Federal Judge Catherine Perry Rules St. Louis Police Force Against Protestors Unconstitutional

Photo: St. Louis Public Radio

(Photo: St. Louis Public Radio)

via blavity.com

Wednesday, a federal judge placed restrictions on the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, claiming their conduct during recent protests has violated demonstrators’ constitutional rights.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry ruled that the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against St. Louis police “are likely to prevail on the merits of their claims” that their First and Fourth Amendment rights had been violated.

The case stems from protests which took place in September, following the “not guilty” verdict in the murder trial of Jason Stockley, a white police officer who shot and killed Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man, in 2011.

Perry found sufficient evidence that although there was no violence, police declared an assembly without taking the protesters’ rights and opinions into consideration. She also ruled that there was “no credible threat of force or violence to officers or property” when police rounded up citizens, including journalists, on Sept. 17. Following those arrests, the sitting head of the St. Louis MPD declared his department “owned” the night, as the officers mocked protesters by chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!”

Perry shared that officers had clearly retaliated against protected First Amendment speech simply because they did not prefer being criticized, and used chemical weapons to divert speech they didn’t favor.

“Plaintiffs’ evidence — both video and testimony ― shows that officers have exercised their discretion in an arbitrary and retaliatory fashion to punish protesters for voicing criticism of police or recording police conduct,” Perry wrote. “When all of the evidence is considered, plaintiffs have met their burden of showing that they are likely to succeed on their claim that defendant has a custom or policy of deploying hand-held pepper spray against citizens engaged in recording police or in expressive activity critical of police in retaliation for the exercise of their first amendment rights, in violation of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments.”

Perry says police are not permitted to declare an unlawful assembly unless there’s a clear and present threat, and they cannot use the law to punish people engaged in protected activity, such as protesting. Perry additionally confirmed chemical agents can’t be used, unless there is probable cause to arrest, and police are not able to threaten to use chemical agents against anyone engaged in expressive, nonviolent activity.

In October, during a hearing, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Anthony Rothert proclaimed “pepper spray is the new fire hose,” and said officers were using pepper spray “arbitrarily, gratuitously and without warning.” We are hopeful that more injustices will be brought to light and rightfully punished, as well as justice be served as these officers and others misusing their duty to serve and protect are corrected.

To read more, go to: https://blavity.com/a-federal-judge-calls-st-louis-police-force-against-protestors-unconstitutional

R.I.P. Robert Guillaume, 89, Emmy-Award Winning Actor and Star of “Benson”

Robert Guillaume (CREDIT: AP)

Richard Natale via variety.com

Emmy Award-winning actor Robert Guillaume, best known as the title character in the TV sitcom “Benson,” died Tuesday. He was 89.

His wife Donna Brown Guillaume told the Associated Press he died at their Los Angeles home of complications of prostate cancer. Guillaume often played acerbic, dry-witted, but ultimately lovable characters like the butler Benson Du Bois, which he created on the 1977 series “Soap,” before his character was spun off in 1979. Guillaume won Emmys both for “Soap” (as supporting actor) and “Benson” (as lead actor).

He was also known as the the voice of Rafiki in “The Lion King,” for which he also won a Grammy for a spoken word recording. “Benson” ran on ABC for seven years until 1986. The show brought Guillaume an Emmy in 1985 for lead actor in a comedy. In the late ’90s he took on the role of Isaac Jaffe, executive producer of a cable sports show on the ABC sitcom “Sports Night,” and continued to perform even after being felled by a stroke.

Guillaume also possessed a powerful, mellifluous voice, which he used most notably to play the title role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” onstage. After suffering through a period of unemployment during the ’70s, he was cast in an all-black revival of “Guys and Dolls” as Nathan Detroit, which debuted on Broadway in 1977 and secured him a Tony nomination. He also guested during this period on sitcoms such as “All in the Family,” “Good Times,” “Sanford and Son” and “The Jeffersons,” which led to the supporting role of Benson in “Soap.”

