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PRESS ROOM: NAACP Challenge to 2020 Census Preparations Moves Forward

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “[T]he census must be conducted in a way that will not thwart the goal of equal representation,” wrote U.S. District Judge Paul Grimm, in an opinion granting in part and denying a motion to dismiss brought by the Census Bureau. The ruling allows the case to proceed to discovery and potentially to trial.

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The complaint alleges that unless the Census Bureau significantly improves its plans for 2020, the upcoming census will drastically undercount African Americans and other people of color across the country. This undercount will contribute to unequal political representation and reduced federal funding for communities of color.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and its allies today won a major court ruling that allows them to proceed with a federal lawsuit challenging the government’s inadequate preparations for the 2020 Census.

“[T]he census must be conducted in a way that will not thwart the goal of equal representation,” wrote U.S. District Judge Paul Grimm, in an opinion granting in part and denying a motion to dismiss brought by the Census Bureau. The ruling allows the case to proceed to discovery and potentially to trial.

The suit, NAACP v. Bureau of the Census, No. 8:18-Cv-00891-PWG, was filed last March in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland by the NAACP, Prince George’s County (MD), the NAACP Prince George’s County Branch, and two county residents. The complaint alleges that unless the Census Bureau significantly improves its plans for 2020, the upcoming census will drastically undercount African Americans and other people of color across the country. This undercount will contribute to unequal political representation and reduced federal funding for communities of color.

“It is imperative that the Census Bureau take steps immediately to minimize the undercount in communities of color and immigrant communities, especially given the likely impact of the underfunded census,” said NAACP General Counsel Brad Berry.

In his opinion, Judge Grimm emphasized the importance of ensuring adequate funding for census operations, especially given the recent 35-day government shutdown. “This ongoing state of uncertainty” makes it more likely that the Census Bureau “will be unprepared (in terms of funding, workforce, and testing) for the 2020 Census.”

The NAACP and its partners brought this lawsuit because the ongoing underfunding and understaffing of the Census Bureau violates its legal obligation to conduct a full and fair census. As the plaintiffs explain in their complaint, the Bureau has severely cut back on door-to-door canvassing, community partnerships, and field infrastructure—all of which are essential to encourage participation from communities of color. The government has also cancelled crucial pre-census field tests, even as it attempts to use new technologies and implement a brand-new digitization initiative.

“With fewer than 15 months to go before the 2020 Census, this decision comes at a critical time,” said Rachel Brown, a law student intern with the Yale Law School Rule of Law Clinic, counsel for the NAACP and other plaintiffs. “We look forward to holding the Census Bureau to its constitutional obligation to count everyone equally.”

The plaintiffs are represented by the NAACP Office of the General Counsel, Jenner & Block, and the Yale Law School Rule of Law Clinic.

Contact: Rachel Brown: 202-549-4411; rachel.brown@ylsclinics.org to speak with Yale Law School Rule of Law

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The Storied History of the NAACP

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Much has changed since the creation of the NAACP 110 years ago, and as we highlight these achievements during this year’s convention, we cannot forget that we’re still tirelessly fighting against the hatred and bigotry that face communities of color in this country,” NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said.

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Accordingly, the NAACP’s mission remains to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of minority group citizens of United States and eliminate race prejudice. (Photo: The Oklahoma Eagle)

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

The NAACP plans to highlight 110 years of civil rights history, and the current fight for voting rights, criminal justice reform, economic opportunity and education quality during its 110th national convention now happening in Detroit.

The five-day event which began on Saturday, July 20, will also include a session on the 2020 Census, a presidential roundtable, CEO Roundtable, and LGBTQ and legislative workshops.

“We are excited to announce the 110th annual convention in Detroit, my hometown,” said NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson.

“For me, it is a homecoming and I will also be excited to announce our theme for this year which is, ‘When we Fight, We Win,’” Johnson said.

Winning is what the NAACP was built on – winning battles for racism, freedom, justice and equality.

The NAACP was formed in 1908 after a deadly race riot that featured anti-black violence and lynching erupted in Springfield, Illinois.

According to the storied organization’s website, a group of white liberals that included descendants of famous abolitionists Mary White Ovington and Oswald Garrison Villard; William English Walling, and Dr. Henry Moscowitz, all issued a call for a meeting to discuss racial justice.

About 60 people, seven of whom were African American, including W. E. B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and Mary Church Terrell, answered the call, which was released on the centennial of the birth of President Abraham Lincoln.

“Echoing the focus of Du Bois’ Niagara Movement for civil rights, which began in 1905, the NAACP aimed to secure for all people the rights guaranteed in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution, which promised an end to slavery, the equal protection of the law, and universal adult male suffrage, respectively.”

Accordingly, the NAACP’s mission remains to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of minority group citizens of United States and eliminate race prejudice.

“The NAACP seeks to remove all barriers of racial discrimination through democratic processes,” Johnson said.

The NAACP established its national office in New York City in 1910 and named a board of directors as well as a president, Moorfield Storey, a white constitutional lawyer and former president of the American Bar Association.

Other early members included Joel and Arthur Spingarn, Josephine Ruffin, Mary Talbert, Inez Milholland, Jane Addams, Florence Kelley, Sophonisba Breckinridge, John Haynes Holmes, Mary McLeod Bethune, George Henry White, Charles Edward Russell, John Dewey, William Dean Howells, Lillian Wald, Charles Darrow, Lincoln Steffens, Ray Stannard Baker, Fanny Garrison Villard, and Walter Sachs. Despite a foundational commitment to multiracial membership, Du Bois was the only African American among the organization’s original executives.

