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Baseball legend Jackie Robinson once sent a telegram to the White House for equal rights

A brilliant example of what can happen when you use your voice.

Image by Bob Sandberg/Library of Congress. (cropped)

Professional baseball player Jackie Robinson swings a bat in 1954.

Jackie Robinson was an amazing baseball player with serious conviction.

He had the same level of conviction in his demand for real, substantive legislation about civil rights.

He was the first black player, EVER, in baseball's major leagues in America — he would know.


Real change doesn't happen all at once. But we get there faster when voters speak up and say they expect more from our elected leaders.

Take the slow path of civil rights in America. Voters like Robinson helped push for real equality when he sent this telegram to The White House and President Eisenhower in 1957:

Image via National Archives.


In the wake of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling stating that segregated schools were not cutting it, the 1957 Civil Rights Act began taking shape under Eisenhower.Eisenhower signed the half-loafy 1957 bill, but that was just the beginning of a nation setting itself up to specifically make rights more available to everyone (and to make denying people those rights subject to some real penalties).The 1957 act was the first civil rights legislation passed since the mid-1800s, but it was was mostly lip service; it didn't do enough to tackle the huge problem of racism and prejudice in America.

There's no doubt about it, Robinson was hardcore. He did not sleep on the quest for equality.

You gotta admire athletes and people in the public eye who stick their neck out and use their public voice for equality!

And the fact is, they did have to wait a little bit longer. In 1960, another civil rights act passed. Then again in 1964, another civil rights act. We're talking two separate presidents to get America at least starting to get in front of that whole racism thing. And we're still working.

Robinson may not have gotten what he wanted right off the bat, but demanding more and not giving up hope was vital to keep the momentum going and build real change.

Bit by bit, we're building a more equal country.

Think of marriage equality. We weren't getting all wins in the court system over the years, but each fight helped to change public opinion until polls started showing that the majority of Americans believed in marriage equality. And then, finally, that Supreme Court ruling in June 2015.

Conviction and equality win, and so does love.

This article originally appeared on 09.21.15

How did Janelle Monáe go from being a poor young girl in Kansas City to one of Hollywood's breakout stars of 2016?

According to the music artist and actor, harnessing creativity, finding her confidence, and embracing the power of control were a few key factors.

Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for TNT​.


In Marie Claire's "2017 Fresh Faces" issue, Monáe opened up on a lot of different issues, like being a black woman in Hollywood — "We have to realize our power and our magic," she noted — and how poverty became her unlikely "superpower" as a kid — "Being poor helped me be more creative," she explained.

One of the more telling tidbits from the interview was Monáe's take on the importance of women having the control to be themselves in a world that's relentlessly trying to mold them into something different.

As she explained:

"It is important for women to be [in control], especially when gender norms and conformity are pushed upon us. Women automatically are told that this is how you should look. This is how you should get a man. This is how you should get a woman. You need to fit into all these boxes to be accepted. I don't subscribe to that way of thinking. ... I believe in embracing what makes you unique even if it makes others uncomfortable. I have learned there is power in saying no. I have agency. I get to decide."

So far, Monáe's decisions have shown she's a creative force to be reckoned with.

Monae, already a Grammy-nominated R&B, soul, and pop music artist, made waves on the big screen last year for her performances in "Hidden Figures" and "Moonlight," which were both nominated for Best Picture at the 2017 Oscars ("Moonlight," in spectacular fashion, won).

The star, who'd garnered few acting accolades prior to 2016, was celebrated as a force on screen in the two films, which, each in their own way, addressed race, sexuality, gender, and class in America's past and present.

Monáe portrayed Mary Jackson, who'd been a standout engineer at NASA, in "Hidden Figures." Photo by Hopper Stone.

Some music fans may have been pleasantly surprised at Monáe's seamless transition into a Hollywood star. But following her own unconventional path seems to be what Monáe does best: "I don't think we all have to take the same coordinates to reach the same destination," she told Marie Claire.

Spoken like a true trailblazer.

If you see only one Oscar-nominated film this year, make it "13th."

Directed by Ava DuVernay, the stirring documentary explores America's long history of overpolicing and imprisoning black and brown people since the passing of the 13th Amendment. DuVernay sat down with scholars, educators, elected leaders, authors, and activists to tell this troubling but necessary story.

DuVernay (left) interviews scholar and activist Angela Davis for "13th." Image via Netflix.


While these issues are difficult, we need to talk about them and, better yet, do something about them. "13th" truly couldn't have come at a better time.

