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The Westside Gazette

Broward County Social Justice Coalition Sponsors Voter Rights Registration Drive

THE WESTSIDE GAZETTE — On Saturday, April 13th, a coalition of social justice advocacy groups sponsored a Voter Rights Registration Drive at New Mount Olive Baptist Church, 400 NW 9th Avenue. The drive was one in a series of such events the coalition aims to hold in communities across Broward County.

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Broward County Clerk of Courts, Chief Director Nakia Smith and Clerk Brenda Foreman (right) spoke on fines and restitution. Marsha Ellison, President of the Fort Lauderdale Branch of the NAACP

By Perry Busby

On Saturday, April 13th, a coalition of social justice advocacy groups sponsored a Voter Rights Registration Drive at New Mount Olive Baptist Church, 400 NW 9th Avenue. The drive was one in a series of such events the coalition aims to hold in communities across Broward County.

“Our goal is simple. Get the information out,” Marsha Ellison, President of the Fort Lauderdale/Broward County NAACP, replied regarding the coalition’s aims. “We have got to get the information out through the sources that the public listens to and we’ve got to be in the places where they gather.”

Last year Florida voters passed Amendment 4, reinstating voting rights to former felons with non-violent offenses, who have the terms of their sentencing. It is estimated that an additional 1.4 million Florida residents will be eligible to vote in the 2020 election. It is believed that the number of returning citizens in Broward County may be as high as 60,000.

It is why the coalition believes it was necessary to include a forum and Question and Answer sessions at the events. Gordon Weekes, Executive Chief Asst. Public Defender and Broward County Clerk, Brenda Forman were on hand to provide attendees with information on how to check their status, the steps to update it, and available resources.

“The issues are complex, but simple, clear communication is the best way to begin the process. An individual may want to vote, but he or she still harbors fears about interacting with the government. Some even believe it is a setup to get them to violate their court agreement. It isn’t easy to convince someone of that when they’ve been incarcerated for ten or more years” Weekes said.

A big concern for many attendees was whether they could be charged with a crime if they filled out a voter registration card but was denied due to ineligibility. While Miami-Dade District Attorney, Katherine Fernandez Rundle, has publicly stated that she would not seek charges in such cases, Broward County District Attorney, Andrew Meyers, has not publicly made a statement regarding his position.

The goal is to get the number of voters on the roll back to the Obama 2008 election level. Whereas the Supervisor of Elections office would make several attempts to contact a voter before purging them from the roll, the new administration is taking a more aggressive approach to purging rolls.

Organizations on hand for the event included the NAACP, Broward County Public Defender Office, Broward County Court Clerk Office, TJ Reddick Bar Association, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Alpha Phi Alpha, Omega Psi Phi and the Westside Gazette.

With the 2020 election a little over eighteen months away, the coalition continues to seek additional venues and events to spread the word.

This article originally appeared in The Westside Gazette.

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Black History

John Legend, Yusuf/Cat Stevens, and More Come Together to Help Preserve Nina Simone’s Legacy

THE WESTSIDE GAZETTE — Recently, the National Trust for Historic Preservation through its African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, is proud to announce a crowdfunding campaign to support the restoration and preservation of Nina Simone’s childhood home in Tryon, NC. This campaign, supported by artists, actors, and musicians including John Legend, will raise funds integral to the exterior restoration of the home where the celebrated singer, pianist and Civil Rights icon’s story began. The home, which has fallen into disrepair requiring urgent revitalization, was designated a National Treasure in June of 2018.

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Nina Simone (Photo by: savingplaces.org)

National Trust for Historic Preservation Announces Crowdfunding Campaign to Support the Restoration of Nina Simone’s Childhood Home

By The Westside Gazette

WASHINGTON D.C. – Recently, the National Trust for Historic Preservation through its African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, is proud to announce a crowdfunding campaign to support the restoration and preservation of Nina Simone’s childhood home in Tryon, NC. This campaign, supported by artists, actors, and musicians including John Legend, will raise funds integral to the exterior restoration of the home where the celebrated singer, pianist and Civil Rights icon’s story began. The home, which has fallen into disrepair requiring urgent revitalization, was designated a National Treasure in June of 2018.

