By Moni Basu, CNN
(CNN) – At 7, Analouisa Valencia was crowned Palmetto Princess in Spartanburg, South Carolina. She relished it - and like a lot of little girls, she dreamed of becoming Miss America one day.
In a few months, Valencia, now 19, will take the stage for the Miss South Carolina contest, hoping for victory and a chance to compete for the coveted national title.
But she's no ordinary contestant. She will mark a first in her conservative home state.
Valencia's father is from Mexico; her mother, an African-American. Valencia came out as a lesbian when she was in the ninth grade and took her girlfriend Tamyra Bell to her high school prom.
She was already shredding stereotypes of beauty pageants because she's biracial. But a lesbian beauty pageant contestant from South Carolina?
"I just really wanted to be an advocate for equality for everyone this year," she says on the phone before heading off to classes at Spartanburg Community College. She eventually wants to earn a business degree at the University of South Carolina.
Her participation in the Miss South Carolina contest is in part a human rights campaign: she is promoting rights for people with special needs (she coaches Special Olympics gymnasts), for racial minorities, for gay people.
She has already thought about her answers if the judges question her on this score. She will be perfectly open and honest about who she is, about their opinions.
"I want to show the judges who I really am," she says. "I want to show them how passionate I am about my platform, how passionate I am for being an advocate for equality."
South Carolina ranks low nationally on LGBT rights. It bans same-sex marriage, does not afford employment, housing or hate-crime protections for LGBT people and has unconstitutional sodomy laws still on the books.
For Valencia to make a run for Miss South Carolina is "courageous," says Ryan Wilson, the executive director of the South Carolina Equality Coalition, a statewide LGBT civil rights group.
"I think it takes a lot of courage for any young person to live openly and authentically. We are extremely proud of Analouisa," Wilson says.
He says beauty pageant contestants can be stereotyped, but they can often afford young women a chance to show leadership.
"She can be a role model for LGBT youth," Wilson says.
There hasn't been negative feedback, Valencia says. So far.
But she's prepared to cope with ugliness if it surfaces. For the time being, she's enjoying her title of Miss Lyman, her hometown just a few miles from Spartanburg.
She's been taking voice lessons every Friday. At the Miss South Carolina pageant in July, she will sing Leona Lewis' "Footprints in the Sand." She's confident she will make an impression.
By Moni Basu, CNN
(CNN) – Bob Teague, one of New York's first black television reporters, has died. He was 84.
His former employers WNBC and The New Tork Times reported that Teague died Thursday. His wife, Jan, told the Times that he lost his battle with T-cell lymphoma.
Teague left the Times to join WNBC in 1963. In its April 18 issue that year, Jet magazine noted that with Teague's hiring, all three television networks had pulled even with “negro newswriters." Mal Goode was at ABC and Ben Holman at CBS.
WNBC remembered him Friday as being "smart, competitive and driven."
The Times said Teague "established a reputation for finding smart, topical stories and delivering them in a sophisticated manner."
Teague was often dispatched to minority neighborhoods to cover mounting racial tensions of the '60s, the Times said. In July 1963, he reported on riots for an hourlong program called “Harlem: Test for the North."
He later became a critic of TV news, calling it too superficial. Teague thought the broadcast world had become "too focused on the appearance of reporters and anchors," the Times said.
Teague was born in Milwaukee and attended the University of Wisconsin, where in 1948, he and Cal Vernon became the first African-Americans to play regularly on the varsity football team. He was a star player but gave up offers to play professional football for a reporting job at The Milwaukee Journal, according to the Times.
Teague was considered a pioneer in the broadcast world and served as a role model for journalists of color.
Send us your thoughts and memories of author Chinua Achebe on iReport.
By Laura Smith-Spark and Faith Karimi, CNN
(CNN) - Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, acclaimed in part for his groundbreaking 1958 novel "Things Fall Apart," has died, his British publisher, Penguin Books, said Friday.
He was 82.
An author of more than 20 books, his honors included the 2007 Man Booker International Prize for Fiction.
He was also accorded his country's highest award for intellectual achievement, the Nigerian National Merit Award.
Achebe is a major part of African literature, and is popular all over the continent for his novels, especially "Anthills of the Savannah," which was itself shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1987, and "Things Fall Apart."
The latter was required reading in countless high schools and colleges in the continent, and has been translated into dozens of languages.
