Protesters demonstrate after the decision by a Missouri grand jury not to indict a white Ferguson police officer in the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Brown, in front of the White House in Washington

America After Ferguson: A Change ‘Gonna Come (Oh Yes, It Will)

Dead men tell no tales and grand jury proceedings are secret — except in the case of the St. Louis County grand jury.

Prosecutor Robert McCulloch announced the foregone decision Monday night about the fatal confrontation between Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson and the young man he shot to death, Michael Brown, supposedly in self defense. (I learned about the grand jury’s decision on Twitter before McCulloch even opened his mouth.)

The media already had access to the reams of evidence that the grand jury considered. After spending several months listening to 70 hours of testimony and viewing volumes of other information, the panel of nine white and three black members came to the only logical conclusion based on the facts without judicial guidance or a real prosecutor: they could find no reason to indict Officer Wilson of any crime in shooting the 18-year-old Brown.

The carefully-orchestrated release of the information, even McCulloch’s unusual night-time press conference, was the way criminal justice powers that be in St. Louis chose to tell the world, “There’s nothing to the claims of a racially-motivated, extrajudicial killing here, people, so let’s move along.”

But people are not getting over it. Nor is life moving along as usual. The smoldering embers of charred police cars and buildings in Ferguson, the thousands of people across the country who flooded the streets over the grand jury’s no-bill are the exasperated outpouring of rage and grief over the handling of the Wilson-Brown case and, by extension, every other case involving police officers who’re killing unarmed black and brown civilians, seemingly without any accountability.

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Rev. Ronnie Williams, second from right, with local Jefferson County Place Matters team members and Dr. Brian Smeadley (far right) , Director of the Joint Center's Health Institute.

A Requiem For Rev. Ronnie Williams: Public Health, Poverty and the Good Fight

Reading “Poverty and Public Health,” a great article by colleague Mark Kelly in his Weld for Birmingham newspaper, was bittersweet for me.

It made me think of my friend Rev. Ronnie Williams. He should have been in it.

At the time Mark was interviewing and writing his story, Ronnie was battling the cancer that had spread from his lungs to his brain and other parts of his body. The cancer grew as the result of a severely addictive cigarette habit that gripped this public health advocate’s life for 45 years. Ronnie was 56 when he lost his battle and died on Sept. 23, the same day Mark’s article came out.

From the time that I met him two years ago, Ronnie began explaining to me the intricate connection between poverty and public health. Now, public health itself is a deep, multi-disciplinary field of preventative medicine. It requires a mind that can connect health with a broad spectrum of social factors, environmental conditions, political decisions and public policies — the “determinants of health.” It’s a lot to take in.

For years, Ronnie, a military veteran with a work background in IT, had immersed himself in this field, particularly as the former executive director for Congregations for Public Health. The community-based nonprofit came together under a grant to the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Public Health. He was also instrumental in bringing the Joint Center for Political and Economic StudiesPlace Matters initiative to Jefferson County.

In these capacities, he came to understand that the real root causes of health disparities among the poor, especially African Americans, was the nature of poverty itself.

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Why Jefferson County Needs Both Shelia and Sheila

I covered politics as a reporter and rarely stepped up to give my personal opinion or make endorsements in a widely public way. Most of the people who run for office are friends or acquaintances, and even in private it’s hard for me to take sides.

But this time I decided to make an exception because the times call for it.

The Jefferson County Commission seat in District 2 has grown into a heated contest with five candidates essentially battling in tomorrow’s Democratic primary over one issue: the former Cooper Green Mercy Hospital.

Incumbent Sandra Faye Little-Brown, whom I’ve known over the years, greatly disappointed me and the community with her decision in that area. Yes, she did try to “save” Cooper Green from its ultimately clumsy dismantlement with a proposed solution that would have forced the hospital’s administration to live within a $70 million budget. The problem is, the simple-minded solution would not have worked.

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Dr. King’s Last Will and Testament

The last item on Dr. Martin Luther King’s agenda was economics. He spoke about it the day before he was assassinated.

As a young reporter many years ago, I asked Harry Belafonte after this MLK Unity Breakfast speech, what would have been the next phase of the Civil Rights Movement had Dr. King lived. He said the economic agenda.

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Jordan Davis: Thoughts From A Black Teenager

Last year after the Trayvon Martin verdict, I reposted the writing of Donald Watkins, a successful African American businessman by any measure and parent who loves his children. He found himself expressing age-old advice to his sons who were supposedly living in “post-racial America,” led by the nation’s first openly known African American president.

And now, virtually a year later, after the Jordan Davis trial, more black parents and their sons are expressing the same fears that haunted the steps of their forefathers. Like Donald Watkin’s piece, I felt compelled to share the blog post of another young black male who questions how to navigate in his own country. What follows are the thoughts of Miles Ezeilo:

I get scared every time I turn on the news now. My thoughts on the verdict of Jordan Davis, the 17-year-old young African American man who was shot to death by Michael Dunn are simple: as a black boy in this day and age, my trust and sense of safety is dwindling as I write this. Continue reading →

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Economics: New Frontier in the Post-Mandela Era?

Nelson Mandela is buried, an exemplary life well-lived and rewarded with worldwide accolades that I have never seen or heard about in my life.

When even Newt Gingrich bit back at his own rabid conservative base, who criticized him for praising a “communist” rebel who tried to overthrow his government, you know something had to be great about Mandela. His defense of the great freedom fighter made me realize just how powerful a symbol Mandela was for humanity. Continue reading →

Photos by Marika N. Johnson

The Magic of the Magic City Classic

I am a sports ignoramus. It’s my blind spot, a subject for which I have little interest, a very scary attitude for someone in the media business to have. So when I came to Birmingham two decades ago, the Magic City Classic held, well, no magic for me.  Eventually, that changed. Continue reading →

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The Next 50 Years: Our Heroes Are In The Mirror

Fifty years ago today, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, the last one delivered on August 28, 1963, the day more than a quarter million supporters of civil rights converged in the nation’s capital for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Alas, I did not get to D.C. for the 50th year commemorative events. Instead, I lived vicariously through the stories of friends who did. I enjoyed news accounts of those who returned 50 years later to marvel at far the country has come since the historic march, and how much further we have to go to realize the powerful words in Dr. King’s speech. Continue reading →