“Spaces devoted to the history and legacy of people of color, especially women of color, are far too few in America today,” said John Legend. “Preserving places like the Simone childhood home will help keep her powerful story alive. This campaign pays tribute to Nina Simone’s unapologetic pursuit of musical, personal, and political freedom and I am proud to be a part of it.”

The National Trust’s crowdfunding campaign will run on IndieGoGo, beginning today, giving the public an opportunity to make donations to this effort, and to purchase newly designed Nina Simone-inspired merchandise including t-shirts, artist prints, pins, and postcards with artwork by Dare Coulter — a North Carolina-based artist working to create positive imagery of people of color. The campaign will also include the option to acquire additional merch donated by musicians including Talib Kweli, and Yusef/Cat Stevens, and actors Mahershala Ali and Issa Rae.

“Our culture is embodied in old places and the history and stories they keep,” said Brent Leggs, executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “This modest home in Tryon, North Carolina embodies the story of a young black girl who transcended the constraints placed on her in the Jim Crow south, to become the voice of the Civil Rights Movement. Simone’s childhood home provides an important lens for examining the contours of her life, and through its preservation, we hope to celebrate and cement her legacy in our American narrative.”

In 1933, Eunice Waymon, now known as Nina Simone, was born in Tryon, North Carolina. It was in this home that Simone first taught herself the piano at the age of three, performed in public for the first time at the neighborhood church where her mother preached, and where she experienced the constraints placed on African Americans in the rural Jim Crow South. This home would become the inspiration of some of her most influential music and political activism, including songs such as “Mississippi Goddam” and “Four Women.”

In recent years, the three-room, 660-square foot clapboard pier and beam house had fallen in disrepair. The vacant property was put on the market in 2016. Alarmed by the condition of the home and the risk of losing this connection to Nina Simone entirely, four African American visual artists—conceptual artist and painter Adam Pendleton, the sculptor and painter Rashid Johnson, the collagist and filmmaker Ellen Gallagher, and the abstract painter Julie Mehretu—purchased the property in 2017.

“When three fellow artists and I purchased Nina Simone’s childhood home in 2017, we did so with the desire that the site be transformed into a piece of living history,  said artist Adam Pendleton. “This space, so integral to Nina Simone’s music and activism, can serve to carry forward her legacy and inspire future artists and musicians.”

Simone’s career spanned multiple genres, four decades, several continents, and earned 15 Grammy nominations. Her songs have been professionally sampled and covered more than 500 times.

“With more than 40 albums over five decades, Nina Simone is one of the most acclaimed singers of all time,” said Neil Portnow, Recording Academy President/CEO. “The Recording Academy has honored her legacy through the GRAMMY Hall of Fame and with a Lifetime Achievement Award, both accolades very much deserved. I’m thrilled to know that her talent will continue to live on through the preservation of her childhood home where her artistic journey began.”

This week, the National Trust will be bringing the Nina Simone Crowdfunding campaign to the 25th annual Essence Festival, where attendees can claim exclusive perks and learn more about this National Treasure.

This article originally appeared in The Westside Gazette
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Research Reveals That Black Children were Fed to Hogs and Used as Alligator Bait in the Early 1900s

THE WESTSIDE GAZETTE — August 2019 will mark 400 years of the first documented arrival of Africans brought to America as indentured servants. Children suffered and continue to suffer cruelties such as sex slaves, forced child labor, physical abuse, and in some cases, human cannibalism in United States. These cruelties are a big part of human trafficking where body organs and other body parts are sold to wealthy people. These atrocities, abuse, and modern-day slavery will plague America like an incurable cancer until we address this ugly past.

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A man named Johnny Lee Gaddy recently shared with peonage researcher, Dr. Antoinette Harrell, that in 1957 he witnessed African American children being literally fed to the hogs that were on the campus of the infamous Arthur G. Dozier Reform School in the Florida Panhandle.

By The Westside Gazette

NEW ORLEANS, LA — August 2019 will mark 400 years of the first documented arrival of Africans brought to America as indentured servants. Children suffered and continue to suffer cruelties such as sex slaves, forced child labor, physical abuse, and in some cases, human cannibalism in United States. These cruelties are a big part of human trafficking where body organs and other body parts are sold to wealthy people. These atrocities, abuse, and modern-day slavery will plague America like an incurable cancer until we address this ugly past.

