Black, LGBTQ and influential

Bayard Rustin was an expert community organizer and played key role in the March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream Speech.” He mentored Dr. King and taught him tactics of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience.  His philosophy was inspired by Gandhi and labor leader A. Philip Randolph. Arrested on numerous occasions for standing up for his beliefs, he spent two years in jail for refusing to register for the draft during wartime. In 1947, he was sentenced to work on a chain gang for several weeks after protesting the segregated public transit system. In 1953, he was arrested for being a homosexual and spent 60 days in jail. Despite that, he continue to live as an openly gay man until his death in 1987.

American novelist, poet, and social critic James Baldwin launched his career after publishing the acclaimed novel Go Tell It on the Mountain. He is best known for his poetic and poignant commentary on race, spiritually, and humanity. Baldwin was the recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1954 and soon after wrote Giovanni’s Room, a story of an American living in Paris. The novel was groundbreaking and controversial for including scenes of homosexuality. Baldwin was open about his relationships with men and women though he believed focusing on labels limited freedom.  He believed that human sexuality is more fluid and less binary than often expressed in the U.S.

Audrey Lorde wrote technically exceptional poems with themes that covered civil rights, feminism, and black female identity. Her volumes of poetry include works such as Cables of Rage, which she wrote after teaching a workshop on poetry at a Mississippi college and witnessing the harsh racism of the Deep South. The collection of poems cover topics of love, deceit, and family, and also discussed her own sexuality in the poem “Martha.” Lorde had a decade-long battle with breast cancer during which time she wrote The Cancer Chronicles, he last project before her death in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1992.

Often credited with inciting the Stonewall Riots 1969, Marsh P. Johnson was a transgender women who championed LGBTQ rights and worked as a staunch advocate for trans women of color. She was founder of Street Transvestite (now Transgender) Action Revolutionaries, also known as STAR, whose mission to this day is to help homeless transgender youth in New York City. Aside from her activism and advocacy, she was known for her kind heart, serving as a “drag mother” to many young people struggling with homelessness and poverty.

Stormé DeLarverie, a musician and pivotal activist in the inception of the modern-day LGBTQ movement, has also been credited with igniting the Stonewall Riots in 1969. DeLarverie was known as the guardian of the lesbian. Legally armed, she regularly patrolled The Village checking in on local lesbian bars to make sure that her “baby girls” were safe from harm. Quoted in the New York Times in 2014 shortly after DeLaverie’s death, her friend Lisa Cannistraci was quoted as saying, “She literally walked the streets of downtown Manhattan like a gay superhero. She was not to be messed with by any stretch of the imagination.”

Scholar, author, and activist, Angela Davis is known as an unabashed advocate for social and economic justice. While enrolled in graduate school at the University of California, Davis became a member of the all-black Che-Lumumba, an arm of the U.S. Communist Party. During that time she was also associated with the Black Panther Party. Davis was wrongly accused of murder and spent 18 months in jail as a result. To this day, she continues to be an advocate for prison and criminal justice reform, racial justice, and women’s rights.

Courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski

Miss Major is a transgender activist who serves as executive director of the Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project. The transgender powerhouse was born on the South Side of Chicago in 1940 and grew her passion against oppression after experiencing the queer bar raids of the ’50s and ’60s. Miss Major is known for her advocacy for women of color and for her work on criminal justice reform. She was present at the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969 and since been a warrior for justice and equality.

Kristin Little Photography

Alicia Garza is an activist and, together with her friends, co-founded the #BlackLivesMatter. In a Facebook post, she provide the inspiration behind the movement, “Black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter, Black Lives Matter.” She is an activist and writer who works against racism and police violence. She currently serves as Director of Special Projects at National Domestic Workers Alliance.

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash.

Segregation isn’t ancient history; it hasn’t even really gone away yet

Anyone who’s attended school after the 1960s was taught that segregation was abolished thanks to the efforts of Martin Luther King and other civil rights activists. Social studies books cite Brown v. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia as sweeping Supreme Court decisions that ushered in full integration across the nation. The conclusion of these lessons is clear and simple: segregation is over and has been for decades.

But, as with most things that are too good to be true, the illusion of desegregation is only skin deep. Segregation, like many other historical systems of racial oppression, persists into the modern era, albeit subtler than before. And while many people might argue that today’s segregation is based on personal choices about where one decides to live, evidence suggests that segregation is still maintained by government policies.

Children along the Detroit wall shortly after it was built (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The Detroit Wall is a glaring example of the extent to which segregationists worked to keep Black folks out of white neighborhoods. Soon after World War II, the government set its sights on the Green Mile area of Detroit, where they hoped to build public housing. Fearing that poor Blacks would drive their property values down, whites in one neighborhood constructed a 6-foot-tall, one-half mile long wall to “protect” them from their Black neighbors. Today, the wall doesn’t act as a segregator anymore. Black families now live on either side. But thoroughfares like 8 Mile Road and Tireman Avenue serve as new invisible walls in the city of Detroit, emblematic of the implicit, underground racism of today.

The University of Virginia aggregated 2010 US Census data and placed it on to an interactive map that shows individuals by race. Each dot on the map represents one person. The results of the project showed that even though segregation has been officially outlawed, it endures in most American cities. In some areas of Detroit, the segregation is almost absolute.

Red line is approximately 15 miles
Red line is approximately four miles

Consistent with these findings, a recent report from The Center for Investigative Reporting found that the practice of  redlining was still happening in cities across the country (including Detroit). In fact, the study of 31 million mortgages—which controlled for income, neighborhood, and six other social and economic factors—found that the loan approval gap between whites and Blacks was nearly 2 to 1, despite applicants having the same income, applying for the same mortgage product, and looking for homes in the same neighborhood. In one of the worst cases, the study found that Black applicants in Mobile, Alabama, were 5.6 times as likely to be denied a conventional home mortgage as white applicants. (Please click here to learn more.)

