Senator Doug Jones announces bipartisan solution to permanently fund HBCUs and simplify federal student aid application

Legislation includes permanent funding for HBCUs and Minority-Serving Institutions by eliminating administrative costs associated with FAFSA
WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Ala.) today joined a bipartisan group of senators to introduce a solution to both permanently fund Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs) and to take a first step toward simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process. Annual funding for MSIs expired on September 30, 2019.The solution proposed today by Senator Jones and his colleagues amends his FUTURE Act legislation to permanently renew $255 million in annual funding for HBCUs and MSIs, and will also simplify the FAFSA by reducing it by up to 22 questions. The amendment is paid for through reduced administrative costs achieved by allowing FAFSA applicants to give permission to the Internal Revenue Service to securely share tax return data directly with the U.S. Department of Education.
“The permanent renewal of federal funding is a huge win for our nation’s minority-serving institutions, which have faced growing uncertainty and anxiety since their $255 million in annual funding expired in September. Instead of making tough decisions to cut programs and staff this holiday season, they can now count on permanent funding that will enable them to plan long-term and focus on their educational mission,” said Senator Jones, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
Senator Jones has long championed the renewal of funding for minority-serving schools and also for simplification of the burdensome FAFSA form, which has proven to be a significant barrier for students who need financial assistance in order to afford college. Last year, Senator Jones proposed an ambitious bill topermanently extend and increase federal funding for MSIs before it was set to expire on September 30 this year. In the new session of Congress this year, he proposed a bipartisan bill, the FUTURE Act, to extend the funding for two years and give Congress time to negotiate a permanent solution. As the September 30th deadline approached, and in the months since the Senate allowed funding to expire, Senator Jones has worked to bring attention to the bill and has repeatedly pressured Senate leaders to allow it to come to a vote.
Senator Jones has also recently partnered with Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the HELP Committee, to introduce legislation that would reduce the FAFSA form from 108 questions to between 18-30. Today’s proposal is a necessary first step to lay the groundwork for the passage of the broader Jones-Alexander FAFSA reform bill.
Senator Jones continued, speaking on the importance of FAFSA simplification, “With our proposal today, we also take an important first step toward simplifying our federal student aid application and helping more students achieve the dream of a college education. I thank my colleagues Senators Alexander and Murray for working to find a bipartisan compromise on two issues that deeply important to the people we serve.”
Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Senators Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) joined Senator Jones in introducing the amendment.

Newswire: World leaders gather for major climate confab in Madrid, Spain, with African countries in the spotlight

Dec. 2, 2019 (GIN) – As world leaders gather in Madrid, Spain, for one of the largest global conferences on the environment, a new report from the U.S.-based Save the Children Fund warns that real world impacts of climate change are threatening tens of millions of people in East and Southern Africa with what it terms “climate shock.”
Floods, landslides, drought and cyclones have put 33 million people at emergency levels of food insecurity. More than half of these are believed to be children, the report says.
Another study, by the United Nations, also released this week, highlighted the urgent need for aggressive policies to curb emissions.
“We have to learn from our procrastination. Any further delay brings the need for larger, more expensive and unlikely cuts,” Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, wrote in the report titled “Emissions Gap Report 2019.” “We cannot afford to fail.”
“People think this climate change thing is a joke,” said an exasperated broadcaster on Nigeria’s ChannelTV. “They should come and ask us in Nigeria. We’ve seen rains like we’ve never seen before and heat like we’ve never seen before.”
Climate change was most recently evident in Kenya where more than 100 people died as a result of mudslides and floods occasioned by heavy rains across the country in the last two months.
Government spokesman Cyrus Oguna said 350,000 people were in dire need of assistance.
“The whole country has been affected by the downpour. Roads, bridges and other infrastructure have been destroyed,” Mr Oguna told journalists in Kapenguria, West Pokot County.
Botswana, taking pro-active measures, says it will be developing a drought management strategy making drought a permanent feature of the national budget rather than an emergency.
Malawi will be among five African countries invited to attend the Madrid conference. Ellen Matupi, chair of the Coalition of Women Farmers in Malawi who has felt the effects of climate change first-hand will attend and is expected to discuss government’s controversial subsidies for chemical fertilizers rather than climate resilient agroecology. Matupi trains other women farmers in these methods and advocates for their rights.
Another report by the South African-based ActionAid – “Can Climate Change-Fuelled Loss and Damage Ever Be Fair?” – endorsed by nearly 100 community groups holds the US and EU jointly responsible for more than half the cost of repairing the damage caused by climate disasters in the Global South.
The groups calculated countries’ ‘fair share’ of responsibility based on historic contributions to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions and their capacity to take climate action based on national income while taking into account what is needed to provide basic living standards.
Senior members of the Trump administration are not planning to attend the meeting but Democrats are sending a delegation to the venue. The conference closes on Dec. 13.

