Report: Mauritania is no longer the world’s slavery capital

— Mauritania, the West African country long thought to be home to the world’s highest percentage of enslaved people, no longer holds that lamentable title, according to a report released late Monday.

The Walk Free Foundation’s slavery index says the percentage of people living in modern slavery in Mauritania dropped from 4% in 2014 to about 1% this year. The country, which CNN featured in the 2012 documentary “Slavery’s last stronghold,” now has the world’s seventh-highest incidence of slavery.

North Korea ranks worst on the index. Nearly one in five people there are thought to be enslaved.

“Slavery is not a thing of the past, and we must stop thinking that it is,” the Walk Free Foundation said in a statement issued to CNN. “The very nature of modern slavery means it is clandestine and hidden from view, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t everywhere. Every country in the world is affected.”

Globally 45.8 million people are held in slavery, according to the report, which is based on random surveys in 25 countries, including Mauritania, and statistical modeling. That’s a 28% uptick since the group’s last slavery index report was released in 2014. But Fiona David, the Walk Free Foundation’s executive director of global research, cautioned against reading too much into that increase or the decrease in slavery’s prevalence in Mauritania. The group’s ability to estimate the prevalence of slavery is improving over time, she said, so the trends may result in part from better stats.

“It’s too early for us to say whether or not there’s been an absolute increase,” she said.

The group uses computer models to estimate the prevalence of slavery in countries where it was unable to do surveys. That process of risk assessment has “gone from horse and cart to having a car on the road” in terms of its sophistication, David said. “What we can categorically say,” she added, “is we have a better picture (of the prevalence of slavery worldwide) than we’ve ever had before.”

The Walk Free Foundation defines slavery as “situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception.”

The nonprofit worked with Gallup to conduct in-person surveys in Mauritania for the first time, David said. Of the 1,000 people interviewed in Mauritania, 37 — or 3.7% — said they had been subjected to forced labor or were forced into marriage, according to the report. The percentage was adjusted to ensure the random sample represented the demographics of Mauritania, David said, arriving at this year’s 1% figure.

When CNN reported on slavery in Mauritania in 2012, experts, including Gulnara Shahinian, then the U.N. special rapporteur on modern forms of slavery, estimated 10% to 20% of the population was living in modern forms of slavery. With echoes of pre-Civil War America, slavery is still hereditary in parts of the vast country, with mostly darker-skinned black Africans being enslaved by lighter-skinned Arabs.

It’s difficult to get information out of the country. Top government officials continue to deny slavery exists in Mauritania. They often couch anti-slavery programs in terms of “vestiges” of the practice.

“While Mauritania has been the focus of extensive interest and reporting in the past, it has not had the benefit of a national survey until now,” the report says. “The extent of slavery in Mauritania is still high; however more reliable methods indicate that it is not as high as previously thought.”

Researchers cannot rule out the possibility that the prevalence of slavery in Mauritania is in fact decreasing because of growing awareness. The Mauritanian government last year established special anti-slavery courts. Those courts made their first convictions in May — marking only the second time that a slave owner had been convicted in Mauritania since the practice of owning slaves was criminalized in 2007.

“It’s very encouraging to see the government making new legislation,” David said. “And it’s very encouraging to see (anti-slavery activist) Biram Dah Abeid was released after 18 months’ imprisonment.”

Sarah Mathewson, Africa program coordinator for Anti-Slavery International, said slavery in Mauritania is “shrouded in secrecy” and therefore hard to measure.

“It is incredibly difficult to ascertain how many people remain in slavery in Mauritania,” she said in an email. “To my knowledge there has never been any comprehensive, nationwide study to identify numbers of people in slavery alongside the local organizations best placed to find cases; the Mauritanian government hasn’t allowed that to happen, and because the local organizations do not have the funds to carry out such studies … we could confidently say that hundreds of thousands continue to be affected, as we have met entire villages of people that might remain under the control of their masters.”

Among the other key findings of the report:

• “Though information on North Korea is difficult to verify, pervasive evidence exists that citizens are subjected to state-sanctioned forced labor, including through forced labor as political prisoners and as workers on overseas contracts.”

• “Uzbekistan has the second highest estimated proportion of prevalence of modern slavery by population. While some steps have been taken to address forced labor in the cotton industry, the Uzbek government continues to subject its citizens to forced labor in the cotton harvest each year.”