When Dr. Antoinette Harrell thought that she had heard the worst of the worst, there was even more to discover. Harrell heard four stories that were so evil that most people didn’t want to talk about what they experienced or repeat the painful experiences told to them by their family members. No one wants to visit things that hurt them. Having these hurtful injustices to resurface can take them back to that time, place, and period in their lives that they do not want to remember.

Many unfortunate events happened to children during Slavery, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow that continues to this very day. The story that Johnny Lee Gaddy shared with peonage researcher, Dr. Antoinette Harrell, will upset your stomach. Johnny witnessed a child’s hand in the hog pen at the infamous Arthur G. Dozier Reform School in the Florida Panhandle. Gaddy told Harrell during a radio interview that he saw the severed hand of a child in the fire pit while taking the trash to be burned. Gaddy knew it was the body part of one of the boys. After discussing what he saw with one of the boys, he was told never to tell anyone what he saw if he wanted to stay alive.

Gaddy alleges they were cooking the boys and feeding them to the hogs.

Gaddy told Harrell that he worked like a slave cutting lumber, raising livestock, and farming the land. He worked in the swamp with large alligators and snakes. Boys younger than Gaddy also had to work hard at Dozier. Gaddy said his life was a living hell at the state-operated school. The reform school was in operation from January 1, 1900 to June 30, 2011 by the state of Florida in the panhandle town of Marianna.

This was not a surprise to Harrell. She had previously met a family who was held in the system of peonage in Gillsburg, Mississippi in the 1960s. Cain Wall, Sr., who was 107 years old at the time, told Harrell his family’s story. He recalled a time when a man rode a horse throughout the area and picked up Black babies, cut them up and use them for fish bait. Wall said, “I saw the blood dripping from his sack on the side of his horse. Everybody would grab their children when they heard that he was coming. He was a mean and evil man,” said Walls.

Some people in the South claim white men used Black babies as alligator bait in the swamps of Louisiana and Florida. They used the babies to lure large alligators with human flesh and blood during the era of slavery. They kidnapped the babies, skin them alive, and drop them into the swamp waters. In 1923, a publication in Times Magazine reported from Chipley, Florida that Black babies were being used as alligator bait. On June 3, 1908, the Washington Times reported that a zookeeper at the New York Zoological Garden baited alligators with pickaninnies. Pictures, postcards, and other trinkets were sold to commemorate this evil, dark practice.

Deangelo and Kirk Manuel, intern researchers with Harrell, recently traveled to Shubuta, Mississippi to investigate six lynchings. The Manuels read how the four young black people were lynched at the Hanging Bridge in 1918. Those lynched were brothers, Major, 20, and Andrew Clark, 16, and sisters; Alma, 16 and Maggie Howze, 20. Maggie was six months pregnant and Alma was due in two weeks. Both young women were pregnant by the dentist who employed them. Major signed up for the draft in WWI on September 9, 1918 and was lynched in December of 1918. Ernest Greene and Charles Lang were lynched in 1942 in the same town in Mississippi. “There life was cut short, it’s no telling what the future held for those two young boys. We will never know the effects they could have had on this world,” said Deangelo.

It was alleged that Andrew and Major murdered Dr. Everette Lavega Johnston, a married white dentist where the four young people worked. Major and Andrew were working on the farm to pay a debt for their father, Eddie Clark, Sr. Major and Andrew were two of eight children born to Eddie and Charity Clarke. All four were brutally tortured. Maggie was smashed in the face with a wrench and they all were thrown from the bridge. When the victims were buried the next day, some people reported that the unborn baby could be seen moving in Alma’s womb.

Harrell and her interns are also investigating a case concerning missing boys in Smith and Simpson County in Mississippi in 1900. Near what was known at Sullivan’s Hollow, lived a man by the name of W.T. Ware, along with his sons and son-in-law, Turner. It was reported that the Wares had been stealing little Black boys and selling them to the Mississippi Delta. One of the Wares was a doctor and was responsible for disposing of the boys in the Delta. The Wares were arrested and tried for kidnapping and hiding a boy at the home of Turner in Simpson County until they could transport him to the Delta. A report was filed with the Attorney General in 1900.

