The Pandemic Heroes Saving Lives & Winning Smiles

How about a little good pandemic news? While Black Americans have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 — getting sick, losing family members, suffering unemployment — there have also been those in the community bringing strength and hope. To celebrate Juneteenth, the anniversary of the day when enslaved people in Texas were freed — two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed — today’s Daily Dose shines a light on the pandemic heroes serving Black American communities. From health care workers on the front lines to local leaders delivering on food security, from people working to reduce vaccine hesitancy to those offering much-needed comic relief, these pandemic champs are helping Black communities weather the COVID-19 storm.

health care heroes

Dr. Florencia Greer Polite Sometimes setting a strong example is the best way to motivate others. Polite rolled up her sleeves as soon as the vaccine was made available at her hospital in December. She understood that her participation as a Black woman could send a message of reassurance to others about the vaccine’s efficacy and safety. “If I actually do this early on, I have the potential to influence a number of people to get on board sooner,” Polite explains. The chief of general obstetrics and gynecology at Penn Medicine was one of the Black doctors who launched a program called COVID Acceptance Vaccine Education and Adoption Taskforce (Caveat) soon after the vaccine became available at Penn Medicine. Caveat was created to educate and promote the COVID-19 vaccine to hospital staff, especially departments that employ higher numbers of people of color. Polite reports the program was such a success that other medical centers have expressed interest in replicating it. 

Sandra Lindsay It’s only fitting that the first person in the U.S. to get vaccinated was Sandra Lindsay, after she served tirelessly on the front lines as a registered nurse and the director of patient services at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center’s ICU in New York, one of the country’s first COVID-19 hot spots. Today, she’s one among more than 100 million Americans to have gotten the jab, but in December, Lindsay’s vaccination served a deeper symbolic purpose. As a Black woman, she set an example for the rest of the country, and especially the Black community, to trust science and get vaccinated. Another upside to being vaxxed? No longer worried about transmitting the virus, Lindsay could finally meet her new grandson, Avery, who was born in March 2020. 

Dr. Eric Griggs A little education can go a long way. Known as “Doc Griggs,” the city of New Orleans health and wellness ambassador and an assistant professor at the Louisiana State University School of Medicine has championed health and well-being for Black New Orleanians for years. Since the pandemic began, Griggs has focused on informing and educating NOLA’s minority communities about the virus and vaccinations as they face outsized risks from COVID-19 and greater vaccine hesitancy. His efforts have included weekly coronavirus updates on local news and radio stations, as well as leading a virtual town hall in March to discuss the vaccine with community members. 

Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett Black health care leaders have not only been instrumental in educating others about and promoting the vaccine — they’ve also been essential in its development. Corbett, a leading scientist with the National Institute of Health, has played a vital role in the research and formation of the Moderna vaccine, serving on an NIH team that collaborated with the pharmaceutical company. The North Carolina native’s work has earned high praise from Dr. Anthony Fauci, who hopes that Corbett’s role will ease concerns of Black Americans who are reluctant to sign up for the vaccine. 

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basic necessities

Ietef Vita Beets and beats have defined the career of Vita, aka Chef Ietef and DJ Cavem. He’s spent the past decade pioneering eco-hip-hop, working to make the rap worldthe forefront of sustainability and food justice.” When the pandemic hit, the veteran vegan had already secured thousands of packages of seeds (kale, beets and arugula) to sell at shows during his upcoming tour to promote his album Biomimicz. When the concerts were canceled, Vita saw the Black community’s struggles to access fresh produce –– from Detroit, where his grandfather was unable to buy seeds, to neighborhoods in Minneapolis that had turned into food deserts following last year’s riots over the killing of George Floyd. “It gave me the idea, you know, why am I hoarding 40,000 packets of seeds?” Vita says. After launching a huge fundraising campaign with shout-outs and donations from Cardi B to Mark Ruffalo, Vita has been “seeding in spades,” shipping the packages to urban gardens and farmers across the country. 

Emery Wright Access to COVID-19 testing has been absolutely crucial to maintaining public health throughout the pandemic. Emery Wright, co-director of Project South, a racial and economic justice organization based in Atlanta, recognized that — and got to work early. In May 2020, Project South organized 32 days of drive-through and walk-up testing in the city –– free for anyone who wanted it, with or without insurance and regardless of whether they were experiencing symptoms. Later, the group’s mobile testing and education units visited residences, churches, libraries and senior centers, as well as polling sites on Election Day.

Jewel Hayden “Our youth are not our future, they are our now,” says Hayden, co-founder of Project BOLT (Building Outstanding Lives Together), a nonprofit dedicated to recidivism prevention, housing outreach and food distribution in Charlotte, North Carolina. To advance those ends, the organization in August partnered with the Charlotte Hornets and Blue Cross NC to donate 300 meals per week for six weeks to children in the community. Throughout the pandemic, they’ve been focused primarily on addressing the community’s basic needs, like providing meals, Hayden explains, but “as we move closer to our new normal, we plan to refocus on the youth.” The nonprofit plans to hold its youth organizing program again this summer.

Tanya Debose Over the past year, Houston’s historically Black neighborhood of Independence Heights has suffered on several fronts in addition to the pandemic. Residents continue to deal with the aftereffects of Winter Storm Uri, while also battling gentrification that is “erasing our culture and erasing our history,” explains Debose, executive director of the Independence Heights Redevelopment Council. The organization has provided water, hot meals and supplies in the wake of the recent natural disaster, and continues its work to preserve homes, build affordable housing and support community members. 

