6 ways to stop sciatica pain with yoga

— Sciatica is a real pain in the butt — and, sometimes, in the leg and foot.

That’s because the sciatic nerves, the longest nerves in your body, run bilaterally from the base of the spine through the deep muscles of the buttocks and all the way down the back of each leg.

When impinged, they cause significant discomfort, ranging from relentless throbbing in one side of your buttocks to shooting pain down the back of your leg. And as if that isn’t enough, the pain is often accompanied by numbness, tingling and weakness.

Experts estimate up to 40% of adults have experience sciatica. If you’re one, you’ve probably scoured the Internet looking for ways to make it stop, only to encounter conflicting advice. That’s because sciatica is actually a symptom of many possible conditions that respond to different treatments.

Because of sciatica’s varying causes, there isn’t a single magic bullet for relief. However, yoga, when applied correctly, can be effective in not only relieving sciatica, but also preventing it.

As someone who’s suffered from sciatica myself and worked with afflicted professional athletes, I’ve created customized yoga programs for a variety of diagnoses. That’s why I’m sharing these six poses that work in different ways.

(If you’re diagnosed with Piriformis Syndrome, it’s important to recognize that a dominant-side imbalance may affect your response to these exercises.)

Check with your physician or physical therapist before trying these exercises. Move carefully into each posture, listening to your body. Stop immediately if pain increases or you feel any cautionary sensation.

Modified boat with block


(Courtesy Dana Santas)

This pose is a combination of hamstring stretching and pelvis resetting. Some people swear by hamstring stretches, while others find it aggravates the nerve. Try it carefully. Back off if pain increases.

If your sciatica is lumbar-spine related, this pose can help by strengthening deep core muscles to stabilize your low back. It also works the adductors (inner thighs) to help realign your pelvis.

Sit evenly on your sitting bones and place a foam yoga block between your shins with your knees bent to 90 degrees. Engage your low, deep core to avoid arching your back as you lift your legs. Hold for five long, deep breaths, lower your legs, then repeat. Build up to longer holds for as many as 10 long, deep breaths.

Bridge with knees together

Whether your sciatica originates from your low back or the piriformis muscle in the buttock, this pose should help.

(Courtesy Dana Santas)

Whether your sciatica originates from your low back or the piriformis muscle in the buttock, this pose should help.

Whether your sciatica originates from your low back or the piriformis muscle in the buttock, this pose should help. It strengthens the low back and supporting musculature while simultaneously opening the hip flexors. Keeping your knees together activates inner thighs, which oppose outer hip muscles, including the piriformis.

Start from a bridge position on all fours with your knees and feet together. Inhale and lift your hips to align diagonally with your shoulders and knees. Avoid arching your low back. Hold for three breaths. Release down for a breath. Repeat three times.

Seated twist variation


(Courtesy Dana Santas)

This mid-back rotating twist stretches the piriformis. Use caution because incorrect twisting from your low back could exacerbate disc issues.

This mid-back rotating twist stretches the piriformis. Use caution because incorrect twisting from your low back could exacerbate disc issues. The twist needs to initiate from the mid-back, between the shoulder blades.

Sit up straight with legs out. Cross the afflicted leg over your opposite leg and press the sole of the foot on your painful leg down. Hug your opposite arm around your knee, placing the other hand on the ground behind your hip. Exhale as you draw the leg toward your chest and rotate from your mid back. Hold for three long, deep breaths.

Pigeon pushup


(Courtesy Dana Santas)

This is a piriformis-stretching pose for the front leg and a hip-flexor stretch for the back leg.

This is a piriformis-stretching pose for the front leg and a hip-flexor stretch for the back leg.

From a kneeling lunge position, take both hands to the floor on the inside of your leg. Open your hip by letting your knee fall out to the side as you roll to the outside of your foot. Walk your hands forward and outward to push your weight out of your upper body and into your hips and pelvis. Take five long, deep breaths.