Newswire : Serena Williams builds schools in Jamaica, Africa

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

Serena Williams


While many deep-pocketed philanthropists and celebrities will write checks to support worthy causes, Tennis megastar Serena Williams routinely goes the extra mile.
In a recently released video, Williams donned a pair of jeans, workboats, a hardhat and went to work on Salt Marsh Elementary School in Trelawny Parish, Jamaica.
Williams, who has won a total of 39 Tennis Grand Slams – including Doubles titles, has also built grade schools in Uganda, Kenya, and Zimbabwe.
Williams built the Marsh Elementary through a partnership with the nonprofit Helping Hands Jamaica, while the schools in Africa were in conjunction with Build Africa.
It’s part of the mission of Williams’ Serena Williams Fund and her other charitable efforts, which include the Serena Williams Venture, where the tennis champion seeks to boost the bottom line of individual companies.
“In 2014, I launched Serena Ventures with the mission of giving opportunities to founders across an array of industries. Serena Ventures invests in companies that embrace diverse leadership, individual empowerment, creativity, and opportunity,” Williams said in a statement posted on her organization’s website.
“Serena Ventures focuses on early-stage companies and allowing them to be heard. As we grow, we hope to mentor young founders and take burgeoning entrepreneurs to the next level,” she stated.
“Serena Ventures extends relationships, encourages collaboration among portfolio companies, and expands partnership opportunities across my vast network. Similar to many of the companies we have invested in, we are just getting started and are hoping to make a difference.”
Also, according to Charity Buzz, the Serena Williams Fund was established to promote equity; through education, gender, race, disability, or anything else that stands in the way of someone achieving their goals and living their best possible life.
“The mission of this charity is to help the individuals or communities affected by to violence, and [to ensure] equal access to education,” Williams stated.
Knowing the value of creating strong partnerships with organizations with expertise in their fields, Williams counts as a Unicef Goodwill Ambassador. She has partnered with organizations such as Beyond the Boroughs Scholarship Fund, The Equal Justice Initiative, The Caliber Foundation, and Build Africa Schools.
Jessica Curney of Borgen Magazine reported that before each of her matches, Williams reads and writes affirmations out loud from her diary about wanting to help people, kids, and work in Africa.
“Through the Serena Williams Fund, Williams dedicates her off-season time improving access to education by building schools in underprivileged areas of the world,” Gurney reported.
“She has done extraordinary tasks using her own resources and through partnerships with the Serena Williams Fund and other foundations dedicated to providing and improving education for those in difficult conditions or developing countries. Her active role has notably left a mark on those who have had their lives changed significantly through this act of kindness.”

Newswire: Counting children matters most: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on Census 2020