Another report filed in Montgomery, Alabama, stated a young Black boy named Young Trammell was taken from the Alabama line and carried into Georgia where he was forced to work off a debt. The boy’s father informed the reporter that he could not get his son back until he paid the amount that Benford claimed was owed plus the alleged costs of the court proceedings.

Many have never heard these stories because they are not taught in schools. Monteral Harrell, educator and Grambling State University alumna, knows the reality of this truth. “A limited amount of information is presented to students in the public-school system about what actually happened during slavery and the Civil Rights Era. The same information on black history is given to the students year after year. Although the Historically Black Colleges and Universities excel in Black history education, there needs to be more courses offered that teach students how to properly research their history,” Harrell said.

Johnny Lee Gaddy is one of many stories that needs continued research. Johnny Lee Gaddy was taken from his mother in Clearwater, Florida in 1957 and driven to the Arthur G. Dozier Reform School in Marianna, Florida without due process from the courts or legal representation. He served his time and was eventually released to his mother. Harrell’s team consists of photographers, videographers, and screenwriters, who are dedicated in assisting Harrell with bringing these stories to the forefront.

Learn more about Dr. Antoinette Harrell at http://peonagedetective.com/ or follow her on Facebook at @harrellantoinette

This article originally appeared in The Westside Gazette

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Community

Kiwanis Club surprises two BTW students with full scholarships

THE WESTSIDE GAZETTE — The event marked the seventh and eighth full scholarships presented by the Biscayne Bay Kiwanis Club, a 68-year-old community service organization serving disadvantages children in Overtown, Allapattah, and Midtown Miami. The club was able to award two scholarships thanks to an anonymous donor — attending last year’s fundraising gala — who was so impressed with the organization’s work with kids that he donated $30,000.

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Janiyah Kennedy (L) and Alexander Castillo (R) break into tears as they learn that they have both been awarded a four-year, fully paid scholarship — each valued up to $30,000— from the Biscayne Bay Kiwanis Club.

By Lewis C. Matusow

When Alexander Castillo and Janiyah Kennedy walked into the annual senior awards ceremony at Booker T. Washington Senior High School recently, both expected to win some trophies and certificates acknowledging their various accomplishments.

What they didn’t expect was a life-changing event.

The 18-year-olds burst into tears and hugged when both their names were announced as winners of a four-year, fully paid college scholarship valued up to $30,000. It was the first time the Biscayne Bay Kiwanis Club, one of South Florida’s most active community service organizations, awarded two scholarships the same year.

“When they were getting ready to announce the winners, my friends kept saying, it’s you, it’s you,” Kennedy said as she listened to the words Bay Kiwanis Scholarship Committee chair Rick Freedman used describing the winners in general terms. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Kennedy will attend Fort Valley State University in Georgia, majoring in civil engineering.

Castillo was similarly stunned when he was revealed as the second winner, wiping away tears and springing from his seat as he made a sign of the cross.

“I’m really grateful to Kiwanis for believing in me,” Castillo said. “I didn’t know how I was going to pay for college and now I don’t have to worry. This is a life-changing event for me and my family.”

Castillo will attend the University of Central Florida, majoring in business and entrepreneurship.

The event marked the seventh and eighth full scholarships presented by the Biscayne Bay Kiwanis Club, a 68-year-old community service organization serving disadvantages children in Overtown, Allapattah, and Midtown Miami. The club was able to award two scholarships thanks to an anonymous donor — attending last year’s fundraising gala — who was so impressed with the organization’s work with kids that he donated $30,000.

“Having that donation worked out perfectly for our club and the kids,” said Freedman, former Biscayne Bay Kiwanis president.

“After reading through 420 pages of applications from the 14 seniors who applied, the scholarship committee narrowed it down to two. After much discussion, we decided that both of these students deserved to win. And because of that donation we were able to do it.”

The Biscayne Bay Kiwanis Club has a wide variety of successful programs serving youngsters in the inner city. They include: an in-school reading program to help second graders prepare for their end-of-year exams; providing lessons in etiquette, civics, and life skills; guided tours of the Everglades for children in shelters, public housing, and foster care; feeding the homeless and giving Thanksgiving meals to families; chaperoning field trips to local attractions, museums and sporting events; volunteering with and providing holiday gifts and field trips to disabled adults; giving school uniforms, supplies and backpacks to children in need and awarding of college scholarships to high school seniors. Over the last eight years, the BBKC has awarded more than $260,000 in scholarships throughout Miami-Dade County.

