Posts Tagged ‘Connections with Renee Shaw’

Remembering the “Mother of All Marches”

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Louisvillian Raoul Cunningham was a 22-year-old college student when he participated in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Half a century later, Cunningham, who now heads the Louisville NAACP, questions how much the march improved employment or equality for African-Americans in the years since.

This weekend, thousands will caravan to Washington, D.C., to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the monumental civil rights event. Nearly 250,000 people crowded together on the National Mall on August 28, 1963 to peacefully demonstrate for racial equality in rights and economic opportunities. For Cunningham, participating in the march was a natural extension of his activism that began when we has a teenager. During the civil rights era, Cunningham was arrested on several occasions at demonstrations he helped organize.

“At that point, civil rights was in the forefront and on every African-American college student’s mind,” says Cunningham. “You didn’t know that we would be sitting here today talking about a commemoration of the March on Washington. We didn’t know it was the mother of all marches at that time,” he added.

The most dramatic outcome of the march came less than a year later when Congress passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. You can watch excerpts of the signing ceremony and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s remarks here.

Recent events have prompted some to question the flat-lining or even regression of equality: U.S. Supreme Court rulings rolling back affirmative action and pre-clearance provisions of voting rights laws; disproportionate incarceration of minorities; higher than national average jobless numbers among blacks; and even the verdict in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Howard Fineman of the Huffington Post Media Group has been examining the state of black America. I spoke with him last month in Washington and he explained what prompted the Huffington Post to investigate civil rights progress since the 1963 march.

This weekend on Connections with Renee Shaw, we’ll reflect on the March on Washington and the dramatic events that precipitated it. Former Kentucky State Senator Georgia Davis Powers tells how the Washington march inspired planning for a civil rights march on Kentucky’s capitol that would occur seven months later. Independent journalist and adjunct professor Betty Baye shares her memories and the importance of studying the movement for a deeper perspective on current issues.

Connections with Renee Shaw airs Friday at 5 p.m. on KET2 and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. on KET.

PBS will mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington with a full week of special programming. A highlight includes a new documentary that reveals the dramatic story behind the massive demonstration. It features interviews with Harry Belefonte, Julian Bond, Oprah Winfrey, Andrew Young, and more. The March premiers Tuesday at 9 p.m. on KET. Learn more about the PBS coverage and online events at

Raoul Cunningham says he’s excited about the celebrations, but is eager to see if the commemorations will inspire new efforts to expand the franchise of civil rights. In his words, “there is still a civil rights battle.”

The Power of Mentoring: Gilding Lilies for Lasting Blooms

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

The memory of my night dressed in an uninterrupted-white taffeta floor length gown with pearl embellishments, satin gloves, and alabaster heels to match is jolted each time I visit my Tennessee homestead. It wasn’t my wedding, but it was a night many mothers dream for their daughters to celebrate their coming of age – a lavish ballroom cotillion. Portraits of the soiree decorate the living room of my parents’ home. I cringe when I glance at the wall of snapshots of me from the late 1990’s. I don’t know what was poufier: the dress with its crinoline springs or my hair-hive that added about two inches to my actual height.

It wasn’t really a night I looked forward to. I had spent months of weekends with city girls some 30 miles north of my rural digs who viewed me as a country bumpkin anxious for their ‘sedity’ ways to wear off on me. I couldn’t tell you one name in the group of debutantes who surrounded me as I danced the ‘Tennessee Waltz’ with my date and my dad then, or now. I never tried to remember.

Who I do remember with sweet fondness is my beloved, highly-educated, poised, and borderline bougie aunt who convinced me such exposure would do wonders for my self-esteem and career. Cousin Gwendolyn was a principal in Nashville who belonged to pretty much every elite group in town, and if she didn’t belong, it was because they weren’t highfalutin enough for her. Yet, she wasn’t so pretentious, so glued to status that her time was consumed with its pursuit. She reached back to me as a youngster with non-college educated parents to make sure I earned enough degrees to make up for what they didn’t. She wrote letters of encouragement, helped me network and offered pats and praise for my work at KET when I sent recordings at her request… well, her demand. She was my mentor, and a feisty fifty-something-year-old when cancer claimed her seven years ago.

I say all that as a testament to mentoring; to empowering. They sound like soft, psycho-babble words that require only a small exercise of brain power. But, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Gwendolyn did for me what so many women do for young girls well outside their family circle – they advise and at times gently chide. They share their time, talent and treasure with hopes their mentee will dodge the pits and potholes that come from poor choices.

This weekend on ‘Connections,’ I talk about how to help our young girls guard their bodies and spirits, and reach their full potential — despite their zip code, familial status, peer pressure and influence of pop culture. I’m joined by two women who put their boots on the ground when it comes to female empowerment: Tanya Torp, the community engagement coordinator at the United Way of the Bluegrass and founder and CEO of the grassroots organization called BE BOLD; and Dr. Stephanie Troutman, assistant professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and African and African American Studies at Berea College.

See preview here

Watch Connections Friday at 5pm ET on KET 2 and Sunday at 1:30pm ET on KET. Follow @ReneeKET on Twitter.

School Dropout Measure Seeks to Improve Graduation Rates

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Getting more high school diplomas in the hands of Kentucky kids is the goal of a House measure that gradually ups the legal school dropout age from 16 to 18. But objectors to House Bill 224 question the wisdom of keeping kids in class longer who’d rather ditch school altogether.

Representative Jeff Greer appeared before the House education committee yesterday to make another plea this session for his dropout prevention measure. The Governor and First Lady of Kentucky have been advocating its passage for several years now. Greer believes there’s bi-partisan and bi-cameral support for the measure this year. Nearly six thousand kids drop out of school each year in Kentucky and Representative Greer says that decision often comes at a hefty price later in life.

Greer says 75 percent of Kentucky’s prison population is without a high school diploma. Madisonville Republican Ben Waide has been consistent in his opposition to the school dropout bill. He maintains that studies show raising the compulsory attendance age to 18 doesn’t create more high school graduates and that educators in his district aren’t in favor of it either.

Kentucky Department of Education Commissioner Terry Holliday offered a rebuttal to Representative Waide’s criticisms and admitted that raising the school dropout age alone isn’t a silver bullet.

Representative Jeff Greer’s House Bill 224 that gradually raises the school dropout age from 16 to 18 passed the House education committee and now waits for placement on the full House docket.

In a statement released by the Governor’s office in response to the bill’s committee passage, it says, in part: “Kentucky needs an educated, highly trained workforce, and we can’t have that if we tell kids it’s okay to drop out at 16. They lose their best opportunity at a productive future because they will likely earn less than their peers who graduate, and are more likely to find themselves on welfare or in prison. I look forward to continuing conversations with both the House and the Senate on this issue, and call on our legislators to pass this bill to keep our kids in school.”

This programming note: First Lady Jane Beshear will be on my program “Connections with Renee Shaw Friday at 5 pm ET on KET2 and again this Sunday at 1:30 pm ET on KET to talk about the school dropout bill and much more. Here’s a preview of our discussion here:

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