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“HIDDEN FIGURES” AND OTHER THINGS


THAT MAKE YOU GO “HMMM”

 

 

But for the very informative article written by Pittsburgh-based communications consultant Robert Hill, many Pittsburghers might not have known that “... 2017 marks the 225th anniversary of the 1792 birth of seaman, veteran, war hero, prisoner of war, abolitionist, businessman and, very significantly, Pittsburgher John Bathan Vashon.  …he was one of the black soldiers who actually fought in the War of 1812, rather than serving merely as a steward for white officers, …In pre-industrial Pittsburgh, where even the rich found it challenging to experience a hot bath, Mr. Vashon grew prosperous operating the city’s first bathhouse, …at night, he conducted freedom-seeking slaves through the basement of his facility.  …Mr. Vashon co-founded the Pittsburgh African Education Society in 1832, the first school attended by Pittsburgh’s black youth…”  (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 22, 2017).

 

Mr. Hill’s fascinating account of John Vashon not only makes one go “hmmm,” but also reminds one of the African American women who made history as detailed in Margot Lee Shetterly’s book Hidden Figures and the recent movie with the same name.  African American women played critical roles as mathematicians who enabled John Glenn to orbit the earth, Neil Armstrong to walk on the moon, and, America to emerge triumphant over Russia in the space race.  These distinguished women’s spectacular accomplishments remind one of the long history of African Americans coming to the aid of their country, e.g., [1] at least 5000 African Americans fought with the Continental Army; [2] the Buffalo Soldiers served America well during the 1860s; [3] although segregation continued to exist in the military, the Tuskegee Airmen played critical roles during World War II; and [4] four-star General Colin Powell, who was born in Harlem, served on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and became Secretary of State. 

 

Notwithstanding the remarkable contributions of African Americans while enduring the worst forms of human oppression, there exists a number of other contradictory matters that should make you go “hmmm” and, more importantly, matters whose resolution must come from all members of our national village.  A few of them are listed below.     

 

Segregation.  The 1954 Supreme Court landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka concluded that segregated schools are inherently unequal and should be eliminated with “all deliberate speed.”  However, 60 years later, across the nation our public schools remain separate and unequal.  (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2014/05/15/school-segregation-civil-rights-project/9115823/)  In California, for example, a 2014 UCLA Civil Rights Project report indicated that 51% of Latinos and 39% of African Americans attended segregated schools.  At the same time, it was reported that Pennsylvania schools were more segregated than 25 years ago.

 

There is a symbiotic relationship between segregated schools and segregated housing.  Appropriately, Congress passed the Fair Housing Act in 1968 but, almost 50 years later, blatant housing segregation exists in Atlanta, Baltimore, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, Kansas City, Louisville, Los Angeles, Nashville, New York, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and many other cities.  

 

Higher Education.  How many times have you witnessed higher education administrators shed “crocodile tears” while complaining about the difficulties associated with finding “qualified” African American students?   Their institutions can have shameful levels of total African American enrollment but have 5 basketball starters as well as the first off the bench players who are African Americans.  Fortunately, there are trend setters such as the University of Pittsburgh where Chancellor Patrick Gallagher indicated its freshman class is “the most academically accomplished and heterogeneous class in Pitt’s history… This class is also our most ethnically diverse in the University’s history with minority students making up nearly 30 percent of the class of 2020…”  (PITT Magazine, Winter 2017, p.19).   

 

Higher education is the key to success in the 21st century.  A college degree provides lifetime benefits that far exceed those with just a high school diploma.  Yet increasing numbers of young people are economically disenfranchised from higher education.  For example, the top ten private colleges cost over $50,000 per year and the top ten public schools’ in-state tuition averages over $16,000 per year. 

 

Immigrants.  The biased hype holds that illegal immigrants take jobs from Americans.  Try telling that to the leaders of the Maryland crab industry which probably cannot exist without immigrants, illegal and legal.  These immigrants do jobs Americans won’t do, e.g., “…pick the meat from 142 crabs each day to earn a living comparable to minimum wage; work with super sharp 20-point crab shells and knives; …treat the cuts on your hands and arms by dipping them in bleach; …being prohibited from wearing Band-Aids because they might fall into the crabmeat; ...the infection getting so unbearable that you need treatment at a hospital… and you have to pay all the medical bills yourself because your employer says that workers compensation insurance doesn’t apply because you didn’t report the injury the day it occurred…”  http://scienceblogs.com/thepumphandle/2010/07/16/ugly-truth-about-marylands-cra/

 