He tried another sitcom in 1989, “The Robert Guillaume Show,” playing a marriage counselor. The series lasted four months before ABC pulled the plug. He returned to singing in 1990 in the Los Angeles production of “Phantom of the Opera” and on Broadway in the lead role of “Cyrano — The Musical” for four months beginning in November 1993. He also performed regularly in concert.

Guillaume was featured in films such as “Meteor Man,” “First Kid” and “Spy Hard.” On television he appeared in the HBO family series “Happily Ever After” and TV movies and miniseries including “Children of the Dust,” “Run for the Dream” and “Pandora’s Clock.” He appeared in Tim Burton’s “Big Fish” in 2003, and then made more frequent bigscreen appearances later in the decade, appearing in the Christian film “The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry” in 2008; in the thriller “Columbus Circle,” starring Selma Blair, in 2010; and in the small musical dramedy “Satin” in 2011.

Robert Peter Williams was born in St. Louis, Mo., changing his name only after he decided on a career in acting. After completing his schooling he joined the Army in 1945 and was discharged 15 months later. He took on a number of menial jobs while studying nights at St. Louis U. He originally intended to study business but became interested in singing and transferred to Washington U. to study voice and theater. His performance at the 1957 Aspen Music Festival led to an apprenticeship at the Karamu Performing Arts Theater in Cleveland, where he appeared in operas and musical comedies.

After moving to New York, he made his Broadway debut in a 1960 revival of “Finian’s Rainbow” and found regular employment in the chorus of shows like “Fly, Blackbird,” “Golden Boy” and “Porgy and Bess.” In 1972 he took on the title role in the musical “Purlie” and also appeared in the revue “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.”He is survived by his second wife, TV producer Donna Brown Guillaume; one son (another died in 1990); and three daughters.

Source: Robert Guillaume, Star of ‘Benson,’ Dies at 89 – Variety

R.I.P. Dick Gregory, 84, Groundbreaking Comedian, Civil Rights Activist and Nutrition Guru

Dick Gregory (photo via hollywoodreporter.com)

by Dennis McLellan via latimes.com

Dick Gregory, who became the first black stand-up comic to break the color barrier in major nightclubs in the early 1960s, a decade in which he satirized segregation and race relations in his act and launched his lifetime commitment to civil rights and other social justice issues, died Saturday. He was 84.

His death was confirmed on his official social media accounts by his family. “It is with enormous sadness that the Gregory family confirms that their father, comedic legend and civil rights activist Mr. Dick Gregory departed this earth tonight in Washington, DC.,” his son Christian Gregory wrote. Even before the confirmation from the family, Rev. Jesse Jackson, a longtime friend of Gregory’s, had memorialized him in a tweet: “He taught us how to laugh. He taught us how to fight. He taught us how to live. Dick Gregory was committed to justice. I miss him already.”

In a life that began in poverty in St. Louis during the Depression, the former Southern Illinois University track star became known as an author, lecturer, nutrition guru and self-described agitator who marched, ran and fasted to call attention to issues ranging from police brutality to world famine. An invitation from civil rights leader Medgar Evers to speak at voter registration rallies in Jackson, Miss., in 1962 launched Gregory into what he called “the civil rights fight.” He was frequently arrested for his activities in the ’60s, and once spent five days in jail in Birmingham, Ala. after joining demonstrators in 1963 at the request of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Gregory, who was shot in the leg while trying to help defuse the Watts riots in 1965, made a failed run for mayor of Chicago as a write-in candidate in 1967. A year later, he ran for president as a write-in candidate for the Freedom and Peace Party, a splinter group of the Peace and Freedom Party. Hunter S. Thompson was one of his most vocal supporters.

In the late ’60s, Gregory began going on 40-day fasts to protest the Vietnam War. In 1980, impatient with President Carter’s handling of the Iranian hostage crisis, he flew to Iran and began a fast, had a “ceremonial visit” with revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and met with the revolutionary students inside the embassy. After four and a half months in Iran, his weight down to 106 pounds, he returned home.

