Policy Watch team welcomes new investigative reporter

NC Policy Watch investigative reporter Kelan Lyons

The NC Policy Watch team is delighted to announce the addition of another outstanding journalist to its team — investigative reporter Kelan Lyons.

Lyons, who received a masters degree in 2016 from the prestigious Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, joins Policy Watch after successful stints with newsrooms in Texas, Utah, and most recently, Connecticut, where he conducted a variety of in-depth investigations as a Justice and Mental Health Reporter for the award-winning nonprofit online news outlet, the Connecticut Mirror.

At Policy Watch, Lyons will focus on issues related to the criminal and civil justice systems as well elections, voting, and threats to democracy .

As he noted on Twitter this morning:

You can contact Kelan at [email protected] or 919-861-1460.

Will Juneteenth have broader, enduring meaning as a national holiday?

(Illustration by dvjstock/iStock Images)

In June 2021, Congress, with a unanimous vote in the Senate and support of all but 14 Republicans in the House of Representatives, passed legislation designating June 19th as Juneteenth National Independence Day, commemorating the end of slavery for Black Americans.

But what does it really mean?

In the years to come, will it be embraced and celebrated all across America to help encourage shared experiences and achieve better understanding among Blacks and whites?

A historical context sheds some light.

Juneteenth, also known as Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, and Black Independence Day was first celebrated by freed slaves on June 19, 1866, in Texas a year after slavery had ended there. President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation, ending slavery in January of 1863—two and half years earlier.

It wasn’t until 1980 that the holiday was officially recognized anywhere. Texas became the first state to designate Juneteenth as a state holiday. In 2002, eight other states joined Texas and Missouri followed suit in 2003. In 2008, fifteen more states.

By 2019, 47 states and the District of Columbia had finally recognized or commemorated the day in some way. Between 2020 and 2022, five states (Texas, New York, Virginia, Washington, and Illinois) made it a paid holiday for state employees.

But for more than a century and half between 1866 and 2022, Juneteenth has primarily been a celebration confined to Black communities all across America.

Celebrations—in addition to parades, ethnic cuisine, street fairs, cookouts, family reunions—include programs with historical dress, reenactments, traditional songs, and readings of works by iconic Black authors.

Now that it has been designated as a national holiday, will that trend change?

Does the naming, Juneteenth National Independence Day, provide some clues?

As a nation, we celebrate July 4th as Independence Day, commemorating the day the original thirteen colonies were no longer subjects and subordinates to the monarchy of Britain, that they were indeed independent, united, and free.

Despite our differences—country of origin, ethnic or racial identity, religious affiliation, economic status—we all identify with July 4th as the day that made us one. One nation, indivisible and committed to justice and equality for all.

But, after decades and centuries of Blacks gaining their independence, their freedom, supposedly no longer subjects or subordinates of whites, the commemoration or celebration has not been commonly recognized, let alone unifying.

So, it begs the question, “What’s in a name?”

Will the newly minted Juneteenth National Independence Day be the beginning of universally recognizing that Blacks are finally and truly free to partake in all of what it means to be citizens of the United States of America?

Like July 4th represents freedom from the control and governance of a foreign country, does designating June 19th as “National Independence Day” mean that the nation is freeing itself of a horrid and oppressive aspect of its past?

Wouldn’t it be great if designating Juneteenth as a national holiday means that the nation is moving toward fully embracing a large segment of the American family that continue to suffer from the scourge of slavery and the chronic residuals of oppressive racism and discrimination?

Just as each of us holds in regard—in our own special way, for our own special reasons, patriotic and personal—the circumstances, occasions, and people our national holidays commemorate, Juneteenth National Independence Day will be no different.

We will either include it among those holidays that we embrace, recognize, remember, and value, or we will continue to go about our way doing business as usual, ignoring its significance.

There are many ways that the Juneteenth national holiday can take on meaning for those of us who are just becoming familiar or for one reason or the other have not given the meaning of the day much attention in the past.