Modified pyramid


(Courtesy Dana Santas)

If your sciatica is lumbar-spine related, this pose can help by strengthening deep core muscles to stabilize your low back.

This pose is a combination of hamstring stretching and pelvis resetting. Some people swear by hamstring stretches, while others find it aggravates the nerve. Try it carefully. Back off if pain increases.

Keeping your afflicted leg forward, step back with your other leg about 18-24 inches. With both legs straight, hinge from your hips to bend forward, placing your hands on blocks or a chair seat. To find a neutral pelvis, push your forward hip backwards while drawing your back hip forward. Hold for five long, deep breaths.

Supine with pillow under knees

Being in constant pain is exhausting, so this pose is intended for rest.

Lying face up, place a pillow or bolster under your knees with your legs hip-distance apart. Be sure your low back is making contact with the floor. Avoid arching. Take 10-20 long, deep breaths, focusing on your exhales like big sighs of relief.

Dana Santas is the creator of Radius Yoga Conditioning, a yoga style designed to help athletes move, breathe and focus better. She’s the yoga trainer for the Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Tampa Bay Lightning, Orlando Magic and dozens of pros in the MLB, NHL, NBA and NFL.

Natural tips to keep gardeners healthy

— More than 41,200 people across the nation were injured in 2012 while working in their gardens, reports the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Conversely, many common flowers and plants have healing properties that can help gardeners treat their injuries.

Made from plants, as well as animals and minerals, homeopathic medicines offer some of the safest options for self-treatable conditions — and can be great for ailments and injuries that befall home gardeners. Because the risk of interaction with other drugs, supplements and herbs is minimal, experts say these natural medicines are a good first choice for early symptoms.  

Easily found in health food stores and pharmacies, these non-prescription medicines work naturally with the body instead of masking a problem, which is important if a more serious condition should arise.

With that in mind, here are some homeopathic treatments for common gardener ailments:

• Allergies: Relieving allergy symptoms provides a good example of the principle behind homeopathic medicines. Chopping a red onion has a “toxic” effect, causing eyes to water and burn until exposed to fresh air. When similar symptoms appear from allergies or a cold, a micro-dose of the red onion helps relieve those same symptoms. The red onion in this homeopathic form takes the Latin name of its source, Allium cepa.

Try Ambrosia (Ragweed) for watery nasal discharge with eyes that tear and itch and Sabadilla (Cevadilla) for hypersensitivity to the smell of flowers or itching in the back of the mouth. A good general allergy medicine is Histaminum, which is derived from histamine.

• Sore, Stiff Muscles: For gardeners suffering back and knee injuries, Arnica montana can be an essential gardening tool.

Commonly known as the Mountain daisy, Arnica’s healing properties were first recognized in the 16th century. Legend has it mountain climbers chewed the plant to relieve sore, aching muscles and bruises from falls. Today, this homeopathic medicine is used by professional athletes and surgeons for muscle pain and stiffness, swelling from injuries and bruising. For more information visit www.Arnicare.com.

• Sunburn, Blisters and Other Skin Conditions: In its homeopathic form, Calendula (Garden marigold) is one of the most versatile aids for skin irritations. Try a Calendula cream or ointment for blisters and calluses, cuts and scrapes, rashes, and chapped skin caused by wind, dry or cold air, or sun.

Used for centuries as a natural healing and soothing substance, Calendula’s wound-healing properties are due to essential oils, saponins, flavonoids and alkaloids. These compounds have skin healing properties.

• Bug Bites: To help relieve bee and wasp stings, as well as gnat, black fly or mosquito bites, take five pellets of Apis mellifica (Honey bee) every 30 minutes for up to six doses. And apply Calendula topically.

• Take Breaks and Relax: While many plants help us nurture our health, remember to practice common sense. Prepare properly by stretching and wearing sun block. Don’t overdo it. Take breaks. End your day with a soaking bath.

Relieve conditions at the first sign of symptoms before they grow out of control, so you can continue your gardening activities.