Dick Gregory runs for President (photo via latimes.com)

But before Dick Gregory the activist, there was Dick Gregory the groundbreaking comedian. He was a struggling 28-year-old stand-up comic in Chicago who had launched his career in small black clubs when he received a life-changing, last-minute phone call from his agent in January 1961: The prestigious Playboy Club in Chicago needed someone to fill in for comedian Irwin Corey on Sunday night. Gregory was so broke he had to borrow a quarter from his landlord for bus fare downtown. Never mind that his audience turned out to be a convention of white frozen-food-industry executives from the South.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” Gregory said, coolly eyeing the audience. “I understand there are a good many Southerners in the room tonight. I know the South very well. I spent 20 years there one night. …“Last time I was down South, I walked into this restaurant, and this white waitress came up to me and said: ‘We don’t serve colored people here.’ I said: ‘That’s all right, I don’t eat colored people. Bring me a whole fried chicken.’ ”Despite having to deal with what he later described as “dirty, little, insulting statements” from some members of the audience, the heckling soon stopped as Gregory won them over with his provocatively funny but nonbelligerent satirical humor.

“Segregation is not all bad,” he said on stage. “Have you ever heard of a wreck where the people on the back of the bus got hurt?” What was supposed to be a 55-minute show, Gregory later recalled, went on for about an hour and 40 minutes. And by the time he walked off stage, the audience gave him a thundering ovation. He did so well, he was booked at the club for two weeks and then held over for several more.

To read full article, go to: Dick Gregory, who rose from poverty to become a groundbreaking comedian and civil rights activist, dies at 84 – LA Times

Sidney Keys III, 11, Founds Books N Bros to Help Other Boys Fall in Love with Reading

Sidney Keys III founded Books N Bros, a reading club that emphasizes making reading fun while lifting up works of African American literature and culture. (KELLY MOFFITT | ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO)

article by Kelly Moffitt via news.stlpublicradio.org

Six months ago, 11-year-old St. Louisan Sidney Keys III started a reading club for boys his age to band together in their love of books. He calls it Books N Bros, and the club has an emphasis on making reading fun while lifting up African American literature and culture.

“Books N Bros is a book club for boys and we read books and African American literature because every time I go to the library at my school, there aren’t many African American literature books there,” said Keys in an interview on St. Louis on the Air. “I already love to read and since we don’t get that much time to read in school, we just discuss in groups. I wanted to read a book but I also wanted to discuss it with other people.”

Keys’ mom, Winnie Caldwell, said she knew Sidney had always loved to read because he’d often come to her wanting to talk about books.

About six months ago, they went to visit EyeSeeMe, a bookstore in University City focusing on African American children’s literature. While there, Winnie shot a video of Sidney reading in the store and it went viral on Facebook. Some 62,000 people have viewed the video and it has been shared 1,700 times.

Books N Bros card (KELLY MOFFITT | ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO)

“He hadn’t seen [a bookstore] like that before and I certainly never had, so he was making himself comfortable on the floor, reading a book,” Caldwell said. “… When you get to a point when he is 11 years old and it was so shocking for him to relate to someone on the cover in a positive aspect rather than it be some negative urban story we see a lot. I would like to make sure he sees himself in being whatever he can be.”

After the video went viral, she and Sidney sat down to think about what he wanted to do next. A book club immediately jumped to mind.

“We specifically reach out to boys around ages 8-10 because that is statistically the age they stop reading — we wanted to combat that,” Caldwell said.

Keys added: “My motivation is I already love to read but it would be awesome, even better, to read with other people. I want to keep doing it because I don’t know what will make me stop reading because I love to read.”

The club meets once a month, discussing one book the club has voted on. While their numbers are still small, the book club has grown each month. Last month, two new members joined bringing the group to 7-10 members each month. The group is welcoming to boys of all backgrounds and races, but the club does focus on stories with African American protagonists.

Keys and Caldwell have also struck a deal with the Microsoft Store at the Galleria, where the book club meets. The boys discuss their books for an hour before each gets 30 minutes to play video games on a personal console at the store. A group called Serving with the Badge also donated 200 books to the book club so boys can take books home with them for their personal collection.

