News stories and social media have widely reported and shared Brown’s story. Many have compared her harsh sentence to lesser ones for white juveniles since the state of Tennessee first tried her case more than 10 years ago. The latest decision was the result of an appeal to her original sentence, submitted because it is now unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life in prison.
A 2011 PBS documentary about Brown’s life and trial revealed the challenges Brown faced in her young life. The documentary shows Brown, dressed in an orange jumpsuit, hair pulled into ponytails, waiting to hear from a judge to see if she would be tried as a juvenile or adult.
Her mother was raped at age 16 by an older man and she was given up for adoption. Her adoptive father routinely inflicted physical abuse on her. At 15, she ran away and met a 23-year-old drug dealer, “Kut Throat,” who raped her and forced her into sex work.
After a disagreement with him, she left and went to a local burger place. That is where she met Allen, who asked if she was looking for “action” — meaning was she selling sex? After bartering, they agreed on $150 for the “exchange.” They went to his home, ate, had sex and remained in his bed. Allen boasted about being a former soldier and said he had multiple guns in his home. He grabbed Brown and rolled over. She feared for her life, grabbed a gun and shot him.
The recent ruling seems even harsher in light of the fact that the United States Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to give juveniles mandatory life sentences without parole. According to the Tennessee Supreme Court, Brown’s sentence falls within the parameters of the constitution because she is eligible for parole once she turns 67.
The girls I spoke with often experienced abuse in their homes. They ran away to escape the abuse. They spoke about being left no choice but to engage in high-risk behavior, including shoplifting, hitchhiking or soliciting. They were vulnerable prey for older predators who began “relationships” with them, exchanging sex for access to clothes, food and shelter. Many like the ones I spoke with end up behind bars.
Tragically, the experience of marginalized girls in the U.S. and Canada are eerily similar. The tragic stories of Cyntoia Brown and Tina Fontaine, a young Indigenous girl whose body was found in the Red River on Aug. 17, 2014, have parallel issues despite the roughly 2,000 kilometers between Nashville and Winnipeg where they lived.
A recent study by the Vera Institute found that approximately 66 per cent of incarcerated women in the United States are women of color — and 86 per cent of them have experienced sexual violence, often at the hands of an intimate partner or caretaker. Additionally, 79 per cent of these women care for children. Almost all incarcerated women included in the Vera Institute study lived in poverty.
These findings are confirmed by other classic and contemporary research done with incarcerated women. What is staggering is that 82 per cent of women are incarcerated for non-violent offenses like shoplifting or using drugs.
In short, inequality, a lack of essential services and supports geared toward women help contribute to tragedy for so many poor, young women.
Researchers, politicians and leaders need to address the root issues that hurt poor, young, women in jail. These issues include increasing poverty, abuse in the home, a lack of social services, inadequate education and the fact that many youth in the wealthiest countries like the U.S. and Canada still do not have access to three meals a day, a safe home, clean water and reliable transportation.
As others have accurately pointed out on social media this week, white men and women who commit crimes in the U.S. are given lighter sentences compared to people of color. Jeffrey Epstein, a 54-year-old accused of trafficking underage girls, received a 13-month prison term. Brock Turner raped an unconscious woman and was sentenced to six months in jail. Teen Ethan Couch ran over and killed four people and injured several others while driving drunk and received no jail time.
In contrast, Brown’s life is effectively ruined. Tennessee law has since changed, prompted by Brown’s case. That means minors can no longer be sentenced to life in prison. But that law does not apply to Brown, who must wait until she is 67 before she can go before a parole board.
New Jersey’s athletic association said Saturday that a referee who told a high school wrestler to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit, which drew ire from an Olympian, the state’s governor and many others, won’t be assigned to any matches until the incident is reviewed.
Michael Cherenson, spokesman for the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, said the organization had reached out to groups that assign referees “and they’ve all agreed” not to assign Alan Maloney to any event until further notice.
