Caribbean Disaster Relief & Recovery Efforts Underway in Baltimore

Tropical Storm Maria quickly turned into a Hurricane on Wednesday, packing a power punch with winds of 115 mph that wiped out electricity to all of Puerto Rico.

The force of the storm toppled trees while widespread flooding was reported throughout the island.

It comes on the heels of several menacing storms that have assaulted the Caribbean islands and turned paradise into a nightmare.

Baltimore area residents who have lived in Maryland – for most of or parts of their lives – and whose families and loved ones still live in the Caribbean, are not only concerned, but they have sprung into action to help.

A group of individuals have founded a new nonprofit called the Caribbean Disaster Relief & Recovery Alliance, Inc., whose model is “helping people recover their lives.”

“This effort is more important than ever and, based on the weather projections, we may have even more islands impacted,” said Loughton Sargeant, a St. Croix native and senior electrical engineer with the U.S. Department of Agriculture who serves as treasurer for the nonprofit.

“The most important message I can give to folks is that people are suffering and we need help,” Sargeant said.

“Some have no food, no clothes and it’s critical that we reach out,” he said.

The Caribbean Disaster Relief and Recovery Alliance was established this month to help address the needs of disaster stricken islands like St. Thomas, St. John, St. Marteen, Antigua, Tortola and Barbuda.

By Wednesday, the nonprofit had added St. Croix, Dominica, and Puerto Rico to the islands they’re seeking to assist.

The death toll from Maria had reached seven by late Wednesday in Dominica, Gaston Browne, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, told reporters.

Browne said Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit reported widespread devastation and his own house was destroyed by the storm.

Forecasters said as much as 18 inches of rain would be dumped on Puerto Rico and, by Thursday, Maria was expected to hit the Dominican Republic.

Elaine Simon, a member of the nonprofit, said those islands will need assistance for years to come.

She said the group has enlisted the help of former senator and WOLB talk show host Larry Young and radio DJ Lolo, who also hails from the Virgin Islands.

“We are in direct contact with individuals from those islands in addition to what the governments are doing, they need our help,” Simon said.

The nonprofit has started collecting non-perishables, baby clothes and wipes, sheets, towels, feminine products, tooth paste and many other items as well as cash to assist those in need.

They have identified churches and other organizations to ensure that those in need receive the donations as soon as possible.

Later, the organization will work to help with larger requests, like doors, windows, hammers and nails to help rebuild the islands – particularly Barbuda where that island has been totally devastated, Simon said.

They’ll also include donations to Texas and Florida victims, she said.

“We do have brothers and sisters and families in Texas and in Florida and we need to give back to them and this group is very diverse and very committed,” Simon said.

Beginning at 3 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 28, the Caribbean Disaster Relief and Recovery Alliance plan to collect donations at 801 McCulloh Street in Baltimore. They’ve also established a donation drop-off location at Island Cuisine, 8128 Liberty Road in Windsor Mill.

“We’ll take whatever; 50 cents, $1. It will all help with shipping and purchasing items in addition to what we’re already collecting,” Simon said.

For more information or to donate, call 443-869-1835 or visit,

Dr. Aminta Hawkins Breaux makes history as BSU’s first female president

In her historic role as Bowie State University’s first female president, Dr. Aminta Hawkins Breaux says that she is ready to lead the top 25 HBCU into the school’s next phase of growth and development.

Following the celebrated legacy of Dr. Mickey L. Burnim, the former BSU president that served the institution for nearly 11 years, Breaux said that she is thrilled and honored to accept the leadership role.

“When I look at issues that African American women have faced in this country, it makes me realize how very proud I am to get to this point,” Breaux said about serving as BSU’s first female president. “I have received so much positive feedback from faculty, students and staff and recognize that this is a huge responsibility that is very exciting and I wholeheartedly serve in leadership role with great distinction.”

Though Breaux has only officially been in office since July 1, the former vice president for advancement at Millersville University in Pennsylvania has already started to outline new initiatives.

Heavily involved with community building, Breaux noted that she wanted to enrich the neighborhoods surrounding the university while preparing students for the ever-changing workforce.