This article originally appeared in The Westside Gazette.
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Black History

Tourism expands from the Fort Lauderdale beaches to the Sistrunk Historic Corridor

THE WESTSIDE GAZETTE — Over 300 movers and shakers are expected to attend sessions at the Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel, and the organization will also stage several special events as part of the conference at the Urban League of Broward County and African American Research Library and Cultural Center, the Sistrunk area’s economic and cultural campus.

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Where members of the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, Inc., gather for their 82nd annual convention July 15-22.

By Dr. Kitty Oliver

Over 300 movers and shakers are expected to attend sessions at the Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel, and the organization will also stage several special events as part of the conference at the Urban League of Broward County and African American Research Library and Cultural Center, the Sistrunk area’s economic and cultural campus.

Fifty local youth will be selected for mentoring workshops and community service activities with high-profile women of achievement in entrepreneurism, business, and professional careers.

A public forum at the Urban League on the #Me-Too issue on Tuesday, July 16, at 7:30 p.m., will bring together law enforcement representatives and individuals with federal and social science expertise and community members for a candid discussion on sex crimes and sexual harassment issues Tuesday, July 16, at 7:30 p.m. The organization will also host a public event on technology training skills for entrepreneurs from 9 a.m. to noon that day.

In the process, convention participants will also get a firsthand view of the emerging Sistrunk destination, a cultural district offering heritage tours, performance spaces, service-learning tours, and arts experiences and a center for economic development projects.

“We’ve always wanted to ensure that our communities are impacted by tourism – in education and in economics – and this is making Sistrunk part of the larger tourism story. It’s a strong initiative,” said Albert Tucker, Vice President for Multicultural Business Development with the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, a partner in the events.

The convention is hosted by the Broward chapter club with the support of affiliates in the Southeast region. “Many of the participants will be visiting Fort Lauderdale for the first time,” said Bernadine Bush, chair of the local convention host committee and a Miami club member.  “We hope that, in addition to enjoying the conference, we’ll develop new tourism opportunities where people will come, extend their stay, and come back.”

The Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs was founded in 1935 by African American business and professional women excluded from access to the mainstream networks because of racism. The 2,000-member alliance of clubs has become a major promoter of opportunities for women in a wide range of workplaces and in the home. The group   also provides a bridge for young people entering businesses and professions and conducts programs in communities globally.

In addition to the group’s Historic Sistrunk experiences, the National Vocal Arts Competition, a signature convention event where young classically-trained vocalists compete for scholarships, will be held at the Westin Hotel July 17. A gala on July 20 will recognize and honor individuals in the local community.

“We want people to know that we are a valuable hub representing women who can share experiences on all levels,” said Diane Toppin, National President. “And, we look forward to learning about the area and seeing the changes to the community.”

This article originally appeared in The Westside Gazette.
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Black History

The Black Church: Political and Social Links

THE WESTSIDE GAZETTE — As a nation conceptualized and founded “under God,” but that also served as a haven for those persecuted for their beliefs in other societies, religion and sacred spaces have always been inextricably linked to the political and social history of the United States. In the African American community, this sentiment can be seen to run even deeper, with the “Black church” serving not only as a foundation and backbone for the community, but also as one of the only safe spaces for African Americans to gather and confront the issues of the day.

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By Carma Henry

As a nation conceptualized and founded “under God,” but that also served as a haven for those persecuted for their beliefs in other societies, religion and sacred spaces have always been inextricably linked to the political and social history of the United States. In the African American community, this sentiment can be seen to run even deeper, with the “Black church” serving not only as a foundation and backbone for the community, but also as one of the only safe spaces for African Americans to gather and confront the issues of the day.