Du Bois was made director of publications and research, and in 1910 established the official journal of the NAACP, The Crisis.

By 1913, with a strong emphasis on local organizing, the NAACP had established branch offices in such cities as Boston, Baltimore, Kansas City, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., and Detroit.

NAACP membership grew rapidly, from around 9,000 in 1917 to around 90,000 in 1919, with more than 300 local branches.

Joel Spingarn, a professor of literature and one of the NAACP founders formulated much of the strategy that fostered much of the organization’s growth.

He was elected board chairman of the NAACP in 1915 and served as president from 1929-1939.

The NAACP would eventually fight battles against the Ku Klux Klan and other hate organizations.

The organization also became renowned in American Justice with Thurgood Marshall helping to prevail in the 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education, the decision that overturned Plessy.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, which was disproportionately disastrous for African Americans, the NAACP began to focus on economic justice.

Because of the advocacy of the NAACP, President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed to open thousands of jobs to black workers when labor leader A. Philip Randolph, in collaboration with the NAACP, threatened a national March on Washington movement in 1941.

President Roosevelt also set up a Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) to ensure compliance.

The NAACP’s Washington, D.C., bureau, led by lobbyist Clarence M. Mitchell Jr., helped advance not only integration of the armed forces in 1948 but also passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1964, and 1968 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

NAACP Mississippi field secretary Medgar Evers and his wife Myrlie would become high-profile targets for pro-segregationist violence and terrorism.

In 1962, their home was fire bombed, and later Medgar was assassinated by a sniper in front of their residence. Violence also met black children attempting to enter previously segregated schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, and other southern cities.

The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s echoed the NAACP’s goals, but leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, felt that direct action was needed to obtain them.

Although the NAACP was criticized for working too rigidly within the system, prioritizing legislative and judicial solutions, the Association did provide legal representation and aid to members of other protest groups over a sustained period of time.

The NAACP even posted bail for hundreds of Freedom Riders in the ‘60s who had traveled to Mississippi to register black voters and challenge Jim Crow policies.

Led by Roy Wilkins, who succeeded Walter White as secretary in 1955, the NAACP collaborated with A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin and other national organizations to plan the historic 1963 March on Washington.

The following year, the Association accomplished what seemed an insurmountable task: The Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Much has changed since the creation of the NAACP 110 years ago, and as we highlight these achievements during this year’s convention, we cannot forget that we’re still tirelessly fighting against the hatred and bigotry that face communities of color in this country,” Johnson said.

“With new threats emerging daily and attacks on our democracy, the NAACP must be more steadfast and immovable than ever before to help create a social political atmosphere that works for all,” he said.

The NAACP provided all historical information for this report.

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COMMENTARY: Pros and Cons of Modular vs Site-Built Homes

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Over the last 20 years,” said Maria Coutts, president of The Coutts Group and a senior officer of the Pennsylvania Builders Association, “the customization of modular homes has a consistent record of matching site-built homes and meeting customer demand, largely due to the use of computer-aided design.

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A completely different method of offsite homebuilding -- modular construction — has also been around for many decades but has not gained much traction until recently. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

Improvements in Modular Homes Make Them a Competitive Alternative to Site-Built Homes

Christopher G. Cox, Publisher and Managing Editor, www.realesavvy.com

For many decades the preferred homebuilding method has been to assemble all the construction materials on site and build from the ground up, usually over a period of about six or more months. This is still the method used to construct some 90 percent of homes being built today.

A completely different method of offsite homebuilding — modular construction — has also been around for many decades, but has not gained much traction until recently.

“Over the last 20 years,” said Maria Coutts, president of The Coutts Group and a senior officer of the Pennsylvania Builders Association, “the customization of modular homes has a consistent record of matching site-built homes and meeting customer demand, largely due to the use of computer-aided design.

“The use of overhead cranes also allows modular structures to be as wide and as high as desired,” Coutts adds.

In modern modular construction, modules are manufactured in a climate-controlled factory environment. “This decreases the possibility of the materials being exposed to rain, snow and wind,” Coutts explains. “Prolonged exposure to these elements can lead to warping, mold and nail pops throughout the home. Also, squeaky floors and steps can be an issue if it is raining or snowing during a site build,” Coutts said.

Jeff Holdren, district sales manager, western territories, for North Carolina-based Holmes Building Systems, agrees with Coutts that quality control is greatly enhanced with modular building. “Actually, if you think about it,” Holdren said, “a modular home is a lot stronger structure. You have to be able to pick it up, put it on a transport and wind tunnel test it to 60 miles an hour.”

Both Coutts and Holdren point to the relative speed of construction of modular versus site-built homes. “The time a site builder might be involved in the construction process,” said Coutts, “is tremendous and with modular this time is cut in half.” Holdren concurs, noting, “A home can be finished within 120 days from the time we start.

“Many of the homes featured on the television series ‘Extreme Home Makeover’ are modular homes because of the speed required by the production schedule,” Holdren adds.

Coutts and Holdren also agree that the public at large is not aware of the many advantages of modular construction.

“Modular homes are much better than when I started in 2002, 17 years ago,” Holdren said. He attributes the lack of growth in part to the failure of his industry to better educate the public. “We do not do a great job of educating people. There is still a general perception that a modular home is inferior,” he notes.

Coutts is optimistic that this is changing. “Site-built construction has been the standard for so long that consumers don’t always research both sides, pro and con, of these two styles. As the concepts and practices of modular construction are becoming more popular with the general public, more consumers are becoming very receptive to this building practice,” she said.

