Final Tribe Called Quest album coming

— Rapper Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest was working on a new solo album when he died of complications from diabetes in March.

Now, his group is releasing what they said is their final album.

In a letter posted on his Facebook page Thursday night, Tribe member Q-Tip said their reunion last year on the “Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” sparked creativity.

“It was our first TV performance in 18 years,” the rapper wrote. “The energy for us that night was one that we hadn’t experienced on stage together in some time!”

That night was also the night of the terrorist attack in Paris — and as Q-Tip explained — an impetus for the group to record again.

“As we left 30 Rock I felt the need, we all did, to get back to the studio and start that cookup!! So we got to it,” he wrote.

“It was coming together nicely and as you may know we lost our brother, may God rest his soul on March 22,” Q-Tip wrote. “But he left us with the blueprint of what we had to do.”

One of the pivotal hip hop acts of the 1990s, Phife Dawg, Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad have long been revered by fans.

The group famously split in 1998 and both Phife and Q-Tip launched solo careers. The 2011 documentary “Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest,” directed by actor Michael Rapaport, traced the group’s influence along with its eventual disbanding.

In his announcement, Q-Tip said “this isn’t filled with old Phife bars” but the album will feature fellow rap artists Busta Rhymes and Consequence.

A Tribe Called Quest’s new music will debut November 11.

Skin patches may help kids’ peanut allergies, study says

Peanut allergies are among the most serious food allergies, requiring constant vigilance. In severe cases, exposure to even trace amounts of the nut can trigger a deadly reaction. But according to a new study published last week in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, a tiny skin patch may help treat peanut allergies.

Over the course of a year, researchers from the Consortium of Food Allergy Research tested 74 peanut-allergic volunteers, ages 4 through 20, to see whether a daily Viaskin peanut patch could help raise their peanut threshold. The patch, called epicutaneous immunotherapy, released peanut proteins into the participants’ skin, building cellular tolerance to the nuts.

The results showed that participants who received higher doses of peanut protein in the patch were able to consume more peanuts after a year. The patch was the most effective on children ages 4 to 11 and significantly less effective on older participants, according to a statement from the National Institutes of Health, which funded the study through its National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The trial

The peanut patch trial was conducted at five research sites: Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the National Jewish Health Center in Denver, Johns Hopkins University, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine.

The newly published results were from the first year of the trial, but the researchers will continue monitoring the participants for a total of two and a half years.

To conduct the yearlong study, researchers divided participants into three groups: a placebo group that received patches with no peanut protein, a group given patches with 100 micrograms of peanut protein and one given patches with 250 micrograms of peanut protein. The 74 participants were randomly assigned to each group.

Before the trial began, researchers assessed each volunteer’s peanut allergy via an oral food challenge with food containing peanuts. The median amount of nuts tolerated, before having allergic symptoms was about one-seventh of a peanut, according to Dr. Stacie M. Jones, chief of allergy and immunology at Arkansas Children’s Hospital and the study lead.

After establishing an allergy baseline, the participants were given quarter-size patches on the insides of their upper arms for adolescents, or on their backs for younger kids.

The patches were administered daily for the 52-week period, but Jones said placement varied in order to allow any skin irritation to heal.

The risks of the peanut patch

One of the main concerns for researchers, as well as peanut-allergic volunteers, was whether the patch would trigger a harmful allergic reaction. Of the 74 participants, one teenager had to leave due to a patch reaction, according to Jones.

About 80% of the kids who used peanut patches (both low- and high-dose strength) had some reaction, Jones said, but they were mainly mild, like bumps and redness on the skin surrounding the patch.

Jones explained that the patches, which are manufactured by DBV Technologies, are coated with sub-clinical doses (meaning they have a very small potential of triggering allergic reaction) of raw peanut material. When peanut proteins are released into the skin, it starts an immune reaction in the cells, she said.

Importantly, she explained, the peanut proteins from the patch do not enter the bloodstream. After participants handled the patch, they were warned not to touch their eyes or mouths and to wash their hands immediately.

Results of the peanut patch trial

After a year of using the skin patches, the three groups were again assessed for peanut allergies. This time, many participants who had used peanut patches could tolerate more peanuts than those who used placebo patches.

Before the researchers began the trial, they set a goal of a tenfold increase in participants’ peanut threshold, meaning they could eat 10 times more peanuts at the end of the year, Jones said. And the treatment seemed to work for many low-dose and high-dose patch wearers, but not for everyone.