• “In 2016, we estimate 18.3 million people are in some form of modern slavery in India. This estimate reflects extensive surveying conducted in 2016 in 15 states. While many impressive efforts are being taken by the Indian Government to address vulnerability, survey data suggest that domestic work, construction, farming, fishing, manual labor and the sex industry remain sectors of concern.”

David highlighted some positive developments as well, including the UK passing a law that requires large companies to report on what they’re doing to root out slave labor in their supply chains.

That’s a model for other countries, including the United States and China, to follow, she said.

John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion who focuses on climate change and social justice. Follow him on Snapchat, Facebook and email. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

Russell Simmons repays RushCard holders, pushes for credit reforms

— Russell Simmons is just starting to regain a little normalcy in his life.

He’s back at yoga and the hip-hop and business mogul is even able to run some errands without worrying about whether a disgruntled RushCard holder might verbally attack him or worse.

Simmons never hung his head despite mounting – if unfair – criticism that rocked the music impresario when his innovative pre-paid RushCard experienced a computer glitch last fall that prevented hundreds of thousands of card holders from accessing their money.

“I took full responsibility. It’s my card and I made sure to reach out to card holders personally and I reached into my own pocket to help people with their rent, their medicine or whatever emergency that may have come up,” Simmons said.

“All I knew how to do was to make good on it and try to make the people that were damaged whole again,” he said.

Simmons has done even more and he continues his push to have the underbanked and the underserved benefit.

“My mission is to eventually see that when someone pays their rent on time, pays their light bill on time, that these things go on their credit reports,” Simmons said. “It should be and if I can’t get regulators and the credit bureaus to do it, then I will have to start my own credit bureau.”

If that sounds like a bit of a stretch, Simmons points to his starting the RushCard as proof that real change can happen. “I was first, no one else did this until I came out with my card,” he said, noting that he’s not only the face of RushCard, but along with his American Express and other items in his wallet is his own RushCard that he regularly uses.

“Look, we were the ones who invented this and what I don’t like is when people refer to us as a celebrity company,” Simmons said. “All of what American Express is doing, all of what Chase Manhattan did, we did first. We’re a virtual bank. The other thing is that we didn’t build this company to make money when we started and, really, I didn’t think it would become a business but it did and I go to work every day to try and improve the service we provide.”

Simmons said his fight for credit building is an uphill battle, but it’s a battle that can be won.

It’s as much part of his life as yoga, he said.

“You pay rent every month for eight years on a RushCard, why can’t you get a mortgage? I think that’s a travesty. I think a lot of the big companies like MasterCard, the Visas, the others that do the processing and infrastructure work; a lot of us could come together and force them to accept this information on credit reports of the world,” Simmons said.

As Simmons pushes for changes in policies in the credit industry, he’s leaving the door open for starting his own credit reporting agency.

In the aftermath of the much-publicized computer glitch – which Simmons still refers to as a “tsunami” – the business leader provided free service to card holders for five months, sacrificing all of his company’s profits to do so. He also reached a more than $20 million settlement from a class action lawsuit filed against RushCard, because of the glitch.

“I’m glad to do it. I had put aside $25 million,” Simmons said, noting that the card isn’t just for communities that have been forgotten and underserved by banks. “There’s no reason why small businesses can’t use a Rush Business Card. We just added a feature, just now where if you lose your card, you can turn your card off instantly through an app. Then you can turn it back on.”

Simmons continued: “This card should be for affluent people as well as underserved community members and it should be the wave of the future for millennials. This is the bank for millennials and the growth rate for our company is 70 percent millennials, when it used to be single mothers. Millennials who don’t like banks are coming in our direction and we haven’t even begun the branding exercise to speak to them.”

Simmons said that he didn’t mind paying the $20 million settlement.

“I don’t mind paying the $20 million. I don’t mind that that was our cost. I am going to spend a lot more money than that in the community, in my peacekeeping programs, in RUSH and art education,” he said.

Simmons said so much more will soon be announced and he’s confident that RushCard holders and others will be pleased.

“We are going to be in the community in a way that we’ve never been,” Simmons said.

