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Marion Wright EdelmanMarion Wright Edelman Marc MorialMarc Morial

Hoyer Advocates for $20 Million in Federal Funding to Meet Transportation and Connectivity Needs at Greenbelt Metro Station

WASHINGTON (June 10, 2021)—Today, Congressman Steny H. Hoyer (MD-05) praised the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s markup and passage of the INVEST in America Act. The legislation includes Congressman Hoyer’s community project funding request of $20 million for the Beltway interchange at the Greenbelt Metro Station:

“Marylanders deserve modern infrastructure systems that create good-paying jobs, meet the challenges of a changing climate, and ensure our communities are better connected,” said Congressman Hoyer. “The INVEST in America Act, which passed out of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee early this morning, will do just that.

“I’m pleased that my community project funding request for $20 million in new funding for the Greenbelt Metro Station - Beltway interchange was included in the legislation. This project will enhance connectivity for commuters in Prince George’s County, and rebuild an aging infrastructure system,” continued Congressman Hoyer. “I join in thanking the Committee for including this project in the final legislation and I look forward to working closely with my colleagues to ensure passage of the INVEST in America Act through the House.”

The Beltway interchange project would add northbound entry and southbound exit to the Greenbelt Metro Station making it a more accessible site from the Beltway, and is a priority for Prince George’s County and the city of a Greenbelt. The Greenbelt Metro site was previously under consideration for the new consolidated FBI headquarters project. The INVEST in America Act is an important precursor to President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, a critical infrastructure package aimed at repairing our nation’s infrastructure and transit systems.

This legislation will be brought to the House Floor during the June work period. Following House passage, it will be sent to the Senate for consideration before going to the President’s desk.

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 Marc Morial, President and CEO National Urban League

To Be Equal: Juneteenth Is an Opportunity to Confront the Nation’s “Hard History”

“Slavery is hard history. It is hard to comprehend the inhumanity that defined it. It is hard to discuss the violence that sustained it. It is hard to teach the ideology of white supremacy that justified it. And it is hard to learn about those who abided it. We the people have a deep-seated aversion to hard history because we are uncomfortable with the implications it raises about the past as well as the present … We enjoy thinking about Thomas Jefferson proclaiming, ‘All men are created equal.’ But we are deeply troubled by the prospect of the enslaved woman Sally Hemings, who bore him six children, declaring, ‘Me too.’”

—Hasan Kwame Jeffries

 

When I was a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, I accompanied my parents on a trip to the West African Nation of Senegal. As part of our journey, we took a ferry to Gorée, a tiny island about a mile from Dakar’s main harbor.

The haunting images of the slave trade we encountered there left a lifetime impression.

“Soon, we came upon a large stone structure,” My mother, Sybil Haydel Morial, wrote in her memoir, Witness to Change. “The remains of what appeared to be shackles were embedded in the floor. For nearly three centuries, men, women and children were brought forcibly to this island and sold to European and American slave traders.  The tour guide explained that the slaves were corralled and held until the next slave ship arrives. On the far side of the building, was a large opening onto the Atlantic. The slaves were taken along a short gangplank into the hold of the ship. The guide called it ‘the Door of No Return,’ as those African people would never see their homeland again.”

As the nation prepares to observe Juneteenth, the celebration of the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States, we are engaged in a bitter battle over the teaching of history, particularly the acknowledgment of white supremacy’s role in shaping our laws and institutions.

My great-great-grandparents, Victor Theophile Haydel and Marie Celeste Becnel, were born on the Whitney Plantation, 50 miles east of New Orleans. Victor’s mother, Anna, arrived on the plantation sometime between 1820 and 1853. She was “purchased to be the ‘pet’ of her infertile owner,” journalist Daja Henry wrote in the New Orleans Tribune. “After she got too big to play with, she was tossed among the other enslaved; and like many other enslaved women, she was raped by white men. In Anna’s case, it was the plantation owner’s brother, Antoine Haydel.”

Marie Celeste’s mother, Francoise, also had been raped by a member of the owner’s family, Florestan Becnel.

When the last Haydel family member to own the plantation died in 1860, Anna and Victor were listed as part of an inventory of her estate. Victor was valued at 800 piastres—the Cajun word for dollars—and Anna at 100 piastres.

As Juneteenth approaches, I am reminded of the words of Dr. Ibrahima Seck, a Senegalese historian who traced the Haydel family’s history: “The best way to honor the memories of Anna, Victor and Celeste, is to let the world know the hardship they went through and the injustice of being considered chattel for many years with a price imposed on each of them. In doing so, much respect would also be paid to those who sacrificed their lives in the defense of freedom and civil rights in this country and beyond.”

