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US marks King holiday amid fears of deep racial divisions

DETROIT — To commemorate the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Nicholas Thomas and more than 100 other volunteers will board up vacant houses, install school safety signs and make other improvements to a Detroit neighborhood. Their mission is to celebrate King’s legacy by being good neighbors and helping lift up a primarily black school in one of the poorer areas of the city.

As Thomas fans out across the neighborhood with hammer and nails, King’s legacy of peace and racial and social justice will be foremost in his mind. But at the same time, he’s struggling to come to grips with the deep racial divisions roiling the nation under President Donald Trump.

“Dr. King wanted unity. We have Trump separating immigrants ... the wall,” said the 19-year-old Thomas who is black.

As the nation marks the holiday honoring King, the mood surrounding it is overshadowed by deteriorating race relations in an election season that has seen one candidate of color after another quit the 2020 presidential race.

Two black candidates — U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker — and the lone candidate of Hispanic ancestry, former Housing Secretary Julian Castro, have dropped out of the Democratic race for the White House.

“That scares me a lot,” said Deja Hood, 21, of Chicago, a senior at Eastern Michigan University. “Who is going to really back our voicing? You can’t understand a minority if you’ve never been in a minority situation. Even though you can advocate for us all day, you could never understand the issues we go through on a daily basis.”

Booker, Harris and Castro struggled with raising money and with polling. Asian American entrepreneur Andrew Yang, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Samoan American, and black former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick remain in the race but are not considered top contenders for the Democratic nomination.

The front-runners in the field are all white men and women.

“It’s disappointing, but really not surprising. You look at it and think, ‘damn, now what?’” said Xavier Cheatum, 22, an African American senior at Eastern Michigan who along with Hood is participating in King events on the school’s Ypsilanti campus, west of Detroit.

People have the right to be — and should be — concerned about the state of race relations and the way people of color, in particular, are being treated, said Jill Savitt, president of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta.

“What we’re seeing right now, it’s very public and people are showing their hatred openly, but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t there,” Savitt said. “There is a coming realization in our country. We have to come to a reckoning about our past and the truth about our history from slavery to the lynching era to Jim Crow. Only with real honesty about our situation can we come to some reconciliation and move on to fulfill King’s hope and dream of a real, peaceful multicultural democracy.”

It doesn’t help when elected leaders don’t — or are slow to — stand against hate and intolerance, she added.

Trump referred last year to a predominantly African American congressional district that includes Baltimore as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.” During a 2018 immigration conversation in the Oval Office, he disparaged Haiti and some African countries with coarse language.

And following a 2017 clash between white nationalist demonstrators and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides” and that there was “ blame on both sides.” One anti-racism activist was killed.

In 2018, there were more than 7,000 single-bias incidents reported by law enforcement, according to FBI hate crime statistics. More than 53% of the offenders were white, while 24% were black. Nearly 60% of the incidents involved race, ethnicity and ancestry.

“Racism has long been a way for people to maintain their power,” Savitt said. “Manipulating people’s fears and anxieties is the way you do that. The Trump administration has certainly fanned the flames.”

Trump is trying to court black voters, knowing that he isn’t likely to win them over en masse but could chip into Democratic advantages if he wins more black support in critical swing states. His campaign has stepped up outreach efforts, including to African Americans and Latinos, marking a departure from 2016 when Trump’s volunteer “National Diversity Coalition” struggled to make an impact.

The campaign already has spent more than $1 million on black outreach, including radio, print and online advertising in dozens of markets since the coalition’s launch, the campaign has said.

Only 6% of African American voters went for Trump in the 2016 election, according to a Pew Research Center analysis. Trump’s message to black voters in that campaign was: “What have you got to lose?” Supporters now say they have a record to point to, including the low black unemployment rate and investments in historically black colleges and universities.

A Washington Post-Ipsos poll of African Americans in early January found that 90% disapprove of Trump’s job performance and 83% say Trump is racist.

Laying it all in Trump’s lap is unfair, said Carol Swain, an advisory board member to the national Black Voices for Trump.

“With Trump, he has pushed the American nationalist identity that I think tamps down the kind of conflicts we would have,” said Swain, who is black and has taught political science at Vanderbilt and Princeton universities. “He has pushed patriotism over race and that benefits our country.”

Faith Morris, chief marketing and external affairs officer for the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, doesn’t see it that way.

“It’s definitely a white America. A black America. A Hispanic America,” Morris said. “And there’s a very broken line that connects the different Americas. In 2020, we still feel the oppressive issues that Dr. King fought against. He focused on the same things we’re focusing on now.”

Jacob Sklarsky recently read a book about King and the civil rights movement to students in his second-grade Chicago Public Schools class.

“To look at the faces of young black kids who are sometimes hearing about this history for the first time, they are distressed by it,” said Sklarsky, who is white and a member of KAM Isaiah Israel, a Jewish congregation in Chicago.

“They were very relieved at the end because, in a way, it was all worth it,” Sklarsky said. “It gives us some hope, but it’s also very sad that we’re not anywhere near what King dreamed of.”