Control uneven skin pigmentation

— Uneven skin tone is a common, relatively harmless condition that affects millions of people. Hyperpigmentation (darkened areas) and hypopigmentation (lightened areas) are examples of uneven skin tone conditions that people often hope to alleviate.

Changes in skin tone can affect people of all ages and races. Some of the more widely known skin tone changes are the formation of freckles and age spots. The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology advises that lightened or darkened patches of the skin can occur anywhere on the body and are usually the result of exposure to the sun. Melanin is produced by the skin as a protective agent. When skin is exposed to UV radiation, melanin absorbs the sunÕs rays and darkens the skin to reduce instances of burns and other damage. Excessive melanin can produce darkened areas that are disproportionate to other parts of the skin. In cases where skin tone already is uneven, sun exposure can exacerbate the situation.

Some skin tone abnormalities are hereditary, while others may result from hormonal issues during pregnancy. People may experience such abnormalities after a skin injury, while others may experience some instances as a natural response to skin inflammation.

One of the easiest and most effective ways to alleviate pigmentation issues is to apply a sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 each and every day. Look for a product that blocks both UVA and UVB light. Sunscreen needs to be reapplied at regular intervals, especially when spending prolonged time outdoors.

Exfoliation of the skin may promote faster shedding of the exterior layers of the skin. Stores carry many at-home exfoliating kits and creams. However, if you are unsure which types of products are best for your skin, consult with a dermatologist.

Dermatologists may prescribe lightening creams that will slowly lighten darkened skin.

Malasma is an uneven pigmentation that can occur on the face and may be a side effect of hormonal imbalances caused by pregnancy, menopause or use of oral contraceptives. Melasma can clear up on its own after pregnancy, but if it is linked to contraceptive use, speak with a doctor about changin

Extended summer hours at three city drop-off centers

Baltimore City Department of Public Works Director Rudolph S. Chow, P.E., announced today that extended summer hours at three of the City’s Citizens’ Convenience Centers will go into effect on Tuesday, May 31, 2016. Baltimore residents can drop-off residential waste, bulk trash, recycling and eCycling at these three Bureau of Solid Waste drop-off centers located around the city, Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. These hours will remain in effect through Saturday, September 3, 2016.

Extended summer hours will be in effect at:

Western Citizens’ Convenience Center at 701 Reedbird Avenue

Eastern Citizens’ Convenience Center at 6101 Bowleys Lane

Northwest Citizens’ Convenience Center at 2840 Sisson Street

Citizens may also drop off items at:

NW Transfer Station at 5030 Reisterstown Road Mon. – Sat., 7 am – 3 pm

Quarantine Road. Landfill at 6100 Quarantine Road – Mon. – Sat., 9 am – 5 pm

Tricks to simplify outdoor entertaining

Some of summer’s favorite moments happen right in your backyard: the sounds of children running around, the smells of fresh-cut grass and newly planted flowers, and the gathering of family and friends.

Here are a few simple tricks to make your next soiree the best one yet:

Build Atmosphere

Your patio and backyard are an extension of your home, so don’t limit your creativity to indoors. Avoid harsh overhead lighting and create an inviting summer atmosphere by stringing paper lanterns or lightbulbs across your deck or around the railings.

While you want outdoor furniture to be stylish, you also want to make sure it provides comfort. Many outdoor furniture cushions are made from rough material, so consider bringing indoor cushions outside. You can always take them inside if a summer rain hits.

Rather than keeping an outdoor cooler sitting in the corner, consider making a DIY picnic table with cooler storage or building a wooden crate for your existing cooler. Create space and balance by utilizing the corners of your deck, as well, with an accent plant, side table or a rustic bar cart.

Keep Guests Full and Happy

Create a simple and refreshing summer appetizer and drink menu to keep guests content. When you’re ready to get started on your menu, a high-performance blender, such as the Vitamix 780, is a must-have kitchen appliance. The sleek silhouette, touch-screen panel and low-profile container makes large batches quickly and clean-up easy.

Easily whip up a batch of smoothies for unexpected visitors. To make a cucumber melon smoothie, blend chunks of cucumber, grapes, cantaloupe and honeydew for a delicious summer treat for both kids and adults.

For kids’ summer sleepovers, try an easy no-nut butter recipe – perfect for dipping apples and carrots and refueling after an intense backyard game of flag football. Simply blend sunflower, flaxseed and sesame seeds, and you won’t need to worry about any gluten or nut allergies.

