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January 2020 Noire News


In the January 2020 edition of Noire News I discuss the Mississippi Prison deaths and calls for prison reform, the East African locust infestation, the undersea Caribbean earthquake, and the planned launch of the Black News Network. There is also a memorial to notable deaths in the community. To balance things out I share a bit of good news, which includes a few planned business launches, notable donations, and a story about economic empowerment.


YouTube Video

Podcast Episode

Show Notes

Mississippi Prison Deaths & Jay-Z Lawsuit

As of January 27th, since December 29th, 2019, 12 inmates have died while in the custody of the Mississippi State Department of Corrections. The most recent death occurred at Parchman Prison (officially known as Mississippi State Penitentiary) on the morning of January 26th, when Joshua Norman, 26, was found hanging in his single-person cell during a security check. This occurred one day after another death at Marshall County Correctional Facility where Jermaine Tyler, 38, was found dead with no apparent signs of foul play though the exact cause of death hasn’t been established.

As Mississippi’s largest prison, the majority of deaths, 9 in total, have occurred at Parchman. According to The Clarion-Ledger, this is slightly more than double the average 5.5 monthly inmate deaths from the period of January 2014 to September 2019. These deaths are also unusual because they’ve primarily been caused by murder or suicide while previously the typical cause of death for most inmates had been illnesses or natural causes.

Following the 2019 launch of his prison reform organization, The Reform Alliance, with fellow rapper Meek Mill, Jay-Z has now partnered with Memphis rapper Yo Gotti through his Team Roc organization. On January 14th, Jay-Z’s attorney Alex Spiro filed suit against MDOC Commissioner Pelecia Hall and Mississippi State Penitentiary Superintendent Marshall Turner on behalf of 29 inmates. The suit which was filed at the US District Court in Greenville, MS named the two defendants due to the belief that MDOC has been negligent of its duties with regard to managing its prisons and keeping inmates safe.

Some suspect that the MDOC has been unable to provide adequate staffing and maintenance of its facilities due to reduced funding and increases in the number of people incarcerated. In addition to details from the court filing, photos that circulated online showed incredibly dilapidated facilities with sinks and toilets that do not work, large holes in walls, mice and rats, and a lack of functioning heating and cooling systems. To be clear, the suit did not appeal for the release of or special treatment for any MDOC inmates but rather that they are allowed to serve their prison sentences with dignity. An emergency motion that was filed on January 24th called on the court to instate an independent manager to relieve the state of day-to-day prison operations.

A 2014 investigation by The Clarion-Ledger attributed some of the violence in MDOC prisons to gangs. This is despite corrections officers and officials publicly promoting a zero-tolerance policy. The report stated that inmates and their family members expressed concerns about the ability of gang members to attack other inmates without facing repercussions. Also, due to understaffing, it’s believed that corrections officers sometimes deputize inmates to control other inmates.

Cliff Johnson, director of the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law, recommended sweeping changes to curtail the recent inmate deaths. He explained that the conditions that lead to inmate deaths are complex and thus simplex solutions might not be sufficient. Johnson believes that reducing the number of deaths in prisons might require reducing the prison population by reforming sentencing guidelines and making more prisoners eligible for parole. This should allow for better supervision and enforcement by prison officers without drastically increasing the number of officers.

I first heard about Jay-Z’s activities in Mississippi earlier in January but didn’t look into the details of what was going on until I started working on this episode. At first, I was a bit skeptical because I usually am whenever Jay-Z becomes involved with stuff. I don’t know anything about Yo Gotti but given Jay-Z’s past, I thought that some of this might have been a call for being overly lenient with inmates. But my perspective changed when I looked beyond Jay-Z and started reading articles about the deaths that were occurring in Mississippi prisons.

Granted, I understand that if people are serving years or decades in prison there’s a chance that some of them might die during their sentence. But there is no excuse for this amount of deaths to have occurred in such a short period. That by itself was an issue but then actually seeing pictures of the inside of the prisons was shocking. Prisons aren’t supposed to be five-star hotels but they should be fit for people to live in. Regardless of having committed a crime, inmates are still people and they should be treated as such.

