Category Archives: African American Issues

As the Delta variant courses through New York City, many young Black New Yorkers remain distrustful of the vaccine.

A construction site safety manager in Queens said that as a Black man, he was more worried about the prospect of being stopped by the police than he was about getting Covid-19.

A graduate student in the Bronx who had not gotten vaccinated said her worst fears seemed confirmed when a vaccine that the government was directing to Black and poorer neighborhoods was briefly suspended over a small number of dangerous blood clots.

And a civil rights activist in the Bronx said he grew suspicious when he heard last year that politicians were prioritizing minority neighborhoods for coronavirus vaccinations.

“Since when does America give anything good to Black people first?” said the activist, Hawk Newsome, a 44-year-old Black Lives Matter leader who is unvaccinated.

All three situations reflect a trend that has become a major concern to public health experts: Young Black New Yorkers are especially reluctant to get vaccinated, even as the Delta variant is rapidly spreading among their ranks. City data shows that only 27 percent of Black New Yorkers ages 18 to 44 years are fully vaccinated, compared with 48 percent of Latino residents and 52 percent of white residents in that age group.

This vaccination gap is emerging as the latest stark racial disparity in an epidemic full of them. Epidemiologists say they expect this third wave will hit Black New Yorkers especially hard.

“This is a major public health failure,” said Dr. Dustin Duncan, an epidemiologist and Columbia University professor.

In interviews, dozens of Black New Yorkers across the city — an aspiring dancer in Brownsville, a young mother of five in Far Rockaway, a teacher in Canarsie, a Black Lives Matter activist in the Bronx, and many others — gave a long list of reasons for not getting vaccinated, many rooted in a fear that during these uncertain times they could not trust the government with their health.

The fact that the virus hit Black neighborhoods disproportionately during the first wave made

many extra wary of getting vaccinated: They feel that they have survived the worst and that the health authorities had failed to help them then.

But ultimately, many also said they would get vaccinated if forced to do so.

“If it’s going to be mandatory to work, I’ll have no choice,” said Kaleshia Sostre, a 27-year-old from Red Hook, Brooklyn, who teaches parenting classes to young mothers.

In Canarsie, Brooklyn, a 21-year-old college student, Justin Mercado, said Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recent announcement that dining in a restaurant would require proof of vaccination got his attention. He is now likely to get vaccinated.

“I want to go on a date sometime and enjoy life as much as I can before this strain shuts us back down,” Mr. Mercado said.

For months, the city had focused its vaccination campaign on older residents who are at higher risk of hospitalization and death.

But lately the city has begun to reach out more to young New Yorkers, offering $100 payments for first doses, urging students to get vaccinated before school starts and nudging employers to pressure their employees to get vaccinated.

“We’re not done yet,” said Dr. Torian Easterling, the chief equity officer of the New York City Health Department. “We’re continuing to announce more interventions and more strategies to support New Yorkers getting vaccinated.”

In interviews, Black men and women said that much of their distrust of the coronavirus vaccine was shaped by their own experiences with discrimination or their identity as Black Americans.

“I’m supposed to worry about getting sick when I go outside, versus getting killed by a cop or something like that?” said Jayson Clemons, 41, the construction site safety manager from Queens. After years of trying to be careful not to give the police a reason to stop him — avoiding cars with window tint or rims, and making sure when commuting that his attire clearly marked him as a construction worker — he said he refused to be preoccupied by Covid-19.

He said he would rather put his trust in masks and hand sanitizer — which he credits with keeping him healthy as he worked at construction sites throughout the pandemic — than a new vaccine that the government is pushing people to take. “They came out with one so fast for Covid, and now they want to pay you to take it,” he said. “It seems fishy.”

Some Black women described the need they felt to conduct their own research — and ask around — before deciding if the coronavirus vaccine was safe.

“It takes a little bit of hyper-vigilance when you’re a woman of color,” said Jazmine Shavuo-Goodwin, 31, who believes she encountered medical racism when doctors were dismissive of her severe stomach problems. “There’s a lot of homework you have to do, because your doctors may not truly listen to you, to your full complaint, before they’ve already diagnosed you.”