This medicine will heal you, this medicine will also kill you.  You know the T.V. commercial drill: “XXXX is the new wonder drug for illness YYYY.  Caution, some of XXXX’s side effects include difficulty in breathing, skin blisters, liver failure, delusions and suicidal impulses, some forms of cancer, and temporary blindness.  Inform your physician if you experience any of these side effects.”  For the drugs that might kill you, the Good Rx’s listing of the top 8 most expensive drugs indicates that a 30-day supply costs between $86,000 and $40,000!  (https://www.goodrx.com/drug-guide/expensive).  Meanwhile, “pay to delay” means gigantic pharmaceutical corporations pay generic drug competitors to delay releasing cheaper versions of the pharmaceuticals’ brand-name drugs.

 

Obamacare.  Many misled, misinformed, misguided poor people from the “Kentucky coal country” and elsewhere enthusiastically backed Donald Trump, in part, because he promised to get rid of that dreadful “Obamacare.”  Now they fear the loss of “Obamacare” because they are some of the most dependent upon the program’s health benefits.  If only they had heeded my Mama’s admonition, “Be careful what you wish for!”

 

The Presidential Oath of Office.  The taking of a 35-word oath of office is the basic requirement for the inauguration of an American President.  The newly elected promise to cut waste but, reportedly, more than $90 million were raised for Donald Trump’s inauguration, nearly doubling what was raised for each of Barack Obama’s inaugurations. (See Baltimore Sun, January 15, 2017, p. 13).  Albeit that much of the funding came from private sources, try, for example, to raise similar amounts for children who “age out” of foster care or to enhance released prisoners programs. 

 

The Inmates Run the Prison.  Once in prison, inmates are known to gain access to drugs; run gangs in and outside of prison; engage in extortion; arrange murders; have sex with prison guards; commit rape; and, in some instances, literally run the prison as was the case in one Baltimore prison.  In an Ohio prison, a fight broke out among inmates after a drone was used to fly over the yard and drop a package containing drugs.    

 

The “Intelligence” Community.   How intelligent are the people in the 17 separate organizations that comprise the American Intelligence Community?  They spend approximately $1 trillion per year to do their jobs.  Nevertheless, we are told that our democratic process has been undermined by Russian hacking; “fake news” runs rampant; and the 45th President does not trust the Intelligence Community. 

 

Despite the plethora of intelligence personnel implementing the tightest security, a low level military person, Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning, managed to pass secret documents to WikiLeaks; General James Cartwright lied to the F.B.I. in a leak case; for years, five National Security Agency contractors were able to falsify time sheets at a cost of approximately $3.5 million (Baltimore Sun, January 15, 2017, p. 4); and, disdaining security protocols, former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, chose to use a private server. 

 

 

 

Voting Patterns.  2017 might become a record-setting year for women, people of color, the poor and others taking action against politics in the “federal swamp,” even though many of them voted for the current leadership of all three branches of the federal government.  Looking back and lamenting might prolong depressed feelings, but it is difficult to stop wondering where we would be if those now so discombobulated had exercised their right to vote in 2016?

 

Children’s Bill of Rights.  “…Twenty five years ago…, 190 member countries of United Nations passed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a landmark agreement that stands as one of the most ratified human rights treaties in history.  …It includes the right to protection from discrimination based on their parent’s or legal guardian’s sex, race, religion, and a host of other identifiers. The convention supports protections for children from forced labor, child marriage, deprivation of a legal identity, and grants both able-bodied and disabled children the right to health care, education, and freedom of expression. It also has safeguards for parents to take care of their children, including parental leave.  Only three U.N. countries have not ratified the CRC: Somalia, South Sudan, and the United States.” (Karen Attiah, Washington Post, November 21, 2014). 

 

Former President Obama Leaves Office with one of the highest national approval ratings ever.  Faced with addressing the worst economic downtrend (the Great Recession) since the Great Depression, former President Obama led 8 years of economic improvements.  At the same time, many members of Congress did all they could to obstruct his initiatives.  The Secret Service indicated that President Obama might have been the most threatened President in history, receiving about 30 death threats per day (See, http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/11/25/1164628/--President-Barack-Obama-Is-the-Most-Threatened-President-In-History).  Amazingly, at the end of his spectacular 8 years, nearly half the country voted for a major opponent to “make America great again.”  “Hmmm,” perhaps this is a case in which “you will never miss your water until the well runs dry.”

 

Jack L. Daniel

Co-Founder, Freed Panther Society

Pittsburgh Urban Media Contributor

January 23, 2017

               

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