As Developers Rush to Renovate D.C.’s Affordable Housing Stock, Many Residents are Left in the Dust
“We still have problems with water and mold. I’m very concerned for my wife and my son. I have headaches, respiratory problems and now I have to use an inhaler,” Lightfoot said. “My wife and son have asthma. I’m so pissed off that my wife and son have to endure this.”
Waters said that if the Mission First developers had taken their time to properly make the renovations to the buildings, the tenants’ health wouldn’t have been compromised.
“We have children, we have seniors,” Waters lamented. “It’s a shame how they have treated us.”
For months, raw sewage backed up from the property manager’s office into the common areas; Dahlgreen residents were forced to tip-toe through human waste to check their mailboxes and to pay their rent.
“The smell was horrendous. It was almost like a decomposing body,” Waters said. “You could see the raw sewage in the hallway, as soon as you walked into the building.”
Waters said that the entire ordeal is depressing and that his tenure as president of the Dahlgreen tenants’ association has been challenging, as small groups of residents gather in his apartment, almost daily, to voice their frustrations.
Gormley agreed with Waters that Mission First rushed the repairs on the units, which had a negative impact on the health of some of the residents.
Gormley, who has represented property owners and tenants in these types of disputes, said that Mission First didn’t get a certificate of occupancy for the renovated Dahlgreen apartments—a government-issued document that certifies that a building is safe and liveable—until three years after they moved the tenants back into their units.
The Washington, D.C. lawyer added that the Dahlgreen Courts case is a symptom of the affordable housing crisis in Washington, D.C. and the city’s lax enforcement of housing regulations already on the books.
It’s important to remember that Mission First Housing Group isn’t some mom and pop nonprofit organization. According to its website, Mission First began 25 years ago as “as a joint venture between the City of Philadelphia, HUD and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.” The company acquires properties and leverages funding through “complex financing sources.” Now the company manages more than 3,300 units, providing housing for roughly 4,000 residents in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
“You can’t tell me that [Mission First] doesn’t know what they’re doing,” Brian Gormley said. “You can’t tell me that.”
The company’s website also states that the group’s mission is, “to develop and manage affordable, safe and sustainable homes for people in need, with a focus on the vulnerable.”
Some Dahlgreen tenants and housing advocates believe that the company’s targeting of vulnerable populations is intentional.
“We’re in an area characterized as ‘low-income,’ but you need to treat me the same as you [treat] people who live in Georgetown,” Lightfoot said.
The Dahlgreen lawsuit claims that Mission First reduced services to residents, referred tenants to third-party vendors to repair laundry services and blocked access to the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs website in the Dahlgreen’s business center. The lawsuit also says that Mission First changed the locks to the community room right before a scheduled tenant association meeting.
Tenant harassment as a tactic to displace low-income residents from rent-controlled units is nothing new or even unique to Washington, D.C.’s housing market.
Just look at New York City.
“Initially seen mostly in the East Village and the Lower East Side, the tactic has spread with gentrification to places like Crown Heights, Bushwick, Washington Heights, and other working-class neighborhoods with good housing stock and decent public transportation,” The Village Voice reported.
Victor Bach, a senior housing policy analyst in New York City told The Voice that, “if you sue ten tenants for nonsense, you can get four to relinquish their rights.”
And if those tenants that give up their rights live in rent-controlled units, that could mean an increase in revenue for the developer.
Now, one-bedroom units at Dahlgreen Courts Apartments start at $1,044, according to http://www.rentcafe.com, twice the monthly rent that “Grandfathered” tenants are paying now. One-bedroom units at Rhode Island Row start at $2,112, according to the Bozzuto Group’s website.
The Dahlgreen Courts towers sit in a vortex of steady and far-reaching changes brought about by gentrification.
From his living room window, Waters can see another luxury apartment building named Brookland Press, a stone’s throw from the metro station, at 806 Channing Place in Northeast.
Where Dahlgreen crows about bedroom carpet, stoves and ovens as amenities, Brookland Press offers a yoga studio, a game room, a dog run, a pet spa and 24-hour concierge services. One-bedroom apartments at Brookland Press start at $1,876/month.
Yasmina Mrabet, an affordable housing advocate who is working with the Dahlgreen tenants’ association, said that the housing market in the District is out of control and that city officials aren’t doing enough to address the crisis.
“Many of these properties have the only affordable housing options available to poor and working-class people,” Mrabet said. “We have plenty of resources to solve the housing crisis right now. The issue is that the city is choosing to put money into soccer stadiums, basketball practice facilities, and luxury redevelopments, instead of into quality, affordable housing.”
One in five D.C. households now pay more than half of their income towards rent.
For families with low and moderate incomes, this means that they have little left over each month for other basic necessities like clothing, transportation and food. It also makes them more likely to be one job loss or illness away from homelessness.
“They’re trying to force us out and they think we don’t have the knowledge of what to do,” Lightfoot said. “What’s frustrating to us is that things are getting more expensive. Where in Washington, D.C. do they want us to go? Gentrification is not for us.”
Gormley said that it’s important that renters persevere and organize when their confronted with challenges that are similar to what the Dalgreen residents are living through.
“Get in touch with your tenants’ association and other grassroots organizers,” Gormely said. “If you can work with other people, you have power in numbers.”
Waters said that renters who live in Washington, D.C. and other major metropolitan areas should ask as many questions as they can and take the initiative to do their own research and learn about their rights as tenants.
“If you rely on the property managers, especially when you’re dealing with low-income residents, some of them could try to take advantage,” Waters said.
This article was produced as a project for the University of Southern California Center for Health Journalism’s National Fellowship.
As plans to open a community reentry center for formerly incarcerated individuals in Ward 7 move forward, residents, community leaders and elected officials have raised a number of pertinent questions, chiefly centering around what kind of neighbor the new center will be.
Will it be safe? Will it promote economic growth? Will staff and CORE’s principals maintain a continuing dialogue with and be responsive to the community? There are also equally important questions about whether the new reentry center will serve its clients adequately and provide the kind of services its clients will need to become active and productive members of the community.
These are important questions at a time when DC looks to strike a balance between meeting the needs of men seeking a second chance in society, a growing social movement around criminal and social justice, not ignoring the needs of a community seeking to prosper and grow.
In that context, I recently reached out to representatives of CORE DC to understand how they intend to help their clients while contributing to the overall welfare of their neighbors in Ward 7. I asked CORE DC many of the same questions the community is asking and came away believing that the business of providing support to this underserved population does not have to be at odds with the stability and even the longer term growth of the community.
It’s important that stakeholders and others get this right at a time when the nation is engaged in a long-overdue debate over how to achieve social justice, particularly for African-Americans who are too often victims of a criminal justice system that intentionally targets them and which is in desperate need of broad and deep structural reform.
Below is an abridged version of my exchange with CORE DC representatives:
How will you assure us that our neighborhood will be safe and secure?
CORE DC: We work tirelessly to achieve the highest standards of safety and security. This starts with having a trusted team of security officers who are trained to enforce all facility security protocols, 24/7. Our approach works. For example, in New York City, our facility has been lauded in regular reviews by officials from the Federal Bureau of Prisons for the high quality of our community relations, and CORE’s success in “maintaining accountability of the residents.” Simply put, we take our commitment to be a good neighbor in the community very seriously.
When you talk about comprehensive programs, what specifically are you offering the men who will live there that will be different from other providers?
CORE DC: We are offering temporary housing education, job training and transportation services to our fathers, brothers and sons returning home from periods of incarceration. What sets us apart is our proven track record of success. When it comes to providing these services, compassion, experience and expertise matter. We believe that there are no shortcuts to developing comprehensive, effective programs for returning citizens. It’s critical to enlist people who know how to get the job done — people who show up early, stay late and know firsthand what works. We have that team, and we look forward to getting to work.
Why should the community trust you?
CORE DC: We believe trust is earned through results and that is why community engagement and outreach is central to our values-centered model of socially responsible residential reentry centers. Over the past year, CORE DC has met with local residents, elected officials, government agencies, businesses, advocacy organizations, civic groups, religious institutions, and faith leaders. We have hosted numerous informational sessions where we presented key information about our RRC programming, answered questions, and allayed concerns that had largely been the result of rumor and misinformation. We continue to actively foster a robust and productive dialogue with the community.
At CORE DC, we know that the measure of our impact in the community will be the number of lives we transform through compassionate, practical support. We also believe that communities prosper when they take care of those at the margins, expanding the number of people who can participate in and benefit from economic opportunities. As a human services provider, we have a moral obligation, in the communities where we operate, to help maximize the return on this investment.
How important is it for Washington DC to set an example for the nation on reentry issues?
CORE DC: It is critical for DC to seize the opportunity to create a successful model of reentry for other communities throughout the country. It is well-known that Washington, DC often sets the trend in a range of different areas. The fact is that expanding economic horizons for residents while keeping communities stable is an investment for all. We believe that education and job training helps returning citizens become productive members of their families and communities. Studies (including this one, and this one) show that communities that host such services do not see declines in property value or other negative consequences that some fear, provided that the centers are responsibly managed.
These answers CORE DC provided are answers that every DC resident can agree with on paper. Ensuring that CORE DC lives up to these answers will require an ongoing dialogue and partnership between CORE DC, the wider community and the good people of Ward 7.
The representatives of CORE DC say they are committed to doing their part. Ward 7 will have to hold them to their word.
This article was originally published in the Washington Informer newspaper
July 2020: As we watch the United States and the world convulsing from a global uprising and righteous rage against white domination, structural and institutional racism and injustice following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the legacy and message of the late Capt. Thomas Sankara offers a roadmap to Afrikan liberation.