Women empowering women: MU Sweetheart Clinic opens doors to sports for girls

HUNTINGTON — Hundreds of young girls eager to experience the thrill of college athletics packed the Chris Cline Athletic Complex Indoor Facility Sunday afternoon at the 23rd annual Sweetheart Clinic.

The free clinic gave participating girls ages 4 to 12 the opportunity to learn developmental skills in tennis, volleyball, swim, golf, basketball, softball, track and field, cheer and soccer from Marshall University women’s coaches and student athletes.

Ari Aganus, Marshall head volleyball coach, said the event helps young women navigate obstacles they may face in athletics.

“With young women, we’re told we have to fall in line with certain things, and this just breaks the barriers to be able to show how cool it is to play sports,” Aganus said. “It’s very empowering for women, and it’s very empowering for these little girls to know they can do anything they want, and I think that’s kind of where it stems from.”

Participants moved through nine stations representing each sport throughout the day, which Aganus said might help them choose a sport to focus on later in life.

“It’s every sport we have here that they get to dip their toes in to see if they might be interested, even if it is for just little increments, they’re able to go in one day to go from sport to sport, and maybe in five years they pick one of those, so it’s amazing,” Aganus said. “I have never seen anything like it.”

While the clinic provided an incredible opportunity for girls around the state, Aganus said, it also gave student-athletes a chance to reflect on their passion for their chosen sport.

“It’s a way to give back to the community, but another friendly reminder that you were this person at one time and you started at one point with the same kind of glow in your eyes, so when you feel frustrated and school and the sport is taking a lot from you in college, you get to see their shining faces,” Aganus said. “I think it impacts them a lot, and at the end of the day, I think they come out with a re-energized feeling for the sport.”

Marshall volleyball player Ciara DeBell worked with the girls at the Sweetheart Clinic for the third time and said it’s something her team looks forward to each year.

“We love coming out here every year. It’s so much fun and gives us a time to give back to everybody,” DeBell said. “We get to hang out with kids and they get to hang out with us, and they love it and we do, too.”

DeBell said it’s rewarding to serve as a role model to kids of all ages who are interested in volleyball or any sport.

“I was really little when I started, and I’d go to a bunch of college games when I was little, so I always looked up to bigger kids,” DeBell said. “It’s awesome that they’re able to look up to us and all of the other sports. We’ve all been there, and we’ve all been in that position.”

Tyler Able, assistant athletic director of marketing, said the event gave girls the opportunity to realize how life-changing sports can be.

“They get to experience this great indoor athletic facility and realize how special athletics is,” he said.

The day concluded with a pep rally led by Marshall cheerleaders and a pizza party provided by Marco’s Pizza.

More WV Democrats than Republicans have been purged from voter rolls. Is that unexpected?

Over the past three years, West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner’s office has touted the removal of thousands of voter registrations it says are old or otherwise inactive.

The statewide purge of inactive voter registrations took out more Democratic registrations than Republican ones, both in terms of percentage and in overall numbers of voters removed, according to a Gazette-Mail analysis of numbers provided by Warner’s office. In several counties, the gap between the percentage of Democratic and Republican registrations removed exceeded 10 percent.

Officials with the Secretary of State’s Office were adamant the office’s Elections Division does not look at voter rolls from a partisan perspective. They said the numbers may reflect the increasing trend of West Virginia voters to register as Republican or unaffiliated with any party, so older Democratic registrations for state voters could become inactive over time.

They also ruled out any possibility that county clerks in the counties with large disparities had singled out a particular party, or particular precincts, for purging.

“Number one, it’s a crime. Number two, we monitor the counties to make sure the counties aren’t doing something contrary to West Virginia or federal law,” said Donald Kersey, general counsel in the Secretary of State’s Office.

When county clerks get lists of inactive voters from the Secretary of State’s Office, those lists do not include party affiliation, Kersey said.

Warner’s office has instructed county clerks to remove voter registrations of people who have died, moved or been convicted of a felony. In addition, a voter who is sent a “confirmation card” and then doesn’t vote in the next two federal general elections or take other action to update their registration can be removed from the rolls.

According to data from the Secretary of State’s Office, 92,749 Democratic registrations were purged in the most recent biennial sweep, or 16 percent of total Democratic registrations. By comparison, 51,498 Republican registrations, or 13 percent of their total, were removed. All told, 188,999 registrations were purged statewide across all parties, or 15 percent of the total number of voters registered as of the end of 2016.

In eight counties, the variation between Democratic and Republican registration removed was much wider, ranging from 7 percent to 11 percent. (Many of those counties have relatively small populations, so percentages can swing more easily).

In Grant County, Republicans outnumbered Democrats nearly five-to-one at the end of 2016, as Warner took office. Since then, 24 percent of Democratic registrations have been removed, compared to 13 percent of Republican registrations.

In Ritchie County, which had more than twice as many registered Republicans as Democrats when Warner took office, 33 percent of Democratic registrations — one in three — have been purged, compared to 22 percent of Republican registrations.