Forty-six percent of participants who had 100-microgram patches were able to raise their peanut threshold at least tenfold, as did 48% of the 250-microgram patch wearers. Only 12% of the placebo group met the tenfold goal.

In terms of peanuts, the kids who wore the low-dose patch were able to eat one-seventh more of a peanut, on average, than they could before. Kids with high-dose patches could eat an extra half of a peanut, on average. “It’s a moderate treatment response,” Jones said.

Children ages 4 to 11 showed the most improvement, Jones said, but kids 12 and older were less affected.

Not a license to eat

Dr. Jennifer Shih, an assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine who specializes in pediatric allergies, said the peanut patch study is promising, but it doesn’t mean an end to peanut allergy problems.

“This (patch) is not so that somebody can eat a bunch of Reese’s for Halloween,” she said. Rather, those who use a peanut patch are “hopefully protected from accidental exposure” to peanuts.

From unclear food labels to large school cafeterias, it can be difficult to avoid peanuts. This can cause a lot of anxiety, particularly for severely allergic patients, Shih said. The patch’s protection — even if it increases someone’s tolerance just a couple of peanuts — could ease some anxiety both for allergic children and for their parents.

“To avoid potentially life-threatening allergic reactions, people with peanut allergy must be vigilant about the foods they eat and the environments they enter, which can be very stressful,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in the National Institutes of Health statement. “One goal of experimental approaches such as epicutaneous immunotherapy is to reduce this burden by training the immune system to tolerate enough peanut to protect against accidental ingestion or exposure.”

The patch may also ease anxiety because it’s not a shot like other allergy treatments. Since young children are especially afraid of needles, the fact that the patch appears to be most effective on kids ages 4 to 11 is exciting, Shih says.

Still, there are some concerns to consider. The study tested only kids with peanut allergies and no other medical issues, so there’s no way of knowing whether the patch can aggravate other problems, such as additional allergies, Shih said.

Problems may occur if patients didn’t use the patch as directed or if they forgot to put it on for a day. “They have to (use the patch) every day, or they might become intolerant,” Shih said. However, the study did prove successful in participant retention: Nearly 97% of participants applied the patch every day, according to Jones.

The results of the study were also “not 100%,” Shih said. Though about half of the participants succeeded in raising their peanut threshold with the patch, that still wasn’t the majority of the group.

“When I saw this study, I was excited because it is positive, and it can give hope,” Shih said. “Still, it’s not something we’ll run off to the store to get right away.”

Viola Davis takes on poverty in hometown

— You know her as the tough-as-nails defense attorney Analise Keating on the ABC series “How to Get Away with Murder.” But in real life, actress Viola Davis fights for a different cause: ending poverty.

Davis knows all too well what it’s like to live in poverty. “I grew up poor so there is a human face on it for me,” she said.

In 2015, the US Census reported 13.5% of the national population lives in poverty. In Viola’s hometown of Central Falls, Rhode Island, a staggering 31.7% live below the poverty line, and one in three adults report being in fair or poor health.

“What people don’t understand about poverty is that you just don’t have access,” Davis says.

That access to healthcare is something her mother, Mary Alice Davis, spent decades fighting for right in Central Falls.

Her mother was part of the Blackstone Valley Community Action Program (BVCAP), which started out as a small group of working poor women who met weekly to discuss ways they could help the under-served. The group established a local health clinic, and that inspired Viola’s philanthropy.

“My mom has an 8th grade education, but she’s smart,” the actress said. “What I learned from her is, you do what is at your hand to do.”

“You don’t necessarily have to be the most articulate. You don’t necessarily have to have the profile of what it may look like to be an activist. But what you have is a heart to serve.”

Viola’s heart led her back to Rhode Island to make an impact. In early October, the actress visited her hometown to support a free health clinic set up by the Vaseline Healing Project. Through this joint effort between Vaseline, Direct Relief and Davis, vital medical supplies are provided to people struggling with poverty or emergencies around the world.

“For people who live in impoverished communities, a health clinic is a lifeline,” the actress said.

“Hopefully it will be kind of a beacon of hope for other communities.”

How can I grow my retirement savings without too much risk?

— I’m 66 and have $170,000 to invest, but I don’t want to take a lot of risk with it. So how much should I invest in stocks and how much should I keep in bonds — and should I consider investing in an annuity? –E.H.

