U.S. News & World Report Ranks Spelman College Top HBCU

Spelman College students with President Beverly Daniel Tatum. (Photo Credit: Spelman.edu)

Spelman College students with President Beverly Daniel Tatum. (Photo Credit: Spelman.edu)

U.S. News & World Report has released its annual rankings of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Spelman College topped the list at number one, followed by Howard University (#2), Morehouse College (#3), Hampton University (#4) and Tuskegee University(#5). Xavier University (Louisiana), Fisk University, Florida A&M University, Claflin University and North Carolina A&T rounded out the top 10. The following HBCUs made the top 20:

11. North Carolina Central University

12. Tougaloo University

13. Delaware State University

14. Dillard University

15. Morgan State University

16. Winston-Salem State University

17. Johnson C. Smith University

18. Clark Atlanta University

19. Jackson State University

20. Elizabeth City State University

Read more at U.S. News & World Report.

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‘Take Me To The River': Memphis’ Music is Central to American Culture

'Take Me to The River' chronicles the centrality of Memphis music to American culture. (Photo: CD Cover)

‘Take Me to The River’ chronicles the centrality of Memphis music to American culture. (Photo: CD Cover)

There’s no denying that the regional sounds that emerged out of Memphis between the 1950s and 1970s helped to cement the city’s notoriety as a dominating force in popular music. Memphis’ fertile ground left lasting impacts across gospel, rock & roll, R&B, soul, blues, pop, funk and hip hop.

Known as one of America’s preeminent hit-making meccas, Memphis’ musical community – both young and old – is like extended family despite the city’s sociopolitical and economic changes over the past six decades.

In the process, these artists’ individual musical legacies and identities became permanently preserved.

The documentary, Take Me to the River, directed by Martin Shore, illustrates how three generations of recording artists vibe off one another. Despite racial tensions that predate the Civil Rights Movement, the racially diverse session musicians, producers and performers spend the bulk of the film collaborating in the studio.

The artists’ shared vision, love of music, sense of collective responsibility and respect for each other defies the race relations often associated with the South. Miraculously, Take Me to the River portrays a transparent yet fluid sense of harmony that lingers throughout the entire visual experience.

“Soul is from the heart,” says songwriter William Bell, who appears in Take Me to the River along with rapper Snoop Dogg. “It’s spontaneity, emotion and it’s heartfelt. It’s what you feel at any given moment and the way you express it.”

Narrated by actor Terrence Howard, the 95-minute feature documentary, which premiered this year at SXSW, is told through montages of scenic shots around Memphis. Vintage album covers, performance footage, audio snippets, exhibitions, artifacts and still photographs cumulatively round out the remainder of Memphis’ visual aesthetics.

Take Me to the River’s ambient soundtrack is comprised of organ chords, whimpering guitar wails, Sunday morning harmonies, rhythmic horn blares and funky arrangement. Recording studios, primarily Royal Studios and Zebra Ranch Studios, operate as both classrooms and fellowship halls.

Bell, who penned classics like “Everybody Loves a Winner,” “Born Under a Bad Sign” and “I Forgot to Be Your Lover,” made a guest appearance at a screening of the film hosted by the Recording Academy’s Atlanta chapter.

He refers to the city of Memphis as “a music capital.”

“It’s a music town,” says Bell. “This is something like a time capsule; you can leave your whole life in a song, and it’s there forever. It’s about telling a story and giving people some escapism or freedom of expression.”

Shot over three years but edited and mixed in one year, Take Me to the River’s overarching collaborative spirit is captures through numerous jam sessions and candid conversations. It’s a pure demonstration of music education.

Artists, producers, songwriters, executives and session players like Booker T. Jones, Al Kapone, North Mississippi AllStars, The Rhodes Sisters, Charles “Skip” Pitts, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Mavis Staples, Yo Gotti, Bobby Rush, Frayser Boy, Ian Siegal, Ben Cauley, Otis Clay, David Porter, Lil P-Nut, Al Bell, Charlie Musselwhite and Boo Mitchell traded war stories and recorded updated versions of classic recordings.

Deceased producers and composers like Willie Mitchell and Issac Hayes, in addition to a slew of other posthumous appearances, were given cinematic eulogies that highlight record-breaking career success stories.

“The creative process is gonna be around forever as long as there is man or woman,” says Bell. “By crossing genres of music, you instill that in the kids. It’s all the same music. It comes together in one slice of the pie once you dive into it.”

Bell, who moved to Atlanta in 1970 to get a change of scenery, is proud to see his current city develop into a rich musical city. The recipient of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer award offers some insights into what gives hit records their longevity.