“I would like to leave behind me the conviction that if we maintain a certain amount of caution and organization we deserve victory … You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness. In this case, it comes from nonconformity, the courage to turn your back on the old formulas, the courage to invent the future. It took the madmen of yesterday for us to be able to act with extreme clarity today. I want to be one of those madmen. We must dare to invent the future.” – Capt. Thomas Sankara, 1985.
Twenty-four years after his murder, Capt. Thomas Sankara’s family and supporters still lament a life wasted and promise cut short.
Sankara, the 38-year-old president of Burkina Faso, was shot to death on Oct. 15, 1987. The killing was led or instigated by his best friend and second-in-command, Capt. Blaise Compaoré. Compaoré – who acted at the behest of the French government and with the support and assistance of foreign elements, including Ivory Coast President Félix Houphouët-Boigny and Libyan mercenaries – assumed leadership of the country and remained in power until he was driven out by frustrated and angry Burkinabes in 2014 who rose up when he tried to amend the constitution to extend his 27-year time in office.
Sankara’s murderers cut up his body, burned the remains and buried him quickly and unceremoniously in an unmarked grave. Compaoré claimed later that Sankara was silenced for betraying the revolution, for jeopardizing his country’s relationship with France, and for creating fractious relations with neighboring countries.
Exactly 24 years after Sankara was murdered, Oct. 15, 2011, several dozen admirers, supporters, friends and Sankara family members assembled at Sankofa Books in the District of Columbia to watch the film, “Thomas Sankara: The Upright Man,” about the former president’s life and participated in a panel discussion to reflect on his work and legacy.
Almost a quarter of a century has passed, but guests agreed that Burkina Faso is much the poorer without Sankara’s charisma, vision, energy and guiding hand. A week prior to his death Sankara is said to have prophetically stated: “While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas.”
“I was in high school in 1983-84 and my teacher was a citizen of Burkina Faso. Because we were full of political activity in Africa, we were interested in South Africa (and Mandela) and a young leader, Thomas Sankara, who was Minister of Information,” said Gnaka Lagoke, Ph.D., professor of African Studies at Howard University and a friend of the Sankara family.
“We were excited and hoped he embodied the hope we had in Africa. I met with my teacher after classes and I lived the revolution thanks to what I was reading … in four years, he steered the destiny of Africa.”
One of the aspects of the film Lagoke said he appreciated was that Sankara’s flaws and shortcomings were not glossed over. For example, we learn that Sankara had difficulty delegating, he pushed for change at a pace that was too widespread and too fast, and his actions alienated tribal leaders, the middle class and others inside and outside of his country.
Sankara, Lagoke told the audience, saw revolution as a way for African nations to shake off the deleterious effects of neo-colonialism. Compaoré named Sankara, an air force pilot, president of the West African country’s revolutionary government in 1983, following a popular uprising.
In his article, “There are Seven Million Sankaras,” author and researcher Koni Benson summarized Sankara’s rule.
“As President of Burkina Faso from 1983 until he was killed in 1987, he led one of the most creative and radical post-colonial revolutions,” said Benson. “He is known for his strong stand against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), rejection of inherited colonial and neo-colonial debts, a vision of Pan African self sufficiency, environmental reforestation initiatives to slow the desertification of the Sahara and to solve famine, for land reform, for vast improvements in health and education, and for women’s liberation.”
“Sankara was clear about the need to emancipate women from sexism and patriarchy. Justice cannot exist when half the population lives in fear at home and in public. Sankara argued that “when regressive aspects of our cultures, like sexism or female circumcision interfered with the cause for freedom, they had to be eradicated because they serve our continued oppression.”
Selome Gerima lived in Burkina Faso from 1983-91 and witnessed the Sankara revolution first-hand.
“He was a leader and my mentor in so many things,” said Gerima, whose husband was working with what is now the African Union. “Sankara was [the first leader I could interact with up close]. He would sit beside his driver in a modest blue car (a Renault). I worked at the American Embassy near the palace. He gave me a lot of opportunities to observe African leadership.”
“When I went, I saw the First Lady drive her own car and I saw him riding a bicycle. He was a very simple man. Sankara hired Africans to teach. There were no British or French [teachers]. He made the French mad. He was so proud of Ethiopian Airlines. He was the first African leader to bring Ethiopian Airlines to Burkina Faso. He had no private plane and would fly commercially from country-to-country until he reached Ethiopia,” Gerima said.
Gerima, and other speakers at the more than two-hour long event, said leaders like Sankara attract undue attention when they try to take their country in another direction.
“What I really want to say is, when leaders try to improve their countries, superpowers will label them as communists and traitors,” she said. “Burkina Faso at the time of Sankara was the talk of the world. That little country was doing what no one else did. The superpowers were scared. We knew he was not going to live long.”
As president, Sankara took a salary of $450 a month, and when he died, his possessions amounted to four bicycles, three guitars, a car, a refrigerator, and a broken freezer.
“Our revolution will be of value only if, looking back … and ahead, we are able to say that the Burkinabe people are a little happier because of it. Because they have clean drinking water, because they have plenty to eat, because they are in good health, because they have access to education, because they have decent housing, because they have better clothing, because they have the right to leisure, because they have greater freedom, more democracy and greater dignity,” Sankara said. “Revolution means happiness. Without happiness we cannot speak of success.”
In the movie, while addressing members of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), Sankara declared: “We need an African market, where we produce what we need, consume what we produce so no need for expensive imports. To conclude, the clothes I and my delegates are wearing are made from Burkinabe cotton, weaved by Burkinabes and sewn by Burkinabes, not a single thread came from Europe. I am not here for a fashion show, but that was just an example of our potential.”
Sankara became the voice of the dispossessed railing against a system and an economic order that relegated many of these countries to penury.
As the event came to a close, Sankara’s younger brother, Pascal, thanked the crowd for its support.
“On behalf of the Sankara family, here and in Burkina Faso – and in the name of the entire family – I would like to thank everyone for coming here today together so we could commemorate the assassination of Thomas Sankara,” he said. “It’s not just Thomas Sankara, it’s for all African fighters. African leaders … the list is long … every time we talk about the assassination of leaders, let’s have the courage to reflect on the future. Today we’re talking about Thomas Sankara but tomorrow it may be someone else.”
Since Sankara’s assassination, Compaoré has attempted to erase any evidence that his one-time best friend ever ruled the country. He has systematically reversed the revolution through what he called a “rectification,” offered up the country’s resources for exploitation by foreign interests, and has accepted millions in loans from the IMF. At the same time, most Burkinabes remain desperately poor.
Compaoré’s efforts have been in vain because Sankara’s legacy continues to burn brightly at seminars and forums, and “in recordings, oral tradition, films, documentaries and books, and the Internet…”
“When you lose someone important, you realize (his/her) true power,” said an unidentified speaker in the movie. “Sankara was integrity, creativity, wisdom, morality and a spiritual reference for us all. It is a tragic waste (of) a man (seeking) to bring Africa from the abyss.”
NNPA NEWSWIRE — Since its release, ‘No Shade’ has captured the film-going public’s imagination as it explores the hardships dark-skinned women in Britain face in the dating world and is reigniting some difficult conversations in Black and other circles.
Clare Anyiam-Osigwe, a first-time director, is enjoying the type of success usually reserved for veteran filmmakers. Her film debut, ‘No Shade’ is a witty, wry romantic story that shines a bright light on the troubling issue of colorism.
Anyiam-Osigwe, a Nigerian-British entrepreneur and an emerging talent in the film industry, wrote and directed the film, which she completed in six-and-a-half days. Produced by the British Urban Film Festival (BUFF), the film had successful premieres in Cannes, France; Washington, DC; London; as well as a world festival premiere at the Rio Cinema in Dalston in this past June. It was the official selection at the Women of The Lens Film Festival, Da Bounce Urban Film Festival, BUFF and the Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival.
The independent filmmaker said that earlier this month, she and her husband Emmanuel negotiated a deal with Diarah N’Daw-Spech, director at Artmattan Productions, which acquired US rights to the film.
On November 28, Artmattan will screen the movie at the NY African Diaspora International Film Festival (ADIFF) in New York, followed by a limited release with digital and home entertainment releases to follow exclusively across North America.
And on November 30, the film will open in New York City at the Cinema Village Theatre.
Since its release, ‘No Shade’ has captured the film-going public’s imagination as it explores the hardships dark-skinned women in Britain face in the dating world and is reigniting some difficult conversations in Black and other circles. Black women’s’ experiences are complicated by the fetishization of light-skinned women and their white counterparts by Black men. The film traces the travails of Jade, a photographer who has a series of jarring dates with oblivious interested in a certain type of woman but not her. The film is straightforward and raw, leaving viewers – particularly Black men – to ponder any number of questions about the people they choose and why.
“This is a film you can only pray for,” said Anyiam-Osigwe, reacting to the film’s success. “It has made me feel really proud. It was my first script, my first script ever.”
Too often, she said, a disturbing number of Black British men have no desire to date dark-skinned women, choosing instead to pursue relationships with Caucasian, light-skinned Black or racially ambiguous women. And professional Black men in the entertainment industry are notorious perpetuators of misogynoir.
Although she went to drama school, wrote for a number of publications, is an award-winning dermatologist and founded PremaeUK Skincare, Anyiam-Osigwe said the move to directing has been a smooth one.
“In all fairness it was pretty easy. My husband sold and produced films before and I did Public Relations,” she said. “I depended a little bit on unknown synergy but I was not poking too much in the dark. I had idea of what to do and who to call. While I was writing I couldn’t hide anywhere. I was still working as a dermatologist so I took time off of social media. The great thing about being a working professional is that you can set your own schedule.”