By Khalil Abdullah


Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from Ethnic Media Services
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – Within the African American community, the conversation about the upcoming 2020 census ranges from ‘why bother’ to ‘we’re all in.’ Let’s speak to the ‘why bother’ question.
FAQ: Why should I bother with Census2020? I filled out the census form the last time and I didn’t see any improvements in my neighborhood or community.
Answer: Whether or not you saw the improvements you expected, many benefits of the census still touched your life, your community, and the people you love and care about – especially children.
If you have a sense of responsibility for the quality of life of children in your family or beyond, your participation in the census has a direct impact. Over 200 federal programs derive revenue from data gathered by the census. This list includes school lunch programs and the Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC) which provides direct monetary assistance for low income pregnant women and new mothers and their children. Other programs range from Section 8 Housing assistance to LIHEAP, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. LIHEAP helps families pay heating bills and assists with repairs to furnaces, insulation and weatherization costs.
Without these programs, the cost of living for everyone in a neighborhood, city, or county would be higher. Take LIHEAP as an example. Without the financial subsidy to those in need, other ratepayers and customers like yourself, would likely face an increase in monthly utility bills.
Just consider the funding that assists with the cost of schools, teachers, and education. The lives of children are profoundly affected by your decision to participate in the census. This is one reason why those who represent African American communities, be they clergy, elected officials, or social justice advocates, see engagement with the census as a moral
imperative.
FAQ: That still doesn’t explain why I don’t see the improvements promised
during the last census in 2010 or even during the 2000 census.
Answer: You know the saying, “all politics is local.” Almost nowhere does this apply more than when money is being allocated. There are layers of responsibility for how money is spent, including federal and state formulas as well as decisions made at the local level, often by elected officials. The census has a direct bearing on our election processes of redistricting and reapportionment which help determine how your vote is counted and who gets elected. We will take these up as separate FAQ topics.
The immediate question is: will you fill out the census form?
FAQ: What happens if I do not fill out the form? Is that a crime? If so,
what’s the punishment?
Answer: Not answering the census or providing false answers are each punishable by a fine of up to $5,000, but no one has been fined for failure to respond in recent censuses, according to the Census Bureau’s national spokesperson. But, as one census advocate said, it is a crime of sorts not to participate because is the children who suffer most without your
full participation.
FAQ: Can someone find out my private census responses?
Answer: Your information is confidential and protected by Title 13 which brings heavy fines and possible imprisonment for anyone who divulges your personal information. The Census Bureau cannot, under penalty, share your information with the IRS, Homeland Security, immigration or law enforcement agencies or anyone else, including housing officials. However, census information is made publicly available after 72 years.
FAQ: What if I participate in the census, but there are more people living in my home than I’m supposed to have according to my lease or rental agreement?
Answer: The Census Bureau is trying to gather data. It is not seeking to determine whether you are violating your lease or local zoning codes, but you have raised an important point. Families are often fluid — grandparents taking care of grandchildren while parents are at work or away from home. Should you claim a student away at school in another state as a member of your household? There are many scenarios where family members should be reported, but African Americans were undercounted by 2.1 percent in the 2010 census and many of those missed were children. Why? In part because people were unsure whether they should report a child or whether that was someone else’s responsibility to do so. The best thing to do is ask the Census Bureau or one of the many organizations participating in partnership during Census2020.
This article is a monthly column by Ethnic Media Services aimed to educate about the need to respond to the 2020 U. S. Census. Next Topic: If you’re all in, what to expect.

Newswire : Three Baltimore men exonerated after nearly four decades in prison

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

Three men – Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins
And Andrew Stewart were exonerated

Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins and Andrew Stewart were released and exonerated after spending 36 years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit.
The men were teenagers when they received a life sentence in 1984 after being convicted of murdering 14-year-old DeWitt Duckett in Baltimore.
“Everyone involved in this case — school officials, police, prosecutors, jurors, the media, and the community — rushed to judgment and allowed their tunnel vision to obscure obvious problems with the evidence,” said Shawn Armbrust, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, which represents Watkins.
“This case should be a lesson to everyone that the search for quick answers can lead to tragic results,” Armbrust stated.
DeWitt reportedly was shot in the neck following a dispute over a jacket as he walked to class at Harlem Park Junior High School in Baltimore.
Marilyn Mosby, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney, reopened the case earlier this year because of lingering questions and recent revelations of corruption in the city’s police department that allegedly stretched back for decades.
Chestnut also sent a query to the city’s Conviction Integrity Unit, which the Washington Post said included exculpatory evidence that he uncovered in 2018.
An assistant prosecutor who worked on the case in 1984 reportedly said that prosecutors had no reports at the time that would have cast doubt on the guilt of the three men.
Following their conviction, court records were sealed, and it wasn’t until a year ago, that Chestnut had successfully obtained the related documents through a freedom of information request.
According to the District Attorney’s office, the police records revealed that several witnesses told authorities that the person responsible was an 18-year-old who immediately fled the scene and dumped his weapon.
Instead, the Baltimore police focused their investigation on Chestnut, Watkins, and Stewart. The alleged shooter was fatally shot in 2002.
“On behalf of the criminal justice system, and I’m sure this means very little to you, gentlemen, I’m going to apologize,” Circuit Court Judge Charles Peters told the men at a hearing on Monday, November 25.
Peters said the men are entirely exonerated.

