George E. Curry
On Monday, Sept. 16 the news was shocking: A contract employee who worked at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., later identified as Aaron Alexis, killed 12 innocent people in the facility before he was killed by police.
For many African Americans, our first thought was: “I hope it wasn’t one of us.”
On Oct. 3, there was another disturbing incident in the nation’s capital: An unarmed woman with her 1-year-old child in the car, drove her vehicle into barriers outside the White House and on Capitol Hill before being shot to death by police.
Again, we thought: “I hope it wasn’t one of us.”
And the next day brought additional bad news from Washington: A man poured gasoline over his body and set himself on fire on the National Mall. He died the next day.
Once again: “I hope it wasn’t one of us.”
In each case, it was one of us. Aaron Alexis, the Navy Yard gunman, was Black. Miriam Carey, the 34-year old dental hygienist from Stamford, Conn. was an African American. And the unidentified man who burned himself to death on the Mall was also Black.
More important than their race, Aaron Alexis, Miriam Carey and possibly the man who set himself on fire suffered from a mental disorder. And that’s something we have been reluctant to discuss. But it’s time for that to change.
In an interview last year on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation,” Dr. William Lawson, professor of psychiatry and chairman of psychiatry at Howard University College of Medicine, discussed some of the factors in our refusal to seek help for mental problems.
“Many African Americans have a lot of negative feelings about or not even aware of mental health services,” he said. “They are not aware of the symptoms of many mental disorders, or they may believe that to be mentally ill is a sign of weakness or a sign of character fault.”
That attitude permeates Black America, regardless of income level.
“In places like Los Angeles and New York, everyone and their pet has a therapist, yet even among the wealthy and elite, many African Americans continue to hold stigmatizing beliefs about mental illness.” Monnica Williams wrote in Psychology Today.
“For example, a qualitative study by Alvidrez et al., (2008) found that among Blacks who were already mental health consumers, over a third felt that mild depression or anxiety would be considered ‘crazy’ in their social circles. Talking about problems with an outsider (i.e., therapist) may be viewed as airing one’s ‘dirty laundry,’ and even more telling is the fact that over a quarter of those consumers felt that discussions about mental illness would not be appropriate even among family.”
Williams observed, “African Americans share the same mental health issues as the rest of the population, with arguably even greater stressors due to racism, prejudice, and economic disparities. Meanwhile, many wonder why African Americans shy away from psychotherapy as a potential solution to challenges such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, marriage problems, and parenting issues. As a Black psychologist, it is troublesome that so many African Americans are reluctant to make use of psychology’s solutions to emotional hurdles.”
And when Blacks do seek help to get over those emotional hurdles, they tend to do so later, when treatment might not be as effective as it may have been if they had sought help earlier.
In addition to our antiquated attitude toward mental health, medical professionals also share part of the blame.
A fact sheet by the National Alliance on Mental Health notes:
* African Americans in the United States are less likely to receive accurate diagnoses than their Caucasian counterparts. Schizophrenia, for instance has been shown to be over diagnosed in the African American population;
* Culture biases against mental health professionals and health-care professionals in general prevent many African Americans from accessing care due to prior experiences with historical misdiagnoses, inadequate treatment and a lack of cultural understanding; only 2 percent of psychiatrists, 2 percent of psychologists and 4 percent of social workers in the United States are African Americans; and
* Overall sensitivity to African-American cultural differences, such as differences in medication metabolization rates, unique views of mental illness and propensity towards experiencing certain mental illnesses, can improve African Americans’ treatment experiences and increase utilization of mental health care services.
Dr. Sarah Vinson, who created website BlackMentalHealthNet.com, said mental illness takes a high toll on African Americans.
In an Emory University posting, she said: “Untreated, mental illness can cause strained relationships, social dysfunction, and numerous other problems that can end up in divorce, unemployment, and suicide.”
In addition to Dr. Vinson’s website, further information on mental illness can be obtained from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Office of Minority Health and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his website, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.
Major provisions of the Affordable Care Act went into effect on Tuesday and, like all new programs, there was uncertainty and confusion. But making things worse are the deliberate lies that have been told by what some call Obamacare.
To shift through the various charges, I turned to our friends at FactCheck.org for an independent, nonpartisan analysis.
Claim: 8.2 million Americans can’t find full-time work partly due to Obamacare.
FactCheck.org says: False.
This assertion from the Republican National Committee echoes other conservative claims that the law is hindering part-timers from finding full-time jobs. But the RNC’s 8.2 million figure was the total number in June of part-time workers in the U.S. seeking full-time work, what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls “part-time for economic reasons.” There’s no evidence from BLS numbers that the law has had an impact on such workers. There were more in this “part-time for economic reasons” category in March 2010, when the Affordable Care Act was signed into law (9.1 million). The latest figure, from August, is 7.9 million.
