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Feb. 25, 2022 NF Legislative Roundup: Court Cases

The court is often responsible for racial discrimination, but it’s still important to monitor news from our judicial branch. Keep reading!

Federal

  • Jan. 6, 2021 Lawsuits
    • Why we’re watching: We all remember when white supremacists stormed the Capitol in a bid to overturn a free, fair election that saw Black voting power at its peak. Late last week, a federal judge ruled that lawsuits against former President Donald Trump for his role in inciting that event can proceed, as can several others against racist groups like the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and War Boys.

Georgia

  • Ahmaud Arbery Ruling
    • Why we’re watching: This week, a federal jury found the three white men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery guilty of hate crimes and other charges. While a separate trial found them all guilty of the murder and carried life sentences, this ruling is a clear demonstration that our government is more willing than ever to prosecute hate crimes. It’s about time.

Illinois

  • Irene Chavez Lawsuit
    • Why we’re watching: In December, Chicago police officers arrested Irene Chavez outside of a bar after security guards had thrown her out. On the way to the police station, the officers were heard laughing at her and mocking her, even though she was a veteran suffering from PTSD. An hour later, Chavez had committed suicide in her cell, leading her family to file a lawsuit alleging police negligence and violence.

Kentucky

  • Breonna Taylor Trial
    • Why we’re watching: The murder of Breonna Taylor was a central reason for the protests of 2020. Now, the officer responsible for blindly firing into Taylor’s apartment is headed to court for three charges of endangerment rather than for Taylor’s death. While that difference is disappointing to say the least, we hope the judge and jury make the right decision here.

Minnesota

  • George Floyd Civil Rights Trial
    • Why we’re watching: Even though Derek Chauvin is in prison for murdering George Floyd, the three other officers on the scene have yet to stand trial, until now. After a month of testimony alleging civil rights violations, a jury will now decide the fate of these three officers in what could be a landmark court ruling.

What do you think of the news in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or hit us up through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

Michelle Obama and How She Fought Food Deserts

It’s not uncommon that the first lady takes up a cause while occupying the White House. In the early 1900s, Ellen Wilson, a descendant of slaves, helped improve housing for Black residents of Washington DC. A few decades later, Eleanor Roosevelt regularly used her influence to speak on global affairs and domestic issues. In the late 1900s, Eleanor Carter helped allocate funds towards mental health.

Every first lady belongs to the tradition of advocacy that began so long ago. Perhaps none have been more visible in that regard than Michelle Obama.

Official portrait of Michelle Obama in the Green Room of the White House

After reaching the White House, Michelle launched her campaigns, drawing from her experience as a lawyer and public servant. Her various programs included Joining Forces, a group boosting veteran employment, Reach Higher, which encouraged post-high school learning, and Let Girls Learn, which helps girls everywhere stay in school.

Of course, her flagship campaign was Let’s Move!, her effort to combat childhood obesity. In that role, Michelle pushed school districts to offer healthier food choices for students while boosting their exercise, often to those kids’ chagrin. But it’s difficult to argue with the results, which range from better eating to lifelong workout habits.

Perhaps most notably, her work has pushed back against the impact that food deserts have on childhood nutrition. Food deserts are geographic areas in which residents have few or no easy way to purchase healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. Shockingly, almost 18% of the entire country lives in a food desert, which can look like anything from a rural town to a huge suburb. The lack of healthy food options is a complicated issue, resulting from supply chain woes to corporate competition.

Its impact on communities of color is a lot simpler. Such neighborhoods are disproportionately low-income, struggling to afford even nearby supermarket prices. Additionally, fresh fruits and vegetables are more expensive in some areas of the country than processed, unhealthy snacks. This leads to a generational inability to make positive food choices. And thus, the cycle continues.

Michelle Obama’s campaign to improve childhood health and wellbeing almost certainly helped some families escape the food desert cycle. Despite this massive achievement, we shouldn’t let off the gas on this issue. It’s ability to hurt generation-after-generation demands our attention every administration.