2014 Emmy Awards: 5 buzzworthy moments

— The Emmy Awards will never be confused for the MTV Video Music Awards — especially when they air on consecutive nights.

It’s status quo versus cutting-edge cool. Even when Hollywood lets its hair down, it’s on the tame side.

Still, host Seth Meyers did his best to liven up the proceedings. And the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards that aired Monday night did offer up some memorable moments.

1. Seth and Billy’s crazy quiz

Meyers teamed up with “Billy on the Street star” Billy Eichner to dash around the streets of New York and bombard pedestrians with random pop culture questions.

During a frenetic five minutes, the twosome tackled Emmy snubs, challenged people to name an Emmy nominee and generally terrorized unsuspecting New Yorkers. Then there’s the collection they took up for the cast of the “Big Bang Theory.”

“Why is the Emmys not just @billyeichner doing that for three hours?” tweeted actress Anna Kendrick.

2. ‘Weird Al”s plot parody parade

Remember when TV theme songs meant something? “The Brady Bunch.” “Gilligan’s Island.” You got a catchy tune and the plot, all in 30 seconds.

Nobody does that anymore. Nobody, except “Weird Al” Yankovic, who skewered everything from “Mad Men” to “Game of Thrones” in a medley with choice lines like, “Jon Hamm’s never won an Emmy/ Oh who cares? He’s still Jon freaking Hamm.”

3. Gwen’s ‘Adele Dazeem’ moment

Remember when John Travolta, for some inexplicable reason, mangled Idina Menzel’s name as ‘Adele Dazeem’? Gwen Stefani had one of those while presenting the Emmy for Outstanding Variety/Music/Comedy Series to “The Colbert Report.” Or, as she put it, “The Colbort Report.” Fortunately, Maroon 5’s Adam Levine was there to quickly correct her.

4. Crystal’s fond remembrance

Your heart had to break for Billy Crystal, the sometimes Oscar host who delivered a heartfelt tribute to his buddy, Robin Williams. “It is very hard to talk about him in the past because he was so present in our lives,” he said of the actor, who was found dead of an apparent suicide earlier this month. Crystal spoke fondly, touchingly for nearly five minutes. The night before, the VMAs paused to remember Williams … for a mere 23 seconds.

5. Bryan breaking bad with the Veep

The gag that paid off big time last night was when “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston planted a long, wet one on Julia Louis-Dreyfus as she headed to the stage to accept her Emmy award?

When the stars were presenting an earlier award, they had a running gag that Louis-Dreyfus couldn’t remember that Cranston was a guest star on “Seinfeld,” and that the pair even made out on camera.

Not to be brushed aside, Cranston blocked her as she walked toward the stage to accept her trophy for best actress in a comedy series for “Veep.” He swept Louis-Dreyfus into a passionate embrace until Jimmy Fallon forced them to separate.

“Yeah, yeah, he was on ‘Seinfeld,'” she quipped, while the camera panned to Cranston wiping the lipstick off his lips.

CNN’s Saeed Ahmed and Dorrine Mendoza contributed to this report.

Indie Soul: Entrepreneur of the Week Nia Anderson

Everyone dreams! Some dream of making it big and becoming famous in the entertainment business while others dream about how they can be of better service to others. Nia Anderson is one of those people. With her event planning service, Orchids of Elegance, her plan is to change the way your next event looks and feels!

Nia learned from years of bartending that customer service is always key. “Most services don’t really keep in line with what the customer wants, from their needs to the theme of the event. My goal is to really bring the vision of the customer to life.”

“Orchids of Elegance” handles everything from planning, photography, bartending service, marketing, and promotion of your event.

Anderson has hit the ground running with a commercial that is produced and ready to air (which you can see on the website: www.orchidsofelegance.com), a contract for a major bank’s Family Fun Day Event in September, and some major sporting events. Nia adds, “I am just willing to work with people. It doesn’t matter who you are or what ethnicity, as long as you are providing a great service and care about what you are doing.