To see pictures of toilets filled with who knows what, sinks without running water, mice stuck to sticky traps, and garbage thrown all about was just unbelievable. I saw a video of what appeared to be two inmates fighting in the prison. Or more accurately one inmate being attacked and chased through a tier by another inmate. There were also photos of other inmates who had been attacked and received injuries with blood all over the floors, walls, etc.

Mississippi is a poor state and to be fair I’m sure it’s not the only state with prisons that are in dire need of repair. But, unfortunately, it’s the state that’s in the limelight right now. This isn’t one person’s fault but rather an indication of larger and long-standing problems within the justice system. Prison reform is very much needed not just in Mississippi but across the country as every so often stories like this pop up from different prisons. A year or two ago it was Rikers Island in New York. Before that videos came out of Angola in Louisiana.

As a country, we have a lot of issues and problems that need to be addressed with regards to the justice system. We can begin with how people are prosecuted but also with regards to the conditions under which inmates serve their sentences. There’s been a long-standing hypocrisy of America promoting itself as a shining example of democracy, freedom, and liberty. But as with regards to race, gender, and income this country cannot honestly claim any of those things if it’s not truly living up to those principles of equality with regards to civil rights for all.

Unfortunately, these inmates have lost their lives but I hope that their deaths won’t be in vain and might bring attention to the inhumane conditions under which they were living. But at the same time, while I don’t want to be pessimistic, I feel like the possibility of true change taking place is unlikely. I’ve seen stories like this crop up every few years where it’s all over the news and everyone gets up in arms about prison reform. But then the conversation dies down and everyone moves on to the next hot button topic until another story about some raggedy prison pops up again.

I don’t want to go too deep down the rabbit hole here but I’m pretty sure that before these men even made it to prison there were issues regarding lack of access to resources and safe living environments that were not being addressed. Those issues combined with poverty are often the catalyst for crime.

Unfortunately, issues that affect the underrepresented or more accurately the easily overlooked and ignored rarely receive the kind of sustained attention that leads to meaningful change. As with all of the other isms and social injustice, we’ve been discussing these problems for decades now and there have been few solutions. And I believe that when long-standing problems like this exist you have to ask yourself who or what entity is benefiting or profiting from it. Because if someone is making money from it I can guarantee you that change won’t come about quickly or easily.

It is the responsibility of the state and the federal government to uphold the law and part of that includes managing prisons and the incarceration of inmates. So while I do agree with calling attention and demanding change with regards to these horrible prison conditions I am skeptical about calling for a third party to step in and take over the management of the prisons. I don’t think the state does a perfect job with a lot of its responsibilities but I believe it’s less inclined than private businesses or in this case private prisons and prison management companies to take advantage of the situation. The privatization of resources and facilities that are to be provided by the government rarely improve in quality, effectiveness, or efficiency when privatized.

And I’m healthily cautious about this push in recent years for prison reform from certain corners of society. I believe that deep down inside the mission is less about providing fair and unbiased justice and more about finding new ways to line people’s pockets. It feels like profiteering to me. Using Injustices committed against people for financial gain.

East Africa Locusts

Swarms of locusts from Ethiopia and Somalia have descended upon Kenya devastating crops across the country. In what is considered the worst infestation in 70 years, farmers are seeing their crops devoured by clouds of the bugs. Looking at the pictures and videos it looks like when you’re out in the summer and walk through a swarm of gnats and they just seem to be everywhere. It’s like that but the locusts are huge in comparison.

Countries in the area already suffer from food insecurity and these swarms of locusts will add to their hardships. Locusts can eat their body weight in a single day. A single swarm can have hundreds of millions of locusts per square kilometer. And one especially large swarm that was seen in North Eastern Kenya is believed to measure approximately 37 miles long by 25 miles wide. When a swarm descends on an area it can consume crops in a single day that would be enough to feed tens of thousands of people.