Ritchie was one of seven counties where between 26 percent and 33 percent of Democratic registrations were purged. Each of those counties also saw between 21 percent and 26 percent of Republican registrations purged.

Those counties — Calhoun, Greenbrier, Hampshire, Monroe, Ritchie, Roane and Wetzel — have relatively small populations. Kersey and Brittany Westfall, director of the Secretary of State’s Elections Division, said those percentages likely represent challenges faced by county clerk’s offices with small staffs to quickly address backlogs of inactive registrations.

“It’s hard for one person to look at thousands of names on a list, and confirm that person needs a [voter] confirmation card,” Kersey said.

Other counties with large variations between the percentages of Democratic and Republican registrations purged include:

  • Clay County, 19 percent of Democrats, 11 percent of Republicans.
  • Doddridge County, 22 percent of Democrats, 14 percent of Republicans.
  • Greenbrier County, 28 percent of Democrats, 21 percent of Republicans.
  • Hampshire County, 29 percent of Democrats, 22 percent of Republicans.
  • Monroe County, 31 percent of Democrats, 24 percent of Republicans.

Four of those counties — Doddridge, Grant, Hampshire and Ritchie — purged significantly more Democrats than Republicans despite having Republican majorities at the end of 2016.

On the other hand, nine counties had variations of 1 percent or less between the percentages of Democratic and Republican registrations removed from the rolls. They are:

  • Gilmer County, 8 percent of Democrats, 8 percent of Republicans
  • Jefferson County, 12 percent of Democrats, 11 percent of Republicans
  • Mason County, 9 percent of Democrats, 8 percent of Republicans
  • Monongalia County, 8 percent of Democrats, 8 percent of Republicans
  • Pleasants County, 9 percent of Democrats, 8 percent of Republicans
  • Randolph County, 8 percent of Democrats, 8 percent of Republicans
  • Tucker County, 7 percent of Democrats, 6 percent of Republicans
  • Wirt County, 5 percent of Democrats, 5 percent of Republicans
  • Wood County, 9 percent of Democrats, 8 percent of Republicans

No county had a higher percentage of Republicans purged than Democrats.

Westfall said the percentages of registrations removed can vary greatly among counties, since some counties have delays in moving registrations to inactive status, delaying the countdown of two missed election cycles for removal from the rolls.

“There’s no other reason for counties to have such a difference,” she said.

Meanwhile, Kersey has advice for everyone planning to vote in the 2020 elections: “Go to www.govotewv.com and check your registration to make sure you’re on the records.”

Marshall receives $98,809 NEH grant to increase Clio accessibility for visually impaired

HUNTINGTON — The Marshall University-founded history app, Clio, has received a $98,809 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities this month to improve accessibility of the app for users who are visually impaired. Clio will collaborate with the American Foundation for the Blind on the project.

The Digital Humanities Advancement Grant is being presented to the Marshall University Research Corporation for a project titled, “Accessibility in Digital Humanities: Making Clio Available to All,” conducted under the leadership of Clio founder David Trowbridge, an associate professor of history at Marshall.

Clio is a website and mobile app that allows educators and cultural institutions to design mobile tours for exploring local history and culture. The GPS-guided mobile app provides its users with information and photos and allows them to hear interviews and experience walking tours detailing historic sites in the vicinity. It features thousands of historic locations throughout the United States.

Partnering with the American Foundation for the Blind, Trowbridge and the team of local software engineers who built Clio will review each aspect of the educational website and mobile application for accessibility. Trowbridge will also work with Marshall faculty and students as well as former AmeriCorps members who served with Clio via Preservation West Virginia throughout the year as they test features and build accessible guides and instructional videos.

As more universities, historical societies, museums, libraries and other organizations use Clio — which is designed with the help of Strictly Business in Huntington — to connect residents and visitors to the history and culture of their communities, Trowbridge and his team say they hope that these guides and videos will ensure that everyone will have the chance to contribute and utilize Clio. Trowbridge also hopes that Clio will be a model for other digital humanities projects.

“By building an accessible website and native application, we hope to make it possible for millions of Americans with vision loss to discover and enjoy immersive and location-based humanities scholarship that includes audio narration and oral histories,” Trowbridge said in a press release. “New features will include an expansion of our current text-to-speech feature and more options for users to make text fields accessible by allowing users to alter the size, font, color, and contrast of each text-based section. We will also add alt-text fields and other features as identified by the digital accessibility experts at AFB.”

Each day, Clio connects over 5,000 people to nearby historical and cultural sites. Clio is nonprofit and free for everyone, with a library of historical and cultural sites that has grown to over 30,000 entries and over 600 complete walking tours.

“Clio is a fantastic public history resource for anyone with a mobile device,” said Dr. Robert Bookwalter, dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Marshall. “Dr. Trowbridge has created a widely accessible public history museum that we can access in the palm of our hand. This NEH grant is making it possible to enrich the content and make information available to a broader range of users. I am grateful to the NEH for their support, and to all of the contributors to Clio who have made it a valuable tool for learning about our communities and our culture.”