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spreading awareness 

Cynthia Finch, LMSW, CCM, CMCE Three Vs –– that’s what Finch needs to help hundreds of African Americans in Knoxville, Tennessee, receive the COVID-19 vaccine. “If I get that vaccine partnership, if I get volunteer partnership, if I get venue partnership, I can have a vaccine clinic,” Finch tells OZY. After a 30-year career as a health care clinician, the now-retired Finch works with the nonprofit CONNECT Ministries and the Faith Leaders Church Initiative to help residents of Knoxville get jabbed, hoping to increase the vaccination rate in a state that’s lagging well behind that of the U.S. as a whole. Finch says she is driven to help her city by a sense of duty and responsibility. As an African American woman who has received educational and other opportunities, Finch says she feels obligated to give back. “And I knew that by me being a Black woman, by me being a person in the community, that is what would help it be more believable.”

Dr. Stephen Thomas Black barbershops are so much more than simply a place to get your hair cut. A hub of the Black community, they are a place “where social norms are established and where lifelong relationships are created . . . a sacred space where no topic is off-limits and people can disagree without being disagreeable,” Thomas tells OZY. Through his Health Advocates In-Reach and Research (HAIR) campaign, the University of Maryland professor is using Black barbershops to promote vaccine sign-ups among the Black community. HAIR partnered with The Shop Spa barbershop to form the first barbershop COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Hyattsville, Maryland, an experiment Thomas calls a “smashing success.” The White House soon took notice and teamed up with HAIR to launch Shots at the Shop, an initiative to recruit barbershops and salons across the country to support local vaccine education and outreach efforts. “It is my hope that we move forward together to a new future where the new home for health care includes barbershops and salons,” says Thomas. “Working together today, we can make a better tomorrow.” 

Michael Walrond Jr. Who wouldn’t join a congregation whose pastor is willing to text or FaceTime its members? Meet Michael Walrond, affectionately known as Pastor Mike, the senior pastor at First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York, a church he says is known for its inclusivity and for “challenging anti-queer beliefs and practices.” Walrond understood that the COVID-19 pandemic could take a long-term toll on churchgoers’ mental health, and was prepared to address it. “Where it can take two weeks to recover from the virus, it can take two years to recover from trauma,” he told The Wall Street Journal. To better help members of the congregation who’ve lost friends and family members to COVID-19 — Walrond lost his aunt and uncle — he has been providing additional trauma training to leaders in the church.

Joe Wilson Among those helping homeless people, there aren’t many who have walked in their shoes. But Joe Wilson, executive director of Hospitality House, has. His nonprofit is a progressive, community-based organization in San Francisco that provides resources and programming to the local homeless population and neighborhood residents. Wilson, who became homeless after dropping out of Stanford to care for his ailing mother, has helped people throughout the pandemic by providing hygiene kits, emergency supplies, employment and more. Last year, Hospitality House took the initiative to move people from its emergency shelter to safer accommodations in hotels. On the organization’s website, Wilson says, “We at Hospitality House believe in the transcendent power of our humanity as the ultimate weapon alongside science in battling COVID-19.” 

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keeping things fun

Joel Baraka This 2021 Ozy Genius Award winner has found a way to make learning fun. COVID-19 forced schools to shut at the Kyangwali Refugee Camp in Uganda, where Baraka grew up, and online learning was not an option. So the University of Wisconsin engineering student responded by supplying schools with an educational board game he created, 5 STA-Z, and it became a lifeline that kept schoolkids engaged and learning. Having made the board game available to more than 4,000 Ugandan students while shouldering rigorous coursework of his own, Baraka tells OZY, “It’s so amazing to know that you’re helping children from home who previously couldn’t access learning.” 

Shay Moore Not all heroes wear capes, but some can make you laugh. Shay Moore is a 21-year-old content creator and musical artist from Arkansas who has posted funny, authentic videos throughout the pandemic. Many of them revolve around Black culture, with ideas drawn from her own childhood experiences. Moore told Sheen magazine, “I like to shine the light on my people in a positive way. I use my platforms as an opportunity to create relatable and fun content in a culture-centered way that shows my love for all of my people.” Moore’s popular videos include “When Black people leave” and “How Black moms be on the phone.” Her plans for summer? Creating more original music.

Druski From plumbers to car salesmen and frat boys to football coaches, social media sketch comedian Druski has been providing laughs and solace throughout the dark days of the pandemic. With his wacky, yet somehow familiar, characters and witty persona, the Georgia-based creator has shot to stardom, boasting millions of followers and amusingly turbulent friendships with A-listers Drake and Lil Yachty. 

Journey to Juneteenth: New Black Literature

Speaking to the moment. Elevating awareness. Amplifying and educating. Throughout history, Black writers have strived to share the Black experience through their own powerful voices. Today’s Daily Dose highlights some remarkable reads from Black authors that speak to a broad range of audiences. From uplifting children’s books to thought-provoking anthologies, and from gripping political thrillers to descriptive nonfiction, these books crystallize what it means to be Black in a world grappling with issues of racial justice and equality.

children’s/young adult fiction

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas: This prequel to Thomas’s bestselling debut and subsequent feature film, The Hate U Give, focuses on the turbulent life of 17-year-old father-of-two Maverick Carter. Concrete Rose, released earlier this year, is peppered with themes of drug use, gangs and teenage sex –– the kind of mature topics that resulted in its predecessor being banned from Texas schools. However, these are real challenges facing young Black men, and Thomas works to illuminate them in her prose. Hoping to reach the real-life Mavericks with her book, the author says, “I want to make sure that they walk away feeling hopeful and inspired and with more love for themselves.” 