Ms. Shavuo-Goodwin helps manage dental clinics for Medicaid patients and is studying to be a clinical therapist. Both her job and school require her to be vaccinated against coronavirus, but she has yet to get a shot.

“I’m out of compliance,” said Ms. Shavuo-Goodwin, who is Black and lives in the South Bronx. “I have done heaps of research looking for things that would make me confident and comfortable getting the vaccine, but honestly I haven’t.”

All three vaccines being used in the United States have received an emergency authorization from the Federal Drug Administration. At least one of the vaccines is expected to get full approval by the fall.

When the vaccination campaign began last year, Mr. de Blasio said he intended to prioritize the same Black and Latino neighborhoods that were hardest hit during the devastating initial wave.

Racism Makes Me Question Everything. I Got the Vaccine Anyway.

Surviving in an anti-Black society requires some personal negotiations. This was one of them.

Last summer, when Covid-19 vaccines were in development, friends on text threads and Zoom calls asked if I’d get one. My response was always the same: Sure, I’ll be right in line — after 100 million of y’all go first. I told them I’d seen too many zombie movies. But my hesitancy was actually grounded in a less cinematic reality: I just don’t trust America enough.

This mistrust comes from an awareness of the ubiquity of American anti-Blackness — a dynamic that can, um, modify your sense of reality. That’s what happened, for instance, with the persistent myth of Tommy Hilfiger’s racist comments.

In 1996, owning a Tommy Hilfiger shirt was everything to 17-year-old me. But a year later, I’d completely extracted Hilfiger fits from my rotation. Word had spread that Tommy Hilfiger, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, had complained about Black people wearing his clothes. The shirts, windbreakers and parka I owned were immediately relegated to the deepest parts of my closet.

Mr. Hilfiger never actually made those racist comments. In fact, he hadn’t even been a guest on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” when the rumors started. But the myth wouldn’t die because it felt so true that to question it felt like gaslighting your own Blackness. Of course this white man with aggressively preppy oxfords and an American flag aesthetic would believe that people like me sullied his brand. It just fit.

The same way, a story about Dorothy Dandridge and a pool just fits: As the urban legend goes, the movie star was visiting a hotel in Las Vegas in the 1950s, and she dipped a single toe into the all-white swimming pool. This so disgusted the hotel’s management that they drained the entire thing. This story, which was also depicted in the HBO biopic about her life, has never actually been confirmed. But to anyone familiar with the history of America’s relationship with its Black citizens, the anecdote is believable. Maybe it ain’t true, but it also ain’t exactly a lie.

To question whether this bottomless skepticism is justified is like asking whether a cow has cause to be wary of butchers. From redlining and gerrymandering to the Tuskegee experiment and Cointelpro, the proven conspiracies against Black Americans are so devious, so deep and so absurd that they blast open pathways for true-sounding non-truths to enter, too.

The terrible spoken word poems I wrote in college (“We’ll never get justice, because justice for just-us just-aint-for-us”) habitually referenced the so-called Willie Lynch letter — an instruction manual for controlling Black slaves that I, along with many others, believed was written by a slave owner in 1712 and contained deep insights into modern race relations. The truth: Willie Lynch never existed and the document was forged. I believed that the government conspired to track my thoughts and movements — as if my flaccid stanzas and banded collar Wilsons Leather biker jackets were a threat to the state. I even once allowed myself to entertain an argument that the natural color of milk is not white, but brown. (Don’t ask.)

The term “hotep” has become a catchall among Black people to describe other Black people who still believe some of these easily debunked stories — but the reality is that most of us have some hotep in us. And not because we don’t know how America really works, but because we know too much. The lack of trust in our nation’s systems and structures is a force field; a bulwark shielding us from the lie of the American dream. And nowhere is this skepticism more justified than with the institution of medicine.