Some of the book club favorites so far have been “Danny Dollar,” “Hidden Figures” and “Supah Dupah Kid.” In February, for Black History Month, the group read “A Song for Harlem: Scraps of Time,” by Patricia McKissack, a St. Louis-based children’s book author.

For now, the book club has plans to stay boys-only, but Caldwell said there’s another book club called Nerdy Girls, which is aimed at girls between ages 6-12 and has over 75 members. Caldwell and Keys plan on partnering with Nerdy Girls in the future.

Caldwell said that if there are boys who are interested in joining the club, which costs $20 per month, they can find more information on the website https://www.booksnbros.com/ or email info@booksnbros.com.

To read full article, go to: Books N Bros’ 11-year-old founder wants to help boys love reading at an age when they often don’t | St. Louis Public Radio

R.I.P Chuck Berry, 90; Musical Legend and Architect of Rock ’n’ Roll

article by Jon Pareles via nytimes.com

Chuck Berry, who with his indelible guitar licks, brash self-confidence and memorable songs about cars, girls and wild dance parties did as much as anyone to define rock ’n’ roll’s potential and attitude in its early years, died on Saturday. He was 90.

The St. Charles County Police Department in Missouri confirmed his death on its Facebook page. The department said it responded to a medical emergency at a home and Mr. Berry was declared dead after lifesaving measures were unsuccessful.

While Elvis Presley was rock’s first pop star and teenage heartthrob, Mr. Berry was its master theorist and conceptual genius, the songwriter who understood what the kids wanted before they knew themselves. With songs like “Johnny B. Goode,” “Maybellene” and “Roll Over Beethoven,” he gave his listeners more than they knew they were getting from jukebox entertainment.

Chuck Berry (photo via nytimes.com)

His guitar lines wired the lean twang of country and the bite of the blues into phrases with both a streamlined trajectory and a long memory. And tucked into the lighthearted, telegraphic narratives that he sang with such clear enunciation was a sly defiance, upending convention to claim the pleasures of the moment. In “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “You Can’t Catch Me,” “Rock n Roll Music” and other songs, Mr. Berry invented rock as a music of teenage wishes fulfilled and good times.  (The Beach Boys reworked his “Sweet Little Sixteen” into “Surfin’ U.S.A.” Mr. Berry sued them and won a songwriting credit.)

Born Charles Edward Anderson Berry on Oct. 18, 1926, in St. Louis, he grew up in a segregated, middle-class neighborhood there, soaking up gospel, blues, and rhythm and blues, along with some country music.He spent three years in reform school after a spree of car thefts and armed robbery.

He received a degree in hairdressing and cosmetology and worked for a time as a beautician; he married Themetta Suggs in 1948 and started a family. By the early 1950s, he was playing guitar and singing blues, pop standards and an occasional country tune with local combos. Shortly after joining Sir John’s Trio, led by the pianist Johnnie Johnson, he reshaped the group’s music and took it over.

From the Texas guitarist T-Bone Walker, Mr. Berry picked up a technique of bending two strings at once that he would rough up and turn into a rock ’n’ roll talisman, the Chuck Berry lick, which would in turn be emulated by the Rolling Stones and countless others. He also recognized the popularity of country music and added some hillbilly twang to his guitar lines. Mr. Berry’s hybrid music, along with his charisma and showmanship, drew white as well as black listeners to the Cosmopolitan Club in St. Louis.

In 1955, Mr. Berry ventured to Chicago and asked one of his idols, the bluesman Muddy Waters, about making records. Waters directed him to the label he recorded for, Chess Records, where one of the owners, Leonard Chess, heard potential in Mr. Berry’s song “Ida Red.”

A variant of an old country song by the same name, “Ida Red” had a 2/4 backbeat with a hillbilly oompah, while Mr. Berry’s lyrics sketched a car chase, the narrator “motorvatin’” after an elusive girl. Mr. Chess renamed the song “Maybellene,” and in a long session on May 21, 1955, Mr. Chess and the bassist Willie Dixon got the band to punch up the rhythm.

