they actually know them,” Marriott said.
The school district has agreed to consult the U.S. Department of Education’s racial harassment experts and pay for counseling for the teens. They will also pay a lump sum to the teens’ family and for all attorney fees, an amount totaling $160,000.
Jayla and Taylissa released the following statements:
I would like to thank everyone who had our back and listened when no one would, through this long painful experience. I learned that you should never let your voice be unheard even when people turn their backs and tell you to lower your voice. Racism is something I never thought I’d go through. Racism is also something many people have done nothing about, but I am proud to say that I am one of the few who stood up when my race was an issue to others. I will always look back on this tragedy knowing that it made me the strong African-American woman I am today! Racism is something that I knew went on through the world but for a long time I forgot it existed. I cannot dream about having so much hate for another group of people because of their skin color yet there are people all over the world who find people of color disgusting and repulsive because we are different but don’t realize how beautiful and unique we are because we are different. I hope that our story inspires others. Always remember no matter where you are from, what you look like, how different you talk, or how you walk we are all equal.Jayla Tolliver
I just wanted to start off saying my sister Jayla and I are so thankful. I would never in a million years believe we would have to go through what we did. For having you guys say that you are here for us and standing by our sides gave us so much hope that we could fight and overcome all the horrific behavior. In the beginning, we didn’t realize how much of a change we have made and by us being some of the many to stand up and let their voice be heard made me feel that we did change the way people judge and look at someone before they actually know them. But I want to say a BIG thank you to Swope Middle School for being some of the biggest supporters and some of the first to reach out to my sister and me.Taylissa Marriott
In the British town of Bristol, a black woman has become the new Lord Mayor (or, simply, mayor) has taken office. And one of the first things that Cleo Lake did was remove the 300-year-old portrait of a slave trader from the wall in her office’s parlor.
Lake ordered the removal of the portrait of Edward Colston, saying she “simply could not stand” the sight of the man peering her as she worked, according to the Daily Mail.
‘I’m coming to the end of my first month in office, and this is my parlor, which is a lovely space,” Lake said. She was elected by her fellow city councilors last month. “I spend a lot of time here — I am here nearly every day. I won’t be comfortable sharing it with the portrait of Colston.”
“As part of my role in campaigning with the Countering Colston team, I also think it’s fitting that I don’t share this office with the portrait,” Lake told the Bristol Post.
“Luckily, there’s been a lot of support and the council has agreed to take it down and today is the day it goes into storage,” she added. Lake instead of destroying the portrait, Lake has asked that it be installed in a museum addressing Bristol’s role in the slave trade and the abolition of slavery.
Colston has long-been a divisive figure in Bristol, which is 105 miles west of London, over his original role in the Royal African Company, which turned the sale and transport of enslaved Africans to work on plantations in the Americas and the Caribbean into an industrial scale practice during the mid-17th century.
Colston is estimated to have been responsible for the deaths of roughly 20,000 people aboard his slave ships. He acquired his wealth on the backs of capturing and brutalizing Africans by transporting enslaved Blacks. He would later go on to establish slave trade routes as far as Asia.
Much like a number of the Confederate generals and officials in the United States, numerous schools, businesses and other establishments that are named after the infamous slave trader are now trying to distance themselves from him in England.
Similar to how schools named after Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee have been renamed in favor of former President Barack Obama, Colston Hall, a concert venue, was closed but is expected to reopen with a new name while parents of students at Colston Primary School have voted in favor of it being renamed.
“Many of the issues today such as Afrophobia, racism and inequality stem from this episode of history where people of African descent were dehumanized to justify enslaving them,” Lake said. “We’re partway through the U.N. Decade for People of African Descent, so change must also be ushered in and this is in line with that.”
“My papers reflect 50 years of involvement in activist and scholarly collaborations seeking to expand the reach of justice in the world,” Davis said in a statement. “I am very happy that at the Schlesinger Library they will join those of June Jordan, Patricia Williams, Pat Parker, and so many other women who have been advocates of social transformation.”
Jane Kamensky, Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation Director of the Schlesinger Library, sees the collection yielding “prize-winning books for decades as people reckon with this legacy and put [Davis] in conversation with other collections here and elsewhere.”
When looking for new material, Kamensky said the library seeks collections “that will change the way that fields know what they know,” adding that she expects the Davis archive to inspire and inform scholars across a range of disciplines.
Henry Louis Gates Jr. said that he’s followed Davis’ life and work ever since spotting a “Free Angela” poster on the wall at his Yale dorm. Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher Jr. University Professor, has worked to increase the archival presence of African-Americans who have made major contributions to U.S. society, politics, and culture. He called the Davis papers “a marvelous coup for Harvard.”
“She’s of enormous importance to the history of political thought and political activism of left-wing or progressive politics and the history of race and gender in the United States since the mid-’60s,” said Gates, who directs the Hutchins Center. “No one has a more important role, and now scholars will be able to study the arc of her thinking, the way it evolved and its depth, by having access to her papers.”
The acquisition is in keeping with the library’s efforts to ensure its collections represent a broad range of life experiences. In 2013 and 2014 an internal committee developed a diverse wish list, “and a foundational thinker and activist like Angela Davis was very naturally at the top,” said Kamensky.
As America waits to see if Georgia will make history by electing Stacey Abrams the first African American woman governor in the country this November, African American women in one of Georgia’s newest cities are already making U.S. history.
Only a year after the creation of the City of South Fulton, Georgia’s fifth largest city, is breaking American barriers.
