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Q&A: The Lady King of Otuam
Before being chosen as ruler of her Ghanaian hometown, King Peggy was merely Peggielene Bartels, secretary.
March 6th, 2012
07:00 AM ET

Q&A: The Lady King of Otuam

By Stephanie Siek, CNN

(CNN) – Imagine receiving a call in the middle of the night, announcing that you had been elected ruler of a hometown you had never lived in, only visited. Now imagine that town is on another continent, thousands of miles away.

That scenario became real for Peggielene Bartels, who was chosen to become nana, or king, of her home village of Otuam, Ghana in 2008. Lady King Peggy, as she is known, was the niece of the late king, but never dreamed that she was even in the running – after all, Otuam had never had a female ruler.

But as a blood relative of the previous king, her name was one on a list of 25 who were eligible for the position. Rituals intended to divine the will of her ancestors indicated that she was their choice. Elders had poured a cup of alcohol to the ground, while saying the names of the candidates. When her name was called, the liquid steamed instead of soaking into the ground – a clear sign that she was the chosen leader. Not long after that came the phone call that changed her life.

Now she's telling her story in a recently released autobiography, "King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village," written with Eleanor Herman.

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Navajo Nation sues Urban Outfitters for alleged trademark infringement
Urban Outfitters specializes in bohemian fashion, but their appropriation of Native American designs has resulted in a lawsuit.
March 2nd, 2012
04:57 PM ET

Navajo Nation sues Urban Outfitters for alleged trademark infringement

By Stephanie Siek, CNN

 (CNN) – The Navajo Nation is suing hipster clothing and accessories retailer Urban Outfitters for using the Navajo name and motifs in their products without permission – a practice that they say takes away millions of dollars from the tribe and its members.

The lawsuit alleges that Urban Outfitters' use of the name "Navajo" in its products "deceives and confuses consumers" and "is designed to convey to consumers a false association or affiliation with the Navajo Nation, and to unfairly trade off the fame, reputation, and goodwill of the Navajo Nation’s name and trademarks."

One of the laws under which the tribe is seeking redress is the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, a federal law that makes it illegal for non-Indian businesses to misrepresent a product as being made by a Native American tribe or person.

"When Congress amended the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, it did so after studies showed that 'fake' Indian products were siphoning millions from the market for products created by citizens of federally recognized tribes," said Kristen Carpenter, a professor of law at the University of Colorado who specializes in Native American property rights.

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Filed under: Economy • Native Americans • Pop culture • Who we are
February 29th, 2012
07:00 AM ET

Prison bars white inmate from reading 'Slavery by Another Name,' citing security risk

By Stephanie Siek, CNN

(CNN) – The Pulitzer Prize-winning book "Slavery by Another Name: The Re-enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II," by Douglas Blackmon, tells the story of African Americans in the post-Reconstruction south who were imprisoned and forced into involuntary servitude after being convicted of trifling crimes. Now a modern-day prisoner in Alabama is suing for his right to read the book.

The lawsuit, filed in September, alleges that when officials at the Kilby Correctional Facility in Mt. Meigs, Ala. denied prisoner Mark Melvin access to the book, it was a violation of his rights to "freedom of speech, equal protection and due process." The case is currently in the discovery phase.

The Alabama Department of Corrections declined comment for this story, citing the pending litigation. In their answer to the lawsuit, they admitted that Melvin had been denied access to the book, but denied any violation of his rights.

The Department said the book was in violation of its rules about what kind of reading material can be sent to inmates – namely that "the book, its title, its contents and/or its pictures could be used (or misused) by the plaintiff or other inmates to incite violence or disobedience within the institution." They also noted that the book, which describes the forced labor of African Americans in detail, "could also be used (or misused) in a manner which is inconsistent with legitimate peneological objectives, for instance the rehabilitation of inmates through prison work details and/or the inculcation of a work ethic."

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Filed under: Black in America • Discrimination • History • Race • What we think
'Key & Peele': The color of funny
Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele plumb the depths of race, stereotypes and silliness in their "Comedy Central" show.
February 24th, 2012
03:32 PM ET

'Key & Peele': The color of funny

By Stephanie Siek, CNN

(CNN) – Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are self-deprecating and triumphantly nerdy, and in the first season of their Comedy Central show, they're proving there's not just one way to be black and funny.