Her advice for other up and coming entrepreneurs— “Just start your business. Do whatever you have in mind and do it.” That is why Nia Anderson is our “Entrepreneur of the Week.”

You can see photos of her launch party, which took place on Sunday, August 17th, by visiting our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/TheBaltimoreTimes.com .

Indie Soul welcomes your questions and comments. To contact Phinesse Demps, call 410-366-3900 ext. 3016 or 410-501-0193 or email: pdemps@btimes.com.

Awkward! The tough transition to middle school

— There is a reason why when people post pictures of themselves during their middle school years on Facebook for “Throw Back Thursday,” we all stop and take notice.

We recognize the fear or uncertainty or absolutely angst in their eyes.

Raging hormones. Changing bodies. Awkward social interactions. No longer a child but not yet an adult. Those are just a few of the zillion reasons why most of us would never want to go back to that time, and why some parents of beginning middle schoolers are freaking out as school starts.

After all, studies have shown that the jump from elementary to middle school can be a painful transition for adolescents, whose worries grow to include greater academic responsibility, burgeoning sexuality and complex social structures.

Lori Garcia, creator of the blog Mommyfriend, admitted she’s slightly terrified and definitely anxious about her son, 11, going to junior high school and starting the seventh grade later this month.

“I remember how difficult the transition was and so not wanting to put those fears on my son I try to speak open-ended about it, like it’s a positive experience,” said Garcia, who experienced “culture shock” moving from a Christian elementary school to a public junior high.

“Oh, isn’t this exciting,” Garcia tells her son. “It’s a new adventure, it’s a new school, new people, but I do have my concerns.”

Her son has his, too, she said, concerns about moving from a small elementary school to a junior high with over 1,000 students, potential bullying, changing classes and “the reality of six teachers and … six times the homework and six times the expectations,” she said.

Middle school ‘not agony for all kids’

Here’s something that Garcia and any other parent about to send off a child to middle or junior high school can find comfort in hearing: Most kids survive!

“I think it’s important to understand that middle school is not agony for all kids,” said psychologist Carl Pickhardt, author of “Surviving Your Child’s Adolescence.” “For most kids, middle school is relatively fine.”

That said, there are no doubt big changes coming their way, Pickhardt added, including exposure to acts of social cruelty, in person and online, which they didn’t see in elementary school, “the teasing and the bullying and the exclusion and rumoring and the ganging up.”

Rebecca Levey, a New York mom of two whose daughters started middle school last year, said her biggest worry was social. “And I was right to be worried,” she added, saying the boys were surprisingly meaner than the girls.

“I was shocked. All you think about is mean girls but … the boys were a thousand times worse,” said Levey, who writes about balancing motherhood and her tech start-up on her blog Beccarama.

Pickhardt, who hosts a blog on Psychology Today, said one of the many challenges for parents during this transition time is balancing their child’s sense of independence with their continued need for parenting.

Children might feel that they should be able to handle things like bullying, sexual talk and risk-taking behavior themselves now and that if they tell their parents about any of it, it means they are not able to handle their experiences, he added.

Parents should say, “I really want to be there to help you sort out what you hear from other kids,” said Pickhardt. “I’ll just give you my perception of stuff that you can add to your own thinking to figure out what you believe. … I’d like to be there to be able to do that for you.”

‘They still want to play (with) Barbies’

It’s also important for parents to remember that middle school is a time when their children are “toying with adulthood,” but they’re still kids, said Amanda Rodriguez, a former middle school teacher and host of the blog Dude Mom.

“Understanding that your child is having these feelings and their body is changing and they’re experiencing all these new things that an older person should be experiencing but at the same time, they come home and they still want to play (with) Barbies,” said Rodriguez, a mom of three whose oldest son is a soon-to-be seventh grader.

How much independence to give a child during the middle school years is another big challenge for parents, said Pickhardt. Too often, he said, parents might think they should let go completely, especially of their child’s academic responsibilities, which he said could be a big mistake.