“Partnerships are going to be extremely important. We want to reach out to our business leaders and the rest of our community and help them see the value that our students and faculty bring to this area,” Breaux said. “This campus is filled with rich opportunity and initiatives and strong academic programs, but we are also a part of a larger scheme. Initially, I want people to know that we are a part of this community…We want to begin looking at our business community, business leaders and partnering with businesses in the area to make sure that we are preparing our students for the workforce…not just for today, but for tomorrow.”

Though the university is fully-equipped with state of the art facilities including a Fine and Performing Arts Center that opened in 2012 and an elaborate Center for Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Nursing that opened this year, Breaux said that this only just the beginning of a long-term focus on K-12 institutions and community colleges, as well.

“I envision our students mentoring and bringing different K-12 and community college students to our campus,” said Breaux. “With state of the art facilities, it is always good to let students see other role models at higher levels doing great things. You know, you have to give students that goal and let them see that they can get to that point.”

Breaux continued: “I am looking forward to partnering with Prince George’s Community College, in particular, and reaching back to K-12 institutions in order to ensure that these students are prepared to come into our university and succeed.”

In addition to her work at Millersville University, Breaux was also dean of students at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia from 2000 to 2008 and assistant provost of Drexel University from 1998 to 2000.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Temple University, a master’s degree in psychological services in education from the University of Pennsylvania, and a doctorate in counseling psychology from Temple University. She is also a graduate of the Harvard Institute for Executive Management and the American Association for State Colleges and Universities Millennium Leadership Institute.

In his last days before his departure Burnim, Bowie’s ninth president also shared his vision for the university and wishes for the upcoming president.

“I have expressed to Dr. Breaux that she is becoming president of one of the finest public comprehensive universities in America,” said Burnim. “Bowie State University is poised for further growth and progress. There are many people and organizations that want to see that progress and are willing to work with her to achieve it.”

Hurricane Irma Wreaks Havoc in the Caribbean

A week after Hurricane Irma decimated the US Virgin Islands and other parts of the Caribbean, those in the territory dubbed “America’s Paradise,” are facing years of rebuilding in the long-term and restoring a sense of normalcy right now.

The Category 5 storm left much of St. Thomas looking like a “nuclear winter” as one resident described it, and looking as if someone set off a bomb in the middle of the island according to another resident. Yet even as shell-shocked residents clear debris, stand in long lines for water and food and await federal assistance, their fears have been raised anew as another Category 5 hurricane – Maria – is bearing down on St. Thomas and Eastern Caribbean.

Damage from Irma

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Damage from Irma

Violette Brown, a St. Thomas native, said she’s lived through hurricanes but Irma showed her Mother Nature’s raw power and fury as the storm tore the roof off her mother’s home, forcing her and her mother to run for their lives.

“The wind was pulling [off] parts of roof and I looked up and saw the sky up there,” Brown recalled. “I said ‘Mama, we’ve got to go.’ We ran outside and I thought the wind was going to take us. I’ve never seen light poles snap. Mango trees just snapped. We had sour sap, sugar apple, mangoes and other trees in our yard. We don’t have anything anymore.”

“At 7 a.m., I saw our roof on the street. There’s debris everywhere – everything is in our yard. Our concrete wall on ground, houses have fallen down and roofs torn off. I asked ‘what the hell is going on?’ It’s like a bomb went off.”

The hurricane, clocked at speeds of 185 miles per hour, tore the roof of St. Thomas Hospital, prompting the evacuation of patients to Puerto Rico. Hotels on the beach and waterfront were severely damaged and destroyed and at the marina, boats were turned on their sides or washed ashore.

Of the three islands in the territory, St. John suffered widespread devastation to a greater degree than St. Thomas, while St. Croix, 40 miles south of St. Thomas escaped relatively unscathed.

There were new fears this week as another Category 5 Hurricane, Maria, was bearing down on the Caribbean and any already storm-weary region.

In St. Thomas, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are on the ground conducting inspections while US military, National Guards and local law enforcement are assisting with the distribution of food and water. Tim Duncan, born on St. Croix and recently retired San Antonio Spurs superstar, was on-island last week with truckloads of supplies and materials which he helped distribute. He pledged $1 million which so far has been matched by other donors to the tune of $6 million.

