Opinion: Virginia wants to deny our family exists
Daniel Gri, right, and his husband James Abbott, left, are raising their two sons in Virginia.
February 27th, 2012
05:31 PM ET

Opinion: Virginia wants to deny our family exists

Editor’s Note: Daniel Gri and James Abbott have been a couple for more than 15 years. They had a religious commitment ceremony in 1999, and were legally married in California in 2008.  They are raising two sons, aged 14 and 12, in Virginia.

By Daniel Gri and James Abbott, Special to CNN

Our family lives in a state where our existence is about to be denied.

We certainly know who we are.  We are a loving couple raising two children. We are people of  faith. We are involved actively in conservative political causes.  And there’s no denying that friends, neighbors and even complete strangers can see who we are.  Like us or not, we’re two gay, middle-aged, white dads raising two adopted children who needed homes: one bi-racial teen and one black pre-teen.

But Virginia is now prepared to ignore us – and hundreds of loving couples like us who could provide loving and stable homes to thousands of unwanted children who are in need of homes, too.

In a few days, our state is expected to become only the second in the nation (North Dakota is the first) that will allow state-funded adoption agencies to deny us, and other qualified parents, the ability to foster or adopt children solely because of our sexual orientation.


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Filed under: Family • Politics • Relationships • Religion • Sexual orientation • What we think • Where we live
February 27th, 2012
05:12 PM ET

The Latino vote: A factor in swing states come November

Editor's note: The next Latino in America documentary focuses on Latino voters and airs in October 2012. Follow @cnnlia for more updates on other Latino in America stories.

By Rafael Romo, Senior Latin American Affairs Editor

(CNN) - If there was still any doubt about Mitt Romney's position on immigration, it was erased last Thursday during the CNN Republican presidential debate in Mesa, Arizona.

The former Michigan governor referred to Arizona's controversial HB1070 law as "a model" for the nation. The initiative approved in 2010 that cracks down on illegal immigration has been denounced by Hispanic and immigration rights groups as extreme.

Romney also said that "the right course for America is to drop these lawsuits against Arizona ... I'll also complete the (border) fence. I'll make sure we have enough border patrol agents to secure the fence and I'll make sure we have an (employment eligibility federal database) E-Verify system and require employers to check the documents of workers."

Hispanic voters won't decide Tuesday's primaries in Arizona and Michigan, because few are registered as Republicans in those states; but it will be an entirely different story during the November presidential elections.

Arizona's Hispanic voters could give the candidate of either party enough of a margin to win the state in November. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, Arizona has 766,000 eligible Hispanic voters, close to 20% of all eligible voters in the Grand Canyon state. FULL POST

February 27th, 2012
04:05 PM ET

Reporter’s Notebook: Viola Davis keeps it 'real'

Editor’s Note: Nischelle Turner is a CNN correspondent and appears on HLN's ‘Showbiz Tonight’

By Nischelle Turner, CNN

(CNN) - The day after the Academy Awards talk is usually filled with who won what, who wore what and who went to which party. But this year’s post Oscar chatter seems to be all about who kept it “real”!

The answer? “The Help’s” best actress nominee Viola Davis.

Before I even spoke to Viola on the red carpet, she caught my attention, her flawless skin poured in a form fitting, bold green Vera Wang dress, accented by a mega-watt smile.

I thought: "Wow she looks great"! Others were commenting on how great she looked too, and then I heard: “Oh my…she’s natural!”

The fascination with natural, African-American hair

I did a double take, and said: "Yes! She decided to take the wig off!"

She had worn her hair natural earlier at the Essence Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon, and when she graced the cover of LA, Los Angeles Times Magazine.

But this was the Oscars, Hollywood’s biggest night!

Viola Davis: I’ve really stepped into who I am

I thought: this is a bold move.

“My husband said, 'Be who you are,'" says Davis. "Step into who you are. [And] I really have. I felt like this project forced me to step into who I was, the choice of playing a maid in 1963 with a broken dialect, and having to defend my choice...You’ve gotta be who you are and be very confident and bold in who you are."

Her husband, Julius Tennon, told me it may look bold, but she is sending a message that it is okay to be who you are: this is just who Viola is in her everyday life.

So it’s only –excuse the pun–NATURAL.

Praise pours in for Viola Davis' natural 'do

I have covered red carpets for eight years, and it’s very rare to see black women in Hollywood wearing their hair natural. Personally, as a brown girl who has had hair issues and wears a head full of weave, I was screaming for joy that this gorgeous woman who looks like me, had the courage to say to the superficial world of Hollywood: “I’m fine with who I am."