His compositions were sampled by artists such as Ludacris and Jaheim.

“Hit songs are something that people can identify with,” says Bell with his crossed arms propped on the table.

“It’s things that people can relate to. It feels good to know that something like music can bring people together and cause this kind of growth.”

Take Me to the River spends a considerable amount of screen time outside of the studio to frame how the city’s musical institutions were a direct result of segregation-era American politics. As protests, marches and riots continued to offset the Civil Rights Movement throughout the 1950s to the 1970s, record labels Sun, Stax and Hi emerged.

Not only did each imprint consistently produce chart-topping, million-selling records crossing racial boundaries, but they were among some of the top American profit-generating enterprises. Also the site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, the infectious Memphis sound inspired the careers of iconic British bands like Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and U2.

Like the film’s subjects, Bell thinks it’s important to pass the history onto future generations regardless of genre.

“We need to teach the young kids the ground roots, the foundation of where it all comes from,” says Bell. “Regardless of what they’re creating now, it all evolves into the same thing in the end.”

“You have that responsibility, so learn to be creative,” adds Bell. “It’s great to sample, but be well-rounded and grounded in the knowledge of where it all evolves come. Take it to another level.”

Though labels like Stax folded due to bankruptcy and changes in musical trends, the landmark eventually reemerged as both a museum and music academy. Younger, aspiring musicians now have the opportunity to hear the stories, experience the artifacts and even perform alongside their musical forefathers.

Take Me to River is an entertaining and informative example of how American soul music is not only central and important to black culture but to the national musical landscape. “I hope it can last as long as Earth lasts,” says Bell.

Take Me to River was released on Sept. 12. Check local markets for screenings.

Christopher A. Daniel is a pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.

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We Can’t Let Star Athletes Like Oscar Pistorius and Ray Rice Off the Hook

Convicted killer and paralympian Oscar Pistorius and former NFL player Ray Rice.  (Photo Credit: Google Images)

Convicted killer and paralympian Oscar Pistorius and former NFL player Ray Rice.
(Photo Credit: Google Images)

Writing for The Root, The Burton Wire‘s founder & editor-in-chief Dr. Nsenga Burton discusses the prevalence of violence against women in professional sports. Exploring the Oscar Pistorius verdict and Ray Rice scandal, Dr. Burton wonders aloud why violence against women is status quo in society and professional sports and the necessity of ending this dangerous pattern. Check out an excerpt below:


As the NFL and Baltimore Ravens franchise play a high-profile game of passing the buck over when they actually received the now infamous tape that shows Ray Rice hitting his then-fiancee, we saw similar reactions in South Africa surrounding the Pistorius case. Pistorius’ Twitter account has been super active during the trial, quoting biblical passages and offering words of encouragement in support of Pistorius in his time of legal jeopardy. Whoever is posting even used a quote by legendary tennis player and humanitarian Arthur Ashe to remind people to forgive—leading me to ask, how low-down do you have to be to use the words of a great man like Ashe to support your attempt to portray yourself as a victim when on trial for killing your girlfriend?

In the tradition of George Zimmerman and Darren Wilson, a Support for Oscar website surfaced pretty quickly following his arrest, with a description that reads, “Oscar Pistorius—athlete, ambassador, inspiration—innocent until proven guilty,” and yet leaves off “killer” as a descriptor.

Therein lies the rub. People are so obsessed with sports figures that any actions that disrupt their perception of athletes’ heroics are dismissed, even by those who should understand the most. Countless fans, including women, wore Rice jerseys at Thursday night’s Ravens game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. And fans were cheering for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who faced accusations of sexual assault just a few years ago. As I watched the game last night, I wondered, what is wrong with this picture?

Rice and Pistorius have very different lives but do have something in common: They are celebrated athletes involved in high-profile cases of violence against women whom they claim to love. While many fans and players are railing against what Rice and Pistorius have done, there are just as many professing their unyielding support for the two athletes. Why is this?

We don’t value women in sports culture, which is a microcosm of society. The fact that we need Title IX in the first place highlights this fact. The amount of violence suffered by women at the hands of men is an example. In terms of domestic violence, 1 in 3 women in the United States will become a victim during her lifetime, and overwhelmingly at the hands of a man. In terms of race, black women are being killed by intimate partners at alarming rates, and overwhelmingly by gun violence…

Read the post in its entirety at The Root.

