John Legend to the Class of 2021: Embrace our shared humanity, let go of bias and fear (video)

Recording artist John Legend spoke at Duke University’s commencement Sunday, receiving an honorary doctorate at the ceremony.

Legend’s message to the Class of 2021 was to let go of fear and embrace our shared humanity:

“Our nation is at its best when we realize that we all do better when we all do better.”

“Yet, today, we’re still fighting against the old zero-sum thinking that’s been holding us back since the beginning. We see it in efforts to deny people their right to vote. We see it in the shameful attacks on trans rights.”

“And, of course, we see it in our policing and carceral systems: In the simple fact that so many people heard “Black Lives Matter” and assumed it meant that other lives couldn’t matter, too. That’s zero-sum thinking if I’ve ever seen it.”

And when lost, Legend told the audience let love be your North Star.

During his career, Legend has earned Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards. He is also an active philanthropist and supporter of criminal justice reform.

Today: An online discussion on increasing support for HBCUs

Worth your time today: An online discussion about the need to increase federal and state support for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) featuring North Carolina Congresswoman Alma Adams.

The 3 p.m. webinar, organized by the Hunt Institute, will also feature Dr. Michael Lomax, President and CEO of United Negro College Fund, and Virginia State Senator Jennifer McClellan. The discussion will focus on the importance of HBCUs and the inequities in funding they face at the state and federal level. Today’s discussion is the the first of a two-part collaboration between the institute’s Governing Principals and Race & Education series. The second part, which will examine the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on HBCUs, will be on July 20.

Those interested can register here.

The UNC System has five HBCUs — Elizabeth City State UniversityFayetteville State UniversityN.C. A&T State UniversityNC Central University, and Winston-Salem State University. That’s the most of any U.S. state.

In February, the chancellors of all five of those schools asked to raise the cap on non-resident or out-of-state freshman students from 18 percent to 25 percent. The demand exists, they said, with the schools already meeting or exceeding the cap. Last week, the UNC Board of Governors approved the change.

UNC System President Peter Hans supported the change, saying it will help meet demand and improve stability for the schools.

HRC President to NCAA: time to pull tournaments in states that discriminate against trans athletes

The president of the Human Rights Campaign is asking the NCAA president and governing board to pull tournaments from states that have passed laws and executive orders barring transgender women from women’s sports.

As Policy Watch has reported, a bill is still in play in North Carolina that could do just that. As HRC President Alphonso David points out in his letter, similar bills have already passed into law in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. A ban is in place in South Dakota by executive order.

NCAA and pro athletes have called for the NCAA to take the step, to which it has not yet explicitly committed. The NCAA has a policy that allows for the inclusion of transgender athletes and has said that it will work to be sure transgender athletes are safe from discrimination in states where it operates events. But tournaments are scheduled for Alabama and Tennessee in less than three weeks.

“This is a national crisis, and one that necessitates united action, including from the NCAA,” David wrote. “In sanctioning states that enact blatantly discriminatory laws in violation of NCAA policy, the NCAA will not only be standing on the right side of history, it will also be putting itself squarely in line with the overwhelming majority of the American people. A poll released on April 16 made clear that the vast majority of Americans, including a majority of Americans in all political parties, oppose legislation limiting the rights of transgender student athletes.”

Read David’s full letter below:

Dear President Emmert & NCAA Governance,

Thank you for your response to my March letter. I am also grateful for your subsequent statement condemning anti-trans sports legislation and committing to tournament host sites that are “safe, healthy, and free of discrimination,” but we need the NCAA to turn that commitment into action to achieve impact for athletes. According to our analysis and after hearing from transgender athletes across the country and in these states, the anti-transgender legislation being passed and enacted do create an unsafe, unhealthy, and discriminatory environment for transgender athletes. This merits and necessitates action from the NCAA to withdraw championship events from the states that have already enacted such legislation, and make clear that states that enact them in the future will face the same consequences.

In Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and South Dakota there are now overtly discriminatory laws or, in the case of South Dakota, executive orders, banning transgender athletes from participating in sports. Similar bills are currently awaiting signature or veto by governors in Montana and West Virginia, and could soon be enacted into law. With NCAA tournaments scheduled to take place in Alabama and Tennessee in less than three weeks, the time for concrete actions is now.

As I wrote to you last time, the number of anti-LGBTQ bills we are seeing in state legislatures across the country is unprecedented. And sadly, an unprecedented number are likely to become law. 2021 is poised to surpass 2015 as the worst year for anti-LGBTQ legislation in recent history. So far in 2021, 11 anti-LGBTQ bills have already been enacted, and another nine are already on governors’ desks awaiting signature. If these bills are enacted into law, it would mean that states will have enacted more anti-LGBTQ laws this year than in the last three years combined.

This is a national crisis, and one that necessitates united action, including from the NCAA. In sanctioning states that enact blatantly discriminatory laws in violation of NCAA policy, the NCAA will not only be standing on the right side of history, it will also be putting itself squarely in line with the overwhelming majority of the American people. A poll released on April 16 made clear that the vast majority of Americans, including a majority of Americans in all political parties, oppose legislation limiting the rights of transgender student athletes.

We appreciate the NCAA’s past and present leadership, including its most recent statements. But there is more that must be done because the lives of young LGBTQ people are on the line.

And to be clear, people are already dying. These bills are further fueling the stigma that is driving a wave of anti-trans violence devastating our community. So far in 2021, we are on track to more than double the number of trans and gender non-conforming people killed in 2020, which was already the deadliest year on record.