Perhaps as a sign of things to come, Coutts notes that modular construction has gained much more of a foothold in Europe than it has in the U.S. “Modular construction will eventually increase in use similar to the northern European countries of Denmark, Sweden and Germany,” said Coutts, “where it accounts for 20 to 85 percent of total annual builds.”

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Driving While Black: Police Continue to Profile, Stop and Search African American Drivers

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “What’s particularly damning about this data is that police were more likely to search Black people than white people yet found contraband in only 41 percent of searches of Black people compared to 72 percent of the searches of white people,” said American Civil Liberties Union Attorney Carl Takei. “In other words, the police have a pattern of stopping and searching Black people in circumstances where they would simply let white people go.

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The Louisville Courier Journal also found that black motorists in Kentucky were searched 12 percent of the time they were stopped, while white motorists were searched just 3.9 percent of the time. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
The Louisville Courier Journal also found that black motorists in Kentucky were searched 12 percent of the time they were stopped, while white motorists were searched just 3.9 percent of the time. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

Two new recently published reports show that racial profiling – particularly “Driving While Black” – remains a crisis in America.

A recent report issued by Missouri’s attorney general Eric Schmitt revealed that black drivers across that state are 91 percent more likely than white motorists to get pulled over by police. What’s more, the profiling usually takes place in the motorists’ own community, according to the attorney general’s report.

The Missouri report arrives on the heels of one out of Kentucky where a study found that black motorists are searched at a rate of three-times more than whites in Louisville.

African Americans account for approximately 20 percent of Louisville’s driving age population, but they still accounted for 33 percent of police stops and 57 percent of the nearly 9,000 searches conducted on motorists, according to the Louisville Courier Journal, which conducted the study.

Their findings were highlighted in a tweet by The Thurgood Marshall Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system.

The Louisville Courier Journal said it reviewed “130,999 traffic stops in Louisville from 2016 to 2018 and found that an overwhelming number of African American drivers were profiled and pulled over by police.”

The newspaper also found that black motorists were searched 12 percent of the time they were stopped, while white motorists were searched just 3.9 percent of the time.

“Aside from the alarming and devastating findings, we have always known that racial profiling is all too prevalent throughout law enforcement and our society as a whole,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson told NNPA Newswire.

“What we need is to implement proper training for law enforcement officers on how to more efficiently carry out essential policing without threatening the lives of people of color,” Johnson said.

Racial profiling is an insidious practice and serious problem in America that can lead to deadly consequences, Johnson added.

“Our faith in our criminal justice system will continuously be challenged if we are constantly targeted by discriminatory practices just by doing simple tasks – walking down the street, driving down an interstate, or going through an airport without being stopped merely because of the color of our skin. Living as a person of color should never be crime,” he said.

American Civil Liberties Union Attorney Carl Takei told NNPA Newswire that racial disparities in the new data are similar to what courts have relied on around the country to find unconstitutional racial profiling in traffic stops.

“Disparities of this kind suggest that officers are using race not only in deciding who to pull over, but who to single out for searches,” Takei said.

“What’s particularly damning about this data is that police were more likely to search Black people than white people yet found contraband in only 41 percent of searches of Black people compared to 72 percent of the searches of white people,” he said.

Takei continued:

“In other words, the police have a pattern of stopping and searching Black people in circumstances where they would simply let white people go.

“This unjustly interferes with Black people trying to live their everyday lives – subjecting them to humiliating, intrusive stops and searches in circumstances where white people would not be stopped or searched.

“Additionally, such racialized policing practices harm law enforcement by undermining the legitimacy of the police and damaging police relationships with the communities they are supposed to be serving.”

The Louisville Courier Journal reported that Police Chief Steve Conrad spoke before the Metro Council Public Safety Committee and acknowledged that the department has disproportionately stopped black drivers.

The newspaper reported that Conrad reasoned that African Americans are disproportionately represented in all aspects of the criminal justice system, including in arrests and incarceration.

“This is not all surprising based on my over 35 years of practice defending drug cases after traffic stops,” Randall Levine, a Kalamazoo, Michigan attorney told NNPA Newswire.

“I would say that DWB – Driving While Black – is still as prevalent today as it was in 1980,” Levine said, before opining what could occur to affect change. “Diversity, sensitivity training and some type of real enforcement for violations might help,” he said.

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LeMoyne-Owen College looking for new president as college board ousts Dr. Andrea Miller

NNPA NEWSWIRE — The first woman appointed president of the then 153-year-old college, the city’s only historically black college/university (HBCU), Dr. Andrea Lewis Miller, a graduate of the college, learned in mid-June that the LeMoyne-Owen College Board of Trustees would not pick up her contract this September.

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Dr. Andrea Miller is out at LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis.
Dr. Andrea Miller is out at LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis.

By Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell, Special to the New Tri-State Defender

Dr. Andrea Lewis Miller, who was once deemed the right candidate at the right moment “for such a time as this” at LeMoyne-Owen College, will not get a second term as president.

The first woman appointed president of the then 153-year-old college, the city’s only historically black college/university (HBCU), Miller, a graduate of the college, learned in mid-June that the LeMoyne-Owen College Board of Trustees would not pick up her contract this September.

Amid considerable optimism, Miller became the 12th president on Sept. 1, 2015. She brought with her 20 years of experience in higher learning, exiting Baton Rouge Community College for the return to Memphis. She was the second LOC graduate to serve as president.