I don’t trust doctors, nurses, physician assistants, hospitals, emergency rooms, waiting rooms, surgeries, prescriptions, X-rays, MRIs, medical bills, insurance companies or even the food from hospital cafeterias. My awareness of the pronounced racial disparities in our health care system strips me of any confidence I would have otherwise had in it. As critics of a recent Saturday Night Live skit suggesting that Black people are illogically set against getting vaccinated pointed out, the vaccine hesitancy isn’t due to some uniquely Black pathology. It’s a direct response to centuries of anecdote, experience and data. (Also, the demographic among the least likely to get a vaccine? White evangelicals.)

Despite all this, in March, I stood in a long line to receive my first dose of a vaccine to prevent me from becoming seriously ill from a virus that I had no idea even existed 14 months ago.

My journey from “I don’t even eat hospital pizza” to “voluntary Pfizer guinea pig” is complicated, but not singular. Existing in America while Black requires a ceaseless assemblage of negotiations and compromises. Even while recognizing the anti-Blackness embedded in society, participation is still necessary to survive.

For instance, I am dubious that American schools are able to sufficiently nurture and prepare Black children for 21st-century life. But my interest in home-schooling my kids is the same as my interest in letting them attend school on Neptune. So my compromise is to allow them to attend school, but then to also fortify them with as many academic, social, and political supplements as possible.

Sometimes the negotiation is just the choice to participate: My parents were two of the tens of thousands of Black victims in the subprime lending crisis. I watched them be evicted from their home after loan terms they just couldn’t meet kept multiplying. But when I was ready to buy a house, the gateway to homeownership was through those same banks.

The trust still isn’t there. Will never be there. But the negotiation that placed me in that vaccination line last month required me to weigh that distrust against all that I miss. I miss the year we just lost. I miss playing basketball. I miss watching it with my dad. I miss barbecues. Malls. Movie theaters. Restaurants. Cities other than Pittsburgh. I miss only needing to be hypervigilant about racism and gluten, and not whether the air inside of a Giant Eagle supermarket might kill me too. And I know other people miss their years and their hobbies and their dads and their homies. With the disproportionate havoc this plague has wreaked on Black and brown people, my desire to return to some semblance of normalcy and prevent more death is a force greater than my cynicism.

I’ve already begun to fantasize about the cookout I’ll host after I get my second shot, and each of my equally-suspicious-about-America family members and homies get their shots, and enough time has passed to feel safe gathering. Maybe we’ll laugh about how us seeing each other was only possible because we trusted an institution that has been pathologically untrustworthy. Or maybe we won’t. Because that’s not actually funny.

How Black & Brown Women Are Reclaiming Roller Skating Culture

Amy Collado is wearing gold hoop earrings, a blue bandana, and vintage-style glasses for our Zoom conversation. She’s sitting in front of a collection of records and a poster of André 3000, and I feel like I’ve traveled back in time. She’s like that cool young tía that we all grew up loving, but instead of sharing her latest discount store find, she’s passionately talking about the rising interest in roller skating culture on social media.

With many seeking out nostalgic pursuits during times of social isolation, roller skating catapulted into viral popularity last year for able-bodied folks, with Google searches of the throwback sport skyrocketing and some roller skating TikTok videos garnering over 10 million views. Collado, the founder of Club Butter Roll — a social media wellness platform launched several years ago that encourages skating for Black and Brown communities — tells me that her platform grew immense interest over the past year. “People were quarantined and wanted to be outside. Roller skating just so happened to be one of the few things that people latched onto,” she says. But while roller skating has seen a rise in popularity recently, Black and Brown women found safety and joy through skating long before it was dubbed a quarantine trend.
Roller skating is deeply tied to early hip-hop culture. Rappers like Queen Latifah and N.W.A. performed at the now-closed Skateland rolling rink in the mid-1980s when other venues shunned Black acts. Meanwhile, every city had — and continues to have — its own signature skating style from Los Angeles to Chicago. Historically, skating dates back to the civil rights movement, when Black skaters protested desegregated rinks in the 1960s. Documentaries like United Skates, which premiered in 2018, showcases the significance of skating rinks for Black communities and the Black activists who were fighting to keep rinks open as they faced closures. “You can take the goddamn building, but you can’t take the spirit,” a DJ says in the film. It’s a quote that still resonates.