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The Burton Wire’s Christopher A. Daniel Featured on HuffPost Live

The Burton Wire's Deputy Editor Christopher A. Daniel interviews Tavis Smiley and Marc Lamont Hill on HuffPost Live. (Screen Shot)

The Burton Wire’s Deputy Editor Christopher A. Daniel interviews Tavis Smiley and Marc Lamont Hill on HuffPost Live. (Screen Shot)

The Burton Wire‘s Deputy Editor Christopher A. Daniel recently had the opportunity to chat with talk show host/activist Tavis Smiley on HUFFPost Live. Dr. Marc Lamont Hill hosts the interview as Smiley talks about his new book, Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Year. Christopher, who also serves as music and pop culture editor for TBW, gets in on the discussion with some important questions.

Check out the  interview below:

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‘Give a Glove’ Campaign to Help End Spread of Ebola

Precaution being taken to prevent spread of Ebola. (Photo Credit: Google Images)

Precautions are being taken to prevent the spread of Ebola.
(Photo Credit: Google Images

AllAfrica.com is reporting that the HEARTT Foundation has incorporated the “Give a Glove” campaign into their Ebola BlockAID campaign.

The “Give a Glove” campaign aims to use donations to  purchase life-saving protective supplies. Supplies that are gathered with donations will be used to treat Ebola as well as Malaria in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. The author writes:

“Despite a minimal national budget and the continuing cost of payment obligations for debts incurred by former dictators, Liberia was rebuilding schools, power plants and clinics and graduating doctors and nurses.

Ebola is reversing those gains. Without a dramatic escalation of help, Liberia will continue to fall apart.”


Due to the lack of supplies, treatable diseases, like Malaria, are ravaging Ebola affected countries, creating a lack of medical treatment for pregnant women and children, many of whom are dying daily.

Read more at AllAfrica.com.

This post was written by Reginald Calhoun, editorial assistant for The Burton Wire. Follow him on Twitter @IRMarsean.

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Joe Sample: Legendary Musician Passes Away

Legendary musician Joe Sample dies at 75. (Photo Credit: BBC/Google Images)

Legendary musician Joe Sample dies at 75. (Photo Credit: AFP/Google Images)

Legendary pianist and composer Joe Sample passed away on Fri., Sept. 12 from complications due to lung cancer.

The exceptional keyboardist with an incredible ear for melody and chords was famous for his ability to improvise and constantly push his musical ability forward.

Born Joseph Leslie Sample on Feb. 1, 1939, the native of Houston’s “Fifth Ward” co-founded the pioneering jazz-fusion outfit, The Crusaders (originally The Jazz Crusaders).

Sample, whose career spanned five decades, effortlessly combined bebop, classical, soul, funk, blues, gospel, country and Latin elements into his compositions and performances.

Playing since age five, the Texas Southern University alumnus began his professional career on acoustic piano before taking up electric keyboards, becoming among the first musicians to adapt the instrument.

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 2.22.09 AM

The Crusaders opened for The Rolling Stones and released over 40 albums. The band behind songs like “Soul Shadows” and “Put It Where You Want It” garnered numerous gold and platinum certifications up until the release of their final album, Life in the Modern World, in 1987.

The band’s 1979 single featuring Randy Crawford, “Street Life,” cracked Billboard’s pop top 40 chart, becoming The Crusaders’ biggest hit single. In 2003, Sample reunited with members Wilton Felder and Nesbert “Stix” Hooper to release Rural Renewal.

Coinciding with The Crusaders’ success, Sample became a household name as both a successful solo artist and sought after session musician. He released several best-selling albums like Rainbow Seeker (1978), Carmel (1979), The Hunter (1982) , Spellbound (1989) and Ashes to Ashes (1990).

In the studio as well as on-stage, the accomplished musician accompanied Marvin Gaye, Eric Clapton, Minnie Riperton, Joe Cocker, Lalah Hathaway, Quincy Jones, Steely Dan, Miles Davis, Hugh Masekela, Queen Latifah, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Tina Turner, Natalie Cole, Everything But the Girl, B.B. King, Joni Mitchell, Willie Nelson, Rod Stewart, George Benson, Anita Baker and Andrae Crouch.

Sample’s work influenced a generation of young talent. De La Soul , 2Pac, and Arrested Development each sampled his heartfelt tune “In All My Wildest Dreams.” Actress Nicole Kidman performed “One Day I’ll Fly Away,” a piece written by Sample, in the film Moulin Rouge.

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At the time of his death, Sample had been penning music and lyrics with Jonatha Brooke for a new musical, Quadroon, slated for performance by The Ensemble Theater of Houston. His last album, “Children of the Sun,” is to be released this fall.