Here are 13 lessons everyone should learn from this from powerful must-see film.

1. The 13th Amendment had so much promise ... almost.

Section 1 of the 13th Amendment reads:

"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

The clause, "except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted,"was included so farmers and landowners could essentially continue a form of slavery to support their businesses — so long as the black men and women were deemed criminals. There's no such thing as a throwaway clause in the Constitution. This is an intentional legal loophole.

A political cartoon from 1865 featuring President Lincoln and an amended U.S. constitution. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

2. The legal loophole in the 13th Amendment led to mass arrests and incarceration during the late 19th century.

It was the United States' first prison boom.

Black people were arrested en masse for petty crimes, like loitering or vagrancy, and incarcerated. Once labeled criminals, landowners and farmers could "lease" convicts from the state in exchange for full control of their lives.

These convicts were leased to harvest timber. Photo circa 1915, via World Digital Library/State Library and Archives of Florida.

3. While black men filled prisons, popular culture stoked fears.

Black men were portrayed in films as menacing, evil, and in relentless pursuit of white women.

In the 1915 film, "Birth of a Nation," which is essentially three hours of racist propaganda masking as a historical film, a white woman throws herself off a rocky cliff to save herself from being assaulted by a black man. Critics raved, drowning out mounting protests.

As a result of the popular film, membership in the Ku Klux Klan boomed.

Still image from "Birth of a Nation," (1915). Image via "Birth of a Nation"/Wikimedia Commons.

4. As the KKK grew, black people were terrorized and murdered.

Lynchings were used to reinforce white supremacy while traumatizing and terrorizing black people. There was a disgusting entertainment aspect to it, as mobs of white people — including elected officials and community leaders — gathered to watch victims get beaten, shot, and tortured. Picture postcards were made of the swinging, mutilated bodies.

More than 4,000 lynchings occurred between 1877 and 1950 across Texas and the American South.

A large crowd watches the lynching of 18-year-old Jesse Washington in Waco, Texas. Photo via Library of Congress.

5. The murder of Emmett Till kickstarted the Civil Rights movement.

14-year-old Emmett Till was brutally beaten and murdered by a group of white men for allegedly whistling at and flirting with a white woman in 1955. (The woman recently admitted she fabricated at least part of her testimony.) Photos from his open casket funeral and the face of Till's weeping mother sent shockwaves around the country, galvanizing black people and their allies in the fight for equality.

6. But then the War on Drugs started an unrelenting wave of mass incarceration.

Crime started to increase in the early 1960s, and many in power quickly blamed the uptick on the end of segregation. Before long, the word "crime" was a stand-in for the word "race."

Nixon appealed to southern Democrats with thinly-veiled racism and promises to clean up the streets. His rhetorical "War on Drugs" became very real in the 1980s under President Reagan, who threw money, resources, and the full weight of the executive branch behind the issue. A wide swath of an entire generation was essentially removed from the narrative.

President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy wave to supporters in November 1984. Photo by Don Rypka/AFP/Getty Images.

7. The numbers are astonishing. Full stop.

In 1970, there were 196,429 sentenced prisoners in state and federal prisons. In 1980, there were 329,821 people in state and federal prisons, and by 1990, that number more than doubled to 771,243.

Today, the American criminal justice system holds 2.3 million people. This is not normal. It is not OK.

8. Republicans are not solely to blame for this crisis. President Clinton did his part too.

In the wake of President Reagan and President George H.W. Bush, appearing "soft on crime" wasn't an option for President Bill Clinton. In 1994, he signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. It expanded the list of death penalty eligible offenses and included a "three strikes" provision, which meant mandatory life sentences for people convicted of their third felony. It also funded new prisons and provided the budget for 100,000 police officers.

President Bill Clinton. Photo by Paul Richards/AFP/Getty Images.

9. Sadly, there's a lot of money to be made off mass incarceration.

Private correctional facilities made a reported $629 million in profits in 2014, and that's just scratching the surface. From the corporations building and maintaining prison facilities, to the food vendors, health care providers, and equipment and textile manufacturers who keep them running, many companies have a lot to gain from maintaining the status quo.

An inmate stands with handcuffs in San Quentin State Prison. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

10. As mass incarceration starts to get a bad rap, the winds are shifting — and not necessarily for the better.

As mass incarceration and America's prison problem take center stage, legislators and businesses are looking for new ways to redefine the narrative while still making money. What does that look like? For starters, monetizing bail, probation, parole, and house arrest.

