Justin Forsett expecting a bigger role in Ravens passing game under Marc Trestman

— The Baltimore Ravens have only completed a few sessions of Organized Team Activities but running back Justin Forsett has a very good feeling about his upcoming role in this offense. Forsett has been able to catch a good amount of passes in the couple of Ravens OTAs that were open to the media.

Forsett is pleased to be able to utilize the skills that made him an explosive player as a third down back during his days with the Seattle Seahawks. He is more than comfortable with the likelihood of an increased amount of touches via the passing game.

“I was a third down back in the past. That’s how I got my start was being a third down back, picking up blitzes, running screens and routes out of the backfield.” Forsett said with a smile. “I haven’t spent much extra time running routes because outside of last year, I have always been used that way. I am ready for it.”

Forsett said that he has caught a lot of balls in OTAs so far and it is what he expected. “When we first brought him in and he was here, I looked at his track record.” Forsett said. “Matt Forte, he caught 100 balls last year so I think that kind of let me know that I could be getting a lot more passes than I did last year.”

Forsett is excited about being used more. He is working to sharpen his routes in preparation to catch the ball out of the backfield more. He said that they have been doing a lot more things with him as far as spreading him out and running routes. Running backs coach Thomas Hammock has been on the running backs about making sure that they get in and out of their breaks.

Staying close to the team and coming to team activities that aren’t considered to be mandatory is something that comes easily to Forsett. He joked in the past about getting out of “the friend zone” and being able to have a team commit to him long term. This opportunity has an effect on more than just Forsett himself.

Forsett spoke about how it’s good to remain in the area with his family and how it’s been a while since he was able to stay in one city. He said that being able to come back next season with the Ravens was a big part of his staying around during the offseason. Forsett also had a baby this off season so there’s not much room for traveling.

Marc Trestman has brought in a new offense that has a lot of the same West Coast offense principles that Gary Kubiak’s offense had. There are always going to be some new wrinkles and a slight difference in terminology when a new system is implemented. That is another reason that Forsett wanted to stick around. He wanted to get the terminology down and be sure that he and quarterback Joe Flacco are on the same track.

Even though he will finally get his chance to return to a team as a starter, Forsett is still attacking the offseason and every rep with the same enthusiasm that he had when he earned the starting job last year.

“You can’t get too comfortable. My thing is I get comfortable being uncomfortable, making sure that I am not getting complacent.” Forsett said. “I make sure that I am working hard. I know that any given day, I can be out of here. It’s a business and I have to bring my ‘A’ game every day and that’s what I am trying to do.”

Is a new crime wave on the horizon?

After decades of a downward trend in crime, residents in some large U.S. cities wonder if a reversal is coming.

If you live in Baltimore, you know that May, with 43 homicides, was the deadliest month since 1972. Or if you are a Houstonian, you’ve probably heard that murders were up 45% through April compared to the same period in 2014.

The latest statistics in Milwaukee show a 103% spike in murders year-to-date compared with a year ago.

The spike in killings in these major cities would be troubling in itself at any time, but it is especially troubling now, when policing practices, race and social policies are regularly in the news.

The video of a gunman brazenly opening fire on another man in the Bronx in May, or another gunman caught on camera firing across the street at someone in Harlem in April, spread so swiftly online that it is fair to ask if a crime wave is on the horizon.

A review of murder statistics in major U.S. cities so far this year shows an unclear picture.

While Baltimore and Houston appear to be experiencing a crime wave, comparable cities like Dallas and Los Angeles are trending in the opposite direction.

In short, it is too early to draw conclusions of a shift in the trend for violent crime.

Anecdotal evidence

How telling is Baltimore’s deadly month of May?

Of the 119 homicides recorded in Baltimore this year, more than one-third happened in May.

As the Baltimore Sun put it in an editorial, “We don’t think it is at all unreasonable to start asking questions about leadership in a city that, over the last month, was less safe by some measures than it has been at any point in recorded history.”

Speaking at an event remembering a toddler who was killed by a stray bullet last year, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said last month that it is a “very, very painful time in our city.”