In 2020, millions took to the streets and to social media worldwide to protest police brutality and systemic racism following the murder of George Floyd by cops in Minneapolis. This global reckoning helped drive the conversation around racial disparities — including within skating culture.


“Since [Black Lives Matter] was existing at the same time as this trend of roller skating was blowing up, a lot of people did feel the need, including myself, to make sure that people acknowledge the history of roller skating and acknowledge POC skaters and how long we’ve been doing this,” says Liliana Ruiz, an Afro-Latina skater who’s been skating since she was a kid and worked at the L.A.-famous skating rink World On Wheels. But for Black and Brown skaters, it was about more than just acknowledgment. They were finding a sense of escapism and joy as they rolled down the same streets where they had previously been left unprotected. When the reality of racial injustice became too taxing, skating was the revolutionary way to reclaim their joy.

It’s important to note that while Black and Brown skaters are finding joy in skating, rink closures and social-distancing guidelines amid the pandemic have forced them to only skate outside, which presents its own set of dangers for people of color. Ruiz enjoys skating in Venice Beach and being able to connect with others who’ve been skating there for decades, but she has found that skaters have had to change parks because of racial profiling incidents. “It used to be a different part of Venice Beach, but there were a lot of incidents with the police because of racism and prejudice towards the music and the people who are skating and occupying the space,” she says. Still, these acts of violence haven’t stopped them from building communities within the sport.
Skating has also provided some skaters of color with a COVID safe activity during a pandemic that is disproportionately infecting and killing Black and Brown Americans at disturbingly high rates. Being forced to isolate for the safety of her family is what made Mala Muñoz, content creator and host of Locatora Radio, dust off her skates after years of not using them.


“For me, safety is really important because I live with my grandparents. I cannot be fucking around,” she says during our Zoom call, referring to the higher risks of severe illness for elders infected by the virus.


The L.A.-born and raised Chicana says she grew up skating and going to birthday parties at skating rinks but stopped right before college when everything in her life as a young Latina pivoted towards securing a career — a reality that is familiar to many children in immigrant and low-income families. For Black and Brown communities, engaging in activities simply for pleasure can feel wrong or even shameful when their families are suffering from economic inequality and oppression. This leads to many young POC adults prioritizing their careers and pushing leisure aside.


“I stopped because if it’s not getting you awards and accolades, not getting you into college, not a future career prospect, then why keep doing it?” she says. “I felt very discouraged from having fun and pursuing different types of hobbies like [skating].”
Now, Muñoz is learning to embrace feeling unapologetic joy through skating, acknowledging how Black skating culture has allowed her to feel like there is nothing wrong with dedicating time to leisure, although she had been taught otherwise. “I can be a grown woman and writer with a business and a podcast, all of these things while fucking around on my skates,” she says. “I can learn new tricks and make new friends just because — and that’s fine.”

Black LinkedIn Is Thriving. Does LinkedIn Have a Problem With That?

The social network’s tone has long reflected corporate America: staid, monolithic, white. Now Black users are speaking up — and saying the site is limiting their voice.

One day in September, Elizabeth Leiba opened the LinkedIn app and saw a post by Aaisha Joseph, a diversity consultant with nearly 16,000 followers on the platform.

“Ima need #companies to stop sending their dedicated House Negros to ‘deal with the Blacks’ they deem out of control,” read the item. “It’s really not a good look — it’s actually a very #whitesupremacist and #racist one.”

The post was exactly the sort of thing Ms. Leiba, an instructional design manager at City College in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was looking for. These days, when she pulls out her phone in search of boisterous conversation, hot takes and the latest tea, she finds herself tapping LinkedIn, which since the killing of George Floyd has become a thriving forum for Black expression.

“I go onto Twitter and I get bored,” Ms. Leiba, 46, said. “Then I go right back to LinkedIn because it’s on fire. I don’t even have to go on any other social media now.”