Statue of Rosa Parks unveiled in Montgomery, Alabama on 64th, anniversary of her arrest, which started the Montgomery Bus Boycott

By Frederick H. Lowe, BlackmansStreet.Today

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey and Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed unveil statue of Rosa Parks; and Aurelia Browder poses with statue of Rosa Parks
Sunday, December 1 was Rosa Parks Day in Montgomery, Alabama.

The city of Montgomery and Alabama, where the capitol is based, unveiled a life-size bronze statue of Parks who sparked the 381-day Montgomery bus boycott, one of the seminal events in civil rights history. The boycott, started by black women, broke the back of segregation on Montgomery’s city buses, which were owned by a Chicago company. Parks, a seamstress and an early civil rights activist involved the case of the Scottsboro Boys, refused to give up her seat to a white man and move to back of the back of the bus where seats and standing room were set aside for blacks as was the law at the time. Parks said in a number of interviews she was angry about what happened to Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Chicago teenager, who was spending the summer in Money, Mississippi, when two white men beat him to death on August 24, 1955, for offending a white woman. Decades later, the woman, Carolyn Bryant, admitted she lied about the circumstances that led to Till’s brutal murder.
The City of Montgomery dedicated a statue of Parks on Montgomery Plaza near the stop where she caught the bus that would drive her into history and unemployment. She caught the bus on November 26, 1955 and the boycott began on December 1.
“To stand here today as Montgomery’s mayor where Mrs. Rosa Park stood defiant against systemic injustice infecting our community speaks to the magnitude of this moment and the progress achieved in our city,” said Steven Reed, Montgomery’s first black mayor. Montgomery had been the capital of the Confederacy for about a year during the Civil War.
Montgomery County artist Clydetta Fulmer built the statue, which also contains four historic markers honoring the plaintiffs in the landmark Browder v. Gayle case. A three-judge federal panel ruled on June 5, 1956, that the enforced segregation of black and white passengers on motor buses operating in the City of Montgomery violated the Constitution and laws of the United States. Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, Mary Louise Smith and Jeanette Reese were plaintiffs in the case. Freddie Gray, Alabama’s only black attorney at the time, filed the lawsuit. The statue doesn’t honor E.D. Nixon, a Pullman Porter and president of the local chapter of the NAACP, who bailed Parks out of jail. The statue also doesn’t honor Jo Anne Robinson, an English professor at Alabama State College, now Alabama State University, who came up with the idea of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, according to the book “The Thunder of Angels: The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the People Who Broke the Back of Jim Crow,” by Donnie Williams and Wayne Greenhaw. The boycott was supposed to last one day, but it was so successful, it continued for nearly 400 days. The boycott put Parks and a 25-year-old Martin Luther King Jr. into the history books. King later led the boycott.
After the boycott, no one would hire Parks or her husband, Raymond, a barber, who also had been active in the Scottsboro Boys case. The couple moved to Detroit, and Michigan Congressman John Conyers gave her a job.
Parks died October 24, 2005. She was 92.