On the other extreme is Los Angeles. Because of its large population, the city notches one of the nation’s highest numbers of murders, but the trend has been shrinking violent crime.

CNN requested murder statistics for 2015 from a number of large U.S. cities. Some departments cooperated right away, while others asked for more time or formal open records requests. Among the departments that released statistics, the numbers reflected different periods. Some cities had murder statistics through May, others just through April.

For the cities where crime does appear to be trending upward, how can one know if it is a blip or a historic reversal?

“It’s a little bit like the stock market. These statistics go up and down,” said Harold Pollack, co-director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab. “It’s like asking why did the stock market go up 75 points today.”

But numbers have the power to sway, and many of these figures are being used already to bolster arguments for stronger police enforcement or a reformed police presence.

Explaining the downward trend

As policing has changed over the years, the question of what the nationwide decreases in violent crime means has been debated.

There is general agreement that larger police departments — and more officers in the streets — has had a positive effect on lowering crime, Pollack said.

The quality of policing has also improved over the past 20 years and the departments are better managed, he said.

Other factors are harder to quantify.

The end of the crack epidemic is believed to have contributed to the decrease in violent crime, as have other reasons ranging from the legalization of abortion to changes in the illegal drug market.

This year “may not be shaping up to be a terrific year in many cities, and it may be part of a larger pattern, but we really don’t know that,” Pollack said.

So what’s the debate right now?

One obvious difference between last year and this year is the tensions between police officers and certain communities.

The high-profile instances of police officers killing unarmed black men stirred outrage and protests.

There is an understanding that somehow things have changed — or must change — in a post-Michael Brown, post-Freddie Gray, post-Eric Garner America.

The debate on whether police reform is needed or whether more aggressive policing is necessary is often political. The early 2015 murder statistics are providing evidence for both sides.

“If there’s a national mood that starts to see police as the bad guys, the police as the enemy responsible for these problems, it makes it a hell of a lot harder to police,” said Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore police officer and professor of policing. “One way that cops deal with that is that they just stop policing those people.”

A former New York Police Department officer, Bill Stanton, agreed that an uptick in crime can be linked to police being less assertive.

“When you take away police pride and you take away giving them the benefit of the doubt … and you’re going to call them racist and you’re going to prosecute them for doing nothing wrong,” Stanton said, “then what happens is they’re going to roll back. They’re not going to go that extra mile.”

CNN Political Analyst Van Jones said tying the protests over the deaths of unarmed black men to increases in crime is disingenuous.

“Police unions are trying to link any crime to First Amendment protests and cherry-picking data,” he told CNN’s Erin Burnett.

“This is all part of an attempt to tell black people that if we exercise our First Amendment rights, we are somehow now responsible for people who engage in crime,” he said. “Why should the black community have to choose between police abuse and police neglect? That’s a false choice.”

The fundamentals

The bottom line, statisticians say, is that there is not enough data to conclude if a new crime wave is upon us, or if there is, what factors are behind it.

Pollack suggested that looking at the available data through a political lens can distract from a focus on the fundamentals.

Nearly without exception, the protests over the killings of unarmed black men have been examples of police misconduct or mistakes, Pollack said.

All communities need and want good policing, and the focus should be on factors that are known to have lowered crime, he said.

Things like community policing and addressing other social issues in the communities have worked, he said.

“Public safety is a joint product of the police and the community, and each side has to trust each other, and when that trust breaks down, it’s very hard for police to do its job and for the community to do do its part as well,” he said.

But with the current political climate, don’t be surprised if crime statistics become part of the discussion on race and policing.

“The premise of the Black Lives Matter movement, that the police are the biggest threat facing young black males today, is simply false, and the animosity that’s directed to police on the streets today is having an effect,” Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute told CNN’s Chris Cuomo. “I’ve heard from many officers that they are reluctant to engage in actions that could be misinterpreted on cellphone cameras.”

The accusation from the other side is that there is an intentional effort to undermine the political support black protesters have garnered.

“Conflation of the protests with a rise in crime and criminality itself kind of defames what the protests are about,” New York Times columnist Charles Blow told Cuomo.

