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Dartanyon Crockett …Really, Really Bad! Paralympic Judo Champ

Really inspiring story here of a guy with what would seem to be a skyscraper size deck of cards stacked against him… Reaching his goal. This article by Lisa Fenn is an Edward R. Murrow- and six-time Emmy Award-winning feature producer.Image result

From Blind and Homeless to Judo Champ: How Dartanyon Crockett Fought His Way to Rio

Legally blind and born into poverty, Paralympic athlete Dartanyon Crockett overcame many obstacles to compete this week in Rio, but his is no simple feel-good story.

The Olympics sow a common dream, that children can one day become champions. The triumphant music, the billowing flags, and the rags-to-riches vignettes lure us into believing that gold medals and Wheaties boxes are available to any child who dreams big enough. One athlete whose backstory will be front and center this week in Rio is Paralympian Dartanyon Crockett. Dartanyon won a bronze medal at the 2012 London Games in the sport of blind judo, and he arrives in Brazil ranked second in the world in his weight class. When I met him in 2009, he was transient, hungry, and had never heard of judo. At first glance, Dartanyon fits the underdog narrative that we crave in our sports stories. But when you scratch beneath the glossy surface, you’ll find it takes more than a dream to make it out of where he came from.

Dartanyon is legally blind. Born with optic neuropathy, a condition that causes vision loss, he can barely make out the facial features of a person sitting a few feet away. His mother died when he was 8 years old; he then went to live with his father, in a crack house. Dartanyon attended a high school in Cleveland, Ohio, with a graduation rate of less than 40 percent. I met him there when I was a feature producer at ESPN, and he was a senior on the wrestling team. My story was focused in part on his accomplishments as a visually impaired wrestler, where at 5-foot-7 with muscles bunched like walnuts, he was a winner in multiple weight classes. He achieved this success despite subsisting on the soggy mozzarella sticks and bruised apples served in cafeteria lunches.

Dartanyon told me that he wanted to wrestle in college the following year and one day attend law school. In the next breath, he admitted that he had never been on a college visit and hadn’t taken his SATs because he didn’t have the $26. As I filmed in his classes, I noticed something curious. He would doodle the phrase “Destined For Greatness” on the tops of his papers.

He knew how to hope for his dreams. He didn’t know how to hope towardthem. He had the will, but he didn’t know the way. Worse, he didn’t know he lacked a way. He seemed oblivious to the damning limitations on his life. And as I would soon discover, Dartanyon’s poverty was even more disabling than his visual impairment.

I was raised with Olympic-sized ideals and the belief that with determination and perseverance, one could overcome any circumstance. And yet as I met Dartanyon’s extended family, I was struck by how hardship engulfed multiple generations of families. Nearly everyone I met struggled with unemployment, poverty, or addiction. Why wasn’t the “determination + perseverance = success” formula working?

Image result for Dartanyon Crockett

As I sat and listened and pieced together the personal stories, one fact grew clear: My blueprint for betterment was critically flawed. Families like the Crocketts had inherited their history. They were born into a set of disadvantaged conditions that cascaded into subsequent negative outcomes. As children, they attended underfunded schools and returned home to overstressed, oftentimes single parents who were not equipped to nurture their emotional development. As teens, while their parents worked, many turned to the streets looking for a sense of belonging and a cure to boredom. They moved frequently and experienced more episodes of hunger, homelessness, and unemployment than children living above the poverty line.

Your money, your family, your security, your will, your future. Poverty takes a percentage of everything, indefinitely, until the cycle is broken.

Yet Dartanyon wasn’t told this as a child. He was only told to dream. And so he believed he was destined for greatness instead of a statistical sentence. After sitting beside him in abject poverty for several months, I agreed. And then I decided to do something about it.

After harnessing donations from ESPN viewers who were inspired by his story, I helped Dartanyon apply for college and lined up the resources he’d need to succeed. The publicity drew the attention of the U.S. Paralympic Committee, which offered him residency at the Olympic Training Center to study and train in the sport of blind judo. Housing, a competitive outlet, and three meals a day—we had found his winning lottery ticket, I thought.  My work was finished.

I was wrong. Dartanyon began failing at every turn. He failed his classes, failed to get up for morning weight lifting, failed to adjust socially to his now stable environment. What might seem like minor setbacks feel like major threats to an individual who has lived in the toxic stress of poverty, and Dartanyon often shut down in the face of daily challenges. His childhood taught him to endure his circumstances, but nothing and no one in his life showed him that he could overcome them.

Dartanyon’s pathway out required more than handing him opportunities. The journey required constant support over many years. It required a love free of strings and full of patience. Dartanyon and I worked tirelessly to reprogram the debilitating mindsets he carried out of poverty and take strides toward self-sufficiency: He learned how to pay a bill, plan ahead, have conversations with those in authority, utilize community resources, and develop healthy interpersonal relationships. Of equal importance, he learned to verbalize his traumas, to talk about them rather than shroud them in shame. Talking became like oxygen. It gave him life. And as he came to understand the history he had inherited, he grew less likely to repeat it.