"Key & Peele," which airs at 10:30 p.m. Tuesdays on Comedy Central, combines elements of stand-up, sketch comedy and improvisation. It was  just picked up for a second season on the cable channel.

Peele, whose father is black, was raised by his white mother in New York City. Key is also biracial, and was adopted by a black man and his white wife and raised in Detroit. And being biracial has definitely influenced their comedy.

Although Peele remembers growing up in a cosmopolitan, multicultural environment, Key grew up in one marked by segregation and white flight; a black city that had been a white city not so long before. He was sometimes ostracized by black classmates when they learned that his mother was white.

"For me it was very hard and rough. When you're a child, the most important thing is to be able to live a life of comfort. You want to be sure that the moon goes up at night and the sun comes up in the morning and dad comes home from work. At school it was not comfortable," Key remembers. "My mom would come by my school to bring me lunch – my mom is a cute, ruddy little white woman, and there's no category for that – the kids don't know how to respond, and so they tease: 'That ain't your mama!' 'Why you talk white?'  It's not to say that every child in grade school talked to me that way, but that's what I remember.”

Their comedic work stretches and tests the limits and definitions of what it is to be black, to be white, to be both - and to be neither.

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Report: Golden years of blacks, Latinos more likely to be tarnished by poverty
Nearly a fifth of black and Latino elders are living in poverty, says a University of California, Berkeley researcher.
February 23rd, 2012
12:47 PM ET

Report: Golden years of blacks, Latinos more likely to be tarnished by poverty

By Stephanie Siek, CNN

(CNN) – Nonwhite older Americans are more likely to suffer from poverty in retirement, according to a study released by the University of California at Berkeley's Center for Labor Research and Education.

"Black and Latino Retirement (In)Security," released Tuesday, found that the poverty rate for blacks (19.4%) and Latinos (19%) over 65 is more than twice that of the national average and nearly triple that of whites.

The report analyzes data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census' American Community Survey.

Another of the report’s findings offers a clue to why such a disparity exists – nonwhites are less likely to work for an employer who offers a retirement plan, and are also less likely to contribute to it when it is offered.

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Filed under: Age • Black in America • Census • Economy • How we live • Latino in America
Step in the right direction, but not far enough, says female veteran
Navy veteran Lani Hay says women should get credit for the de-facto combat roles they play in today's conflicts.
February 21st, 2012
03:32 PM ET

Step in the right direction, but not far enough, says female veteran

By Stephanie Siek, CNN

(CNN) – Lani Hay was just a kid when she decided on her career goal: to join the Navy, serve her country, and become a flying ace with the Navy's Blue Angels. The child of Vietnamese immigrants, Hay made it all the way to the U.S. Naval Academy before learning that a career as a Blue Angels pilot would be impossible: flying in the troupe was considered a combat role, and as a woman in the mid-1990s, she was barred from participating.

What kept her out was a policy called combat exclusion, which forbid women from being part of units that could be exposed to the dangers of the front line – direct combat, hostile fire, or capture. But the reality in conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan is that the front line is not a defined field, and women can be thrown into what is essentially a combat role at any time or place.

Hay, a veteran of intelligence and reconnaissance operations in the Persian Gulf and Kosovo, said it's time for women to get the credit they deserve for serving in what amount to combat conditions.

"To get around the Combat Exclusion Policy as written, women are being 'attached to' and not 'assigned to' battalions, as intelligence officers and communications officers for example, but they are not getting the credit for being in combat arms," said Hay. "Not allowing women the opportunity to 'get credit' for their combat experience and contributions to front-line battalions ultimately denies them choice assignments, which hinders career advancement."

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Small-scale research on Latinos and contraception is 'one piece of a bigger puzzle'
Understanding cultural circumstances can help healthcare providers tailor family planning services.
February 17th, 2012
12:39 PM ET

Small-scale research on Latinos and contraception is 'one piece of a bigger puzzle'

By Stephanie Siek, CNN

(CNN) – According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, three in ten teenage girls will become pregnant at least once before they turn 20, but for Latina girls that rate is higher – about five in ten. There are many efforts targeting that demographic, but few of them address Latinos living outside of cities or in northwestern states that have only recently begun to see an influx of Latino immigrants.

