In the June 2020 edition of Noire News I’ll be discussing June’s protests, some good news, and memorializing a few Black people who passed away this month.
March 14, 1946 – June 2, 2020
Westley Sissel Unseld was raised in Louisville, Kentucky and went on to spend his entire career in the NBA playing for the Baltimore Bullets (later the Washington Bullets). During his first year in the league, he won both Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player. After retiring he continued to work with the Bullets organization as a vice president, head coach, and later as a general manager. In addition to helping his wife establish an elementary school, Unseld was also involved with Baltimore organizations and programs focused on children. Wes Unseld died at the age of 74 from pneumonia complications following a long period of suffering from health issues.
Donald “Reche” Caldwell Jr.
March 28, 1979 – June 6, 2020
Donald Reche Caldwell Jr. was born and raised in Tampa, Florida where he went on to play football, basketball, and baseball in high school. He received an athletic scholarship to attend the University of Florida in Gainesville where he played football for the Gators. Caldwell played for four teams during a six-year career in the NFL. After leaving the league Caldwell had some run-ins with the law to which he pled guilty. While preparing to take his girlfriend out on a date, Caldwell was ambushed and shot in front of his home. The murder is still under investigation but Caldwell’s family believes that he was killed in a robbery gone wrong.
July 11, 1950 – June 8, 2020
Bonnie Pointer grew up in the church with her three sisters and two brothers in West Oakland, California as the child of a minister. She started out singing gospel but developed an interest in secular music and with her younger sister June, began pursuing a career in show business. The duo expanded as her other sisters joined what became The Pointer Sisters and later signed to Atlantic Records. In the late 70s, Bonnie left for Motown and a solo career, disputes with the label stymied her recording career but Pointer continued to work as a live performer. Bonnie Pointer died at the age of 69 from cardiac arrest.
October 21, 1980 – June 9, 2020
Jas Waters, a writer who contributed to projects such as This Is Us, Kidding, and What Men Want has died at the age of 39 from suicide. Before working as a screenwriter Waters managed an entertainment blog, wrote for Vibe magazine, and appeared on a short-lived reality show. I wasn’t previously aware of Jas Waters so I don’t want to make assumptions about her, her life, or the events that led to her death.
But, I think it’s important to acknowledge that we are living in very strange and trying times. It’s also ok to acknowledge that you’re not feeling ok. But its important to seek help at present or at any point in the future where you feel like life has become unmanageable or unbearable. It can also be incredibly helpful to take a moment to check-in (while still socially distancing) with friends, family members, etc who might be feeling anxious, depressed, or isolated due to our current circumstances or just life in general.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide or any other form of self-harm, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
August 31, 1954 – June 10, 2020
Claudell Washington was born in Los Angeles and raised in Berkley, California. At the age of 17, he was signed to the Oakland A’s as an undrafted free agent and made his major debut two years later. During Washington’s rookie season he helped the team win it’s third consecutive World Series title and went on to play for several other teams during his career with two All-Star Game appearances. Washington passed away at the age of 65 from prostate cancer which he had battled since 2017.
August 27, 2000 – June 2020
Oluwatoyin Salau was a 19-year-old organizer and activist who had participated in Tallahassee Black Lives Matter protests related to the deaths of three men who had been killed by police within two months. Salau whose family emigrated from Nigeria was studying cosmetology while also attending classes at Tallahassee Community College with plans to later study law at Florida A&M. Unfortunately, Salau was reported missing in early June and was later found dead with an older volunteer, Victoria Sims. Police allege that the two women were murdered by Aaron Glee, Jr. who confessed to the crime.
Usually, for the features, I discuss four or five major news stories from across the Black diaspora. But I want to do something a little different this month. I’d like to take a few minutes to share my thoughts on the protests that took place during June. And I’d like to invite you to share your thoughts, opinions, ideas, etc as well but I just ask that you civilly convey them.
In the May 2020 edition of Noire News, I discussed the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. The two shootings were the latest hot topics related to Black people being killed by the police due to excessive force or at the hands of a White person claiming to be in fear for their life. I also briefly touched on the death of George Floyd which had just occurred a day or two before.
I remember when I moved to Atlanta back in 2016 there were a lot of protests in major cities around the country following the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. There were protests in Georgia related to the death of Ahmaud Arbery. But, George Floyd’s death touched off protests around the world. I think the story of George Floyd touched off more widespread protests because many people are still staying home or working from home due to COVID and were therefore more likely to have heard of the story and/or had the time to get involved.