For the perfect happy hour, incorporate refreshing pineapple into your menu and treat your guests to a summer combination of piña coladas and fruity avocado salsa.

Prep, Don’t Stress

By preparing for guests ahead of time, you’ll be relaxed and ready to entertain if a neighbor comes knocking on your door to chat. Keep a decorative, weatherproof crate or wooden bin with a secure lid on the edge of your deck. That way, kids can keep all of their toys in one place and clean them up quickly when guests arrive. You can even use multiple crates and have them handy for extra bench seating.

Create a grocery list so you’re not overwhelmed in the store. Dividing your list by appetizers, main courses and desserts will help you navigate. Make fresh produce last longer by storing it in the fridge rather than a fruit bowl, or by creating ready-to-use plastic bags of frozen fruits for your smoothies.

So, call up your family and friends and let the summer fun begin!

PBS honors men and women in uniform with National Memorial Day Concert

The National Memorial Day Concert will be broadcast live on PBS, on Sunday, May 29, 2016 at 8 p.m. The free concert takes place right on the Capitol’s West Lawn.

During the concert, local Bowie, Maryland resident and hero, Jack Farley’s story of service and sacrifice will be featured.

At the height of the Vietnam War, 1st Lt. Jack Farley (Class of ’64) found himself serving his country halfway around the world in a foreign land. Farley was one of 1.7 million U.S. servicemen drafted and sent to Vietnam between 1965 and 1973. Farley and his platoon were engaged in search and destroy missions, hunting an elusive enemy through thick jungles and sodden rice paddies. On January 10, 1969, Viet Cong forces unexpectedly began to shell Farley’s fire support base with mortar fire. One of the shells exploded next to him, sending shrapnel into his body. For Farley, his toughest battle would be in the months and years ahead. His right leg was amputated above the knee, but he refused to let that injury define him for the rest of his life. He would go on to help a future generation of wounded veterans.

For almost three decades, PBS has inspired viewers with the annual broadcast of the multi-award-winning National Memorial Day Concert dedicated to the men and women in uniform, their families at home and all those who have given their lives for our country. The night of remembrance will honor the over 400,000 valiant men and women who are laid to rest in the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery and chronicle the experiences of the millions of American veterans who still suffer from the seen and unseen wounds of war.

Hosted by Joe Mantegna (Criminal Minds) and Gary Sinise (Criminal Minds: Without Borders), the program also features distinguished American leader General Colin L. Powell USA (Ret.); world-renowned four-time Grammy Award-winning classical superstar Renée Fleming; iconic music legends The Beach Boys; gifted actress and singer Katharine McPhee (Scorpion); country music star and Grammy-nominated member of the Grand Ol Opry Trace Adkins; Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG Award-winning actress S. Epatha Merkerson (Chicago Med, Law & Order); Award-winning actor Esai Morales (Mozart in the Jungle); plus Tony Award-winning sensation Alfie Boe, who has just joined the Broadway cast of the smash hit Finding Neverland; and marking the end of an era, Trent Harmon, the final winner of American Idol, in performance with the National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of top pops conductor Jack Everly. Also participating are the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff with The U.S. Army Herald Trumpets, The U.S. Army Chorus, The Soldiers’ Chorus of the U.S. Army Field Band, The U.S. Navy Band Sea Chanters, The U.S. Air Force Singing Sergeants and the Armed Forces Color Guard and Service Color Teams provided by the Military District of Washington, D.C.

For more information about the National Memorial Day Concert, visit: www.pbs.org/national-memorial-day-concert.

Memorial Day Ceremony at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens

The public is invited to Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens’ annual Memorial Day celebration, which salutes the men and women of the armed forces who have paid the highest price in defense of the United States of America on Monday, May 30, 2016 at 10 a.m. The traditional patriotic ceremony will feature a slate of local participants and honor those fighting the battles of today, as well as to those who gave their lives in Korea, Vietnam and World War II.

Airman 1st Class Nathaniel H. McDavitt of Severna Park, Marylnad, who was killed on April 15, 2016 in Jordan by the Islamic State, will be honored on Memorial Day 2017.

Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, Circle of the Immortals is located at

200 East Padonia Road, Timonium, MD 21093. For more information: 410-666-0490 or www.dulaneyvalley.com

Speakers

·Memorial Address: Brigadier General Sean M. Casey, Director of the Joint Staff Maryland National Guard

·Memorial Address: Congressman C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, III

.Keynote speaker: Captain Christian Maisel, Commander of the 231st Chemical Company, Maryland Army National Guard

·Memorial Address: Vincent Krepps, Korean War Veteran

·Colonel William Sean Lee, State Area Command Chaplain, Maryland National Guard

·Emcee: Alan Walden, American Flag Foundation, Inc; Patriots of Fort McHenry

Music and Pageantry

·Color guard units: Maryland National Guard, Patriot Guard Riders, Elkridge Young Marines, Historic Honor Guard

·229th Maryland Army National Guard Band

·4th Combat Engineer Battalion, United States Marine Corps Reserve

·US Marine Corps will lay wreaths at the WWII/Korean War Memorial, Children of Liberty Memorial

·Glee Club of Edenwald Retirement Community and Boy Scout Troop# 340 Lutherville will recite the Pledge of Allegiance

·Glee Club of Edenwald to perform medley of classic military songs

·Maryland Sings, Directed by Bill Myers

·Military memorabilia, vehicles and uniforms courtesy of Butch Maisel and the Boys’ Latin Center for Military History (slated to open in Fall, 2016)

·Robert McCurdy, Bagpiper

History of Memorial Day at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens

The Memorial Day Ceremony is held in Dulaney Valley’s Circle of Immortals, an area dedicated in 1967 and reserved for Marylanders killed in action. Twenty-six men who died in Vietnam are buried within the Circle. The area is also home to the official Baltimore County World War II/Korean War Memorial, dedicated in 1998; and The Children of Liberty Memorial, which was added to the Circle in 1990 and is dedicated to Maryland servicemen and women who died at the hands of terrorists. It includes a plaque dedicated to the seven Maryland servicemen who lost their lives in the 1991 Liberation of Kuwait, the names of the three Maryland servicemen killed in 2000 aboard the USS Cole and the names of the servicemen killed in the September 11, 2001 attack on the Pentagon.

The annual Memorial Day ceremony at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens is a legacy of the former owners, the Armiger Family, who felt the public was losing sight of the meaning of Memorial Day. Since purchasing the cemetery in 2007, John O. Mitchell III and John O. (Jack) Mitchell IV, owners of the Mitchell-Wiedefeld Funeral Home, Inc. in Towson, MD have been committed to continuing the tradition of honoring those who serve our country and they welcome the community to pay tribute to these dedicated men and women.

Crash demonstration highlights need for seat belt use in all seats

Overlooking an isolated stretch of runway at Martin State Airport, officials from the Maryland Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Baltimore County Police and safety advocates witnessed a sudden and violent impact between two cars on Tuesday, May 24, 2016. The T-bone crash simulation effectively showed the devastating consequences of unbelted occupants during a typical car crash and demonstrated the need to wear seat belts in every seat during every ride. Officials specifically focused on the need for backseat passengers to wear seat belts to avoid becoming human projectiles in a crash and killing others in the vehicle, including those who did the right thing by buckling up.

“Our message is simple: buckle up in every seat, every time, day and night,” said Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn. “The most effective way to save your life— and the lives of others— is to wear your seat belt.”

On average, about 120 people who died in traffic crashes each year in Maryland were not wearing their seat belts. Over the past five years, 59 percent of all backseat passengers who died in Maryland were unbelted.

“Seat belts prevent ejection during rollovers, and they stop back seat passengers from becoming projectiles during a crash,” said Dr. Beth Baker, Region 3 Administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “No matter how short or far you’re traveling, buckle up.”

In 2015, Maryland’s seat belt usage rate was 93 percent, an increase from the 2014 rate of 92.1 percent. Despite the increase, the number of traffic fatalities in Maryland went from 443 in 2014, the lowest number since 1948, to a preliminary number of 521 in 2015. Thirty six percent of people who died in Maryland motor vehicle crashes last year were unbelted. Not wearing a seat belt continued to be a leading cause of death on Maryland roads last year. If Maryland could reach a 100 percent seat belt usage, about 54 more lives could be saved each year.