Official ribbon cutting held at Love’s Truck Stop

Community leaders help cut ribbon for Love’s Truck Stop. At Center, Eutaw Mayor Raymond Steele and Jeff Klug, Store Manager. Also seen in photo are: Commission Chair Allen Turner, State Senator Bobby Singleton, Former Probate Judge Earlean Isaac, Current Probate Judge Rolanda Wedgeworth, School Superintendent Dr.  Corey Jones and Ralph Banks III with GCIDA and District Judge Lillie Osborne. –Photo by Debbie Duncan
Community Leaders who attended ribbon cutting at Love’s
— Photo by Debbie Duncan
District Judge Lillie Jones Osborne (R) receives donation for Children’s Policy Council from Jeff Klug, Love’s Truck Stop Manager, Mayor Raymond Steele (L) looks on. — photo by Debbie Duncan

On Thursday morning, November 21, 2019, Greene County public officials and community leaders joined Manager Jeff Klug to cut a symbolic green ribbon to officially open the Love’s Travel and Truck Stop at the Interstate 20/59 exit 40 in Eutaw, Alabama.
More than 70 officials including County Commissioners, City Council members, State Senator Bobby Singleton, Mayor Raymond Steele, school system and hospital officials attended the ribbon cutting.
The facility has been open for business since October 24, 2019.
An official press release issued by Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores, based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, celebrated the opening of two new stores in its network, on the same day, one in Eutaw and another in Missoula, Montana. Love’s is the nation’s industry-leading travel stop network with more than 500 locations in 41 states.
The official statement says, “The Eutaw store, located off Interstate 20, adds 101 jobs and 96 truck parking spaces to Greene County. We’re eager to provide quality services and products to customers in western Montana and western Alabama,” said Tom Love, founder and executive chairman of Love’s. “These locations are separated by thousands of miles, but both have the same great amenities that professional and four-wheel drivers enjoy.”
The release, lists the amenities of the Eutaw site as:
•More than 8,000 square feet.
•Chester’s Chicken, Godfather’s Pizza and Hardee’s.
•Ninety-six truck parking spaces.
•Seventy-four car parking spaces.
•Three RV parking spaces.
•Eight diesel bays.
•Seven showers.
•Speedco location on-site.
•Laundry facilities.
•Bean to cup gourmet coffee.
•Brand-name snacks.
•Mobile to Go Zone with the latest electronics.
•CAT scale.
•Dog park.
Mayor Steele indicated that the City of Eutaw raised a million dollars in grants and loans to bring sewage service to the Love’s site, improving lanes and lighting at the Interstate exit leading to the truck stop site. “We are looking forward to additional business development in this new corridor from the Interstate into the city,” said Steele.
City and County officials are also looking forward to an economic boost from the new gas tax and sales tax revenues generated by the truck stop and travel center. Jeff Klug, local manager says that the Eutaw location is the largest full service truck stop between Meridian, Mississippi and Tuscaloosa, Alabama. “ We anticipate serving 700 to 1,000 trucks a day, selling 7,000 to 10,000 gallons a day in fuel,” said Klug.
Manager Jeff Klug presented a check for $2,000 to District Judge Lillie Osborne, President of the Greene County Children’s Policy Council, which serves low-income young people. Love’s made the donation in honor of the ribbon cutting and opening of the new store in Eutaw.
In its official release, the company states that Love’s provides professional truck drivers and motorists with 24-hour access to clean and safe places to purchase gasoline, diesel fuel, fresh coffee, restaurant offerings and more. Love’s has more than 350 truck service centers, which include on-site and stand-alone Speedco and Love’s Truck Tire Care locations. Love’s and Speedco combined is the largest oil change, preventive maintenance and total truck care nationwide network. Love’s is committed to providing customers with “Clean Places, Friendly Faces” at every stop. To learn more, visit loves.com.Official ribbon cutting held at Love’s Truck Stop

Star Academy holds open house event for parents and community

L to R Back Row: Ms. Tonya Chestnut, Liaison between NOLA (the sponsor of Star Academy) and RBMS; Mr. Leo Branch, School Board Member; Dr. Carol P. Zippert, School Board President; Dr. Corey Jones, Superintendent; Ms. Shawnta Owens, Principal RBMS; Ms. Brittney Harris, Assist. Principal RBMS; Mr. Kevin McKinney, Administrator with NOLA. The young people are students at RBMS.