Anyiam-Osigwe, who also co-stars in the film, said she’s particularly proud of the fact that she and her husband made the film without the assistance or support of any studio or public or private funding. The topic, she said, is timely and socially relevant because the Blacks in Britain are grappling with colorism, beauty standards, and accepting themselves while building self-esteem.
“I feel really great that I’ve made something of social relevance,” she explained. “Black men, mostly West Indian men, are dating white women. It’s a conscious choice but there’s an awakening going on among Black Brits. There’s a lot of talk online. I don’t expect things to change overnight but I’m pleased that this film has really helped have a deeper context.”
“This is a complex issue. Because most black men don’t have a strong black man in their house, there is this disconnect,” said Anyiam-Osigwe, co-founder of BUFF Originals. “They’re already a feeling of abandonment and disadvantage. Hair? Skin? Loud voice? Attitude. It’s a serious thing to understand because your Black mum raised you. “
“The film is politically charged. It’s showing you some truths. The biggest thing for me is that you should be able to date and love whoever you want. Colorism is degrading the black woman. It’s very, very rare that black women will go out and talk about black skin. But as a beautician/dermatologist you talk to people and overhear so many conversations that you’re privy to. I pay attention and as someone trained as actress and director, I was trained to listen.”
Anyiam-Osigwe said a “real mix” of people – white, black and apprehensive mixed-race people – have been coming to see the film and the reaction has been very positive.
“The film is still hot on people’s minds,” she said. “People are still coming back since the first screening in June. It’s still on their minds and stirring discussion.”
Black women, she asserts, live in a hostile beauty environment. The problems they often face are socially wrenching and Anyiam-Osigwe recalled the angst of some of her friends who’ve been dismissed, marginalized or rejected by Black men. Some of those stories are in the film.
Anyiam-Osigwe said the corrosive nature of the men’s attitudes and the resulting internalized self-hatred and damage to Black women’s self-esteem is sometimes hard to overcome.
But there is another element of the equation too.
“A lot of my fair-skinned girlfriends will ‘thief’ a man up,” Anyiam-Osigwe explained. “They make him pay, rinse him. Light-skinned girls and white girls can get away with that. They know their power in the moment. The ‘hot lighties’ are fulfilling a fantasy for him and her needs aren’t usually being fulfilled. As teens, fair-skinned women lap up the attention, love the love. But in their 20s, they want more. But these same men don’t want to spend any money on a Black girl.”
The director, who grew up in foster care, said she was bullied as a child, called an “African bum cleaner,” and was told that she looked like a gorilla, but said she’s a proud Black woman. In a BBC film clip promoting the film, Anyiam-Osigwe went further: “The rhetoric for me since I was 14 was that I was pretty for a dark-skinned girl. This, to me, was deeply disrespectful, because I’m a very proud Igbo, Nigerian, British-born woman and my heritage, my mom, my aunties who have those traditional African features, I think they’re stunning.”
In August 2013, Anyiam-Osigwe was featured by Forbes Africa as one of the five most influential women in business and the youngest female entrepreneur to be featured in this category. And four years later, Queen Elizabeth II made Anyiam-Osigwe a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to dermatologists and for her award-winning creams and foundations from PremaeUK Skincare.
Now, she’s set on conquering the film industry.
“It’s kind of unheard of to have such coverage for a first-time filmmaker,” said Anyiam-Osigwe. “Historically, in the last 25 years of (British) cinema, I’m … the sixth black woman to get a UK theatrical release. And that’s a 7-day run. We’ve sold out at each venue, but they won’t give us a longer run. We see the body counts for some films and it’s nothing to what we brought through ‘No Shade.’ They say it’s a local black drama. There’s a part of me that likes to take a no and move on, but I prefer to show and prove. They say I’m not an auteur yet. How will I become an auteur if I don’t even get the chance? White independent filmmakers get funding, they get seen. Black girls struggle.”
Regardless of naysayers and the challenges, Anyiam-Osigwe said she’s intensely proud of her film.
“I consider this a work of art, a passion project,” she said. “It’s making people think more about female directors and black females. A couple of people said the film was very glossy. They weren’t expecting it to be that way. It’s about saying look at what we can do with a little.”
This article was originally published in The Final Call
By Barrington M. Salmon
Dawn Wooten’s allegations about the unsanctioned sterilization of immigrant women being held at US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, has kicked up a hornet’s nest of outrage and at least one Congressional investigation.
Ms. Wooten is a nurse who worked at the Irwin County Detention Center until July, filed a 27-page whistleblower complaint with the Inspector General of the US Department of Homeland Security earlier this month. She alleges that staff allowed unsanitary and unhygienic conditions, ignored the threat posed by COVID-19, leaving detainees unprotected, denied them coronavirus tests, shredded records and also performed questionable hysterectomies.
In her complaint and in several press conferences, Ms. Wooten fleshed out elements of her allegations.
Staff at Project South say Ms. Wooten, a licensed practical nurse, told them that the rate at which the hysterectomies have occurred was a red flag for her and other nurses at the detention center.
“We’ve questioned among ourselves, like goodness, he’s taking everybody’s stuff out … That’s his specialty, he’s the uterus collector,” Ms. Wooten said. “I know that’s ugly. He’s collecting these things or something … everybody he sees, he’s taking all their uteruses out or he’s taken their tubes out. What in the world.”
Ms. Wooten provided a detailed account of the center’s forced sterilization to Project South, a Georgia-based nonprofit which works to eliminate poverty and genocide, and to the Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan policy institute. Both institutes issued a formal complaint to the Department of Homeland Security, calling for an investigation into the center’s health care practices. Other non-profits on the ground who are working on this case include the Georgia Detention Watch, and the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights have partnered to expose the abuses and are fighting against these injustices and inhumane practices in the ICE facility and elsewhere.
John Whitty, an attorney with the Government Accountability Project (GAP) said GAP is also working with Ms. Wooten to protect her, give her whistleblower status. GAP – whose website describes the organization as the international leader in whistleblower protection, from advocacy to litigation, and Project South, sent a letter to Congress on September 17 outlining to the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General sharing Ms. Wooten’s allegations of what both organizations say are egregious health practices at the Irwin County Detention Center.
Mr. Whitty said Wooten was demoted in July from a full-time nurse to “as-needed.” In the complaint she said she believes the demotion was in retaliation for raising coronavirus protocol concerns. He praised Ms. Wooten for stepping forward, saying that GAP greatly values her courage to blow the whistle because without her testimony these grievances would continue indefinitely.
“Our main concern it to make sure that all immigrants get adequate medical care and that they are treated humanely,” he told The Final Call. “The importance of courageous people coming forward in these types of circumstances and in the face of formidable retaliation makes it so important to protect them when they come forward. We owe them a debt of gratitude. I encourage Congress, the inspector general and the state legislature to move quickly to investigate these allegations.”
In a statement released to the media, Mr. Whitty also said: “We ask Congress to recognize this failure on the part of ICE detention to adequately care for its detainees and employees and to act so that these violations do not continue to threaten the health of those within ICE detention.”
Azadeh Shahshahani, Project South’s Legal and Advocacy Director and counsel for Ms. Wooten, reiterated Mr. Whitty’s comments.
“We have documented conditions at Irwin for many years. The treatment of immigrants at this prison has always been horrid,” she said in the media statement. “These new shocking revelations further highlight the extent of the egregious abuses at the facility. The fact that Black and brown immigrant women are held in an extremely vulnerable position at this prison where they have no control over their bodies and no say about what it is done to them is sickening. Irwin should be shut down immediately and people should be freed. The United States Government as well as the private prison corporation running this prison should be held accountable.”
Ms. Wooten reported cases of inadequate medical care, destruction of records and a complete disregard for the proper procedures around COVID-19.
The facility is run by LaSalle Corrections. In a statement made available to media, a spokesperson said: “LaSalle Corrections has a strict zero tolerance policy for any kind of inappropriate behavior in our facilities and takes all allegations of such mistreatment seriously. Our company strongly refutes these allegations and any implications of misconduct at the ICDC.”
A Final Call reporter left a message seeking comment but at press time the newspaper has not received a response from Scott Grubman, the attorney representing the doctor implicated in several of the cases. But in a statement released to the media, Mr. Grubman said, “We are aware of the whistleblower’s allegations as they relate to Dr. (Mahendra) Amin, and vehemently deny them. Dr. Amin is a highly respected physician who has dedicated his adult life to treating a high-risk, underserved population in rural Georgia.”
“We look forward to all of the facts coming out and are confident that, once they do, Dr. Amin will be cleared of any wrongdoing.”
Jamille Fields Allsbrook said reports coming out the detention center are “incredibly disturbing, especially for those of us who do this work.”
“I’m surprised and not. If the allegations are true, they must be investigated and people held accountable,” continued Ms. Allsbrook, the director of Women’s Health and Rights at the Center for American Progress, considering America’s history of reproductive coercion and what ICE has done.”
“There are allegations of unsafe practices around COVID, from what we know in the complaints and what’s publicly reported. And Dawn Wooten has alleged that women received hysterectomies and that the staff lied to them. One woman claimed that she was going in for excessive bleeding, anotherwas said to have cysts on her ovaries. They didn’t understand. If it happened to one or 20, it’s unconscionable.”
Ms. Allsbrook said she doesn’t think “we’re where we need to be,” on issues of this nature, and a great deal more needs to be done for America to live up to the ideals its professes and treat those trying to come in the country as human beings.
“There has been a history of gynecology being done on Black women without anesthesia and they sterilized inmates. We’ve also seen it come through in other ways,” she said. “Recently, ICE has tried or been trying to deny couple women’s abortions. And they still shackle pregnant women in prisons and jails so this is not shocking.”