February 18, 2022 NF Legislative Roundup: Arizona Focus

This week, we’re focusing on some political and legislative developments in Arizona! Check them out below!

Arizona

  • Arizona Department of Corrections Lawsuit
    • Why we’re watching: This week, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix and the Arizona ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Arizona Department of Corrections over its continued use of cyanide gas in executions. Not only do our courts apply the death penalty disproportionately to Black and Brown individuals, but the use of cyanide gas in such proceedings is especially cruel.
  • Phoenix Police Department Drones
    • Why we’re watching: Local elected officials across the country continue to funnel revenue into police departments, loading officers up with mostly unnecessary weapons of war. While drones might not fall into that category, we must stop investing in a fractured, flawed system. Otherwise, we’ll never overcome the institutional racism and capabilities of law enforcement.
  • School Spending Cuts
    • Why we’re watching: Another week has passed since we discussed this issue, but nothing has changed. The Arizona Legislature still has until March 1 to prevent $1.2 billion in cuts to public school districts. For politicians that have criticized remote learning because it impacts the quality of education, they certainly don’t seem to care much about this.
  • Statewide EV Charging Network
    • Why we’re watching: The construction of an electric vehicle charging network can be the solution to solving environmental injustice in minority communities, but only if undergone equitably. Some Arizona mayors have asked Sen. Kyrsten Sinema for exactly that. She certainly wouldn’t have been our first choice, but good luck!

February 18, 2022 NF Legislative Roundup: Arizona Focus

What do you think of the news in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or hit us up through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

Jackie Robinson and the Legacy of Black Athletes

Baseball is commonly called “America’s pastime.” For many years, it was. The sport used to be the most watched in the country and a tradition handed down from father to son, both of which idolized the all-stars from their favorite team. For decades, however, baseball typified some of America’s most deep-rooted ills.

Of course, we’re referring to segregation.

Major League Baseball (MLB) didn’t allow minorities to play professional baseball until 1947. For years, Black and Brown players were confined to the “Negro Leagues,” which were made up of all-minority teams. But then, Jackie Robinson came along and changed history. After graduating as a multi-sport superstar from UCLA, Robinson joined the Kansas City Monarchs before Branch Rickey, manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, pulled him halfway across the country. After working his way up from the farm league, Robinson played for the Dodgers and the rest is history.

Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn Dodgers, 1954.jpg

That’s one way the story gets told. It’s a story that gives too much credit to Rickey, a white man, for a Black man’s achievements.

Robinson only found professional baseball after being honorably discharged for refusing to give up his seat on the bus. It was his athletic prowess that allowed him to make the majors so quickly. After all, in ten seasons with the Dodgers, Robinson logged six pennant victories, a World Series win, the MLB Rookie of the Year award, and a National League MVP award. Along the way, Robinson endured discrimination and racism from fans, his opponents, society at large, and even his own teammates.

Rickey was later documented as saying it was a “noble experiment,” a line that grabs the credit of breaking the color barrier for himself, rather than lauding one of the greatest professional athletes of all time.

We see the same story play out everywhere, but especially in sports. Black athletes are never given their due. In fact, the FBI has targeted several Black athletes throughout history, including Jack Johnson, Jesse Owens, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and yes, Jackie Robinson. They didn’t commit any crime, nor did they deserve such scrutiny. They were simply Black and better at their trade than white athletes.

The next time you tell the story of Jackie Robinson, leave Branch Rickey out of it. That’s the story we all know – the one immortalized in popular culture. But to tell that story as so many do takes credit away from one of the sport’s finest heroes.

Now, Jackie Robinson’s jersey number, 42, is the only number retired league-wide by the MLB. That’s an honor bestowed upon only one other North American professional athlete – Wayne Gretzky. Robinson’s achievements, on the field and off, certainly mandate such recognition.

February 11, 2022 NF Legislative Roundup: School Focus

Today, we’re looking at some legislation and news pertaining to what goes on in school every day! Check it out!