The Bench by Meghan Markle: Inspired by a poem Markle wrote for her famous royal husband on his first Father’s Day as a dad, The Bench is a warm and vibrant children’s picture book that explores “the special relationship between father and son, as seen through a mother’s eyes.” The Duchess’ book is illustrated with rich watercolor paintings by Christian Robinson, who started drawing as a child to cope with his mother’s mental health struggles. Markle says she hopes the book will resonate “with every family, no matter the makeup” as much as it does with her own.

C Is for Country by Lil Nas X: Markle isn’t the only A-lister recently debuting as a children’s book author. Country/hip-hop sensation Lil Nas X can now add “bestselling writer” to his resume with his country-themed alphabet picture book, C Is for Country. The book’s format isn’t new (A is for adventure, B is for boots, etc.), but the message is unique. The artist says he never felt like the children’s books he read growing up really enforced the mantra “be yourself,” and he hopes his will resonate with kids from all walks of life. 

Roman and Jewel by Dana Davis: The title might look suspiciously Shakespearean, and that’s for good reason. This young adult romance centers on a stage interpretation of Romeo and Juliet and also includes star-crossed lovers. In this third novel by author and actor Davis, protagonist Jerzie Jhames thinks she will finally get the chance to realize her dream of starring in a Broadway play, namely Roman and Jewel, a hip-hopera rendition of the Shakespeare classic. However, the teen (with skin “the same tone as Lupita Nyong’o . . . dark brown and incredibly beautiful”) winds up as the understudy to superstar singer Cinny. And of course, both Jerzie and Cinny fall for co-star Zeppelin. A dramatic classic in the making.

Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem by Amanda Gorman: We witnessed the inspiring young wordsmith make history with her poetry and performance during the presidential inauguration in January. Now, 2017 OZY Genius Award recipient Amanda Gorman is speaking to the next generation of writers, poets and thinkers with her children’s book Change Sings, featuring illustrations from Loren Long. The lyrical picture book, described as a “musical journey of hope and inspiration that will remind us all that change is good and necessary,” will be released this September alongside Gorman’s The Hill We Climb and Other Poems

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new books on the social justice front 

Abolition for the People: The Movement for a Future Without Policing & Prisons by Kaepernick Publishing: You already know NFL star Colin Kaepernick as a catalyst for the protest movement against racial injustice in American professional sports. Kaepernick is now expanding his activism beyond the end zone by starting his own publishing company, which is set to release its first book this fall. The anthology, Abolition for the People: The Movement for a Future Without Policing & Prisons, is a collection of 30 essays, edited by Kaepernick, that will introduce readers to “abolitionist concepts, theories and practices.”

The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation by Anna Malaika Tubbs: Great leaders are often molded, influenced or created by those closest to them. Like their moms. Tubbs shares compelling portraits of Louise Little, Alberta King and Berdis Baldwin, mothers to three of  America’s most important civil rights activists. The book, highly recommended by OZY editor-at-large Christina Greer, not only digs into how these influential matriarchs helped to shape their sons into great revolutionary leaders, but also looks to remedy a historical wrong: the erasure of Black women in American history. Tubbs, a new mother herself, opens the book with an inclusive dedication: “This is for all the mamas.” 

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America 1619-2019 by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain: Events of the past year have called into question the history of the foundation of America –– more specifically, whether it was founded on freedom or oppression. To author and respected intellectual Ibram X. Kendi, it’s both. In this extraordinary anthology, Kendi and co-editor Keisha N. Blain have assembled 90 unique voices. Each writer tackles a five-year period in history, writing in essay, short story and personal narrative about topics like America’s earliest slave voyages, the Black Lives Matter movement and many events in between.

You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories About Racism by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar: Many celebrities write books about their personal journeys and paths to success. Not Amber Ruffin, comedian, writer for Late Night With Seth Meyers and host of The Amber Ruffin Show. Her book is about her 47-year-old sister (and co-author), Lacey Lamar, and her everyday encounters with racism –– like while shopping at J.C. Penney and working as retirement community director in Omaha. And it’s hilarious –– “like a delicious (and horrifying) group chat you can’t stop checking in on.” The duo deftly tackles uncomfortable truths in a balanced dialogue that is funny, horrifying and eye-opening all at the same time. 

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just for fun 

Reading books that chronicle the hardships of being Black in the world can be educational and liberating, but also quite weighty. Here are some less heavy but equally engaging options.  

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris: Author Harris knows this scenario all too well: A Black woman navigating a predominantly white workplace. The 28-year-old author lived it herself. Harris’s debut novel follows ambitious editorial assistant Nella Rogers, who happens to be the only Black employee at her publishing company. No sooner has Nella started to bond with Hazel, a new Black woman hired in a similar position, when the story takes a sinister turn, reminiscent of Jordan Peele’s thriller Get Out. The initial manuscript, an instant hit with publishers, sold for over $1 million after a bidding war. Harris is now writing a pilot for a Hulu television series with Rashida Jones. 