A statement released on Tuesday confirmed the rumblings that Dr. Miller was out. “(The) Board of Trustees is grateful for Dr. Miller’s service and commitment to LeMoyne-Owen for the past four years.”

Neither Miller nor Board of Trustee’s Chair Dr. Christopher Davis had returned calls by TSD press time. Davis did indicate that an interim would be named; no timetable was given.

Miller set an ambitious agenda for LeMoyne-Owen College. Initially established as a “teachers’ college” like many other HBCUs, the liberal arts institution was put on an overhaul course that included the goal of offering students more relevant courses of study.

Steps in the new direction garnered both supporters and adversaries of her proposed changes. During LOC’s 2016 commencement exercises, shipping giant FedEx gave the college $1 million for technology upgrades – and another $100,000 as a scholarship endowment.

Meanwhile, enrollment did not change significantly for the better. And in 2017, a vote of “no confidence by some faculty members added to Miller’s challenges.

Along the way came charges of nepotism and ineffective leadership by some student government leaders, who sought Miller’s removal.

In response, Miller assessed the charges by students as “a few, just a few who do not want to see me succeed.”

Alumni, who met with student leaders, joined the call to remove Miller. Several meetings over the past few months indicated that members of the Board of Trustees were split on whether to move forward with her.

The Faculty Senate at LeMoyne-Owen College issued a second vote of no confidence after accusing Miller of plagiarizing world-renowned pastor Joel Osteen’s sermon – entitled “I’m Still Standing – during her Oct. 2018 convocation address to incoming freshmen.

At the time, Michael Robinson, a professor and president of the college’s faculty organization, told reporters, “The president is the highest academic and administrative officer…and sets the standard for ethical and moral conduct at the college as well…These are some serious allegations, because it impacts the credibility of the college because the president is the face of the organization…and that’s a serious infraction.”

In a written statement released after the plagiarism assertion, Miller defended her use of Osteen’s remarks, also implying that it was an “oversight” not to credit him. The matter, she said, did not “constitute a serious breach of academic standards that would rise to a level of review for faculty or students.”

Miller also has defended her tenure as president, saying that LeMoyne-Owen must evolve its curriculum to properly serve students in a changing world and job market. She has said criticism of her leadership stems mostly from resistance to what she believes is necessary change.

“It is no secret that organizational changes, the pace of change and our new direction at LeMoyne-Owen College has caused consternation among some faculty members,” Miller said in a prepared statement issued after the plagiarism assertion.

“Still, I am committed to ensuring this 156-year-old institution achieves new heights in outcomes for the students and families we serve.”

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Unrest over Brandon Webber shooting leaves many questions, few answers

NNPA NEWSWIRE — It’s exposure to violence like this incident that Tennessee State Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis) attributed to his poor, and sometimes violent decision making as a youth. It’s also one of the reasons he spearheaded a mental health initiative for those affected by the recent shooting death of Brandon Webber a father of two. The 20-year-old was killed by U.S. Marshals June 12th while they were trying to arrest him.

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The vigil held for Brandon Webber was in stark contrast to the violence that erupted after he was fatally shot by U.S. Marshals.
The vigil held for Brandon Webber was in stark contrast to the violence that erupted after he was fatally shot by U.S. Marshals.

By Erica R. Williams, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

Tennessee State Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis) recalled the grim day that he witnessed violence outside of his apartment as a 4-year-old growing up in Los Angeles.

“I remember seeing a man lying outside on the steps, and he was bleeding out,” Parkinson recounted. “My mother told us to walk around him and don’t touch him. I remember just looking back in shock.”

It’s exposure to violence like this incident that Parkinson attributed to his poor, and sometimes violent decision making as a youth. It’s also one of the reasons he spearheaded a mental health initiative for those affected by the recent shooting death of Brandon Webber, a father of two. The 20-year-old was killed by U.S. Marshals June 12 while they were trying to arrest him.

To kick off the initiative, Parkinson enlisted the assistance of local pastors in Frayser, the area where Webber’s shooting death occurred. It’s also part of the district Parkinson serves as state representative. Through the free counseling sessions, Parkinson said he hopes to address the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) related to the aftermath of Webber’s death and other rampant acts of violence that children and families have witnessed within their homes and communities.

A rotation of local counselors is dedicating two hours of their time to help with the initiative that kicked off June 16. Parkinson said it’s something that’s needed in communities plagued with violence.

A vigil for Brandon Webber, who was shot by U.S. Marshals in Frayser, drew a crowd carrying candles and balloons last Friday evening (June 14). (Photo: Johnathan Martin)

A vigil for Brandon Webber, who was shot by U.S. Marshals in Frayser, drew a crowd carrying candles and balloons last Friday evening (June 14). (Photo: Johnathan Martin)

“Those seeds get deposited into the psyche of kids. The first time it’s shocking, and over time it gets less and less shocking. And after repeatedly seeing incidents of violence in their communities and households, it becomes their norm,” he said “Eventually, those seeds begin to sprout and bear fruit. So, my intent in coming up with this strategy is to kill those seeds so that the kids and families get the help that they need.”

Parkinson’s analysis is backed up by research from myriad health and education advocacy organizations. According to one study conducted by the Violence Policy Center, exposure to community violence appears to represent a unique form of trauma that is particularly associated with the development of PTSD symptoms, especially among children and adolescents. The study also concludes that repeated trauma can lead to anger, despair, and severe psychic numbing, resulting in major changes in personality and behavior.