Arizona

  • Critical Race Theory Ban
    • Why we’re watching: As legislators across the country seek to limit students’ understanding of the Black and Brown struggle for equality, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has banned the teaching of critical race theory in schools. While proponents of the bill argue that it’s about not inducing guilt on students, it’s actually about preserving a whitewashed version of our history.
  • School Spending Cuts
    • Why we’re watching: In the 1980s, Arizona voters approved school spending limits. Now, almost 40 years later, the state’s public schools are facing potential cuts of over $1 billion. Legislators have just over three weeks to act on the issue. Most of their focus is on creating a band-aid for the problem, rather than addressing the root inequities of school funding.

California

  • School Mask Mandates
    • Why we’re watching: Even as the pandemic rages around us, killing hundreds per day, California is rethinking its school mask mandate. The state will likely end the pandemic directive soon, leaving students exposed to an ever-evolving virus as their elected officials completely give up on its containment.

Missouri

  • HB 120
    • Why we’re watching: Missouri Rep. Ian Mackey struggled with following classroom rules as a young student. Now, he’s proposed a ban on out-of-school suspensions for students ranging from pre-K to third grade. Studies have found that in Missouri, such suspensions disproportionately impact Black students, so we’ll be closely monitoring this legislation.

New Jersey

  • SB 820
    • Why we’re watching: This bill would establish a Division of School Segregation in New Jersey, the primary mission of which would be to study and identify socioeconomic segregation of school districts. We applaud the idea, which the New Jersey Senate Education Committee passed just last week, sending the bill to the Senate floor.

What do you think of the news in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or hit us up through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

Spike Lee and Calling Out Blaxploitation

Spike Lee is among the more accomplished film creators of his time. For his direction and production of critically acclaimed films like “Da 5 Bloods,” “Oldboy,” and “BlacKkKlansman,” Lee has received an Oscar, BAFTA, two Emmy awards, and two Peabody awards, among dozens of others. The Library of Congress has also selected four of his movies for preservation in the National Film Registry.

He’s also never shied from calling out blaxploitation when he sees it.

Spike Lee Cannes 2018.jpg

Blaxploitation is a subgenre of film that emerged in the 1970s, and the phrase itself is a fusion of “Black” and “exploitation.” These films all had some underlying commonalities. They were independently created by Black filmmakers for Black audiences with often miniscule budgets. Most of the time, “respectable” movie theaters didn’t show these films, due to the pervasive themes of crime, drugs, and racial tension. Any list of the most impactful blaxploitation movies include “Shaft,” “Super Fly,” and “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song,” to name a few.

The genre’s heyday in the 1970s launched longstanding Hollywood careers, but not everyone was on board with the genre’s popularity. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was one such critic.

Alongside the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the NAACP formed the Coalition Against Blaxploitation Group (CAB). CAB organized boycotts and protests at theaters showing such films in a bid to depict more positive depictions of Black protagonists and culture. By the 1980s, CAB had mostly accomplished its goal. Amid growing backlash and familiar storylines, blaxploitation’s heyday came to an end. Content like “Luke Cage” and Spike Lee’s own “Do The Right Thing” are evidence of the subgenre’s lasting impact among filmmakers. That doesn’t mean, however, that the debates of the 1970s are over.

After Quentin Tarantino released “Django Unchained,” a movie criticized for its violence and gratuitous use of racial slurs, Spike Lee publicly called him out. He tweeted that “American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It Was A Holocaust.” This interaction marked the second time Lee had leveled such complaints – the first was following the release of Jackie Brown in 1997. In both cases, Tarantino replied that to criticize his use of the n-word because he’s white is racist.

The two blockbuster filmmakers have not publicly reconciled their feud.

What’s important is communities of color’s willingness to call out problematic behavior. Amid raging debates over critical race theory and concepts like equity and historical injustice, we can’t ignore even borderline-problematic content. To ignore this issue is to give into public pressure to not discuss such themes. It’s to concede defeat in the fight for social justice. Our continued struggle begins with conversation, debate, and examining the past. We cannot abandon this foundation, no matter the topic at hand.

February 4, 2022 NF Legislative Roundup: Pro Sports Focus

Instead of looking at state legislatures this week, we’re highlighting some of our favorite sports and activism stories this year!