It’s an unexpected development for what has long been the most polite and perhaps the dullest of the major social networks. LinkedIn was founded in 2003 as a place to network and post résumés — essentially, a directory of white-collar professionals. A few years ago, LinkedIn added a Facebook-like news feed that encouraged users to post links and updates, but it has never been a rollicking space. A team of editors helped enforce a mood best described as corporate.

“You talk on LinkedIn the same way you talk in the office,” Dan Roth, LinkedIn’s editor in chief, told The New York Times in August 2019. “There are certain boundaries around what is acceptable.”

Two staggering events have changed that. In early 2020, the pandemic hit, forcing millions to work from home and miss out on break-room chitchat — boosting LinkedIn as a place to vent. Then, the killing of Mr. Floyd in police custody in May put workers over the edge. Black grief went on display, uninhibited, at corporate America’s virtual water cooler.

“I was just 43 years tired,” said Future Cain, a social and emotional learning director at a middle and high school in Wisconsin. “I was using LinkedIn to post positive things and uplift people during the pandemic, and I decided I can’t sit here quietly anymore.”

As protesters took to the streets to demand police reform, Ms. Leiba and Ms. Cain were among those who discovered that LinkedIn was a place to speak to the executive class on something like their home turf. Black users have taken to the site to call out racial discrimination in the workplace and share their stories of alienation on the job.

Not that it’s all serious: Much of the posting is exuberant — full of memes, Black cultural references and linguistic panache. This summer, Ms. Leiba shared a video about code-switching, in which a Black employee transforms while greeting colleagues of color (“Oh, hey, Black queen!”) and a white one (empty-headed hiking talk). “I’ve watched it at least fifty eleven times,” Ms. Leiba wrote.

These are the kinds of conversations, and ways of speaking, that cubicle-dwelling Black workers have typically held out of earshot of their white colleagues. As unusually charismatic posts appeared in my own feed this summer, it seemed clear that Black LinkedIn was emerging as a professional cousin to Black Twitter — the unapologetically Black digital space where people expose long-ignored injustices and pump their experience into the mainstream.

What’s less clear is how comfortable LinkedIn is with the development, having placed its content moderators in the incendiary position of determining what manner of race-related speech is appropriate for its virtual workplace of 706 million users.

Black users who post in forceful tones, and some of their allies, say they feel LinkedIn has silenced them — erasing their posts and even freezing their accounts for violating vague rules of decorum.

For example, the “House Negros” post that Ms. Joseph wrote in September vanished from the platform. Ms. Joseph, who lives in Brooklyn, was able to see it when she viewed her own page, but no other users could — a practice known as shadow banning. (Later, LinkedIn added an unsigned note in red, saying the post had been removed for violating the site’s Professional Community Policies, which instruct users to “be civil and respectful in every single interaction.”) Ms. Joseph began a new item: “Let me say it louder since LinkedIn wanted to delete my post the first time.” The company removed that post, too, saying it included “harassment, defamation or disparagement of others.”

Another user, Theresa M. Robinson, a corporate training consultant in Houston, said LinkedIn had deleted a post she wrote about racism, then reinstated it after she complained. She said she had never received an explanation. Two others, Ms. Cain and Madison Butler, who works in Austin, Texas, also said LinkedIn had restricted their commentary on race.

In the absence of clear communication from the company, these users are left guessing as to what the rules are — and feeling that the company is not just policing their tone but stifling their opportunity to force change in corporate America.

Nicole Leverich, a LinkedIn spokeswoman, wrote in an email: “We are not censoring content and have not made any changes to our algorithm to reduce the distribution of content about these important topics.” She added in an interview that LinkedIn was introducing a new process for notifying users when their posts were flagged for violating platform rules, and that some people hadn’t been phased in by the end of September.

The company acknowledged that it had erred in taking action against some users and restored content that was found, on appeal, not to violate its policies.