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour: Can a novel about racism in corporate America be funny? Yes, when it’s in the hands of Brooklynite writer Askaripour. His debut work, a New York Times bestseller, tells the story of a young and smart, but somewhat unmotivated barista who lands a corporate job at a startup and is the only Black person on staff. Drawing on his very similar personal experience, Askaripour weaves satirical tropes and astute observations about racism and startup culture into a “hilarious, razor-sharp skewering of America’s workforce.” Wired calls it a “doozy.”

Love Is a Revolution by Renée Watson: This young adult novel is about so much more than falling in love –– it’s about falling in love with yourself. Best-selling author Watson tells the story of 17-year-old Nala Robertson, a plus-sized, dark-skinned girl, who’s crushing on a young activist. In order to impress him, Nala tells a few lies, which become increasingly more challenging to maintain. However, while navigating that path of deceit, she discovers her own truth and “all the ways love is hard, and how self-love is revolutionary.” It’s an intimate, funny love letter about self-love and Black joy.

Sure, I’ll Be Your Black Friend: Notes from the Other Side of the Fist Bump by Ben Philippe: How much Beyoncé is too much Beyoncé? If you embrace Ben Phillipe as your Black friend, he’ll tell you. Because he “takes his role as your new Black friend seriously” –– as long as it’s equally reciprocated. In this candid and sometimes hilarious memoir, Philippe shares his experiences of being the BBFF (Best Black Friend Forever) and all the complexities that these relationships and his own Black identity involve. The first page begins: “The Blackness that follows is purely Ben shaped.” 

While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams: This bestselling political thriller is actually Stacy Abrams’ ninth novel (the previous eight are romances published under her pen name, Selena Montgomery). The tension-filled tale focuses on a young law clerk, Avery Keene, who unexpectedly becomes the legal guardian of her boss, a Supreme Court justice, who has fallen into a coma. But that’s just the start of this “sophisticated novel, layered with myriad twists and a vibrant cast of characters.” 

some all-time favorites 

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou: Fans of the acclaimed poet will  already be familiar with Angelou’s debut memoir (1969) chronicling her coming of age as a Black girl in the South in the 1930s and later in California in the 1940s. Among the stories, she tells of how she lived with a group of homeless teenagers for a month and later defied racist hiring policies to become the first Black streetcar conductor in San Francisco at 16. Fellow author and activist James Baldwin praised the book, saying, “Maya Angelou confronts her own life with such a moving wonder, such a luminous dignity.” 

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley and Malcolm X: Based on multiple interviews conducted by Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X paints a vivid picture of one of America’s most influential human rights activists. It covers all aspects of X’s life — from a childhood rife with racist encounters to his years spent as a drug dealer and his subsequent transformation into a militant activist. It provides insight into the events that pushed X to turn his life around, starting with his arrest for a home burglary, after which point he stopped using drugs and eventually joined the Nation of Islam.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander: This book by legal scholar and civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander has been described as “the bible of a social movement.” It powerfully and convincingly takes on the implicit racism in the American criminal justice system that has resulted in the incarceration of millions of African Americans. It also debunks the notion that the United States has become “colorblind” after reaching the milestone of electing the first Black president. 

Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde: Much of the potent, “thorny” prose in this book is as relevant today as when it was first published in 1984. Across the collection of 15 essays and speeches, Lorde, a self-described “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” examines how exploring differences in race, sexual preference, age, gender and class can lead to action and change. In this hard-hitting yet lyrical read, the author reminds us that “revolution is not a one-time event.”

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Davis: Gloria Steinem calls it “a small book that will be a huge help in daily life and action.” This collection of thought-provoking essays, interviews and speeches deftly draws connections between liberation struggles of past and present. Davis, a world-renowned activist and scholar, dives deep into topics like police brutality, systemic racism, and international solidarity with Palestine, pushing the reader to “imagine and build the movement for human liberation.”

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois: Originally published in 1903, the theories presented by Du Bois in this work set the foundation for subsequent Black protest movements in the U.S. In the book, Du Bois proposes that “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.” For more than a century, this collection of essays has fueled key conversations about race in America and it remains a touchstone for African American literature.

Support Black-Owned Bookstores: https://ew.com/books/black-owned-bookstores-to-support/ 

How George Floyd’s Murder Sparked Change

This is a moment for solemn reflection across America. One year after the murder of George Floyd, we can see progress in the fight for racial justice, as well as the long road ahead to achieving true equality. To mark this tragic anniversary, today’s Daily Dose offers a collection of important ideas we’ve seen from various communities, intellectuals and activists in efforts to help Reset America. Please share your thoughts on how we can stamp out police brutality, systemic racism and the wealth gap by emailing me.

real changes on the ground 

George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The sweeping police reform bill was introduced last June and is now making its rounds through the Capitol. Though legislators were  supposed to be ready to vote by today, the bill will not meet this deadline, but chief architect of the bill Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) believes the legislation could be passed in the coming weeks. The proposed bill includes key reforms of policing practices. It bans dangerous chokeholds at the federal level, overhauls qualified immunity for officers and creates a national police misconduct registry to prevent police departments from unknowingly hiring officers who have been fired for misconduct at another department. 