With the NCAA’s commitment to safety, how can holding tournaments in these states possibly keep student-athletes safe? The only way forward to protect the people the NCAA works so hard to serve is by sanctioning the states fueling hate and violence against our community.

Thank you again for continuing to be in dialogue with me about this issue. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any questions. My staff and I stand ready to assist with any information and to support the work ahead.

Alphonso David

President of the Human Rights Campaign


Student, professional athletes push for NCAA to pull events over transgender athlete bans

Student and professional athletes joined LGBTQ advocates Friday to ask the National Collegiate Athletic Association to take action against states passing bills to exclude transgender women from women’s sports teams.

“This is a moment of national crisis where the rights and very existence of transgender young people are under attack,” said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in a virtual press event. “This year’s state legislative sessions mark the highest number of anti-transgender bills in history — more than 50 — which target the ability of transgender athletes to participate in sports.”

In North Carolina last month, Republican lawmakers filed a bill to bar transgender women from competing against other women at schools and universities. Just this week, they filed bills that target transgender health care, seek to force teachers and counselors to report children who exhibit “gender nonconformity” and legally protect scientifically debunked “conversion therapy” that seeks to cure LGBTQ people.

As North Carolina saw five years ago, during the battle over HB2, the economic and cultural impact of sports organizations withdrawing competitions from states with discriminatory laws can make a difference. In response to that bill, the NCAA moved seven championship events scheduled to be held in the state as other major organizations and corporations boycotted the state. The final economic impact was estimated at nearly $4 billion.

Last month nearly 550 current NCAA athletes from across the nation signed a letter to NCAA President Mark Emmert and the NCAA Board of Governors asking that they reaffirm the organization’s existing non-discrimination policies and pull championship events in states where transgender athletes are banned from competition. More than 700 NCAA athletes have now signed the letter.

Alana Boja, track and field athlete at Washington University.

“We noticed more and more states slated to host championships were putting anti-trans bills on the table but the NCAA was just staying silent,” said Alana Boja, a Washington University track and field athlete who helped spearhead the letter.

“We couldn’t just sit back and watch as the right to play sports was stripped from our fellow athletes,” Boja said.

The bills are a threat to all women athletes, Boja said.

“It’s impossible for women athletes to feel safe and supported in an environment where their personal identity and integrity is questioned,” Boja said. “The reality is many of these bills cannot possibly be enforced without inviting policing and bullying of all student athletes who do not meet stereotypes of gender and could empower any person to force any student athlete to undergo invasive physical exams or hormone tests in order to ‘prove their gender,’ whatever that means.”

Transgender women don’t threaten women’s and girl’s sports, Boja said.

“They’re my teammates, who want to play for the exact same reasons that I do,” Boja said. “To have fun, to improve ourselves, to make friends and be physically fit.”

Boja’s Washington University teammate, Aliya Schenck, said Republican legislators aren’t supporting or protecting women’s sports by discriminating against transgender women. If they want to do that, she said, they can concentrate on funding underfunded women’s sports programs all over the country.

The NCAA has had a policy allowing for the inclusion of transgender athletes since 2011. The organization should treat the current legislation like the threat to its policies and values that it is, Schenck said.

“Trans girls have been competing for a long time without incident,” Schenck said. “The NCAA needs to take action and withdraw all athletic competition from states considering anti-transgender sports bills.”
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Elon Poll: Support for COVID-19 vaccination has grown dramatically

Support for and confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine has grown dramatically in the last six months, according to a new Elon University poll released this week.

The poll, taken from March 30 to April 2, found 63 percent of respondents had already been vaccinated or plan to be.

When Elon began asking about peoples’ vaccine plans in October, only 33 percent answered “yes” when asked if they planned to be vaccinated when that became possible.

Those who are unsure or skeptical remain, however. In the poll 18 percent of respondents said they are not sure whether they will take the vaccine and 19 percent said they do not plan to do so.

“The size of the group of residents saying ‘no’ to vaccines has consistently been around 20 percent for months,” said Jason Husser, director of the Elon Poll and associate professor of political science.

Across four surveys, Elon has found the number of people against taking a vaccine holding steady at about 20 percent.

“This continues to cast doubt in my mind about whether some herd immunity goals will be met throughout all regions of North Carolina,” Husser said.

While the poll found a split in attitudes by political party, a majority of both Democrats (76 percent) and Republicans (54 percent) were in favor of vaccination. Among those who belong to neither party, 57 percent were in favor.

Dramatically more Republicans (28 percent) said they will not be vaccinated compared to Democrats (9 percent). Among those belonging to neither party, 22 percent said they would not be vaccinated.

The poll found modest variation on the issue by race, with 64 percent of white respondents saying they were already vaccinated or planned to be vaccinated and 63 percent of respondents of other races answering the same way. The poll found 59 percent of Black respondents had already been or planned to be vaccinated.

A greater variation was found according to level of education. The poll found 10 percent of those with a bachelors degree or higher said they would not be vaccinated. Among those with less than a bachelors degree, that number was 24 percent. The poll found 55 percent of those with a bachelors degree or higher said they had already been vaccinated while 31 percent of those with less than a bachelors degree said they had.

Among those who have already been vaccinated, 92 percent said they are glad they took the vaccine.

The poll found 80 percent describing the experience  of vaccination as “very easy” or “somewhat easy,” with two-thirds reporting they no negative side effects.  Of those who did experience negative side effects, 69 percent said it was no more than “a minor disruption.”


The poll was a representative online survey of 1,395 North Carolinians. The overall results have a credibility interval of +/- 2.8 percentage points, according to information released by the school.

Read the full report, including more information about methodology, here.