Arizona

  • Super Bowl Location
    • Why we’re watching: In our experience, when faith leaders speak up, it’s best to pay attention. Faith leaders in Arizona wrote a letter to the NFL, asking it to move the Super Bowl away from Arizona, which has passed several oppressive voting laws, next year. The Super Bowl is our country’s most-watched sport event every year, so this would be a monumental move by the NFL.
  • Phoenix Suns, Mercury Mural
    • Why we’re watching: As sports teams across the country continue to highlight issues such as criminal justice and voting rights, the Phoenix Suns and Mercury jointly installed a Black history mural at their stadium, the Footprint Center, to urge people to celebrate Black history all the time.

Connecticut

  • Winter Olympics
    • Why we’re watching: The 2022 Winter Olympics begin today in China, amid staunch global criticism of the country’s humanitarian crimes. Many competing countries are instituting diplomatic lockouts, bringing attention to athletes’ long history of activism at the Olympics.

National

  • Brain Flores’ Lawsuit
    • Why we’re watching: Activists and players alike have long accused the NFL of not caring about social justice, as it ardently claims. Now, Brian Flores, former head coach of the Miami Dolphins, is suing the NFL for that very reason. In addition to alleging NFL owners have shredded the integrity of the sport, Flores charges that the “Rooney Rule,” a hiring guideline designed to get more Black people in head coach and management positions, is little more than a sham at this point.

Pennsylvania

  • Philadelphia Sports Icons Discuss MLK Jr.
    • Why we’re watching: Although it’s been weeks since Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it’s never a bad idea to remind ourselves of his legacy and impact on the country. To celebrate his life, Philadelphia sports heroes Gary Matthews, Jimmy Rollins, Dawn Staley, and Harold Reynolds held a Zoom meeting, sponsored by the African American Museum in Philadelphia.

What do you think of the news in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or hit us up through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

John Lewis and the State of Voting Rights Reform

Last year, after 33 years serving the people of Atlanta in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. John Lewis passed away at the age of 80. Lewis got his start in community organizing all the way back in 1961 when he became one of the 13 original Freedom Riders, a role in which Lewis was assaulted and defamed. Following that campaign, Lewis assumed the role of chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the foremost student-based civil rights organization. He even helped organize the March on Washington. After that, he continued his community relations efforts and became a dedicated public servant, leading the conversation on anti-war and global peace in the House.

File:JFK meets with leaders of March on Washington 8-28-63.JPG

When John Lewis died, America lost a monumental figure in the fight for equality. And despite all the partisan posturing on that day, we’ve done little to honor his legacy.

Lewis gave his blood, sweat, and tears to the civil rights movement, campaigning hard for equal rights for Black people, including those at the polls. His death and the systemic barriers to voting during the 2020 election inspired calls for a voting rights reform. Unfortunately, such improvements have been slow to materialize.

One such proposal is the For the People Act of 2021, or HR1. This bill would mandate same-day voter registration, require states hold early voting, restore voting rights to felons, and even pre-register 16- and 17-year-olds to voter rolls. The most comprehensive of all the voting rights proposals, there are dozens of other provisions relating to campaign finance, ethics, and election security. All told, this bill would create a national framework for voting rights, which currently exist as a state-by-state patchwork of mismatching laws.

Another is the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021, which would amend provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 gutted by the Supreme Court. Section 4 of that law argued that because some areas of the country had historically suppressed the votes of communities of color, they deserved higher scrutiny by the courts. In its decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court ruled that this provision was unconstitutional, opening a massive loophole for voter suppression. States like Texas and Iowa have used this loophole to pass oppressive laws, mostly in minority areas. The bill named for John Lewis would permanently close this loophole by elevating the judicial scrutiny for these states.

Both bills have been held up in the Senate by a refusal to eliminate the filibuster by some in the Democratic party. While frustrating, it’s unsurprising that the filibuster is standing in the way of voting rights. After all, segregationists were some of its earliest supporters. Later, in the twentieth century, the filibuster was most used to derail civil rights proposals. The new push for voting rights is just another chapter of legislators weaponizing the filibuster against communities of color.