“If we make a mistake, we will own it,” said Paul Rockwell, the head of LinkedIn’s trust and safety division. “We will be very clear — this is a learning opportunity for us. We’re going to continue to use that in our journey to get better and better. And we do want to nail this thing.”

Few people think LinkedIn should look anything like the wilds of Reddit or Twitter, which have a certain amount of anonymity and even anarchy built into their DNA. Much of LinkedIn’s value — Microsoft acquired it in 2016 for $26 billion — is tied to its sense of professionalism and respectful conduct. Users must share their real names and credentials, and it’s understood that their current or prospective employers might well scan anything they post.

For Black people in the corporate realm, however, words like “professional” and “respectful” are red flags. Like the natural Black hairstyles that were once widely considered unprofessional, certain behaviors — being too Black, speaking too Black or talking too much about Black topics — have long limited advancement in companies with white cultures.

That’s what has changed on LinkedIn in the last few months. Black people are being, to use a technical term, Blackity-Black Black on LinkedIn. Much of the behavior is not so different from Black Twitter; users pepper their posts with clap emojis to emphasize every syllable, and GIFs celebrate cultural touchstones like Issa Rae’s “Insecure” and Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.” The difference is that it is all happening on a social network that mirrors the business world — a place that is predominantly white.

“It is liberating. It feels like it’s about time,” Ms. Joseph said. “We are taking back what was stolen from us — and that’s our voice. I’m talking specifically to my people in the way that we talk to each other in other spaces, and without regard for any outside audience. No longer having to stifle that has been freeing.”

Part of what Black LinkedIn has done is brought together Black professionals to be their authentic selves in front of their white colleagues. For many, it has been an existential relief, and may provide a blueprint for how Black employees choose to conduct themselves once the physical workplace reopens.

“The days of hiding and masking who you are and dealing with the BS — I just can’t even go back to that,” said Jessica Pharm, 33, who works in human resources at a manufacturing firm near Milwaukee. “Any company that gets me next is getting the full-on Jessica.”

Ms. Leiba posted on Sept. 17: “It means code-switching is OUT. It means the AFRO is coming at you on a daily basis. It means you’re getting these bangle earrings and the poppin’ lip gloss.”

Inevitably, not everyone accepts this kind of exuberance. Posts about Black Lives Matter and racial justice often attract the same kind of dismissive, and sometimes bigoted, responses found on other platforms: rejoinders that “all lives matter,” for instance, or claims about Black-on-Black crime. But because the activity takes place on LinkedIn, these comments typically come with the user’s headshot, place of employment and entire work history attached.

“You start to see these people who are absolutely not OK with this focus on Blackness popping up in commentary, with their name and their company fully on display, giving zero deference to the moment,” said John Graham Jr., 39, a digital marketer and strategist at a California biotechnology company. “I find it telling that people would put their careers in jeopardy and their unconscious biases on full display.”

LinkedIn has also struggled internally with how to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement. In June, the chief executive, Ryan Roslansky, publicly apologized for “appalling” racial comments some employees had made at a companywide staff meeting.

Rosanna Durruthy, LinkedIn’s head of diversity, inclusion and belonging, said in an interview that the company was engaging in hard conversations about race, both inside the company and out.

“We’re really beginning to focus very consistently on how we begin to address this externally” on the platform, she said.

SOURCE: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/08/business/black-linkedin.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage&section=Technology

Black Lives Matter Protests Around the World

Protesters of all ages, all races, all backgrounds are showing up at Black Lives Matter protests out of love for their fellow human beings. Out of love for George Floyd. Out of love for Breonna Taylor. Out of love for all of the Black people who have lost their lives because of the color of their skin. You can feel this love when you attend a protest. You can see it on the faces of the people all around you. You can hear it in their voices. Sometimes, it flows through the mass of people like a quiet undercurrent. Sometimes, it’s downright joyful. No matter how it’s expressed, it’s always potent, always powerful. And it’s going to change the world for the better. From New York City to Philadelphia, from Amsterdam to Paris, this is what it is like to attend Black Lives Matter protests.