Parkinson linked the aftermath of Webber’s death to this type of trauma. After the father of two was killed, protests erupted in Frayser. Dozens of Memphis police officers were injured during the unrest.

“I saw people who were just angry and scared. Many of them just didn’t know what to do with those emotions,” Parkinson stated. “It’s not normal to live in a space where violence is all around you.

Pastor Ricky Floyd of Pursuit of God Transformation Center joined Parkinson in the initiative, allowing his church to serve as one of the participating locations where residents could come to seek counseling. According to Floyd, it only made sense to join forces with Parkinson, because it’s something his church already does in collaboration with Agape.

“The good thing about a crisis is that it gives an opportunity to make people aware of the systems we already have in place,” Floyd mentioned. His church also offers a grief class each Wednesday night.

Despite the need, both Parkinson and Floyd said that it’s not easy to get people to participate, mainly because of the stigma attached to counseling within many black communities.

“There is still a stigma on mental health counseling in our communities, so there are barriers for us to even seek the counseling that’s readily available because of this stigma,” Parkinson said.

Floyd agreed, citing a familiar adage.

“You can take a horse to water, but can’t make him drink,” he said before adding, “I’ve been praying to God to give me an anointing so that I can make people thirsty.”

Although the mental health initiative wrapped up June 21, Parkinson hopes resources and participation will allow an extension.

“Our goal is to continue on with this counseling in partnership with churches in our community. And I hope statewide we will adopt this strategy to make mental health counseling as assessable in as many communities as possible.

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IN MEMORIAM: Community honors Sadie Roberts-Joseph

NNPA NEWSWIRE — BATON ROUGE (The Drum/NNPA)—For more than three decades, Sadie Roberts-Joseph was an exceptional force of civic and cultural life in Baton Rouge. Often called an activist, matriarch, and a ‘tireless advocate of peace,’ the 75-year-old founder of the city’s African-American history museum was found dead in the trunk of a car on Friday, July 12, about 3 miles from her home. Police did not explain what led them to the car where they found her body.

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For more than three decades, Sadie Roberts-Joseph was an exceptional force of civic and cultural life in Baton Rouge.
For more than three decades, Sadie Roberts-Joseph was an exceptional force of civic and cultural life in Baton Rouge.

By Candace J. Semien, Jozef Syndicate reporter, The Drum Newspaper
@JozefSyndicate

BATON ROUGE (The Drum/NNPA)—For more than three decades, Sadie Roberts-Joseph was an exceptional force of civic and cultural life in Baton Rouge. Often called an activist, matriarch, and a ‘tireless advocate of peace,’ the 75-year-old founder of the city’s African-American history museum was found dead in the trunk of a car on Friday, July 12, about 3 miles from her home. Police did not explain what led them to the car where they found her body.

Investigators believe she was suffocated before her body was found. Within days, Baton Rouge Police arrested and charged a male tenant from one of Roberts-Joseph’s rent houses with her murder. He was allegedly $1,200 behind in his rent.

While leaning from the historic bus, archivist Sadie Roberts-Joseph delivers a presentation on the 1953 Baton Rouge Bus Boycott to tourist visiting the museum. Photo by James Terry III.

While leaning from the historic bus, archivist Sadie Roberts-Joseph delivers a presentation on the 1953 Baton Rouge Bus Boycott to tourist visiting the museum. Photo by James Terry III.

“You stole light,” said her son Jason Roberts. “You stole a warm, loving, giving and caring woman and it wasn’t just for her family. She cared for the city. She cared for you. Her life should not have ended that way. She did not deserve that, but she would want forgiveness for you.”

In 2001, Roberts-Joseph founded the Odell S. Williams Now & Then African American Museum, which features exhibits of African art and tells the stories of minority inventors. It also includes displays of historical artifacts from the civil rights era, including a 1963 bus used during the Baton Rouge boycotts.

Leading up to this year’s Juneteenth Celebration, she’d begun rebranding the museum as the Baton Rouge African American History Museum, which some recognized as an astute move to market it as the city’s museum and to connect it to other Black museums in Southeast Louisiana.

“She was one of the standout matriarchs of Baton Rouge,” said Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, who knew and worked with Roberts-Joseph for 30 years. “We will make her legacy a priority because of what she gave to so many here.”

Roberts-Joseph was also the founder of the nonprofit organization Community Against Drugs and Violence, and she organized the state’s recognition of Juneteenth in Baton Rouge.

Roberts-Joseph grew up in Woodville, Mississippi. Her family later moved to Baton Rouge, where she studied education and speech pathology. She consistently called for unity and togetherness, often explaining how the city and nation needed to heal from the legacy of slavery. “What my mother wanted in life came to fruition — ironically — in death,” said Angela R. Machen, Ph.D., “and that was inclusiveness, togetherness and diversity.”

Machen challenged the community to keep her mother’s legacy by living “a better life. Give a little more effort to make the whole better.” She said her mother was committed to community service and excellence, “Whatever you believe in, work hard in it. Give your dead-level best.”

Sadie Roberts-Joseph speaks at the 2019 Juneteenth Celebration on the banks of the Mississippi River. The archivist and founder of the Baton Rouge African American Museum (formerly the Odell S Williams Now and Then African American Museum) was murdered July 12, 2019. Photo by Yulani Semien.

Sadie Roberts-Joseph speaks at the 2019 Juneteenth Celebration on the banks of the Mississippi River. The archivist and founder of the Baton Rouge African American Museum (formerly the Odell S Williams Now and Then African American Museum) was murdered July 12, 2019. Photo by Yulani Semien.