Department Defunding. Although the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is still up in the air at the federal level, there has already been some police reform at the municipal level. “Defund the police” has become one of the rallying cries of the Black Lives Matter movement around the country. While the slogan has been controversial and often misunderstood, activists have successfully pressured local lawmakers into reallocating police funding toward public programs that better address the root causes of crime and poverty, such as housing, mental health, education and food access. Though historically ignored, calls for defunding over the past year have prompted more than 20 major U.S. cities to reduce their police budgets. According to research by the Barnard Center for Research on Women, U.S. police departments collectively lost $840 million in funding in 2020, with at least $160 million ploughed into community programs.  

No More No-Knock. After a botched police raid resulted in the death of 26-year-old Louisville EMT Breonna Taylor, Kentucky’s largest city passed “Breonna’s Law,” effectively banning no-knock search warrants. Its implementation prompted greater movements to limit and ban the controversial warrants around the country, including a federal ban of them included in the proposed George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Though not a complete ban, the Kentucky governor signed statewide legislation last month significantly limiting the use of the warrant with exceptions only under very specific circumstances, such as when the alleged crime committed would qualify the person as a violent offender, or situations when giving notice of entry would endanger someone’s life.

Banking Breakthrough. Countrywide, changes are extending beyond police reform. Initiatives are also in place to encourage companies and institutions to implement reparations for Black communities disadvantaged as a result of slavery and its lasting effects. Amalgamated Bank, the largest union-owned bank in the U.S., became the first major American bank to endorse HR 40, a bill that, if passed, would establish a commission to study and develop reparations for African Americans. The Bank of America is also answering calls for reparations, providing grants of up to $25,000 for entrepreneurs of color through the Sweet Auburn Works Retail Accelerator Fund, part of their greater $1.25 billion pledge to advance racial equality and economic opportunity. 

Higher Education Equity. Universities are also feeling the pressure, as students and community members are calling for academic institutions — including Brown, Georgetown and the University of Georgia — to atone for legacies of slavery and discrimination through reparations for slave descendants, programs funding their surrounding Black communities and greater efforts to establish racial equity on campus. Virginia also recently passed a bill that mandates five of the state’s universities to fundraise or allocate endowment funds toward scholarships and economic development programs for the descendants of slaves who worked at the schools and other members of their communities. Historically Black Colleges and Universities have also long struggled with discriminatory funding from the state, though Maryland last year voted to pay reparations worth more than half a billion dollars as compensation to its four HBCUs.  

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big ideas

Embrace Big Data. It’s commonly said in business that, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Government needs to follow suit. Uncle Sam really doesn’t know how often police use force, much less why they do so or even whether the force used was justifiable. There’s no data for high-speed car chases; only one state, Utah, tracks forcible entries by police. Even worse, police officials have no idea how many people are arrested but later proven innocent or released without facing a single charge. The Department of Justice has already been granted the right by Congress to require use-of-force data tracking, but it has never wielded that lofty power, content to leave the tracking to news outlets and academic institutions. Some police departments, though, are beginning to open up their use-of-force data for external scrutiny: San Francisco law enforcement shares the numbers with Seattle University academics for analysis. Will other departments follow suit?

Bail Out Protesters — and End Cash Bail for Good. Change, whether incremental or widespread, wouldn’t have happened at all without protesters putting themselves at risk and braving the possibility of police brutality to push for change. The past year has seen a shift in how such activists are treated. Businesses are increasingly throwing their support behind activist causes, and celebrities from Jameela Jamil to Harry Styles have banded together to pay bail for demonstrators who were imprisoned during protests. The cash bail system criminalizes poverty and exacerbates the cycle by putting the accused at risk of losing their jobs, families and homes in the process. Read More on OZY

From Barbers to Life Savers. The American health care system has disproportionately poor outcomes for patients of color, as OZY explored in a special episode of The Carlos Watson Show segment “Real Talk, Real Change.” Meanwhile, Michael DeVore, who earned an OZY Genius Award in 2017 to work on his app connecting college students to cheaper haircuts, has responded by helping barbers on his Live Chair platform connect Black customers with basic medical screening checks that can be hugely important in preventing deadly conditions that African Americans are more prone to, from colon cancer to high blood pressure. 

Eliminate the First Two Years of College. Let’s stop pretending those two years are significant to a student’s academic competence or workplace readiness. Student loans are crippling the finances of many Americans, and Black Americans are hit particularly hard with a quadruple whammy: They are more likely to take on student debt, owe more debt on average, are still less likely to finish with a degree and earn less when they do graduate. The vast majority of classes done in the first two years of college are focused on general education, with little direct career application. What’s worse, a recent study has shown those classes deliver little in terms of intellectual gain — with no statistically significant increase in critical thinking, complex reasoning or writing ability. The Biden administration’s shift toward financially emphasizing two-year community college programs — by planning to offer them tuition free — is a meaningful step toward acknowledging the weaknesses of the current four-year system. 

Rethink School Rankings. Writer Malcolm Gladwell recently joined us for OZY Fest, where he talked about the power of historically Black colleges and universities. “We basically are measuring all of the wrong things,” he says, referring to U.S. News & World Report’s college rankings. “[HBCUs] are doing amazing things that are getting dissed by the rankings … [they] essentially tell you that HBCUs are at the bottom, and fancy, expensive, small liberal arts colleges in New England are at the top. And that is not a reflection of what they actually do as educational institutions …. It may seem like a small thing, but it’s a reflection of our values.” His solution? Rework ranking parameters so that they capture attributes such as the community spirit that HBCUs build, or their high graduation rates with low funding. By giving them more love, society would guarantee that HBCUs do even better in the future. Watch Now.

