Items on My Mind

Things that compel a comment

Thoughts on Fathers and Fatherhood

NOTE: The except below is from a series of articles by Fathers published by the Maynard Institute for Journalism Eduction.

By Caleph B. Wilson

This Father’s Day will be my second as a new dad and, with it, my happiness has grown tremendously. Explaining the value and excitement of being a father is difficult. It requires that a man lay down his shield, take off his breastplate and expose his heart.

On the third Sunday of each June, family members make phone calls, send cards and gather to celebrate biological dads and the many men who serve as father figures. Each of us has unique experiences with our dads and the men who support us. Many commercial images we see will remind us of men who hold a special place in guiding our lives. As we view those images, men like me, a black father, feel explosions of happiness like all fathers. But something puts an asterisk on the joy.

The asterisk often refers to the many news reports and pundits offering statistics about how engaged black fathers are more rare than a leap year. My many experiences tell me otherwise. Yet the counter messages fight very hard to settle in our minds. So let me offer a perspective on how reality should lead the way we view black fathers and how those fathers should view themselves.

Let’s start with a report last December demonstrating that black fathers that are in their children’s lives are more involved than fathers of all other ethnic backgrounds. (Yes, read that sentence a few more times.) As I reflect on my life and the men in it, I do not need a scientific study to inform me of how loving and engaged black fathers, biological or not, are.

Without guidance by my dad, uncles, cousins and mentors, my life would not have been as happy.

Each man in my life has given a bit of himself to shape the man that I am. That is a debt that I cannot repay. At every turn of my life, a community of fathers has been there for me. That perspective can be found throughout the vast majority of families and communities nationwide.

Read entire post at  click here

An Open Letter to Jason Whitlock’s Posit on HBCUs and Their Alumni

Some things in Jason Whitlock’s post rings true; however, it lacks a bit of critical analysis of what actually happened in terms of athletics and academic development at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

Whitlock failed to mention how from the 1970s until today, predominantly white institutions (PWIs) recruit black athletes for their programs very hard. While at one time many of them considered black athletes to be inferior. As always selling tickets, i.e. making money, eventually trumps bias when it comes to making profit. (Today many PWIs still have higher percentages of black athletes than they do black students overall.)

PWIs operating on large budgets have convinced most of the best black athletes to attend their schools and participate in their programs. Recruitment has become almost a quantitative mathematical process. PWIs find the talent leaves while leaving room for HBCUs or minority serving institutions (MSIs).

Calling Coach Robinson the “Knute Rockne” and Grambling the “Notre Dame” of black football is frankly an insult. Based on the talent that came out of Grambling, it was the flagship of college football, PERIOD. Likely, until the mid-1970s Grambling and many other HBCUs would have likely “beat the breaks” off any PWI that took the field. (We can find out when someone makes a reliable time machine.) I would love to have been able to see video of any PWI national champion play the black college national champion from 1920-1970.

How much wealth would HBCUs have gained if they were able to keep the past stream of athletic talent in place up until today? HBCUs would have been able to build 60,000 – 100,000 seat stadiums or arenas. Imagined 10s of millions of dollars of decades of tax exempt revenue.

What Whitlock also neglects to mention is the historical underfunding of public HBCUs. This dearth of state funding has directly slowed the development of academic programs. Take the Ayer’s case in Mississippi and Maryland HBCU Equality Lawsuit. (We must not forget the role that enslavement of blacks played in building the endowments of many of the elite Northeastern seaboard institutions.) In both cases the respective state lost lawsuits that pointed out how the history of “Separate but Equal” policy played out in the development of higher education.

Let us take a few moments to imagine the amplification of the impact on the numbers of black civil and thought leaders, if pubic HBCUs would have been funded on par with state PWIs. What types of academic capacity could have been grown? How many large donors could have been attracted to the an engineering, mathematics, agriculture, medicine and education programs.

Therefore, alumni and black community giving is not the sole reason that HBCUs face increased difficulties today. Yet, alumni giving has it’s place in the current issues that HBCUs face.

As for the truth portion of Whitlock’s post, giving to HBCU’s by blacks is lagging behind horribly. The black community and HBCU alumni faithfully attend HBCU sporting and social events. Unfortunately, that enthusiastic HBCU spirit does not translate to high levels of direct giving to HBCUs.

Overall, blacks give a higher percentage of their income to donations to non-profit organizations. Most of these organizations are faith based. Therefore, HBCUs and alumni have to reformulate the approach to soliciting donations. Perhaps, working with places of worship can build scholarship funding bases.

During a recent conversation with Nelson Bowman III, Executive Director of Development at Prairie View A&M University, he proposed a fundraising challenge to me and other HBCU alumni. If 2,000 alumni of any specific HBCU gave $50 per month for a full year it would raise $1.2 million for the school. Increasing the amount the donation or number of alumni would insure that the amount of money raised increases.