The current infestation is believed to have been caused by the warming of the Indian Ocean due to global warming. The swarms are believed to have originated in Yemen and crossed the Red Sea into East Africa. South Sudan and Uganda are at risk of being overrun in the coming months as swarms continue to grow and move. Additional swarms of locusts have been breeding in Southeast Asia and Iran. There are fears that when the rainy season begins in March and crops and other vegetation emerge they will provide additional food for the locusts which can potentially increase to hundreds of times their current size before June’s dry season begins to curb their growth.

In addition to creating food shortages, the locust swarms also forced an Ethiopian Airlines flight to divert. The plane flew through a swarm which the pilots described as appearing as a cloud that smashed into the plane’s windshield, nose, and engine. The swarm was so thick that the windshield could not be cleaned and the plane had to land in Addis Ababa instead of Dire Dawa.

The UN has called a state of emergency in the area and its Food and Agriculture Organization has requested $70 million in emergency funding for aerial pesticide spraying to control the swarms. Officials believe efforts to contain and control the infestation in Somalia may be difficult due to areas of the country being controlled by extremist groups. On the ground farmers and their families try to shoo away the locusts by making noise. But, while it works to some degree the swarms are usually too large and when they do move, they don’t go that far.

West Africa has experienced desert locust infestations in the past and created a multi-national committee to research and implement methods to more effectively contain future infestations. Mauritania recently began testing using drones to spray aerial pesticides.

I saw some websites that mentioned people in East Africa were eating locusts. But, I’m inclined to believe that it’s not true as it wasn’t reported by any credible news outlets. Though I think it might be a good idea. I know you’re probably thinking, “I don’t know about that.” But stay with me here. I like food and cooking and to my understanding insects are a cheap, plentiful, and healthy source of protein. There are billions of these pests eating everything in their path. And they’re eating clean vegetation. So why not eat them?

I remember being a kid watching The Lion King when Simba met Timon and Pumba and they introduced him to eating insects. I was intrigued. I lowkey want to go to Paris to try escargot and Asia to eat some stuff I’ve seen on television. I think it would be a cool experience and they don’t look too bad from what I’ve seen on travel shows. Now if this was a rat or rodent infestation? That’s different. I don’t want any parts of it. Kill all of that with fire.

Caribbean Undersea Earthquake

On January 28th, a powerful earthquake measuring 7.7 on the Richter Scale occurred in the Caribbean Sea. The first tremor occurred about halfway between Montego Bay, Jamaica and Niquero, Cuba. The quake led to evacuations of tall buildings in Miami, Florida and Havana, Cuba and was felt as far away as Mexico. But, while the earthquake was powerful, its occurrence undersea away from people, fortunately, resulted in no reported fatalities or serious damage. To put the scale of the earthquake in perspective, it was a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010.

This earthquake comes a few weeks after a series of earthquakes that hit Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Puerto Rico experienced several earthquakes between December 28th and January 7th with hundreds of aftershocks occurring since then. The earthquakes, aftershocks, and resulting rock slides have left thousands of people living outdoors for their safety while they wait for the seismic activity to subside.

I still have very strong feelings about the tragic earthquake that occurred in Haiti and the even more devastating activities that took place under the guise of humanitarian groups working in the country. But that’s a conversation for another day. My hopes and prayers are with the people of Puerto Rico and I hope that the earthquakes calm down or at least continue to remain undersea with little effect on land.

A New Black News Network

Based in Tallahassee, Florida, the Black News Channel (BNC) was set to launch on January 6th. But, it’s launch date has once again been pushed back to February 10th. The channel is intended to be a 24-hour national cable news network aimed at Black viewers with a particular focus on women, teens, and HBCUs.

The network has been in development for over a decade as its founders have worked on securing financing and ensuring the proper infrastructure is in place. In November 2018 its first planned launch date was announced and set for November 2019. But, the launch was rescheduled twice because according to the company it was finalizing deals to expand its distribution.