“Is this racism or misogyny? It’s a pure combination of racism and sexism to create a situation and then it goes unchecked, is not cared about. Those most affected are low-income people, people on Medicaid, predominantly Black and Latina women – it’s about controlling Black and brown bodies.”
Dr. Shantella Sherman, an award-winning historian, journalistand publisher of Acumen magazine, said the United States has a long and sordid history of sterilizing women and men, particularly Black, brown and Native Americans. She has spent considerable time researching eugenics and government-sanctioned efforts to sterilize people seen as a burden on society, the mentally ill, the poor, the disabled and others who fell out of the desired category of whiteness – African Americans, Native Americans and other non-white people.
“I would say that in eugenics terms there will always be a disproportionate number today of Black, Hispanic and Native American women who will be affected by forced sterilized in institutions based on the fact that they are detained at higher numbers,” said Dr. Sherman, whose work focuses on genetics, eugenics and racial identity. “White women in prison, any woman is subject to sterilization. The belief is that criminality is in the DNA. The belief is that their children out there in societyare a burden to the city and state. These children have no grounding if their mother is in jail. These children are more likely to have learning problems, cognitive difficulties, developmental issues.”
While she has not reason to doubt Ms. Wooten’s allegations, Dr. Sherman said that because of the nature of the work and research she’s involved in, she has a number of questions, that if answered, would help to ground the case more firmly.
She said she would like to know more about the company which runs and operates the ICE facility; what hospital(s) are detention staff using; what number of women have been affected; where are the records that would have to be filled out to do these procedures?
“Information is not provided in a vacuum. The information we’ve gotten is very vague. We haven’t gotten numbers or the percentage it represents,” Dr. Sherman explained. “How many were white or not? What’s the number the whistle blower is saying had hysterectomies?”
“Records will make this case far more grounded. Was the whistleblower able to identify people? Do they have families?There are a lot of things that are not answered so I’m not ready to run in and say it was the same thing as in Crownsville and other institutions. We have to really pay attention to the information. I’m not sure what to believe and how far to carry it. We have to be very, very careful about this.”
Dr. Sherman, immigrant activists and advocates and others castigated the government for allowing inappropriate, inhumaneand possibly criminal conditions to continue to persist in the care of immigrants and detainees.
Michelle Brane, senior director of the Migrant Rights and Justice Program at the Women’s Refugee Commission told The Final Call this particular case has hit a nerve.
“Congressional representatives are asking for an investigation,” she said. “At the very least, we have to keep the pressure on, hold someone accountable. We will continue to follow up and alert the public. The biggest thing for me is that sadly, this shouldn’t have been a surprise. Conditions are inappropriate and inhumane, the government is separating children from their families, detainees are living in unsanitary and unhygienic conditions. There are patterns and practices of inadequate healthcare and a disregard for human life.”
“The allegations we hear are shocking, but they come against the history of sterilization in this country. We don’t know yet how pervasive this is and if it is limited to this facility … It is not a question that this does not fit in what we professionals see. We’re seeing migrants and immigrant detained, and them sending back asylum seekers, returning them to dangerous situations. This differs from public opinion which says Americans want passage and protection for refugees and for the US to be a refuge.”
Mr. Whitty said a congressional delegation visited the Georgia facility this past weekend. There has already been a hearing on the issue and recently, according to published reports, 173 members of Congress urged the DHS OIG to open a separate investigation into the allegations and report back to them by September 25.
“The reports of mass hysterectomies cause grave concern for the violation of the bodily autonomy and reproductive rights detained people,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter. “Everyone, regardless of their immigration status, their language, or their incarceration deserve to control their own reproductive choices, and make informed choices about their bodies.”
ICE spokesperson Lindsay Williams said in recent statement that the agency does not comment on complaints like Wooten’s that are filed with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) but she responded forcefully to the allegations.
“That said, in general, anonymous, unproven allegations, made without any fact-checkable specifics, should be treated with the appropriate skepticism they deserve,” she said.
And Scott Sutterfield, a spokesperson for LaSalle, also pushed back against Ms. Wooten’s allegations and “any implications of misconduct” in a statement where he accused her and the organizations that filed the complaint of pushing “long-held political objectives.”
Critics say that even though Ms. Wooten’s complaint filed Monday concerns a single detention center, it reflects a broader pattern of abuses that routinely occur in immigration detention, especially those operated by private prison companies. ICE officials and the Irwin County, Georgia hospital where female detainees are sent, have released records indicating that two hysterectomies have been performed on women at the facility in the past three years. But interviews by attorneys and firsthand accounts of women who have come forward show that women were subjected to other invasive gynecological procedures that they did not give their consent to, fully understand and may not have been medically unnecessary.
“In just a matter of time we’ll learn extent of it. We will see what they’re doing to men too,” said Michelle Mendez, manager of the Defending Vulnerable Populations Program at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc (CLINIC). “What’s happening in detention centers is not a justice system. There’sno attorney representing detained and there’s not an Article 3 judge. These judges are a part of the administration. It’s not like there’s really a justice system. Due process and protections are absent. The judge are part of Article 2 so it’s very political. If they had right to atty, they could speak out.”
Ms. Mendez said because the housing of detainees is outsourced to private, for profit agencies, there is little oversight.
“It is a system that will produce these kinds of situations,” she said. “And a lack of awareness is part of reason for lack of public outcry. We can go to federal court, try to keep the government accountable but the work of whistleblowers and journalism is very important. I am concerned for sure about the politicization of the judiciary but we have faith that when it comes to the lack of dignity offered to any decent human being, a reasonable person will side with human dignity.”
“A changing of guard (a new administration) is a good opportunity to change. One place would be more oversight. We have rules and inspections of nuclear power plants, but for whatever reason, our leaders have determined that this systemdoesn’t warrant much oversight. If guards don’t have inspectors, there is no transparency. I hope the next administration will create new changes and not rely on tension. There’s no reason that these conditions should be allowed to persist. When we start losing sight of the human dignity of immigrants is when we begin to excuse how they’re treated.”
This article was originally published in The Final Call
BY BARRINGTON M. SALMON CONTRIBUTING WRITER @BSALMONDC | LAST UPDATED: MAR 16, 2020 – 11:54:09 PM
WASHINGTON—In recent weeks, Americans grappled with the inevitability of the coronavirus reaching this country. Public anxiety ratcheted up as the number of cases and fatalities grew, but there was a sense that it wouldn’t get as bad here as it had in China, South Korea and Italy.
Trader John Romolo works on the floor of the New York Stock Ex- change, March 5. Stocks are opening sharply lower on Wall Street, erasing two percent from major indexes, a day after surging four percent as the mood swings back to fear about the effects of a fast- spreading virus. Photo: AP Photo/Richard Drew
Then, as if a light switch went on, jittery Americans watched the stock market, and their 401Ks and pensions, tumble to new record lows day-after-day; the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 an international pandemic; President Donald Trump and administration officials failed to reassure the public facing a major public health emergency.
The coronavirus has fundamentally altered the way Americans live, at least in the short-term. Major and minor league sports—college and professional basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and NASCAR—announced the shutdown of operations or suspension of play.
Then came public school and college closures, shutdowns of businesses, panicked buying and a president who continually lied about the crisis and seemed most concerned with the virus’ economic impact and impact on his possible reelection.
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, in a major address in Detroit to close the Nation of Islam’s Saviours’ Day convention, warned that America was facing dangerous times under an imperial president and was a nation facing divine judgment.
“As I was watching the impeachment trial of President Trump, I was looking at America, not at her finest hour, but I watched the high level of chicanery; the high level of deceit,” said Min. Farrakhan. Brilliant lawyers on two sides used skillful knowledge of the law to outsmart one another, not to agree on truth, he observed.
“And I watched the Bible being fulfilled: If Satan casts out Satan, how then can his kingdom stand?” said the Minister, who delivered his Feb. 23 message before some 15,000 people at the TCF Center in Detroit.
“You, my poor, pitiful brothers and sisters, you are opting to be a part of that that is unraveling right in front of your eyes. You see the country cascading downward. You see the moral fiber of America getting into the gutter. Who wants a membership in a house of whores?” he asked.
“The subject for my lecture today, which is full of good news and warning: ‘The Unraveling of a Great Nation.’ When you unravel something, you undo twisted, knitted, or woven threads; you investigate and solve or explain something complicated or puzzling,” Min. Farrakhan continued.
“The condition of America is puzzling. The world is looking at a country going to hell. The world is looking at a president who wants to be king; when the Constitution and the founding fathers were trying to run away from what they suffered in Europe under the kings.
In this photo provided by Austin Boschen, people wait in line to go through the customs at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport in Grapevine, Texas, March 14. International travelers reported long lines at the customs at the airport as staff took extra precautions to guard against the new coronavirus, The Dallas Morning News reports. Boschen said it took him at least four hours to go through the customs. Photo: Austin Boschen via AP
“So there’s a verse in the Qur’an that I was thinking of. It’s in the 16th surah, the 92nd verse and it said, ‘Be not like her who unravels her yarn, disintegrating it into pieces, after she has spun it strongly.’ … That’s what’s happening to America as we speak. America was not built on a firm foundation. … How do you build a nation, killing the native people? How do you build a nation, bringing a whole people out of Africa to America to be made slaves? This is your foundation, so for them to lie to you, and make you think that America is a land of promise for you, and you believe it; no wonder Jesus said, ‘You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free,’” he added.
National emergency declaration: Too little too late?
President Trump March 13 declared a national emergency, freeing $50 billion in federal resources to battle COVID-19, amid fears the disease could place an almost impossible burden on hospitals and national medical and healthcare infrastructure. The declaration makes available supplies, personnel and other support available; encourages every state to set up emergency operation centers effective immediately; and requires every hospital in the country “to activate its emergency preparedness plan.”