As we remember John Lewis, we must remember what he gave to the civil rights movement. We must give an equal effort to sway Democrats into eliminating the filibuster entirely. It’s the only thing standing in the way of voting rights for all. Its removal from our politics is necessary, not optional. Without that, the work of John Lewis is incomplete.

January 28, 2022 NF Legislative Roundup: 2020 Recap

This week, we saw several stories and bills cleaning up – or exacerbating – the mess that was 2020. Check them out!

Arizona

  • HB 2319
    • Why we’re watching: In the months following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020, the country made progress with state and local police reform laws. Now, unfortunately, Arizona is swinging the other way. This bill would make it illegal to videotape police activity without the officer’s permission, erasing our best means of police accountability.
  • Election Laws
    • Why we’re watching: The Arizona Legislature is considering several laws that will oppress the votes of Black and Brown voters, including some that would end mail-in elections, increase the threshold for an automatic recount, and require the release of all ballot images, permitting governments to check each one for “voter fraud.”

California

  • Paid Sick Leave
    • Why we’re watching: During the height of the pandemic, California instituted a paid sick leave benefit for workers afflicted with COVID-19. That benefit ended last September, but Gov. Gavin Newsom recently announced its reinstitution through the next nine months.

Colorado

  • Protest Payout
    • Why we’re watching: During the 2020 protests, police injured several protesters across the country with rubber bullets and other suppressive measures. In Denver, one of those protesters was Michael Acker, whose eye was struck by a baton round. Now, Denver is paying him $500,000 in a settlement. We hope other municipal government undertake similar reparative measures.

Connecticut

  • Racial Equity and Justice Task Force
    • Why we’re watching: In response to the police injustices of 2020, Fairfield created a group to study racial disparities in its community. Despite initial agreement, some members of the group are rescinding their vote, which would’ve resulted in a proclamation that Fairfield has systemic racism. They’re wrong, of course, as just about every community in the country boasts some level of racial disparity.

What do you think of the news in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or hit us up through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

Happy Global Community Engagement Day!

Later this week, we’ll be celebrating Global Community Engagement Day. It’s an annual reminder that organizing works and that it’s difficult to go it alone in anything you do. Communities make our lives easier and more fun, but there’s also intrinsic benefits in belonging to one.

Organizing is the coordination of people to do something in the best interest of their community. It’s an implicit recognition of the power community holds, and any discussion of the former that doesn’t mention the latter is incomplete.

After all, we see the power of organizing every day. Stacey Abrams organized to recapture Georgia amid terrible voter suppression in 2020. Minneapolis organized to hold Derek Chauvin accountable for murdering George Floyd. Across the country, workers are organizing to land fair wages and improved work conditions – and winning.

For a moment, consider a world without community organizing. In the U.S. alone, women wouldn’t be allowed to vote, the South would still segregate based on race, and gay people wouldn’t be able to marry. Even further, we wouldn’t know the names of Barack Obama, Cesar Chavez, or Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The power of community and organizing enabled all these watershed historical moments.

Not all communities have to be, for lack of a better word, so serious, however. You can find community in intramural sports leagues, Discord chats for video games, sports fandoms, and hobby groups. It’s all around us – you just need to be willing to jump into it. If you do, you can spend your time with others who share your passion and can help you improve yourself.

Lastly, communities are a mosaic of personal experiences and beliefs. No two people are exactly alike, so any group of people consists of varied histories informing different opinions. This is the foundation of democracy. Debate inspires strong leadership, effective decisions, and has the added benefit of being fair. Of course, not every opinion deserves equal weight. Prejudice, for example, shouldn’t be held similarly to someone’s favorite movie. The latter is benign while the former is evil. But when made in good faith, debating opinions, which are based on experiences, creates a better world.

So, this Global Community Engagement Day, we should all seek out groups that help us improve ourselves or strengthen a cause. Nobody achieves anything alone, and what better support is there than similar-minded folks? We hope you proactively seek such opportunities and consider making Neighborhood FORWARD part of your community.

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