Employees from the US Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority have been working 12-hour shifts to restore power, although Gov. Kenneth Mapp is estimating that it might take as long as 8 months for power to be returned to the whole island.

In an interview on NBC’s Power Lunch, Mapp lauded the federal response but said “we need more help.”

In Cuba, Cuban Civil Defense officials said that Irma caused 10 deaths, five in Havana, destroyed 14,000 acres of fruit, vegetables, rice, yucca and bananas, damaged 40 percent of all sugar mills on the island and in Havana, inundated the capital city with water which with high winds, precipitated the collapse of buildings and other structures.

Roberto Chile, renowned artist, documentary filmmaker and Fidel Castro photographer for more than 30 years, captured Cubans’ reactions.

“My words cannot describe what my wife Vivian and I saw yesterday in Jaimanitas, Miramar, Playa, Vedado and Centro Habana,” he said in a letter send to friends. “Our chest tightened when we saw a city so happy, so desolate and sad. It will take time to heal us from the wound, but let us all know that we will once again be the city and the country we have always been: cheerful, hospitable, enterprising and virtuous.”

“Havana is unknown: collapsed walls, stones and water everywhere, fallen trees and electric poles, cables hanging and on the ground, dark areas, dull, pain and sorrow on the faces, especially those who lost their property or lament the loss of loved ones,” Chile explained.

“Irma’s bite will not ruin our faith or hope. The love we feel, instead of extinguishing, will shine from now on more than ever. A new blow to the life of Cubans, stronger for some than for others. But we will rise with new zeal and the same faith in tomorrow. God bless the Cuban people. Let the light be again.”

Partnership between BCCC, City Schools garners early college credit for dozens of high school students

— The results are in and they are encouraging: Maryland’s first student cohort enrolled in Baltimore’s Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P-TECH) is getting ready for college— and earning their first college credits at no cost through the public education system.

The students, 47 from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School and 36 from Carver Vocational-Technical High School, completed a seven-week summer program at Baltimore City Community College (BCCC) from June 26 to August 11, 2017. The students took introductory courses— Principles of Computer Information Systems; English 101; Beginning Math; Health and Life Fitness; and an orientation course— and racked up nine college credits before they returned for the first day of the high school year on September 5, 2017.

“P-TECH has so many benefits for our students,” said Rachel Pfeifer, executive director of college and career readiness for Baltimore City Public Schools. “The students who attended the summer program at BCCC are now entering 10th grade, and they already have college credits on their transcripts. Not only that, but they’ve been exposed to what college work and college life are like, so they are motivated about what’s ahead for them.”

P-TECH is a six-year program that combines high school and college academics with career preparation. On graduation, students will have earned a high school diploma, associate degree, and first-in-line status for jobs with industry partners. P-TECH partners include City Schools, BCCC, Johns Hopkins University and Health System, University of Maryland-Baltimore, Kaiser Permanente, and IBM.

“The partnership between the corporate partners and the Baltimore City School System has been very effective,” said Jeanne D. Hitchcock, Esq., special advisor to the vice president for local government, community and corporate affairs at Johns Hopkins University. “We are particularly pleased with our working relationship with BCCC that has added another educational dimension to the high school experience for the P-TECH students.”

“We look forward to making a difference for our P-TECH students,” said Dr. Gordon F. May, BCCC president/CEO. “As educators our primary responsibility is to help students master learning, prepare them for quality opportunities in the workforce and instill the desire for lifelong learning and personal autonomy.”

According to Carver students in the English 101 summer P-TECH class at BCCC, the work was challenging, but fun. The students said they were grateful for the opportunity to get better in school and to experience college for the first time.

Rambling Rose: Baltimore Book Festival Celebrates 22nd Anniversary

Hello everyone! One of the biggest things happening in our town this weekend is the 22nd Annual Baltimore Book Festival from Friday, September 22 to Sunday, September 24 from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. daily at the Inner Harbor. The Book Festival is Baltimore’s premier celebration of the literary arts and features hundreds of appearances by local celebrities; nationally-known authors; book signings; more than 100 exhibitors and booksellers; nonstop readings of multiple stages; cooking demos by top chefs and culinary-themed panel discussions; workshops; hands-on projects for kids; live music; (which is my favorite); and local food and beverage vendors and it is free to the public. Stop by my booth and say hello and maybe get my books autographed by me.