The Centers for Disease Control called for limiting gatherings to no more than 50 people. New Jersey announced a no travel order between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. on March 16. Gov. Phil Murphy said the statewide curfew would be coupled with coordinated closures of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut casinos, bars, gyms and restaurants.
During a March 16 briefing of the White House group handling the coronavirus crisis, President Trump called for gatherings of no more than 10 people and finally admitted the pandemic was real.
A Business Insider article speaks of a leaked presentation from a webinar hosted by the American Hospital Association which shows one expert’s estimate that 96 million Americans could be infected, about 500,000 deaths were possible, and 4.8 million people could eventually need hospitalization.
Experts warn the U.S. is short on ICU beds and ventilators needed to treat the disease. Trying to prepare for the worst, hospitals were ramping up their capacity and setting priorities. One proposal would draw doctors out of retirement, others are canceling elective surgeries, and calling for setting up “Covid Cabanas” to treat suspected coronavirus cases, setting up tents outside main facilities, and more.
Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, has been a persistent critic of the U.S. government’s response.
“We are so incredibly underprepared for a major onslaught to hospitals, which is basically now inevitable,” Dr. Redlener told Yahoo News. “We have to look at Italy and see what happened and I think we’re actually in worse shape. We don’t have enough hospital beds; we don’t have enough ICU beds. And by the way, even if we had the 100,000-plus ventilators that we actually need, we don’t have the staff to operate them.”
Much of the blame for the federal government’s anemic response, the slow ramp up of tests and other resources nationally and the almost blanket denial of Covid-19’s spread by federal officials has come to rest at the feet of President Trump. From the beginning, critics charge, he has downplayed the crisis, at one point calling it a “hoax,” blamed the pandemic on foreigners and Democrats, and shut down air travel from Europe to the U.S. in a futile effort to stem the proliferation of the disease.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the Trump administration’s failed response is because the National Security Council’s global pandemic team was disbanded by former national security adviser John Bolton. The Trump administration has not bothered to fill those vacancies, leaving gaping and troubling vulnerabilities in America’s global pandemic preparedness.
Furthermore, when President Trump released the administration’s 2021 budget in February, it contained proposed cuts that would reduce funding at the CDC by 16 percent and remove $3 billion for global health programs.
Critics inside and outside of the medical community lobbed withering critiques of Mr. Trump and the poor federal government response.
“(T)he World Health Organization officially declared Covid-19 (coronavirus) an international pandemic.And with conflicting information coming out of the White House and Trump’s administration, misinformation and confusion are spreading like wildfire,” MoveOn.org said in a recent statement. “…What we need the most in this moment of crisis is competent and honest leadership in the White House that prioritizes the lives and livelihoods of all of us … This crisis has exposed the Trump Administration’s incompetence and its underlying corruption. It’s dangerous and it may even cost lives. While we fight to protect our families and communities, we also have to call out the threats and demand that they do better.”
Few travelers are seen in a mostly empty flight check-in area at John F. Kennedy Airport’s Terminal 1, March 13, in New York. Recently, President Trump banned most foreign visitors coming to the United States from continental Europe to try to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. Photo: AP Photo/Kathy Willens
“Moments like these are when the role of a competent federal government—one that prioritizes the interest of people over profits—is so essential. While we focus on keeping our families and communities safe, we must also recognize that we deserve better as a country, and we must speak out when our leaders are putting corporate profits and their own reputations above the interests of public health,” said the progressive public policy advocacy group.
‘All this was avoidable’
Economist Dr. William Spriggs, former chair of the Department of Economics at Howard University, said much of what has happened could have been avoided.
“My own thoughts are evolving as things develop but there’s no reason for it to have this big an impact,” said Dr. Spriggs, who also serves as chief economist to the AFL-CIO. “There didn’t need to be a real recession. (They) waited until now to ask what workers do if they stay home. Recessions will separate people from their jobs.”
“We learned lesson during the Swine Flu epidemic in 2009 to not have any public events and close those places where the disease could flourish,” he said. “Ten years ago, we already knew this. There should have been a planned shutdown.”
Dr. Spriggs said what the public needs to remember is that the stock market is not the real economy.
“What you’re seeing in the stock market is a vote on Donald Trump. There’s too much uncertainty and huge unease,” he said. “For a long time, people said he’s incompetent but as long as the stock market is doing well and the economy is good, it’s fine. In a way, what we’re all experiencing is because of that. We’re paying for an incompetent and the whole world sees it.”
“Consumer spending will go down as people stay home because of the coronavirus. That will hit a number of industries particularly hard, such as the service industry, travel providers, live entertainment venues, movie theaters, and more. That in turn could lead to a domino effect, with turmoil in one industry spilling over to another,” commented WalletHub CEO Odysseas Papadimitriou. “For example, if a restaurant owner can no longer pay rent, the property owner might not be able to pay its loan, and the bank that made the loan might end up suffering as well.”
He praised a House bill passed March 13 aimed at providing relief for those struck by job losses and economic fallout from the coronavirus. “It is a good first step, if it gets through the Senate without significant changes or delays. It is a must that the final legislation includes free coronavirus testing for everyone and covers hospitalization costs for those affected, regardless of insurance coverage,” said Mr. Papadimitriou. “Regardless, it looks like we’ll need more legislation after this to further support the economy and affected workers.”
Rashad Robinson, of Color Of Change, an online racial justice organization, called for protecting Blacks from fallout associated with the crisis.
“Together, we will hold corporate and government decision-makers accountable and ensure that Black and marginalized communities are not denied the care, protection and support that all communities deserve,” he said March 13. These power holders have roles to play for everything from job and income support to protecting voting rights, taking care of prisoners and ensuring the marginalized communities aren’t left in the cold.
“After years of Republicans, Big Pharma and major corporations fighting against paid sick leave legislation and Medicare for all we are left with a crisis where disproportionately Black low wage workers are continuing to support the public without the health insurance or paid time off that would make us all safer,” asserted Mr. Robinson. “When we return to ‘normal,’ the normal for most people will be economic hell. That’s why we are immediately calling for a moratorium on evictions and utility shut-offs. For Black and poor communities that are being urged by the Center for Disease Control to stay home from work as much as possible, following health instructions shouldn’t mean added financial hardship.”
He also warned Black voters should not be denied their essential right in midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. “Now with coronavirus, existing voter disenfranchisement only exacerbates both the health risks and the lack of access for Black voters. States with upcoming primary elections should actively consider providing expanded ballot access on an emergency basis for this election and in a permanent, ongoing way for future elections. Any restrictions on travel or public gatherings must include provisions or exceptions that will ensure that voters, particularly oft-targeted Black voters, voters reliant on public transit, and other marginalized voters, are not disenfranchised,” he said.
“This epidemic also lands at a critical time for the launch of the 2020 Census. We must ensure that our national response does not jeopardize a full and accurate count of all populations and neighborhoods. Black people are among the most undercounted populations in the census and an undercount will lead to communities not getting the funding and representation they need or deserve for the next 10 years,” Mr. Robinson added.
“We are deeply concerned about the health, safety, and dignity of disproportionately Black incarcerated men and women as officials respond to this outbreak. While prison populations are quarantined from the general public, they are at high risk for Covid-19 outbreaks as they are kept in close quarters with inadequate food, water, and health care. Yet the nation’s jails and prisons have reportedly little access to coronavirus tests and in some cases, no soap, despite the inevitable spread of the epidemic in a captive population. Federal and state officials must ensure that testing and treatment for Covid-19 is available as needed in all jails and prisons,” he said.
“Concern for this population is only exacerbated by the fact that large percentages of the American prison population are incarcerated without trial, presumed innocent, but held because they are too impoverished to pay bail. There is no need for these people to be unjustly exposed to sub-par sanitary conditions in the midst of a pandemic, simply because they are poor and disproportionately Black. Similarly, state and local officials should also use all available powers to immediately release incarcerated people who are particularly vulnerable to illness, such as the elderly and pregnant women, so they can move to lower risk environments. And anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 inside a jail or prison should be released and moved to receive adequate care in a hospital.”
“They must also eliminate requirements that force incarcerated people to perform jobs that put them at risk for contracting the virus and institute a minimum wage for incarcerated workers who are providing vital services during this crisis. In New York state, prisoners are being forced to manufacture hand sanitizer, that they are banned from using, while being paid only pennies-per-hour in a cruel and ironic extension of American slavery. Finally, we must be vigilant against any attempts to abuse or misuse any public health quarantine measures to criminalize Black and brown communities,” Mr. Robinson said.
Unprecedented uncertainty in U.S.
Indiana University Professor Dr. Edward Hirt told The Final Call the psychological implications of the novel coronavirus pandemic are immense and potentially dire, ranging from acute individual anxiety about possible symptoms and the necessity for social distancing to communitywide panic-buying of food, health care products and other staples of daily life as well as severe trauma caused when a loved one becomes ill or dies.
“This is unprecedented in terms of evoking uncertainty,” he said. “There’s definitely been a denial and forthrightness about the disease and its spread. Even if we’ve known about it, it’s though it was ‘over there.’ Things have just accelerated in an enormously quick time. Now we have to be vigilant about everything such as touching doorknobs and being close to people, isolation time and how long is the quarantine. It’s just craziness.”
Dr. Hirt, who has authored over 75 publications in peer-reviewed journals and has recently written a book titled “Self-Regulation and Ego Control,” thinks the shock will wear off and “then there’ll be panic.”
“The reality of this is sinking in. We have a little bit of time before people get despondent,” he predicted. “A lot of people are paranoid. People are already wondering how much longer they will be personally affected and what this all means. The vast majority are looking for reassurance from the administration.”
