High school juniors Devonte Escoffery and Stephon Adams have made their school's debate team their number one priority. Both attend Metropolitan Corporate Academy in Brooklyn, N.Y. But their debates on issues such as poverty don't just consist of traditional exchanges of arguments at warp speed. The duo also perform original raps. "In debate, I talk about my social location, Canarsie [Brooklyn] and rap music influences my view of the world, " Devonte said. "[Stephon and I] believe that one, rap music shouldn't shape you in a bad way or a negative way. Our personal narratives should be heard." The pair's unique approach has thrown off many of their opponents, who expect Devonte and Stephon to simply speed-read points off their lap tops or index cards. "I get this confidence that I didn't have before I debated," Stephon said. "My grades are up and college is now a bigger part of the picture." A recent study shows African-American high school students who debate are 70 percent more likely to graduate than non-debate participants. Metro Corp. Academy's debate coach Alex Jones said the academic progress Devonte and Stephon have made is "remarkable." He also said success hasn't been limited to them. "We're dealing with a really educationally underserved population, kids who really struggle with English," Jones said of the majority of New York's urban debate league competitors. "But in debate, it's as heavy as it gets. [The students] learn vocabulary, have to be able to defend it in front of a judge and present clear arguments." Devonte and Stephon both call debate an outlet for their self-expression. "Not all, but [some of] these politicians don't know what [those living in poverty] go through on a daily basis," Devonte said. "But if they hear the voices of those going through it, then they're better able to do something about it."
Rev. Jesse Jackson continues to push President Barack Obama to make black unemployment more of a priority in his administration. Jackson, who founded the RainbowPUSH Coalition, talked with theGrio about President Obama's first year in office. President Obama recently told talk show host Oprah Winfrey he deserves a "solid B+" for his first 11 months in office. Jackson instead gave Obama several grades -- high praise for pushing health care reform and low marks for strategy in Afghanistan. He also discussed Obama's support among African-Americans and offered words of encouragement for Tiger Woods.
Tiger Woods continues to make headlines with his growing list of reported lovers. And bad timing for Golf Digest magazine as it offers ten tips President Obama can take from Woods. Today on the Barbershop Buzz: As his sponsors begin to pull the plug, is Tiger really living the dream?
Educator Cornel West sat down with theGrio to discuss how unemployment is affecting African-Americans. TheGrio asked West about national unemployment trends for African-Americans. He called on President Barack Obama to implement a comprehensive jobs policy -- a program that would mirror former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal, and focus primarily on creating jobs for people without a college education. "[It's] the same way we had an investment banker policy when they were in trouble," West said of what he views as a double-standard in current economic policy. "All AIG needed was a push. So let's help push these poor people, these working people into jobs with a living wage." West, who has been outspoken in both his support and criticism of Obama, said the current administration has not made poor people a priority. "Obama has an economic team that's composed of persons who have no history whatsoever of being concerned about poor people," West said. "Obama's been doing a good job of reassuring the establishment. But there's many of us who believe the establishment is on our necks." The Princeton University professor is busy promoting his new book, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud. The memoir is a departure from West's previous books, where he focused primarily on issues such as race and social justice.
Harlem is home to several legendary African-American political leaders: New York's first black congressman, Adam Clayton Powell, the city's first black mayor, David Dinkins, and the dean of Harlem politics, Congressman Charles Rangel. But suddenly, Rangel faces what his staff admits is a very serious challenge. "I've decided to run for Congress," 2010 congressional candidate Vince Morgan said. "I think the community is ready to look beyond the current congressperson, Charles Rangel, to a future and the question has always been what happens after Charles Rangel?"
