Black Disney employees provide insight to HBCU students...

Full title: Black Disney employees provide insight to HBCU students on the billion-dollar company's "commitment to diversifying"

An article by Jamaija Rhoades for Professor Lynn Waltz's class

Former Hamptonians and now Disney employees shared the efforts they have seen Disney make to ensure more black and brown voices are a heard during the company's virtual HBCU Storytellers at Disney forum for students at Hampton University.

"When I came in as an intern, there was a moment where I was like oh my God, I feel alone. But within the two to three years I was at GMA, I could see the commitment to diversifying. By the time I left, there were three times more people of color than there were I started," said Christina Powell, a producer of the Tamron Hall Show and 2017 graduate of Hampton University.

Other panelists shared how their time at Disney has given them the chance to network and communicate with individuals of African descent who come from different cultural backgrounds than themselves.

"PULSE is one of Disney's resource groups, and it is centered around black and African American culture. One of the things I really appreciated with being a member of PULSE was that I got to learn about other cultures within the black culture," said Barry Dillard, the Vice President of Risk Management Services and a 1990 graduate of Hampton University.

Along with having resources and safe spaces for people of color, members of the panel attested to the fact that many of the people that they work with are allies of the black community.

"Disney is full of allies, there are great, great leaders that are aware of everything that is going on. Especially now with the George Floyd killing, we have been asked for advice on how they (allies) can do better to better serve the African American community," said Courtnee Collier, a manager of Public Relations and 2001 graduate of Hampton University.

Panelists spoke on how their employment at Disney has given them the chance to highlight the importance of HBCUs and as a result, the company is connecting directly with these universities for interns.

"I guarantee you, when they looked at my resume, they had no idea Hampton University was an HBCU, probably didn't even know what HBCUs were. Once I got the job, I certainly got to tell them about it, I can tell them about HBCUs and the importance of them," said Dillard.

Aside from sharing their experiences as a being a person of color and working for a billion-dollar company, panelists provided tips on how to land an internship and how valuable the Hampton University experience had been in their lives.

"You don't get what you get out of a HBCU education anywhere else. Really don't take for granted the professors that are really investing in you. It feels like a pain, but I promise no one will ever pretend to care that much ever again," said Powell.

Maintaining Blackness in a White Space

An article by Kennedy P. Buck for Professor Lynn Waltz's class

Many Black journalists within the entertainment world fight for more diversity as racism is forefront in the headlines. The top entertainment company in the country, Walt Disney, continues to recruit and reassure Black students that they will not only be embraced but will also be comfortable if offered a position within the company.

Courtnee Collier, the public relations manager of Walt Disney World Resort, was a part of a recruiting panel about internships for students who attend her alma mater, Hampton University. Collier said she maintains her blackness in a majority white space through balance.

"You're going to be the only Black person sometimes in these spaces and it's going to shock you," She said. "The key is to be able to balance how you interact with other races while also staying true within your blackness. It can be hard because you don't want to be too much, but you also don't want someone to question you. That's why you have to find that balance."

The advice to these Hampton University students did not stop there. Christina Powell, a 2017 graduate of Hampton University, talked about her experience as a young Black producer within the Disney world and how it led her to become a producer on the Emmy winning Talk-show: The Tamron Hall Show.

"There were many times I was the only Black person in the room, but I did not let that hold me back, I let my work speak for itself," She said. "I let my work do the talking for me where they never had to question my Blackness, because they knew I could deliver and that is why I am in the position I'm in today."

Barry Dillard, the vice president of risk management of Walt Disney World and also another graduate of Hampton University, touched on his own advice from the Executive side of Walt Disney. "I rely on communication," Dillard said. "If something is wrong, relay it to the people above you. Communication is key."

The panelists also touched on how to stand out to gain a competitive internship. They gave good advice such as to always research the company before an interview and how to sell skills and campus activates so the color of the students' skin would not even be a factor.

"You have to sell yourself on paper where they never even have to question your culture or your skin," Collier said. "If I'm being honest these white college students are coming into these interviews and they know their stuff. Stand out and research."

Even though the panel discussion was brief, the advice from the Hampton alum resonated with many students. Students were able to see that if they continue to work hard and reach high then they can achieve their dreams.