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interesting people in the justice conversation

Nupol Kiazolu. 2036. That is the year 20-year-old social activist and community organizer Nupol Kiazolu says she will become the president of the United States. The Brooklyn native has already served as the president of the Youth Coalition of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York and has organized hundreds of marches in the more than eight years she has been an activist. Kiazolu is from the poorest congressional district in Brooklyn and uses the challenges she has faced and continues to experience to inspire her to push through and to be a voice of change. Kiazolu is a political science and pre-law major at Hampton University, an HBCU, and has managed to take 18 hours of classes a week while still organizing demonstrations. 

Kendrick Sampson. You may recognize Kendrick Sampson from his acting roles in shows like HBO’s Insecure and ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder. But he is also an activist and the co-founder of BLD PWR (pronounced “build power”), a nonprofit, personalized training program meant to help entertainers, artists and other creatives use their platform to advance radical social change. The organization is also geared toward community building. As an actor, Sampson has been inclined to portray Black male characters who showcase nuance and complexity. Offscreen, he uses his influence as a public figure to voice his opinion on intersectional oppression, spread resources and build solidarity among inspired change-makers. 

Stacey Abrams. From bestselling Harlequin romance novelist and Georgia house minority leader to the face of voting rights, Stacey Abrams, 47, has done it all. After unsuccessfully running for governor of Georgia, in a 2018 election rife with electoral irregularities and questionable voter purges, Abrams, who helped flip Georgia blue in the past year, has become an eloquent advocate for fairness in America’s political system. 

Coleman Hughes. Not too many people can say they testified before Congress at the age of 23. But Coleman Hughes can, having argued against reparations in 2019 opposite pro-reparations writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. Now 25, Hughes is a contributing editor at the City Journal specializing in race, public policy and applied ethics and was a fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He is also the host of the podcast Conversations With Coleman and last year was featured on Forbes’ 30 Under 30. Last June, the northern New Jersey native wrote an article for the City Journal entitled “Stories and Data: Reflections on race, riots, and police” in response to the unrest after the death of George Floyd.

Worth Your Attention. There are many more people working at the front lines of activism across America and the world today, from Alicia Garza and Jalen Thompson to Assa Traoré and Charlamagne Tha God. Read More on OZY 

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how the world has changed

Indigenous Lives Matter. Police officers try to arrest a man. They say he resists. Soon after, he is dead, a victim of police violence. It was the story of George Floyd, and it was also the story of Kumanjayi Walker, an Aboriginal Australian who was killed in police violence in November 2019. Like dozens of similar cases, this one sparked outrage that was soon overrun by other news . . . until Floyd’s murder and the global protests that followed ignited an “Indigenous Lives Matter” movement. Now, discriminatory treatment of native communities has gained prominence in Australian politics. Yet acts of discrimination rose dramatically in 2019, research shows. Experts argue the rise was due in part to the growing polarization against minority communities in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

European Reckoning. For generations, an 18-foot statue of Edward Colston in Bristol, England had served as a reminder of his “philanthropy.” But Colston’s charity was always tainted by blood: He made his wealth as a slave trader. After 125 years on a pedestal, Colston’s statue was yanked down and dumped into the channel last June as the U.K. grappled with its historical blindness to its racist icons. The University of Bristol, in particular, has promised a deep review of the city’s ties with transatlantic slave trade, led by Cameroon-born Olivette Otele, Britain’s first Black female history profesor. The demand for change is also echoing in France, where Black Lives Matter protests erupted last year, seeking justice for young men like Adama Traore who have died at the hands of the police.

#EndSARS. The protests in the U.S. against police violence echoed around the world — and nowhere more so than in Africa, especially in the continent’s most populous nation: Nigeria. A yearslong campaign by Nigerian activists against a police unit called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), notorious for kidnapping and murdering people, finally reached a tipping point. After weeks of protests and clashes, Nigeria’s government last year decided to scrap SARS, a rare instance of the country’s administration buckling to public pressure. The state government of Lagos has also set up a panel that’s probing allegations of human rights violations and crimes committed by SARS officers. 

Brazil’s BLM. Brazil’s Black population has long faced police violence and racism — even though about half of Brazilians identify as Black or have African ancestry, according to the 2010 census. But the wave of anger that swept the U.S. after Floyd’s death also hit Brazil, fueling a powerful Black Lives Matter movement there that is refusing to tolerate systemic racism anymore. That movement led to the country’s Supreme Court banning police raids on the country’s favelas during the pandemic unless necessary — though President Jair Bolsonaro’s government has disregarded the ruling.Diplomatic Consequences. But the impact of Floyd’s killing — and other police attacks on Black Americans — isn’t limited to the streets or the courts. It’s also playing out in the hallowed halls of global diplomacy. Long pilloried by the U.S. for their problematic human rights records, China and Russia have returned the favor over the past year, using America’s terrible record on race to question its credibility as a moral force.

