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Across Black America Week of Feb. 2, 2017.



Jessica L.A. Pipkins has been selected as the new president of the Black Public Relations Society’s Los Angeles (BPRS-LA) chapter. Pipkins takes the helm from Shawn Smith, who served for the last four years. Pipkins brings with her an impressive list of credentials and professional achievements garnered over 12 years as one of the industry’s preeminent media strategists. “As a communications professional and a woman of color, I am keenly aware of the need for organizations like the Black Public Relations Society to not only exist, but to thrive and grow,” Pipkins commented. “Under Shawn’s superb leadership, BPRS-LA provided support and opportunities for diverse communications professionals at all stages of their careers, and I am honored to be chosen to serve as the new president to continue this important work.”

District of Columbia

Rosalynd Harris works at Busboys and Poets in Washington, D.C., and on Monday, Jan. 23, she noticed a group of people who were clearly not from around the area. “I could tell they were from the south, because they had their cowboy hats on and I was like, ‘Oh, you’re not from the city,’” she said. The men, Jason White and five of his friends, were from Texas and had come to D.C. for the inauguration to support President Donald Trump. White and his friends had stayed over the weekend, and he said that being exposed to that many people with differing viewpoints, especially during the Women’s March, really had him thinking that day. “Being in West Texas, I generally love everyone,” White said. “We have our differences, but you don’t see the extreme fear when you’re walking down the street, or you don’t see the extreme hate from any side so this was just a new experience for me.” That’s what prompted him to leave a $450 tip for Harris on a $70 tab, along with a note that read, “We may come from different cultures, and we may disagree on certain issues, but if everyone would share their smile and kindness like your beautiful smile, our country will come together as one people, not race, not gender, just American. God bless.” Harris responded, “We may have different opinions and disagree on different issues, but the fact that he still looked at me as an equal and someone of value, it said something, like OK, not all hope is lost.”



Last week, singer and social critic/activist Janelle Monáe, civil rights icon Ambassador Andrew Young and more engaged with students, press and influencers at a private screening in Atlanta of the new James Baldwin documentary, “I Am Not Your Negro,” presented by Liquid Soul for Magnolia Pictures. The documentary, which releases to theaters Feb 3, has been nominated for an Oscar Award and a NAACP Image Award for best documentary in the documentary (Feature) categories. Visual artist and scholar Fahamu Pecou kicked off the evening introducing Monáe, who recited a moving excerpt from Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son.” A highlight of the evening was a panel discussion moderated by Morehouse Cinema, Television and Emerging Media Studies (CTEMS) Director Stephane Dunn Ph.D., which featured Ambassador Young; Clark Atlanta University African American Studies Professor Daniel Black; Morehouse College Assistant Professor of English Francine Allen Ph.D.; Georgia Equality Field Organizer Rob Woods; and artist/activist Pecou.

Leon Moss is a 12-year-old artist in Atlanta that has illustrated a book and created an art collection to inspire other children. He began his career at 9, when his mother discovered his artistic abilities while looking for an illustrator for her children’s books. The illustrations for “As Big As God” were Leon’s first commissioned works. The response to his hand drawn originals was so enthusiastic that he began to produce and sell reproductions. To hone his skills, Leon attended art classes taught by award-winning artist R. Gregory Christie. His mother also contributed to his education by taking him to local museums. He furthered his development by committing three hours a day to practicing various techniques and committing to his craft.

The Southwest Atlanta Youth Business Organization (SWAYBO) was also instrumental in supporting Leon. With SWAYBO, Leon has met judges, successful business owners and other pillars of the Black community. Leon’s business is called Art for Kids, and his work can be found at


Rapper Big Sean hasn’t forgotten about Flint’s water crisis. On the Jan. 25 episode of “The Daily Show,” he told host Trevor Noah that he’s raised about $100,000 to help Flint residents. According to the Huffington Post, the funds will ensure residents will have clean water to use and those afflicted with lead poisoning can seek proper care. The Detroit native revealed that Flint’s water crisis hits close to home not only because it’s his home state, but also because his mom suffered from a degree of lead poisoning. He said she used “holistic care and homeopathic remedies” to reverse the effects. Though the city’s lead levels fell below the federal limit on Jan. 24, according to the Associated Press, Big Sean said the fight for clean water is not over. Big Sean has been devoted to advocating for Flint resident for a while. Last year, he launched the #HealFlintKids campaign to raise money to support the city’s youth. He’s incorporated the community in his upcoming album, “I Decided.” The final track, “Bigger Than Me,” will feature the Flint Chosen Choir.


St. Paul policeman Michael Soucheray and his partner Chris Rhoades were called to help with a 14-year-old girl who was in need of psychiatric help and was possibly suicidal at Brittany’s Place, a shelter for girls, reports the Grio. The teen reportedly “became agitated,” giving officers and staff the silent treatment until it was decided that police, not paramedics, would take her to the hospital. She was handcuffed when she continued to resist and told that she would be dragged to a squad car if she continued to resist, at which point she went limp. But when the officers got nearly to the squad car, the girl started to scream and resist, standing in the seat to make it difficult for the officers to put a seat belt on her. Then, according to a criminal complaint, she spit in Soucheray’s face, and he responded by hitting her in the face – twice. He also grabbed her by the jaw and called her a “f– b–.” Soucheray is now on paid administrative leave while the department investigates his actions, but Soucheray maintains that he acted in self-defense.