Claim: The law is a job-killer.
FactCheck.org says: Overblown.
Nonpartisan economic analyses have estimated a “small” loss of mainly low-wage jobs because of the law. But as one expert told us, there hasn’t been much analysis of this impact of the law because, he believes, economists think the impact will be minimal. Still, Republicans have continued to push the idea that the law will have a significant effect on jobs.
Claim: Premiums are going up because of the law. Premiums are going down because of the law.
FactCheck.org says: It depends.
Our short answer: “It depends.” Whether you’ll pay more or less than you would have without the law depends on your circumstances. Are you uninsured and have a preexisting condition? You’ll likely pay less than you would have otherwise. Are you uninsured but young and healthy? You’ll likely pay more (without accounting for any subsidies you may receive). Are you insured through your employer? You likely won’t see much change either way.
Claim: All of the uninsured will pay less on the exchanges than they could now on the individual market, even without federal subsidies.
FactCheck.org says: False.
President Obama made this claim at an Aug. 9 press conference, saying that beginning Oct. 1, the 15 percent of the population that’s uninsured would be able to “sign up for affordable quality health insurance at a significantly cheaper rate than what they can get right now on the individual market.” Obama went on to emphasize that that was before including federal subsidies. But even Obama’s secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, has acknowledged that young persons would likely pay more and older Americans would likely pay less on the insurance exchanges.
Claim: You won’t be able to choose your own doctor. The government will be between you and your doctor.
FactCheck.org says: False.
The law doesn’t create a government-run system. It actually greatly expands business for private insurance, by about 12 million new customers, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates. Individuals will choose their own doctors, just as they do now.
Claim: If you like your plan, you can keep your plan. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.
Obama has repeatedly made this claim, and the White House continues to use the line on its website. The law doesn’t force Americans to pick new plans or new doctors, but the president can’t make this promise to everyone. There’s no guarantee that your employer won’t switch plans, just as companies could have done before the law. If you switch jobs, your new work-based coverage might not have your doctor as an in-network provider.
Claim: Congress is exempt from the law.
FactCheck.org says: False.
Members and their staffs face additional requirements that other Americans don’t. Beginning in 2014, they can no longer get insurance through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, as they and other federal employees have done. Instead, they are required to get insurance through the insurance exchanges.
George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service. He is a keynote speaker, moderator and media coach. He can be reached through his website, www.georgecurry.com, follow on Twitter @currygeorge and “like” the George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.
I cringed as the scores came in over the weekend. Ohio State 76, Florida A&M 0. Florida State 54, Bethune-Cookman 6. Miami 77, Savannah State 7. Our HBCUs have traded their proud, rich football heritage for money. And I don’t think it’s worth it.
There’s only one reason our HBCUs schedule games against schools whose head coaches make more than their entire athletic budgets: They earn a big payday, even if that means being publicly humiliated along the way.
The irony is that the SEC wouldn’t continue to have a lock on national football championships were it not for their Black players. And it wasn’t all that long ago that Blacks were as unwelcomed in the SEC as they were at Klu Klux Klan rallies. But when Sam Cunningham ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries in 1970 when the University of Southern California routed Alabama 42-21 in Birmingham, the conference got the message that they couldn’t win without Black talent.
Until then, if Black athletes wanted to play in the South, they had to attend HBCUs. It was never a question of talent. More than 1,200 players from Black colleges have played in the NFL, including 150 who have made it to the Super Bowl. NFL stars from HBCUs include: Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley), Michael Strayhan (Texas Southern), Walter Payton (Jackson State), Art Snell (University of Maryland Eastern Shore), Ed “Too Tall” Jones and Richard Dent (Tennessee State), Bob Hayes and Willie Galimore (Florida A&M), Donald Driver and Steve McNair (Alcorn State), Deacon Jones and Harry Carson (South Carolina State), John Stallworth (Alabama A&M), Mel Blount (Southern), Larry Little (Bethune-Cookman), Rayfield Wright (Fort Valley State), and L.C. Greenwood (University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff).
Grambling’s Paul “Tank” Younger went to the L.A. Rams and became the first HBCU player to make it in the NFL. Grambling has four players in the NFL Hall of Fame: Willie Davis, Junious “Buck” Buchanan, Willie Brown and Charlie Joiner. Eddie Robinson coached Jim Harris, the first Black quarterback to start in the NFL and be named MVP of the Pro Bowl, and Doug Williams, the first Black quarterback to start in, win and become MVP of a Super Bowl.
Football has always been a part of my life. I played quarterback at Druid High School in Tuscaloosa, Ala., was quarterback and co-captain of my football team at Knoxville College in Tenn., landed my first job in journalism at Sports Illustrated and wrote my first book about Jake Gaither, the legendary football coach at Florida A&M who won 85 percent of his games over 25 years and never had a losing season.