She may not have won the Oscar, but she got the “authenticity” award in my book.

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Filed under: Black in America • How we look • Pop culture • Women
Opinion: New approach by conservatives on immigration?
Hundreds of people wait to pass from Mexico into the U.S. at the border crossing at Nogales, Arizona, on December 10, 2010.
February 27th, 2012
02:39 PM ET

Opinion: New approach by conservatives on immigration?

Editor's note: Ali Noorani is executive director of the National Immigration Forum Action Fund, an organization based in Washington that advocates for the value of immigrants and immigration to the nation. Follow him on Twitter: @anoorani.

By Ali Noorani, Special to CNN

(CNN) - If you think all conservatives support a deportation-only approach to immigration, think again. Last week, hundreds of conservative evangelicals gathered in Alabama to engage in a reasonable, respectful discourse on immigration.

You read that right. Less than a year after Alabama enacted the strictest immigration law in the land, evangelical students, pastors and national faith leaders gathered at Samford University in Birmingham for "a Christ-centered conversation on immigration" called the G92 South Immigration Conference.

Following the example of Cedarville University's inaugural G92 gathering last fall in Ohio, evangelical Christians gathered in Birmingham to discuss immigration through the prism of the Bible. Instead of listening to partisan sound bites, participants looked to the word of God - specifically the 92 references to "ger," the word for "stranger," in the Old Testament alone.

Read Ali Noorani's full column

Engage: Winners at the Oscars, Independent Spirit Awards
Octavia Spencer won best supporting actress for "The Help" at the Academy Awards.
February 27th, 2012
12:44 PM ET

Engage: Winners at the Oscars, Independent Spirit Awards

Engage with news and opinions from around the web about under-reported stories from undercovered communities.

Octavia Spencer wins best supporting actress, thanks Alabama family  - Al.com

'Undefeated' director T.J. Martin is first black director to win Oscar for full-length film - Bellingham Herald

'Pariah' wins best film, 'The Interrupters' wins best documentary at Independent Spirit Awards - Shadow & Act

Soldier faces court-martial in Pvt. Danny Chen suicide case - AM New York

Journey of a black student at Stuyvesant, New York's top science high school - The New York Times

'In the 105-year history of yell leaders, no yell leader has ever been female' at Texas A&M - The Wall Street Journal

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Census report reveals education milestone
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as recently as 1998, less than one-quarter of Americans older than 25 held a degree.
February 27th, 2012
10:18 AM ET

Census report reveals education milestone

By Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) – In March 2011, for the first time ever, more than 30% of adults older than 25 had a college degree, according to information released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.  As recently as 1998, less than one-quarter of Americans older than 25 held a degree.

The findings are published in a new report, "Educational Attainment in the United States: 2011." This was one in a series of educational reports released today.

“This is an important milestone in our history,” Census Bureau Director Robert Groves said. “For many people, education is a sure path to a prosperous life. The more education people have the more likely they are to have a job and earn more money, particularly for individuals who hold a bachelor's degree.”

The Census Bureau also published "Educational Attainment in the United States: 2009." This report reveals that in 2009, 85% of adults age 25 or older had at least a high school diploma or its equivalent. It also states that workers with a bachelor’s degree had median earnings of $47,510, about $20,000 more than workers with a high school diploma, who earned about $26,776, and nearly $25,000 more than those with a GED, who earned $22,534.

Read the full post on CNN's schools of thought blog

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Opinion: Stop supporting buffoonery in the pulpit
Bishop Eddie Long holding an alleged Torah scroll. He was also wrapped in it and declared "king."
February 26th, 2012
07:00 AM ET

Opinion: Stop supporting buffoonery in the pulpit

Editor’s Note: Rev. DeForest "Buster" Soaries is the senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey. He is a former Secretary of State of New Jersey, and was featured in "Almighty Debt: A Black in America Special.” 

By Rev. DeForest B. Soaries Jr., Special to CNN

(CNN) - When I was a child, if a crime were committed, my grandmother would say, “I hope he wasn’t colored.” Her concern was that all African-Americans suffered whenever one of us was caught doing something wrong. In those days black people raised their children to abstain from behavior that would give credence to the stereotypes that society had used to characterize us and justify the injustices heaped upon us. And most of us embraced that ethic.

