Thursday, December 30, 2010

One of my latest articles for London: Education, or lack of, in the United Kingdom

Education lockout for Black Brits?

BY CHARLENE MUHAMMAD -STAFF WRITER- | LAST UPDATED: DEC 30, 2010 - 12:56:12 PMwww.finalcall.comBlack students lag behind in UK—and problem will get worse, says advocates


‘It's (fee hikes) definitely going to make it worse for Black students but Black people in the U.K. are the most deprived community in the poorest areas of the country. Because of the discrimination we face in the workplace, we're likely to be in the more lower paid jobs and face high rates of unemployment.’
—Zita Holbourne, education activist and joint chair of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts

( - Revelations by a Member of Parliament that Black and other minority students are disproportionately underrepresented at two of London's elite universities is another side of a compounded struggle faced by Black students fighting against tuition increases and for equal access to education, say advocates.

On December 7 in The Guardian newspaper, David Lammy, a former higher education minister and Labour MP for Tottenham, struck a chord when he published the findings of a six-month investigation into undergraduate admissions statistics at Oxford and Cambridge universities.

“Justone British Black Caribbean student was admitted to Oxford last year ... Merton College, Oxford, has not admitted a single Black student for five years. At Robinson College, Cambridge, a White applicant is four times more likely to be successful than a Black applicant. Last year, 292 Black students achieved three A grades at A-level and 475 Black students applied to Oxbridge. Applications are being made but places are not being awarded,” Mr. Lammy wrote in the Guardian.

What his investigation revealed was a system in which getting a place remains a matter of being White, middle class and Southern, he wrote.

Mr. Lammy's study preceded a vote by MP's which allows universities to raise tuition fees from 3,250 pounds to up to 9,000 pounds per year. Their vote did not address how the tuition hikes could widen the race and class admissions gap at the schools, he said.

“The stigma of Oxford and Cambridge and Russell Group universities as culturally exclusive, coupled with the fear of extortionate living costs and fees, as well as the inadequate welfare support once there, are a potent mix that prevents many Black students from considering those leading institutions,” wrote Kanja Sesay, National Union of Students' Black Student Officer in an e-mail to The Final Call.

“Clearly, more needs to be done to attract and enable Black students who hold appropriate academic qualifications to apply to the leading institutions. However, when the majority of Black students come from the poorest socio-economic groups, it begs the question how this government proposes to help remedy this exclusion?”

Mr. Lammy and Mr. Sesay both noted that there are more Black students studying in London Met University than there are in the entire Russell group (the top 20 Universities in the country). Abolishing the cap on tuition fees will inevitably lead to an even more “elitist” system, Mr. Sesay said.

And by charging more for their courses, the universities will create an even greater race and class divide between higher education institutions, he added.

Mr. Lammy said the responsibility for social justice and fairness was erroneously left up to the goodwill of the universities, but it is government's responsibility.

In a phone interview, Julia Paolitto, press officer with Admissions and Educational Policy for the University of Oxford, told The Final Call Mr. Lammy's reports claiming that Oxford has admitted only one Black student last year are incorrect.

In a follow-up email, she further replied, “The ‘only one Black student' figure only refers to British Black students of Caribbean descent—in total Oxford admitted 27 Black British students in 2009 (and this does not include those of mixed race or non-British Black background). There is absolutely no evidence of any kind to suggest that institutional racism is a factor in producing any of the figures Mr. Lammy cites. Oxford's total BME (Black and minority ethnic) population across the whole university is 22 percent, and at undergraduate level this is around 16 percent.”

Trevor Hakim, CEO of Black StarLine, an organization, which promotes unity in areas like education and media, believes the bottom line is economics, but it's not that the universities actually need the money. It's that they have already met their economical needs to a certain extent on the backs of the Black students, and because they don't need them anymore, the tuition hikes and admission gaps are being used to drive them out, he said.

There was no real encouragement or push for the poor working class and so-called ethnic minorities to seek higher education until the late-80s, and that push came in order to boost economics, he argued.