Elijah Ahmad Lewis, a Black Broadway actor in the ensemble of “Motown the Musical,” claims to have been attacked while in Reno on tour by a white woman who repeatedly called him by the N-word. Lewis said that a white woman charged him and began to attack him, and he pulled out his phone to try to record the incident, to which she responded, “Do not record me you f-ing n–r.” Lewis continued to follow the woman for about a minute, and she at one point turned toward him to walk toward him again, saying the N-word over and over before, according to Lewis, she began to swing at him. He posted the video to Facebook, he said, not only to show that racism is still alive and well but also to highlight the fact that his assailant was relatively young. Racism, he said, was not just limited to people in the older generations. After the video hit Facebook, Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve took to Twitter to say that the police were investigating the incident, writing, “Hate will not be tolerated.” The City of Reno also responded, saying, “The City of Reno embraces diversity and welcomes visitors.”


The Fort Worth Police Department said on Jan. 26 that it would be dropping all charges against a mother and daughter whose forceful arrests last month went viral on Facebook, reports the Huffington Post. Jacqueline Craig called Forth Worth police in December, saying her neighbor, a man named Itamar Vardi, grabbed her 7-year-old son by the neck, after the child allegedly refused to pick up some litter that he’d dropped. Once police arrived to investigate, Craig, who is Black, and Officer William Martin, who is White, got into a heated exchange after the officer failed to take Craig’s allegation seriously. A family member of Craig’s filmed the exchange with a cell phone. “Well, why don’t you teach your son not to litter?” Martin can be heard asking in the cell phone footage. “He can’t prove to me that my son littered,” Craig responds. “But it doesn’t matter if he did or didn’t. It doesn’t give him the right to put his hands on him.” “Why not?” the officer challenges. The situation escalates, and Martin threatens to throw Craig and her family in jail when one of her daughters approaches them. He grabs the daughter, then pushes Craig to the ground and arrests her, along with her 19-year-old daughter Brea Hymond and her 15-year-old daughter. Craig’s 15-year-old daughter was released from police custody hours later, while Craig and Hymond were released the following night. Their charges included interference with public duty, failing to provide identification, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. After performing an internal investigation, the Fort Worth Police Department decided to suspend Martin without pay for 10 days earlier this month. At that point, police had not pursued charges against Vardi or dropped charges against the Craig family.


Many films usually get their first publicity from being part of the Sundance Film Festival, but one of the biggest stories to come out this year is the fact that former first daughter Malia Obama attended a protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline, reports USA Today. On Jan. 23, she attended an event supporting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s protest against the pipeline (which was revived in an executive action signed by President Trump this week). Anti-DAP activist Shailene Woodley said in a press conference: “It was amazing to see Malia. To witness a human being and a woman coming into her own outside of her family and outside of the attachments that this country has on her, but someone who’s willing to participate in democracy because she chooses to, because she recognizes, regardless of her last name, that if she doesn’t participate in democracy, there will be no world for her future children.”  As part of her gap-year to-do list, Malia begins an internship with the Weinstein Company in February. She’ll enroll at Harvard University in the fall.



Producer Kimberly Steward was among several Black stars that celebrated earning an Oscar nomination on Jan. 25. Steward, who was a producer for the film “Manchester By The Sea,” is only the second Black woman producer to have her film be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture (second to the legendary Oprah Winfrey). The industry newcomer and the film have been nominated for six Academy Awards. “This is exciting and surreal,” Steward told the Huffington Post. “I’m just beyond belief.” “Manchester By The Sea” follows a young man grappling with the idea of becoming his nephew’s guardian. After reading its script, Steward independently financed the $8 million movie. “I really was able to identify with the film as an African-American woman because I saw my own extended family dynamics and have family members that have dealt with very tragic situations,” she said. Steward, who said she looks up to fellow producers such as Debra Martin Chase and Ava DuVernay, hopes that she too can service Black communities with her work. “It’s really important to represent who we are in front of the camera as well as behind the camera,” she said. “We’re amongst a really incredible group of filmmakers and films this year.”

The Root reports that Gucci’s Instagram blew up on Jan. 27 after it showed its #GucciPreFall17 campaign with a series of “audition” videos filled with all Black faces. The fashion house featured six Black models—all with natural hair— answering questions and busting dance moves on its Instagram page. Hopefuls such as 19-year-old Abdulaye from Staten Island, N.Y., were asked questions like, “What does it mean to have soul?” The models were then asked to dance. A Gucci spokesperson told Time magazine that they are not releasing any additional information about the campaign beyond what was posted. Most of the Instagram’s responses to the teaser were positive.

Compiled by Carol Ozemhoya.