Other than money, alumni should also be willing to do pro bono work for HBCUs. Donating our professional skills and time can help cut cost for the schools.

As outline in Whitlock’s piece, HBCUs have produced leaders in a wide range of professions throughout the country. That is an opportunity to bring a diverse range of talent together to help HBCUs think through issues, solve problems and execute innovative solutions.

Yes, problems exist at HBCUs just like PWIs have issues. Alumni can help HBCUs implement their respective missions and raise funds. We have to translate our love for HBCUs into attainment of resources. After all, if you are like me, your professional existence would not likely have happened without walking the hallowed grounds of an HBCU.

About the Author: Caleph B. Wilson, PhD is an affiliate member of the Center for Minority Serving Institutions and biomedical sciences postdoctoral fellow at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also a graduate of Alcorn State University Alumni and member of the National Science and Technology News Service.  In addition to his work as a scientist, he participates in outreach programs to promote STEM, through mentoring, science education and professional development advisement.  Follow him on Twitter: @HeyDrWilson

HBCUs Need to Seek Leaders from Nontraditional Sources

By Caleph B. Wilson

In this environment of limited educational funds, stable leadership is the key to ensuring the health of any university. However, unsteady leadership acutely impacts historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). With the recent departure of Alcorn State University’s former president, M. Christopher Brown, another HBCU has seen a change in leadership. Unfortunately, some of these leadership changes have been marred in scandal.

As an Alcorn alumnus, I am very concerned with Brown’s unexpected departure. The Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL), Mississippi’s public college and university governing body, is investigating Brown’s purchasing practices. In addition, the IHL is planning a search for Alcorn’s next president. During the search process, my No. 1 question is: How can alumni work with IHL to assist in finding the best candidates?

Traditionally, HBCU presidential candidates have moved from leadership positions at other HBCUs. Also, they have traditionally been alumni of HBCUs or minority serving institutions (MSI). In the past, that was a good formula for the HBCU seeking a new president. However, it leaves one HBCU without leadership while another one gains from their loss. This situation presents an opportunity to expand the leadership search outside the ranks of the traditional HBCU community.

Within the last few years there are some HBCU presidents that have switched institutions and left their previous schools in better shape than they left them. Presidents like Walter Kimbrough at Dillard and Ronald Mason Jr. of the Southern University System improved Philander Smith and Jackson State University, respectively. They represent the type of leadership that Alcorn should be looking for.

Read entire post at click here.

Building STEM Bridges: Scientists Overcoming Isolation by Building Community

By Caleph B. Wilson

Diversity has become a watchword in the scientific community. For the last 20 years colleges, universities, government science agencies and private foundations have worked to increase the numbers of scientists from under-represented backgrounds. Some of these policy changes have resulted in an increase and improved retention of scientists from low socio-economic homes, women and ethnic minorities. Additionally, funding was put in place to support science policy changes and build the infrastructure to produce scientists from communities that have traditionally had no personal interactions with scientists.

I was fortunate to be one of many scientists who benefited from institutions that participated in programs sponsored by one or more of the funding agencies mentioned above. However, there is a concerning by-product of the strides to increase the diversity within Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) disciplines. STEM training is a rigorous process and the environment in which it happens often isolates under-represented minority (URM) scientists. Moreover, many URM scientists do not have substantive dialogs about their work with members of their own communities. This means that an enormous repository of information is not connected to underserved groups. For this reason, many URM scholars work diligently to counter the isolation of science training and connect with their communities.

Read entire post at Scientific American click here.

Dangerous Mis-information About a Federally Funded HIV Vaccine Trial

By Caleph B. Wilson

Since, my days as a graduate student, family, friends and strangers have asked me about the validity of biomedical science reports in the media.  Many articles and blogs are accurate; however, sometimes inaccurate information is put forward.  In those instances, I attempt to help the questioner understand why the information is incorrect.

Below is a case of a website getting the information HORRIBLY WRONG!

A Facebook friend shared a blog post that stated that a National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded HIV vaccine trial “gave 41 people HIV.”  As expected a post like that got my attention immediately!  So, my first question was:  Why haven’t I heard of this before?  It seems like major news because of the safety concern.  This would have been alarming news in the HIV research community.

So, as usual I navigated to the shared webpage and began to read.  After reading the post, I did a Google search for the name of the trial: HVTN 500.  The sixth post was a press release from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), the NIH branch that funded the study.

While reading the NIAID press release, I was wondering when I would get to the part discussing the new HIV infections.  The information was in the fourth paragraph.  This is what I said:

Overall in the study from the day of enrollment through the month 24 study visit, a total of 41 cases of HIV infection occurred in the volunteers who received the investigational vaccine regimen and 30 cases of HIV infection occurred among the placebo vaccine recipients.”