And this is where it can get uncomfortable for those preferring to punt to a government program, because poverty has less to do with running out of money and everything to do with running out of useful personal relationships. The effective choice is to share in another’s vulnerability, to enter into their weaknesses and uncertainty. The courageous act is to speak healing truths that make souls stronger. The necessary investment from those of us in positions of strength is to put the needs of another before our own, even when inconvenient.

Our country is crying out for people who will cross the divide—who will venture into poverty, take a seat, learn the stories, and respond with love. People who make a difference in the world don’t wait to see if someone else will do something. They are willing to feed one family, educate one child, and mend one broken heart.

Today, Dartanyon is thriving. He is the 2014 blind judo world champion, a UNICEF ambassador, and a motivational speaker. He is pursuing a degree in social work so that he can one day help kids who grew up as he did. He said he’s learned that the difference between success and failure is having just one person who believes in you. He now wants to be that person for others.

If you see Dartanyon on the medal stand in Rio, resist getting too swept up in the music and fanfare. Remember the scores of children like him who believe they too are destined for greatness, yet are unknowingly thwarted by socioeconomic barriers. Politicians talk about reviving the American Dream, but it’s up to us as individuals to strengthen this ideal by developing relationships with those in need. And when we do, we will find that connection breeds compassion, and out of compassion, the will to act. Ultimately we will find that we can only change this world when we enter into another’s world.

 
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Posted by on September 6, 2016 in Giant Negros

 

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The Continuing Role of HBCUs

HBCUs percentage of college graduates is dropping. However, HBCU graduates still make up about 50-60% of those students matriculating to graduate studies in the STEM Fields.

One of the major issues with HBCUs has been graduation percentage. On average only about 35%. Spelman, Howard, Hampton, Morehouse, and Fisk are the only HBCUs with graduation rates above 50%. Despite issues the top HBCUs are graduating people competitive with anyone from the non-HBCU Universities in their fields.

Black Colleges Might Be Struggling, but Their Alums Are Thriving

African Americans who graduated from majority-minority colleges feel more professionally and personally fulfilled than their peers who attended predominantly white schools.

Anyone who has spoken with alums of a historically black college or university (HBCU) can attest, they really love their schools. Whether it’s the swarms of current and former students who travel to attend homecomings year after year, the (mostly) friendly competition among schools, or just the ferociousness with which grads defend and promote their alma maters, there’s something about most HBCUs that inspires intense loyalty.

A new poll from Gallup and Purdue University might help explain why.

The “Quad” at Howard University

The report takes a look at the post-graduation outcomes of a broad sampling of American college graduates to determine how they measured their own well-being, defined as physical health, social relationships, finances, goal achievement, and community engagement. The researchers then categorized individuals as either thriving, struggling, or suffering in each area. The method is highly subjective, but there were some noticeable differences, especially when it came to black college graduates: Graduates of HBCUs ranked their well-being higher in all five areas than their black peers who attended predominantly white institutions. Additionally, HBCU alums were more likely to say that they’re engaged and fulfilled at work and ranked significantly higher in measures of financial success and fulfillment than black grads who went to other schools.

This achievement is notable for HBCUs given the struggles that black Americans continue to face when it comes to completing college and finding gainful employment afterward, compared to graduates of other ethnicities. Black students are less likely than other ethnicities to complete a bachelor’s degree within six years. They also have a higher unemployment rate after graduation. When compared to other races in the Gallup poll, black grads ranked lowest on every measure of well-being except for social relationships. Black women ranked the lowest in most measures of well-being.

Part of the reason may be the education that HBCU students received while enrolled: HBCU grads were substantially more likely to say that they had professors who cared about them and mentors who helped them pursue their goals. They also felt certain that their school prepared them well for post-grad life. These feelings may help help explain why alums of HBCUs are so much more likely (49 percent vs. 34 percent for black grads who didn’t attend HBCUs) to say that their university is the perfect place for someone similar to them, and why they have so much affinity for these institutions, despite the fact that many of these colleges and universities are struggling.

But the strength of HBCUs may also derive from another resource, one that lives off-campus, and that is a robust and engaged alumni network. The warm feelings that HBCU grads have about their schools may stem from deeper feelings of belonging and connection created at such schools, and that can help create a sense of kinship not only among classmates, but among all grads, which makes them more open to assisting and mentoring the students who come after them.

AKAs Step

As more black Americans attend colleges outside of the HBCU system, some wonder if such institutions have outlived their usefulness. Attendance at the country’s 107 HBCUs as a share of total black-student enrollment has dropped in recent years. In 2010 through 2011, these schools accounted for 16 percent of black college graduates, in 1976 to 1977, the share was more than double that. The schools have a lower-than-average graduation rate: about 35 percent for HBCUs compared to 59 percent nationally, though that’s in part because these schools are more likely to enroll low-income, first-generation students, a population that’s more likely to drop out before finishing.