Villanueva Shines in Complete Game Loss

— RHP Elih Villanueva threw the first complete game for a Bowie pitcher in 2015 but he ended up on the wrong side of a 1-0 defeat in New Hampshire. The FisherCats scored an unearned run in the third inning for the game’s lone run.

In the third inning, DH Shane Orpitz tripled to the alley in right-center field with one out. Villanueva then coaxed a popout off the bat of C Pierce Rankin for the second out. 2B Jorge Flores then batted hitting the ball hard to the right side. Baysox 2B Garabez Rosa fielded beautifully spinning to throw in the shallow outfield grass. His throw sailed on him though, skidding off the top of the glove of 1B Brandon Snyder. Home to score was Opitz with the game’s lone run.

Bowie registered three hits in the game off of New Hampshire starter Matt Boyd. Boyd (5-1) worked a season-high 8 and 1/3rd innings in the win. The Baysox moved a runner into scoring position just one time in the game. Boyd, who entered the game with the best ERA in the Eastern League, exited after SS Ozzie Martinez singled with one down in the ninth inning. The Baysox could get Martinez no closer to the plate before the game’s conclusion.

The game was the shortest of the season for Bowie at 1 hour and 58 minutes. The Baysox saw a three-game winning streak end. With a morning win for Altoona, the Baysox are now four games out of first in the Eastern League’s West.

The series continues with another day game Thurssday, June 4th at 10:35 a.m. with LHP Tim Berry getting the start. Coverage begins 20-minutes prior on 1430wnav.com and via the Tune-In Radio App by searching Bowie Baysox.

Bowie returns home for Dollar Dog Night Tuesday, June 9th at 6:35 p.m. against the Binghamton Mets. Get your tickets over the phone at 301-805-6000 or online at baysox.com.

The Waco Biker Riot and the lexicon of racism

— Question: When men (and a few women) belonging to gangs known to law enforcement agencies for criminal behavior explode in a rampage – using guns, knives, clubs, and chains in trying to kill each other, and police officers, too, that leaves nine dead, nearly 200 injured and hundreds arrested, is that a “riot?”

Answer: Apparently not if the overwhelming majority of the gang members are White?

America’s present-day “racial divide,” has never been more strikingly displayed than in the refusal of much of the mainstream and conservative media to describe the May 17 biker riot in Waco, Texas as a riot.

The riot, which occurred at a popular restaurant amid dozens of innocent bystanders and, according to police, involved members of five different gangs, was one of the most extraordinary outbursts of mass criminal violence in recent memory. Further, almost immediately after Waco police arrested the bikers, rumors swirled that other members of the gangs were heading toward the city to both continue the battle against their rivals and carry out death threats made against Waco police officials.

Yet, scanning the newspapers, the universe of online publications, and the network and cable television news programs, you’d have scarcely come across any description of what occurred in Waco as a “riot.” Nor would you have likely found any reference to the bikers, clad in their distinctively grungy biker garb, as “thugs” – or, as one newspaper reader put it: “murdering thuggish rioters.”

MediaMatters, the watchdog group, pointed out the contrast in how Fox News, for example, covered Waco versus Baltimore and Ferguson.

It noted, “After African-American communities in Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo. came together to demonstrate against the deadly and racially disparate policies of law enforcement, Fox News branded the protests a ‘war on cops.’ But when the story became a mostly white Texas biker gang plotting to kill police with grenades and car bombs, the network took a decidedly less sensationalist approach in its reporting.”

CNN Political Commentator Sally Kohn wrote, “In fact, in much of the coverage of the Waco shootings, the race of the gang members isn’t even mentioned. By comparison, the day after Freddie Gray died in the custody of police officers in Baltimore, not only did most coverage mention that Gray was black, but also included a quote from the deputy police commissioner noting Gray was arrested in ‘a high-crime area known to have high narcotic incidents,’ implicitly smearing Gray and the entire community.”

The disparity in coverage did not go unremarked upon on Black social media, in a host of progressive publications, and in numerous online reader-responses to mainstream-publication stories. (Many also noted the Waco police responded to the deadly shootout with none of the heavily-militarized equipment and body armor that immediately marked police responses to peaceful protests in Ferguson and Baltimore.)