The family has created The Sadie Roberts-Joseph Memorial Fund at Hancock Whitney Bank and is hoping to raise funds that will go toward museum operations.

The Southern University System Board of Supervisors presented a resolution to the family. The resolution outlined the commitment of Roberts Joseph to both her family and the city of Baton Rouge. These commitments included founding the museum. She was an alumna of Southern University.

“Our love for Sadie Roberts-Joseph will continue. We will demonstrate it in very tangible ways,” said Broome. For starts, the Mayor’s Youth Workforce Experience participants, led by The Walls Project and Build Baton Rouge, will paint a mural of the revered activist at 2065 Plank Road — the corner of Plank Road and Pawnee Street, in North Baton Rouge.

The community shares their memories and tributes:

Gov. John bel Edwards: I am heartbroken and sickened by the disturbing death of Sadie Roberts-Joseph. @FirstLadyOfLA and I are praying for her family and the members of the Baton Rouge community who, like us, are struggling to understand this senseless act of violence.

Many knew Sadie as the founder of Baton Rouge’s African-American History Museum and for her annual Juneteenth celebrations, but she was equally known for her kindness, vibrant spirit, and passion for promoting peace. Sadie was a storyteller, and I believe we have the responsibility of keeping those stories alive and working to, as she once said, “build a better state and a better nation.”

Mayor Sharon Weston Broome: In the midst of managing a major weather event in our parish, I was hit with some devastating news — the murder of a dear friend and a mother of the community, Sadie Roberts Joseph. I’ve deliberately waited to comment because of the level of love and respect I had for Sadie and because it was such shocking news.

She loved this city and its people. Her commitment to the cultural and educational fabric of our community is beyond description. The development of The Odell S. Williams African American Museum is a testament of her visionary and pioneering leadership. In the days to come, I look forward to offering a more comprehensive tribute.

Erica Williams Mitchell, Phyllis, and Owusu Bandele, Ph.D. sing along with the crowd gathering at Sadie Roberts-Joseph vigil at the Baton Rouge African-American History Museum. Photo by Antione GHOST Mitchell @the_art_alchemist

Erica Williams Mitchell, Phyllis, and Owusu Bandele, Ph.D. sing along with the crowd gathering at Sadie Roberts-Joseph vigil at the Baton Rouge African-American History Museum. Photo by Antione GHOST Mitchell @the_art_alchemist

State Rep. C. Denise Marcelle: My heart is empty… as I learned last night that Ms. Sadie Roberts Joseph was found murdered! This woman was amazing and loved her history. She never bothered anyone, just wanted to expand her African American Museum downtown, where she continually hosted the Juneteenth Celebration yearly. I loved working with her and am saddened by her death.

Judge John Michael Guidry: My friend Sadie Roberts-Joseph often had me as her Speaker for her Juneteenth Celebrations in South Baton Rouge or her Veterans Observance at Port Hudson. We bonded over 25 years ago when, as a State Senator, I worked with the community group CADAV which she led in the Banks community.

Her life was one of sacrificial service to others. She gave herself away so that God could use her. She reminded us of our history and has earned her place in the history of our community. Her death was tragic, but her life was a treasure. I choose to focus my thoughts not on how she died, but on how she lived. My condolences and prayers are with her family.

State Rep. Patricia Haynes Smith: As I sit remembering my dear dear friend Sadie I know the tears I’ve shed do no more than help relieve my emotions. A lot of people knew or knew of Sadie but really didn’t know her. For those of us who did, who grew up in her time we knew a bit more. Sadie’s death isn’t an opportunity for news sound bites without knowing her family or involving her family.

I am disappointed. This is indeed a time for ALL who knew her and really want her legacy to be enshrined AND the perpetrators brought to justice to come together in unity. NO MAN IS AN ISLAND and we should be embracing her family and referring news outlets to them.

Some may not like this post, but I respect her family and for as much time as she and I spent together dealing with the museum issues I could never politicize her death and there are others who feel as I do. I LOVED SADIE FOR WHO SHE WAS AND ADMIRED ALL SHE WAS TRYING TO DO FOR OUR COMMUNITY. UNIFY FOR THE LOVE OF Sadie L. Roberts-Joseph!

Donna Collins Lewis: My heart is aching. I have known Ms. Sadie for over 30 years. A wonderful, sweet and quiet soul. Soft-spoken with a passion for the community and African American History and Art. I pray for a quick resolution in bringing the person responsible to justice. I pray God’s strength and peace for her family and the many lives who are saddened by her death.

May her legacy and work continue to live through the African American Museum and the many efforts she championed in the community. She leaves her footprint on the entire parish and far beyond.

NAACP Baton Rouge Branch: We lost a Cultural Legend Yesterday! #RIP Sadie Roberts Joseph. From reviving Juneteenth, to the Culture preserved at Her Museum, she was a trendsetter and icon in this City.

The King Center: We mourn. Sadie Roberts-Joseph was the founder and curator of the Baton Rouge African-American Museum, which she started in 2001. She was a tireless advocate of peace.

Baton Rouge Police Department: The Baton Rouge Police Department joins the community in mourning the loss of Ms. Sadie Roberts-Joseph. Ms. Sadie was a tireless advocate of peace in the community. We had opportunities to work with her on so many levels. From assisting with her bicycle give away at the African American Museum to working with the organization she started called CADAV (Community Against Drugs and Violence). Ms. Sadie is a treasure to our community, she will be missed by BRPD and her loss will be felt in the community she served.