I get that once you near or enter retirement, you don’t want to do anything too risky on the investing front. After all, you don’t want to jeopardize the savings it took you a career to accumulate.

But you’ve also got to remember that there are different types of risk you need to protect yourself against. Most people, understandably enough, focus on the risk that they’ll lose money if they invest in stocks and the stock market subsequently goes into a deep slump. And if that were the only risk you had to worry about, you could easily avoid it by putting all your money in bonds or even in cash.

Doing that, however, would leave you vulnerable to another risk — the risk that the returns you earn are too low to provide the growth necessary for your savings to support you throughout a post-career life that could easily last well into your 90s. You could end up running out of money too quickly or, to avoid that possibility, find yourself forced to dramatically rein in your spending.

Which is to say that you really should be thinking not so much about avoiding risk altogether. That’s impossible. Rather, you should consider how you can balance different risks — in this case, the risk of seeing the value of your stash plummet in the short-term versus the possibility that your money may not be around long enough to support you for the long-term.

So how do you do that? You can start by completing this risk tolerance-asset allocation questionnaire from Vanguard. The tool suggests an appropriate mix of stocks and bonds. By clicking on the link to “other allocation mixes,” you can see how your recommended mix as well as others more conservative and more aggressive have performed on average over the past 90 years, including each stocks-bonds allocation’s best year, worst year and the number of years each mix has suffered a loss.

This is no guarantee of how a given mix of stocks and bonds will perform in the future. But it should give you an idea of how different allocations should fare relative to one another in the future, and certainly offer a sense of how much more (or less) volatility you can expect as you move more money into (or out of) stocks.

But don’t stop there. Presumably, if you haven’t started doing so already, you’re going to be drawing on your $170,000 for spending cash to supplement the income you’ll receive from Social Security. So in addition to guarding against outsize losses from stock market swoons, you’ll also want to ensure that the stocks-bonds mix you settle on doesn’t put you at risk of depleting your assets too early in retirement.

You can see how different stocks-bonds allocations are likely to hold up in the face of different levels of withdrawals by going to a tool like T. Rowe Price’s retirement income calculator. The calculator will estimate the probability that your savings will last until you’re 95. (Age 95 is the default setting, which I think is about right given today’s longer lifespans. But if you’d like to see your chances of living to various ages based on your current age and health status, you can check out this Longevity Illustrator tool).

By running a variety of different scenarios with different asset mixes and withdrawal rates, you can see how the chances of your money lasting throughout retirement might change as you invest more (or less) in stocks and raise (or lower) your withdrawal rate. And if you go through this exercise, what you’ll find is that you have pretty wide leeway in how you allocate your assets between stocks and bonds, provided you don’t overdo it on withdrawals from savings.

Generally, as long as you go with an initial withdrawal rate of 3% to 4% (and then adjust that initial withdrawal for inflation each year), you have a pretty good chance (roughly 75% to 80%) that your savings will last at least 30 years if you invest anywhere from, say, 30% to 70% in stocks.

You can invest more in stocks, if you think you can handle the volatility. But don’t expect that moving from a moderate allocation of stocks to a higher one (say, 80% or more) will necessarily increase the chances that you won’t run through your savings. The reason is that at some point the higher volatility that comes with stocks makes you much more vulnerable to market setbacks and can even begin to drag down the chances of your nest egg lasting 30 or more years.

In short, as long as you don’t go overboard on withdrawals, you can likely find an allocation that jibes with your tolerance for withstanding potential short-term losses due to market setbacks, and at the same time affords decent assurance that you won’t deplete your savings too soon.

Keep in mind, though, that we’re talking about estimates here, not promises. No tool or calculator can predict how the financial markets will behave in the future. So you need to be flexible about how you spend down your savings, perhaps dialing back the amount you withdraw after a market downturn or string of lousy returns and withdrawing more if the value of your nest egg begins to swell after several years of excellent investment performance.

If you want greater assurance that you’ll be able to rely on at least some income aside from Social Security and any pensions to support you throughout a long retirement, you might consider devoting a portion of your savings to an annuity.