The first Black Christian congregations began to appear during the 18th century, when for the first time, northern Baptist and Methodist itinerant preachers began to convert and minister to slaves and free Blacks throughout the southern Tide-water and Low Country regions with a message of anti-slavery and spiritual equality. They advocated for slaves to be educated in order to study and read the Bible, and even trained these early converts for active roles in the church, like George Leile who was born a slave but ordained as a missionary in 1775 and preached in the Savannah, Georgia area before taking his mission to Jamaica ten years later. There is still debate as to which of the earliest recorded Black congregations was “first,” because as religion professor Reverend Henry Mitchell explains, it is, “said that the first Black Baptist church was in South Carolina, Silver Bluff. Well, it’s true that one of the earlier churches was there, but there were churches in Virginia that were just as old…Even though it was under the leadership and sponsorship of whites, Black folks did all kinds–they didn’t, they didn’t allow them to preach, but when they allowed them to pray, they preached anyhow.” Despite the debate, it is clear that the earliest black Baptist congregations began to organize under white ministers as early as the 1750s, and became independent and officially recognized in the 1770s with the Silver Bluff Baptist Church (1773), Savannah, Georgia’s First African Baptist Church (1773), and Petersburg, Virginia’s First Baptist Church (1774) – all prior to the Revolutionary War.

Though many of the early churches were actually mixed congregations, many whites throughout both the south and north were not open to sharing their religious spaces with Blacks. In fact, the founding of the AME Church arose from a reaction to segregation in the church. Theologian James H. Cone recounts, “So when Richard Allen and his group of about twenty or so came that morning to worship at St. George, that’s where they were members. Somebody was praying as they were going to their place, and they just stopped in respect for the prayer. And the ushers were stunned that they should stop at a section that was not theirs. And so, the ushers came over and said no you cannot stop here you gotta go, and Richard Allen just said wait until the prayer is over and we will go. But he said no you gotta go now, and he began to manhandle them out. And that’s when Richard Allen rose, and the other group–Absalom Jones was a part of that group too–they got up, and they left. Never again to come in that church to worship in that way. And they started their own church which is Bethel A.M.E. Church.” Jones and Allen would go on to find the Free African Society in Philadelphia, and eventually their own churches. Jones became the first Black priest ordained in the Episcopal Church in 1804, and Allen would expand his church in 1816 into the first fully independent Black denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME).

This spirit of organizing and action carried through the Black church regardless of denomination, and the church provided not only religious fulfillment for their members but acted as a center of the Black community in all aspects of life. Civil rights activist Reverend Willie T. Barrow remembers, “the Black church was the foundation of your social life. It was a social outlet. It was a political outlet. It was an educational outlet.” As a result, much of the social and political organizing that built the modern Civil Rights Movement had its roots in the church. While Blacks were both de facto and de jure second class citizens on every other day of the week, civil rights activist Reverend Benjamin Hooks reflected, “On Sunday morning we were Deacon Crowe, Deacon Hooks, Reverend Hooks, we could approach God for ourselves, we were teachers, treasurers, superintendents, choir directors. So, the Black church — that was a vehicle not only religiously, but organizationally wise they brought us through. No accident that many of our great leaders of the days in the past were preachers, many of our congress people and early state senators and state legislators were ministers of the Gospel.” Pastor and activist Reverend Gardner Taylor expanded further, “Back then, the Black preacher was the only free person there was who had no sanctions against him. What could they do other than physical harm? They couldn’t penalize him. His living did not come from the white community. I have said many times that the Black church–It had its faults. God knows it has. But it was our General Motors, our U.S. Steel, our Enron too. But it was the one place that Blacks were really free.”

In modern times, the potential power of the Black church has been fully recognized and strategically courted. As The Honorable Reverend Walter Fauntroy put it in his 2003 interview with The HistoryMakers, “It’s important in this era because there’s a reason that politicians show up at black churches on the Sunday before the Tuesday election. It’s because they know that you’ve got a block of people who have been tutored every week about the importance of taking care of the least of these. And if I can get their votes, I may win. And so, I’m hopeful that the Black church will remain as relevant as it was in the ’60s for civil rights in this era.” As religious freedoms and values seem to become more and more deeply intertwined with this country’s political and social climate, Fauntroy’s hope will certainly be put to the test.

This article originally appeared in The Westside Gazette.