“The tragic increase in traffic deaths on our roads last year is unacceptable,” said Motor Vehicle Administrator Christine E. Nizer. “Maryland’s efforts to reach zero traffic deaths must include more people wearing this simple, life-saving device.”

“As a police officer, there is nothing worse than notifying a family that they have lost a loved one and knowing that the loss could have been prevented if they had simply buckled their seat belt,” stated Baltimore County Police Chief James W. Johnson.

“As drivers and as passengers, we all have choices to make each and every time we get into a vehicle,” said Suzanne Elzey, founder of the CruiseSafe Foundation, a nonprofit driving safety organization. “Whether you realize it or not, the choices you make at that time, will impact hundreds of people for the rest of their lives. So make safe, smart choices – buckle up, drive the speed limit and avoid distractions— as a driver or a passenger.”

Suzanne founded CruiseSafe after a horrific crash claimed the lives of her teenage son and his three best friends on Kent Island in April of 2013. Suzanne shared her personal story and spoke about the choices people make as drivers and passengers, and the long-term impact those choices have on family, friends and communities.

The crash demonstration marks the start of the national Click It or Ticket media campaign aimed at increasing seat belt use across Maryland and the country. The campaign features a television spot, which was designed specifically to address the issue of unbelted back seat occupants. The spot, which was developed using federal highway safety funding, can be seen here. The campaign also features radio advertisements and digital media, as well as grassroots partnerships with local radio stations and Uber.

Buckling up in every seat is the law in Maryland. Every person who is not buckled faces the possibility of an $83 ticket. Along with not wearing seat belts, officials highlighted areas that have historically been leading causes of deaths on Maryland’s roads, including: impaired driving; speeding; distracted driving; and not using crosswalks.

Edmondson-Westside High School holds ‘College Decision Day’

College bound Edmondson-Westside High School seniors had the opportunity to showcase their higher education choices during ‘College Decision Day,’ a special program held at the school on Monday, May 23, 2016. Principal Muriel Cole-Webber was joined by Congressman Elijah Cummings, members of the school’s faculty, college representatives, 92Q FM, the Baltimore City Health Department, and hundreds of the school’s freshman, sophomores, and juniors.

The seniors proudly held signs, which included Bowie State University, Coppin State University, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Morgan State University, and Arundel Community College. This is the first year for the event, which took place in the school’s gymnasium. Edmondson-Westside High School is located at 501 N. Athol Avenue.

“The goal of the event was to really showcase the graduating seniors’ college choices, and to encourage the other grade levels to get excited about making their college choices, said Principal Cole-Webber, who is an alumnus of Morgan State University.

During the program, each of the participating seniors took photos with a representative from their chosen school, along with Cole-Webber and other Edmondson-Westside High School staff. The students also received a ‘care package,’ which included school supplies, snacks, toiletries, and other items.

“We have approximately 128 students who have committed to a school,” said Cole-Webber. “We wanted to put together something memorable for them.”

The day of the event fell on the same day that Officer Edward Nero was acquitted of all charges in the 2015 death of Freddie Gray.

“This program is an opportunity to show the city and the state that Baltimore City has a lot of positive things going on,” said Principal Cole-Webber. “A lot of focus has been put on the Nero trial and Freddie Gray, but Baltimore City is not about that one negative thing. If we spend more time investing in the schools, and the students, we can get away from the negative. We have to uplift our kids, and our mindset has to always be that they are our future.”

Principal Cole-Webber also highlighted the accomplishments of Edmondson-Westside High School Valedictorian Shawn Barnes, who will be attending Hood College, and Salutatorian, Marvin Watts who will be attending Susquehanna University.

“Many times the females are highlighted for their academic achievements,” she said. “But this year, we have two males who are graduating with the top honors.”

The busy day included lunch, and workshop sessions. Topics included: Healthy Me & Making Healthy Decisions for Your Body, conducted by Stacey Dennis of the Baltimore City Health Department. The workshops also included Collegiate Life 101:The Real Deal presented by Pure Potential Enterprises’ ‘Collegiate Dream Team.’ Pure Potential Enterprises is a nonprofit organization made up of three divisions: Clear Vision, Le Pearls, and Collegiate and Career Counseling. The organization was founded by Phyllis Coley, a counselor at Edmondson-Westside High School.