There are other problems, too. Morris Brown, an HBCU in Atlanta is struggling to stage a comeback after losing its accreditation years ago. Howard University in D.C., which remains one of the most popular and well-known HBCUs has publicly struggled with financing and has been forced to cut staff and been subjected to credit downgrades in recent years. Fisk University in Nashville was placed on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges  until the university overhauled its finances a few years ago. With all of their challenges, the survival of many of these schools—once the only places where black Americans could get a college education—is largely uncertain.

But for now, both alums and current students aren’t hesitant about supporting and promoting the value of these institutions. I conducted a much less robust, more informal survey, taking to social media to ask HBCU alums if they had good feelings about their college experience. The answers were largely similar to Gallup’s results: People were mostly positive, noting that the benefits of their education were as much personal as they were professional…Read the Rest Here

 
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Posted by on October 30, 2015 in The Post-Racial Life

 

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The New- Old Jim Crow – “Fear of a Black President”

 

Great article by Ta-Nehisi Coates about the right wing’s reaction and vitrol against President Obama.  The roots of this go back generations, illuminated by the America’s rejection of Jesse Owens after the 1938 Olympics (It wasn’t Hitler who refused to shake Owens hand and congratulate him – if was Owen’s fellow Americans). That hasn’t changed much – as the American segregationalists just changed political parties, and now couch their racism in more “palatable” terms…

Even more interesting is the impact of President Obama’s achievement of black Republicans like Artur Davis.

Fear of a Black President

The irony of President Barack Obama is best captured in his comments on the death of Trayvon Martin, and the ensuing fray. Obama has pitched his presidency as a monument to moderation. He peppers his speeches with nods to ideas originally held by conservatives. He routinely cites Ronald Reagan. He effusively praises the enduring wisdom of the American people, and believes that the height of insight lies in the town square. Despite his sloganeering for change and progress, Obama is a conservative revolutionary, and nowhere is his conservative character revealed more than in the very sphere where he holds singular gravity—race.

Part of that conservatism about race has been reflected in his reticence: for most of his term in office, Obama has declined to talk about the ways in which race complicates the American present and, in particular, his own presidency. But then, last February, George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old insurance underwriter, shot and killed a black teenager, Trayvon Martin, in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman, armed with a 9 mm handgun, believed himself to be tracking the movements of a possible intruder. The possible intruder turned out to be a boy in a hoodie, bearing nothing but candy and iced tea. The local authorities at first declined to make an arrest, citing Zim­mer­man’s claim of self-defense. Protests exploded nationally. Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea assumed totemic power. Celebrities—the actor Jamie Foxx, the former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, members of the Miami Heat—were photographed wearing hoodies. When Rep­resentative Bobby Rush of Chicago took to the House floor to denounce racial profiling, he was removed from the chamber after donning a hoodie mid-speech.

The reaction to the tragedy was, at first, trans-partisan. Conservatives either said nothing or offered tepid support for a full investigation—and in fact it was the Republican governor of Florida, Rick Scott, who appointed the special prosecutor who ultimately charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder. As civil-rights activists descended on Florida, National Review, a magazine that once opposed integration, ran a column proclaiming “Al Sharpton Is Right.” The belief that a young man should be able to go to the store for Skittles and an iced tea and not be killed by a neighborhood-­watch patroller seemed un­controversial.

By the time reporters began asking the White House for comment, the president likely had already given the matter considerable thought. Obama is not simply America’s first black president—he is the first president who could credibly teach a black-studies class. He is fully versed in the works of Richard Wright and James Baldwin, Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X. Obama’s two autobiographies are deeply concerned with race, and in front of black audiences he is apt to cite important but obscure political figures such as George Henry White, who served from 1897 to 1901 and was the last African American congressman to be elected from the South until 1970. But with just a few notable exceptions, the president had, for the first three years of his presidency, strenuously avoided talk of race. And yet, when Trayvon Martin died, talk Obama did:

When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids, and I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this, and that everybody pulls together—federal, state, and local—to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened …

But my main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon. I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and that we’re going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.The moment Obama spoke, the case of Trayvon Martin passed out of its national-mourning phase and lapsed into something darker and more familiar—racialized political fodder. The illusion of consensus crumbled. Rush Limbaugh denounced Obama’s claim of empathy. The Daily Caller, a conservative Web site, broadcast all of Martin’s tweets, the most loutish of which revealed him to have committed the un­pardonable sin of speaking like a 17-year-old boy. A white-­supremacist site called Stormfront produced a photo of Martin with pants sagging, flipping the bird. Business Insiderposted the photograph and took it down without apology when it was revealed to be a fake.

Newt Ging­rich pounced on Obama’s comments: “Is the president suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot, that would be okay because it wouldn’t look like him?” Reverting to form,National Review decided the real problem was that we were interested in the deaths of black youths only when nonblacks pulled the trigger. John Derbyshire, writing for Taki’s Magazine, an iconoclastic libertarian publication, composed a racist advice column for his children inspired by the Martin affair. (Among Derbyshire’s tips: never help black people in any kind of distress; avoid large gatherings of black people; cultivate black friends to shield yourself from charges of racism.)

For the rest of the article – go here.

 

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