Schools might send the message that if the child doesn’t do his or her homework, they’ll get zeroes and learn from their failures, but Pickhardt said he believes most kids don’t learn that. “They learn failure, so that’s why parents have to be there.”

That means making sure homework is done and turned in, and if the child refuses to bring homework home or turn it in, the parent can offer to accompany the child to school and hand in the homework together — something most children would refuse.

“You’ve got to give that kind of supervisory support because this is not a permanently disaffected state, but if that state is just let go the kid can do themselves some long-lasting damage, and that’s not right. Parents aren’t doing their job.”

The balance between control and letting go

Award-winning author Rachel Vail’s newest young adult book, “Unfriended,” about middle school, comes out next month. The mother of two sons who both survived middle school, Vail describes that balance between control and letting go during the middle school years as an ongoing dance between a parent and the child.

“You have to be very conscious of being aware and following his leads and sometimes what he’ll be communicating to you is this is too much freedom,” she said.

“If your kid is really needing more independence and autonomy, if you’re really paying attention, you’ll be able to tell, and if you’ve then stepped back too far, you’ll also be able to tell.”

Vail also says the middle school transition is a time to think back to childbirth training — as crazy as that might sound.

“I always feel like for the parent, here’s where the Lamaze breathing actually becomes useful because in labor, it did nothing for me … but as a parent of an adolescent, yeah, take a deep breath and … take the long view.”

What can parents and teens do to survive the middle school years? Share your thoughts in the comments or tell Kelly Wallace on Twitter or CNN Living on Facebook.


™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Do we perpetuate black stereotypes?

Many African Americans feel like there has been an unofficial war declared on blacks, especially young black males. Just in the past month alone, there have been the police murders of Eric Garner (Staten Island, N.Y.), Ezell Ford (Los Angeles, and Michael Brown (Ferguson, Missouri). Each of these victims were unarmed, young, black and male.


Raynard Jackson, NNPA columnist

In each instance, there were credible witnesses or video recordings that recounted events very differently from the official police version. Based on what we know so far, I think all the policemen involved in these unjustified deaths should be convicted of murder and sent to jail.

As abhorrent as these actions were, they should spark a larger, separate conversation about the images that we have created around black life and black culture. To reiterate, regardless of these images, there is no justification for killing those young black men. Let’s be clear about that.

However, let us be equally clear and courageous enough to take another look at what we are contributing to the misperceptions and stereotypes of us as a race. This is a separate conversation from what happened in New York, Los Angeles and Ferguson, Missouri, but this is as good a time to hold it as any.

For the past 30 years, we have created images of blacks in the most negative of lights. For those who would say it’s just music, it’s just a movie, it’s just a reality TV show; I say now there is just another black body lying in the streets of America.

Before you go to war, the first thing that is needed is to create a psychological operations campaign (psy-ops). This is a tactic that the military uses to marginalize its targeted population so that when the troops are sent in to destroy this group, there is no public outcry.

Just look at how the U.S. military vilified and demonized former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and terrorist Osama Bin Laden before we set out to kill them. Upon their deaths at the hands of the U.S. military, the American people cheered because we had devalued and marginalized them before the American people.

I can’t help but ask the black community, have we unleashed a pys-ops campaign on our own people?

In the horror movie series Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein did not set out to create a monster; but rather he was a scientist playing around in his laboratory. As a result of this experimentation, he created a monster that neither he nor society could control.

In a similar manner, one could argue that blacks, specifically in Hip-Hop, have experimented in the laboratory called a recording studio; and by exercising their First Amendment Right of freedom of speech and expression through music, they have created their own version of Frankenstein.

In the beginning, like with Frankenstein, people marveled at this new creation and people were willing to pay to see and hear it. There was “Rappers Delight,” there was “The Message,” and there was “Fight the Power.” Then, the imagery and lyrics took a twisted turn under a perverted interpretation of the First Amendment called “keeping it real.”