In January 2018, the city’s Municipal Court began operating and in March 2018 the city’s police services officially began. The city is the first city in American history where every criminal justice department head is an African American woman.
Chief of Police Sheila Rogers is a career law enforcement professional with more than twenty-six years experience. Chief Rogers is the city’s first police chief and one of a few women police chief around the country.
Chief Judge Tiffany CarterSellers is a University of Georgia law school graduate and the City’s first chief judge. Judge Sellers was selected through a panel of experienced judges from the surrounding community.
Judge Sellers hired and appointed the Court Administrator, Lakesiya Cofield, and the City’s first Chief Court Clerk, Ramona Howard.
Also appointed to represent the two equally important components of any criminal justice system were two attorneys, City Solicitor LaDawn “LBJ” Jones, who prosecutes the cases and City Public Defender Viveca Famber Powell, who defends those accused of crimes.
Together these African American women make up all the portions of the criminal justice system in the new city. No other time in American history have black women been appointed to the top position in every department in an entire city’s criminal justice system. This amazing first was not planned. However, it is a testament to the reason the city was founded in the first place – self-reliance and local control that properly represents the community in which they serve.
“Our goal is to ensure justice for everyone,” Sellers said. “However, as African American women we are sensitive to the history of criminal justice in our country. We want to be an example of how to do things right.”
Under Sellers’s leadership, the demographics of the court are not the only progressive attributes. Incorporated in the foundation of the City of South Fulton’s municipal court policies are details not found in other systems that have existed for years, including guaranteed access to an attorney, a robust diversion program that is infused into the court process, and overall respect for victims and the accused alike.
More than 20 years after he was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death, Corey Williams walked free from Louisiana’s Angola Prison last week.
Corey Williams was an intellectually disabled child just three weeks past his 16th birthday when he was arrested for the murder and robbery of a pizza delivery man in Shreveport in 1998. Impaired by severe lead poisoning, Corey was known in his community as a “chump” who would take the blame for things he had not done.
Police knew about Corey’s disability, but they interrogated him all night until he accepted blame for the murder and then told them, “I’m tired. I’m ready to go home and lay down.”
Caddo Parish District Attorney Hugo Holland aggressively sought the death penalty for Corey Williams. Along with his successor, Dale Cox, Mr. Holland is responsible for 75 percent of all death sentences imposed in Louisiana between 2010 and 2015.
No physical evidence linked Corey Williams to the crime. Instead, the evidence pointed to three men who were seen robbing the victim after he was shot. The victim’s money and pizzas were found in a dumpster near their house; one man’s fingerprints were found on the murder weapon; and the victim’s blood was found on another man’s clothing. Those three pinned the crime on Corey Williams.
The prosecution suppressed evidence that supported Corey’s innocence, including evidence that the police believed the other suspects conspired to set him up and admissions from multiple witnesses that they had falsely accused Mr. Williams after being threatened by men at the scene.
Mr. Williams was convicted and sentenced to death.
In 2002, the Supreme Court barred the death penalty for people with intellectual disability, in part because a person with intellectual disability is at heightened risk of “unwittingly confess[ing] to a crime that he did not commit.” As a result, Corey Williams was removed from death row. But Louisiana courts upheld his conviction after refusing to consider his age and intellectual disability in evaluating whether his confession was reliable.
In March 2018, attorneys for Mr. Williams filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to reverse Mr. Williams’s conviction because of prosecutorial misconduct, which included faking “summaries” of witness statements to incriminate Mr. Williams. A group of 44 former prosecutors and Justice Department officials, including former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, signed a brief in support of the petition. Caddo Parish District Attorney James Stewart responded by agreeing to immediately release Mr. Williams in exchange for a guilty plea to lesser offenses.
“Imagine your child leaving to hang out with friends, and then losing him or her for twenty years,” Mr. Williams’s attorney Amir Ali said in a statement. “No one can give Corey back the time that he wrongfully spent behind bars, away from his family and friends. Today, we ensure this tragedy ends here—Corey can finally go home.”
Samaria Rice, mother of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old who was gunned down on a playground by an erratic “officer of the law” in 2014, is mending her heartbreak by opening a cultural center in the name of her son.
The Tamir Rice Afrocentric Cultural Center will honor Tamir’s legacy by operating as a place of refuge for black children in Cleveland, a space where they can participate in visual art, drama, music, as well as teaching them civics as well. “Nobody is talking about Tamir anymore in Cleveland,” said Samaria. “And that’s sad.”
Through the Tamir Rice Foundation, Samaria has already purchased a building for the center, and, in addition to serving the children’s artistic ambitions (Tamir, she said, loved to draw cartoons and make pottery), the young people who come through its doors will be mentored on how to “dissect and participate in political systems,” something the 41-year-old mother of three says she had to learn, after her son was killed as he played.
“I don’t pay no attention to them,” she said. “They can’t beat me for the simple fact that their child wasn’t killed by the state. I’m going to do it through the grace of God and I’m going to do it because the city of Cleveland gave me no choice but to do it as far as building my son’s legacy and keeping his legacy alive.”
Next month, Rice is throwing a “Sweet Sixteen” party for the birthday Tamir will never see. She seeks to raise $21,000 to help renovate the space, including new windows, and a stage for performances. She purchased the building in March for $162,680, using part of the $6 million settlement of the wrongful death suit she’d filed against the city and the two officers involved (none of whom faced a day in jail). The Plain Dealer reports that after lawyer’s fees and costs and payments to other relatives, Tamir’s estate was left with about $1.8 million.
Samaria Rice hopes to complete work and open the center in 2019.