Sample is survived by his wife, Yolanda and son, Nicklas, a jazz bassist with whom he occasionally performed. He also has three stepsons, Jamerson III, Justin and Jordan Berry, six grandchildren and a sister, Julia Goolsby.

Mr. Sample will be laid to rest on Fri., Sept. 19 in his hometown of Houston. He was 75.

This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.

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Oscar Pistorius Found Guilty of Culpable Homicide

Paralympian champion Oscar Pistorius found guilty of culpable homicide. (Photo Credit: Google Images)

Paralympian champion Oscar Pistorius found guilty of culpable homicide.
(Photo Credit: Google Images)

Celebrated athlete Oscar Pistorius has been found guilty of culpable homicide in the death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day 2013. Culpable homicide is equivalent to manslaughter in the United States.

Sarah Lyall and Alan Cowell of The New York Times write:

“Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipa agreed to extend Mr. Pistorius’s bail until his sentencing hearing begins, on Oct. 13. She said she believed the defense’s explanation that Mr. Pistorius had sold his property to pay his legal fees and dismissed suggestions that he would try to flee the country.

The verdict marked the culmination of a closely watched drama that transfixed many around the world. Mr. Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, 29, in the early hours of Feb. 14, 2013, saying he believed an intruder had entered his home. Wielding a handgun loaded with hollow-point ammunition, he opened fire on a locked toilet cubicle door only to discover when he broke the door down with a cricket bat that Ms. Steenkamp was inside. The prosecution sought to prove that he intended to kill her, but he called her death an accident and a mistake.”

Pistorius was found innocent of premeditated murder. He faces five to 15 years in prison for this conviction.

Read more at The New York Times.

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#BringBackGoodluck2015: Nigerian President Bans Hashtag Campaign

President Goodluck's supporters with hashtag on banner. (Photo Credit: Google Images)

President Goodluck’s supporters with hashtag on banner.
(Photo Credit: Google Images)

BBC News is reporting that Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Johnson, is asking that his supporters cease using a modified version of the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag to campaign for his re-election. Supporters have been using the hashtag #BringBackGoodluck2015 to campaign for President Goodluck’s reelection. The author writes:

“The slogan was widely critizised because it seemed to dramatically misread the public mood in the country. The abducted school girls are still held captive, despite repeated promises by the government – and President Jonathan himself – to secure their release. So far, the government has not taken military steps to rescue the girls, arguing that if force is used, they may end up being killed by the militants.”

The slogan was never officially endorsed by President Goodluck’s camp, but the slogan could be seen on signs and banners around Nigeria’s capital city of Abuja.

Not surprisingly, the use of the hashtag caused a major backlash. The public took to Twitter calling the slogan “insensitive” and “inappropriate.”

Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 11.42.11 AM

Twitter users now want Twitter to remove the hashtag altogether.

Read more at BBC.com.

This post was written by Reginald Calhoun, editorial assistant for The Burton Wire. Follow him on Twitter @IRMarsean.

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Oscar Pistorius: Not Guilty? Not Yet

Oscar Pistorius has been found not guilty of premeditated murder. The final verdict is still pending as of 9/11.

Oscar Pistorius has been found not guilty of premeditated murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. The final verdict is still pending as of 9/11. (Photo Credit: Google Images)

Celebrated Paralympian Oscar Pistorius was found not guilty of premeditated murder.  Judge Thokozile Masipa began delivering her statement about the verdict around 3:30 a.m. EST this morning. She doesn’t believe that prosecutors proved their claim of premeditation, but she also doesn’t necessarily think Pistorius is innocent.

In South African court, the judge has to explain her entire thought process which is why it takes so long for the official verdict to be made, which will be given tomorrow. Although Pistorius is not guilty of premeditation (which was a stretch to prove anyway based on the public facts about the case), Pistorius may still be found guilty of culpable homicide or manslaughter or the firearm charges he’s facing. A final verdict has not been reached yet, so he still may go to prison.

The official verdict will be handed down tomorrow. It is basically a waiting game to see if Pistorius will pay for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

You may also be interested in Ray Rice and Oscar Pistorius: The Tie That Binds.

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Ray Rice and Oscar Pistorius: The Tie That Binds

Celebrated Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius faces murder charges over killing his fiance Reeva Steenkamp. (Photo Credit: Google Images)

Celebrated Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius faces murder charges over killing his fiance Reeva Steenkamp. (Photo Credit: Google Images)

This week has been a heavy one for the sports world. Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson is selling his team after an email reflecting his disdain for black fans became public. Celebrated former Duke basketball star Danny Ferry’s boy-next-door image was shattered after he was found to have made disparaging remarks about small forward Luol Deng’s African heritage in the front office. The Ravens axed superstar running back Ray Rice after TMZ released footage of the tape where Rice decked his then-girlfriend Janay Palmer during an argument in an elevator. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is now backpedaling on why he only suspended Rice for two games, even though he and the NFL insist they never saw the entire tape of what transpired on the elevator.