There are lots of different types of annuities, some, such as variable annuities and fixed index annuities, marketed more heavily than others. But for retirees looking to ensure that they’ll have guaranteed income no matter how long they live and regardless of how the financial markets perform, I think an immediate annuity (which converts a lump sum into a lifetime stream of monthly payments that starts immediately) or a longevity annuity (which makes payments for life starting at some point in the future, say, 10 or 20 years down the road) is a simpler and better way to go.

You can get an estimate of how much monthly income you might receive from an immediate or longevity annuity based on your age, sex, the amount you invest and when you would like payments to begin by going to this annuity payment calculator.

That said, annuities, like all investments have downsides. To see whether you’re a likely candidate for one, check out this column that outlines their pros and cons for different situations.”

Finally, once you’ve arrived at a stocks-bonds mix that you feel is right for you, don’t change it just because your gut tells you stock prices are ready to tank (or soar to new highs). Instead, except for rebalancing occasionally or possibly shifting to a more conservative blend of stocks and bonds if you become more risk averse as you age, you should pretty much maintain the mix you arrived at after going through the exercise above.

Otherwise, you may run afoul of yet another risk: that far from improving your prospects, following your gut instinct will leave you worse off than you were before.

Black women will elect the next president

— Black women will play a key role in electing the next president, according to a recent report by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), a national trade group and the largest federation of unions in the United States.

Carmen Berkley, the director of civil, human and women’s rights policy at the AFL-CIO said that the labor group wanted to provide context to the power that Black women voters have displayed over the past two presidential election cycles. In the briefing paper, researchers provided a case for why labor unions and non-profit organizations should be paying attention to Black women.

“Without black women, President Obama would not have won the White House in 2012,” said Berkley. “Black women voters delivered in key battleground states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida where President Obama picked up 67 additional electoral votes.”

Berkley continued: “If black women had not turned out, President Obama would have been five electoral votes shy of winning the presidency.”

Denise Rolark Barnes, the publisher of The Washington Informer and chairwoman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) says that black women voters could make a monumental difference in the outcome of the 2016 election, just like they did in 2012.

However, Rolark Barnes also expressed concerns that neither of the presidential candidates have touched on the issues that are important to black women and single parents, who are also the primary breadwinners in their families;

issues like health care, education and the environment are very important to black women and their families.

“I don’t think we’ve heard enough from the candidates about how they plan to address issues that affect black and Latino families,” Rolark Barnes said.

Recently, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke at a campaign rally in Durham, North Carolina, flanked by “Mothers of the Movement,” a group of black women who have lost children to gun violence or during interactions with law enforcement. The group included Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis and Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother of Sandra Bland.

Clinton also delivered remarks at the Black Women’s Agenda conference in September, where she acknowledged that even though the contributions of black women are “often missing from the history books— make no mistake— you are the change makers, the path breakers, and the ground shakers. And, you are proof that yes, indeed, black girl magic is real.”

Berkley said that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has said that he knows the black community, but he hasn’t proven that he understands the impact that black people, especially black women, have on society.

“Black women drive turnout for the black community,” said Berkley. “We care a lot about police reform, raising the minimum wage, protecting social security and we are economically liberal when it come to the government.”

Berkley also noted that black women have been very reliable voters in the past two election cycles. In 2012 and 2014 black women voted at higher rates than other women.

According to the briefing paper on the importance of black women voters in 2016, “In 2012, 83 percent of registered black women turned out, compared to 73 percent for all other women, a ten-point difference. Black women turned out at a higher rate than other women in 2014 as well. Fifty-five percent of registered black women turned out in 2014, compared to 53 percent for all other women.”

Berkley said that black women do more than vote.

“We’re very active in our churches, we’re very active in our communities and we’re very active in our unions,” she said.

According to a survey by Lake Research Partners (LRP), a leading public opinion and political strategy research firm, black workers are far more likely to view labor unions favorably (77 percent for blacks vs. 50 for all-respondents) compared to other workers.

Petee Talley, the secretary-treasurer of Ohio branch of the AFL-CIO, said that evidence shows that black women union members have stepped up in remarkable ways.

“Not only are they organizing inside of their unions, they are organizing the black community around vote registration efforts,” said Talley.

And when black women take on leadership roles, they have the power to significantly affect elections inside their unions.

The briefing paper said: “As labor scholars Kate Bronfenbrenner and

Dorian Warren found in their oft-cited study “Race, Gender, and the Rebirth of Trade Unionism,” unions won 89 percent of elections where black women were the lead organizers compared with 53 percent for female organizers overall and 42 percent for male organizers.”