This is what the above quoted text means.  Yes, participants that receive placebo or the vaccine contracted HIV.  However, the sentence does not indicate that the vaccine or placebo was the source of the new HIV infections.  What the press release is pointing out is that the vaccine was not effective enough to justify continuing to spend tax payer dollars on it.  Simply put, scientist and physicians determined that a careful public health research project did not work and decided to stop it.  This is how science works.

Given the misleading information in the website posted by my Facebook friend, I decided to respond to the post and point out why it was dangerous misinformation.  This is how I determined that the information on the website was incorrect:

1.)    The website did not list or link to the group that did the study

This is a major red flag.  Anytime a website cannot point me to facts, I get concerned.  As a scientist, I always challenge myself to read the sources.  Creditable information will invites critical review.  This webpage was making me work to find information rather than pointing me to it.  Especially given, that it claimed that a federally funded clinical trial was responsible for spreading HIV, I wanted to read this information.

2.)    No other media or science outlets came to the same conclusion as the shared webpage

News like this warrants independent verification from multiple sources.  It is hard to believe that media outlets would not consider it to be major news that an NIH sponsored trial was spreading HIV.  If this would true, it would be inescapable.

3.)    Carefully reading the both the NIH press release, the blog post and linked information in each

Anyone can read the available information and make a conclusion based on what is there.  It only requires a working knowledge of what is presented. In this case, there is a major discrepancy between what the NIAID has to say and what the website stated about the HIV vaccine trial.  I invite you to read the press release, blog post and sited sources to reach your own conclusion.  Also, search the internet, PubMed and other sources.  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section of this post.

Above all, I am pointing out that each of us has a responsibility to insure that we effectively evaluate information that we consume.  Not doing so, will result in spread information that may not be accurate.  The danger in the case above is that success in combating HIV requires informed volunteers.  Mis-information or inaccurate media reports may prevent advancements in battling HIV.

Scientist Addresses Misconception That His Lab Has Used Competent HIV to Cure Cancer

NOTE:  The open letter below was originally published on Facebook Fan Page of Ray Flores and reprinted with Dr. Posey’s permission.

By Avery Posey, Jr

I just responded to the author of an article from Upworthy that is circulating the web through social media. The article is titled “Doctors Take A Long Shot And Inject HIV Into Dying Girl. The Reason Why Will Amaze You.” The media has a tendency to sensationalize the news and we often find ourselves believing what we read, so I want to clarify the assertion made by this article because I find the title to be misleading and troublesome.

It is true that the therapy developed in my lab that has treated and cured leukemia in approximately 12 patients. However, it is not entirely true that this treatment is done with HIV. The truth is that we only use parts of the HIV virus that are necessary to insert DNA into other cells (like T cells in this case). This virus is only able to insert into a cell once, cannot replicate, and does not inactivate patient CD4 cells like HIV does. The patient is not HIV+ after therapy.

The real work of this cure is the DNA that we insert into the patient T cells. It is a special and novel gene that does not exist in nature. The new gene enables the T cells to now find and kill the patient’s tumor cells based on a molecule they can now see on the surface of those tumor cells. This is why the therapy works. It has nothing to do with the use of parts of the HIV virus.

As a member of an ethnic community that has been preyed upon by the medical community, I find it terrible to suggest that any doctor would intentionally infect someone with HIV. No medical professional would use HIV to treat anyone; Tuskegee shall never be repeated.

As a member of a social community that has been victimized by HIV and still deals with the stigma of HIV, I am disturbed by the possibilities that could arise from articles with such sensational titles. HIV does not cure cancer.

Thank you for allowing me to clarify misconceptions reported and circulating the web. Please share this and help dispel the rumors if possible. If anyone is interested in learning more, they are welcome to inbox me.

Avery D. Posey, Jr., Ph.D.

This commentary is not written on the behalf of any company or institution. The article is linked.

NOTE:  The above open letter is a re-post of a social media response from Dr. Posey

Kiera Wilmot Avoids Prison, But Now What?

By Caleph B. Wilson

The initial thought behind ‘zero tolerance’ policies in schools was  that children with consistent discipline issues would make up most suspensions.  However, ‘model students’ can also become entangled in mandatory school punishments.

On April 22, 2013, 16-year-old Kiera Wilmot was expelled from her South Florida high school for creating small ‘explosive’ by mixing household chemicals and a small wad of aluminum foil.  Further, Florida’s state attorney charged her with felonies equal to if she had discharged a firearm and a ‘weapon of mass destruction’ on school property.  Interestingly, Wilmot’s principal Ron Pritchard was disturbed by the harshness of the school district’s punishment…

Read entire post at click here.