This period of downtime and social isolation could allow people to spend time outdoors, walk the dog, catch up on tasks and activities and reconnect with family, said Dr. Hirt, who has taught at IU since 1991.
“You should be thinking about other activities, just accept it and not fight,” he advised. “We’ve got to make the best of it, keep up with the news. I think people can switch to think beyond themselves.”
That acceptance comes as Broadway in New York, Disneyland and Disney World in Florida and the U.S. Capitol and the U.S. Supreme Court are closed. The travel industry has taken a beating on the Dow Jones stock exchange, with some cruise ships coming from abroad temporarily converted into quarantine holding facilities house infected passengers offshore. Meanwhile, air travel has dropped off precipitously.
Seeking certainty in an unsure world?
For Atlanta resident Shanice Bennerson, the outbreak and spread of the COVID-19 virus in the U.S. and the decision by the World Health Organization to declare the outbreak a global pandemic left her shaken.
“I am proceeding with caution because I am asthmatic and have no insurance,” said Ms. Bennerson, a Millennial whose regular job is in educational research. She also works part-time at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in Alpharetta, Ga.
“Fulton County schools, with the highest number of students in the area at 450,000, is out and has switched to online classes,” she noted. “Dekalb County schools is extending spring break. Everything is in shambles. Grocery stores are crazy, markets are crazy, but a lot of people aren’t taking it seriously. I’ve been following what’s been going on in Italy. We’re only really two weeks in as the numbers started low and took off. This public health crisis is exposing the underbelly of classes here in a way that I didn’t expect at all. Everyone not wealthy in this country is about to be screwed.”
A South Asian student of an Ivy League school, who’s working on a Master of Fine Arts degree, spoke of the difficulty he’s experiencing trying to understand, anticipate and navigate the public health crisis. He and his fellow classmates were informed by email that there was a presumptive case of someone at the school with coronavirus which necessitated taking precautions initially, then taking classes online.
The student, who is seeking asylum and fearful retaliation, requested anonymity to speak freely. “What happens if I contract the virus? Who will take care of me? Who will feed me? Where do I quarantine myself and how? I have been here for a few years and have people who are like family but not family,” he said.
“I am employed by the university, work 20 hours a week and live check-to-check. My department is still paying me but after six months, what will I do? There’s a range of different people being affected and there’s a great deal of uncertainly for me and a lot of people.”
“It’s hugely polarizing. Rich, young White kids are partying and can go to the clinic and pay $1,300 for the test, while poor people are dependent on federal government decisions,” he said. “The amount of money Trump has spent propping up the stock market—$1.5 trillion—could pay off the student loan debt. This has proven to be socialism for the rich and not for the poor.”
Virus spreads amid failed federal response
As of March 15, the coronavirus pandemic, which originated in Wuhan, China, had infected 142,539 people around the world and killed 5,200 as the disease has spread to more than 100 different countries. Most of the deaths have been seniors and the elderly.
In the United States, there were 49 states with more than 5,200 confirmed cases. But public health officials, epidemiologists and other medical experts warn that there are likely far more cases that medical professionals aren’t aware of because of the scarcity of available coronavirus testing kits from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Part of the problem is that while tests kits from the WHO are widely available, the Trump administration wants to use test kits produced by American companies, a decision that has worsened an already difficult situation.
“There’s a shortage,” Dr. Howard Forman, a professor at the Yale School of Public Health and practicing radiologist at Yale New Haven Hospital, told Yahoo Finance’s “On the Move.”
“And it strikes at the heart of everything we’re doing right now that we cannot do the most simple thing, which is just to test people and find out whether they are positive or not,” he said.
Despite the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the U.S. occurred on Jan. 19, testing has lagged across the country. U.S. public health labs have picked up some slack, but health officials warn that the current pace of testing is not nearly enough.
According to the Atlantic, researchers “have concluded that thousands of Americans may have already been infected by the beginning of (March).” Between January 18 and March 10, there have been 11,079 tests for COVID-19 in the U.S. In comparison, South Korea has conducted over 100,000 tests.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told host Chuck Todd on March 15 on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Americans “should be prepared that they’re going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing” to fight the growing coronavirus outbreak.
While several European countries are on lockdown to mitigate the crisis, Dr. Fauci said America should implement closures, especially “in those areas that have community spread.”
“Everybody has to get involved in distancing themselves socially. If you are in an area where there’s clear community spread, you have to be much, much more intense about how you do that,” he added. The goal now is to blunt the curve of confirmed cases and attempt to keep the number of those infected low enough that America’s hospital system isn’t overwhelmed, he said.
When asked if U.S. officials should consider a 14-day national shutdown as much of Europe has done, Dr. Fauci said: “I would prefer as much as we possibly could. I think we should really be overly aggressive and get criticized for overreacting.”
“If you let the curve get up there, then the entire society is going to be hit,” Dr. Fauci asserted.
Of all the Trump administration senior officials, Dr. Fauci has been the person most willing to speak clearly and honestly, while owning up to the federal government’s failings.
There is still no specific timeline for the ramping up of testing and increasing capacity, but Dr. Fauci announced during a press availability that the first human test of a novel coronavirus vaccine could begin in a few weeks, ahead of schedule, although he added it still could take as long as a year or 18 months before its available to the public. CNN reported March 16 that the first dose of the vaccine was given to a study participant in Washington state.
Article originally published in SPUTNIK NEWS SERVICE, SPUTNIK. EXCLUSIVES on 03 february 2020, 16:00
* US * VENEZUELA * SANCTIONS *
WASHINGTON, February 3 (Sputnik), Barrington M. Salmon –
If asked, Ivonne Luces-Pineros would not call herself a refugee, but two and a half months ago – she, like more than 4 million other Venezuelans – fled her country after years of deprivation, a life-threatening illness, political turmoil and relentless, punishing US sanctions.
She is living in Bogota, Colombia with her daughter Anyuli after a dangerous trek traveling from Caracas mainly by bus, car and walking.
The fact she recently underwent surgery made the journey even more perilous. In addition, Luces-Pineros said she left behind her mother, whom she misses greatly.
“My mother is doing so-so. She’s very weak. She’s still in Venezuela caring for my sister who’s wheelchair-bound and who has a debilitating illness,” Luces-Pineros told Sputnik. “She’s frail and sick it’s hard for her to walk and have proper nutrition… She’s my rock and I’m longing to see her.”
Luces-Pineros said she would never have left her homeland but conditions have gotten so bad.
“It breaks my heart to say this, but I had to leave in order to survive and not starve to death or die from a relapse or complications of my surgery,” Luces-Pineros said. “It wasn’t an easy decision, just a matter of survival… There are simply no other options.”
January 23rd marked one year since opposition leader Juan Guaido, opposing the outcome of the 2018 presidential election, declared himself interim president. The Trump administration immediately backed Guaido, whom they coordinated with before the announcement, and imposed crippling sanctions on the country.
This was all in a bid to oust President Nicolas Maduro, just as Venezuela was suffering through a deepening economic crisis.
Other factors driving the crisis include over-reliance on oil revenues at a time when global prices have plummeted, and paralyzing and sometimes violent partisan wrangling between Maduro supporters and opposition forces.
And there appears to be no end in sight to Venezuela’s economic spiral downward. On January 29, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to drop by another ten percent in 2020.
Venezuela’s real GDP has contracted by 65 percent since 2013, the IMF said, due to “declining oil production, hyperinflation, collapsing public services, and plummeting purchasing power.”
Luces-Pineros said she believes government corruption and mismanagement have also complicated the situation.
This has led to the exodus of approximately 4.3 million Venezuelans, the UN estimated in a report last year. In 2018, on average, about 5,000 people left Venezuela every day, the report said.
Caribbean and Latin American countries are hosting an estimated 2.7 million of the total number of Venezuelans who have left, while other regions account for the rest.
Colombia hosts the highest number of Venezuelans with 1.1 million – a group that now includes Luces-Pineros among them. It is followed by Peru, with 506,000, Chile 288,000, Ecuador 221,000, Argentina 130,000, and Brazil 96,000. Mexico and countries in Central America and the Caribbean, like Trinidad and Tobago, are also hosting significant numbers of Venezuelan refugees and migrants.
“My mother encouraged me to leave Venezuela in search of better opportunities and making sure I could get adequate medical care in Colombia, and also that eventually I would be able to help her financially. But I’m still longing to be back home in Venezuela,” Luces-Pineros said.
After being on the road for several weeks, Luces-Pineros stayed in the city of Cucuta, Colombia until it was safe to continue her journey to Bogota to reunite with her daughter Anyuli.
“Well my journey was a few weeks and it was extremely rough,” she recalled. “My health is fine now but I am still feeling the effects of the surgery.”
Unfortunately, Luces-Pineros added, during the journey she got very sick with bronchitis and flu-like symptoms.
“The treatment at the border was hard and now Venezuelans have such a bad reputation that they don’t want to accept any immigrants from Venezuela anywhere in South America,” she said.
Luces-Pineros said the massive exodus went beyond neighboring countries and included destinations such as the United States, Canada, the European Union and, especially, Spain.
“The countries I’ve included in the list are for people who have the means. Most of the neighboring countries have a limit and now they don’t want Venezuelans in their country,” she said.
After finally reaching Bogota, Luces-Pineros was able to rent a room at a boarding house for 350 pesos ($18 USD) a month.
She gets up every morning at 4:00 a.m. and works until 5:30 p.m. to try and make money to survive, selling coffee, herbal teas and bread to people for their morning commute.
Although the situation is difficult, Luces-Pineros said she’s a survivor.