Among them, and moving forward, we can:

  • commit to moving forward with open-mindedness and a willingness to learn anew about the things that we as human beings share;
  • make a conscious effort to get to know better Blacks that we regularly encounter in the workplace, social venues, and communities in which we live;
  • question why Blacks are not a part of some aspect of our lives;
  • read a book about Black history and culture to better understand how it fits into the American experience
  • attend a Black parade, street fair, a theatrical production
  • patronize Black businesses
  • have a meal in a Black restaurant
  • get to better know a Black neighbor, a colleague, classmate
  • incorporate music of Black artists in our favorite genres
  • visit museums of African American history and culture
  • examine the reasons why we may hold racial stereotypes

Doing some of these things can catch on, spread, and have lasting meaning.

On this inaugural national holiday, designating June 19th as Juneteenth National Independence Day, what does it really mean?

Each of us can take a few minutes to decide what it means and will mean to us and those within our orbit of influence.

There are so many ways to make it more than just a Black holiday.

The real questions: Will most of America pause to celebrate Juneteenth as a national holiday in the years to come—embrace it as an opportunity to better understand its importance and significance not only in terms of the history of this country, but in promoting healing and building a better future in all facets of our everyday lives?

Maybe, just maybe, we and generations after us will see Juneteenth National Independence Day, 2022 as a seminal year when America acknowledged and embraced real freedom. But this time real freedom for all.

Maybe the nation will have made another giant step in its march toward greatness.

Janice Ellis has lived and worked in Missouri for more than three decades, analyzing educational, political, social and economic issues across race, ethnicity, age and socioeconomic status. She is also a regular contributor to the Missouri Independent, which first published this essay.

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: Sorry, but ‘Top Gun’ was a terrible movie

In preparation for watching the splashy sequel to film classic “Top Gun,” I decided to rewatch the 1986 original, remembering it as “great, one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.”

Bwhahahahahahaha!

Clocking in at a shade over two (very long) hours, the original “Top Gun” was so cheesy I fully expect to be constipated for the foreseeable future. Sorry, not sorry.

How could my memory of the movie’s greatness be so off? Did I honestly not notice the ham-handed love scenes, directed with the deft touch of a weekend porn producer whose real job was selling burial insurance? Sorry. Final expenses, I meant.

Rewatching a movie you considered “classic” decades later is bound to result in disappointment. I remember sobbing in the theater at the demise of mega-bro “Goose,” played by Anthony Edwards who would, inexplicably, go on to land the role of a decidedly nebbish doc on “ER.”

Watching “Top Gun” for the first time in 36 years makes me question everything I believed back then. Maybe “Take My Breath Away” really wasn’t the greatest romantic ballad of all time. Sigh.

Because the aerial shots were so exciting, much was forgiven, including the truly awful and chemistry-free tongue dance performed by Kelly McGillis and Tom Cruise. Lord have mercy. I fully expected him to just start licking her face like a springer spaniel.

“It’s a great story of romance and adventure,” I had told Duh, who never saw “Top Gun” for some weird reason, but who has also never seen “The Godfather” or “Star Wars” so clearly he was a wolf-boy or something growing up.

“We can’t see the sequel until you see this because you’ll be lost,” I told him, prissily.

As the final credits mercifully rolled, Duh looked at me with new eyes. Possibly because he’d tried to gouge out his old ones.

“That was horrible,” he said, holding out his hand, not to hold but to receive the remote.

“In 1986, this was state of the art! Those special effects were cutting edge.”

But it was too late. When I recommend a terrible movie, which happens with alarming frequency, I’m placed in marital movie “time out.” It could take a while to regain trust. Things hadn’t derailed this badly since I recommended the second “Sex & the City” movie, which left him snoring soundly only 30 minutes in.

The jaw-droppingly bad script made me wonder what kind of a writer I was back in 1986. So, I took a look at some old clips from one of my first reporting jobs. On the birth of a mule in a nearby county, this lead sentence: “Her mother was a nag and her father was a jackass…”

Oh dear.

I have to admit it’s not the first time a movie has suffered for the (much) later rewatching. While I adored “Titanic,” 25 years ago, I can’t watch it now because I want to strangle that paper-skinned hag when she drops the “Heart of the Ocean” into the sea knowing the blue diamond the size of a conch shell could’ve ended world hunger. Dotty battle axe.

And don’t get me started on “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which obviously was made before I was born but was a late-bloomer in popularity, not really coming into its own until the copyright lapsed in the ‘70s allowing it to be shown free and often continuously on TV.

