Monthly Archives: October 2011

Howard University Alumni, Students Plan Jobs March to Brown the Occupy Movement

By Talib I. Karim, Esq.
(Howard University Alumnus, BS ’92, JD ’95)

Howard University students, alumni, and faculty plan to link up with the Occupy DC movement for the March for Jobs and Justice, starting on Howard’s Ga. Ave. campus and ending at the U.S. Chambers of Commerce on 17th & H streets

As Howard University alumni, students, and friends celebrated Homecoming this past week, the campus was also abuzz about the Occupy movements sweeping the nation.  The movement, which holds itself out as a representation of the 99% of U.S. citizens who own just 1% of the nation’s wealth, has been criticized for lacking participation from people of color.

Nonetheless, African Americans, particular intellectuals from revered institutions like Howard are beginning to gravitate towards the national movement.  In the Washington area, an initiative is afoot to “brown” the Occupy efforts.

On Friday at 5pm, alumni, students, faculty, and friends of Howard University plan to lead what organizers describe as March for Jobs and Justice, from the University’s Georgia Avenue campus downtown to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, along the way linking up with both the District’s Occupy encampments (one at 15th and K, and the other at Freedom Plaza, on Pennsylvania Avenue).

This initiative by the Howard community comes on the heels of the recent arrests of Princeton Professor Cornell West and Raheem DeVaughn along with other Occupy protesters outside the U.S. Supreme Court.  Their protest sought to bring attention to the injustice in the American legal system underscored by last month’s execution of Troy Davis and the assassinations of Americans living overseas, without trial, in the name of national security.

Yet for the Howard protesters, jobs as well as justice are their inspirations for joining the Occupy movements.  According to Jonathan Hutto, who in the nineties, served as Howard University Student Association president and undergraduate trustee, today’s Occupy movement is reminiscent of the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968, which his fellow Atlanta native, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began organizing just before his assassination.

Hutto, who today lives in Prince George’s County, states “That great son of Howard, Kwame Ture (Stokley Carmichael) taught us correctly that students and youth are the spark and catalyst of mass movement, organization and change.  Just as we dismantled Jim Crow a generation ago, we must abolish today’s road blocks to full economic parity in our nation for all citizens.”

Hutto’s points are borne out by the disproportionate impact of the job crises on the African American community.  The reported national unemployment rate is 9.7%, but 17% in the African American community.  According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics if you factor in the total number of employable adults who are either out of work or underemployed (in part time or temporary jobs), the rate goes up to 53% or nearly 110 million Americans.  It’s estimated that 85% of African Americans fall into this pot.

Today’s Howard University Student Association president, Brandon Harris, whose hometown of Memphis was where Dr. King made his last stand, believes that justice is a critical component of Friday’s march.  Harris notes that even today, with an African American in the White House, justice remains elusive for people of color, which is the reason why a dozen of Brandon’s school mates got arrested in plain sight of President Obama’s office in outrage over Troy Davis’ execution.

Netfa Freeman, a University of the District of Columbia alumnus believes that while the March begins at Howard, it has broader implications for creating a new Black-White alliance.  Freeman contends that mass unemployment fueled by corporate excesses has long been understood by African Americans as a culprit for breeding the “Black underclass.”  However, now that “middle class” whites are feeling the pain of unemployment and housing evictions, everyone is talking about greed and corruption of the top 1%, says Freeman.

The Howard-led march for jobs and justice, lends a clear vision to the Occupy movement, where none previously existed adds Freeman.  Up until now, “many of us probably felt that if we’re going to jeopardize our jobs and sacrifice the little resources we have, we needed to know exactly what for.”  Heeding that point, organizers of Friday’s march are intent on keeping their focus crystal clear.

Further, leaders of Friday’s March for Jobs and Justice intend to notify District authorities of their plans, and hope local officials will join their movement.  Moreover, the Howard trained lawyers, engineers, and business professionals and students behind the march have their eyes fixed on long term solutions.  Beyond the march, organizers hope to organize job fairs, business plan competitions, small business incubators, and other initiatives to achieve the goal of ensuring that every American has a job who wants one, particularly Howard alumni and students.