Limited Options for Texas Voters

By Rhyann Sampson

The USPS crisis, combined with Texas' strict mail-in voting requirements, are leaving many Texan voters without options for voting in the upcoming presidential election.

The United States Postal Service has had ongoing issues over the last months stemming from a lack of financial stability, which has resulted in a mass delay of mail delivery across 46 states. According to an article by Vox, "The self-funded Postal Service has been seeking billions in aid from Congress -- an effort that's been stymied by President Trump, who has long had a contentious relationship with the USPS and has pushed to privatize it."

While the mail stress is currently affecting the United States as a whole, Texas residents are in a bigger predicament with the intersecting dilemmas of COVID-19, USPS and voting.

"Trying to vote with all of this going on is about to be a complete mess. I don't want to have to worry about getting Corona while trying to vote," said Irving, Texas, resident, Keith Franklin.

Texas is in a unique situation because the requirements to vote by mail are very specific and would exclude a large population of residents. To be eligible for a mail-in ballot, the resident must meet one of the following: be over 65 years old, disabled, out of the country or in jail.

These requirements are not new to the state's voting process, however in the midst of COVID-19, the limited option is disliked by many.

"You'd think that our government would care a little bit more about our safety and let more people send in their votes by mail, but I guess not," said Denton, Texas, resident Megan Bowser.

The state has also decided that personal fears of getting COVID-19 is not a viable form of exemption from in-person voting. Texas' approach to this situation is not a favorable decision compared to other states. According to the Fort Worth Star Telegram, "34 states allowed for anyone to use mail-in ballots. Of the remaining 16, all but Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana have made exceptions to expand vote by mail in 2020 elections because of the pandemic."

Even if some Texas residents are eligible to vote by mail, the USPS mail crisis builds another cause for concern.

The deadline for mail-in ballots may overlap with the speed at which the postal service delivers the vote due to its slowed distribution of mail. USPS recommended that Texans who are voting by mail send in their ballots 15 days prior to the due date. However, some are not convinced that their vote will be processed in time.

"I'm 73 years old so thankfully I'm going to be voting by mail. I just hope my vote, or my husband's vote doesn't get lost or take too long to deliver," said Roanoke, Texas, resident N.J Pyles.

The mail crisis in combination of COVID-19 is showing no signs of easing, leaving Texas residents doubtful of voting both in person and by mail. With few options for the state's voters, it is likely the situation will affect the polls.

Chester County Residents Aren't Getting Mail, and Won't Vote That Way

By Lauren Turman

After a significant slow-down of mailing in Chester County, Pa., residents say they will not vote by mail on November 3 out of fear of political manipulation.

Pennsylvania has reported over 130,000 COVID-19 cases and has remained amongst 14 other states with the highest confirmed cases, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition to having such high numbers, Pennsylvania is an established political battleground state. Votes from this state, whether in-person or by mail, will make a significant difference in the outcome of the presidential election.

The beginning of the slow-down in early April became more difficult when the USPS was informed that several employees at the West Chester post office contracted COVID-19 immediately following the death of a postal service delivery man. The Daily Mail reported that the CDC had found no evidence of coronavirus spreading through the mail, so that office was not shut down or suspended.

Borough residents have expressed their concerns directly to the USPS, and as of August, the Daily Mail reported a much smaller number of requests for mail-in ballots than anticipated.

Louis DeJoy's Impact on Voting

The appointment of Postmaster General and Republican Party fundraiser Louis DeJoy and his subsequent management of the USPS has made majority-Democratic Chester County favor casting an in-person ballot and face coronavirus. DeJoy's policies to terminate overtime, leave mail behind to quicken the workday, and lower office hours have caused sizable delivery delays across Pennsylvania and several other states, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"I don't trust DeJoy at all," said Faith Johns, a college student and Collegeville, Pa., resident. "He was barely able to answer any questions that had to do with policy changes or how slow mail has been in COVID-19." After substantial questioning of his management, DeJoy's testified before the House Oversight Committee, which criticized his actions since his appointment in June and questioned his motives for cutting costs. During the hearing, Democratic Representative Katie Porter asked DeJoy how much it costs to mail a postcard, to which he responded, "I don't know."