On Thursday, November 21, 2019, the Greene County School System held an open house for the Star Academy which serves 7th and 8th grade students at Robert Brown Middle School. Shortly after he assumed the job of School Superintendent, Dr. Corey Jones was successful in securing a $900,000 grant to implement the Star Academy Program, which serves at-risk students, students with academic challenges and students who need to learn through alternative learning styles.
Greene County was one of two school systems in Alabama that received this At-Risk Discretionary Grant from the Alabama Department of Education this academic year.
 The Star Academy, a school within a school, employs standards-based curriculum in Science, Mathematics, English, and Social Studies. Students navigate through a rigorous progression of varied instructional methods incorporating hands-on, real-world learning experiences, individualized instruction, team instruction, and personal development.
The program re-engages students who may have experienced personal, academic, or social challenges in their lives. It provides these students with an opportunity to recapture a sense of purpose, regain their self-esteem, and succeed academically. The program can accommodate up to 80 7th and 8th graders.
The school system provides the faculty and the facility.  The Star Academy, through the grant resources, provides the curriculum design; facilities layout, including classroom furnishings; computers and other related classroom materials and support; staff development; on site coordination and support.
The Star Academy provides on going training for participating teachers and administrators, and continuous information and updates for parents.

Annual Industry Appreciation luncheon provides information on workforce training and the 2020 Census

Kinya Isaac standing speaking about Census 2020 and Scarlet Pearce, Demoplis Career Center seated both spoke at GCIDA Annual Business and Industry Appreciation Luncheon.

The Greene County Industrial Development Authority (GCIDA) held its Annual Business and Industry Appreciation luncheon, last Wednesday, November 20, 2019 at Ruby’s Restaurant in Eutaw.
Phillis Belcher, GCIDA Executive Director said, “We hold this annual event to honor our existing industries and major employers in Greene County. The GCIDA sees its mission as serving existing business to improve their operations and helping to attract and develop new industries and businesses to start operations in our area.”
The crowd of about 40 people heard from two valuable luncheon speakers who brought relevant information on topics of interest to business and community leaders.Scarlet Pearce of the Demopolis Career Center, which is part of the national and state Department of Labor, spoke of opportunities provided by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the nation’s workforce training legislation.
“Employers can seeking on-the-job training support, workforce training positions, apprenticeship opportunities by contacting the Alabama Career Center. We are in Workforce Region 3, which covers much of the Alabama Black Belt area. We have a budget of $6 million dollars annually for workforce development initiatives,” said Pearce.
“People looking for work or education and training to upgrade their work skills should visit the Career Center at 1074 Bailey Drive in Demopolis, Alabama, to get information, advice and assistance in seeking employment,” said Pearce.
Kinya Isaac, regional representative for the 2020 U. S. Census in Greene, Sumter and Pickens counties, spoke about the upcoming U. S. Census to be held 0n April 1, 2020. “We need to be sure to count every single person in the Census. The population count by the Census will determine allocation of many Federal and state resources. The Census will also be used to reapportion voters in Congressional and Legislative Districts for the coming decade. Alabama could possibly loose one of its seven Congressional seats if all the people are not counted in this upcoming Census,” said Isaac.
Issac pointed out that sections of Greene County are shown on the Census map as having an under-count in the 2010 Census. “We need to be sure to count everyone, especially people who live in these areas for the 2020 Census. Any assistance that businesses and industries can provide would help Greene County overall,” said Isaac.
Danny Cooper, Chair of the GCIDA thanked people for attending the luncheon and encouraged them to seek assistance from the GCIDA when they needed help in starting or expanding their businesses. The GCIDA office is located on the Thomas Gilmore Courthouse Square, in a building across from City Hall. The phone number is 205-372-9769.