Indeed, the differences in the language used underscore that the way words and phrases are used to talk about race and racial events has its own meaning. In this instance, it’s that such words as “riot” and “thug” are part of the lexicon of America’s continuing racial divide that, among other things, individualizes White crime and White flaws while it indicts all Black Americans for the flaws and crimes of individual Blacks. Some years ago a journalist friend of mine described this dynamic as “the chains of collective guilt.”

The phenomenon isn’t new, of course. Once, the lexicon of anti-Black collective guilt helped justify the actual chains of Negro slavery and the legalized racism that followed. Now, it’s usually employed in more subtle ways.

Except when it’s not: As in the revealing discoveries over the past two months of racist, sexist and homophobic tweets and e-mails by cops in the police departments of San Francisco, Miami Beach, and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

In each case – all are still in early stages of investigation – police officers, some with long years on their force, were found to have exchanged from dozens to hundreds of social-media messages disparaging with vile slurs against Blacks, Hispanic-Americans, women, gays and lesbians, Muslim Americans – and, of course, President Obama. Law enforcement co-workers and innocent civilians alike were denigrated along with Black criminal suspects. The bulk of the messages in all these instances, which cover from 2010 to the present, focused on Black Americans.

The discoveries have led to the resignations of some of the officers, and disciplinary actions, including firing, against the others. Even more important, prosecutors and police officials in the three cities are reviewing cases of defendants in which the officers were involved either as arresting officers or witnesses at trial. In San Francisco, prosecutors have already dropped eight cases connected to some of the officers there.

One Miami Beach cop tried to excuse his behavior by describing it as just part of the police department’s longstanding “culture.” Unfortunately, the same could be said for the mainstream and conservative media’s refusal to use the most accurate descriptions for the Waco biker riot.

It’s those similarities that are worrisome.

Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His essay, “Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Great Provocateur,” appears in Africa’s Peacemakers: Nobel Peace Laureates of African Descent (2014), published by Zed Books. His new collection of columns, Race Forward: Facing America’s Racial Divide in 2014, is available at www.amazon.com

Waterfront Partnership Offers New FREE Summer Programs

— Waterfront Partnership launches two new FREE summer programs beginning this month. In addition to Summer Socials and Waterfront Wellness, Waterfront programming now includes Waterfront Play and Unified Bocce. Both of these programs provide new opportunities to get active at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

Waterfront Play: Play.Splash.Imagine June 18th – August 9th Thursdays and Fridays, 3-7 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Location: West Shore Park

In an effort to create a safe, inclusive environment that allows children to learn, play and thrive, play coaches from Playworks Maryland will lead interactive programming for all ages. Play coaches will facilitate games and provide temporary play equipment, including Imagination Playground.

Unified Bocce June 10th – July 29th Wednesdays, 6-8 p.m. Location: Rash Field

Bocce enthusiasts and novices alike are invited to a night of free games, along with bocce players from Special Olympics Maryland. The program runs through July 29.

Dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences, Unified Sports joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. It was inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding. Participation is free, but registration is required. Registration can be completed online at www.surveymonkey.com/s/bcunifiedbocce.

For more information on all Waterfront Partnership programs, visit www.waterfrontpartnership.org.

Waterfront Partnership is the proud steward of Baltimore’s crown jewel, its Inner Harbor and Waterfront. We’re lean, nimble and effective; the only organization that wakes up every day, rolls its sleeves up and gets to work on new ways we can make Baltimore’s Waterfront even more active, attractive and appealing. We’re the hosts who greet visitors, the creators of programs and promotions, the managers of our beautiful parks and the leaders of environmental restoration. We encourage investment in Baltimore’s most celebrated asset so it can continue to grow, to serves as a place of pride and the place where Baltimoreans come together to recreate and to celebrate.

A call to curb expansion of charter schools in black communities

— Parents, students and advocates for strong neighborhood schools continue to pressure civic leaders to end the expansion of charter and contract schools in Black and Latino communities across the nation.

Jitu Brown, the national director of Journey for Justice Alliance, a coalition of community, youth and parent-led grassroots organizations in 21 cities, said that the fight for public education – which suffers with the expansion of charter and contract schools –is a human and a civil rights issue.