Al Sharpton speaks with theGrio about Rush Limbaugh's NFL bid for St. Louis Rams
The film "Precious" stars newcomer Gabourey Sidebe, who plays an illiterate teenage girl from Harlem, New York, whose story of repeated sexual abuse at the hands of her father and mother will send viewers on an emotional journey. Based on the novel "Push," the story is one that captured readers and the film's creators more than a decade ago. "Both Lee and I read the book," executive producer Lisa Cortes told TheGrio. "We weren't making films at that time, but both of us loved it and talked about it incessantly." Cortes and director Lee Daniels convinced "Push" author Sapphire that only they could tell this story of abuse, survival and hope. "I'm still pinching myself when I think of the places around the world where this film has been received so warmly," Cortes said. "Sapphire was comfortable with Lee," screenplay writer Geoffrey Fletcher said. "Once he gained her trust and confidence, then it was off to the races." Precious' story comes alive with an all-star cast, including Lenny Kravitz and Paula Patton. They are stars that shine because of their ability to lose themselves in dark, disturbing roles. Grammy award-winning artist Mariah Carey is Precious' social worker. "With Mariah," Fletcher said. "I really think that when you see this performance here, I think it's a clear window into the reason why she has the following she does. It is her humanity that we see here. She's very sensitive, very alert and very humble." Most frightening is Mo'nique, as the mother. "What's surprising about Mo'nique in 'Precious,' is that you don't see Mo'nique," Cortes said. "You don't for a moment see 'The Parkers.' You don't see the comedian that we know and love. You see Mary, a woman who is as much a victim as she is a perpetrator." Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry partnered to executive produce the film with hopes of giving this tale the Hollywood success story it deserves. Recounting his own history of abuse, Perry said 'Precious' is a story that needs to be heard. "I realized how close the story was to my childhood and I had to get involved," executive producer Tyler Perry said. "Monique's character was my father. And I wanted people to understand, see and know that this is a movie that will change lives." "So for every voiceless person that we all do not recognize, this film gives them a voice," Cortes said. "It sheds light on their humanity and it sheds light on the tremendous possibility that the precious boys and girls have."
When Byron Pitts was 18 years old, his dream was to work for "60 Minutes" by the time he was 45. Raised by his mother in East Baltimore, Pitts was functionally illiterate until the age of 12. He spoke with a stutter until his early 20s. But that didn't stop him from dreaming big. He chronicles his journey from troubled child to an Emmy award-winning journalist in his new book "Step Out On Nothing: How Faith and Family Helped Me Conquer Life's Challenges." "People have been very receptive [to my story]," said Pitts, who was named a contributing correspondent for "60 Minutes" earlier this year. "There is joy on the other side of struggle, and I think that message is getting out there." Pitts came close to dropping out of Ohio Wesleyan University as a freshman. He was struggling academically and an English professor told him he wasn't college material. But another English professor, Ülle Lewes, befriended Pitts and "saved" his life. "I didn't know her, she didn't know me," Pitts said of Lewes, who helped Pitts with his school work all four years of college. "She helped me, she stepped out on nothing." Pitts said he hopes his story will inspire others to remain optimistic when their dreams seem out of reach. "It ain't easy sometimes being an optimist," Pitts said. "But it's a choice that people can make... I hope to encourage other people to make the same kind of choice."
Roots in the anti-slavery movement have led the A.M.E. Church to take a more inclusive approach to women in ministry.
In an age where technology is so much a part of our lives, many say the U.S. education system still lags in advancements. The result, according to Brian Smith, founder of the non-profit group, What's Left Out, is an "outdated educational model" that "lacks a certain amount of relevancy to young people right now."
Tyler Perry hopes he can do good ... very good at the box office with his newest release "I Can Do Bad All By Myself," starring Academy Award Nominated Taraji P. Hensen, Adam Rodriguez, multiple Grammy Award winning singers Mary J. Blige and Gladys Knight, and of course, Tyler Perry. "I want people to leave the theaters with hope, going, 'OK. I can make it, I'm going to be alright, I just saw a great film that uplifted me, I got hope, I can make it through the next day,'" Perry said in an interview this week. Perry utilizes a familiar formula ... pistol-packing grandma, "Madea" unexpectedly has to help someone in need. This time it's three children who after losing their mother to drugs and now their grandmother, have nowhere to turn. When "Madea" and brother "Joe" discover the kids breaking into their home, "Madea" in her usual no-nonsense style gets to the bottom of things. "This movie was right after you know Madea Goes To Jail so I wanted to give her some breathing room and so she's not in it as much but when she show up you hurt yourself laughing," Perry said. The only problem? The children's aunt wants nothing to do with them ... she's got problems of her own. Crippled by her own pain, Taraji plays "April," a nightclub singer who's trapped in a loveless relationship and remains haunted by her own past. "I love multidimensional characters and Tyler writes the best of 'em," Henson said. "He's written some of the most incredible female characters. And it's just not happening, especially for ethnic actresses. It's just not there. The roles just aren't there. THANK GOD for Tyler... shoot." With his usual theme of redemption, Perry who also produced, directed and wrote "I Can Do Bad All By Myself," includes "Sandino," a handyman played by Adam Rodriguez. Rodriguez delivers a touching, intimate reminder that love is for everyone, even when we don't know how to love." "There's a bunch of things I loved about the character," Rodriguez said. "I mean I love the fact that he did have this dark past, you know, that that had him on this quest for redemption." Mary J. Blige delivers a fearless performance as friend and nightclub owner "Tanya," plus sings an original song she helped write and produce for the film. " he actual song I can do battle by myself was written for Tania but to April," Blige said. "You know, it was Tania saying it to April like "gosh, like when will you give someone a shot when will stop being so selfish." Never one to back away from expressing his need to 'bridge the gap,' Perry turns to Gladys Knight, as "Wilma," a church elder who helps return "Tanya" to the spiritual roots that had once been her foundation. "Looking at going back, getting ready for my character and looking at the ladies like that that was in my life, you know. They were just the connection to the family and the church and the communities and that kind of stuff and there was service and spiritual testimonies and so that's how I try to play her." "I Can Do Bad All By Myself" is a love story that delivers a heavy dose of heartache ... trials that Perry audiences will understand, but ends after a long journey worth every trial and triumph.