Unfortunately, stories like Anna’s are rarely taught in American schools. Slavery is treated “like a dot on a timeline,” according to Maureen Costello, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program. An investigation by the SPLC, Teaching Hard History, revealed an alarming ignorance among high school seniors. Only 8 percent could identify slavery as the central cause of the Civil War. Two-thirds didn’t know that it took a constitutional amendment to formally end slavery. Fewer than one in four could correctly identify how provisions in the Constitution gave advantages to slaveholders.

This is no way to honor the memories of Anna, Victor and Celeste, or the millions who were kidnapped, enslaved, brutalized and oppressed.  We cannot build a stable home on a broken foundation.

As the SPLC study’s authors concluded, “Teaching about slavery is hard. It requires often-difficult conversations about race and a deep understanding of American history. Learning about slavery is essential if we are ever to come to grips with the racial differences that continue to divide our nation.”


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Marian Wright Edelman 

ChildWatch: Connecting Through Children’s Books

“When we think about what it is to be connected, we think about memory. We think about history. We think about storytelling. All of these words that we hear—‘literacy,’ ‘inclusion,’ ‘diversity’—those are all words for connection . . . When I say to people ‘why do we need to have diverse books?,’ it’s not because necessarily everybody needs to see themselves reflected in every book, but because we need that sense of connection. We need to live in a global sense.”

—Christopher Myers

 

What kinds of books were on your childhood summer reading lists? As summer gets into full swing, students across the country will be reading an extraordinary selection of diverse books in the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom Schools® program. The CDF Freedom Schools reading curriculum has long been centered on excellent books reflecting a wide variety of cultures, races, and experiences. As award-winning children’s book author and illustrator Christopher Myers says, this matters in order to give all children a deeper sense of connection to the books they’re reading and to each other, and prepare them to live in a rapidly globalizing, multicultural, multiracial, and multi-faith nation and world. For some children it’s the first time they’ve seen books with characters who look like them and share some of the struggles in their lives. Our goal is to help children fall in love with reading, and they respond. As one scholar said: “I see myself and the books give me hope.”

It’s hard to be what you can’t see. Children of color need to be able to see themselves in the books they read. Just as importantly, all children need to be exposed to a wide range of books that reflect the true diversity of our nation and world as they really are. Several years ago Christopher Myers joined other leading children’s book authors in a roundtable at the annual National Training for college-aged servant leaders preparing to teach in CDF Freedom Schools summer programs. At that roundtable Tonya Bolden, who has written many powerful nonfiction books for young readers, said engaging history books—especially on her history—were largely absent when she was a child: “When it came to Black history, I remember there was Crispus Attucks and Phyllis Wheatley. And I think there was a part of me that said, okay, one was free, and he got shot; the other one was brilliant, but she was enslaved . . . What kind of options are those?” Now she strives to make history come alive in ways that allow children to recognize their ties to people who came before them. Myers said books like Bolden’s are another example of the way being able to make connections between their lives and the books they read affects how children see themselves: “All of a sudden, you realize that the timeline of your life did not start when you were born. That timeline may have started 400 years ago on a ship, or before that. That is the kind of connection we’re talking about. And without . . . that understanding of that timeline, it is really hard to imagine ourselves in the future.”

Writer Janet Wong talked about another kind of connection when she read her poem “Noise” from the book Good Luck Gold.  The poem’s protagonist is being teased by a group of children—“Ching chong Chinaman”—for her hair, nose, skin, and the shape of her eyes:

            It’s only noise […]

            I won’t let it in.

            I promise myself

            I won’t let them

            Win.

Wong explained that even when the context is completely different, a poem like this describes a common feeling of racism and discrimination that lets many children recognize this experience and see themselves. It also allows other children to make their own connections with how this child is feeling, including those who have never been teased about their heritage and those who have done the teasing.

All children need these kinds of experiences. Award-winning Mexican American writer Pat Mora is the founder of El día de los niños/El día de los libros (Children’s Day, Book Day), commonly known as Día, an annual celebration of creative literacy for children. She told the children’s book roundtable she invented a word to describe what she wants to see in all readers: “bookjoy.” Parents, grandparents, librarians, and educators must demand and support beautiful high-quality books that will allow all children to experience bookjoy as they see themselves and everything they have in common with others in a multiracial, multicultural, democratic society.

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