by Alicia W. Stewart, CNN In America Editor
(CNN) - It's not often that we toot our own horn, so please allow us a moment.
In America's race, identity and politics series won second place in the Series/Project category from the Society for Features Journalism 25th annual Excellence in Feature Writing Contest.
Moni Basu, John Blake, Jen Christensen and Todd Leopold wrote stories that explored race, identity and politics ahead of the 2012 presidential election.
Read their award-winning pieces:
The optics of politics: Seeing campaigns through a multicultural kaleidoscope
Last white House Democratic congressman in the Deep South fights for political survival
Civil rights icon fighting for change one registered voter at a time
Parallels to country's racist past haunt age of Obama
We are honored for the recognition and so grateful to our readers: Thank you.
See the full list of winners here.
By Alexander Mooney, CNN White House Producer
(CNN) – Seeking to ignite congressional movement on immigration reform, President Obama said Monday he expects the Senate to take significant action on the issue next month.
"I expect a bill to be put forward. I expect the debate to begin next month. I want to sign that bill into law as soon as possible," Obama said at a naturalization ceremony at the White House.
"We are making progress, but we've got to finish the job," Obama said.FULL STORY
By Halimah Abdullah, CNN
Washington (CNN) - Republican K. Carl Smith is African-American and he knows that the GOP's racial reckoning won't come from 100-page reports from party headquarters with carefully worded prescriptions about "outreach" to "demographic partners."
Instead, the type of sea change needed to shake the GOP's image as a party of old, white and culturally-insulated men will require the type of profound grassroots shakeup that might make some in the GOP uneasy.
"You got your establishment Republicans who want to keep things the same," said Smith, an Army veteran who grew up in Alabama during the Civil Rights era. "The status quo needs to go through some, I won't say diversity classes, but I'll say liberty classes and learn about helping people on the bottom of the ladder."
He said the party also has to deal with small but noisy elements that co-opt any message of inclusiveness if it wants to win the "propaganda battle."FULL STORY
Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking with Grease." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.
By Donna Brazile, CNN Contributor
(CNN) - Politicians and historians love to use the word "crossroads."
It's become as American, and cliched, as "Mom's apple pie." The historian Shelby Foote, wrote, "The Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things. ... It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads."
I have been thinking about the word, because this year's Black History Month theme is "At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington." Two pivotal events that shaped modern American history.
A "crossroads" is literally the intersection of two or more roads - two or more paths to get to the same place. Metaphorically, it refers to the place - the moment - of a critical decision. Shall we go forward together? Shall we separate? Shall we fight?
We mark history's crossroads not by road signs but by the documents that identify them. The Declaration of Independence is certainly one. Who has not memorized the opening of the second paragraph? "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."FULL STORY
By Moni Basu, CNN
Ashburn, Virginia (CNN) - The alternating red and blue yard signs are long gone, and people here have gone back to familiar rhythms of life. Long morning commutes, after school soccer games and maybe a family dinner at Clyde's Willow Creek Farm.
But, as Barack Obama begins his second term, the air is decidedly unchanged in this northern Virginia community of tidy subdivisions and endless rows of townhouses.
After a viciously fought, pavement-pounding political campaign, the people are left divided, the gulf between them wide like the grassy medians that separate left and right sides of the roads that lead to the nation's capital.
There is the reliably Republican old Ashburn. Some of those folks remember lush fields and woods brimming with redbuds and ash. Legend has it the place took its name from an old ash struck by lightning so hard that it smoldered for a week.
There is the new divided Ashburn that looks like America's new normal. An explosion of growth in the last two decades turned this place from a largely white conservative constituency to one that is darker-skinned and comprised of more professional women. They call themselves progressive thinkers and are a big reason that Obama in 2008 became the first Democrat to win here - and in the state of Virginia - since Lyndon B. Johnson's victory in 1964.
This time, the commonwealth again hung in the balance. Loudoun County was a battleground within a battleground. Ashburn was its epicenter.
In the end, Obama took Virginia with 51% of the vote to Mitt Romney's 47%, but Obama won in Ashburn's nine precincts by a mere 212 votes. In the Belmont Ridge precinct, the difference was six votes. That's how close it was here.
The people in Ashburn hold widely differing visions of how to steer America in the next four years, but they are tired of the partisan bickering in the halls of power in Washington. They wonder what happened to the voices of reason, the voices of moderation.