As voices from the community were increasingly drowned out by philanthropic groups seeking wholesale educational reform, the state takeover of schools, corporate charters and appointed school boards have become the status quo, Brown said.

According to Education Week, a magazine published by Editorial Projects in Education, a nonprofit that produces K-12 educational content in print and online, more than 60 percent of philanthropic donations funneled into education young people in the United States went to charter and contract schools in 2010. Less than 25 percent of funding went to those programs about 15 years ago.

“What would actually be revolutionary, brand new, and fresh is if community wisdom was listened to and [corporations] worked with the people who are directly impacted by the institutions that they have to live with everyday,” said Brown.

Brown described two separate and unequal sets of expectations, one for White and middle class children and another, lower set of expectations for Black and Latino children that often influence education policy. Those disparities will continue until society finds the courage to confront them.

“We want what our friends in other communities have, said Brown. “They don’t have contract schools, they don’t have charter schools in middle class White communities they have world-class neighborhood schools.”

Daniel del Pielago of Empower DC agreed.

As the education organizer for Empower DC, a grassroots group that supports low- and moderate-income District residents living in the nation’s capital, said that when communities work together, and when they’re given the chance to put together solutions that work, they find success that doesn’t require corporate intervention.

That success is embodied by the community school model championed by groups such as the Alliance.

According to the Coalition for Community Schools, a network of educational groups that provide support for youth development family and health services, community schools feature an “integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement” that promotes “student learning, stronger families and healthier communities.”

Helen Moore, the co-chairperson of the Keep the Vote/No Takeover Coalition in Detroit, Mich., said that the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently working its way through a Republican-led Congress still at odds with President Barack Obama, should give communities the power to control the destinies of their children.

Moore said that neither “No Child Left Behind” Act, George W. Bush’s education initiative, nor President Obama’s “Race to Top” fulfilled what was supposed to really happen: giving Black and Brown school systems the power and resources they needed to implement high-quality educational programs for their children.

“What’s lost in the minutiae of school closures is the dismantling of good neighborhood schools,” said Brown. “There were actually solid well-performing schools in our community that were receiving schools for students that lost their schools due to closures.”

Two years later, Brown said, those schools often saw their test scores plummet, creating a cascading effect. Overcrowded classrooms make it harder for teachers to do their jobs lowering morale and have a negative impact on an already stressful learning environment.

“One of the casualties of corporate education interventions is the removal of Black teachers a significant part of the Black middle class. And who are they replaced by? They are replaced by newer, younger, Whiter and more transient teachers,” said Brown. “We are all for teaching diversity, but we also know that that is a civil rights issue. Children have the right to look at their teachers and dream that they can be that they should be able to see themselves.”

Earlier this month, the Alliance hosted a conference in Newark, N.J. in an effort to strengthen national networks and equip activists, parents and other community stakeholders with the tools to organize and combat myriad inequities that exist in public school systems nationwide.

The group also advocates for more penalties for schools that lean too heavily on zero tolerance policies that disproportionately suspend and expel students of color for minor infractions. It favors more federal support for schools that implement restorative justice and student leadership development programs.

“We know that these attacks on our schools and our public education system is an attack on our communities,” said del Pielago.

Brown said, “We should have positive student development and discipline policies. That doesn’t mean that if a student brings a knife or a gun, we’re going to throw rose petals at the child. We need to treat our young people like discipline is supposed to teach a lesson and suspending children is not teaching them anything. What teaches them something is creating a culture where they learn how to be accountable for their actions.”

Although Brown said that he supports parents who seek innovative educational alternatives for their children, he called for a federal moratorium on all charter and contract school programs.

“What’s lost in the minutiae of school closures is the dismantling of good neighborhood schools that they were actually solid well-performing schools in our community that were receiving schools for students of school closings and you look two years later and their scores plummet,” said Brown.

“The prerequisite to choice is stability,” said Brown. “You can’t anchor a community with schools where people have contracts to run them. [School] privatization and community schools cannot coexist. They are like oil and water.”

