Editor’s Letter

The increasing hate and bigotry of the past several years has become almost unbearable in America. It’s as if almost half of our fellow Americans have traded in every shred of their integrity—nay, their very humanity—for the right to be openly racist . . . sexist . . . homophobic . . . transphobic . . . xenophobic . . . . If you’re in one of the oppressed groups, I can imagine the added fear and horror, and I’m so sorry. If you’re a straight white person but at all empathetic, and I suspect you are if you’re reading OHF Weekly, it’s heartbreaking.

It’s become so painful that my family has considered moving overseas, but that would be taking advantage of our privilege and so unfair to the groups being targeted, many of whom lack this flexibility. And sadly, where America goes, all too often other countries go, as well. My daughters in Brazil, Italy, Spain, and France (for those who are unaware, we’ve hosted almost a dozen exchange students over the years) have all reported a rise in fascism and bigotry in their countries.

Life has become a delicate balancing act of keeping up with the news so I can be as supportive as possible, while at the same time trying to keep it all to a low roar for my mental health. (I know I’m hardly alone in this, take care of yourselves!)

I lauded the beginning of Pride Month with some my gay and trans friends this past week by running a Love is Love 5K and enjoying our annual Pride Celebration / drag queen show, and for the first time I worried about our safety there . . . wondered whether I shouldn’t have taken two of my daughters (fortunately, it was happy as other years).

At the same time, I was horrified to hear about Ajike “AJ” Owens, a Black mother of four who was shot to death by a white woman through a closed door in front of her child. Worse, the local sheriff debated whether to press charges until it became national news (as is too often the case), and then charged the shooter with manslaughter! This was both murder and a hate crime, people: the killer spewed racist insults at AJ’s children, she knew AJ would be coming to discuss it, she had her gun waiting, and she never even opened the door!

A lot of people just shook their heads and said “Florida,” but let’s not kid ourselves: it could happen in a lot of the fifty states, including my own. And “Stand your ground” laws need to be recognized as the racist excuses for murder they are and removed from the books.

News like this is hard to deal with, even for those of us who are not Black mothers. Sometimes good news can counter it a bit, although the media isn’t great at sharing the more positive moments. So I’ve started collecting them and thought I’d share a few! All of the following stories are about Black excellence—amazing people defying the odds and rising above our culture.

I mentioned the first story a month or two ago, but it still just brings such a smile to my face. Few people have heard about Corion Evans, a sixteen-year-old Black male high school student in Mississippi, who saw a carful of young women accidentally drive down a boat ramp in the dark and start to submerge. Corion dove right in to rescue them. A police officer also attempted to help but got pulled under when one of the girls flailed and took in water, so Corion rescued him, too. Yep: Corion, a young Black male down in Mississippi, rescued the white policeman without hesitation. That’s a seriously good guy!

I heard about Dasia Taylor on one of Joy Reid’s Instagram posts. Dasia is a college student who won several prestigious science fair awards while still in high school. She has appeared on several talk shows like The Ellen DeGeneres Show, is now in college while also CEO of her own company, and was recently named one of USA Today’s Women of the Year. It started with the first science fair:

Taylor’s invention — a medical suture that uses beet juice to indicate when surgical wounds have become infected — was born out of her equity work, she says. Specifically, she was inspired by research showing that Black people are disproportionately affected by post-surgical complications, including infections, and that oft-repeated diagnosable signs of infection like redness of the skin and swelling don’t appear as easily on darker skin tones. —Des Moines Register

Presumably everyone knows Amanda Gorman, the amazing young poet who wrote “The Hill We Climb,” and read it at President Biden’s inauguration. When her book with the poem was recently banned in the Bob Graham Education Center, an elementary school in Florida, she announced on Instagram that she’d responded by contributing to a fund to ensure that children could get free copies of the books that were banned there, including her own.

Then there’s Dennis “Maliq” Barnes, with nearly eleven million dollars in college scholarship offers! The sixteen-year-old New Orleans high school senior graduated with a 4.98 grade point average plus twenty-seven college credits through a dual-enrollment program, and was accepted at over 185 colleges. He’s decided he will attend Ivy League Cornell University in New York this fall, focusing on computer science, and is also looking ahead to law school.

Last year, the folks at Oxford University Press announced that they’re working on the Oxford Dictionary of African American English, a rich and diverse variety of wording (some of which gets appropriated, not always correctly) and provided a recent update:

The researchers say they aim to publish a first batch of 1,000 definitions—some words and phrases will have more than one—by March 2025. But the more important goal of the project, which will be edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr., a scholar of African American history at Harvard University, is to underscore the significance of African American English and to create a resource for future research into Black speech, history and culture. —The New York Times

A little bit further from here, parts of Africa are notoriously impoverished and have abysmal healthcare—in particular Sierra Leone—resulting in often horrific maternal and neonatal death rates. In a huge turnaround, however, the United Nations reports that since 2000, Sierra Leone’s childbirth mortality rate has dropped an astonishing seventy-four percent! Contraception, prenatal care, and delivery are all free now, according to The New York Times, and as a result, young mothers are daring to dream about their children’s futures.

Last but not least, Alena Analeigh Wicker is an “ordinary” thirteen-year-old college student who graduated from high school at twelve and is currently attending two different universities. And, she was just accepted into the Burroughs Wellcome Scholars Early Assurance Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Heersink School of Medicine. She says she’s just “very disciplined” and has “really good time management skills.”

We’re all aware of the rising levels of oppression and fascism these days, and not just against Black and brown people but also LGBTQ and even women in general. We can all cite current examples of racism, such as the murder of AJ Owens, and we’re losing rights by the day. There is much work to be done. When oppression goes on long enough, hope wanes, and people can even start to believe what is said about them. One of the best ways to combat this is to demonstrate how people are succeeding in spiteof what society might say–for example, with the many moments of Black excellence.

So let’s keep it going! We all know someone who’s brilliant, who’s hard working, who’s committed an act of extreme kindness, who’s done something special. Respond to this piece with your own story about an amazing Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color you know, an immigrant or an exceptional LGBTQ individual. Now is a great time to recognize them!

Love one another.

Sherry Kappel
OHF Weekly Managing Editor

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