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Environment

Department of Health Joins Hurricane Exercise to Prep for Upcoming Storm Season

THE WESTSIDE GAZETTE — According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Emergency Support Function #8 (Public Health and Medical Services) co-ordinates health and medical services in response to a disaster, emergency, or incident that may lead to a public health, medical, behavioral, or human service emergency.

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Broward County Department Of Health (Photo by: thewestsidegazette.com)

By Sallie James

The May 9th hurricane exercise centered around the fictitious “Hurricane Smith,” a made-up storm that made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane in Tampa Bay on May 6th.  Under the exercise narrative, Broward’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was activated at 8 a.m. on May 9th due to heavy rain and high winds that caused widespread flooding and damage to the South Florida region.

The storm spawned several tornadoes, caused a breach in the dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee, and required the opening of several shelters. Emergency responders, which also include the Florida Department of Health (DOH), had to figure out what to do, when to do it and how to get it done.

Did you know the DOH is responsible for medical management and staffing the county’s special needs shelters and coordinating the delivery of medical care in an emergency? During an emergency, the DOH works side by side with first responders like police, fire rescue and hospitals to coordinate resources such as ambulances, hospital beds and other medical resources and services.

Although every scenario associated with the mock “Hurricane Smith” was fictitious, the focus and intensity of the exercise at the EOC was not: More than 200 emergency responders had to think on their feet during the four-hour drill that included an unplanned computer glitch that affected the ability to transmit electronic messages and forced employees from 25 agencies to revert to the use of paper messages and talk face-to-face to arrange services and find solutions to help people in need.

Hurricane Season 2019 began June 1st and ends November 30.

“We are health and medical and so anytime there is an incident in the county that could overburden the healthcare system, we get involved,” explained Terri Sudden, Director of Public Health Preparedness for the DOH in Broward County. “If there were a train with multiple injuries, a plane crash or bad accident on I-95 with numerous fatalities, we would respond.”

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Emergency Support Function #8 (Public Health and Medical Services) co-ordinates health and medical services in response to a disaster, emergency, or incident that may lead to a public health, medical, behavioral, or human service emergency.

Exercises like the Hurricane Smith scenario provide an opportunity for emergency responders to practice what they know and learn to ask when they don’t know the answer so they can be prepared when a real event occurs, Sudden said.

“Our job is to exercise those plans and make sure they work and tweak them so they work better,” Sudden noted. “It’s a training exercise to test how resourceful someone can be. You basically do whatever you need to do to be responsive to whatever the need is. It’s also about relationships so you get to know the people at other tables. It gives familiarity as to where everybody is located at the EOC.”

Tracy Jackson, Director of Broward County’s Emergency Management Division, said the hurricane exercise allowed participants to practice their responses and then evaluate them with no adverse consequences.

“We get the opportunity without the stress of a real incident to practice the skills we need,” Jackson said at the end of the exercise. “It gives us the chance to troubleshoot things that work and things that don’t work as well. It also gives us a chance to get input from our partners.”

Jackson opened the exercise by emphasizing the importance of teamwork.

“We can’t over-emphasize how important it is for us to be unified,” Jackson said. “More than 1.9 million people outside this room are depending on the decisions you are going to make.”

Jackson told participants they would have to make decisions even though they might not have enough information and warned there would be no guarantee of success. He urged them to soldier on.

“Our confidence is high in you and in us,” Jackson said.

Participants from across the county sat in chairs at long tables equipped with phones and computers. Drill monitors walked the room, wearing vests that bore names like “evaluator” (they record how projects were accomplished) and “controller” (they provided “injects” or scenarios for the exercise and made sure it maintained its pace).

Participants were instructed to do their best to resolve whatever problems they were given. They made phone-calls, consulted with representatives from other cities and agencies and figured out solutions for complicated problems.

DOH employee James Turchetta, Cities Readiness Coordinator, served as a controller during the exercise and kept his team busy with an array of jarring incidents. His team members were resourceful and determined. They found answers.

“I think overall it went great,” Turchetta said. Jackson’s assessment was similar.

“We are happy with the information we gained, the observations we made and the opportunity to improve,” Jackson said.

For more information about how you can be better prepared for emergencies, visit:  http://broward.floridahealth.gov/programs-and-services/emergency-preparedness-and-response/personal-and-family-preparedness/index.html

This article originally appeared in The Westside Gazette

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