Film Review: San Andreas

— If you live in California, a major earthquake is your worst nightmare. The thought of a 9.5 quake is almost unimaginable and terrifying. Quick, stand under a doorway or hide under a desk, it’s coming and the aftermath is not all that pretty in San Andreas. This adrenaline-pumping movie turns a nightmare into big screen reality as it takes the disaster film genre (The Poseidon Adventure, Towering Inferno, Earthquake, Twister) to a whole new level.

In the past, films of this kind often skipped on character development, realistic dialogue and viable plotting and concentrated on the spectacle. Instead, TV writer Carlton (Nash Bridges, Lost, Bates Motel), working from a story by Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore (Red Dawn), has created three parallel storylines that add a human story to this worst-case natural disaster:

A Caltech seismologist, Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti), and his research partner Dr. Kim Park (Will Yun Lee, Hawaii Five-O), have found a way to predict earthquakes. “ Mass destruction. It’s not a matter of if, but when,” says Hayes. 2. A Los Angeles Fire Department and Rescue helicopter pilot, Chief Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson), is dealing with the impending divorce from his wife, Emma (Carla Gugino, Spy Kids), and the breakup of his family after the death of his youngest daughter. 3. Gaines’ surviving daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) is visiting San Francisco with Emma’s new wealthy, duplicitous boyfriend, Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd, Horrible Bosses). Cue the tremors.

The task of weaving the storylines into a viable drama as unfathomable carnage and chaos unfold is up to director Brad Peyton, who worked with Dwayne Johnson and producer Beau Flynn on Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. That film, however, left no indication that Peyton was perfectly capable of unleashing this monster. The moment-by-moment, never-stop-moving, continually astonishing 107 minutes of perfectly edited (Bob Ducsay, Godzilla), amazingly shot (Steve Yedlin, Carrie), well adorned (production designer Barry Chusid, The Day After Tomorrow) footage features 1,300 visual effects: Collapsing city skylines, a tsunami, the destruction of the Hoover Dam, farmland shifting like a deck of cards and bridges snapping like bread sticks. With Peyton at the helm, there is little time to breathe. And the few moments of respite, are reserved for fleshing out the characters and their dynamics.

The seismologist and his partner are the first to track the tremors that turn into huge shakes and his task is trying to get the word out there that a nine-plus earthquake is about to rattle and destroy California, from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Gaines first task is to rescue his wife from the top of a crumbling building in downtown L.A. And their joint assignment is to find their daughter in San Francisco, after her soon-to-be new stepfather has abandoned her. Says a very irked Emma as she screams into a phone leaving a voice message for Daniel: “You left my daughter? If you are not already dead, I’m gonna kill you!”

Paul Giamatti and Will Yun Lee don’t overplay their serious roles. Alexandra Daddario as Blake, a fitting young heroine, is believable as the young woman stranded in S.F. looking for higher ground and a rescue. Ioan Gruffudd as the cad who leaves her is suitably deceptive and cowardly; you want to witness his demise. Carla Gugino shows a feistiness that makes her character credibly brave. However, the weight of the film rests on Dwayne Johnson’s shoulders, and brother-man is up to the heavy lifting. His portrayal of Gaines is humorous, vulnerable and courageous, all at the right times. He is a far better actor than most of his movies would reveal. He’s solid.

San Andreas starts with an action scene, ends with an action scene, and in-between the pace is almost as relentless as the wave of destruction. It just doesn’t stop.

Fit Nation: Swimming past African-American issues with fear and competency in water

— When I told my dad that I was going to be in a triathlon, he said, “You know you have to swim in the ocean. Do you know how to swim?”

And I thought to myself, “Do I really know how to swim?” When I was young, my dad would often pass down knowledge from his grandmother, Ruth Greenidge, who emigrated from Barbados to Boston, about swimming in the sea: “Only fools and fish swim in the ocean.”

He told me she would only go waist-deep to wade in the water because she knew the dangers that could lie in the murky waters. This familial proverb was passed down from generation to generation and seemed to convey that African-Americans really did not belong in, and should be fearful of, the water. I found my great-grandmother’s words of wisdom particularly interesting as I started my CNN Fit Nation triathlon training in January; I knew swimming was going to be a challenge for me.