The report noted that black women were more likely than any other group to skip at least on race on the ballot.

“By skipping down ballot races, black women lose the potential to be a political force in local races, which arguably have a more direct impact on the day-to-day lives of black people,” the report said.

The briefing paper said that as the labor movement grows, it should look to black communities and black women organizers as a potential base for power.

“This requires incorporating black communities into long-term strategic thinking and lifting up the most progressive voice of the Democratic base,” the briefing paper said. “For organized labor and other parts of the political left, black women are a smart investment, in 2016 and beyond.”

Rolark Barnes says that black women hold the power of the vote and also have the influence in their households to make sure their families and friends get out to vote.

Rolark Barnes continued: “We need to come out strong, like we did before, and make the difference we know we can make in November.”

Brakes for Breasts: Car repair shops raise funds for cancer vaccine

— Auto Stream Car Care on Smith Avenue and Frame Rite Auto Repair on Harford Road in Baltimore are among the 20 car repair shops in Maryland that have signed on to participate in a charity to help breast cancer survivors and ultimately help to fund research for a new vaccine that some doctors believe might eventually cure the dreadful illness.

After losing her mother to breast cancer, Laura Frank wanted to do something different. The owner of Repair Pal Might Auto Pro said her mother was a social worker who was committed to making a difference; only Frank had to determine what she could do to honor her mother’s memory and to help other families who continue to struggle with cancer.

Using her experience in the automotive industry, Frank created a program called “Brakes for Breasts.” During Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, her company provides free brake pads to car owners and she donates a portion of the labor costs to the cancer vaccine research center at the Cleveland Clinic.

For every brake service performed at a participating shop, customers receive their brake pads for free and just pay for the labor and other parts. Each shop then donates 10 percent of that brake service to The Cleveland Clinic Breast Cancer Vaccine Research Fund.

“Brakes for Breasts is truly a grassroots fundraiser that began in August 2011 with my favorite saying, ‘As a small business owner that gives you a lot of visibility and with visibility comes responsibility,’” Frank said.

“My business partner, Leigh Anne Best, and I were thinking about what we could do to make a difference in the world,” she said. “We had done fundraising on a local level and wanted to figure out a way our efforts could help globally.”

Just two months after they brainstormed, the pair launched their first fundraiser with five local repair shops. Initially, Brakes for Breasts was viewed as just another fundraiser and the charity wasn’t taken as seriously as Frank and Best had hoped, according to Frank.

“Then, we presented our first check for $10,000 which caught the attention of more shop owners who wanted to join our efforts the following year,” she said. “With the amazing and humbling support of repair shops across the country our idea is turning into a reality.”

While most cancer fundraising programs contribute resources to breast cancer awareness and treatment, funds from Brakes for Breasts support research for the first cancer vaccine— an innovation that some medical experts believe could revolutionize the way individuals think about breast and ovarian cancer, Frank said.

The initiative is dedicated to surpassing its $150,000 fundraising goal with over 100 repair shops in 33 states participating, she said.

The vaccine is now in the initial stages of the FDA approval process.

In May 2010, when results of his years-long research were published, Dr. Vincent Tuohy told that he was hopeful that the ensuing attention— including his appearances on national television programs and articles in foreign newspapers— would help generate grant money that would allow him and his six-person lab to move that vaccine research forward.

The research demonstrated that a single vaccination with a substance called alpha-lactalbumin, which is found in the breast milk of healthy women and in most breast cancers, can prevent breast cancer tumors from forming and halts the growth of existing tumors.

The success of the “Brakes for Breasts” initiative has already exceeded expectations, Frank said.

“Our expectations were not high. We surprised ourselves with the $10,000 outcome and knew from that day we could make a bigger impact,” she said. “In 2015, 174 repair shops across 32 states raised $141,868, and this year we have 170 shops across 34 states supporting us. We are truly hoping to raise $140,000 this year which will surpass the $500,000 mark in total contributions.”

For participating “Brakes for Breasts” auto shops, visit

BrightStar’s Caregiver of the Year keeps on giving

— Kathy Carter demonstrates again and again why her clients and co-workers alike at BrightStar Care of Baltimore consider her a national treasure. The recent winner of the company’s national 2016 Caregiver of the Year competition lives her life by giving generously not only to her clients, but to her co-workers as well.