To some degree, its probably also a matter of people being tired of all of this. Amid COVID, health disparities for Black people have truly been shown in higher mortality rates. Many Black businesses have been unable to obtain funds via the government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) due to a lack of relationships with large banks. And then even with all of these COVID related difficulties, Black people are still having to contend with feeling unsafe in society. In interactions with the police where people from other racial groups would be allowed to walk away or probably just be arrested at the end, it feels like Black people are at greater risk of the situation ending with their death.
I’ll be honest and say that I don’t know how I feel about protesting. I understand it’s used as a tool for raising awareness about these issues. But at the same time, I feel like we’ve been protesting for generations now about the same issues. On the one hand, I’m trying to be optimistic because it’s not just regular Black people calling for change but also government figures, corporations, organizations, etc. On the other hand, I feel like there’s a lot of talk about support for equality and protecting the civil rights of Black people but little in the way of concrete plans of action. To some degree, it feels like some entities are jumping on the bandwagon because it’s the politically correct thing to say right now. But there will be no real action beyond maybe issuing a press release or statement.
It’s not enough for politicians to give speeches about the wrongs of inequality and hope for a better way forward. You need to look no further than voting issues continuing to be a problem in states such as Georgia. The President encouraging states to respond to protests and riots over police excessive use of force with aggressive force. Even going so far as to forcefully remove peaceful protestors for a photo opp.
Respectability politics of the past to some degree primarily focused on what Black people needed to do to be treated like human beings. Or aimed to achieve equality under the law for a certain kind of Black person. In contrast, the protests of recent years have been for Black people from different walks of life and didn’t use their education, career, etc. as the basis for why their life should have been preserved. The focus has been on their being a person and thus having a natural right to have their life and humanity valued and observed.
Another thing that I like about this current movement is that it calls on everyone to get involved. Often, Black people are called upon to do the heavy lifting when it comes to improving race relations. But, White people have been called upon to become informed on not just the current issues but also the history of racism. And to not just participate in protests but to speak out and educate their friends, families, and other members of their community.
At this point, racial inequality has existed for several hundred years but that doesn’t mean that things can never change. It simply means that society must truly want that change and be willing to put in the work.
Protesters and reporters do their part by bringing attention to individual stories and issues that might otherwise be overlooked. But I think we all have to ask ourselves how we can contribute our skills and talents to the movement to achieve progress. For some that might be protesting. For others, it might mean becoming involved with community organizations or local government. Maybe volunteering or teaching, and not necessarily in an official capacity but rather just in some way that’s beneficial to the community. The point is that we all have something that we’re good at or some capability to be useful so we can all get involved.
- Kristal Hansley has launched WeSolar Energy, America’s first Black-owned community solar energy company. Hansley previously worked in government and saw first-hand how the use of solar energy could help households lower their electric bills. WeSolar gives households in underserved Black communities the option to either purchase blocks of electricity or a share of a solar panel which can result in average savings of $6,000 over the average 20-year lifespan of a solar panel.
- $430,000 has been raised to purchase the property that will house Soul Food Market. The planned Black-owned Atlanta-based supermarket will primarily focus on products produced by Black farmers and food manufacturers. Backed in-part by the founders of WeBuyBlack, the company hopes to generate jobs and help to circulate more Black dollars within the Black community.
- Orange Wall Enterprises has signed a distribution and licensing deal to install autonomous stations in a variety of environments that will require screenings for symptoms of COVID-19. The Maryland-based company has developed two types of no-contact stations that will be produced by Promobot, a robotics and AI company. Orange Wall is headed by two entrepreneurial Black women, Lynda M. Dorman and Carolyn E. Howell, who have also developed rapid antibody test kits.
- The Morehouse School of Medicine was awarded a $40 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In June, the school was selected for partnerships with the HHS’ Office of Minority Health as well as the CDC Foundation. The partnerships are part of a federal push to address COVID-19’s disproportionate effect on Black populations.
- Bryan “Birdman” and Ronald “Slim” Williams have teamed up with the mayor of New Orleans, LaToya Cantrell, to help cover June’s rent for the city’s low-income housing residents. The brothers, who are the co-founders of Cash Money Records, have a long history of giving back to the city’s residents with a focus on housing, healthcare, and education. The city has been heavily impacted by COVID-19 and in addition to the rent initiative, the Williams brothers also partnered with local radio stations Q93 and WYLD in May to give away $10,000 in gift cards for groceries.
- Michael Jordan and the Jordan Brand have pledged $100 million over the next decade to support organizations related to the Black Lives Matter Movement. The brand plans to become more actively involved with communities and advocacy organizations by providing support for education and policy change initiatives. Jordan’s parent company, Nike, has also pledged $40 million over the next four years to community organizations.