About eight in 10 people see partisan divide as the largest conflict among Americans, according to a Pew Research Center survey released last week.
Mitt Romney and Barack Obama entered the room a lot more than I thought they would. We're not feeling confident as a nation that we're doing well. - Mike Oberschneider
As Obama takes the inaugural oath Monday, the wish from divided Ashburn is voiced in unison: Mr. President, they say, "We want you to work with Congress. We want you to fix America."FULL STORY
By Ashley Killough, CNN
(CNN) – As President Barack Obama finalizes his cabinet picks heading into his second term, some are pointing to a noted lack of diversity among the select group.
And Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel says "it's embarrassing as hell." The congressman from New York pulled no punches Thursday when he chided the White House for not picking more women and minorities for the top level positions.
"The questions I've heard are fair," he said on MSNBC. "The record does speak for itself."
Obama will nominate Jack Lew, his chief of staff, for Treasury Secretary on Thursday, and CNN has learned the likely contenders for his replacement at the White House are all men. This comes days after the president nominated former Sen. Chuck Hagel for Defense Secretary, Sen. John Kerry for Secretary of State, and John Brennan, chief homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, to lead the CIA.Read the full post on CNN's Political Ticker blog
By Jim Acosta, CNN National Political Correspondent
Washington (CNN) - The newly sworn-in 113th Congress is the most diverse group of representatives in history, reflecting changing demographics and changing public attitudes.
98 women, 43 African-Americans, 31 Latinos, 12 Asian-American and Pacific Islanders, and seven gay and bisexual members are now new members of the House and Senate. Plus, there is the first Buddhist member in the Senate and Hindu member in the House of Representatives.
“It means that we reflect America more,” said newly elected Rep. Tammy Duckwork, an Illinois Democrat. “And it is good to see Congress starting to look more like the rest of America.” FULL POST
Editor's note: Jeffrey Toobin is a senior legal analyst for CNN and a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine, where he covers legal affairs. He is the author of "The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court."
By Jeffrey Toobin, CNN Senior Legal Analyst
(CNN) - How much has the South changed?
That's the question at the heart of one of the most important cases the Supreme Court will take up this year.
The case weighs the fate of one of the most important laws in American history: the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A century after the Civil War, Congress created that law to give African Americans the right to vote, not just on paper, but in fact.
The key provision was Section 5, which decreed that jurisdictions with histories of discrimination, mostly in the South, had to get Justice Department approval before they changed any aspect of their voting rules, right down to the location of polling places. There is little doubt that, in the years immediately after 1965, the Voting Rights Act achieved a revolution in voting rights for African-Americans in the South. In subsequent years, Congress has reauthorized the law several times, most recently in 2006.
Increasingly, covered jurisdictions have found the process of submitting their changes to the Justice Department, which is known as "pre-clearance," as a demeaning anachronism, and Shelby County, Alabama, went to court to argue that the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional. The court will hear the case, Shelby County v. Holder, early next year.FULL STORY
Editor's note: Editor’s Note: Ray Salazar is a National Board Certified English teacher in the Chicago Public Schools. He writes about education and Latino issues on the White Rhino Blog. Follow him on Twitter @whiterhinoray.
By Ray Salazar, Special to CNN
(CNN) - Finally, Republicans and Democrats know that they need more than mariachis playing behind them to win the Latino vote. By now, almost everyone heard about the Latino influence this presidential election.
The signs were everywhere. Maybe this is the 2012 cosmic event predicted by the Mayan calendar. Now, President Obama must recognize Latino views as he moves forward with economic recovery and immigration policy and farther with education reform.
None of the parties should have been surprised by the Latino vote. On October 7, CNN’s “Latino in America: Courting the Latino Vote” reported that more than 60,000 Latinos turn 18 each month across the country, and we care about more than immigration. When Latinos were given a choice between what’s more important, immigration or the economy, 74% chose the economy.
Obama’s modified DREAM Act did, though, help secure 71% of the Latino vote. Romney’s unclear view of immigration reform contributed to only 27% of his Latino vote.
More notably, the Latino vote for Obama exceeded the national Latino average in some battleground states: 87% in Colorado, 80% in Nevada and 82% in Ohio.
These votes indicate that the conversations need to change. For too long, education reform remained a black and white issue, racially and politically. Our educational system as is does not work, especially not for Latinos. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the Latino dropout rate is almost double that of African-Americans and about three times higher than that of whites.Read Ray Salazar's full column