Photo by iStock.

11. We can't forget the people and families caught in the struggle.

In 2010, 16-year-old Kalief Browder was arrested for a robbery he insisted he did not commit. Browder was thrown into an adult correctional facility where he would spend nearly three years awaiting trial and almost two years in solitary confinement. In 2013, the district attorney dismissed the case against Browder, and he went home a free — but forever changed — young man.

After many attempts, Browder died by suicide in May 2015.

Browder's story is far too common. Many poor people, especially poor people of color, are locked up for years either awaiting trial or because they cannot afford bail.

ABC News' Juju Chang, Venida Browder, mother of Kalief Browder, and civil rights attorney Paul V. Prestia discuss Kalief Browder's life and death. Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images.

12. American prisons are intended to punish, but former felons continue to suffer after they have served their time.

Former felons are stripped of voting rights, have difficulty securing employment, applying for aid, and finding housing.

"Ban the box" campaigns that seek to end asking about felony convictions on job and aid applications are popping up across the country, and for many, these initiatives can't come soon enough.

Outreach materials at a press conference for a Ban the Box Petition Delivery to The White House in 2015. Photo by Larry French/Getty Images for ColorOfChange.org.

13. As President Trump settles into office, many are worried about his next moves — and rightfully so.

He repeatedly refers to parts of Chicago as lawless, dangerous, and worse than parts of the war-torn Middle East. He's threatened the city with federal intervention to get the "carnage" under control. His repeated calls to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants tend to include gross mischaracterizations of immigrants as gang members, rapists, or drug dealers.

His "law and order" catchphrase is the same dog whistle Nixon used to kickstart the War on Drugs. His comments about Chicago and other inner cities are stoking fears and playing to the imaginations of his base, much like the horrifying scenes in "Birth of a Nation."

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

These facts are alarming, but here's what you can do about it.

Use your privilege for good. Pass the mic to voices that may go unheard. Help others register to vote. Support Ban the Box initiatives and organizations that help people with criminal records land on their feet.

Ask to see the numbers. Plenty of police data is publicly available. Check out the numbers in your community. Look at the demographics of people being stopped, arrested, or convicted. Numbers don't lie. Hold your leaders accountable and make them answer for racial disparities.

Stay active in schools. Overpolicing and the criminalization of black people doesn't begin and end with police officers. Black children are nearly four times as likely to be suspended as white children. Ask tough questions of your child's teachers and administrators. Attend school board meetings.

Photo by iStock.

This is no ordinary crisis and it will require extraordinary solutions.

Watch the film, do your part. Let's get to work.

It seems like just yesterday, congressional leadership was pounding its chest about ensuring that the 45th president of the United States should be held to rigorous ethical standards. Step out of line and prepare to be hit with a subpoena to appear in front of the House Oversight Committee. Bam! Oh, and that Supreme Court seat they were holding open? Yeah, maybe they’d leave it open for another four years. Raring to go for an opportunity to flex some major “checks and balances” muscle, our legislative branch was making their bold intentions known.

And then something completely unexpected happened: Donald Trump was elected.


Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images.

Suddenly up became down, black became white (or orange, depending on how you look at it), and those firmly held positions became a whole lot more malleable.

Here are a few recent examples of politicians whose positions on things like ethics, conflicts of interest, and whether or not it's OK to criticize the president have changed since the election.

1. Republican members of the Senate were set on blocking any Supreme Court nominee for an indefinite amount of time. Now they say that's unacceptable.

In February 2016, Antonin Scalia died, creating a vacancy on the Supreme Court. With nearly a full year left in his presidency, Barack Obama set out to appoint Merrick Garland to the court. The Republican-controlled Senate had other plans and refused to hold hearings to confirm Garland to his spot on the court. At the time, the argument was that we should wait until the next president was sworn in to fill the open seat, but as a Clinton victory looked more and more certain, the goalposts began to shift a bit.

"If Hillary Clinton becomes president, I am going to do everything I can do to make sure four years from now, we still got an opening on the Supreme Court,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) in November. Others — such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) — seemed to support to Burr's plan.

Fast-forward to January 2017, with Donald Trump's inauguration looming ever closer. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) held a press conference to discuss the party's legislative plans for the new session. While there, McConnell touched on plans for President-elect Trump's choice to fill Scalia's court vacancy, warning Democrats that "the American people simply will not tolerate" Democrats blocking Trump's future court appointments.