BNC is now slated to launch with a presence in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and other select markets through distribution agreements with Comcast, Charter Communications, and Dish Network. There are also contracts in place to reach non-traditional cable subscribers through mobile devices and smart TVs. The network’s original estimated reach at launch was 33 million but with additional distribution channels, its launch reach is now estimated at closer to 70 million.

I think it’s a good idea to have a well-rounded Black network that produces good content. But, I don’t think we need another 24-hour news network. And I feel like I probably won’t be interested in a Black news network founded by the group that is putting this together.

BNC is co-founded by J.C. Watts, a former Republican Congressman (who is Black) and Bob Brillante, a veteran TV executive (who is White). Shahid Khan, the billionaire owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars recently became a partner in the venture.

I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt but I just feel like this will be another trashy news channel devoted to politics. I don’t care for BET and rarely watch anything on the channel. But, I feel like this will be the opposite of BET but not necessarily an improvement. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Notable Deaths

The year still feels like it just started but we’ve already had a few deaths in the community.

Yolanda Carr

? – January 09, 2020

As if there haven’t been enough tragedies for this family. Yolando Carr, the mother of Atatiana Jefferson, passed away at home from an undisclosed illness. Jefferson had moved into her mother’s home to help take care of her while she was ill when she was shot and killed by a Fort Worth police officer. A month after Jefferson’s death her father passed away from cardiac arrest which was likely caused by the stress of his daughter’s murder. Carr lived long enough to see the officer indicted for the shooting but succumbed to her illness a few weeks later.

Roscoe Nance

Dec. 8, 1948 – January 09, 2020

Roscoe Nance was a sportswriter who primarily covered basketball and soccer. He spent 21 years writing for USA TODAY before becoming a full-time freelancer. Nance graduated from Tuskegee University and early in his career became the first Black sports writer for a daily newspaper in Mississippi. He would go on to cover the Olympics and was one of only two print journalists to travel to and cover the first Women’s World Cup in 1991 during which the U.S team was victorious.

Jimmy Heath

October 25, 1926 – January 09, 2020

Jimmy Heath was a saxophone player whose 70-year career produced collaborations with jazz icons such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Heath credited his father with encouraging him to put in the extra effort and discipline to become a great musician. He passed away at the age of 93 with his wife of 60 years, children, grandchildren, and one of his brothers by his side.

Nathaniel R. Jones

May 12, 1926 – January 26, 2020

Nathaniel R. Jones was an attorney and judge who served as the NAACP’s general counsel during the 1970s. He was appointed to the U.S. Circuit Court for the Sixth Circuit by President Carter in 1979 and served until his retirement in 2002. In addition to his work for the court, Jones observed the first democratic elections in South Africa and was a consultant to the drafters of its new constitution and laws.

Kobe Bryant

August 23, 1978 – January 26, 2020

Kobe Bryant was a superstar professional basketball player in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Bryant was known for his prowess and competitive spirit on the court which he credited to his “Mamba Mentality”. He is notable for entering the NBA directly from high school becoming the youngest player in the league and also for spending his entire 20-year career on one team, the Los Angeles Lakers. Bryant along with his eldest daughter and seven other passengers were killed in a helicopter crash.