Today I understand how my grandmother felt – not so much from a racial perspective but rather from a vocational perspective. As a member of the clergy, I am always hoping that an accused child molester or an embezzler from some community organization is not a member of the clergy. In 1982, the Gallup organization reported that 63% of people surveyed felt that clergy had high or very high honesty and ethical standards. This topped a list of various professions including lawyers (25%), members of Congress (15%) and car salespersons (6%). By 2011, Gallup reported that nurses topped the list of those believed to have high or very high levels of honesty and ethical standards with 84% believing they did. Lawyers dropped to 19%; members of Congress dropped to 7%.  Lobbyists and car salespersons were also at 7%.  And clergy dropped to 52%. That means that almost half of the people surveyed do not feel that members of the clergy are honest and have high ethical standards.

And I am not surprised. The inappropriate antics of many clergy could easily cause one to wonder if there are any moral standards for those who preach and teach morality. We are all too familiar with the flaws among some Catholic priests and their highly publicized breaches of trust and sexual indiscretions with children. But Protestants have our share of disgraces in the pulpit, too. Homosexual bashing pastor Ted Haggard left his giant church in 2007 following a gay sex scandal. He later admitted to GQ, "I think that probably, if I were 21 in this society, I would identify myself as a bisexual." Prosperity preacher and television evangelist Robert Tilton was accused of throwing away prayer requests that he received from donors and television viewers without even reading them. And mega-church pastor Eddie Long settled lawsuits with four young males who accused him of coercing sex acts. It is time for a remedy within Protestant churches.


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Filed under: Black in America • Religion • What we think
February 26th, 2012
06:00 AM ET

Opinion: From role player to team leader: Jeremy Lin and the rise of Asian American leadership

Editor's Note: Scott Kurashige is a fourth-generation Japanese American and author of The Shifting Grounds of Race: Black and Japanese Americans in the Making of Multiethnic Los Angeles. He is associate professor of American Culture and History and director of the Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies Program at the University of Michigan.

By Scott Kurashige, Special to CNN

(CNN) –When I was growing up, one of the most admired athletes among my friends and family in the Asian American community was baseball player Lenn Sakata, part of the Baltimore Orioles 1983 World Series champion team.

Never heard of him? That’s understandable.

One would have to be generous to call Sakata a “modest” success with his .230 batting average in eleven seasons playing professional baseball.

But examples of Asian American pro-sports prowess were so scarce, that we all rooted for Sakata.

The fourth-generation Japanese American was the archetypal role player, never doing anything flashy or heroic but proving he belonged in the major leagues.

And that was enough for us to be proud, especially the older generations of Japanese and Asian Americans whose struggle for acceptance had been thwarted by government acts that denied Asian immigrants the right to become naturalized citizens and forced Japanese Americans into internment camps.

Thoughts of Sakata have popped into my mind repeatedly while watching the meteoric rise of Jeremy Lin, the NBA’s first Taiwanese-American player and the league’s first Asian American marquee star.

Before his breakthrough game on February 4, Lin seemed destined to a career that would parallel Sakata’s at best.

Perhaps understanding this, Asian American fans cheered wildly when Lin played garbage time minutes last season for the Warriors.

Since then, Lin has repeatedly exploded expectations while performing under tremendous pressure on and off the court.

Now anything seems possible.

Because his story is unprecedented, it has opened our eyes to a new day filled with new possibilities. FULL POST

Opinion: The maid and the mammy: Why I’ll grin and bear it
Hattie McDaniel was the first black actress to win an Academy Award for her role as "Mammy" in Gone With the Wind. Seven decades later Octavia Spencer is nominated for her role as a maid.
February 25th, 2012
11:37 AM ET

Opinion: The maid and the mammy: Why I’ll grin and bear it

Editor’s Note: Sheryl Lee Ralph is a Tony nominated actress and Independent Spirit Award winner for best supporting actress. Her new book "Redefining DIVA" is published by Simon & Schuster will be available March 13.

By Sheryl Lee Ralph, Special to CNN

(CNN) – This year, the Academy Awards had my attention because of the 1960s coming of age film "The Help."

As thrilled as I am about Octavia Spencer winning an Oscar, and Viola Davis being nominated for best actress, I am not thrilled about the roles they played.

That’s right:  I am sick and tired of the maid, mammy, and big mama on the couch.

The movie upset me. It wasn’t about 'the help", it was a young white woman’s coming of age story and “the help” helped her get out of the south leaving the women who risked everything for her “freedom,” in the bondage of racism, sexism and exploitation.

My nerves were worked! I’d seen this story before. White girl makes good and leaves her mammy behind.