Leaders Question Mandatory Sex-Ed Tests for DC Youth as Young as Age 8

By Talib I. Karim, Esq.
Health & Law Reporter

A controversial plan may make sex-ed testing mandatory for DC public school students starting next spring. /Courtesy photo.

District officials and parents are questioning plans of the DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education to administer a mandatory 50-question sex education test in conjunction with its annual standardized exams of students in the grades 5, 8 and 10. According to reports, the DC schools battery of sex-ed questions would be the nation’s first statewide standardized test on health and sex education.

The rationale for assessing what District youth know about reproductive health, sexually transmitted diseases and other health issues is unquestionable. A recent DC Department of Health report, noted that nearly 60% of DCPS students reported being sexually active, 18% would be defined as obese, and as many as1% of teens in the Nation’s Capitol are living with HIV. More startling is that of all the District’s 26,533 reported cases of Chlamydia in the past four reporting years (2005 to 2009), two-thirds (68.6%) were reported by youth between 15-24 years of age. For cases of Gonorrhea, the rates were slightly better, with 11,601 reported cases in DC, more than half (57.7%) of which were encountered by youth 15-24 years of age.

“With these stats, we need to move beyond testing and expand the entire health and sex education curriculum” said Ward 7 District Councilmember Yvette Alexander (D), who serves on the DC Council’s Committee on Health. Yet Alexander and some of her Council colleagues have questioned whether the exam should be mandatory, and whether sufficient parental involvement has gone into the development of the exam.

“In the District, we have a diverse community with a wide-range of values and faiths. Many parents believe that abstinence should be taught in class and are not comfortable with the promotion of certain lifestyles over others” contends Alexander.

Alexander’s concerns are backed up by DC schools’ support for programs such DCPS’ Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs). A document available on the OSSE website (OSSE document), states “the GSA clubs provide a safety net for students during the ‘coming out’ process.” The document also reveals that the District school system employs a dedicated specialist tasked with working to improve school climate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth. However, when asked about how OSSE defines a “questioning” youth, an OSSE spokesperson was unable to offer a definition.

OSSE Communications Director Marc Caposino nonetheless explains that the sex-education exam test is more focused on health, exercising, and facts around sexually transmitted diseases rather than morality. Further, Caposino states that only a portion of the test is focused on sex-related questions. “OSSE’s only mission [with the exam] is to test knowledge of what [DCPS and DC Chartered School] students are taught in their health classes…to determine if what they are being taught is being retained.” Thus, according to Caposino, unlike the reading and writing portions on the DC CAS test that involve academic issues, this test wont be used for teacher evaluation or student grading, but purely as a benchmark for where our youth are on teenage obesity, eating right, and sex-education.

Regarding parental involvement in shaping the questions, OSSE reports that the questions were developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers.  Following the design of the test questions, they were submitted for review to the Health and Physical Education Assessment Task Force, an OSSE advisory group formed in the Fenty Administration. The taskforce was responsible for ensuring that the questions were appropriate based upon values of DC youth. Taskforce members include Metro Teen AIDS, American University, and GW University. However, OSSE’s spokesperson could not state definitively whether District parent groups are represented in the taskforce.

Concerns about the lack of parental involvement in the test design have caused Councilmember Alexander and the Council’s Chair Kwame Brown (D) to recommend that OSSE consider making the tests optional rather than mandatory. DC Mayor Vincent Gray (D) also plans to meet with school officials about the exam.

Yet, Alexander hopes apprehensions about the exam do not stall the work needed to reverse the District’s alarmingly poor youth health statistics. Alexander said, “Indeed we must do more, not just testing. A mandatory test alone does not make sense, but a curriculum that teaches our youth about the full array of health dangers they face and how to avoid these dangers to keep themselves healthy, now that’s what makes sense and that’s what I think I and parents would support.”