The Dorsey Family, Bernadine Dorsey (center) with her two gifted and talented children in music, Ebban & Ephraim ages 11 and 12 years old saxophonists were 1st and 2nd place winners for the Rosa Pryor Music Scholarship Fund in 2015. They have traveled Baltimore Metropolitan area and Washington, DC performing with local, national and international musicians thanks to their dedicated & supporting parents.

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The Dorsey Family, Bernadine Dorsey (center) with her two gifted and talented children in music, Ebban & Ephraim ages 11 and 12 years old saxophonists were 1st and 2nd place winners for the Rosa Pryor Music Scholarship Fund in 2015. They have traveled Baltimore Metropolitan area and Washington, DC performing with local, national and international musicians thanks to their dedicated & supporting parents.

Moving right along, there are two musically talented and gifted children among us in Baltimore— they are Ebban and Ephraim Dorsey, sister and brother jazz saxophonists, ages 11 and 12 years old, who I believe are the youngest professional musicians in the Baltimore/Washington Metropolitan area. Let me tell you about the first and second place winners at the 2015 Rosa Pryor Music Scholarship Awards.

They have been traveling non-stop every weekend to jazz venues, private events, concerts and festivals” taking the roofs off the house” with their saxophones and getting standing ovations. They have perfect pitch and a great repertoire that can keep up with best of them. Ebban and Ephraim have shared the stage with musicians, including: Gary Bartz; Warren Wolf; Lafayette Gilchrist; Robert Shahid; Carl Grubbs; Paul Carr; Reginald Cyjntie; Lenny Robinson; Herman Burney; Quincy Phillips; Todd Marcus; Craig Alston; Sam King; Blake Meister; Tim Green; Eric Kennedy; Greg Hatza; Kris Funn; Mark Meadows; David Murray; Tk. Blue; Nassar Abadey; James King; John Lamkin, Sr.; John Lamkin II; Allyn Johnson; Benji Porecki; Deante Childers; Nick Sarbanes; Earl Wilson; Carl Filipiak; Justin Taylor; and Larry Willis, just to name a few.

William Carlos Hutchins celebrates 22 years for “Carlos Hutchins Productions” as a nightlife promoter with an “Ultimate Day Party Gala” on Saturday, September 30 from 2-7 p.m. at the Gentlemen 10 Lounge, 2135 Edmondson Avenue. For more information, call 443-963-5711. Or email

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William Carlos Hutchins celebrates 22 years for “Carlos Hutchins Productions” as a nightlife promoter with an “Ultimate Day Party Gala” on Saturday, September 30 from 2-7 p.m. at the Gentlemen 10 Lounge, 2135 Edmondson Avenue. For more information, call 443-963-5711. Or email

They have had their own gig and hired top musicians to play with them under the name “The Ephraim & Ebban Dorsey Quintet.” Thanks to their parents, especially their mother Bernadine, who keeps them on the road taking them from place to place while they live their dreams and still remain, “A+” students in Peabody. Well done my two little ones! Well done. May God continue to bless you in your travel through life and in your music career.

“The All Black Affair” takes place at the Forum Caterers on Friday, September 22 and will not only feature Norman Connors, but The Craig Alston Syndicate, a special tribute to the music of Phyllis Hyman, an after concert dance party by DJ Sugar Chris, and will be hosted by Roy Sampson and “Jazzy Tarsha.” For more information, call 410-963-9238.

The play, “Momma’s Boy” is coming to the Murphy Fine Arts Center on September 22 thru 24 on the campus of Morgan State University, 2201 Argonne Drive in Baltimore. The cast members are: Johnny Gill; Robin Givens; Nephew Tommy; Jackee; Anthony Brown; Shirley Murdock; Gary Lil G Jenkins; and Dawn Robinson. “Oh my goodness what a hell-la-va cast!” For ticket information, call 800-531-SEAT or go to:

Well my dear friends, I have to go, I am out of space, remember, if you need me, call me at 410-833-9474 or email me at And my web site is: UNTIL THE NEXT TIME, I’M MUSICALLY YOURS.