Now, year after year, universities figure out how to privatize and raise fees, he said.

Every political party promises every year to stop the fees but as soon as they get in power, they either maintain the fees or raise them, but the system was never set up for the betterment of particularly the poor working class and ethnic minority students, Mr. Hakim said.

The system was always an economical game plan to fill the coffers but never a doorway or opportunity for the people, he argued.

“There is a two-pronged approach and one has always been in the mold and the tradition, whether it's of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Booker T. Washington, it's always been to build learning institutions for ourselves but it has to be an educational paradigm, as the Minister (Louis Farrakhan) has said, that comes with a practical, social society, civilization building educational paradigm,” Mr. Hakim said.

The second solution is, if one's within the system, he or she should gain from and take from it what fits into their game plan, he continued. Then build and feed that into a choice of study in order to ultimately fulfill your purpose, Mr. Hakim said.

With those approaches, Black students can begin to formulate their own system of economic welfare and social care and begin to escape many of the challenges they face today, he said.

According to Mr. Sesay, Black students incur worse levels of debt when they enter into higher education, as well as lower pay, discrimination, and institutional racism in the workplace—so in the end, Black people are burdened with paying student debts for longer periods of time.

In addition, he told The Final Call, Black graduates are four times more likely to be unemployed than White graduates.

“It's (fee hikes) definitely going to make it worse for Black students but Black people in the U.K. are the most deprived community in the poorest areas of the country. Because of the discrimination we face in the workplace, we're likely to be in the more lower paid jobs and face high rates of unemployment,” said Zita Holbourne, an education activist and joint chair of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts.

Ms. Holbourne said the solutions are not easy and straightforward because of the social and economic conditions of the country, but the universities and colleges are bound by their public sector duties regarding race, gender, and disability.

“They are supposed to identify if there is any impact on those equality grounds in their policies and if there is, they have to address and mitigate that,” Ms. Holbourne said.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

My last interview with Teena Marie

(Soulful songbird Teena Marie and her daughter Alia Rose (photo by Charlene Muhammad)

I have a lot of memories of Teena Marie and like many, I love her music and I really loved the smooth way about her.  I love cleaning up to her music but mostly I used to skate to her songs a lot.  My favorite Teena Marie song is "I'm Gonna Have My Cake (And Eat It Too)."

My mother just called to tell me that she had passed away at age 54 and I thought, it just can’t be true!  I just saw her. I just hugged her.  I just interviewed her!  

On October 11, my daughter, Ra’eesah and I were at Sheryl Lee Ralph’s 20th Annual “Divas Simply Singing!” which she created in 1990 as a memorial tribute to many of her friends in the entertainment industry, which were passing away left and right.  Teena appeared with her beautiful daughter, Alia Rose on the red carpet. They both performed that night.  

Before I interviewed Teena, she gave me the warmest greetings of peace, “As Salaam Alaikum, Sistah!”  But you know Teena’s soulful rhythm.  It actually came out like a song.

As she was just in the middle of answering my first question, her red carpet escort began to rush her into the theatre but she insisted on completing her answer for me.  

I asked Teena specifically what she thought was contributing to the rising infection rates of HIV/AIDS among our women and girls and what she thought could be done to curb them.  We only got halfway through my intended 3 question interview, but I’ll always cherish the audio with her soulful voice on it and I thank Allah for granting me the time.  Teena replied:

“It just makes me so sad because women, mothers are our future and really the strength of all families, whether it’s Black families, White families, whatever, just the awareness on a family level.  I think some people just ignore things and it just really, really can’t be ignored because a lot of people probably don’t know that.  A lot of people probably don’t know that it affects African American women more than anyone else.  You know what I’m saying?  So maybe if they’re not conscious of that, they’re not really thinking about it like, ‘It’s going to hurt me or whatever.’  Our women are our future. As Salaam Alaikum.  Nice to see you.”

Rest In Peace dear sister Teena Marie and May Allah be pleased with you and be with your family now and always!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Georgia Prisoners Stage The December 9 Strike!