Buena Regional High School wrestler Andrew Johnson, who is black, had a cover over his hair Wednesday night during a match. But Maloney, who is white, said that wouldn’t do. An SNJ Today reporter tweeted a video of Johnson getting his hair cut minutes before the match. Johnson went on to win but appeared visibly distraught.
The video was shared widely on social media, with users calling the incident “racist,” ”cruel” and “humiliating.”
Jordan Burroughs, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist and four-time world champion, posted and spoke on social media early Saturday about the incident, saying he had never seen anything like it in a quarter-century of wrestling.
“This is nonsense,” a message on Burroughs’ Twitter account said. “My opinion is that this was a combination of an abuse of power, racism, and just plain negligence.” In a video posted on Instagram, he criticized parents and coaching staff at the match for not intervening, calling it “absolutely shameful.”
Burroughs called Johnson “courageous” for his performance in the match despite “all of the adversity and racism that you were facing in the moment.” The fellow southern New Jersey wrestler said Maloney had been the referee for some of his high school matches growing up.
Gov. Phil Murphy weighed in on the issue on Twitter, saying he was “deeply disturbed” by the story.
“No student should have to needlessly choose between his or her identity and playing sports,” he said.
The state attorney general’s office has confirmed an investigation by the Division on Civil Rights. The school superintendent said in a letter to the community that they support and stand by all student athletes.
Maloney came under fire in 2016 for using a racial slur against a black referee, according to the Courier Post newspaper. Maloney told the newspaper he did not remember making the comments. After the incident was reported, he agreed to participate in sensitivity training and an alcohol awareness program. A one-year suspension was overturned.
A woman answering the phone Friday at a listed number for Maloney said the ordeal is being blown out of proportion and the referee was simply following rules.
A rare bipartisan deal in Congress to overhaul federal sentencing laws passed after a few black ministers, leaders and lawmakers forged an alliance with President Donald Trump, who some have condemned as racist for the last two years.
The reforms could offer a path to freedom for hundreds of black and Latino inmates who were sent to prison by a justice system that critics say has long been stacked against minorities.
“It’s like threading a needle politically,” said Marc Morial, the National Urban League’s president and CEO. “It’s been very delicate to get us to the point where we are right now.”
Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland, still gets questions from fellow African-Americans asking him why he and other conservative black ministers went to the White House over the summer to talk about the issue with Trump.
“People are still mad at us about that,” Jackson said.
But the end result could be worth it to address what Jackson called “the defining civil rights issue of this era,” even as detractors complain that the legislation did not go far enough and could invite new problems for minority communities.
The bill, which is expected to go to Trump soon for his signature, gives judges more discretion when sentencing some drug offenders and expands prisoner rehabilitation efforts. It also reduces the life sentence for some drug offenders with three convictions, or “three strikes,” to 25 years.
Another provision would allow about 2,600 federal prisoners sentenced for crack cocaine offenses before August 2010 the opportunity to petition for a reduced penalty.
That will be a win for minorities who were caught up in a sentencing system that made crack cocaine a more serious offense than other types of cocaine, said New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, a potential Democratic presidential candidate in 2020.
“When you correct an injustice in a biased system, it dramatically helps the marginalized people,” Booker said. “That provision alone, 96 percent of the people who are helped by that, are black or Latino.”
Among the advocates of the legislation was a diverse and unlikely group that included presidential adviser Jared Kushner, Kim Kardashian West, the National Urban League, black ministers and minority lawmakers and libertarian-leaning conservatives.
Some of the bill’s advocates say it was a tough decision to work with a White House that is deeply unpopular with black people. More than 8 in 10 African-Americans said they thought Trump was racist in a February poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
But even the supporters say they know this legislation is only the beginning, as reflected by its name, the First Step Act.
Groups such as the NAACP cheered the passage of the bill but also harbored reservations.
