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National Urban League hosts real talk about the State of Black America in 2017

TV special tries to addresses questions about an uncertain political future and protecting progress

1:03 PMWhen National Urban League president and CEO Marc H. Morial walked on stage Tuesday at the Howard Theatre, the message he was there to spread applied as much to the building as it did to the black community. The iconic venue in Washington, D.C.’s, Shaw neighborhood, down the block from Howard University, reopened with much fanfare in 2012 after decades in disrepair. But it’s now facing financial trouble and may have to close again.

And with President Donald Trump rolling back nearly every important policy that America’s first president of color (and the first lady) put in place, it feels like we may be going back to a darker era. Hence the theme of the proceedings: “Protect Our Progress.”

The nonpartisan civil rights organization and TV One taped a two-hour town hall special on the State of Black America with the release of its annual report of the same name. It highlights issues facing the community, complete with tangible data to better understand how to tackle these issues.

“Backward never, forward ever. We are bold. We are mighty. We are empowered. We are Urban Leaguers. Protect our progress. Resist the rollback!” was the call-and-response chant that Morial led with those gathered at the 2017 Legislative Policy Conference, before moderator and TV One host Roland Martin took over the proceedings.

While the taping schedule made it a slightly different vibe from a live town hall meeting — the show airs May 31 at 8 p.m. on TVOne — Martin kept the crowd loose while also directing the show from the stage. The first panel featured culture critic Toure; Angela Sailor, former director of the Republican National Committee’s Coalitions department; CNN’s Symone Sanders; and activist/TV host Jeff Johnson, who has covered income inequality, education and mentorship in the black community.

Things moved from polite sharing of ideas to actual disagreement when Martin asked Sailor whether black people should trust the Department of Education’s budget when it comes to opportunities for children. She implied that the larger solution would involve more than that anyway.

“We know that they’re not because the budget is not reflective of it,” Sanders retorted. “It is incumbent on us to demand. I think we are doing something. Organizations like us … are definitely showing up in their communities, showing up to the elected officials or coming to the funding table with private and public partnerships to make things work. But we cannot let the Department of Education and other folks off the hook when they don’t include us in their budget. That’s absolutely ridiculous.”

Shortly afterward, Johnson described how black folks too often get caught up in the dream of college — the “bougie wonderland” — and get themselves into debt instead of learning skills that make them marketable in a global environment. I could have listened to him talk about that subject for the rest of the event, but alas, they moved on.

According to the latest State of Black America report, the 2017 National Equality Index compared with white America is 72.3 percent. The Hispanic Index is 78.4 percent. The index looks at five areas: economics, education, health, social justice and civic engagement.

When trying to cover so many topics with so many voices in a limited amount of time, it’s impossible to delve into any one in a truly meaningful way. But the crowd was given Q&A sessions with each panel. “No sermonettes; ask a question,” Martin sternly advised the crowd with a wink.

Before most segments, a vignette was shown about a specific initiative that the Urban League had helped with. In a similar vein before the taping, corporate sponsor Toyota, through its Freedom To Move program, highlighted “Hiplet,” a Chicago dance center that is loosely described as “rap ballet.”

The second panel featured Sailor and author/professor Michael Eric Dyson, along with CNN commentators Parris Dennard and Angela Rye. My favorite moment came from Dyson, who mentioned Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert while discussing the plight of Detroit, which is undergoing one of the harder-core gentrification processes in the country.

“I grew up in Detroit. It’s not just crime, it was white flight that exacerbated the tensions in the city,” Dyson said. “The [areas] around Detroit began to absorb those resources, then they marginalized poor people. Gentrification is predicated upon the access to capital and the ability to own a home, while upwardly mobile, largely white people — and then, in some cases, black and brown people — who then push out those people who are there.