Set in precolonial Nigeria, "Things Fall Apart" portrays the story of a farmer, Okonkwo, who struggles to preserve his customs despite pressure from British colonizers. The story resonated in post-independent Africa, and the character became a household name in the continent.
Achebe's stories included proverbs and tackled complex issues of African identity, nationalism and decolonization, adding to his books' popularity.FULL STORY
By Holly Yan and Vivian Kuo, CNN
(CNN) - Terrilynn Monette had no problem uprooting her life to help children.
When the California native learned of the "teachNOLA" program, which sends educators to New Orleans to teach in impoverished areas, she packed her bags and headed to Louisiana.
"I always wanted to be a teacher, and what better place to teach than New Orleans, where passionate teachers are needed most?" Monette said in a 2011 video.
Her dedication and excellence in the classroom earned her a "Teacher of the Year" nomination in her district.
But after a night celebrating the accolade with friends, the 26-year-old vanished.
That was almost two weeks ago. With each passing day, her family's anxiety compounds.
"There's total emptiness in my life right now. I miss my daughter so, so much, no one can hardly believe the impact that she has had on our family," said Monette's mother, Toni Enclade.
"She's a beautiful person. She walks in the room, she lights up with her beautiful smile. I can't imagine anyone that would take her away from us."
Hundreds of volunteers and police have scoured New Orleans, but are no closer to finding Monette.
She left no clues behind.FULL STORY
(CNN) -- A French magazine apologizes for using a white model in black face for an editorial called "African Queen."
(CNN) - As Black History Month draws to a close, we highlight African Americans in the arts, science and business who have carried on the legacy of past innovators in their fields. Click through the photo gallery for more examples.
Zora Neale Hurston, right, is lauded as one of the most important writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Her work as an author was strongly influenced by her anthropological studies of the Caribbean and the American South. Today, director Ava DuVernay carries on the tradition of mixing art with cultural documentation. Her award-winning film, "Middle of Nowhere," follows the struggles of an African-American woman whose husband is incarcerated.FULL STORY
(CNNMoney) - The wealth gap between blacks and whites has nearly tripled over the past 25 years, due largely to inequality in home ownership, income, education and inheritances, according to a new study by Brandeis University.
That type of inequality can be a drag on economic growth for everyone, said Thomas Shapiro, director of the university's Institute on Assets and Social Policy, which conducted the research.
The difference in wealth between typical households in each racial group ballooned to $236,500 in 2009, up from $85,000 in 1984, according to the study, released Wednesday. By 2009, the median net worth of white families was $265,000, while blacks had only $28,500.
Brandeis researchers looked at the same set of 1,700 families over the 25-year period to see how their actual work and school experiences affected their wealth accumulation.
What they found is that home ownership is driving the growing gap. Price appreciation is more limited in non-white neighborhoods, making it harder for blacks to build equity. Also, because whites are more likely to have family financial assistance for down payments, they are able to buy homes an average of eight years earlier than black families and to put down larger upfront payments that lower interest rates and mortgage costs.
The home ownership rate for whites is 28% higher than that of blacks.FULL STORY
Editor’s Note: Eric Deggans serves as TV/media critic for the Tampa Bay Times, and is the author of "Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation," a look at how prejudice, racism and sexism fuels some elements of modern media.
By Eric Deggans, Special to CNN
(CNN) - One year after an explosion of press attention made it one of the most-covered news stories in the first half of 2012, the question seems obvious:
Has the news media learned anything about covering race issues in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting?
Considering how little attention the case garners today, it is tough to remember just 12 months ago how much journalists obsessed on this story, when unarmed, African-American teen Martin was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in a Sanford, Florida, subdivision on Feb. 26, 2012.
For a time, it was second in coverage only to the presidential election, as Martin’s family pressed a reluctant Sanford police department and Florida prosecutors to arrest Zimmerman for fatally shooting a teenager armed only with a bag of candy and a bottle of iced tea. As condemnation of Zimmerman grew, a cadre of supporters, often in conservative media outlets, arose to decry a rush to judgment while challenging the family’s depiction of Martin as an innocent child.
Too often, news audiences seemed caught in the middle, ill-served by coverage which often seemed focused on serving the news outlet’s own priorities as much as informing the public.
Twelve months later, it may seem as if little has changed. But there are subtle lessons to be learned about the shape of modern media from the impact of the Trayvon Martin case, some that are shared in "Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation:" FULL POST