I still love the game and have deep respect for Gaither, Robinson and John Merritt at Tennessee State, the giants of a bygone era.
To fully appreciate the depth of athletic talent at Black colleges in those days, imagine all of the Black football players at the University of Florida, Florida State and the University of Miami on the same team. That’s exactly what Florida A&M had in the segregation era. When Bob Hayes, FAMU’s double-gold medal winner at the 1964 U.S. Olympics and future Dallas Cowboys wide receiver, joined the team, the only time he got off the bench was when they played the national anthem.
Gaither said that because of segregation, the only way he was able to prove the quality of his players was when they turned pro. That was true until Nov. 29, 1969 when Florida A&M played Tampa University in the first game in the Deep South between a Black college and a predominantly White university. FAMU, the underdog, won 34-28.
Unfortunately, most of our Black youth don’t know about the glory days of Black college football. I tried to help fill the gap in 1977 when I wrote, “Jake Gaither: America’s Most Famous Black Coach.” Recently, Vern Smith, a screenwriter and former Atlanta bureau chief for Newsweek, wrote a screenplay based on my book. We’re in the process of shopping the script, hoping to present the real story about Black college football.
The best known movie about Black college football is “White Tiger,” a made-for-TV movie starring Bruce Jenner as the first White quarterback at previously all-Black Grambling College, now Grambling State University. In the movie, Harry Belafonte plays the role of Coach Eddie Robinson. The fact that a White actor was the star in a movie about Black college football is proof that Hollywood was never serious about telling our story.
According to the Census Bureau, 53 percent of the Black population is under the age of 35. That means that more than half of African Americans were born after 1978. They don’t know anything about Jake Gaither, Eddie Robinson or John Merritt. All they see are the lopsided scores on Saturdays. Vern Smith and I hope to get our movie made if for no other reason than to let them know that it wasn’t always this way.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service. He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his website, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at on Twitter @currygeorge and the George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.
In the modern civil rights era, no year stands out in my memory more than 1963. I was a sophomore at Druid High School in Tuscaloosa, Ala. and living in McKenzie Court, the all-Black housing project on the west side of town. After a life of second-class citizenship, I finally saw the walls of segregation crumbling.
Tuscaloosa provided me with a front-row seat. My stepfather, William H. Polk, drove a dump truck at the University of Alabama. Although our taxes went to support what was even then a football factory, African Americans were barred from attending the state-supported school.
On Feb. 3, 1956, Autherine Lucy gained admission to the University of Alabama under a U.S. Supreme Court order. But a mob gathered on campus three days later. Instead defending the Black graduate student, the university suspended Lucy, saying officials could not protect her. When she sued to gain readmission, Alabama officials used that suit to claim she had slandered the university and therefore could not continue as a student.
But things would be different on June 11, 1963, which is not to say there wouldn’t be resistance.
Vivian Malone and James Hood, armed with a federal court order that the university admit them and segregationist Gov. George C. Wallace not interfere, sought to enter Foster Auditorium on campus to register for classes. They were accompanied by Deputy U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach.
Instead of complying with the federal order, Gov. Wallace, who had pledged “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” in his inaugural address, staged his “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” to block to the two students from entering.
Katzenbach left with the students and placed a call to President John F. Kennedy. The president nationalized the Alabama National Guard. When Malone, Hood and Katzenbach returned to Foster Auditorium that afternoon, Gen. Henry Graham told Wallace, “Sir, it is my sad duty to ask you to step aside under orders of the president of the United States.”
After uttering a few words, Wallace stepped to the side and Malone and Hood walked inside and registered.
It was exciting to see the drama being played out on our black and white TV. At last, I thought, the walls of segregation would be forever shattered.
President Kennedy gave an eloquent televised speech to the nation that night. He said, “Today we are committed to a worldwide struggle to promote and protect the rights of all who wish to be free. And when Americans are sent to Vietnam or West Berlin, we do not ask for whites only. It ought to be possible, therefore, for American students of any color to attend any public institution they select without having to be backed up by troops.”
The euphoria of a victory in my hometown was short lived. Within hours of Kennedy’s speech, Medgar Evers, who headed NAACP field operations in Mississippi, was shot to death in Jackson, Miss. after parking his car in his driveway and exiting to enter his home. A member of the Ku Klux Klan, was arrested for the crime. However, he was acquitted by an all-white, all male jury. It wasn’t until 30 years later, when new evidence surfaced, that he was finally convicted for murdering Evers.
Of course, 250,000 gathered Aug. 28, 1963 for the March on Washington. Much has been written about the March as part of the 50th anniversary celebration, but note that the news media at the time was fixated on the possibility of the March turning violent. But, only three people were arrested that day and “not one was a Negro.”