The legislation “offers some important improvements to the current federal criminal justice system, but it falls short of providing the meaningful change that is required to make the system genuinely fair,” said Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington bureau.
The bill only affects the federal system, meaning anyone given harsh sentences at the state and local level will have no recourse. Those inmates make up the bulk of people behind bars across America.
Blacks constitute 38 percent — or about 68,000 — of the more than 180,000 inmates in the federal prison population, according to the Bureau of Prisons. Hispanics make up 32 percent — or about 58,000 — of federal prison inmates, with about 122,000 non-Hispanics in federal prison.
Some groups say the bill will open the door to increased surveillance of minority communities through electronic monitoring of released inmates. Others point out limitations in the bill on which federal prisoners will benefit from its changes.
The Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of more than 150 black-led organizations, called the legislation “custom-made for rich white men.”
“All of the carve-outs make the vast majority of our people ineligible for the benefits of the bill,” the group said.
Even with the limits, the bill’s advocates are thrilled to have made progress on an issue where reform has remained elusive for more than a decade. Jackson said any president willing to talk about even minor changes should be worked with.
“I believe with all my heart, if Dr. Martin Luther King was alive, he would have been in that meeting,” Jackson said. “And he would have been advocating for the voiceless instead of playing politics and personality games.”
Given how often public schools fail black children, the allure of a “college prep” school – even if it is in a nontraditional school environment – becomes easy to understand. A school like that is seen not only as an alternative to the regular public schools but as the doorway to the most elite educational institutions of higher education in the nation – and all that earning a degree from one of those institutions entails.
Gateway to elite schools
And so it was with T.M. Landry College Prep – an independent private school located in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. The school doesn’t list race or ethnicity in its student profile. However, promotional materials and news reports suggest the majority of the student body is black.
The school began to garner widespread attention in 2017 after students and school officials posted a series of videos of Landry students being accepted into some of the nation’s top colleges and universities – including Ivy League schools. The image of elated black students clad in college sweatshirts as they learned they had been accepted into the likes of Harvard and Yale made for striking theater.
T.M. Landry had seemingly cemented its status as a model school for black students who hail from families that were struggling to make ends meet.
Beset by allegations
Unfortunately, it now appears that this dream school was actually a nightmare.
As reported by The New York Times, the husband-and-wife co-founders of the school – Michael and Tracey Landry – allegedly falsified student transcripts and exaggerated or lied about students’ life stories in order to make them more attractive to college admission committees looking to diversify their student bodies.
People are rightly incensed about what the students at T.M. Landry reportedly had to endure.
Beyond the allegations of abuse, there were also academic practices that raise serious questions about T.M. Landry’s approach to educational success. For instance, the high school students spent an excessive amount of time on ACT practice tests – “day after day,” according to The New York Times.
“If it wasn’t on the ACT, I didn’t know it,” Bryson Sassau, a T.M. Landry student who took the ACT three times, told The New York Times as he lamented how ill prepared he was for college.
Rethinking education’s purpose
But even if Sassou and his fellow students at Landry had been prepared for college, would that necessarily make T.M. Landry a good school for black students?
As one of many scholars who studies the interplay of race, culture and education, I believe the true measure of a school’s worth is not the extent to which its students get accepted into elite institutions. But rather, I’d measure a school by the degree to which it inspires students to engage in collective efforts to improve the human condition.
In fairness, T.M. Landry College Prep’s creed includes a line that states: “Commitment to the betterment of self and society as a whole.” The degree to which the school infused that into its daily coursework is questionable.
Educational researcher Gloria Ladson-Billings has questioned the overemphasis on test scores. She has stressed the need reframe the way society thinks about education – to go from focusing on the so-called “achievement gap” to an “education debt” that reflects how much more should be invested in the education of children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. I have stressed the need to focus not on achievement gaps but rather on “opportunity gaps” that show inequities in systems, structures and practices, among other factors, that can prevent children from reaching their potential.