The diversity of America's Latinos – in terms of national ancestry, socioeconomic status, level of acculturation, geographic region and educational levels means that there won't be just one overarching solution for preventing unintended pregnancies. But studies like a recent one done by Oregon State University researchers S. Maria Harvey and Jocelyn Warren, which examine a tiny subset of that population, can serve as important clues.

"Characteristics Related to Effective Contraceptive Use Among a Sample of Nonurban Latinos" was one of a number of Centers for Disease Control-funded studies looking at contraception use among Latinos in rural areas. The study results reflect a relatively narrow sample, and its authors caution that it shouldn’t be used to assume too much about Latinos' sexual health decisions as a whole. But it can help focus local efforts.

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'Green Card Stories' of struggle, success
Cesar Domico, a magician from Colombia, is one of 50 immigrants profiled in “Green Card Stories.”
February 8th, 2012
06:00 AM ET

'Green Card Stories' of struggle, success

Editor's note: See more images from "Green Card Stories" and an interview with photographer Ariana Lindquist at CNN Photos.

By Stephanie Siek, CNN

(CNN) – It fits in the palm of one’s hand, but the possibilities ahead of it and the stories behind it are innumerable and diverse. It is a U.S. permanent residence card, more popularly known as a Green Card, and it confers upon the holder the right to live and work in the United States for as long as they wish, usually renewable every ten years.

"Green Card Stories," with writing by Saundra Amrhein and photography by Ariana Lindquist, delves into the life stories behind those cards. The individuals profiled reflect the incredible diversity of the United States. They come from Japan, Colombia, Mexico, Kenya, Great Britain, Vietnam, Egypt, Russia and a host of other nations. They come as students, laborers, entrepreneurs, refugees, doctors and artists. Some entered the country legally, others illegally; some through an employer, others through a spouse or relative; some in a drawn-out process studded with hardships, others relatively quickly. Many have gone on to become citizens, and for each, gaining the green card marked a monumental change in their life.

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Women of Tuskegee supported famed black pilots
Irma "Pete" Dryden served as a nurse for the Tuskegee Airmen, and later married one: Charles "A-Train" Dryden.
February 2nd, 2012
06:00 AM ET

Women of Tuskegee supported famed black pilots

By Stephanie Siek, CNN

(CNN) - As the Tuskegee Airmen fought for their place in the skies during World War II, they were supported by a dedicated and often forgotten cadre of women.

They were nurses, mechanics, supply pilots and secretaries. They nursed injured bodies and souls, packaged and repackaged parachutes, cleared land for runways and base buildings, delivered supplies and did the other work that helped keep the base running.

The Tuskegee Airmen, whose combat service is depicted in the recently released film "Red Tails," earned their place in history by being the first African-American pursuit squadron. They were charged with protecting bombers from enemy fire while flying missions over parts of Europe and North Africa. Their training program, first based at the historically black Tuskegee Institute in 1941, eventually grew to include nearly 1,000 pilots and several air bases.

It isn’t clear exactly how many women were included among the estimated 15,000 people that worked as part of the program. But Ruth Jackson, a research librarian at the Universityof California–Riverside, said her research confirms at least 41 women were nurses. The university houses a large archive of material related to the Tuskegee Airmen, and Jackson has been collecting oral histories from many of the female personnel.

"They believed very strongly, just the way the men did, that it was ridiculous for the barriers to exist, and for the military to have believed that African-Americans were not intelligent enough or brave enough to fly," Jackson said. "They were very much devoted to the cause and the success of the experience. They felt very special to be a part of it, as a matter of fact."

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New York state university officials support financial aid for undocumented students
The SUNY system is the latest to support laws that allow undocumented immigrant students to apply for financial aid.
January 27th, 2012
04:52 PM ET

New York state university officials support financial aid for undocumented students

By Stephanie Siek, CNN

(CNN) - The trustees of the State University of New York system are the latest to register their support for laws that would allow undocumented immigrant students to apply for financial aid.

The board of trustees’ resolution, passed Wednesday, joins similar gestures of support voiced by the City University of New York, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the New York State Department of Education and a number of state and federal legislators.

“The current demographic realities of New York State indicate that many of the brightest and hardest working students eligible to enroll at SUNY are of undocumented status, and it is imperative that SUNY remain accessible to these students,” Board Chairman H. Carl McCall said in a press release. “SUNY will work with stakeholders to develop sensible legislation that provides this deserved access and financial support.”

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Filed under: Economy • Education • Immigration • Where we live • Who we are
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