Like the desegregation of the University of Alabama, White racists were eager to “send a message” that the March on Washington would not change their world.
In the wee hours of Sunday, Sept. 15, four Klansmen — Bobby Frank Cherry, Thomas Blanton, Herman Frank and Robert Chambliss, planted a box of dynamite with a time delay under the steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., a rallying point in the city for civil rights activities. At 10:22 a.m., the bomb went off, killing four young girls — Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair — and injuring 22 others.
Although the violent message was supposed to remind Blacks that there were no safe places for them, Blacks sent a more lasting message by continuing to desegregate public facilities.
The sacrifices of 1963 provided the groundwork for passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. It was a year worth remembering.
George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service. He can be reached through his website, www.georgecurry.com. Follow him on Twitter @currygeorge and the George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.
Selma, Ala., the county seat of Dallas County, was a bastion of white supremacy in 1965. At the time, of the 15,000 potential Black voters, only 300 were registered. In response to chants of “We Shall Overcome,” by civil rights protesters, Sheriff Jim Clark wore a button on his uniform declaring, “Never.”
That did not stop the Rev. C.T. Vivian, a close aide of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and workers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) from leading daily marches to the courthouse in an effort to register Blacks. On Feb. 5, 1965, Clark blocked the entrance to the courthouse with his deputies.
“If we’re wrong, why don’t you arrest us?” Vivian said.
Instead of arresting Vivian, Clark hit him so hard in the face that he fractured a finger. After being knocked down the steps, a bloodied C.T. Vivian rose to his feet and said, “We’re willing to be beaten for democracy, and you misuse democracy in this street. You beat people bloody in order that they will not have the privilege to vote.”
Vivian and other activists persisted. Though John Lewis and others were pummeled by Clark’s deputies and Alabama State Troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on what became known as “Bloody Sunday,” Blacks did overcome after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
When Sheriff Clark sought re-election in predominantly Black Dallas County in 1966, newly-empowered Black voters said “Never” and kicked him out of office.
Surely, President Obama had Vivian and others like him in mind when he said at the Aug. 28 commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington: “To dismiss the magnitude of this progress — to suggest, as some sometimes do, that little has changed — that dishonors the courage and the sacrifice of those who paid the price to march in those years …”
Obama recently announced that he is awarding Vivian, one of the most courageous figures of the Civil Rights Movement, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Vivian joins other movement veterans, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (posthumously), James L. Farmer, Dorothy Height, John Lewis, Benjamin L. Hooks, Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., Joseph Lowery, Clarence Mitchell, Rosa Parks, Bayard Rustin (posthumously), Roy Wilkins, Andrew Young and Marian Wright Edelman in receiving the distinguished honor.
Because so much work still needs to be done, sometimes we neglect to stand back and appreciate just how much America has changed in the past 50 years.
The Census Bureau provided the following comparisons:
1963: $22,266 (in 2011 dollars) was the median family income for Blacks. It was 55 percent of the median income for all American families. The median income of Black men and women who worked full time, year-round was $25,826 and $14,651 (in 2011 dollars).
2011: $40,495 was the median family income for the Black-alone population. It was 66 percent of the median income for all American families. The median income of single-race Black men and Black women who worked full time, year-round was $40,273 and $35,146.
1966: 41.8 percent poverty rate for Blacks. Nationally, the poverty rate for all races was 14.7 percent.
2011: 27.6 percent poverty rate for single-race Blacks. Nationally, the poverty rate for all races was 15 percent.
1970: 41.6 percent homeownership rate for Blacks.
2011: 43.4 percent homeownership rate for Blacks.
HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION
1964: 25.7 percent of Blacks age 25 and older completed at least four years of high school. Number of Blacks 25 and older with at least four years of high school was 2.4 million.
2012: 85 percent of Blacks age 25 and older completed at least four years of high school. Number of Blacks 25 and over with at least a high school diploma was 20.3 million.
COLLEGE STUDENTS AND GRADUATES
1964: 234,000 Black undergraduate college students, or 3.9 percent of Blacks age 25 and older completed at least four years of college. Number of Blacks who had at least a bachelor’s degree was 365,000.
2012: 2.6 million Black undergraduate college students — more than 10 times as many as 1964. Blacks age 25 and older who completed at least four years of college was 21.2 percent. Number of Blacks who had at least a bachelor’s degree was 5.1 million.
Yes, we have made progress as a direct result of the modern Civil Rights Movement. And instead of denying that fact — preferring to see the glass as half empty instead of half full — we should celebrate that progress let it be proof that with our efforts, we can continue to make progress over another 50 years.
George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator and media coach. He can be reached through his website, www.georgecurry.com. Follow on Twitter @currygeorge and his Fan Page on Facebook.