Broderick Bagert: Shocked & saddened by the death of Ms. Sadie L. Roberts-Joseph. She founded the Now & Then Museum of African American History in Baton Rouge on a shoestring as part of her life-long project to teach Black history & civil rights. She was part of Together Baton Rouge from its earliest days. Ms. Sadie was a calm presence. And a fierce presence in every fiber of her being. May she rest in peace. And may the rest of us live up to her legacy, STARTING by supporting her vision for the Then & Now Museum.

Paula Johnson-Hutchinson: On this day, Ms. Sadie told me that writing books of our lives and culture ensures the sustainability of us and that we wouldn’t be forgotten. She also said that sharing knowledge and being true teachers of our children will provide a pathway that will long outlive us.

LSU Office of Diversity: Ms. Sadie Roberts-Joseph founded the Baton Rouge African-American Museum which tells the stories of African-Americans in Louisiana throughout history from the cotton grown in the museum’s garden to artifacts like a 1953 bus from the year of the city’s public bus boycott protesting racial segregation. Ms. Roberts-Joseph gave away bicycles at the museum and started a community organization to fight drugs and violence. She was known as a quiet leader and tireless advocate of peace in the community. Our LSU family mourns her tragic loss.

Res-Brother Stanley: We have come over a way that with tears has been watered.
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

David Modeste: Much respect to Sister Sadie for her tireless efforts to uplift the community in every way she knew how. We especially appreciate her active contribution and participation in the Baton Rouge Kwanzaa Celebrations sponsored by Afrocentric Focus Group of Baton Rouge.

Walter Geno McLaughlin: We’ve all posted about it and reacted to the news locally. And now we see the lens of national news outlets focused on the death of Miss Sadie. Fitting, yet unexpected.

It’s strange how in death we seek to honor those who have done so much to uplift our community on a daily basis. But this video shows how she lived; with a smile on her face, a quiet force of nature, motivated by the need to narrate & curate our own stories.

One of the last times I saw Miss Sadie, she was hopeful that with all the renewed energy towards investment in underserved neighborhoods, her little museum would not be forgotten and would receive the resources to make it sustainable.

This woman did so much with so little. And like many others who do this work, probably never knew the full weight of her impact. It is why it’s important to clap for people while they are here and give them the fuel to keep moving forward. I’m left to wonder who would do such a thing to someone we all loved, and at this tender age?

There is speculation beyond the normal motives, and we must ask tough questions. But as we all prepared for the coming storm, I believe she was likely still helping people, not fully aware of the dangers, whatever they were. What I do know is that her funeral will be full of dashiki wearing brothers and sisters emulating the look she was synonymous for. Rest in Power Queen. We will take it from here.

Niles B. Haymer: This morning I visited the African American Museum that was so loved by her and I could feel her spirit and presence throughout along with her love of displaying African American History in Baton Rouge.

I got a chance to speak with Ms. Sadie this past February at a Black History Program sponsored by Councilwoman Erika Green where I promised Ms. Sadie that my kids would soon visit her museum for a photo op with her. My oldest son even wondered loudly why I’ve never taken him to the museum in front of Ms. Sadie. Of course, I was embarrassed and gave him that look of “I’ll deal with you later.”

Unbeknownst to my son, he was right, many families of all races should have supported this historic museum and still have time to do so. Sadly, that day never came for my kids, Ms. Sadie and that well-anticipated photo op.

Violent crime in Baton Rouge is an unspeakable epidemic that’s stealing the soul of this City. I know that the candlelight vigil this evening will be well-attended, and I wanted to just take in her life’s work without disruption.

Rep. C. Denise Marcelle has assisted the family in setting up the Sadie Roberts Joseph Memorial Fund at Hancock Whitney Bank. This is our chance to give to a worthy cause by keeping this museum open and well funded. #JusticeforSadie

Councilwoman Erika Green: Today, I speak Ms. Sadie Roberts-Joseph’s name! Though her life was taken by a heartless person in this city yesterday, I am comforted in remembering the community and the African-American history she carried in her soul. She loved and told the story of our people.

Shenena Armstrong Merchant: Aunty Sadie was a light to the Armstrong family, she taught me through her actions how to smile through it. So, in spite of my tears, I’m smiling because her legacy lives on; bigger, stronger, and more loving.

Jeremy L. Blunt: My heart mourns today at the loss of such a pillar of our community. I met Mrs. Sadie L. Roberts-Joseph as a teenager and can still remember our conversations where she encouraged me to keep striving for others. She told me that one day, I too would be one of those on her wall. We have to not just seek justice for her but seek betterment in our community by how we treat one another. Love is a universal language that does not discriminate. Remember what she lived for and carry that message on.

Lloyd Benson II: Thank you, Queen, for always inspiring and encouraging us to learn, respect, and appreciate our heritage.

Tiffany Littlejohn: My Aunt Sadie L. Roberts-Joseph always wanted to be famous. Her story is breaking twitter, being shared by CNN, CBS, ABC, ESSENCE magazine, BET, Instagram, US News, New York Times, Perez Hilton, New York Daily News, and the list goes on and on… TAKE YOUR PLACE QUEEN, TAKE YOUR PLACE.

LaNeir Roberts: Aunt Sadie L. Roberts-Joseph was beautiful, smart, truly a phenomenal woman, and loved the Lord. I will never forget our Christmas light adventure. Never saw the Christmas lights but we managed to find the railroad tracks (lol).

When we asked to listen to the radio Aunt Sadie turns it to the politics station; and we expressed to her that we wanted to listen to rap music… she started banging on the steering wheel lol. Aunt Sadie was definitely a character, but she was also an educator and loved by so many.