Ravens opportunistic defense fuels 2-0 start this season

The Baltimore Ravens turned back the clock to the days when the defense was the driving force behind winning games. The defense forced five turnovers in back-to-back games to start the 2017 NFL season.

Head coach John Harbaugh is an old school football soul who loves smash mouth play. He is proud of what the defense has done so far.

“Our guys really don’t blink. They’re resilient, tough, and they just keep playing,” Harbaugh said after the win over Cleveland on Sunday, September 17. “They’re confident that they’ll make a play and make a stop, and that’s what you want from a really good defense.”

The Ravens have undergone some changes on defense after losing defensive tackle Tim Jernigan to free agency and cornerback Tavon Young to injury. Despite the changes, Harbaugh isn’t surprised by the fast start.

“I would just say we’re right on schedule. Let’s keep it going. That’s the track we want to maintain,” Harbaugh said “It’s an amazing thing to accomplish, but we want to keep pressure on in every phase, and when you do that and play sound football, you have a chance to force them into mistakes,” he said. “I think the other thing in the game was that we were able to force our opponents into mistakes, and that made a big difference for us.”

Veteran safety Eric Weddle had an impressive one-handed interception against the Browns last week. He loves the way the team stuck together when things got tough.

“We’re an opportunistic defense. We’re a brotherhood,” Weddle said.” We believe in each other, and like I said, we gave up some plays that we don’t ever do. But we didn’t point the fingers. We didn’t blame anybody.

“We looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s clutch up, let’s get off the field.’ We can take some positives from it, but we can’t give up as many big plays as we did.”

Through two games, the Ravens defense has only allowed a total of 10 points. Baltimore opened the season by shutting out the Cincinnati Bengals and the Ravens held the Browns to 10 points in week 2.

Their 2-0 record is even more significant considering both wins are against AFC North division rivals. Quarterback Joe Flacco has a front row seat to the Ravens dominance in defense.

“They’re getting good pressure on the quarterback, and then when they don’t have great pressure on the quarterback, they’re at least forcing him to hold the ball with the coverage,” Flacco said after the game. “Eventually somebody kind of gets free and forces him to throw the ball quickly, last-second, because there is pressure late. And any time you can get pressure on the quarterback and create those kinds of things [is good].

“You get a lead and get pressure on the quarterback, it’s a good winning recipe because it’s the toughest thing to do in this league is play under a consistent pressure as a quarterback, and to be able to put both guys in that situation the last two weeks, has been huge for us.”

This week presents a different challenge for the Ravens because they have to travel to London for their next game. Their streak of forcing multiple turnovers in a game should continue against Blake Bortles and the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Schools must welcome participation from all parents

Increasing parental engagement in education has been an important task for education policy makers. While it is unfortunate that some parents do not wish to become more involved, and may not know why they should be, those who do wish to be more engaged can learn how to get more involved. Parental involvement creates positive, visible change, sets an example that influences others to participate, and nurtures student success. Parental engagement is also a major component of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the new national education law.

Local education agencies and schools should make parents and community stakeholders aware of public school board meetings to foster community engagement. Attending these meetings, allows community members to find out what their school district’s established goals are, how they intend to achieve those goals, the priorities of funding and budgeting plans, and what is included in the approved curriculum. These meetings also offer parents the opportunity to verbalize opinions, needs, questions, or concerns to the board and community. School board meetings should be safe spaces for honest dialogue, where parents feel comfortable to address their concerns and actively participate in the decision making that affects their children.

Back-to-school nights are also a great tool that can be used to increase parental engagement with educators. Schools can use back-to-school nights to communicate needs and ask parents for their assistance through volunteer opportunities that are cognizant of varying times of availability and skill set. As parents get more involved, they become more comfortable with the environment and are more likely to participate in future activities. This should be a goal for all schools.

Lastly, transparency is essential to building successful parent-teacher partnerships. Transparency is also an important aspect of ESSA. ESSA requires states and school districts to be more transparent, specifically with parents; mandating more detailed district report cards and a breakdown of data for all student groups. Parents should always know, if their student needs assistance or is excelling. Assigning homework that includes family input and inviting parents to view student presentations are other examples that may get parents engaged in their child’s education. More information, rather than less, is preferred when it comes to academic achievement.