SUBSCRIBE: https://goo.gl/vR6Acb#BlackLivesMatter#Protests#AroundTheWorld This story is a part of our Human Condition series. Come along and let us connect you to some of the most peculiar, stirring, extraordinary, and distinctive people in the world. Got a story idea for us? Shoot us an email at hey [at] GreatBigStory [dot] com Follow us behind the scenes on Instagram: http://goo.gl/2KABeX Make our acquaintance on Facebook: http://goo.gl/Vn0XIZ Give us a shout on Twitter: http://goo.gl/sY1GLY Come hang with us on Vimeo: http://goo.gl/T0OzjV Visit our world directly: http://www.greatbigstory.com

The Young Actors Of ‘When They See Us’ On Becoming The Exonerated Five Of The Central Park Jogger Case

As When They See Us, the limited series on The Central Park Jogger case from Ava DuVernay, bows on Netflix this week, the world will come to learn the true story about what happened that night and how the case impacted the young men that were wrongly accused of the crime. For the young actors who stepped into the shoes of the five, it was a daunting task, but something they were fully prepared for and exceeded at, which is something you’ll realize almost instantly once they appear on the screen.

Shadow And Act sat down with Asante Blackk (Kevin Richardson), Jharrel Jerome (Korey Wise), Ethan Herisse (Yusef Salaam), Caleel Harris (Antron McCray) and Marquis Rodriguez (Raymond Santana) ahead of the series premiere at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

As a New York City native, getting into the role wasn’t that hard for Jerome, who holds the distinction of being the only actor that portrays both the teen and adult versions of his character. The young actor got his start in Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight and, if all is right in the world, he’s poised for a breakout awards season and a potential Emmy win for When They See Us. “I’m from the Bronx, so I’ve been kind of doing research my whole life in a way — understanding you have to talk polite to the police, understanding that you have to stay away from the park at night, stay out of the streets at night.  It was kind of this subconscious feeling of I kind of understand the intensity and the fear of the project, but it took watching the documentary a couple of times, they gave us transcripts, they gave us the actual documents, I got to watch Korey’s entire confession over and over. Ava opened up this world for us to get us into their minds.” Rodriguez, who has been cast in the upcoming Game of Thrones prequel pilot, agreed and added, “We had so much source material that was unbelievably helpful.”

For Blackk, a series standout as Richardson, he has one thing in particular that he wants viewers unfamiliar with the case to take away. “Humanity, for the most part,” he said. “These guys were painted as everything but human in 1989, painted as a wolfpack, as criminals. And just to take that step back and realize that these guys are human, they have entire lives outside of just this horrible one part of their life. They are real people, they have goals, dreams and aspirations. [I’d want them] to just see that in these men.” 

With this material that hit so close to home, the young men all agreed that the story and content stayed with them long after the cameras were off and filming was over. Harris, who starred in the new Goosebumps film, as well as Hulu’s Castle Rock last year, explained that feeling. “Even still, those scenes..they stay a part of you. They never really leave you. When you truly put yourself in that situation, it’s hard to get out of it. It sticks with you and it just marinates. It really never leaves you. It stays a part of your soul, really,” he said. Herisse added, “After doing the verdict scene, I went back to my room and my dad was with me on set. He could see that I was clearly shaken up, and he was like, ‘It’s OK, the scene’s over,’ and I was like, ‘No, it’s not OK, it’s not over. This is still happening.”

Jerome added, “No matter what, we’re still people of color, so we leave set looking around, almost a little more scared now. That naivety that I had before the project is gone. I’m no longer naive to the brutality of a police officer or justice system. You kind of go around and you want to take this project as a lesson for you.”

“It’s one thing to have empathy for a story, but we were steeping in it for so long…that does something different to you,” Rodriguez said.

When They See Us is now streaming on Netflix.  

African-American strippers awarded more than $3 million in discrimination case

Five African-American dancers will split more than $3 million awarded to them Wednesday for back pay and suffering while working in a Mississippi strip club. The attorney for Danny’s Downtown Cabaret in Jackson, Bill Walter, said he would ask a federal judge to reduce the award. If the judge doesn’t agree, he said he will appeal.

