October 31, 2013
By Avis Thomas-Lester
Special to NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper
Radio One’s Sheila Stewart apparently was involved in a car accident crash on her way to work.
Stewart worked in the D.C. area for more than 20 years. She had recently relocated to Atlanta and was living with her sister.
Since moving to Atlanta, Stewart had continued her radio announcing responsibilities in D.C. while she looked for work there, broadcasting remotely from Atlanta. Co-workers said they were concerned when she failed to make it to the station to do her broadcast.
Radio One employees in the corporate office in Silver Spring, just north of D.C., were notified of her death when they were called into a meeting about 10 a.m.
“There were a lot of tears,” said Michelle Vessels, senior integrated marketing executive for Radio One and a friend of Stewart’s. “Everybody just loved Sheila.”
Friends said they had been looking forward to seeing Stewart this weekend. She was scheduled to fly into town later on Oct. 24 to participate in two events she had supported for several years.
On Oct. 25, she was scheduled to broadcast live from nationally-syndicated air personality and philanthropist Tom Joyner’s Take a Loved One to the Doctor event at Laurel Regional Hospital. The next day, she was expected to participate in the AIDS Walk D.C. event downtown.
Vessels said Stewart had recruited a team to participate in the walk, as she had for several years.
“She had a lot planned this weekend,” Vessels said.
Friends remembered Stewart as a hard-working professional and kind woman who was at the top of her game on the job and always willing to lend a hand to help or a shoulder to cry on.
No matter what she was doing, she always had a minute to chat, call to say “Happy Birthday” or congratulate a loved one on something special that had happened in their lives.
Co-workers took to the airwaves to pay tribute to her. Others held vigils via Facebook, Twitter, texts and emails, expressing sorrow at the loss of such a vital and loved person.
“She was truly Ms. Community in every respect,” said AFRO General Manager Edgar Brookins. “She gave all that she had to everyone who asked, no matter who it was. She was able to connect with people of all backgrounds and all levels. She was always able to bring something to the table by providing media exposure to the various community, church, Greek and social organizations. There is not a group that I know of that didn’t have some contact with Sheila Stewart.”
An award-winning journalist, Stewart’s career included stints in radio, television and print. She received a B.A. in broadcast journalism from Benedict College in Columbia, S.C. Stewart was the only one of several siblings to graduate from college.
Blessed with a deep, sultry voice perfect for broadcasting, the former beauty queen also had an enduring interest in working with children and organizations that served them. She mentored at-risk girls and was an avid fundraiser for organizations such as the United Negro College Fund, the National Urban League, the National Congress of Black Women and the Susan G. Kommen Race For the Cure. She was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.
Stewart was the author of a motivational book, “Faith and the 3 P’s: Overcoming Obstacles With Prayer, Persistence and Positive Thinking,” which she self-published.
Dionne Lewis, program director for Magic 102.3, said Radio One will hold a public memorial service for Stewart, but details had not been worked out yet.
She said Stewart was scheduled to work at 6 a.m. Oct. 24. Within 15 minutes, she was concerned that something had happened.
“That wasn’t like Sheila,” she said.
Colleagues in Silver Spring reached out to Stewart’s sister in Atlanta, who broke the news.
Lewis said she last spoke to Stewart the day before she died.
“We had a daily 9:45 a.m. call and we did that. I talked to her later, because she was flying in today. That was my last conversation with her,” she said.
Her last communication with her friend was via text, Lewis said. ”People who know Sheila know how much she always wanted to reach out and be in touch.”
October 24, 2013
By Ashley N. Johnson
Special to the NNPA from the New Pittsburgh Courier
A judge has decided to delay his ruling and give the defense more time to present their case at yesterday’s requested hearing to dismiss criminal charges against a then teen, who was shot by Pittsburgh police and left paralyzed.
Judge Donald Machen gave the defense attorneys for Leon Ford, 20, thirty days to submit a brief explaining their claim of how officers created a zone of danger in this case. “It’s a first step and equivalent to fighting with your hands behind your back and winning the case,” Fred Rabner, Ford’s attorney, said in a statement after the hearing. “Our story is yet to come out and when it does, it will be devastating to the prosecution’s case.”
Ford was shot four times by police last November during what many are saying should have been a “routine” traffic stop on Stanton Avenue in the Highland Park area. Ford, who is accused of dragging a police officer, is charged with reckless endangerment, aggravated assault, and escape, which was added just before the morning’s proceedings.