HUNGRY, MALNUTRITION AND DEATH
The Trump administration has been banking on a deadly assortment of sanctions – the most recent being economic restrictions imposed on banks, the oil industry, government officials and other individuals and entities – to oust Maduro. In fact, senior US officials have even publicly expressed a desire to use sanctions to drive a stake through the heart of the socialist revolution.
US companies have long been interested in Venezuela because it has one of the largest proven oil reserves in the world. Oil revenues account for about 98 percent of the country’s export earnings and 25 percent of gross domestic product, which is why Washington has sought to shut down this industry.
As expected, high prices provided a boon to Venezuela’s economy from 2006 until the first half of 2014 – when oil prices mostly hovered between $100 and $125 per barrel. During that time, Venezuela used its oil revenues to fund its budget and wield regional political power by providing subsidized oil to as many as thirteen neighboring Latin American countries, most notably Cuba.
However, Venezuela’s oil production has now fallen to its lowest point in more than 70 years. In 2017, America imported more than S10 billion worth of oil from Venezuela, making it one of the top sources of crude for US refineries. But now that figure is at about zero as a result of US economic restrictions.
The economic recession – in tandem with the devastating US sanctions – have been lethal, according to doctors, economists and other experts.
In May 2019, leading economist Jeffrey Sachs co-authored a Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) report with Mark Weisbrot, which examined how US sanctions increased disease and mortality and reduced the availability of food, medicine and medical supplies in Venezuela.
Since 2017, the report concluded, more than 40,000 people have died as a result of US sanctions.
Sachs, a Columbia University professor and director of Columbia’s Center for Sustainable Development, described the sanctions regime as collective punishment for all 30 million Venezuelans, “as described in both the Geneva and Hague international conventions, to which the US is a signatory.”
Sanctions imposed by the US government in 2017 prevented the country from accessing international capital markets and the oil company from restructuring its loans, the report noted. The two economists said that after the sanctions were implemented Venezuela lost an estimated $6 billion in oil revenue over the ensuing 12 months.
Weisbrot and Sachs argued that the loss in foreign exchange, needed for vital imports of food, medicine and productive inputs, caused by US sanctions, were the “main shock” that pushed Venezuela into hyperinflation in late 2017.
“That’s when the social, humanitarian crisis went spiraling out of control,” Sachs told the Washington-based Democracy Now in an interview after the report was released. “It’s not an economic standstill. It’s a complete economic collapse, a catastrophe, in Venezuela.”
There was a crisis before Trump came to office, the public policy analyst said, but the Trump administration from the start has wanted to overthrow Maduro. In fact, the US president, Sachs said, was explicit in discussions with Latin American allies about a US military invasion of Venezuela. However, the South American leaders told Washington they did not want to see military action, which forced Trump to consider other options.
“So, the US government has been trying to strangle the Venezuelan economy,” Sachs said.
Then in 2019, he continued, Trump imposed another round of even tighter sanctions which essentially confiscated the earnings and assets of the Venezuelan government.
Sachs said the Trump administration does not even understand the idea of negotiation. Instead, the US government has deliberately created massive suffering to achieve its objectives. However, he said, this “all-or-nothing strategy” has failed to overthrow Maduro.
“It’s not working. And it’s very cruel, because it’s punishing 30 million people,” Sachs said.
Critics cite mismanagement and corruption as among the reasons for Venezuela’s slide. Maduro, members of his administration and allies blame the sanctions. Whoever is ultimately responsible, the fact is that store shelves are empty of bread, sugar, coffee, cooking oil, toilet paper, milk and other basic food items. And even if the items were available, the prices would be unaffordable for most because of hyper-inflation which currently stands at around 1 million percent.
People like Luces-Pineros have watched with dismay as their country’s economy has crumbled under the weight of government mismanagement and crushing sanctions.
Luces-Pineros’ home in Venezuela is in La Pastora, in the heart of Caracas, a marginalized neighborhood she says used to be one of the nicest neighborhoods in the capital city. But things are much different today.
Luces-Pineros said that for months before her departure to Colombia, it was customary for her to eat one arepa a day because of the severe food shortages that plague Venezuela.
Arepas are one of Venezuela’s national foods handed down over generations. It is made of white cornmeal, salt and water, then the dough is shaped into a patty, grilled, baked and stuffed with a variety of tasty ingredients like beef, pork, chicken, olives, raisins, peppers and other vegetables.
That one meal is all Luces-Pineros, a caraquena – a Caracas resident – could afford she said, reflecting the extreme difficulties most Venezuelans are enduring because they are caught in the political crossfire between the government of the bitter conflict sparked by America’s desire to overthrow the socialist government and its 21 year-old Bolivarian Revolution.
“I used to sell coffee, donuts and food to workers from a small mobile food cart but I am barely able to walk much less stand for hours because of the surgery,” she said. “People can’t get around because there’s no gas and there’s no electricity. The lights are only on two hours a day. The metro station has stopped running due to lack of maintenance and power outages.”
Life on the ground grinds people down, she said. The average monthly income for workers is 40,000 bolivares which is about $4.20 USD. Meanwhile, a half a kilo of cheese costs 40,000 bolivares. For six eggs, a customer would pay 20,000 bolivares.
“Undoubtedly, the average Venezuelan can’t even afford to buy cheese,” said Luces-Pineros. “To get half a chicken, which comes from Brazil, by the time it reaches the local market it smells rotten or is spoiled.”
Shortly before her journey to Columbia, Luces-Pineros had surgery to correct an ailment that needed immediate medical attention. The surgery was delayed because of the skyrocketing cost of medicines due to hyper-inflation and the economic freefall.
Johns Hopkins University school of public health researchers in a report released last March found that Venezuelans across the country were facing a situation similar to Luces-Pineros’: patients in hospitals required to bring their own food and medical supplies like surgical thread, scalpels, syringes and the like, including soap and water.
Cases of measles and diphtheria have surged to 9,300 and 2,500 respectively while confirmed cases of malaria increased from 36,000 in 2009 to 414,000 in 2017, according to the report edited and reviewed by Dr. Paul Spiegel.
Spiegel and Human Rights Watch expressed surprise at the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis and called for swift international action.
Caritas Venezuela, a Catholic humanitarian organization, found that Venezuela has also recently seen dramatic increases in child malnutrition while other humanitarian groups reported that maternal and infant mortality rates have spiked in the past five years.
Luces-Pineros experienced firsthand the damage inflicted on the quality of healthcare and lack of medical supplies during her recent surgery.
“I had to bring everything with me,” she said. “There was no alcohol, no cotton balls, bandages or pain relievers, no equipment, no sheets, no mask and no gloves. Contaminants were everywhere. The doctors who have just graduated from med school have no skills. You have to rely on nurses who have some skills. It’s completely chaotic.”
Moreover, as she recuperated, Luces-Pineros said she was unable to work.
SANCTIONS AND REGIME CHANGE
US sanctions have demonstrably harmed Venezuelans like Luces-Pineros but have failed to achieve the outcome they were designed for – that being, regime change.
Rights groups and even some former US government officials have expressed concerns about the sanctions targeting the populace along with the strategy to force Maduro out regardless the cost.
Although last year’s US-backed coup against Maduro failed, the saber-rattling continues with Trump administration officials signaling the US willingness to send in the military. Yet, several media accounts note that Trump is trying to avoid stepping into yet another military conflict.
Then there is consideration for the valid concerns of some regional leaders who are against military intervention because that would destabilize the region.
Despite America’s best efforts to smash the socialist state, Maduro is still in office, primarily because he has retained the support of Venezuelans who still support the revolution and who are opposed to any outside threat to the country’s sovereignty.
Not to mention, the Maduro administration has the loyalty of the military, military institutions and control of the primary instruments of government.
Part of the interventionists’ dilemma is Guaido’s lack of legitimacy both at home and abroad. Guaido has the support of only the United States and about 50 of its allies – including EU members and right-wing Latin American countries.
Meanwhile China, Russia, Iran, Syria, Cuba and Turkey – along with most UN member states – still recognize Maduro.
Fernando Cutz, who was Director for South America at the White House National Security Council during the Obama administration, told Sputnik that he was disappointed the move to back Guaido did not change much inside Venezuela.
“Yeah, unfortunately, things have been at a standstill. I had a real expectation that that moment would lead to positive change and a return to democracy,” Cutz, who is currently a senior associate with the Cohen Group, said. “No doubt there has been additional pressure but it hasn’t worked. Regime change isn’t an end goal for me. It’s about helping people and restoring democracy.”
Cutz said he believes that Maduro was not fairly elected in the 2018 presidential elections and that Venezuelans should be given the opportunity to participate in a free and fair vote. If under those conditions Venezuelans voted for Maduro, he would have no issues or misgivings.
The Trump administration is pursuing policy objectives it feels will get results which is its right, Cutz said. However, he added, there are ways to punish the Maduro government so that the pain to ordinary Venezuelans is minimized.
“Looking back a year ago, I was very hopeful. There was international recognition of Guaido and we had the support of a strong coalition. We were working with the European Union, the Lima Group, the OAS and the UN. We all were making a great effort. But I am less hopeful in 2020,” he said.
During the Obama administration, Cutz said the sanctions “were responsible and targeted individuals in the regime who were bad actors.”
However, he added, Trump’s former White House National Security Adviser, John Bolton, oversaw a drastic expansion of sanctions which have had an impact on the people of Venezuela.
“There are ways to focus on individuals without harming citizens in such a wholesale manner,” Cutz claimed.
Cutz, who also served as a senior aide to former White House National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, said in addition to blind sanctions he opposed military action. US officials, he said, should step back from the rhetoric and recalibrate.
“It’s a devastating situation in Venezuela. It’s horrific but some sort of military move would not be good. Using the military should only be a last resort,” Cutz said.