Traditionally, African-Americans have faced disadvantages in learning how to swim. It is not, as many put it, that we simply aren’t cut out for swimming. A CNN article and a recent study by USA Swimming stated that 70% of African-American children cannot swim, compared with nearly 60% for Hispanic children and 42% for white children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African-American children between the ages of 5 and 14 are three times more likely to drown than white children in the same age range.

As a current PhD student in Sociology in Race and Urban Studies at Georgia State University, I have learned that there are many confounding factors why these statistics might be true. Was it that African-Americans lacked access to quality pools and cost-effective swimming lessons in urban and rural settings? Was it that we had common issues around hair-care maintenance and water? Or did generational proverbs from our ancestors keep creeping up to remind us that seawater, and being near the ocean, was not too kind to our people?

While it might not address many of these questions, there has been an increased interest in providing opportunities for African-Americans youth in the inner city to learn how to swim and break the cycle of their fear of water.

As a young person, I was terrified of the sea; seaweed and jellyfish were a major concern of mine that would send me running to the sand. Moreover, being a child of the 1970s, haunting “Jaws” theme music would always play in my mind as I’d tread water in the ocean. I never got over this fear as I entered into adulthood.

Over the last four months, I challenged myself to get accustomed to the water by getting in the pool. But in order to get ready for the triathlon, I had to prepare myself in order to successfully compete. I always hated the smell of pool chlorine, changing clothes and then having to go back to work, but I had to work through it.

I started by doing several laps, treading water, getting used being in the deep end, and learning how to float again. One thing I found was that swimming in the water was easier on my joints than other exercises; the more I swam and exercised in the pool, the more weight would fall off and the more agile I became. Swimming helped with my flexibility and resistance training as well. Water exercising and swimming can have tremendous health benefits and this was an epiphany for me.

I became more confident as the weeks progressed. During our recent mock trial in the ocean, my teammates were surprised that I was one of the first people out of the water. I don’t know what happened — it all just started to click. It was probably the swimming exercises, or maybe it was my great-grandmother watching over me in the Pacific Ocean.

As the old Negro spiritual “Wade in the Water” concludes: “that water was route to freedom.” As an African-American, I am breaking the cycle of the fear of water by embracing the water as a new mode of exercise. I am achieving my own personal freedom of getting in shape and staying healthy while conquering my long-held fears.

This September, as part of a triathlon in Malibu, California, I am going to have to swim a half-mile in open seawater. The lessons I have learned in CNN Fit Nation in swimming have been tremendous. I hope and pray that my great-grandmother and ancestors will be wading in the water with me and at the finish line. I am counting on them.

Six CNN viewers have been selected to be part of the 2015 Fit Nation triathlon team. They’ll race alongside Dr. Sanjay Gupta in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon in September. As they train, the six will share their stories about their Fit Nation experience.


™ & © 2015 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

VIDEO| Hurricane outlook 2015: El Niño could hinder Atlantic storms

— This year’s Atlantic hurricane season probably will have fewer storms than normal for the third year running — thanks in part to El Niño, forecasters say.

CNN Video

Hurricanes: What you don’t know

As hurricane season is in full swing, here’s a look at the storms and their impact.

The Atlantic season, which started Monday, probably will produce six to 11 named storms, forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center said last week.

Three to six of them could become hurricanes, the center predicted.

Both estimates are below the median — about 12 named storms and 6.5 hurricanes, according to Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project.

What could hold hurricane formation back? That would be warm waters in the ocean to the west, said Gerry Bell, NOAA’s lead hurricane season forecaster.

The phenomenon known as El Niño is back this year. The event, involving the warming of water in the equatorial Pacific, increases strong wind shear in the Atlantic.

That reduces the intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes and prevents other systems from becoming powerful enough to be given names.

“What El Niño does is it suppresses the hurricane season, mainly during the peak months of the season, which are August, September and October,” Bell told reporters during a news conference in New Orleans last week.

The outlook does not predict how many storms will hit land. Bell warned that the forecast shouldn’t lull people in coastal areas.

“Six to 11 named storms is still a fair amount, so be prepared” to evacuate if ordered, he said.