Time to Stop Harassing Poor Folks

By Caleph B. Wilson

As a “Son of Mississippi” I am very proud of the early experiences that shaped my life.  My family and the people that I group-up around did their best to teach me and encourage me to work hard and effectively.  In turn, each time an opportunity presented itself, I worked to be appropriately prepared for it.  Given the experiences that  I have had one thing is very clear:  The notion that one pulls themselves up by their boot straps is nonsense.

Without all of those folks who decided to follow the Southern phrase, “If can’t do nothing to help ya, I ain’t gone do nothing to hurt ya,” it would have been impossible for me to follow my dreams.  So, any success attributed to me is not mine alone.  My family, friends and supporters are just as responsible.  They provided the guidance, while my role was to put in the required honest effort.

This is where I take issue with the cognitive dissonance of those in my home state (and around the country and world) that blame poor people for not working hard enough to get anywhere.  Further, poor folk are constantly characterized as “takers.”  The truth is that most folks that are considered poor go to work every day.  Today’s poor folks are just like the ones that raised me.  Each day starts before with a prayer before the sun peaks over the horizon.  Kids are readied for school, breakfast is prepared and the family parts looking forward to the new day.  Each adult takes pride in earning an honest pay and children are excited about learning.

So, these poor folk are not “takers.”  They don’t look for anything that is not earned.  Instead, their expectation is that hard work will be rewarded.  Yet, a lifetime can pass without any reward.

These poor folk are told how they are dependent on the government.  How the Federal government is trying to take their freedom.  Government is “bad.”

Well, here’s what I have to say to poor people.  When you are confronted with those folk that refuse to recognize your hard work at school or on the job, remind them of these words, “JUDGE not, that ye be not judged.”  Also, remind them of the hypocrisy of pseudo-leaders Those same so-called leaders that chastise you for expecting help from the tax dollars that you and your family has paid or will pay.  Remind them that 40% of the Mississippi state budget is provided by tax payers from all around the country.  Ask those pseudo-leaders if why are they accepting a handout from “Big Gov’ment.”  Look them in the eye and ask why they are not helping themselves.

So, all of you hardworking folk that happen to be poor:  Don’t pay attention to the non-sense.  Keep striving to give yourself and your family a better life.  Remember, folks like you are the backbone of this country.  Your compassion for and love of these United States is what leads people from all over the world to risk life and limb to live where you live.

NOTE:  The post above is drawn from my personal experiences, however, the opinion can be applied to all 50 states.  I was driven written to address the growing number of media reports that quote folks unjustly blaming the poor.

School Security: Out of the Frying Pan Into the Fire?

By Caleph B. Wilson

Before the end of the school year a middle school in Grenada, MS (my hometown) identified a student that brought a loaded handgun to school.  In this case clear communication between students, staff, teachers and administrators lead to disarming the student without incident.  (Because a minor was involved some of the details of the situation is incomplete.  Hopefully, this very serious incident will be rapidly resolved and include measures that will eventually allow the student re-enter the educational system.)  This was a clear demonstration of how communities can entrust school districts to keep their children safe.  Unfortunately, the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hood Elementary School in Newton, CT is the backdrop for this situation.

With this in mind, the Grenada School District (GSD) has worked with local authorities and parents to review their security plans and contingencies.  This process has been played out by school districts all over the country.  It is a clear demonstration that communities and policy makers are working together to keep children safe and focused on learning.  Commonsense and professionalism is where we all should place our trust.

On top of this, some have moved to pushing for armed security, metal detectors and other security measures.  However, arming teachers moves unreasonably to the extreme.    Teachers are trained education professionals and should be focused on teaching not staying on the ready to engage armed threats.  Further, with all that we demand for educators adding more to their plates will likely have negative impact on the education of children.

Additionally, the cost in insurance and added security would likely mean reallocation of funds from pure educational activities.  Here is a question:  Does it make sense to hurt education quality by taking away funds that are already stretched thin? Educating our children is the point.  That is why all stake holders have to be engaged in the conversation.  Parents, families, students, educators, school administrators, law enforcement and government (local, state and federal) have to be shape the conversation for efficient, effect and balanced school security measures.

So, adding armed uniformed off duty police officers for security is a reasonable response.  Yet this situation can go overboard.  Remember schools are not correctional facilities and over doing armed security at schools may change the atmosphere.

We live in an open and free society.  Preserving our way of life truly depends on maintaining our identity in the face of horrific tragedy.  Reason and data driven professional advice should always guide our response(s).

UPDATE (12 December 2012):  A source within the Grenada School District confirmed that GSD did not detect the firearm until after the suspected student brandished the handgun at another student while on a school bus.