Attorney Benjamin Crump, the attorney for the family of Trayvon Martin and was present at the hearing, claims that this was an incident of racial profiling, and is asking the district attorney to look at the statements and affidavits made by police for false statements, along with why there have been no charges against the officers who committed crimes against Ford.
“Judge Machen was fair and unbiased. I’m hopeful that (he) will dismiss the charges, providing (Ford’s) attorney gives an argument to sway the judge’s decision,” said Brandi Fisher, of the Alliance for Police Accountability, who was also present and helped to organize a rally and press conference held outside of the city-county building prior to the proceedings.
Latonya Green, Ford’s mother said, “We are standing up for Leon because the Pittsburgh police paralyzed my son and now he cannot stand up for himself and will never walk again.
A federal lawsuit was filed in September against the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, officers David Derbish, Andrew Miller and former Pittsburgh police officer Michael Kosko, former police chief Nate Harper and acting police chief Regina McDonald accusing them of using excessive force, unlawful search and seizure and violation of due process.
The judge’s ruling is expected to be made in two months.
October 24, 2013
By Glenn Townes
Special to the NNPA from The New York Amsterdam News
In what many expected, Newark Mayor, Cory Booker, nabbed the coveted U.S. Senate seat in a hotly contested race against Republican hopeful Steve Lonegan at a special election on Wednesday in New Jersey. The gregarious mayor becomes the first African American elected to the U.S. Senate since President Barack Obama.
Booker, 44 made his acceptance speech just two hours after polling centers across the state closed and put the new Senator-elect with more than 56 percent of the vote—with about 75 percent of all precincts reporting. Booker eventually garnered about 710,000 votes or about 55 percent compared to Lonegan’s 579,000 or about 44 percent with nearly all precincts reported. Booker will fill the vacant Senate seat of longtime politico Frank Lautenberg, who passed away earlier this year.
Delivering a fire and brimstone acceptance speech to a standing room audience at Booker election campaign headquarters at NJPAC Center in Newark, the gregarious and charismatic outgoing mayor paid homage to his modest beginnings; paid tribute to his father, Cary, who passed away last week and hinted about some of his plans as the Garden state’s newest senator in Washington. “I will join Senator Menendez in moving the people of New Jersey ahead,” he said. “But make no mistake, we have work to do!” The mantra of “work to do” has long been a staple in dozens of Booker’s speeches—including one of his first speeches after becoming mayor in 2006.
Lonegan conceded defeat in a telephone call to the Booker camp shortly after the Associated Press predicted a Booker win. In a brief concession speech at Lonegan headquarters at the Marriott hotel in Bridgewater, the former mayor of the small town of Bogota, said he will move into the private sector and acknowledged his supporters—including Governor Chris Christie. Throughout the campaign, Christie was criticized by members of the Lonegan camp for not being more vocal and participatory in the Republican’s senate bid. “Outside of running along the street placing campaign signs, I don’t know what else the governor could have done to help my campaign,” he said.
Lastly, once the election results are certified, Booker could be sworn in as senator within the next 30 days. Newark City Council President Luis Quintana is expected to be appointed interim mayor once Booker departs for Washington.
October 24, 2013
By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – For decades, Black farmers fought the United States Department of Agriculture over racial discrimination. The farmers, mostly in the south, lost crops, their farms and their homes. Some farmers grew old and died waiting for the slow hands of justice to turn in their favor, but those that still toil in the fields can proclaim victory, the government has finally started cutting checks in the $1.2 billion settlement case known as “Pigford II.”
Tim Pigford, a corn and soybean farmer from southeastern North Carolina, said that USDA officials denied his loan application because he was Black. He even testified before Congress in 1984. By 1998, what became known as the Pigford’s case evolved into a class action racial discrimination lawsuit that included Black farmers who were denied loans and other federal aid from the government from 1981 to 1996. The government settled the case in 1999.
Pigford, eventually backed out of the landmark case that bears his name and was awarded a separated individual payout.
“Pigford II” included Black farmers who missed the filing deadline, but also suffered hardships in receiving aid from the USDA. The farmers, roughly 18,000 of them, will each receive $50,000 plus an additional $12,500 for debt associated with federal taxes.