Doctors Meet to Build Movement to Tackle Bias in Treating Arthritis and Other Bone, Muscle Conditions

By Talib I. Karim, Esq.
Health & Law Reporter

Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Health Disparities Caucus Co-Chair, Said A. Ibrahim, MD, MPH, Professor of Medicine and Vice Chair, Department of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and Chief of Medicine, Philadelphia VA Medical Center (photo courtesy/Movement is Life)

Arthritis is the single greatest cause of chronic pain and disability among Americans and costs the nation more than $128 billion a year in medical care and lost earnings.  However, African Americans, Latinos, and women with arthritis suffer more severe pain and limitations according to studies.  Specifically, African Americans and Latinos with diabetes are more likely than their Caucasian counterparts to receive amputations rather than limb-preserving surgical treatments.

With these stats as a backdrop, physicians, researchers, faith-based leaders and other stakeholders recently met to develop a strategy for ending racial disparities in arthritis and other bone, muscle treatment, research, and outcomes.

The gathering, titled the Movement is Life Summit, was organized by the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Health Disparities Caucus.  The Caucus is an outgrowth of a May 2010 symposium on healthcare disparities convened by bone and muscle physicians such as theAmericanAcademyof Orthopaedic Surgeons.  “Following last year’s symposium, there was a consensus [amongst those gathered] that we had to do more to address the role of bias in the treatment of arthritis,” according to Dr. Said A. Ibrahim, Caucus Co-Chair and a faculty member with the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

The summit was a next step in the movement that Dr. Ibrahim and his colleagues have started in order to bring about equality in the treatment of joint, bone, and muscle impairments.  While these health conditions often plague seniors, younger populations such as athletes are also affected.

Dr. Ibrahim’s caucus set two primary goals for the summit: (1) raising awareness of the bias in muscle and bone care and its impact on chronic disease management and quality of life and (2) seeking solutions to the problem.

Over two hundred health professionals and other stakeholders attended the summit, held at the Capitol Hilton in the District. Summitactivities included workshops, meetings with Members of Congress, and luncheons, all free of charge, thanks to funding from Zimmer, a company that sells orthopedic devices and other products.  Topics of discussion at the summit ranged, from the importance of early intervention to slow musculoskeletal disease progression to efforts to reduce disability and encourage physical activity and daily movement to improve the overall health of the nation.

First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative, which encourages every American, particularly African Americans, to incorporate into their lives a daily dose of exercise, was one topic of conversation during the conference.   “A patients exercise routine has been shown to have a clear connection with the degree that he or she suffers arthritis,” said Dr. Ibrahim.  Further, studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that obesity prevalence is 54 percent higher among adults with arthritis compared with adults without arthritis.  Since exercise and diet are key to preventing and managing arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions, Dr. Ibrahim believes “there is a need to synergize our efforts with Mrs. Obama’s initiative.”

The landmark health reform law, the Affordable Care Act, was also discussed during the conference. Achieving health equity and eliminating health disparities were central tenets of the Obama Administration’s health reform agenda—so central that “disparities” is cited nearly three dozen times in the Affordable Care Act.  Further, the health reform law established the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities and directed billions of dedicated funding to end health disparities in arthritis and similar health conditions.

Despite these efforts to address arthritis and other health disparities, not everyone attending the summit was a fan of the Affordable Care Act.  Dr. Mary O’Connor, theSummit’s Co-Chair, who heads the Department of Orthopaedics at Florida’s Mayo Clinic took issue with provisions of the Obama health reform law, suggesting that law created mandates that were “too complex and onerous.”  Further “I don’t think we need health reform to address the focus of our conference…health disparities in arthritis treatment,” said Dr. O’Connor.

However, Donna Edwards who represents Prince George’s and parts of Montgomery counties in Congress applauded the Affordable Care Act as a chief instrument in ending arthritis health disparities, Congresswoman Edwards told summit participants “Its important that you make it clear as you visit your representatives that health care disparities is important and we need to even expand the Affordable Care Act to incorporate more provisions that directly address health care disparities.”

Overall, the summit was a success, according to Dr. Ibrahim.  While his group is still sifting through all the recommendations from the summit, “We met our core goal of raising awareness [of musculoskeletal health disparities],” said Ibrahim.  Over the next year, summit organizers plan to set the groundwork for another summit and explore concrete proposals for ending musculoskeletal disparities such as securing National Institutes of Health funding to educate health providers about unconscious bias in their treatment of arthritis and similar musculoskeletal conditions.