Decades later, I maintain Pottertown, a boozy Vegas in the making was kinda great.`

To be honest, the only very old movies I can’t find fault with are “Paper Moon” (1973) and “To Kill A Mockingbird” (1962).  Y’all let me know the classic you once loved that now makes you say “Do whaaaat??”

Unlike a Saturday night in Bedford Falls, this could be fun.

Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist. Write her at [email protected].

Trump is a domestic enemy. Treat him like one.

Former President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on October 09, 2021. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The hearings of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection have already provided conclusive evidence that the effort to overturn the 2020 election was a conspiracy directed by a corrupt sitting president who knew the effort was based on lies and encouraged violence in pursuit of power.

The damning testimony before the committee and the persuasiveness of its case has been widely analyzed. But a frank discussion of accountability for the insurrection has been muted.

There is a reason for this. The gravity of the crime exceeds any that an American president has ever been suspected of committing, and the scale of culpability is greater than many citizens are comfortable contemplating.

Another reason, one that puts the country in peril, is that too many Americans continue to support the perpetrators.

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi, the Democratic chairman of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, set the tone for the hearings a week ago in his opening statement.

“It was domestic enemies of the Constitution who stormed the Capitol and occupied the Capitol who sought to thwart the will of the people to stop the transfer of power,” he said. Later he said, “Ultimately, Donald Trump — the president of the United States — spurred a mob of domestic enemies of the Constitution to march down the Capitol and subvert American democracy … January 6th was the culmination of an attempted coup. … Violence was no accident. It represented Trump’s last stand, most desperate chance to halt the transfer of power.”

Thompson’s use of the phrase “domestic enemies” was deliberate. He noted the Civil War-era adoption of language regarding “all enemies — foreign and domestic” in the federal oath to account for the South’s rebellion.

In other words, the crimes committed by Trump and his co-conspirators are categorically akin to war-waging against the United States.

What is the appropriate punishment? If Trump and those who joined him in this violent attempted coup — including lawyers John Eastman, Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, and seditionist members of Congress such as Reps. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Jim Jordan of Ohio and Andy Biggs of Arizona, other senior officials such as Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, as well as the hundreds of extremists who stormed the Capitol — are enemies of America, what’s to be done with them?

The answer comes to mind more readily than it’s given voice. We know the essence of the appropriate punishment for the crime. We don’t know yet how to engage it. Read more

Today’s ‘must read’ op-ed: Kids, school safety and elections

Image: AdobeStock

If you get a couple minutes, be sure to check out a fine op-ed that was posted this morning by Capitol Broadcasting Company opinion editor Seth Effron at WRAL.com. In “Confronting fear of violence at public school polling places,” Effron shares some important insights on a pair of current and intersecting front burner issues: school safety and the state of our democracy.

The essay was prompted by recent requests in Wake County (and elsewhere) to close schools — which are frequently used as polling places — on the days of elections. In a time in which millions of children are already traumatized and endangered by the nation’s metastasizing gun violence crisis and various extremists are threatening violence toward election officials, many parents and teachers are expressing understandable concerns about mixing these two volatile items.

Here’s Effron:

“While there are many risks that we can’t predict, we do have the ability to mitigate this one,” Wake County parent Kirstin Morrison told School Board members earlier this month. “We can align a teacher workday with Election Day so that our students can stay out of the buildings and safe.”

The recent massacre of elementary school students and teachers in Uvalde, Texas, remains much on parents’ minds. “Today’s world is unpredictable and we have no ability to be immune to such a tragedy unfolding in our own community,” Morrison said.

It is an unfortunate reality today – and a most reasonable response. Closing schools for the safety and convenience of students, school workers and voters – is an appropriate step.

But as Effron also notes, it’s also important not to let such a pro-safety step end up removing elections and democracy from the consciousness of schoolkids. Here’s his on-the-mark conclusion:

While our state leaders have been exploring ways to impose all kinds of dictates on what students can, or cannot, be exposed to in the classroom they might also look for opportunities to make sure students see voting as something to be celebrated and not fretted over.

We live in a state and nation that uplifts democracy and true representative government. We also understand REAL POWER still rests with citizens who exercise their clout at the ballot box.

How about making sure we’re teaching students that power comes only through the ballot, not bullying. Participation, not provocation and intimidation, are what makes our nation great.

Amen to that.

Click here to read the entire essay.