"I just don't think he's very knowledgeable. He couldn't even hold up in Congress. I definitely won't be letting him control my vote," Johns said.

Just six days before his testimony, DeJoy stated that he is trying to improve the system. He also explained that he came to the Postal Service to make changes for the success of the organization and that he would deliver election mail on time and with "well established" service standards.

Even with his statement, unsorted mail is still piling up in many Philadelphia area post offices, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Residents have called the local post office hundreds of times to find out why their mail had not arrived, according to Chester County Postal Service Spokespersn Raymond V. Daiutolo.

"We've been receiving less and less ever since April. I understand that everything happening with corona might have made things a bit worse in the beginning, but there should be no reason why I'm getting less mail now than I was in April. Some days, we don't even see any," said Yolanda George Turman, a West Chester resident.

After corresponding coronavirus numbers, the impact that DeJoy is making on the Postal Service, and a very tight race for the presidential election, John's and George Turman's decision to vote in-person reflects an increasing opinion in the Chester area.

West Chester Residents Are Not Voting by Mail

Tyler Williams, a 20-year-old college student, and resident of West Chester, Pa., has not received any mail in the past four days. Her aunt works at a local post office, and she says that neither of them has ever experienced such a lapse in the mailing process.

"I could have bills due. I could have anything. I literally feel like I don't know what could be coming my way," she said. "My aunt is struggling, and I know she's overwhelmed, too."

Initially, Williams was going to vote by mail to become less susceptible to contracting COVID-19. After reading about DeJoy's policy changes and learning of his Republican affiliation, she immediately changed her mind.

"I think I read a CNN article with all of these budget cuts [and] things that he was going to do, and I was not happy," said Williams. "If they can't get my mail here as a citizen, why would I ever expect [USPS] to count my vote or not to switch it to benefit Republicans?"

In the West Chester postal district, college students Williams and Johns are among a large and increasing number of students that are keeping the tradition of voting in-person. Seven of 10 West Chester University students stated that they are voting in person because they don't believe mail-in ballots will stay honest, according to a self-conducted poll. Additionally, nine of 10 post-college graduates say that they will go to the polls for the same reason.

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Mail-In Voting: What You Need to Know About the 2020 Election

By: Sara Avery

Thousands of North Carolinians are opting for mail-in ballots for the 2020 presidential election due to mounting concerns about the safety of in-person voting during the coronavirus pandemic. As of September 3, 2020, about 535,000 voters have requested absentee ballots, which is more than 15 times the number of requests submitted at this time in 2016, according to the North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE).

However, not all residents are choosing to vote by mail. Many are still casting their ballot in-person, citing concerns of potential election tampering.

"I noticed on the news that they were talking about how Trump doesn't want mail-in ballots and how mailboxes are being taken away," said North Carolina resident Hannah Escala. "I really think he's capable of manipulating the election."

Nasje Alexander, also a N.C. resident, agrees.

"I have a slight concern that [ballots] won't be counted in time. Hopefully, (the U.S. Postal Service) can have some kind of check point to ensure that absentee ballots are accounted for," she said.

In many larger cities in the state, residents have experienced mail slowdowns and have even seen the removal of mail sorting machines. This comes after Postmaster General Louis DeJoy ordered more than 650 machines removed across the nation, though he said it was part of a long-term plan.

DeJoy, a top Trump donor, was appointed as postmaster in May. Since his start, he has enacted sweeping changes to the postal service, including eliminating employee overtime and mandating that couriers return at the end of their shift, even if they have not finished their route.

He claims that these measures were taken to cut costs after the Postal Service lost $2 billion dollars in the second quarter of this year.

"Our financial position is dire, stemming from substantial declines in mail volume, a broken business model and a management strategy that has not adequately addressed these issues," DeJoy told the USPS Board of Governors. "Without dramatic change, there is no end in sight, and we face an impending liquidity crisis."

However, several lawmakers have accused him of ulterior motives, saying he has a conflict of interest. DeJoy still owns several million dollars' worth of stocks in XPO Logistics, a contracting company for the postal service.