“Once into the exurbs and suburbs, where they were banned, now, as Roland said, there’s no transportation network out there. They’re stuck out there, while Dan Gilbert, who owns the Cleveland Cavaliers and is one of the greatest landowners in Detroit, is creating the tension because he owns so much of the property and now along the lakefront and the waterfront, where blacks are banned. White brothers and sisters are establishing their bona fides while black people are left behind. That’s a problem of not crime. The real crime is white neglect and white flight from a city, then reappropriating black resources.”

Whether any problems were solved Tuesday wasn’t really the point. Some smart minds got together to discuss the problems facing our community. When it airs later this month, I hope discussions will spread outside of that as well.

Daily Dose: 5/1/17

Hasan Minhaj wins the weekend at White House correspondents’ dinner

2:23 PMIt was extremely busy last week and over the weekend. I filled in for Bomani Jones on The Right Time on ESPN Radio. Then on Sunday we did The Morning Roast, which was fun. Then this tweet destroyed my mentions.

The president is back at it. Monday, he released audio of an interview in which he exposed himself as being completely unaware of American history, which is shocking to exactly zero people. What continues to be surprising is how brazenly he just states things that are completely incorrect and seems to think that just saying them will make it so. Not the case. Andrew Jackson wasn’t alive for the Civil War. That’s a fact. Also, it’s extremely not OK to call Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas,” for multiple reasons.

Speaking of the president, he skipped the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Again, that came as no surprise. The annual event that turns D.C. into a raging zoo of celebrity and politics still went on, however, and it was probably better that he wasn’t present, as basically every single person who took the stage was there to let him know exactly how little they think of him. But comedian Hasan Minhaj was clearly the star of the show, stinging the media crowd with a scathing plea to do better while dropping some of the smartest jokes that event’s seen in years.

If you haven’t heard about the Fyre Festival, lucky you. Basically, Ja Rule and a guy whom many people consider to be a scam artist put together a week full of programming that was supposed to blow the festival circuit away in terms of scale, luxury and exclusiveness. All this came at price tags that got up into the tens of thousands of dollars. Seriously. Then, it completely fell apart. Literally. And people were stuck in the Bahamas with no food and no shelter. Total debacle. Now they’re getting sued for $100M, accused of fraud. Life comes at you fast.

The Big3 appears to officially be here. I have to admit, when this idea first came up, I didn’t exactly think it would last. Sure, Ice Cube was involved, but I figured he might lose interest or some other snag would come up that didn’t get it off the ground. I was WAY wrong about that. Over the weekend they league held its draft, which is pretty cool. It’s a 3-on-3 hoops league with former NBA stars, so I don’t know how much good basketball we’ll get, but it’ll certainly have star power. The top pick was Rashad McCants, which is … interesting.

Free Food

Coffee Break: If you don’t know who Francesca Ramsey is, you will soon. The comedian and Comedy Central star is soon getting her own late night show, which is very special in America, as she’s a black woman. But with that opportunity comes a lot of pressure, never mind responsibility, to a certain extent. It won’t be easy, but we’re glad she’s there.

Snack Time: If you’re wondering, Rep. Maxine Waters is still about that action when it comes to talking about the commander in chief. She laid it out again over the weekend, calling him disgusting and disrespectful.

Dessert: This will make you laugh. Guaranteed.

Daily Dose: 4/28/17

LaVar Ball overplays his hand

11:42 AMWe all know how much President Donald Trump loves Twitter. It’s basically his main mode of expression, which is a tad concerning for the man leading the free world, but it is what it is at this point. The funny thing is that if you go back and read his history, there’s basically a tweet outlining a stance that is completely contradictory to what he’s doing now that he’s in office. It’s genuinely quite remarkable. That said, we’re nearing the 100-day mark, so let’s take a look back at that time in his social media feed.

The franchise of Dear White People holds an important space in the cultural landscape. The film, released in 2014, was an eye-opening look at what black college life can be like at predominantly white colleges, which is basically all of them that aren’t historically black universities. The film clearly made waves in the mainstream, mainly because of the title, which automatically put a lot of people off. They’re back with a new series for Netflix, which is a fantastic evolution for this story. We need this show.