Newswire : Harriet movie features a model of courage for today

By Dr. Barbara Reynolds

Poster of Harriet movie


(TriceEdneyWire.com) – For a nation built on truth, abolitionist, freedom fighter, ex-slave Harriet Tubman should have the acclaim of a Paul Revere, or Patrick Henry whose courageous lines “Give me Liberty or Give me Death” guided the American Revolution.
Tubman, whose battle cry was to ‘’live free or die” and revolt, guided another revolution. It was to end slavery which changed the color, content and character of America today.
Finally, through the newly released epic movie Harriet, this revolutionary warrior,born into slavery in 1822 in Dorchester County, Md., has emerged from the back alley of history to take her rightful place as a larger than life action figure, a true American hero. Unlike the heroes spun from Marvel comic strips or the Terminator franchise, Harriet Tubman is not, fake, fantasy or make believe although her expansive accomplishments are more real than can
be imagined.
Don’t think you are going to see the serene, sedate elderly Harriet of our textbooks. This is the Harriet of her youth, jaunting up rocky cliffs, jumping off bridges and even shooting a White slave owner with her pistol.
Through the skillful talent of British-born actress, Cynthia Erivo, the film – to be released Nov. 1 – features Tubman not only as yesterday’s heroine, but as a model of courage for today. Risking certain death if captured, often with a pistol in her waistband, she escaped from bondage on Maryland’s Eastern shore and returned often in disguise to rescue more than 70 family and fellow slaves. She became a leader in the anti-slavery Underground Railroad, the women’s suffrage movement in her long standing struggle against systemic gender and racial inequality.
During the Civil War, she served as a nurse, scout and spy for the Union army and became the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war guiding the raid at Combahee Ferry, which liberated more than 700 slaves. Unfortunately her heroism did not guard her from racism as she was originally denied the pension benefits granted to White soldiers.
In heart-aching detail the movie does not sanitize the horror of slavery; nor does it gloss over the power of God in her life. Scenes of blood-soaked whips, scarred backs of enslaved men and women, screaming children torn from their families to be sold by Whites trading them as if they were dispensing sows from a pig pen – It’s all there. But there is another story that shines through, one of Black love, Black loyalty and a determination of the enslaved to live free or die and the eventual embrace of the long awaited freedom. It’s all there.
In the movie, we see Harriet after learning she is to be sold South, which rumors say is more brutal than the plantations on Maryland’s Eastern shore, leave her family and the love of her life, her husband John Tubman, traveling 100 miles alone to freedom in Philadelphia through the aid of the Underground Railroad.
Though the term railroad might prompt visions of nice cushy seats, this railroad Harriet traveled was a harsh pathway through snake-filled marshes, woods, and deep rivers. Often, the flight of this woman known to some as the SHEMOSES was made even more treacherous as armed posses with baying hounds chased her to collect the rewards for her capture. But they never caught her. She once boasted that her railroad never ran off track and she never lost a passenger.
In the movie she declared she had only the North Star and we see her on her knees looking up to the heavens in deep communication with the God she depended upon to shield her from her enemies.
My favorite scene is when the only choice for a band of freeing slaves was to either turn back or cross a treacherous river. While her family cowered, frozen on the riverbank for fear of following her and drowning, she lifted her pistol above her head wading in the deep water as she prayed aloud. Slowly the waters receded; as her feet touched dry land her family members jumped in and crossed over as well.
The two -hour epic directed by filmmaker Kasi Lemmons who also wrote and directed Eve’s Bayou, sends the audience away with an inspirational song, entitled, “Stand up”, co-written by Joshuah Campbell and the film’s leading lady Erivo.
The song sets just the right tone for Harriet enthusiasts to continue
celebrating Harriet. President Obama had selected her to become the first person of color to be represented on any of the nation’s currency, replacing Andrew Jackson on the new $20 bill. Not surprisingly in June 2019 the Trump administration has delayed the launch.
Nevertheless, in Maryland Harriet enthusiasts have other ways to celebrate her. Painted on the side wall of the Harriet Tubman Museum & Education Center in downtown Cambridge, Maryland—just a few miles from where Tubman grew up, is a 14’ X 28’ mural featuring Tubman offering an outstretched hand.
In March 2017, the Maryland Park Service and Maryland government opened the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park & Visitor Center in the heart of the Choptank River Region where Harriet grew up. It’s a 17-acre facility that has already been visited by nearly 200,000 guests from all 50 states and over 60 countries. In her honor the Service has also established the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in Auburn, NY.
Tubman is the only U.S. woman to be honored by the Service with two
parks.