- In Fall 2021, Robert F. Smith will launch the Student Freedom Initiative, a nonprofit that will offer junior and senior STEM majors at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) an alternative to private student and Parent PLUS loans. Repayment obligations will be based on students’ income and last for up to 20 years after graduation. Smith has also proposed a plan to address the structural racism that has underserved Black businesses, banks, and communities. He pointed out during a recent Forbes Summit that an infusion of just 2% of profits generated by America’s largest companies over the past decade, an estimated $25 billion, would go a long way towards helping the Black community achieve parity with wider society.
- Klingaman, Mike. 2020. “Wes Unseld, Legendary Center for Baltimore Bullets, Dies at 74.” Baltimoresun.com. June 2, 2020. https://www.baltimoresun.com/obituaries/bs-sp-obit-unseld-20200602-jstnpaijrjhapgere3hnnf7p3i-story.html.
- Sweeting, Adam. 2020. “Bonnie Pointer Obituary.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. June 10, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/jun/10/bonnie-pointer-obituary.
- Chung, Gabrielle. 2020. “This Is Us Writer Jas Waters’ Cause of Death Revealed.” PEOPLE.com. Meredith Corporation. June 11, 2020. https://people.com/tv/this-is-us-writer-jas-waters-cause-of-death/.
- Press, Associated. 2020. “Two-Time All-Star Outfielder Claudell Washington, Who Played 17 Seasons in Majors, Dies at 65.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures. June 11, 2020. https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/29295361/two-all-star-outfielder-claudell-washington-played-17-seasons-majors-dies-65.
- Gaydos, Ryan. 2020. “Reche Caldwell Death Investigation Has No Suspects as Family Calls for Justice: ‘They Did Not Have to Take His Life’.” Fox News. FOX News Network. June 15, 2020. https://www.foxnews.com/sports/reche-caldwell-death-investigation-has-no-suspects-family-calls-justice.
- Branigin, Anne. 2020. “How Oluwatoyin ‘Toyin’ Salau’s Family Remembered Her.” The Root. The Root. June 30, 2020. https://www.theroot.com/how-oluwatoyin-toyin-salau-s-family-remembered-her-1844223511.
- Givens, Dana. 2020. “Meet The Woman Behind The First Black-Owned Community Solar Energy Company.” Black Enterprise. June 29, 2020. https://www.blackenterprise.com/meet-the-woman-behind-the-first-black-owned-solar-energy-company/.
- Black Enterprise Editors. 2020. “First Black-Owned Supermarket to Sell Products From Mostly Black Farmers Raises $430K.” Black Enterprise. June 21, 2020. https://www.blackenterprise.com/first-black-owned-supermarket-to-sell-products-from-mostly-black-farmers-raises-430k/.
- “Black Women Founders Bring COVID-19 Screening Stations to Schools, Offices, Prisons and More.” 2020. BlackBusiness.com. Dante Lee International. June 23, 2020. https://www.blackbusiness.com/2020/06/black-women-founders-using-thermal-robotics-rapid-test-kits-fight-covid-19.html.
- Stirgus, Eric. 2020. “Morehouse School of Medicine Gets $40 Million Grant to Fight COVID-19.” Ajc. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. June 24, 2020. https://www.ajc.com/news/local-education/morehouse-school-medicine-gets-million-grant-fight-covid/XDNYgPIyYzzTce85ELeNyH/.
- Blanco, Lydia. 2020. “Exclusive: Cash Money Co-Founder Slim and Business Manager Vernon Brown on Partnering with New Orleans Mayor to Pay Rents Amid COVID-19.” Black Enterprise. Black Enterprise. May 30, 2020. https://www.blackenterprise.com/cash-money-partners-with-the-mayor-is-new-orleans-to-pay-rent-for-residents-amid-covid-19/.
- DePaula, Nick. 2020. “Michael Jordan, Jordan Brand Pledge $100 Million to Racial Equality and Education Initiatives.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures. June 5, 2020. https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/29272682/jordan-brand-pledges-100-million-racial-equality-education-initiatives.
- Reilly, Katie. 2020. “Robert F. Smith Launches New HBCU Student Debt Initiative.” Time. TIME USA, LLC. June 23, 2020. https://time.com/5857186/robert-f-smith-historically-black-colleges/.
- Vardi, Nathan. 2020. “The 2% Solution: Inside Billionaire Robert Smith’s Bold Plan To Funnel Billions To America’s Black-Owned Businesses.” Forbes. Forbes Media LLC. June 19, 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/nathanvardi/2020/06/19/the-2-solution-inside-billionaire-robert-smiths-bold-plan-to-funnel-billions-to-americas-black-owned-businesses/.
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