I received a tip to one of the stories I'm working on for the Final Call Newspaper by Elaine Brown, former chairman of the Black Panther Party.  She told me that thousands of prisoners across the state of Georgia are set to cause a work stoppage Thursday by staying in their cells for what they are calling a peaceful, one-day protest for their human rights.

According to Elaine, the inmates' action, aka the December 9 Strike, will include men from Baldwin, Hancock, Hays, Macon, Smith, and Telfair State Prisons, and that they are targeting the Georgia Department of Corrections because it treats them like slaves.

Some of their demands are living wages for work, educational opportunities beyond a GED (equivalent of a high school diploma), and decent health care.

She added, "The prisoner leaders issued the following call:  'No more slavery.  Injustice in one place is injustice to all ... Lock down for liberty!"  

When she was talking, Michael Jackson's song below came to mind; but look for more on what happened during the strike, the Geogia DOC's response, and the outcome of their action in the Final Call soon!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Black Midwives this Saturday on Some of Us Are Brave

This Saturday, certified midwife Sis. JayVon Muhammad out of Oakland, California will be at Muhammad Mosque #27 at 5350 Crenshaw Blvd (@ 54th) to present a seminar on homebirth and midwifery care, "The Solution to Pregnancy and Childbirth Issues in the Black Community."  The program is from 2-6 pm and admission is just $10.  

But before the event she'll be my guest, along with Shafia Monroe, veteran midwife and president of the International Center for Traditional Childbearing, and Western Region Student Captain Aminah Muhammad.

We will discuss the benefits of home births, and something that's new to me:  the "Baby Mama" epidemic, and how it impacts Black infant mortality.

Thanks for tuning in!  That's from 1-1:30 PM on KPFK, 90.7 FM in Los Angeles, 98.7 FM in Santa Barbara, and streaming live online at

I hope you won't but in case you miss the show, it can be heard along with some of our past shows for the next 90 days on KPFK's website through Audio Archives.

Meanwhile, here are some links to their websites:


Sis Charlene

BAIL DENIED! Oscar Grant's killer headed to prison

(following an earlier court appearance, l-r, Jack Bryson, Wanda Johnson, Student Minister Keith Muhammad, and Cephus Johnson) 

The family of Oscar Grant is making their way now to speak to the press about the bail hearing of Johannes Mehserle, the former BART officer who shot and killed their son on News Years Day, 2009.  A jury convicted Mehserle of involuntary manslaughter, with negligence for using a gun; Judge Robert Perry overruled the jury, threw out the gun enhancement, and sentenced Mehserle to two years, the minimum.  

Today his attorney requested that he be sent home on bail and Grant's uncle, Cephus 'Uncle Bobby' Johnson, just told the Final Call in an interview from court that bail was denied!  

They are making their way to a press conference with supporters but here is his full statement to the Final Call:

Cephus "Uncle Bobby" Johnson:

The biggest thing is that no bail was granted.

We were surprised there was no argument on the issues that he was a threat to society or a flight risk.  After the shooting he fled to Nevada and he has had incidents of excessive force before.

Also it was not brought up in court about his record, that he has been represented for excessive force.  Those two weren’t considered, but the judge (Robert Perry) didn’t grant bail because I actually thought that he knew those were realities, that Mehserle’s a flight risk because he has run before.

It lets me know that he is one of the first police officers that will go into the prison as an inmate, and not as a guard or a policeman.

It doesn’t take away our pain of the fact that he only got about six months, but we understand too that as far as history is concerned, its a small step in the right direction.

Wanda’s (his sister and Oscar’s mother) sentiments are, for a brief, brief moment right now, she’s smiling concerning what happened today but she is still in pain.  We just had Thanksgiving, and Oscar wasn’t with us.

What’s next for the family:

Of course, we are pursuing the Department of Justice and will do whatever we can to bring leverage and push for moving the process forward.

We are also taking a look at some of the judicial issues concerning Judge Perry himself, which include his failure to give the correct jury instructions and the way he handled the case from beginning to the end.