“Obviously, the client is disappointed in the verdict,” Walter said.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued the club several years ago, alleging that black dancers worked limited hours and were fined $25 if they missed a shift. White strippers were allowed flexible schedules and were not fined for missing work, the commission argued.

he agency also said the manager called one black dancer a racial slur and club owners forced black women to work at another club they owned called Black Diamonds, where conditions and security were worse and dancers were paid less.

“This case shows the EEOC will sue any employer, operating any type of business, who violates federal anti-discrimination laws, especially those who will not stop discriminating even after being given repeated chances to do so,” Rucker said. “The jury … sent a powerful message to Danny’s and any employer who thinks they are above the law.”

Morehouse Graduates’ Student Loans to Be Paid Off by Billionaire

Not even Morehouse College administrators knew the announcement was coming.

Addressing the college’s class of 2019, Robert F. Smith, a man who is richer than Oprah Winfrey, made a grand gesture straight out of the television mogul’s playbook.

“My family is going to create a grant to eliminate your student loans,” he said on Sunday morning, bringing the approximately 400 students in caps and gowns to their feet.

“This is my class,” he said.

In January, Mr. Smith, a billionaire, donated $1.5 million to the college to fund student scholarships and a new park on campus. He received an honorary degree at the graduation on Sunday.

[Who is Robert F. Smith? Read more.]

The value of the new gift is unclear because of the varying amounts the students owe, but the money will be disbursed through Morehouse College and will apply to “loans students directly have for their college education,” a representative for Mr. Smith said.

Because Morehouse was not informed of Mr. Smith’s plans before the ceremony, details about how the money would be distributed were not immediately available.

A private equity titan, Mr. Smith founded Vista Equity Partners in 2000.

After making a fortune in software, he was named the nation’s richest African-American by Forbes. According to that financial magazine, Mr. Smith’s estimated net worth is $5 billion, making him richer than Ms. Winfrey, who previously held the title of the wealthiest black person.

Mr. Smith studied chemical engineering at Cornell University and finance and marketing at Columbia Business School. Although he shunned the spotlight for many years, Mr. Smith has recently embraced a more public role, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and making major charitable contributions. Cornell named its chemical and biomolecular engineering school for him after he announced a $50 million gift, and he has made major donations to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. He started the Fund II Foundation, which is focused in part on preserving African-American history and culture, and signed the Giving Pledge, a campaign through which wealthy individuals and families commit more than half their wealth to charitable causes, either during their lifetimes or in their wills.

Anand Giridharadas, the author of “Winners Take All” and a frequent critic of big philanthropy, said Mr. Smith’s offer was “generous.” But, he added, “a gift like this can make people believe that billionaires are taking care of our problems, and distract us from the ways in which others in finance are working to cause problems like student debt or the subprime crisis on an epically greater scale.”

Sunday’s announcement came amid growing calls to address the crushing burden of student loan debt in the United States, which has more than doubled in the past decade.

Over the past 20 years, average tuition and fees at private four-year colleges rose 58 percent, after accounting for inflation, while tuition at four-year public colleges increased even more, by over 100 percent, according to research from the College Board.

According to federal data, the average federal student loan debt is $32,000. The standard repayment plan for federal student loans is up to 10 years, but most students, according to research, take far longer than that to pay off their balances.

For the students at Morehouse, an all-male, historically black college in Atlanta that costs about $48,500 per year to attend, the gift could be transformative, especially in the unsettled years after graduation.

In an interview with the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Elijah Dormeus, a 22-year-old business administration major carrying $90,000 in student debt, said: “If I could do a backflip, I would. I am deeply ecstatic.”

Mr. Smith’s prepared speech did not include his plan to pay off the students’ debts.

“Now, I know my class, who will make sure they pay this forward,” Mr. Smith said on Sunday morning. “And I want my class to look at these alumni, these beautiful Morehouse brothers — and let’s make sure every class has the same opportunity moving forward — because we are enough to take care of our own community.”