Producing successful students requires patience, support and community partnership. Parental involvement is one of many things that help students overcome obstacles and it also gives students the extra push needed to be great. All parents are different, some are proactive; others need an invitation. It is the educators’ duty to invite them.

Learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act at

Aiyana Thomas is a 17-year-old Baltimore City College High School student. She is a public speaker, youth advocate and blogger. She enjoys using her voice for positive change. One day, she would like to own a business that contributes to the change she hopes to see; a change that begins with the improvement of education and the development of her community.

Six AA County women honored with Fannie Lou Hamer Award

Six Anne Arundel County women will be honored for their leadership in civil and human rights during the Fannie Lou Hamer Awards reception scheduled for Sunday, October 1, 2017 at the Frances Scott Key Auditorium at St. John’s College in Annapolis. The 4 p.m. event marks the 100th anniversary of Hamer’s birthday.

Yvette Morrow, Debbie Ritchie, Lisa DeJesus, Sara Elfreth, Yasemine Jamison and MiaLissa Tompkins are set to join the ranks of more than 100 notable women, including former Senator Barbara Mikulski and former Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer in receiving the honor.

“I may not be able to save the world, but if I can make a difference in one person’s life, I have done more than many,” said Morrow, noting that statement represents her grandmother’s motto.

Yasemine Jamison

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Yasemine Jamison

Morrow, who has more than 20 years in the legal field, also counts as a business owner and active participant in many organizations including the Anne Arundel County NAACP.

Like Hamer, Ritchie— a former member of the Anne Arundel County Board of Education— views education as the great equalizer. She has served on the Anne Arundel County PTA and the state PTA where she advocated for children and assisted in fundraisers and other activities.

Lisa DeJesus

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Lisa DeJesus

“In my work with other PTA units and during training, I helped people understand how having a diverse PTA and including others would only enhance the PTA and provide a rich environment for all students,” Ritchie said.

DeJesus, a master stylist, owns and operates Salon DeJesus, an Annapolis-based hair salon and barbershop.

Jamison, a Muslim who immigrated to the U.S. as a child, is a member of the Caucus of African-American Leaders, which she joined to stand behind the ACLU in its demand that the county council chair not deny anyone the right to speak at meetings.

Elfreth holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Towson University and a master’s degree from John’s Hopkins University. She served as the Government Affairs Director for the National Aquarium and is a graduate of the inaugural class of Emerge Maryland, an organization dedicated to increasing the number of Democratic women serving in elected office.

MiaLissa Tompkins

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MiaLissa Tompkins

Tompkins, a realtor and entrepreneur, works to ensure that families of all socio-economic and cultural backgrounds can build long-lasting ties with their communities, schools and local businesses by helping them find the perfect place to call home.

“For me, being a realtor isn’t work, it’s a chance to help a family make their dreams come true,” Tompkins said.

Sara Elfreth

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Sara Elfreth

Known for their positive effect on their community, whether through social justice or historical outreach, each of the women has made a lasting mark on Anne Arundel County, according to organizers.

Debbie Ritchie

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Debbie Ritchie

“On the centennial birth of Fannie Lou Hamer, we pause to honor her memory by honoring women who keep her legacy alive through their words, deeds and actions,” said Carl Snowden, chair of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, the event’s primary sponsor. “Mrs. Hamer was a feminist and a civil rights heroine. Each year, on the eve of her birthday, Marylanders pause to honor this Mississippian, a sharecropper, who shared a passion for economic and social justice.”

A committee of community residents choose six outstanding women each year from a list of nominees who live and, or, work in Anne Arundel County, the only known jurisdiction in Maryland to celebrate Hamer’s memory with awards.

“We are living right now in a world that’s fighting for change on many levels, from social unrest in our cities, to expansive international crises,” Mikulski, a 2009 Hamer honoree, said in a statement. “And, while the news may seem grim, there is inspiration every day around the world as people come together to bring about peaceful change.”

Tickets for the event, where invited guests include Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Holland; and Representative John Sarbanes and Anthony Brown and others, are $35.