Good News

  • Despite the irony of her last name, Danielle Outlaw has become the Philadelphia Police Department’s Commissioner, the first Black woman to do so.
  • Olympic gold medalist Dominique Dawes announced that she will be opening The Dominique Dawes Gymnastics Academy in Clarksburg, Maryland this spring. She hopes that children who join the gym will learn leadership skills and develop a healthy sense of self-esteem.
  • Peter Tabichi has won the $1 million 2019 Global Teacher Prize. Tabichi is a science teacher in rural Kenya who donates much of his salary to students who are in need. He believes there can be a future where African students, both boys and girls, will push past the limitations placed on them and become contributors who are known around the world.
  • Howard University was gifted with a collection of 152 pieces of African American art that is valued at $2.5 million. The donation came from the family of the late Ronald W. Walters, Ph.D.
  • LEGACY Home Loans, a Black-owned mortgage banking company, recently opened two new branches in Atlanta and Chicago. The firm is led by president and CEO, Ben Slayton, and its mission is to increase homeownership in the Black community. In addition to helping Black families build wealth through homeownership, LEGACY reinvests its profits in new branches, hires from within branch communities, and donates to causes that serve predominantly Black communities.
  • Atlanta Hawks player Trae Young recently made a $10,000 donation that canceled over $1 million in medical debt for Atlanta residents living below the poverty level.
  • Radio personality Danielle Johnson has founded Spark FM, a Boston-based digital radio station. Johnson decided to create her own company after becoming frustrated with not being hired for positions at larger broadcast companies. The station is set to launch this spring and Johnson hopes it will serve as a platform for audiences and topics that are often overlooked by major media outlets.
  • Taraji P. Henson is set to release her new natural hair care line, TPH by Taraji, at Target on January 29th. The line of products is moderately priced in the $5-15 range and is aimed at maintaining and repairing hair.
  • Massachusetts Representative Ayanna Pressley received an outpouring of support when she shared online that she suffers from alopecia. She showed her bald head and spoke about her hair loss for the first time in an interview with The Root. As the complete loss of her hair was fairly recent, Pressley is still adjusting to the change but hopes it encourages young girls who have questions or are insecure about their hair.


Mississippi Prison Deaths & Jay-Z Lawsuit

  1. Amour, Lani. 2020. “Footage Shows The Jail Conditions That Urged Jay Z & Yo Gotti To Sue Mississippi Prison.” HOT 97 | #1 For Hip Hop. January 28, 2020.
  2. Maxouris, Christina. 2020. “Rappers Jay-Z and Yo Gotti Are behind a Lawsuit Targeting Mississippi’s Prison Conditions.” CNN. Cable News Network. January 15, 2020.
  3. Ortiz, Erik. 2020. “Five Inmates Killed in Past Week in Violence-Plagued Mississippi Prisons.” NBCUniversal News Group. January 4, 2020.
  4. Siemaszko, Corky. 2020. “Jay-Z Goes to Bat for Mississippi Prisoners and Files Federal Lawsuit.” NBCUniversal News Group. January 15, 2020.
  5. Zhu, Alissa. 2020. “Mississippi 12th Inmate Death: Man, 26, Found Hanging in His Cell in Parchman, Coroner Said.” The Clarion Ledger. Mississippi Clarion Ledger. January 27, 2020.

East Africa Locusts

  1. “’Locust Swarm’ Forces Ethiopian Airlines Plane to Divert.” 2020. BBC News. BBC. January 13, 2020.
  2. Curtis, Ben, Cara Ana, and Josphat Kasire. 2020. “’This Is Huge’: Locust Swarms Destroy Crops in East Africa.” Time. Time USA, LLC. January 25, 2020.
  3. Le-Quesne-Papic, Vera. 2020. “Mauritania Tests Drones for Desert Locust Combat.” BBC News. BBC. January 10, 2020.
  4. Magomere, Donald. 2020. “East Africa Battles Worst Swarms of Locusts in Decades.” Financial Times. The Financial Times Ltd. January 26, 2020.

Caribbean Undersea Earthquake

  1. Almasy, Steve, Alla Eshchenko, and Brandon Miller. 2020. “Magnitude 7.7 Earthquake Strikes off the Coast of Jamaica and Is Felt as Far Away as Miami.” CNN. Cable News Network. January 28, 2020.
  2. Rice, Doyle, and Jorge L. Ortiz. 2020. “Powerful 7.7 Earthquake Strikes in Caribbean between Cuba and Jamaica.” USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network. January 28, 2020.
  3. Wyss, Jim. 2020. “Why Are There so Many Earthquakes in the Caribbean? Two Tectonic Plates Go to War.” Miami Herald. Miami Herald Media Company. January 28, 2020.