Seventy-two years ago, Miss Hattie McDaniel graced the Oscar stage and became the first Negro, as we were called back then, to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress with her portrayal of Mammy, Scarlett O' Hara's house slave and second mother in “Gone with the Wind.” Mammy was another wonderful character; a woman who knew what was right and refused to let her white charge do wrong.

Hollywood loves a good black maid.

See Octavia Spencer's acceptance speech

I cannot tell you how happy I am to see the talent of Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer celebrated.

I remember when Octavia did one of her first TV performances with us on the set of "Moesha." She was wonderful then with that trademark sassy, and just watching Viola come into her own fashion self has been delightful.

Viola Davis: I've really stepped into who I am

Sunday night, Oscar night, the maid once again went home with the gold.

I will float on the cloud of her win knowing that I am more than a maid, and with this victory, maybe I am  closer to showing all the different sides of me as a black woman and actress.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sheryl Lee Ralph.

Editor's Note: This piece has been updated to reflect Oscar news.

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Pain of 'Trail of Tears' shared by Blacks as well as Native Americans
The Trail of Tears is an epochal moment not only in Cherokee history, but also in Black history.
February 25th, 2012
11:20 AM ET

Pain of 'Trail of Tears' shared by Blacks as well as Native Americans

Editor's Note: Tiya Miles is chairwoman of the Department of Afro-American and African Studies, and professor of history and Native American studies at the University of Michigan. She is the author of "Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom" and "The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story."  She is also the winner of  a 2011 "genius grant" from the MacArthur Foundation.

By Tiya Miles, Special to CNN

(CNN) - African American history, as it is often told, includes two monumental migration stories: the forced exodus of Africans to the Americas during the brutal Middle Passage of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the voluntary migration of Black residents who moved from southern farms and towns to northern cities in the early 1900s in search of “the warmth of other suns.” A third African-American migration story–just as epic, just as grave–hovers outside the familiar frame of our historical consciousness. The iconic tragedy of Indian Removal: the Cherokee Trail of Tears that relocated thousands of Cherokees to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), was also a Black migration. Slaves of Cherokees walked this trail along with their Indian owners.

In 1838, the U.S. military and Georgia militia expelled Cherokees from their homeland with little regard for Cherokee dignity or life. Families were rousted out of their cabins and directed at gunpoint by soldiers. Forced to leave most of their possessions behind, they witnessed white Georgians taking ownership of their cabins, looting and burning once cherished objects. Cherokees were loaded into “stockades” until the appointed time of their departure, when they were divided into thirteen groups of nearly 1,000 people, each with two appointed leaders. The travelers set out on multiple routes to cross Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas at 10 miles a day with meager supplies.

At points along the way, the straggling bands were charged fees by white farmers to cross privately owned land. The few wagons available were used to carry the sick, infant, and elderly. Most walked through the fall and into the harsh winter months, suffering the continual deaths of loved ones to cold, disease, and accident. Among these sojourners were African Americans and Cherokees of African descent. They, like thousands of other Cherokees, arrived in Indian Country in 1839 broken, depleted, and destitute.

In addition to bearing the physical and emotional hardships of the trip, enslaved Blacks were enlisted to labor for Cherokees along the way; they hunted, chopped wood, nursed the sick, washed clothes, prepared the meals, guarded the camps at night, and hiked ahead to remove obstructions from the roads.

One Cherokee man, Nathaniel Willis, remembered in the 1930s that: “My grandparents were helped and protected by very faithful Negro slaves who . . . went ahead of the wagons and killed any wild beast who came along.” Nearly 4,000 Cherokees died during the eviction, as did an unaccounted for number of Blacks. As one former slave of Cherokees, Eliza Whitmire, said in the 1930s: “The weeks that followed General Scott’s order to remove the Cherokees were filled with horror and suffering for the unfortunate Cherokees and their slaves.”

Although Black presence on the Trail of Tears is a documented historical fact, many have willed it into forgetfulness.

Some African Americans avoid confronting the painful reality of Native American slave ownership, preferring instead to fondly imagine any Indian ancestor in the family tree and to picture all Indian communities in the South as safe havens for runaway slaves.

Some Cherokee citizens and Native people of other removed slaveholding tribes (Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles) have also denied this history, desiring to cordon off forced removal as an atrocious wrong that affected only Native Americans. By excluding Blacks (many of whom had Native “blood”) from a claim on this history, these deniers also seek to expel the descendants of Freedmen and women from the circle of tribal belonging. For it is the memory of this collective tragedy, perhaps more than any other, that binds together Cherokees who draw strength from having survived it. FULL POST

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Filed under: Black in America • Discrimination • Ethnicity • History • Native Americans • Race • Who we are
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