These issues persist even though Congress passed the The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) in 1977. The regulation “is intended to encourage depository institutions to help meet the credit needs of the communities in which they operate.” Essentially, the law establishes a rating system which rewards banks for lending to low-income people and putting banks in minority communities.

This January, the Trump Administration, under the guidance of the American Bankers Association, a powerful bank lobbying group, proposed that the law be weakened, an act that would surely exacerbate the modern redlining problem.

But the problem not only persists in mortgage lending; segregation and racial disparities are still happening in public education, considered ground zero in the fight for desegregation.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office conducted a study of K-12 schools to identify where the government could be more effective in closing the racial education gap.

The study found that the percentage of schools with high populations of poor, Black and Hispanic students grew from 9 to 16 percent between 2000 and 2014 based on Department of Education data. These schools were the most racially concentrated, with student populations that were 75 to 100 percent Black or Hispanic. Among these schools, there were great disparities in math, science, and college preparation compared to more integrated school districts.

What’s unfortunate is that the Department of Justice could have helped prevent the rise in segregation but it was negligent in monitoring  the 178 desegregation cases to which it is party and for which it is responsible.

Once we get a clearer picture of how segregation continues to thrive, we begin to realize that it isn’t the result of some sort of sick social lottery or elective but rather the result of careless and, at times,  malicious public policy.

Richard Rothstein is a research associate of the Economic Policy Institute and a senior fellow at the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the University of California School of Law. In 2014, he wrote an analysis on the problem of modern day segregation, saying:

“We cannot desegregate schools without desegregating these neighborhoods, and our ability to desegregate the neighborhoods in which segregated schools are located is hobbled by historical ignorance. Too quickly forgetting twentieth century history, we’ve persuaded ourselves that the residential isolation of low-income black children is only ‘de facto,’ the accident of economic circumstance, personal preference, and private discrimination. But unless we re-learn how residential segregation is ‘de jure,’ resulting from racially-motivated public policy, we have little hope of remedying school segregation that flows from this neighborhood racial isolation.”

It seems that the “bootstraps” narrative perpetrated by politicians and citizens alike flies in the face of the facts. Many people would like to you to believe that the condition of some Black neighborhoods such as those in Detroit are the result of personal preference, choice, and some sort of natural manifestation. But the evidence shows that there are forces in place—promoted by public policies and corporate carelessness—that are dead-set on keeping Black families in poverty and without access to the privileges many white families enjoy.

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Photo by arnoldus on Pixabay

HIV/AIDS awareness for Black people…and all of us

Today is the 18th Annual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. You might ask yourself, “Why do we need a special day just for Black people with or at risk of contracting HIV?” I ask you to consider the following:

  • In 2015, 3,379 African Americans died from HIV disease, accounting for 52% of total deaths attributed to the disease that year.
  • At the end of 2014, an estimated 471,500 African Americans were living with HIV (43% of everyone living with HIV in the United States), and 16% were unaware of their infection.
  • In 2016, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention predicted that HALF of all gay and bisexual Black men will contract HIV in their lifetime.
  • Young Black men between the ages of 13 and 24 face a particularly high risk, as they make up 54% of new infections among all men who have sex with men.
  • Black women account for 60% of new infections among all women and are 16 times more likely to contract the virus compared to their white counterparts.

In July 2016, Charlize Theron, who is UN Messenger of Peace and founder of an outreach project targeting South African youth affected by HIV, said something profound when speaking to a crowd at 21st International AIDS Conference. She said, “We value men more than women … straight love more than gay love … white skin more than black skin … and adults more than adolescents” and even though her frame of reference is based largely on situations in South Africa, it’s hard to deny the striking parallels between there and here in the United States. The risk factors for HIV/AIDS seem to be global.

With that said, there are significant geographical disparities within the United States. Even though it’s widely accepted that HIV is “no longer a death sentence,” that is not the case for many people, particularly those in the South. According to a New York Times article written in June 2017:

“2,952 people in the Deep South (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas) died with HIV as an underlying cause, with the highest death rates in Mississippi and Louisiana. Among black men in this region, the HIV-related death rate was seven times as high as that of the United States population at large.”

(Take the time today to watch this short documentary about young black men dealing with HIV/AIDS in Jackson, Mississippi, at

The so-called Deep South is ground zero for the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S. Each of the states this region encompasses (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas) share other notable but seeming related characteristics:

  • They all have public school curriculums that teach abstinence-only sexual education;
  • They are among the top 15 most impoverished states;
  • They are collectively the home of 47% of the total Black population of the United States.

Even though statistics provide a sobering glimpse into this devastating epidemic, at the end of the day the numbers represent real people with unique stories, experiences, and perspectives.

Properly managing HIV/AIDS requires regular medical appointments, medication management, diet control, and major lifestyle changes.

For many people with HIV/AIDS, they also struggle with substance abuse, mental health issues, homelessness, and food insecurity.

Compound those challenges with misinformation, stigma, and discrimination, and you can see that fighting HIV/AIDS becomes more than an issue that can be solved with medicine, clean needles, and condoms alone. Attitudes have to change, and education is at the cornerstone.

The sooner everyone understands the risk factors and how the virus is spread, the sooner we as a society will get from under this daunting but preventable disease.

For more information about HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention in Southern Maine, contact the Frannie Peabody Center—the largest community-based HIV/AIDS service organization in Maine, providing prevention services for at-risk groups and direct services for people living with HIV/AIDS. They also offer free, confidential HIV testing every Wednesday and by appointment.

Get Tested. Know your status. End the stigma.

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