Your 2021 NBA Playoff Guide

The NBA regular season is fun and all. But the playoffs? That’s where legends are made. The Lakers hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy last year, but COVID-19 illnesses and the bubble format put a damper on the proceedings, making theirs a championship with an asterisk for some. The low-key beauty of this season’s edition: We can focus on basketball once more. No, that doesn’t mean things are “normal” by any stretch. The inaugural play-in tournament is already shaking up the field, and a number of other X-factors could also change the trajectory of the league. Who will earn glory, and who will wilt under the pressure? Here’s our shot. 

unprecedented playoffs

The Pivotal Play-In. NBA teams usually get a best-of-seven series to prove themselves. But NBA officials chose to add a twist this year: a play-in tournament for four teams in each conference. Put simply, the seventh and eighth seeds must win one of two games to secure their playoff ticket, while the ninth and 10th seeds — which normally wouldn’t make the playoffs at all — can steal a spot if they win two straight games. The Boston Celtics secured their place by beating the Washington Wizards, who will now face the Indiana Pacers for the final Eastern Conference spot. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Golden State Warriors, who will now face the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday to earn the last Western Conference spot.

What’s So Controversial? The play-in twist was included to add intrigue after the COVID-19 bubble tournament drew rave reviews for its exciting play. But it’s become more controversial after injuries put two of the league’s most popular players — former MVPs LeBron James and Stephen Curry, who leads the league in scoring — at risk of elimination while facing each other. “Whoever came up with that s— needs to be fired,” James quipped. It’s worth noting James himself was touting the idea back in March 2020, when it seemed unlikely it would affect him. James made the point moot by draining a 34-foot 3-pointer over Curry with a minute left to win on Wednesday night. But Curry could be out after just two playoff games if he can’t beat the Grizzlies in their Friday matchup. 

the x-factors

Utah Jazz v Brooklyn Nets

What Can Brown Do for You? Drafted in 2018 from the University of Miami, 6-foot-4 guard Bruce Brown embodies Brooklyn grit for the Nets. You’re not always going to see his value on the stat sheet — he averages a mere 8.4 points per game. But he makes his presence felt with his intangibles. You might have seen highlights of him fighting among giants for rebounds and diving for loose balls. His game complements Brooklyn’s three-headed scoring machine of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden well. His ability to move without the ball counters the traps and doubles his star teammates attract. He also makes the most of the minutes he has on the court, shooting 62.5% from 2-point range. Efficient.

Hollywood’s Young Gun. When serious injuries derailed both Anthony Davis and LeBron James for a combined 63 games, it was clear the Lakers needed firepower. Cue Talen Horton-Tucker, the team’s youngest player at just 20. The former Iowa State Cyclone and Chicago standout is 6-foot-4 and has lanky arms that lead to an impressive 7-foot-1 wingspan, making him a steal and deflection threat on defense and helping him to score quickly off the bench. Is he the best player on the court? No. But next to James and Davis, his performance could turn a series for the Lakers.

New York’s Rim Protector. One word: shot-blocking. That’s what Knicks center Nerlens Noel will bring to the playoffs. With the absence of fellow shot-block artist Mitchell Robinson due to injury, Noel has fortified the Knicks’ defense seamlessly, finally living up to his potential as the sixth pick out of the University of Kentucky way back in 2013. He has the third-most blocks (141) and the second-highest block percentage (8.7%) in the league. He is also an underrated thief, nabbing 1.3 steals per game, making him the only player in the NBA to average two blocks and one steal per game. Noel’s role is not conducive to him being a major scorer, but his rim protection will help the Knicks maintain their hard-nosed defensive identity

Trail Blazing Skills. This 2018 Portland Trail Blazers first-rounder is multifaceted. He’s a Slam Dunk Contest champion and tied the NBA record for consecutive 3-pointers without a miss with nine. While Portland has been consistent in making the playoffs and, in some cases, has overachieved, they still haven’t truly contended for a championship … and some wonder if blowing up the roster is the only way they’ll get there. Anfernee Simons may be the answer either way, though: If he can build some consistency and play with confidence, he might be that unexpected threat that will take Damian Lillard and crew to the promised land.

Comeback After a Flameout? Last year, Kendrick Nunn put up 15.3 points per game and 3.3 assists per game and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting. Hopes of contributing to a Miami Heat team that ended up making the NBA Finals were imminent until he contracted COVID-19 before the team departed for the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida. Although his play dropped, the 25-year-old could be primed to bounce back in the postseason for a Heat team that needs as many scorers as possible. 

Great expectations. Since De’Andre Hunter was picked fourth overall in the 2020 NBA draft, Atlanta’s expectations for this 6-foot-8 former University of Virginia forward have been through the roof. And, for the first part of this season, he was proving he can make it happen — showing fantastic defensive and offensive consistency while draining 3s —  before a pesky right knee injury limited him to just 21 games. Now that he’s back and healthy, the Hawks can’t be overlooked and stand at least a chance of victory when they take on the gritty New York Knicks in the first round.

the juiciest storylines

Atlanta Hawks v New York Knicks

Escape GOAT. While resting players at the end of the season is common practice in the NBA, the Clippers are rumored to have thrown the last stretch of their season to avoid playing the Lakers and facing LeBron James (the GOAT besides, perhaps, Michael Jordan). The Clippers were a No. 3 seed and would have been slated to play the Lakers, but started losing games near the end of the season. In fact, of the six teams to secure a playoff berth in the NBA’s Western Conference, the Clips were the only team that finished below .500 in the final 10 games of the season. Besides resting starters and losing to basement dwellers like the Houston Rockets and the Oklahoma City Thunder, the backdrop is that Paul George and Kawhi Leonard underperformed last postseason, giving up a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinals. The Clippers don’t want to get bounced early again, of course. Playing scared or playing smart, either way the team will avoid a Lakers matchup in the first round.