Ada Sanchez, one of Carter’s co-workers got quite a surprise on Thursday,

October 20, 2016, when she learned that Carter decided to give the $5000 scholarship prize that came with the Caregiver of the Year award to her. Sanchez is currently enrolled at Baltimore City Community College with the dream of becoming a Registered Nurse.

Sanchez has been working with Carter at BrightStar Care for just a little over a year. She works two jobs and supports a grieving mother after the death of her father just two months ago. Like Carter, Sanchez gets energy from connecting with the senior adults she takes care of at BrightStar Care.

“They surprised me. It’s still like a dream right now. My dad was like my support. This feels like one of the blessings that my dad left. Right now, it’s just me and my mother here, we don’t have any other family here,” Sanchez said.

Lynn Berberich, owner of the Lutherville-based BrightStar facility where Carter has worked for the past six years, shared the astonishment felt by the entire staff upon hearing the news of Carter’s generosity.

“This is an incredibly unusual occurrence. First, the fact that Kathy was the national caregiver of the year [was] nominated by two clients. Kathy is just so generous,” said Berberich. “She’s really doing what she loves, but to see that there’s somebody else that she can help and it’s one of her co-workers. You don’t see that kind of generosity very often.”

Sanchez, who met Carter through a mutual friend, will use the prize money to pay tuition for her second year at BCCC, to help with books, uniforms, equipment and the many non-tuition expenses of a nursing program.

“I was inspired that she’s holding down two jobs. She’s going back to school, she’s had the recent loss of her father, and through it all, she rises.

“When I won the national [award], one of the ladies came up to me and asked what was I going to do with the scholarship. I said ‘I’m going to give it to Ada— I knew it immediately,” Carter said. “We’re a team. I couldn’t do the job that I do without my team behind me.”

Berberich said that the best thing about Carter being named National Caregiver of the Year was that it came with a gift that has already multiplied.

“After she won the national caregiver award of the year at this big banquet with all the owners from all over the country. Somebody asked her, ‘what’s your dream job’ and she said, ‘I’m doing it.’” Berberich said.

The fact that Carter wants to use her gift to make another staff member’s dream come true reveals the spirit of what the caregiver’s award is all about, according to Berberich.

Both women demonstrate a love for their clients when they’re together. They can’t stop talking.

“There’s so much that you want to give to them. You want to give them life,” said Sanchez. “I love what I do.”

“I love just what I’m doing too,” said Carter, smiling.

It’s the genuine care for the clients who depend on them, which makes them both champions, Berberich said.

Ciara and Russell Wilson expecting first child together

— Ciara and Russell Wilson wasted no time starting a family.

The singer and her Seattle Seahawks quarterback husband married in July and announced Tuesday that they are expecting a baby.

Ciara used the occasion of her 31st birthday to post a photo of the couple on Instagram with the caption “On this special Birthday I received an abundance of love from friends and family.. and I’m excited to Finally share one of the Greatest Gifts of All that God could give..” along with an emoticon of a baby.

Wilson shared the same image with the caption “The Greatest Blessing of All. Forever Grateful. #BabyWilsonOnTheWay”

It’s their first child together.

There had been speculation the “1, 2 Step” singer was with child after she started wearing outfits that hid her famously toned midriff.

She has a son from a previous relationship with rapper Future.

Before announcing her latest pregnancy, Ciara talked to CNN about being a mom.

Having Baby Future was “game changing for my life as a woman,” Ciara said.

“Now you’ve added another layer to your life which makes it even more,” she said of motherhood. “It makes the decisions you make in life even more crucial and you don’t have as many opportunities to make mistakes as you did before you were responsible for someone else’s life.”

Customers reminded about natural gas safety this heating season

— Despite the unseasonably warm temperatures this month, the cold weather is quickly approaching. Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) would like to remind customers to familiarize themselves with the natural gas safety tips provided in BGE’s natural gas safety brochure which is being distributed to homes and businesses in and around BGE’s natural gas area. Customers should also have their heating systems checked and inspected by a qualified technician to ensure safe and efficient operation for the heating season.

“BGE is dedicated to maintaining a safe and reliable natural gas system. Just as BGE prepares for the heating season, we urge customers who utilize natural gas to heat their homes and businesses to prepare as well,” said Christie McMullen, vice president gas distribution for BGE. “BGE’s natural gas safety brochure educates our customers on living and working safely around natural gas, pipelines and facilities.”