Additionally, DeJoy has been accused of colluding with Trump to attempt to privatize the service, something conservatives have discussed for years. His opponents cite his firing of two executives who oversaw day-to-day operations, as well as President Trump's blatant blocking of funds to the postal service in order to delay processing mail-in ballots.

Several house representatives, including Gerald Connolly (D-Va.), chair of the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations, believe that conservatives will ultimately use the ensuing dysfunction of the postal service to discourage citizen use and promote privatization.

DeJoy has maintained good intentions, but that was not enough to convince Postal Service Inspector General, Tammy Whitcomb, who opened a federal ethics investigation.

House Democrats also wanted to question DeJoy and called him to an Oversight Committee hearing to discuss the extensive changes that he has enacted in his short tenure.

During the hearing, he had several tense exchanges with Democratic Representatives including Rep. Katie Porter (D-Ca.) who grilled DeJoy on his basic knowledge of the agency. He also clashed with Rep. Steven Lynch (D-Ma.) who questioned DeJoy's motives.

"After 240 years of patriotic service delivering the mail, how can one person screw this up in just a few weeks," Lynch said to DeJoy. "Based on what you have actually a fact finder, we can only reach two conclusions. One, either through gross incompetence, you have ended the 240-year history of delivering the mail reliably on time. Or the second conclusion that we can gather, is that you're doing this on purpose."

Lynch also bluntly asked DeJoy if he would reinstall the mail sorting machines, to which DeJoy replied, "No, I will not."

However, he is considering reversing that decision after at least 20 attorney generals, including North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, sued the service.

"The Postal Service is a foundational American institution, and one that is vital to our daily lives," Stein said on his official website. "The Postal Service is how we pay bills, get our medications, and conduct business. But we especially need the Postal Service to be delivering mail on time during a pandemic and weeks before an election that will see more North Carolinians voting by mail than ever before. I will fight to ensure that the Postal Service is preserved, and every North Carolinian's vote is counted."

Despite the lawsuit, President Trump has continued to wage a war against the Postal System stating that mail-in ballots in this election will lead to widespread voter fraud. However, there is no evidence to support his claim, as the overall rate for voter fraud is between 0.00004 percent and 0.00009 percent, according to a 2017 study by the Brennan Center for Justice.

It appears that the Trump campaign knows this, as they have begun sending out absentee ballot request forms to supporters in battleground states like North Carolina, where Trump narrowly beat Clinton by 3.67 percent in 2016.

Michael Grether, a high school history teacher and NC resident, said that his parents received a letter in the mail from the president stating how "safe" absentee voting is. The mailer also encouraged voters to turn in their ballot by October 27 to ensure that it can be processed in time.

"What they're saying in public is different than what they're saying in private," he said. "Choose one, the national narrative or the private narrative."

He also has friends who work in data management for the post office who have told him that the likelihood of ballots being manipulated is very low.

"There are security checks each step of the way that are built to prevent tampering," he said. "The rooms where the ballots are put in, have poll workers from each party to watch the ballots."

Grether hopes that American citizens will see what is happening with the postal service and the election and will challenge their representatives to do something.

"It's a democracy, and people need to realize that if we want something to be a certain way, we need to step up, take action, make our voice heard, and put pressure on those in power to make sure something happens," he said. "The people on the left are Americans. The people on the right are Americans. Each side has a right to a voice and a fair election."

Home Fronts: A Peaceful Protest Prevails

By Wakeelah Bashir, Freelance Writer

Nearly 53 years ago during the 1967 Newark riots, residents protested violently in response to the community's mistreatment by those who were sworn to protect them--the police.

Contrary to the initiative the community is taking to end police brutality today, residents from all over New Jersey rallied together May 30 in Newark, New Jersey's largest city, to protest peacefully and bring awareness to racial injustice and police brutality following the death of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

After a weekend without any violence or arrests being made, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy praised the city of Newark for its civil approach during the city's protest, considering its reputation of being one of the most dangerous cities in New Jersey.

Eighty-eight-year-old Newark resident Geraldine Little recalled the restless week in July 1967, describing it as a civil war between the Newark police and Newark residents.

Continue reading here...