If you’re wondering, Michelle Obama will not be running for office. It’s been a strange pipe dream for quite a few of her fans who seem to think, understandably, that she would make an excellent public official. But one would think family time would be a priority after eight years in the White House. Getting involved in an election is a time commitment that takes over your life — never mind doing the actual job. Can’t imagine she’s looking to uproot all that anytime soon. But she was more definitive than Chelsea Clinton is about it, recently.

LaVar Ball is finally dealing with the big boys. For all of the entertainment he’s provided from a media and meme standpoint, his antics are not looked upon well by major corporations. Which, ultimately, was everyone’s concern to begin with: that he might actually be hurting his children’s ability to earn money at this point. Well, that’s exactly what’s happened. Nike, Under Armour and Adidas have all said that they don’t want to sign Lonzo Ball, who could potentially be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. Mega wow.

Free Food

Coffee Break: The 25th anniversary of the L.A. riots is this week, which is kind of wild to think about. It feels like far longer ago. But from a media standpoint, that moment in history was made all the more intense by the fact that we had so much footage of everything. It was early in the 24-hour-news lifetime, and video really shaped a lot.

Snack Time: We use Slack at our office. Most people do. It’s a fun little chat system that, when utilized well, really can improve productivity. Why a dating service needs to be integrated with it, we have no idea.

Dessert: New Gorillaz. Get on it.

Daily Dose: 4/27/17

Gift Ngoepe breaks new ground in MLB

12:45 PMAll right, kiddos, the NFL draft is Thursday night, and if you’re looking for something to do in the hours leading up to it, The Morning Roast crew has you covered from 4-7 p.m. EST, filling in for Bomani Jones. For Friday tho? I have a surprise.

If you say you’re going to do something and you don’t, there’s an easy out. It’s called apologizing, and if you’re an earnest person, it’s really not impossible to do. Whether you mean it is a different discussion, but for the purposes of other people’s feelings, saying, “I’m sorry” can be a valuable resource for maintaining relationships. But that’s not how President Donald Trump rolls, alas. So when he said he was going to blow up NAFTA, well, Mexico and Canada were like, nah. Now, he just says his plan is delayed. Easier option: My bad.

Remember that situation with SheaMoisture from earlier this week? Controversies like that crop up because people don’t have a clear understanding of just how weaponized black hair is. So when a company that has been largely supported by black folks suddenly seems to turn on its base, people feel betrayed. Why? Because of things like what happened in Texas this week, where a kid was nearly suspended from school for having two freaking lines in his hair. You can’t fix fly, pleighboi.

Rick Ross is one of my favorite rappers of all time. Not because I’m superfond of his lyricism, though I do enjoy that, but because as a dude, he just strikes me as the kind of person whom I would want to be around, for various reasons. Now he’s on his health kick, and he’s letting the world know that seizures are not the move, if you can avoid them. He’s also got a new album out, but he made an appearance on Desus & Mero, and it might be the best interview they’ve ever done.

You all know how much I love baseball. You also know how much I enjoy the game being exposed to various new cultures so more people can play and enjoy the sport as I do. That said, Wednesday night in Pittsburgh was an incredible moment. For a quick backdrop, the Pirates earlier this week pitched Dovydas Neverauskas, the first Lithuanian-born player in the bigs. Then, on Wednesday night, Gift Ngoepe came into the game to play second base — and got a base hit in his first at-bat. He’s the first African player in the MLB, so, yeah, cue all the tears.

Free Food

Coffee Break: Wednesday was a brutal day to be an ESPN employee. Many colleagues and friends lost their positions because of layoffs, and at the end of the day, nobody wants to see that. So salute to everyone who helped make this company a better place.

Snack Time: Today is Take Your Child To Work Day. We see all your fun pictures and goofy updates, but look, there is only one of these that matters. It is this one. You know this.

Dessert: I’m just going to go ahead and blindly be happy about this photo.