Now, the establishment, especially the police, had become the enemy. Hip-Hop became a counter-culture movement that turned into a monster that could no longer be controlled.

Women became “bitches and hoe’s,” men became hyper-sexualized thugs who were only out to force themselves on your daughters and to “get rich or die trying.”

When rap music started, it was a verbal extension of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s in the spirit of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; it was about the uplifting of our community and providing a voice to those often without a voice.

Then in the 1990s, rap took a more militaristic tone with the creation of “gangsta rap.” This too was a verbal extension of the Civil Rights movement; but more in the spirit of Malcolm X on steroids. These artists represented those in the “hood” who felt trapped and abused by the system. They felt like no one cared about them and that life was about the here and now— immediate gratification; so screw the future. They wanted to “get theirs now.” They wanted to live fast, even if it meant dying young.

This ultimately led to the “thug” culture, personified by hit movies like Scarface, New Jack City and Carlito’s Way; each glorified the criminal lifestyle.

Then you had the crack epidemic of the 1990s with the violence that it brought into the hood. All these factors combined to create a narrative that black life was worthless and black youth brought no value to society.

It’s too bad the rap world didn’t heed the words of Chuck D; KRS-One; Doug E. Fresh; Heavy D; MC Lyte; Kool Moe Dee. D-Nice; Daddy-O; and others on the all-time classic, “Self Destruction,” which had as its chorus— “Self-Destruction, ya headed for Self-Destruction (repeat).”

Raynard Jackson is president & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a Washington, D.C.-based public relations/government affairs firm. He can be reached through his website: www.raynardjackson.com.

Help kids stay organized for a fresh start this school year

— Back-to-school time means another year of tests, team tryouts and club meetings — but it also means an opportunity for students to have a fresh start. Whether your kid is an ace academic or has found it challenging to stay on top of a to-do list, there are many ways to get prepared for a successful school year.

By studying smarter, staying organized and keeping motivated, students can learn to juggle it all.

Study Tips

Cramming at the last minute doesn’t work. Encourage your student to start studying well in advance of test day. Pacing during study time gives the brain a better opportunity to absorb information.

In many ways, the pen is mightier than the computer, particularly when it comes to taking notes. Writing notes down is almost like etching them into your subconscious. Formulating the words and reviewing them as you go is the best way to retain materials.


When it comes to lockers, backpacks and school supplies, organization is everything. Different systems work for different students. For example, some prefer to arrange their lockers by sequence of the day, whereas others prefer to sort items by subject or color. The important thing is finding a system that works and sticking to it.

Use tools to support the system and help maximize sought-after real estate. For lockers lacking shelf space, consider creating your own — just be sure the solution is durable. The Five Star Stackable Locker Shelf is made with heavy-duty plastic, can hold up to 150 pounds and can be stacked one on top of the other for double the shelf space.


Your locker is a home base during the school day, so make it your own with artwork, photos, and a dry erase board. It’s also an area to refresh — so consider hanging a mirror, like the Five Star Foam Mirror + Storage accessory which not only acts as a mirror but also a space to hang notes and store pens, pencils, cell phones or calculators.

Encourage students to decorate notebooks and binders with stickers and drawings, or choose their supplies based on favorite styles and colors. Just be sure the items chosen are highly functional. Multi-use supplies, such as the Five Star Flex Hybrid NoteBinder, acts like a notebook and works like a binder, making it easy for students to have everything they need in one convenient area. 

Stay Focused

If your kid is rocking out to their favorite song, while texting their best friend about the latest gossip, then you can guarantee they aren’t concentrating on homework. Turn off the distractions and the work will get done faster and more accurately.

More study and organizational tips can be found at www.MeadFiveStar.com.

For better grades and more success, get this school year started on the right foot.

Michael Brown’s father calls for calm Monday — the day his son is laid to rest

— Michael Brown will be laid to rest Monday, and his father says he just wants one thing: peace.