“This event is all about sowing seeds into the next generation of greatness,” said Coley, noting that 90 percent of the students are first-generation college students. “This event provided them with an opportunity to tell the world they have made their college decision, and to showcase the next chapter in their lives. This was a great event.”

High-tech mosquitoes could combat Zika virus

— Genetically modified mosquitoes could mean curtains for the Zika virus. New U.S. cases of Zika virus infections are continually being discovered, as the Food and Drug Administration looks to these high-tech mosquitos as a possible solution.

Zika’s potential to spring from mosquito “nurseries” in the American South could hammer poor minority communities as summer heats up. Atlanta has the nation’s worst mosquito problem, according to Orkin, the pest control company. Mosquitoes only need standing water to spawn.

Scientists believe Zika spreads when a female mosquito feeds off of an infected person and later bites a new victim. Harmless male mosquitoes feed on flower nectar. Zika also can be transmitted through sexual intercourse with an infected partner. Symptoms, while rare, can last for a week and range from a mild fever to muscle and joint pain.

Concerns rocketed after last year’s discovery that Brazilian babies with unusually small skulls and brains were born to mothers who contracted the virus while pregnant. Brazil’s Zika woes continue as athletes, fans, journalists and others from around the globe prepare to converge on Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Fulton County, which includes Atlanta, is battling potential local Zika infections. The Aedes aegypti, which lives in the Deep South, is one of several mosquitoes that scientists believe spread the virus.

Specialists with Fulton County’s Department of Health and Wellness, according to the agency, are working with Georgia’s Department of Public Health and the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor outbreaks and educate the community.

“The mosquitoes that spread Zika virus will bite four or five people before they are satisfied,” said Nancy Nydam, spokeswoman for Georgia’s health department.

She said people should use insect repellent, eliminate standing water around their homes and stay indoors during dawn and dusk, when mosquitos are most active.

An $85-million fund is available to states, cities and territories at risk of Zika outbreaks, the CDC announced on May 13, 2016. The money would finance Zika-prevention efforts only temporarily, said Dr. Stephen C. Redd, a director at the agency. More money from Congress is needed, he said.

The CDC reported that between January 1, 2015 and May 18, 2016, all of the 544 U.S. Zika cases are travel-associated, meaning the virus was originally contracted abroad. To date, 157 pregnant women in the U.S. have reported symptoms.

New York logged 114 travel-related cases, the highest number in America. Florida was second with 109, and California’s 44 cases put it in third. Texas was fourth, with 35 reported infections. These states all have high black and Hispanic populations, foreshadowing what this disease could do to these communities.

Among 836 Zika cases in U.S. territories, 832 were contracted locally. These include 803 infected people in Puerto Rico, 15 in the Virgin Islands, and 14 in American Samoa.

Oxitec, a British biotechnology company, is testing its genetically modified male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in Key Haven, Florida. Oxitec’s male mosquitoes mate with wild female Aedes aegypti, producing offspring that “have a very high probability of dying before they reach adulthood,” according to its website.

Mosquitoes generally live about two weeks. The company’s experiments “have resulted in reduction of the wild population by more than 90 percent,” said Oxitec spokesman Matthew Warren. “Existing methods to control the Aedes aegypti mosquito, such as insecticides, are only 30 to 50 percent effective, at best.”

More than 150 million Oxitec mosquitos have been released, Warren said, with no reported adverse effects. Oxitec’s mosquitos were one possible approach within a larger program, said FDA spokeswoman Theresa Eisenman.

“However, it is too early to say with any certainty whether such an approach would be successful.”

The agency approves and regulates biotechnology treatments, including vaccines.

“The FDA is acting responsibly with its mosquito pilot approach, and we’re glad to see that the CDC has activated the resources to respond,” said Adolph Falcon, executive vice president for the National Alliance for Hispanic Health.

Oxitec’s solution, however, only targets one mosquito species. Also, pesticides no longer could be used against the insects, since they would kill both the dangerous female mosquitoes and the modified males. Mosquito breeding habits show Zika disproportionately could affect poor countries and communities with inadequate sanitation.

A still-undiscovered Zika vaccine and improved sanitation would be more effective solutions, said Jaydee Hanson, senior policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety.

“People like magic,” said Hanson. “We want easy answers and we like technology. I’m a big fan of technology, but it needs to be assessed for it what it can do.”