For tickets, call 301-538-6353 or 410-419-2208; and for more information, email:

The White House should postpone its HBCU conference

Last month, after speaking with the White House about a few calls, we had received, I was asked to get a sense of where our member-schools stood on the upcoming National HBCU Week Conference. After a call with a number of our 47 member-school presidents and chancellors the overwhelming consensus was to advise that the White House consider postponing the annual National HBCU Week Conference organized by the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

I believed then and am now affirmed that it is still the best choice when we objectively look at the current national events that could detract from the real needs of the HBCU community. It is no secret that, under my leadership at TMCF, we have taken a position of finding ways to have a positive meaningful, transparent working relationship with the current administration on all issues pertaining to HBCUs. I have been outspoken in my support of the significant meetings, policy positions and plans that have a direct impact on our member-intuitions. Like most of us, we often have a difference of opinion with even those closest to us, so though the

Administration may disagree with our call for postponing this event, our commitment to finding common ground to work together on behalf of HBCUs has not and will not change.

This conference is important to all of our HBCU students, campus leaders and the millions of people who live in the campus communities, all of which are searching for these schools to be equitably funded and supported by public and private partners. It is more than a time for leaders, alumni and other stakeholders to convene and network; when developed to the specific interests of our institutions, the conference is a valuable tool for exposure of HBCU strengths before powerful actors in our nation’s legislative and corporate circles.

Traditionally, the White House Initiative on HBCUs Executive Director, in consultation with the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs has planned the event. Regrettably, as of August 2017 neither has been appointed. TMCF was asked to submit names and provide general input on the conference, but my position has always been, there needed to be an Executive Director in place by July 9th. There is no doubt that there are people in the White House that are committed to the advancement and support of HBCUs during the Trump Administration. Two of them are actually HBCU graduates, so I applaud the fact that they are advocating for our community, behind closed doors.

The conference should not be cancelled. We need this annual event to bring all of the stakeholders together around a specific, strategic agenda of substantive action for the entire Black College Community. September 17-19, 2017 is just not the right time. We asked the Trump Administration to consider postponing the conference, because there is legitimate concern that some may want to use this event to protest, boycott or much worse, refuse to work with the Trump Administration and the Republican-controlled Congress. Let me be very clear, with the fragile condition of some of our HBCUs, now is not the time for us to retreat, now is not the time for us to move off the path of strategic and effective engagement to seek meaningful solutions for HBCUs. Our students and faculty are watching and want us to solidify continued support from the entire Trump Administration for HBCUs. They are seeking more than positive affirmations that many in the political space try to give. We need and deserve policies, which reflect the service our schools provide in spurring industrial diversity, political autonomy and economic progress.

No one wants HBCUs to become a footnote at a national event, which could draw attention from many types of groups seeking opportunities to advance a message totally independent of higher education or HBCU advocacy. Our students and our leaders deserve to be more than a catalyst for liberal or conservative groups to use the conference as an agenda amplifier; especially when HBCUs have hard work ahead in securing partnerships to promote and to bolster institutional strengths in STEM, national defense, public health, secondary education, entrepreneurship and business management. I was pleased to hear Secretary of State Tillerson talk about the value of HBCU students interning and working at the State Department. TMCF has great partnerships with the United States Department of Agriculture, the Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency and many others.

I can understand why some White House officials want to continue the conference. I applaud their firm commitment to maintaining a laser focus on the HBCU agenda, even when the prospects for controversy are growing around it. That commitment is a sign of true leadership and advocacy in which we should all be proud, because it is rare. It is the kind of commitment for which TMCF has advocated over the past 30 years, and which we are proud to say has resulted in bipartisan support of our scholarship and talent pipeline programs which have benefited thousands of students from our 47 member-institutions and beyond.

The best course of action is to pause for just a moment, get the Executive Director and Advisory Board in place to plan out a short term and long term strategy for the Trump Administration and Black College Community to be convened for this critically important conference, we all want to be successful, substantive, and impactful. I have no doubt President Trump, his administration and the 47-member schools I represent as the President & CEO of TMCF, have a genuine desire to get this right, so that HBCUs can survive and thrive.

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. is the President & CEO of Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), the largest organization exclusively representing the Black College Community. Prior to joining TMCF, he spent many years as a successful corporate executive and attorney. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnnyCTaylorJr.