“Please, please take a day of silence so I can, so we can, lay our son to rest. Please. It’s all I ask,” Michael Brown Sr. said at a rally in St. Louis on Sunday.

Brown,18, was fatally shot on August 9 by officer Darren Wilson while walking down the streets of Ferguson, Missouri.

His death sparked days of violent protests in the St. Louis suburb. In the past several days, things have calmed down, and the town is slowly coming back to life.

Brown will be eulogized at the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis.

The White House is sending three officials to his funeral, including one who attended high school with his mother.

One of them is Broderick Johnson, who leads the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper Task Force. He’ll be joined by Marlon Marshall, a St. Louis native who attended high school with Brown’s mother, and Heather Foster. Marshall and Foster are part of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

“We don’t want anything tomorrow to happen that would defile the name of Michael Brown,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said Sunday. “This is not about our rage tomorrow. It’s about the legacy and memory of his son, and the mother’s son, and their families.”

Race tensions

Two weeks after the shooting sparked violent protests, the mood turned more tranquil over the weekend with smaller crowds and lots of music. Gone were police in riot gear and defiant protesters. The tear gas, rubber bullets and Molotov cocktails were nowhere to be seen, either.

In their place were clusters of officers, hanging around businesses, chatting with one another.

Music flowed at a memorial held Sunday at Greater St. Marks Missionary Baptist Church.

“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. always had music as an element of protest,” said the Rev. E.G. Shields Jr., who helped organize the event. “He knew there was a way that music helped soothe the soul.”

Race has been at the forefront of the tensions; Brown was African-American and the officer who shot him is white.

Wilson’s supporters held a rally in St. Louis on Sunday, where organizers announced they had raised more than $400,000 for the officer.

St. Louis authorities have released details of the racial and gender makeup of the grand jury, which started hearing testimony on Wednesday.

It comprises six white men, three white women, two black women and one black man, said Paul Fox, the administrator for the St. Louis County Circuit Court.

St. Louis County is 70% white and 24% black, according to last year’s estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Crucial grand jury

Unlike a jury in a criminal case, which convicts someone if jurors are convinced of guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” a grand jury decides whether there is “probable cause.” They decide whether to charge someone with a crime based on testimony and evidence presented in the absence of a judge.

In Missouri, they don’t have to be in unanimous agreement to press such an indictment, as long as nine of the 12 agree on a charge.

The federal government is conducting a separate investigation.

FBI agents interviewed more than 200 people as part of the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights investigation, according to law enforcement sources.

The federal investigation must prove there was an element of “racial hostility” in the shooting. That’s a higher standard than the one before the St. Louis County grand jury.

The 12 members of the grand jury are crucial. They may be the first to reach a decision on whether the case will be defined as a murder charge, a lesser charge or no charge at all.

CNN’s Faith Karimi and Dana Ford contributed to this report.

Comptroller Franchot says let summer be summer!

— Citing the benefits to Maryland families, small businesses, teachers and tourism, Comptroller Peter Franchot kicked off a “Let Summer Be Summer” petition drive on the Ocean City Boardwalk to collect 10,000 signatures in support of a campaign to start Maryland public schools after Labor Day.

Joined by business owners, tourism officials and state and local legislators, the Comptroller plans to present the list of supporters to members of the Maryland General Assembly when they reconvene in January. “Let Summer Be Summer” petitions will be available at hotels, restaurants in Ocean City, Deep Creek Lake and at public fairs and festivals throughout the state.

“Busy families have so little time to spend together to build lifelong memories. Increasingly, the end-of-summer vacation no longer happens because of decisions to begin school a week, or even ten days, before Labor Day,” Comptroller Franchot said. “This not only cuts into one last chance for Marylanders to spend time together as a family, but it also negatively impacts small businesses throughout our state. We all need to do what we can to support small businesses and promote economic activity. To continue as we have causes unnecessary harm to our economy for no good reason.”