“The big beat, cars and young love,” Mr. Chess outlined. “It was a trend and we jumped on it.”

The music was bright and clear, a hard-swinging amalgam of country and blues. More than 60 years later, it still sounds reckless and audacious.

To read full article, go to: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/18/arts/chuck-berry-dead.html

Black History Heroes: Annie Turnbo Malone: a Philanthropist and Entrepreneur

Annie Turbo Malone (photo via blackhistoryheroes.com)

Before Oprah Winfrey and Madame C.J. Walker, there was Annie Turnbo Malone (aka Annie Minerva Turnbo Pope Malone and Annie Minerva Turnbo Malone), an African American entrepreneur and philanthropist during the early 20th century.

Malone is recorded as the U.S.’s first Black woman millionaire based on reports of $14 million in assets held in 1920 from her beauty and cosmetic enterprises, headquartered in St. Louis and Chicago.

On August 9, 1869, Robert Turnbo and Isabella Cook became parents to Annie in Metropolis, Illinois. Annie attended school in Illinois where she apprentenced with her sister as a hairdresser. By 1889, Malone had developed her own scalp and hair products that she demonstrated and sold from a buggy throughout Illinois.

By 1902, Malone’s business growth led her to St. Louis, Missouri, which at the time held the fourth largest population of African Americans. In St. Louis she copyrighted her Poro brand beauty products. In 1914, in a St. Louis wedding, Malone married the school principal Aaron Eugene Malon.

By 1917, Malone opened the doors of Poro College, a beauty college which was later attended by Madam C.J. Walker. The school reportedly graduated about 75,000 agents world-wide, including the Caribbean. By 1930, the first full year of the Great Depression, Malone had moved from Missouri after divorcing her second husband and settled on Chicago’s South Side.

To read more, go to: Black History Heroes: Annie Turnbo Malone: A Black Philanthropist and Entrepreneur

Superintendent Tiffany Anderson Has Figured Out How to Make School Work for Low-Income Kids in Jennings, MO

— School districts don’t usually operate homeless shelters for their students. Nor do they often run food banks or have a system in place to provide whatever clothes kids need. Few offer regular access to pediatricians and mental health counselors, or make washers and dryers available to families desperate to get clean.

But the Jennings School District — serving about 3,000 students in a low-income, predominantly African-American jurisdiction just north of St. Louis — does all of these things and more. When Superintendent Tiffany Anderson arrived here 3 1/2 years ago, she was determined to clear the barriers that so often keep poor kids from learning. And her approach has helped fuel a dramatic turnaround in Jennings, which has long been among the lowest-performing school districts in Missouri.

“Schools can do so much to really impact poverty,” Anderson said. “Some people think if you do all this other stuff, it takes away from focusing on instruction, when really it ensures that you can take kids further academically.”

Public education has long felt like a small and fruitless weapon against this town’s generational poverty. But that’s starting to change. Academic achievement, attendance and high school graduation rates have improved since Anderson’s arrival, and, this month, state officials announced that as a result of the improvements, Jennings had reached full accreditation for the first time in more than a decade.

Gwen McDile, a homeless 17-year-old in Jennings, missed so much school this fall — nearly one day in three — that it seemed she would be unlikely to graduate in June. But then she was invited to move into Hope House, a shelter the school system recently opened to give students like her a stable place to live.

She arrived a few days after Thanksgiving. The 3,000-square-foot house had a private bedroom for Gwen, who loves writing and poetry; a living room with a plush sofa she could sink into; and — perhaps most importantly — a full pantry.

She’s no longer hungry. She has been making it to class. She believes she will graduate on time.

“I’ve eaten more in the last two weeks than I’ve eaten in the last two years,” Gwen said on a recent afternoon, after arriving home from school and digging into a piece of caramel chocolate. “I’m truly blessed to be in the situation I’m in right now.” Continue reading

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