New York City's murder rate has dropped nearly 15 percent compared to last year, according to the New York City Police Department. But East Harlem's 23rd Precinct is another story. There have been seven murders in that area this year, compared to two after nine months last year. Iesha Sekou knows all about crime statistics in Harlem. She is often among the first to arrive at crime scenes and console victim's families. "[The violence] stays in your head, you wake up with it, you go to sleep with it," Sekou said. "It's not easy to be at a site and you know that this is somebody's 15-year-old baby lying in a puddle of blood." Sekou is a community organizer in Harlem and tries to educate youth through her organization, Street Corner Resources. Street Corner Resources began nearly three years ago and provides youth activities, educational workshops and employment training. "We try to tell these kids that there are more options to life than killing," Sekou said. "But violence is glorified, not positive behavior. So it's hard to get the message through." A new documentary series, 'Brick City,' explores the same issues Sekou works on each day. The series is set less than 10 miles away in Newark, NJ. It follows the plight of Newark residents and officials as they work to reduce crime and improve the city's image. Newark Mayor Cory Booker is featured prominantly in the documentary. He said it is a constant struggle to get young people, especially young black males, to think positively of their future. "It's hard to communicate, to have them open their minds to possibility," Booker said. "It says in the Bible, 'without vision, the people will perish,' so if you have such a narrow vision of yourself and your life, you'll never expand to your full capacity." The five-part series is airing this week on Sundance Channel. Sekou said the series could help shine a positive light on people striving to impact their communities. "Violence is not exclusive to Harlem," Sekou said. "[The media] needs to show up when we are here working to effect change. Not just when bodies are down and crime scene tape is up."
New York's Governor David Paterson is embattled with an all-time low approval rating, and it has been suggested by the White House that he should step aside and not run for election next year. Should President Obama back his fellow African-American Democrat and allow him to make his own decision on what is best for New York?
NBA star Chris Paul is crossing over into children's books. Paul read his new book, "Long Shot: Never Too Small To Dream Big" to the kids at the NBA store in New York City. Paul, of the New Orleans Hornets and one of the shortest players in the NBA, wrote about his journey to the NBA and how he didn't let his small stature deter him from achieving his dream. Like most kids growing up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Paul dreamed of playing for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. Being such a 'pip squeak' most people told him he was crazy. "Growing up at home with my brother. My older brother was always telling me 'you can't come and play with me and his friends.' His friends would always tell me I couldn't play in college, let alone the NBA. I remember going to Carowinds (amusement parks) as a kid and being too short to get on the rides," said Paul. Paul's brother CJ, his manager and biggest supporter, said at the time Paul probably was too small. "Chris was 5'6 as a sophomore (High School). Once he hit a growth spurt the sky was the limit for him, the people that played point guard... he was their size," CJ said. CJ still considers his brother a little guy. He is listed at "6'0" (he joked he was "6'4" on a good day) playing in the NBA where the average height is "6'7", but feels that he just worked harder than players who were bigger than he was. "He was really, really feisty and that's what made him head and shoulders above a whole players. He was small but he always got the job done." Paul used the taunts of others as motivation to prove he had skills. He attended college at Wake Forrest in North Carolina and he took every opportunity to beat the Tar Heels and let them know what they missed out on. Now, heading into his 5th season, Paul is an all-star guard. In the 05-06 season, Paul was voted Rookie of the Year, and in 2008 he was a member of the gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team. Chris Paul wants children that read his book to know that anything is possible. "Understand that the book is about basketball because it's me and that's what I do, but, in everything it may be school work, a job, business, anything. When people tell you it's a long shot to get this job, and you have to start from the bottom, if you believe and you know you work hard and you put the work ethic in, anything is possible...It's basketball for me, but for you it may be anything." http://www.thegrio.com http://www.thegrio.com/opinion http://www.thegrio.com/politics