Dick Gregory Remembered, Lionized By Mourners

— Civil rights activist and comedian Dick Gregory packed several lifetimes into his 84 years. He was many things: groundbreaking, pioneering comedian; persistent critic of America’s policies and practices of racism, discrimination and oppressor; marathon runner; a guru around issues of nutrition and good health; political candidate for mayor of Chicago and president; author of 20 books.

Gregory, father of 10 and husband to wife Lillian for 58 years, died August 19 after a brief illness.

On Saturday, September 16, 2017, at City of Praise Family Ministries several thousand mourners listened for more than six hours as friends, family and admirers celebrated the man described as a legend. The memorial service brought together a constellation of local, national and international celebrities and luminaries from the Arts, entertainment, politics and sports as well as ordinary people, all whose lives Gregory touched over the course of his 84 years. These included boxing promoter and TV host Rock Newman, actor Joe Morton, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Stevie Wonder, Bill and Camille Cosby, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, members of the American Indian Movement and The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II.

Nation of Islam leader Min. Louis Farrakhan – who was introduced by his friend of more than 40 years, the Rev. Willie Wilson of DC’s Union Temple Baptist Church said Gregory was “was from the dark womb of space that God produces to create stars of immeasurable quality and beauty” who was always among ordinary men and women working.

“We experience the loss not of a comedian but the loss of one sent from above to be a guide, a teacher, a friend, a teacher, an activist, a giver, a sufferer, one of the most marvelous human beings I have had the privilege of meeting during my 84 years of life on this planet,” he said. “I want to thank Mother Lillian and the Gregory family for the great honor and privilege that you have given me to ask me to be the eulogist for a man that is so difficult to describe, But I’m going to try in a few words to say what I think and I believe about man who lie there but is not here.”

Crowd reaction was palpable when several children of slain Civil Rights activists and Rain Pryor, daughter of comedian Richard Pryor, came to the stage to pay tribute to Gregory. Renee Evers-Everette, Martin Luther King, III, and llyasah Shabazz, the third daughter of Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz talked about the many ways Gregory touched their lives.

“Baba was part of my Pryor life of laughter and that special attention he gave you,” said Pryor. “He said that truths were soul food and a map to live by. He told me to always choose my words wisely. Today, as we honor our newest Ancestor, we are reminded not to morph, not to imitate, but to speak the highest truth. We have to keep them lifted in our actions as we become the change they sought.”

Evers-Everette said she initially refused strenuously when asked by Ayanna Gregory to speak but … “There’s no way I could not be here,” she said. “My father and Dick Gregory were brothers of the spirit and the hearts … They (her father and other slain Civil Rights activists) spilled the blood of truth for our freedoms. The words, wisdom and spirit they powered out in us was given to the world. The time given may have been small but it was enormous. They made the most impact on our minds and hearts.”

Shabazz said Gregory fought for people trapped on the periphery of economics and justice.

“He challenged the social climate and challenged a superpower that has been systematically and historically unjust to certain populations,” she said. “I’m honored to be here today for my parents and Ancestors. The Ancestors are lining up to welcome Baba in anticipation of a progress report on the status of life down here.”

“When it came time to say who took Malcolm’s life he rose to the occasion. He clarified Martin Luther King Jr’s death and raised his voice for those slain by bullies and bigots,” Shabazz explained. “And when this new generation reminded the world that Black Lives Matter, he stood up with them and spoke truth to power.”

Waters, who has eagerly embraced her role as an outspoken and acerbic critic of President Donald Trump, promised that she would continue to be “this dishonorable person’s” worst nightmare.

“I’m so pleased that you organized a real celebration where you’re not ending quickly and trying to shut people up. I’m going to take as long as I want,” she said to a mixture of laughter and applause. “I have talked to Dick for hours. We would talk— no, he would talk— about things going on in the world. He brought me to this time and place in my life.”

“I’ve decided I don’t want to be safe. I’m not looking for people to like me. It’s time for us to walk the walk. If you cared about him, loved him, stop being so weak. It’s time to stop skinning and grinning. It’s time for us to have the courage to do what we need to do, especially at this hour.”