NOAA pointed to 1992’s Hurricane Andrew, which was one of only seven named Atlantic storms that year. It devastated South Florida, killing at least 26 people and causing $26.5 billion in damage.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs though November 30. The region includes the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the north Atlantic Ocean.

Last season produced eight named storms and six hurricanes.

The Eastern Pacific hurricane outlook calls for an above-average season — 15 to 22 named storms, with seven to 12 hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center said.

It is rare for an Eastern Pacific hurricane to affect the U.S. mainland, though some do have an influence on Hawaii.

CNN’s Steve Almasy contributed to this report

Jay-Z and Beyonce are following a rich tradition

— Hip-hop culture is about transformation. It is more than a global genre of music. Hip-hop is a transcendent cultural phenomena that speaks to the soul, mind, body and spirit of what it means to dare to change the world into a better place. Hip-hop is not just about acquiring funds or “stacking paper.” It is also about giving back. I have personally been a long term advocate for the unbridled intellectual genius and social consciousness of hip-hop.

So when I heard that recently Jay-Z and Beyoncé travelled together to Baltimore, Md. in the wake of the massive “Black Lives Matter” protests, I was not surprised. In fact, I give them both a big thumbs-up salute in gratitude for their leadership example. The impact of the injustice of the horrific police killing of Freddie Gray was profound not only in Baltimore, but also across the nation.

They did not wait for a “cooling off” period before going to the scene of the protests. Jay and Bey also spent some quality time consoling Freddie Gray’s family. Giving back sometimes involves more than financial contributions. Taking sincere acts of solidarity and empathy with those who cry out for equal justice is also a meaningful expression of caring and lending one’s public brand to support the demand for justice.

One of the reasons why I believe that the combined creative talent of this gifted couple will continue to soar with career success is that they both believing in giving back. They give back substantively to their communities in New York, in Texas and throughout the world. From assisting global Red Cross efforts to helping the United Nations to provide safe clean drinking water to millions of people in Africa, Jay-Z and Beyonce continue their transformative philanthropic campaigns.

Of course whenever public icons such as Jay and Bey attempt to help make a difference for besieged and underserved communities, there will always be a cynical group of “player haters.” But all of the negative responses to the goodwill actions of Jay and Bey will in no way be successful in tarnishing their righteous acts of helping others.

I well remember when the Godfather of hip-hop, Russell Simmons, was joined on New York City in 2001 by P. Diddy, Sister Souljah, Queen Latifah, Jay-Z, Will and Jada Smith, and many other hip-hop icons to establish the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN) as a nonprofit advocacy organization. The artists decided that the theme of HSAN would be “Taking back responsibility” for the empowerment of families and communities in America and internationally.

Jay-Z and Beyonce have helped HSAN immeasurably over years to register millions of young people to vote and to encourage Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) programs in many cities and states. Again, it was not surprising to hear Jay-Z’s latest rap featuring lyrics about the unjust deaths of Freddie Gray, Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin. In classic Jay-Z style, he poetically said, ““You know when I work, I ain’t your slave, right? You know I ain’t shucking and jiving and high-fiving, and you know this ain’t back in the days, right? Well I can’t tell how the way they killed Freddie Gray, right? Shot down Mike Brown how they did Tray, right?”

Beyonce also has a very long list of charities that she supports financially, including the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Oxfam, UNICEF, Global Poverty Project, and Keep a Child Alive. Yet, probably one of the most private and telling acts that Jay-Z and Beyonce have done over the past year anonymously was the paying of thousands of dollars for the release from jail bails for the hundreds of persons arrested in Ferguson and in Baltimore who were protesting police brutality.

In the 1960s, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, James Baldwin, Dick Gregory and many other performing artists and authors would pay the bail money to get hundreds civil rights workers out of jails during the many struggles for equality and justice. Thus, Jay-Z and Beyonce today are continuing that proud tradition of giving to support the causes of freedom, justice and equality.

Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is the President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and can be reached for national advertisement sales and partnership proposals at: dr.bchavis@nnpa.org; and for lectures and other professional consultations at: http://drbenjaminfchavisjr.wix.com/drbfc