The Knicks Are Back — Or Are These the Bulls? The New York Knicks have been one of the biggest surprises of the season, after the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook projected before the season that the team would be tied for the worst win total, at 22.5 wins. Now, with the Knicks at a 41-31 record going into the playoffs, some are wondering: Why were betters mistaken? Look no further than Tom Thibodeau, the former Chicago Bulls coach who not only brought his coaching style to the Big Apple but also two of his former players: Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose. Thibodeau is known for overworking his top players — playing them for upward of 38 minutes per game — and demanding immense defensive effort. Rose, a former MVP whose star dimmed after a knee injury, has succeeded in turning back the clock as a dependable scorer and distributor.

Nets Super Slander. Remember the heat (pun intended) LeBron took after his Miami dream team lost to the Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals? Or the criticism Durant faced for joining Golden State after his OKC squad gave up a 3-1 lead to them in the Western Conference Finals? Well, those disappointments will pale in comparison should the Brooklyn Nets fail to at least reach the NBA Finals this year. Why? The Nets count three of the top 10 players in the NBA on their roster. Even though injuries meant that the Big Three played less than 10 games together in the regular season, the Nets still finished with the league’s second-best offensive rating. Irving, at point guard, notched a rare “50-40-90” season. Durant is shooting a record-clip from 3. And Harden was looking like an MVP front-runner as a scorer and passer before he went down. Now, they must deliver on that talent.

Reject the Doubters. The Utah Jazz finished the season with the best record in the NBA at 52-20. The team employs an offensive scheme that emphasizes ball movement and superior 3-point shooting — it leads the league with an average of nearly seventeen 3-pointers per game. The Jazz is also home to the likely Defensive Player of the Year in center Rudy Gobert, who is having one the best defensive seasons in modern NBA history. The lengthy Frenchman is the foremost reason for the Jazz’s top-flight defense in patrolling the basket. However, these are all regular season accomplishments. Will these feats translate in the postseason? The Jazz haven’t had a long playoff run in a while, and will be tested.

Hottest in the East? The Atlanta Hawks have the best record in the Eastern Conference, 27-11, since getting a major boost after Nate McMillan was designated the interim head coach on March 2. The team’s young star Trae Young is as reliable as ever, averaging over 25 points and nine assists per game, good for the second-most in the league. But the player with the biggest improvement has been Bogdan Bogdanović. As McMillan has introduced more off-ball action to spring his players open, the Serbian sharpshooter has averaged 22 points per game while shooting a scorching 49.5% from beyond the arc on 9.3 attempts per game in the last 25 games of the season. That level of slinging, and the efficiency, could propel the Hawks deep into the postseason. 

possible game-changers

Phoenix Suns v Denver Nuggets

Reffing Conundrum. Referee shortages caused by health issues — mostly COVID-19-related — have the potential to impact outcomes in the playoffs. It was reported on April 26 that the absences of 10 officials during the season had led to six lower-level referees from the G-League working NBA games. Anonymous general managers have already complained about the inconsistency of officiating in NBA games. And that concern will only grow when the stakes are raised among teams contending for a championship. In the playoffs, games get slower and feature a more physical brand of basketball, putting more pressure on the refs to police a game before it gets out of hand. Inexperienced referees are more likely to miss these nuances and could disrupt game flow if they can’t handle the limelight. 

COVID Caution. The return of fans, and potentially uneven attendance, could come into play too. Unlike last year, where opposing players shot at record percentages due to empty gyms, many arenas are slowly reintegrating ticket buyers. But that could lead to uneven advantages, as some states allow in more fans than others. Do the Knicks, who are currently allowing just 10% of fans inside, have a smaller home-court advantage than the Hawks, who are allowing 45% capacity? Similarly, as cities open up and teams begin to travel, the chances of contracting the virus and missing out on games will be heightened.

Black Coaches Going Far. It left a bad taste in the mouths of some after the Brooklyn Nets hired two-time MVP Steve Nash, who is white and had never been a coach, for their head coaching gig last year. After all, there were many other experienced Black coaches to choose from. African Americans make up over 70% of NBA players, yet they only occupy 5 out of the 30 head coaching jobs. Still, this postseason could see a number of Black coaches prove they are up to snuff. Just look at McMillan’s surprising success with the Hawks, Doc Rivers’ resurgence in Philadelphia and Monty Williams, who was just announced Coach of the Year with the Phoenix Suns. A Black coach winning it all could force a deeper look into why NBA teams still have a double standard in the hiring process

Down Goes Michael Jordan? Given his season-long injuries and the Lakers’ fall in the standings, LeBron is no longer seen as a front-runner to win his fifth championship this year. But if he does? A fifth championship inches him to just one less than Jordan, who he has already surpassed in a number of statistical milestones. And an upset victory over a stacked team, like, say, the Brooklyn Nets, would cement LeBron’s place in NBA lore as a serious GOAT contender. Of course, the passions are too high at this point for LeBron to ever truly defeat Jordan in the minds of many a ’90s child. Still, a shocker of a championship would go a long way in building LeBron’s closing argument in the twilight of his career.