On September 11, 2001, 11-year-old Asia Cottom was headed to California. She had been selected to attend a National Geographic Society ecology conference with other talented young students from around the country. Tragically, terrorists hijacked Cottom's plane and crashed into the Pentagon. No passengers survived. "My mind can't even fathom where [Asia] might be right now," said Michelle Cottom, Asia's mother. "Education was her thing, so the boundaries are endless." Asia's parents quickly created a scholarship fund in her name to provide financial assistance to college-bound students. The Asia SiVon Cottom Memorial Scholarship Fund has raised about $75,000 for more than a dozen students since 2002. Recipients receive a financial award their first year of college, in addition to other forms of assistance throughout their time in school. "It's not just a scholarship, it's not about money," said Clifton Cottom, Asia's father. "It's about family. I think we try to put family in everything we do." The scholarship and family support is helping young students like Lawrence Pulliam. Pulliam, 19, attends Montgomery College in Rockville, Md. He is enrolled in the college's computer gaming and simulation program. "[Asia] was a joyous person, liked to smile, liked to have fun," said Pulliam, who grew up with up with her. "[She] always put a smile on my face." Pulliam said he is determined to make the Cottom family proud by excelling at his schoolwork. "[The scholarship fund] is an opportunity for others to get an education and improve the quality of their lives," Pulliam said. "I think it's a great way to honor a life lost by helping others." Pulliam said he hopes to finish up his time at Montgomery, before transferring to University of Baltimore, where he will pursue a bachelors degree in digital simulation and entertainment. "I'm laying my foundation here [at Montgomery College]," Pulliam said. "I'm not done. [The scholarship] drives me to work hard."
According to data from the CDC, at the end of 2007, blacks accounted for almost half of the 1.1 million people living with HIV in America. Marline Hines works at New York City's oldest minority AIDS service organization, Faces, where she leads a women's support program called the Asha Project. Four hundred women have already passed through this program, which aims to help women address the emotional baggage that comes with the virus. The most common feeling? Shame. "Even in the process of role playing, they can't say it," Hines said. "Even though I'm not their daughter, it's hard for them to just say 'I'm positive.'" It's that kind of shame and secrecy that filmmaker Claudia Pryor witnessed while making the documentary, Why Us? Left Behind and Dying. "I learned that our internal secrecy and shame absolutely drives this in our community," Pryor told theGrio in a sit-down interview. "And probably the biggest thing I learned is that underlying that is a self-hatred and self-denigration that makes us feel that we are unworthy of being projected," Pryor said. "Why Us?" follows a group of inner-city Pittsburgh students as they investigate why HIV rates are so high in black communities. The students interviewed leading experts, people with the infection in their neighborhood, and activists, all while having their reactions to the study monitored. Tamira Noble is the narrator and was one of the students involved in the study. While working on this project, Noble learned that secrets hit close to home. "I didn't think I knew anyone with HIV, so it wasn't very personal," Noble said. "It became personal when I got involved because then all of these secrets started spilling from my own family. And that's when I found out that I had an uncle that died of HIV/AIDs. His name was Edward. I had never heard of him until I had started on this project. Then I found out one of my cousin also has HIV/AIDs and I wasn't even allowed to know this cousin until I joined this project." Keeping secrets under wraps is something Hines says is a value the black community has upheld for generations. "Black people has a culture that is southern, that is old-fashioned," Hines said. "What's said in the house, stays in the house." But those involved in getting the word out hope that despite this deep-seated tradition, their community will take ownership of their personal safety and get tested. "Just want people to see the film and get tested," Noble said. "I mean, if everyone could look it and learn something from it that's good. But if people learn from it and get tested then I've accomplished what we were trying to do.
This Sunday Dr. Bill Cosby will hold a town hall discussion which will be broadcast live on MSNBC from Howard University. The two-hour event, entitled About Our Children, will address the nation's dilemmas concerning poverty, parenting, education, and health. The special will be moderated by Independent Women's Forum president and MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard. The town hall panelists will include Ben Jealous, President of the NAACP, Terrie Williams, author of "Black Pain" and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. Dr. Cosby and Michelle Bernard sat down with David A. Wilson, managing editor of theGrio, to discuss this groundbreaking television event and issues that affect the black community and the country.