Given the unique history that evolves from America’s “peculiar institution” – slavery – and the many ways in which it has impacted black identity, education must also equip black students with knowledge and skills they need to analyze, critique, question and write about the ways in which they’ve been miseducated.
Even at its best – that is, even if the school wasn’t facing allegations of abuse or that it doctored student transcripts and came up with fake sob stories to get them into college – if the school’s focus was primarily concerned with test prep, T.M. Landry was not a truly transformative school that black students need and deserve.
True transformative schools don’t just work to help black students better fit into the existing educational and social system. They don’t want to just contribute another “beat the odds” story about how so called “merit” and “hard work” can help them overcome centuries and decades of class and race inequity and oppression.
Education, on the other hand, is an emancipatory process of lifelong learning that enables students to study and read the broader society and work to disrupt injustice.
Schools like T.M. Landry that just want to “school” black students well enough to get into the Ivy Leagues so that they can earn a degree, acquire material things and the trappings of success – all the while fitting into the existing power structure – are problematic. Such schools may appeal to black families because of their negative experiences in traditional public schools, but they don’t really enable students to challenge the status quo.
Indeed, as Audre Lorde has argued, the “master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” And as James Baldwin has stressed in his famous “Talk to Teachers,” during these times of anti-blackness, racism, xenophobia and discrimination writ large, it is time to “go for broke” in order to teach black children to break out of the existing social order. In order to do that, educators must radically shift what education is – and who decides what counts as academic and social success.
As of the publication of this article, the school’s co-founders, Michael and Tracey Landry, had stepped down from the school’s board but will continue to teach at the school.
Convenience stores contribute or collect more than $1 billion to charities annually, according to a national survey of retailers released last week by the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS).
Overall, 95% of convenience stores support charitable causes, with 66% of these stores supporting five or more charitable causes. Nearly all companies support local charities (91%) such as church groups, shelters, food banks and other non-sports groups. And approximately half of all retailers (47%) also support national charities. Also, more than three in four retailers (76%) contribute to youth sports groups and more than two-thirds (69%) contribute to local schools via PTAs and other fundraising activities.
In addition, convenience stores also contribute to local charities during specific times of need. Four in five convenience store companies (75%) say they’ve made donations when there was a specific emergency or crisis in the community.
The median charitable contribution per store is $3,925 in direct contributions and $3,054 in donations collected. Cumulatively, the nearly 155,000 convenience stores in the United States contribute or collect $1.03 billion a year to benefit charitable groups.
“We often say in our industry that ‘c-store’ doesn’t just stand for convenience store; it stands for community store and these results clearly demonstrate the commitment our industry has to the communities they serve,” said Jeff Lenard, NACS vice president of strategic industry initiatives.
Convenience retailers noted that their locations in communities also make them convenient places for groups to hold events: 61% allow their property to be used by local groups for fundraising events, whether car washes, cookie sales or direct fundraising.
More than three in four (76%) retailers also say they make local product/food donations to food banks and other groups to support those in need; of this group, 67% donate food and 76% donate beverages.
“Being a small, local chain, we like to keep our charitable giving to local organizations, where our customers know the people it is benefiting and can see their donations at work,” said Dennis McCartney with Landhope Farms (Kennett Square, PA).
A total of 90 NACS retail member companies participated in the association’s Q4 2018 Retailer Sentiment Survey that featured questions about charitable giving.
NACS advances the role of convenience stores as positive economic, social and philanthropic contributors to the communities they serve. The U.S. convenience store industry, with more than 154,000 stores nationwide selling fuel, food and merchandise, serves 165 million customers daily—half of the U.S. population—and has sales that are 10.8% of total U.S. retail and foodservice sales. NACS has 2,100 retailer and 1,750 supplier member companies from more than 50 countries.