The “Let Summer Be Summer” campaign comes on the heels of a governor’s task force recommendation in late May that the state’s public schools delay opening until after Labor Day, a proposal that seeks to extend summer vacation for a week or more in many areas.

The state task force, which met for nearly a year, voted 11 to 4 to embrace a later start date statewide.

“Starting school after Labor Day would have a tremendous effect on the economy in Ocean City,” said Ocean City Mayor Richard W. Meehan. It would give visitors extra days at the ocean, with tourists staying at our local hotels and enjoying a great dinner at our fine restaurants while boosting the local economy at a time in late August and early September when they need it.”

Last August, Comptroller Franchot released an economic impact report completed by the Bureau of Revenue Estimates regarding a post Labor Day start date for all Maryland public schools which found that a delayed school start in Maryland would result in an additional $74.3 million in direct economic activity, including $3.7 million in new wages and a separate $7.7 million in state and local revenue.

“Tourism is at the heart of our local economy,” said G. Hale Harrison, an Ocean City businessman. “Extending the start of school until after Labor Day pumps up business at our local hotels and restaurants and creates foot traffic at stores and businesses throughout Ocean City.”

The study also found that 8.5 percent of 514,680 affected families— those with school age children— would take either a new day trip or a new overnight trip to one of Maryland’s three top destinations— Baltimore City, Deep Creek Lake or Ocean City. Another 5.2 percent would take a new out-of-state day or overnight trip and the remaining families would devote at least one more day to a family recreational activity close to home. Earlier this year, Worcester County Public Schools voted to start school on September 2, 2014, the day after Labor Day, which the Comptroller praised.

“Summer gives teachers some much-needed time to recharge our batteries after the grind of the previous academic year,” said Leslie Beveridge, a third math grade teacher at Easton Elementary School. “Extending summer vacation until after Labor Day would give teachers and our families extra time to spend together to go to the beach or to take a day trip to one of Maryland historic sites or to visit any of the state’s fun tourists’ spots.”

Instead of reducing the 180-day school year, the Comptroller is confident the state’s school systems would be able to adjust their calendars throughout the academic year without losing time for instruction in the classroom.

“Maryland families save up a little each paycheck to spend one week each year in Ocean City, or at Deep Creek Lake or to enjoy the amenities at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor,” Comptroller Franchot said. “Let’s not cut short their summer opportunities to visit so many wonderful recreational, historic and entertainment destinations right here in Maryland and at the same time generate economic benefits for our small businesses Let Summer Be Summer!”

The petition is available online at the Comptroller’s Office website at: www.marylandtaxes.com.

Gospel Crooner Earnest Pugh unveils “Just Worship”

Dove and Stellar Award nominated gospel crooner Earnest Pugh has just polished off his latest work of art— “Just Worship” (P-Man Music/Central South Distribution)— a specially priced Extended Play (EP) collection of praise and worship songs that will be released on August 26, 2014.

The set will be propelled by Pugh’s new radio single, a dynamic re-arrangement of Israel & New Breed’s classic tune “Alpha & Omega.” The soul-stirring paean is now making its way up the playlists of the leading gospel radio stations around the globe.

Boasting production from Keith Williams, Michael Bereal, Cedric Thompson, Robert Ellis and Steve McCoy, this live set of seven songs flows as a continuous worship service that listeners can use to create an atmosphere of divine reverence wherever they may find themselves during the day.

The set closes with a bonus recording of Pugh’s recent Top 20 radio smash “All Things Through Christ” featuring Bishop Rance Allen.

The five-octave singer just recently wrapped a run of the “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” stage play in Atlanta and is now preparing for a big production in the fall when he stars in legendary theater director Mike Matthews’ new play “Danger at My Door,” which opens during the Detroit Opera House’s Broadway series October 2-5, 2014.

Pugh is also busy with his EPM Music Group label where he’s establishing the careers of recording artists such as Angel Davis, Keith Williams and Charles Butler & Trinity.

For more information about Earnest Pugh, visit: www.earnestpugh.com.