The Trump administration, he added, should also step back from imposing sanctions “for sanctions sake.”
“I hope there are still good people around in the government willing to side with the people but I don’t see a clear path,” the former White House official said. “But you never know what may spark change. The Arab Spring was one guy in Tunisia who set himself on fire. Enough people were fed up and it all started.”
Netfa Freeman, a peace activist who visited the country last year as part of the Embassy Protection Collective, said Venezuela, as a sovereign nation, has the right to determine its own course, free from threats and intimidation from the United States.
Freeman, an organizer in the International Committee for Peace, Justice & Dignity for the People, formerly the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5, told Sputnik that Americans must stop “aiding and abetting the imperialist narrative” that Maduro is a dictator and must be removed to protect human rights.
“When you support Saudi Arabia that doesn’t even have elections, and is a monarchy, or you bomb innocent children in Yemen and in Syria and those kind of things, and you prop up dictators and depose democratically-elected people in Honduras and Haiti, that shows that you don’t care about human rights,” said Freeman who is also a radio co-producer/co-host for “Voices With Vision” on WPFW 89.3 FM in Washington.
REVOLUTION UNDER SIEGE
Since the late president Hugo Chavez introduced what he termed the Bolivarian Revolution in 1998, successive US administrations have tried to overturn Venezuela’s socialist government, including Trump’s by backing Guaido and intensifying sanctions.
The current economic crisis has been a setback for the revolution and has both strengthened Venezuelans’ resolve to defend their country and also turned some people nostalgic about the Chavez years, including Luces-Pineros.
Although Chavez certainly benefited from high oil prices, he is remembered for using the funding to improve the lives of many across all classes and races. Building on what he started, for example, the Maduro government has so far built 5 million houses for Venezuelans.
In addition to class, the mainstream American media has largely ignored the role race has played in the problems plaguing Venezuela.
Several analysts point out that racism is one of the main engines and expressions of the counter revolution, best illustrated by the fact that the National Assembly is overwhelmingly white and upper and middle class, while the Constituent Assembly appointed by Maduro much more accurately reflects the multi-ethnic makeup of the country.
Filmmaker and educator Catherine Murphy, who lived in Venezuela from 2006-2010, told Sputnik that Chavez’s programs transformed the lives of the country’s lower classes and Afro-Venezuelans.
“He [Chavez]… started to run PDVSA, and the money went to pay for housing, paving streets, providing clean running water and nation-building. It benefited everyone. He started the Mission Robinson Literacy Program and invited thousands of Cuban doctors who lived in communities practicing medicine for free,” she noted.
In light of the malnourishment, the collapse of Venezuela’s healthcare system, the general economic collapse and the resultant hardship and privation visited on Venezuelans, Luces-Pineros, who still counts herself as a Chavez supporter, said she is no longer sure that what she envisions as success, as it relates to the goals of the socialist revolution, can be attained under the current circumstances.
Although usually not one to cast blame, she feels widespread corruption is at the root of so many of Venezuela’s problems.
“I didn’t want to leave because I felt there was hope with Chavez for a better Venezuela but not today with the Maduro regime,” she said.
However, despite the greed, corruption, a lack of governance and the inestimable damage caused by US sanctions, she still holds out hope.
“I still feel that under a fair socially democratic state there is a future for the Venezuelan people,” Luces-Pineros said.
Sports fans in the United States and around the world — plus people who are not necessarily sports-oriented — are mourning the sudden death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant at the age of 41.
Two years removed from retirement after 20 years in the NBA, the five-time NBA champion and Los Angeles Lakers superstar was settling into retirement and immersing himself in sports, entertainment, his family and business ventures when he was killed in a helicopter crash Sunday near Calabasas, Calif.
The crash also killed eight other passengers, including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, a budding basketball phenom. In addition to millions of adoring fans, he leaves to mourn him Vanessa Laine Bryant, his wife of 19 years, and three other daughters: Natalia Bryant, 17, Bianka Bryant, 3, and Capri Bryant, 7 months.
The group was on their way to Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, Calif., where Bryant was to coach a game in which Gianna was to play. Federal investigators are trying to determine what specifically caused the crash which occurred in dense fog.
Bryant’s death has triggered an outpouring of grief, shock and disbelief among devastated players, fans, celebrities and just those who equated his name with excellence. A common theme offered by tributes is that he had transcended basketball and had become larger than sports.
“Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act,” tweeted President Barack Obama. “To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents. Michelle and I send love and prayers to Vanessa and the entire Bryant family on an unthinkable day.”
President Trump deflected from his tweeting on impeachment to call the reports on the basketball star “terrible news.” He later released a tweet that critics observed was strikingly similar to President Obama’s:
“Kobe Bryant, despite being one of the truly great basketball players of all time, was just getting started in life. He loved his family so much, and had such strong passion for the future. The loss of his beautiful daughter, Gianna, makes this moment even more devastating,” Trump tweeted. “Melania and I send our warmest condolences to Vanessa and the wonderful Bryant family. May God be with you all!”
Many struggled to find deeper meaning in the sudden death of a person so beloved who had become a symbol of excellence.
“I didn’t know him well. I only met him a couple of times,” said former Vice President Biden on the presidential campaign trail in Iowa as reported by the Washington Examiner. “It makes you realize that you gotta make every day count, every single solid day, every single day count.”
Jalen Rose, a former college and professional basketball player and sports analyst with ESPN described his friend, Bryant, in terms beyond basketball.
“He is remembered for his dedication to his craft, educated, speaker of multiple languages, father, husband, disciplined hardworking, always gracious and respectful,” he said in a tribute. “He was always the hardest-working guy in the room, smartest guy in the room … he was Industry tastemaker, gave so much to humanity and is gone too soon.”
Kobe Bryant was born in Philadelphia, the only boy and youngest of three children of former NBA player Joe Bryant and Pamela Cox Bryant. He was first drafted by the Charlotte Hornets in 1996 straight out of Lower Merion High School.
Through hard work and extraordinary dedication to the game, he was seen as a transcendent player, unquestionably one among the best to ever play the game of basketball. But his success impacted beyond the game. In post-game retirement, he inspired hundreds of thousands of young people to aim high, push past their limits, whether it was on a court, a football pitch or in the creative arts.
Kobe, who won five NBA titles and who was an 18-time All-Star, won an Oscar for Best Animated Short in 2019 for the film “Dear Basketball.” The six-minute film is based on a poem Bryant wrote in 2015 announcing his retirement from the NBA. Bryant wrote and narrated the short, in which he shares his love of the sport for basketball.
Bryant considered himself to be a storyteller and had been moving into the film and entertainment industry since his retirement from basketball in 2016. He wrote, produced and presented a series for ESPN called Detail, in which he explained the intricacies of athletes in their respective sports. His multimedia company, Granity Studios, produced the ESPN+ series Detail and the podcast “The Punies.” In addition, he helped create four sports fantasy children’s books. According to media reports, the second volume of The Wizenard Series: Season 1, is set to hit bookstores on March 31.
Still it was basketball for which he will always be world renown. Sports lawyer and businessman Michael Huyghue said an icon of the industry has been lost.
“What he stood for is an early example of an athlete transcending his sport,” said Huyghue, author, sports agent and president of Michael Huyghue and Associates, LLC. “His work in the community, building a brand, his eclectic nature and speaking several languages are a part of his legacy. “He was a very rare breed. He set the bar at a place where a lot of athletes could aspire to.”
Sports journalist Elton Hayes Jr. said what sticks out to him is his involvement with children and young people.
“I have been watching all these years. He’s a global icon,” said Hayes, who writes for CNHI News in State College, Pennsylvania. “What sticks out after retirement is the role he played with kids. He showed us his paternal side and the passion he had for women’s basketball. The WNBA is the sister organization to the NBA but there are discrepancies in salary and viewership. He was an active participant and took several women under his wing. I would consider him an ambassador for women’s basketball…I think a part of his legacy is the impact on a generation of aspiring athletes. With his Mamba Foundation, we will continue to see his legacy grow and will continue to see the impact.”
For the past two years, Bryant had focused on coaching Gianna’s AAU team.
“Coaching youth sports is so important to take very seriously because you’re helping the emotional [development] of young kids,” he said in a recent interview. “So it’s understanding not to be overcritical and understanding that [there] are going to be mistakes.”
And in an interview with People magazine, published online two days before his death, Bryant said he launched Granity Studios “as a way of teaching valuable life lessons to the next generation, with whatever they hope to do. The goal is to encourage children to develop their own inner magic and believe they can achieve the impossible and do so in a fun way.”
Bryant added, “Storytelling has always been an interest of mine, so the transition was an exciting one. I’m being challenged in a completely new way and have really loved the opportunity to exercise my creative muscles.”
Nearly everyone killed in the crash shared a love for basketball, reported the Los Angeles Times. They were Bryant and Gianna, a budding basketball player who was ready to follow in her father’s footsteps; baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri and their basketball-playing daughter Alyssa; mother and daughter Sarah and Payton Chester; Mamba Academy basketball coach Christina Mauser and pilot Ara Zobayan, the Times reported.
The beloved Bryant had a reputation as egotistical, a talented super-achiever, driven and difficult. But friends and colleagues spoke of all the good he’s done and the impact he had in his 41 years.
“Devastation, heartbroken describes how I feel,” said ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith. “I saw him on New Year’s Eve. He was full of life, happier than I’ve ever seen him. He was loving life in a peaceful place, euphoric of what laid ahead. He was looking forward to and planning on having a life more prosperous and illustrious than what he had accomplished as a basketball player.”
Smith concluded with a thought that’s been on the minds of millions since Sunday: “Never in our wildest dreams did we ever believe that the brilliant savant, a man at least trilingual, would leave like this …”