In the guise of helping pastors, parents, and teachers “understand” and “reach out” to Generation Z, this book showcases the very problems it tells readers to avoid. White chides church leaders for clinging to the models of previous generations (door-to-door evangelism, large events) even while demonstrating a remarkable tone deafness to the deeper concerns of this generation (racism, homophobia, violence in schools, and the list goes on).
White begins the book by drawing on standard research from Pew, Gallup, and Barna to demonstrate the scope of the problem—young adults going AWOL from religion if they ever had religion in the first place. So far, so good as books go; White can be a clear and effective writer when he’s not lazily quoting his own previous books ad nauseam.
And then things get vague. The church needs to be “countercultural,” he asserts, but he has an easier time telling us what this isn’t than what it is. It’s not the Benedict Option, in which Christians withdraw from society and politics; it’s not fundamentalism, which is a thoroughgoing rejection of the modern world; it’s not the tactic of the religious right, which is to politicize the bejesus out of faith.
Instead, countercultural means for “the church to be the church” and “truly Christlike.” Which is nice, but tells us nothing.
I’d be more likely to give White the benefit of the doubt about counterculturalism if he weren’t showing on every page that his Christianity is not, in fact, countercultural. It’s bowing to a very specific 1950s American Christianity. So it’s “countercultural” by the measures of today, but not in a good way.
Consider what he has to say about women. To reach Generation Z, he tells readers, it’s important to “target men” first and foremost. His church (which he reminds us many times has been successfully growing despite the godless landscape of . . . um, North Carolina, the nation’s tenth-most-religious state) “unashamedly” puts men first in its marketing materials, sermons, music choices, and décor.
What does it mean to target men? It means you think about male sensibilities in terms of music and message, vocabulary and style. . . . When I give a message, I talk like a man talks, specifically, the way a man talks with other men. Direct and maybe a little rough around the edges. But men talk football, not fashion. So I cater to a man’s humor, his interests, his world, his way of thinking, his questions. (148)
If you can reach men, he says, women and children will follow (“if you get the man, you get everyone else within his orbit”).
There are some real problems with this argument. First, this is supposed to be a book about reaching people in their teens and early twenties. One of the major shifts in American culture is that many adults are delaying marriage until their 30s or not getting married at all. So this whole evangelistic focus on older men with wives and children totally ignores the demographic we purchased this book to learn more about.
Second, he never thinks to challenge the patriarchal structure that would dictate that if you can get a man to church, his wife and children will automatically and obediently follow: If it worked in America in the 1950s, by golly, it’s surely good enough for us now!
What’s especially myopic about that lack of self-awareness is that this is supposed to be a book about “understanding” Generation Z. But this is a generation that can sniff out inequality and white male privilege like a basset hound, God bless them. They care about diversity and inclusion, even to the point where they don’t want to work for companies that don’t share those values.
Why, then, would White assume Gen Zers would fall in line with churches that so obviously disregard gender equality? If they won’t be associated with the old boys’ club when they’re getting a paycheck for it, why would they do so on their own time?
Third, the advice to “target men” may be having the opposite long-term effect from what White wants, which is more butts in the pews. There’s solid longitudinal evidence that young women are now leaving religion at even higher rates than young men—which is a reversal from previous generations. This exodus is likely due to many factors, but it’s not hard to imagine that enduring a childhood of sermons that drew proudly upon hypermasculine football metaphors and assumptions that women were considered less important may play a part. Just thinking out loud here.
It’s not just in this particularly egregious “target men” section that White’s lack of concern for women is made clear; it’s pervasive in the book’s citations and assumptions. He quotes or mentions five men for every woman (yes, I counted). And almost everyone he quotes, male or female, is white. He gives the obligatory nod to MLK, and then . . . nothing. As though African Americans have had little of value to say in 50 years.
We have to do better than this. And doing better begins with an activity White doesn’t seem to have engaged in much: listening to Generation Z directly.
Talking less and learning more.
Not just calling them to account for their generational sins, but being sensitive to the way they rightly call bullshit on their elders.