BGE’s natural gas safety brochure will be mailed to all customers. The brochure provides information in English and Spanish, detailing how to recognize and report natural gas leaks. Additionally, a scratch-and-sniff odor indicator is included that reminds customers about “mercaptan,” a safety additive that BGE and other utilities put in natural gas to give it a distinctive rotten egg odor that makes gas easier to detect. Captain Mercaptan, BGE’s natural gas safety hero who provides simple tips to children and their families about natural gas safety, derives his name from the safety additive. If you detect a gas leak:

·Leave the building or area immediately and go to a safe place where you can call BGE, toll free, 24 hours a day at 1-800-685-0123.

·Extinguish all open flames. Do not use matches or lighters and do not attempt to light an appliance.

·Do not use any phones, electric switches, thermostats or appliance controls. All of these devices, including battery operated equipment, can cause sparks, and ignite natural gas.

·Do not start or turn off vehicles or motorized equipment. Abandon any motorized equipment you may be operating.

·Do not attempt to find the source of the leak or to repair a leak.

·When you call, BGE will respond promptly to survey the area, perform safety measures, and repair BGE’s equipment. There is no charge to investigate a gas leak.

For more information about natural gas safety and to view an electronic version of BGE’s natural gas safety brochure, visit:

Despite incomes, black families still denied access to home loans

— In recent weeks, a spate of news coverage has referred to America’s “inner cities.” Some may even interpret it as a new code word for minorities, usually referring to blacks and Latinos. Yet today, according to Richard Rothstein, a research associate with the Economic Policy Institute, the inner city experience does not encompass all of black America. More blacks now live in the suburbs than in urban ghettos, and approximately one-third of black Americans have incomes higher than that of the respective median earnings.

So why is access to homeownership still so out of reach for consumers of color? Why do so many blacks and Latinos continue to suffer disproportionate denials for mortgage loans?

A recent analysis of the 2015 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) data by the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) sheds further light on the fact that even years after a national recovery from the housing collapse, the American Dream remains elusive for much of Black America.

“The HMDA data has shown a persistent difference in denial rates by race and ethnicity and this year is no exception,” wrote CRL. “20.8 percent of African-American applicants were denied a loan in 2015 compared to 16.1 percent of Hispanic applicants and 10 percent of non-Hispanic white applicants.”

Last year, more than six million home purchase mortgages were made, but only 51,202 or 2.7 percent were conventional loans to black home buyers. By comparison, non-Hispanic Whites received 1,361,564 conventional loans, and Latinos received 96,975 of these loans. Conventional loans are the most widely available and often the most cost-effective and sustainable mortgages available.

The vast majority of loans to black consumers in 2015 continued a trend that has grown stronger year to year since the housing meltdown: government-backed loans like FHA or VA account for the overwhelming majority of loans made to black consumers— 120,618, more than double that for conventional loans. Latino consumers received more with 162,317 loans, but far less compared to 765,880 for whites. Government-secured mortgage loans are an important source of credit and also tend to be more costly than other home loans.

Now contrast those dismal numbers with those from the Census Bureau that found black Americans are more than 13 percent of the nation’s population, and 1.8 million blacks, ages 25 and older, hold advanced degrees. So, how is it that when black college graduation rates are growing and many are living in the suburbs with higher earnings, why are conventional mortgage loans so rare for black borrowers?

One reason could be that the average credit score needed to get a loan has risen substantially. In 2015 the average credit score for all new loan originations neared 750, a near 50-point increase from the average used in 2001.

“Although the nation’s banks have largely recovered from the financial crisis,” continued CRL, “the 2015 HMDA data illustrate that they are not using their rebuilt capital to create homeownership opportunities, particularly not for borrowers of color and low-income families.”

“Before the Great Recession,” added Rothstein, “half of all African-Americans owned their own homes. By 2013, it had fallen to 44 percent. Before the Great Recession, the net worth of African-American homeowners averaged $144,000. By 2013, it had fallen to $80,000. This was not a natural calamity that befell the black middle class but one precipitated in part by unlawful banking and governmental practices.”

When it comes to homeownership, the facts are clear. The real question for black America is, ‘what do we intend to do about it?’ Economic inclusion— not exclusion—would offer a real chance to build more black economic security.

Charlene Crowell is a communications deputy director with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at