The judgment is the largest civil rights settlement in United States history.
Even as some advocates for Black farmers declared victory in the case, most agree that the settlement payments won’t go far enough to make up for the wholesale devastation of rural Black communities and the loss of land ownership at the hands of government officials.
“For many Black farmers, the settlement is not going to buy them a new farm with new equipment and put them back into business. That’s not what it’s going to do,” said John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association.
Boyd said, for an elderly Black farmer over 65 years old, the settlement would make the coming years a little more comfortable, pay some bills or help grandkids with college tuition.
Boyd, who has advocated for Black farmers for nearly 30 years, added: “The settlement was never designed to make us completely whole. I don’t know if you can put a dollar figure on that.”
Still, Boyd said the settlement was a big victory for Black farmers and a big victory for Black people.
Boyd said at times he wanted to give up and that he heard “no” so many times he began to think of “nos” as “maybes.”
When Boyd wanted to give up, he remembered the pain and suffering carved into the faces of Black farmers that he met and talked to over the years. Many of them had worse stories than his own encounter with a county supervisor that they said spit on him after denying him a loan.
“That’s what kept me going, it was the faces, it was the stories, it was the pain and suffering, it was all the land that was lost,” said Boyd.
According to the USDA, Black farm ownership peaked in 1920 at 925,710. By 1982, the number of Black-owned farms had plummeted to 33,250. A 1998 USDA report found that, “The decline of the African American farmer has taken place at a rate that is three times that of white farmers.”
Since 1920, nearly 12 million acres has slipped from the hands of Black farmers.
The United States Commission on Civil Rights found that the Farmers Home Administration, “may have hindered the efforts of black small farm operators to remain a viable force in agriculture” and that the USDA and FHA failed to “provide equal opportunities in farm credit programs.”
Critics have charged that the Pigford settlement and claim process is rife with fraud, and that some who alleged discrimination never attempted to farm or receive loan assistance from the USDA. But Boyd said that those allegations are an insult to Black farmers.
“We made the South what it is, we made this country what it is. We made cotton king,” said Boyd. “…If that Black farmer or Black land owner felt that they were discriminated against by the government, they deserved a right to go through that process. I didn’t say everybody deserved a check. I never said that.”
Gary Grant, head of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, said that from 1981-1996. Black farmers in North Carolina lost nearly 300,000 acres totaling $1.2 billion in lost assets in North Carolina alone.
“Fifty thousand dollars to a farmer is not a lot of money,” said Grant.
Farmers didn’t get their land back, they didn’t get their equipment back, they didn’t get their homes back, and Grant said, that tax-burdens often put Black farmers in worst shape than they were in before the settlement.
In a press statement on the Pigford II settlement payments, Congressional Black Caucus Chair Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) said: “The Pigford I and II class action lawsuits attempted to address a history of discrimination by the Department of Agriculture. Between 1983 and 1997, thousands of African American farmers were denied loans solely because of their race. These discriminatory practices resulted in severe economic consequences for farmers, often preventing them from maintaining and keeping their farms.”
Fudge continued: “Nearly 14 years after the first Pigford case was filed, I am pleased this chapter of discrimination in the history of the Department of Agriculture is closed and bureaucracy will no longer keep these farmers from receiving their due justice.”
Some argue, however that the chapter is still open and Black farmers face extinction if they don’t continue to fight.
Even as the settlement checks go out, the future of Black farming looks grim. Black farmers are counting on a youth infusion to revitalize industry.
“Nothing has changed at the USDA, despite the settlement,” said Grant, who still doesn’t trust the USDA. “We can’t leave it alone.”
Grant added: “This country has destroyed a way of life (family farming and that doesn’t matter if you’re Black or White) and devastated Black communities by the destruction of the agricultural plain, which was the economic engine in rural society.”
Grant acknowledged that sharecropping memories still haunt southern Blacks, because it was such a painful part of our history. But he maintains that Black farmers sent their children off to college and forgot to teach them about the power of land ownership. That was a mistake.
Boyd said that the Black community needs to improve awareness of the value of land ownership.
“A landless culture is a powerless culture. If you don’t have any land you don’t have any power in this country,” said Boyd.
Boyd added: “If you can buy a new Cadillac or a new Mercedes Benz you can also afford five acres in the country. Whatever you need to do in this [nation], if you have land, you can get it done.”