Yep, that's right. In the span of a couple short months, the same senators went from aggressively suggesting that it would be fine to keep a Supreme court vacancy open for four years to condemning such behavior and calling it unacceptable, while hiding behind the American people to justify the sudden shift. In truth, yeah, a lengthy vacancy was probably unacceptable from the start, but this is a major 180.

2. In 2009, Mitch McConnell took a stand for ethical standards prior to confirming Obama's cabinet appointments. In 2017, he says he'll be much more hands-off when it comes to Trump's appointments.

In 2009, just after Obama was sworn into office, McConnell warned then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) against trying to push the president's appointments through without proper vetting. In a letter dated Feb. 12, 2009, McConnell laid out eight requirements he expected presidential appointments to meet — clearance by the FBI, approval by the Office of Government Ethics, complete and accurate committee questionnaires, and the submission of financial disclosure forms, among others. While several of Obama's appointees had already been confirmed by the Senate when the letter was written, McConnell's letter urged the "fair and consistent application" of ethical standards moving forward.

In 2017, however, those standards seem a little less fair and a lot less consistent. A number of Trump's appointees have fallen short of McConnell's list of best practices.McConnell's response to those who want to put the brakes on confirmation hearings until those standards are met: "We need to, sort of, grow up here and get past that."

Noting the bit of hypocrisy, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) decided to send McConnell's own letter back to him verbatim, with some names changed.

Ethical standards exist for a reason, and McConnell was right to take a stand in 2009 to defend them. What happened to those values once his party was back in power?

3. Obama's critics slammed the president for "picking winners and losers," but offered Trump praise for doing the same thing.

Depending on who you ask, 2009's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was either a much-needed piece of legislation that helped pull the U.S. out of the Great Recession or it was a gigantic waste of taxpayer money. At the time it passed, critics of the bill, which was designed to provide a stimulus to the economy, argued that this sort of government intervention set a dangerous precedent of picking "winners and losers." Similar concerns were put forward when Obama took steps to save the auto industry.

"If you take a look at the president's policies he calls them 'investments,' it's borrowing money and spending money through Washington, picking winners and losers," Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) said in 2012. "Spending money on favorite, you know, people like Solyndra or Fisker. Picking winners and losers in the economy through spending, through tax breaks, through regulations does not work."

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

But in 2016, when PEOTUS Trump announced a plan to save a few hundred jobs at an Indiana Carrier plant at a cost of $7 million to taxpayers, Ryan's tune had changed.  

"I’m pretty happy that we’re keeping jobs in America — aren’t you?" said the Speaker of the House. "I don’t know the details of the Carrier arrangement ... but I think it’s pretty darn good that people are keeping their jobs in Indiana instead of going to Mexico."

What happened to "picking winners and losers in the economy through spending, through tax breaks, through regulations does not work"? Ryan went from a politician willing to stand up for his values, and then became completely ambivalent to them once his party's candidate was elected.

4. Trump's rise in politics began with a multi-year campaign against Obama's legitimacy. Now, he — and his surrogates — are outraged that Rep. John Lewis would question his.

In an interview with NBC's Chuck Todd, Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) explained that he would not be attending Trump's inauguration, saying, "I don't see [Trump] as a legitimate president," referring to Russia's possible role in hacking Democratic National Committee emails to sway public opinion toward Trump.

Predictably, this comment led to a certain amount of controversy.

It makes sense that Trump's supporters would come to his defense. The defense they decided to go with, however, was a bit suspect. On CNN, conservative commentator Ben Ferguson said that he couldn't imagine what the reaction would be if a Republican were to suggest Obama wasn't a legitimate president.

There's only one problem with that. At least one prominent Republican spent years accusing Obama of not being legitimate — and we just elected him president. Others — such as Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Washington), Rep. Charles Boustany (R-Louisiana), Rep. Bill Posey (R-Florida), and more — have also fanned the flames of "birtherism" in the past.

Trump appears on "Good Morning America" on April 11, 2011, to question whether or not Obama was eligible to run for president. GIF from ABC/YouTube.

There's a troubling inconsistency in how politicians act and what they believe in when someone from their own party is in power as opposed to when they're discussing someone from the other party.

It's partisanship, pure and simple, and it's harmful to our country.

Whether someone has a "D" or an "R" next to their name should not change how someone feels about the policies they put forward or to what standards should be held. When we let political divisions stand in the way of trusting whether or not our representatives have the best interests of their constituents in mind, we all lose.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Whether you voted for a Democrat, a Republican, or someone else altogether, shouldn't we ask that our representatives work together to find the best solutions for all Americans?