Wangari Maathai Dies at 71

This remarkable environmental activist pioneered an effort that led to the planting of thirty million trees in Africa. An indefatigable advocate for women’s rights and human rights, Maathai’s efforts to fight poverty, gender discrimination, and environmental degradation led to her becoming the first African female to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Click here to view her Nobel Lecture delivered in Oslo, Norway, December 10, 2004.

Wangari Maathai, Peace Prize Laureate, Dies at 71 – NYTimes.com.

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Miles Lives

Miles Davis died on September 28, 1991. He was 65 years old. He provided the soundtrack for two generations of music lovers during a career that spanned five decades. His bold experiments in fusing jazz with elements of rock, R&B, and funk changed the course of modern music. Ashe Brother Miles.

NYT Obituary: Miles Davis, Trumpeter, Dies; Jazz Genius, 65, Defined Cool.

Click here for the Official Miles Davis web site.

What Happened to Boxing?

I think the short answer to the question above is Bob Arum and Don King. As far as I’m concerned, greedy and corrupt boxing promoters ruined my favorite sport.

I grew up a diehard boxing fan. The earliest fighters I remember are Sugar Ray Robinson, Floyd Patterson, and Archie Moore. Having been born in Cincinnati, I also knew about local boxing legend Ezzard Charles. In the late fifties boxing was ubiquitous and immensely popular. Fights were sometimes broadcast on television several times a week (and this was at a time when there were only three commercial channels). I would watch Gillette’s Cavalcade of Sports on Friday nights even though I was just an adolescent. Along with Howdy Doody and Amos ‘n’ Andy, those Friday night fights comprise my earliest memories of television.

Cassius Clay’s bombastic arrival on the boxing scene in the early sixties only increased my enthusiasm for the sport. Like Malcolm X, John Coltrane, and Richard Pryor, Muhammad Ali instantly became a central figure in the pantheon of “black” men in the sixties of whom we were manifestly proud and who we deemed our fiercest warriors for truth and liberation. Meeting Ali when I was thirteen only solidified my hero worship of the man.

I remained a fierce fan of the sport throughout the seventies and eighties, following religiously the careers of great fighters like Salvador Sanchez, Larry Holmes, Wilfredo Gomez, Marvin Hagler, Antonio Cervantes, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran, Carlos Monzon, Azumah Nelson, Hector Comacho, Michael Spinks, Danny Lopez, Alexis Arguello, Joe Frazier, Esteban De Jesus, Ken Norton, Ray Leonard, George Foreman, Julio Cesar Chavez, and my homeboy, Aaron Pryor.

When the nineties rolled in boxing began to fade from my sports radar due to lackluster bouts featuring fighters who seemed more interested in indulging themselves outside the ring than competing in it. There were exceptions of course—Roy Jones, Jr., Pernell Whittaker, Felix Trinidad, Mike Tyson—were still worth seeing. But many big name fighters—Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Riddick Bowe, Oscar De La Hoya—simply did not ignite the fire in me that I once felt as a fan of the sport. In the 2000s my interest continued to wane despite stellar performances by Floyd Mayweather, Jr., Roy Jones, Jr., Shane Mosley, Manny Pacquiao, and a few other boxers mainly in the lower weight divisions.

These days—as the recent bout between Mayweather-Ortiz illustrates—boxing has become embarrassingly predictable. Bouts are likely to end without any real sense of closure as a result of controversial decisions and outcomes that leave fans demoralized and feeling betrayed and ripped off. While I continue to watch boxing occasionally, I no longer find myself excited by the announcements of upcoming matches even when so-called championship titles are on the line. No more paying up front and breathlessly counting down the hours and minutes before the fighters enter the ring and the combat commences. Instead, I wait patiently for days and weeks for the free broadcast of pay-per-view fights. And when I finally see them, more often than not, I congratulate myself for not falling for the hype and paying fiddy bucks to be bored, underwhelmed, or simply screwed.

All of the above is offered as preamble to the article linked below by Paul Beston. Beston, in a sweeping overview of boxing history, provides various explanations for the decline of boxing, and briefly touches on the severe consequences for the long-term physical and mental health of professional fighters. He does not, however, directly name the infamous promoters, Bob Arum and Don King, whose shady dealings, in my opinion, have helped to ruin a once great sport.

The Ghost Sport by Paul Beston, City Journal Summer 2011.

Racism USA

“While the US boycotts the UN Durban 3 conference on combating racism, racism and oppression are still deeply entrenched in America. Slavery and segregation maybe a thing of the past, but African Americans are still no where near achieving equality.”

Trends in median wealth by race

This disparity in wealth stems from a time in history when 90% of “blacks” in the U.S. could not only not acquire property but were themselves the property of others. The disparity has persisted, however, due to the antiblack racism that remains a central feature of the American economic system.

Trends in median wealth by race | Economic Policy Institute.

See also this Economic Snapshot that documents how “the richest 5 percent of households obtained roughly 82 percent of all the nation’s gains in wealth between 1983 and 2009.”

Riots, royal weddings and recession

Freelance journalist Lara Pawson has an interesting take on the riots that occurred in London this past summer. Pawson compares the criminality of the ruling elite to the actions of the rioters in the streets in the aftermath of the police killing of an unarmed “black” man (29 year old Mark Duggan, a father of four), and finds some interesting parallels.

See her article here: Riots, royal weddings and recession | BUALA – african contemporary culture.

Soul! A Pioneering PBS Series

Ellis Hazlip pioneered one of the most important shows for African Americans in television history. Soul! ran on PBS from 1967 to 1973, and brought great musicians, writers, and activists—some of whom made their television debut on Soul!—into our homes and our lives. To keep his rich legacy alive for future generations, Melissa Haizlip, his niece, is producing and co-directing a documentary about the show and her uncle—Mr. Soul! Ellis Haizlip and the Birth of Black Power TV. A screening of this work-in-progress will be held September 24 (today) at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, as part of the Congressional Black Caucus Independent Film Series.

Haizlip died of lung cancer on January 25, 1991. His seminal contributions to “black” media at the height of the Black Power Movement changed the face of American television.

To learn more about Haizlip and the forthcoming documentary, see this story by Ericka Blount Danois in The Root: Soul! A Pioneering PBS Series.

Click here for WNET’s selection of Soul! Episodes from 1971, 72.