I still can’t believe she’s gone. Please please please continue to pray for my family as we support each other through this difficult time. Rest in paradise Auntie, until we meet again.

Quentin Anthony Anderson Sr.: So, it was great to see everyone at Ms. Sadie’s vigil last night. But many of y’all admitted that it was the first time you had ever stepped foot on the campus of that museum. That’s fine, a lot of people hadn’t, and it speaks volumes to how big of an impact Ms. Sadie left on Baton Rouge that so many people were touched by her and hadn’t even see her in her purest element as a historian and curator. But that museum is our history, Black Baton Rouge. And it’s her legacy.

If you were willing to come out in the heat and endure an entire church service and 4 closing prayers for Ms. Sadie yesterday, the least you can do is support the museum-going forward.

Visit the museum. Take your kids. Volunteer (Ms. Sadie really wanted to maintain those column murals and the maps on the ground, hint hint). Donate monthly to keep the museum open.

Sharon Weston Broome, designate the museum as a local historical landmark and protect it from greedy developers. We all have a part we can play as a community. As my friend Myra Richardson says, make this a movement, not a moment. Make this important to you beyond just today, beyond it trending on your favorite timeline. If you truly care about Ms. Sadie and her legacy, let’s protect and preserve it by supporting her crown jewel.

Myra Richardson: Last summer, Byron Washington and Ms. Sadie asked me work with the museum because she said she needed some “youthful energy”. I’m eternally grateful for both of those relationships.

However, one of the things that struck me was when she told me the Museum was an extension of her. Every piece collected in that museum passed through her delicate fingers, every tour was different as she would recount how she got a different artifact. I thought I was an intense person but spend a few days a week on a hot bus with that women and she’ll learn you a thing or two.

She made me read endlessly but she talked to me more about how important oral history is and passing down stories. She was a walking book and just wanted to share the museum with the world. She dreamed of renovating the building and connecting it to the building behind it, even thought of renaming it once.

The last piece of literature she had me read was about Oscar Dunn. In 1868, Dunn became the first elected Black lieutenant governor of a U.S. state. His sentiments were written during reconstruction hailing from the great State of Louisiana, but Ms. Sadie wanted me to draw parallels that he was essentially asking for the same thing 151 years ago that we’re asking for today.

She viewed knowledge of history as an equalizer, she wanted me and youth across Louisiana to have access to that museum purely because knowledge is more than power … it’s a labor of love.

That museum is Ms. Sadie, that museum is more than a legacy … it’s a living breathing organism birthed from her dreams, travels, relationships and love for all of us. That museum is my chief priority and should be yours as well.

Byron Washington: Many people will rightly so build memorials and vigils. I think the best way to Honor Sadie is to honor her legacy. Honor what she put her heart and soul in. Donate, find funding sources, and promote the museum. Make it so the doors will never close and we will never lose its memory.

Learn your local history and embrace your local culture. It is unique and should be celebrated from the mountain tops. So instead of buying a bunch of flowers, although you certainly are within you right and in many cases should let’s put that money into the facility. Let’s put our energy into the grants. Let’s put our focus into promotion.

Stephanie Anthony: She was a fellow worker in the vineyard, a kind, sweet lady I can’t wrap my mind around what our city has become capable of these days. What a great loss. Prayers for her family.

Johnny Anderson: The recent murder of my dear and sweet 75-year-old friend Sadie Roberts-Joseph has greatly disturbed me, personally, and Baton Rouge, collectively!! I have so many questions but, I know my friend, Baton Rouge Chief of Police Murphy Paul will do his all to find and appropriately charge the person or persons who committed such a horrific crime!! What is on the mind(s) of anybody to kill a 75-year-old Christian, mother, grandmother, humanitarian, community Activist, human and civil rights activist, African-American historian and protector of the culture, lover of arts, fighter for the people’s cause…! Not only kill her but, stuff her in the trunk of a car!!?

So many times, when I was in government, at the state or federal level, Sadie had no problem making her way there to my office and express her opinion on issues or to advocate for help for the least! I never knew her children, grandchildren or relatives because she never came asking for help for them, it was always about helping others!

One of my more recent memories of her was she coming to my office to express concerns with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) where she had taken upstate property for her Museum expansion, painting African-American heroes on State post and was NOT moving it! Then on another occasion to have me as her guest speaker at the Museum!

I was so hot that day, looks like it was 90+ degrees but, she thought that my removing my jacket, on the OUTSIDE, where I was speaking, would lower the dignity of her activity/event…and I was crazy enough to listen to her and kept my coat though they got a shorter version of my speech!!

She was always soft-spoken but, very forcefull about her position, that was not easily changed! Sadie had a small voice but, strong convictions about her causes! She hardly shouted at anyone but, she never stopped coming to the “gate” to help others!

She often reminded me of the woman in the Bible that came night and day to “bother” the one in authority until she ultimately got what she wanted!! Sounds familiar LA DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson and Attorney Joshua G. Hollins?!

Sadie Roberts-Joseph was persistent! She knew how to ask you for financial support for the Annual Juneteenth Celebration without ever asking you for a penny, which by the way, should now be appropriately entitled the “Sadie Roberts-Joseph Juneteenth Celebration!”

I want her murderer(s) to be brought to justice!! Did they even know what this woman embodied…who she was…what she meant…who she fought for…her commitment…her love…did they know?!!! Rest well my friend…you wrought well while here!!

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