A New Black News Network

  1. Bennett, Anita. 2019. “Black News Channel Focusing On African-American Coverage To Launch In January.” Deadline. November 12, 2019.
  2. Dobson, Byron. 2020. “Black News Channel Set to Launch in February: 24-Hour National Outlet Targets Black Viewers.” USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network. January 16, 2020.
  3. Thompson, Desire. 2019. “Black News Channel: 8 Things To Know About The Network.” Vibe. Prometheus Global Media, LLC. October 21, 2019.
  4. Umstead, R. Thomas. 2019. “J.C. Watts, Black News Channel Look to Make History in 2020.” Multichannel News. Future Publishing Limited Quay House. December 2, 2019.

Notable Deaths

Yolanda Carr

  1. Frazier, Charise. 2020. “Yolanda Carr, The Mother Of Atatiana Jefferson Who Was Senselessly Shot By A Fort Worth Cop, Has Died.” MadameNoire. BossipMadameNoire, LLC. January 9, 2020.
  2. Simon, Darran. 2020. “Yolanda Carr, Whose Daughter Was Killed by a Fort Worth Police Officer, Has Died.” CNN. Cable News Network. January 10, 2020.

Roscoe Nance

  1. Lewis, Michael. 2020. “GOODBYE, ROSCOE: Former USA TODAY Writer Nance, Who Covered 1st Women’s World Cup, Passes Away.” Front Row Soccer. January 10, 2020.
  2. “Roscoe Nance, 71, Veteran Sports Writer | Obituaries.” 2020. The Philadelphia Tribune. January 13, 2020.

Jimmy Heath

  1. Fordham, John. 2020. “Jimmy Heath Obituary.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. January 20, 2020.
  2. Vitale, Tom. 2020. “Jazz Saxophone Legend Jimmy Heath Has Died.” NPR. NPR. January 19, 2020.

Nathaniel R. Jones

  1. “In Memoriam: Judge Nathaniel R. Jones.” n.d. Blank Rome LLP. Accessed January 30, 2020.
  2. “NAACP Mourns Passing of Legal Giant Judge Nathaniel R. Jones.” 2020. NAACP. January 27, 2020.
  3. “Nathaniel R. Jones.” 2020. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. January 28, 2020.
  4. Curnutte, Mark. 2020. “Former Federal Judge, NAACP Stalwart Nathaniel Jones Dead at 93.” Cincinnati Enquirer. January 26, 2020.

Good News

  1. Sunstein, Sara. 2020. “Danielle Outlaw Becomes 1st Black Woman Commissioner of Philadelphia Police Department.” GOOD BLACK NEWS. January 2, 2020.
  2. “Olympian Dominique Dawes To Open Maryland Gymnastics School.” 2020. News One. Urban One Brands. January 20, 2020.
  3. “Howard University Gifted With Black Art Collection Worth $2.5 Million.” 2020. News One. Urban One Brands. January 19, 2020.
  4. Cyprien, Marie. 2020. “CEO Seeks to Increase African American Homeownership Through LEGACY.” Black Enterprise. Black Enterprise. January 21, 2020.
  5. “NBA Star Trae Young Eliminates Medical Debt For Atlanta Families.” 2020. News One. Urban One Brands. January 18, 2020.
  6. Blanco, Lydia. 2020. “Danielle Johnson Will Launch the First Black Woman-Owned Digital Radio Station in Boston.” Black Enterprise. Black Enterprise. January 24, 2020.
  7. “Taraji P. Henson’s New Haircare Line Aims To ‘Redefine’ How People Care For Their Tresses.” 2020. News One. Urban One Brands. January 19, 2020.
  8. Feldman, Jamie. 2020. “Ayanna Pressley Reveals She Has Alopecia In Poignant Video.” HuffPost. HuffPost Politics. January 16, 2020.
  9. Harvey, Josephine. 2020. “Ayanna Pressley Receives Outpouring Of Praise After Sharing First Bald Selfie.” HuffPost. HuffPost Politics. January 21, 2020.

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