Home Fronts: ‘Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much’

By Jonathan Scott, Freelance Writer

June has just started and I already find myself at wit's end-- torn between trying to stay abreast of what's happening in the world on social media, and yet trying to distance myself from viewing the world's dueling health and social ills simultaneously.

During my usual virtual scrolling, I came across a quote from American author and activist Helen Keller, in which I found a rather profound meaning, solace, and significance in what's happening with and around me.

Finish reading here...

Home Fronts: Inflamed Tensions

By Carnell White, Freelance Writer

HARLEM, N.Y. – Parts of New York's Brooklyn and The Bronx boroughs burned Tuesday night as demonstrations turned from peaceful to restless and from civil to looting, awakening "the city that never sleeps."

Large, visibly flustered and vocal crowds reacting to the unlawful death of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, gathered across New York City June 2 to vent and protest the injustice in the midst of COVID-19, according to city officials.

With fresh social media images going viral and media coverage of Floyd's arrest, detainment and ultimate demise, uproar sparked across the nation. What started out as hundreds of people quickly turned into thousands as people came together to have their voices heard in New York City streets.

"The city that never sleeps has been divided in the last three months (because of the coronavirus pandemic)," said social media influencer Lissette Hughes. "In May of 2020 it (Floyd's death) was given a reason to bring life back to the city of New York."

Continue reading here...

Chesapeake Bay Foundation leads Virginia in oyster restoration project

By Lauren Grayson

Outside of Smithfield Station, a popular local seafood restaurant, an employee threw a bucket of empty oyster shells into an already overflowing bin labeled "CAUTION: Oyster Restoration at Work."

"Every day, when the cooks take out the trash, they dispose of the oyster shells in a separate bin," store manager Evan Thomas said.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation collects the shells and uses them to construct and maintain the oyster reefs.

"The bin is in front of the restaurant so that when customers walk in, they can see the work that's being done," Thomas said. "It makes us feel like we're really making a difference because where we would otherwise just throw the shells away, we're finding a way to repurpose them."

Smithfield Station and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation are trying to increase the number of oysters and slow the rate of species endangerment by increasing the variety of life that exists within freshwater, tidal and marine ecosystems.

Jackie Shannon, manager for the Virginia Oyster Restoration Center, is responsible for gathering volunteers to produce and place man-made clumps of collected oyster shells into the ocean.

"My role is to be a lot more hands-on with the work that we do," Shannon said. "What me and my volunteers do is place clumps of oysters, called hatchery clumps, into the ocean. The goal is that eventually, they'll naturally recruit oyster larvae, producing more baby oysters that will grow to create reef structures. These structures will then eventually serve as a habitat for underwater wildlife."

According to Shannon, these oyster reef structures require years of monitoring. However, if successful, they become self-sustainable and create diverse aquatic ecosystems that have a huge biological impact.

This biological impact includes the preservation of the genetic information of these species, which potentially hold the cure to future diseases and contain overall solutions for survival. As soon as a species goes extinct, all of their genetic information is lost.

According to the Virginia Cooperative Extension, water animals and plants are our legacy to future generations. "Preventing habitat loss is the first important step to take in protecting our native species, and restoring important degraded habitat is the second step."

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation would be unable to restore degraded aquatic habitats at a steady rate without the community's participation. "Building relationships with the community is essential to progress being made," said Christy Everett, Hampton Roads director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "My job is to build important relationships not only with the government, but with community leaders and representatives as well. Partnering with them is crucial to our goal of improving aquatic biodiversity and improve the local water quality as well."

Yancey Powell, manager of education for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Jenny S. Workboat Education Program, actively educates students and their teachers on the environmental health of the Hampton Roads waterways.

"Maintaining the waterways is crucial to the survival of certain species here," Powell said. "Overfishing is definitely a problem, whether it be because of huge fisheries or individuals who frequently fish in the waterways illegally."

"Either way, they are altering and impacting the environment around them, which is why we then have to come in and make sure that they still have an underwater environment to come back to!"

Meanwhile, one shell at a time, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Virginia restaurants will continue to do their part to restore oyster reefs and create a more diverse aquatic ecosystem together.

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