The Rice story has been so pervasive in the media that folks have all but forgotten that storied South African Paralympian Oscar Pistorius will learn his fate on Sept 11 for killing his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp in a domestic violence incident.

Once again the topic of domestic violence and sports have come barreling to television and computer screens, mobile phones and social media networks. The Ray Rice and Oscar Pistorius incidents are giving us yet another opportunity to discuss the problem of violence against women in society in general and violence against women in sports specifically and yet we continue to participate in the same ritual that ensures that these horrific incidents won’t be isolated, but will remain the status quo.

One only has to look at social media, visit the water cooler or visit a bar to hear people defend the actions of a professional athlete, that can bench press 500 pounds, literally “Steeling” his wife in the face. Folks want to split hairs about whether it was the punch that knocked her out or hitting her head on the railing. Many believe that Janay Palmer Rice’s behavior that night, charging at and then spitting on her then-boyfriend justifies his “dropping” her like a bad habit.  Apparently Palmer Rice also believes this tomfoolery.

Interestingly enough the same has happened with Pistorius. Folks have used his troubled childhood as a reason for his violent temper towards women. They’ve suggested that his physical challenge, which he overcame to become one of the most celebrated athletes in modern sports, caused him to lash out at others. Media has run headlines stating that “Pistorius is heartbroken over killing Steenkamp.” I suppose the fact that Steenkamp’s heart is no longer beating doesn’t qualify for being heartbroken. There is even a website “Support for Oscar” dedicated to Pistorius, a man who shot his girlfriend four times through a closed door and released a statement on the anniversary of her death, much to the chagrin of her family. The description reads, “Oscar Pistorius – athlete, ambassador, inspiration – innocent until proven guilty” yet leaves off batterer and killer as descriptors.

Therein lies the problem – the willingness of people to pick and choose who and what matters and when in the world of sports. Pistorius’ supporters obviously care more about sports than they care about the life of Steenkamp or the other intimate partners he terrorized. Intimate partner violence, domestic violence – whatever term you want to use – is not handled swiftly or judiciously by the NFL, NCAA, sports team owners, the media or friends and families of the perpetrators, because a Super Bowl ring or Olympic gold medal literally has more value than the life of a wife or significant other. The pervasive idea that the wives and girlfriends of professional athletes only matter because of their association with said high profile athlete proves just that. The women apparently don’t have lives, desires, wants, successes, education, businesses, plans, goals or objectives other than being Mrs. Sports Superstar. This way of thinking is not surprising.

Throughout the world, women’s bodies have been historically policed, devalued, used, violated and discarded for the purposes of literally building and supporting major industries (plantations, sex work, media), so is it a wonder that violence against women is overlooked when it comes to the sports industry? Whenever women’s bodies intersect with dominant cultural industries, like sports, it never bodes well for the woman. While many think of sports as merely entertainment, the precarious treatment of women, tells us otherwise. Clearly Title IX exists for a reason.

ParaOlympian champion Oscar Pistorius is on trial for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.  (Photo Credit: Google Images)

ParaOlympian champion Oscar Pistorius is on trial for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
(Photo Credit: Google Images)

Each year, billions upon billions of dollars are spent worldwide on the category of sports, from amateur to professional athletes to little leagues throughout the world. Sports enthusiasts relish feel good stories like Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West team winning the World Series, soccer goalie Tim Howard becoming an international superstar, tennis legend Serena Williams overcoming injuries and taking home her 18th singles grand slam title and Serge Ibaka using his fame and fortune to help children in The Republic of the Congo, his homeland, to name a few.

In the same ways that these stories deserve our admiration and support, stories of domestic abuse deserve our ire. We need to require more of these billionaire sports owners, ridiculously empowered sports commissioners like Goodell, and of course millionaire players, some of whom are speaking out against Rice’s actions.

Former NFL star player Ray Rice and wife Janay Palmer Rice.  (Photo Credit: Google Images)

Former NFL star player Ray Rice and wife Janay Palmer Rice.
(Photo Credit: Google Images)

Sports resonate with so many people because we actually see ourselves in the players, the competition, the wins and the losses. If ever there is a loss, then domestic violence is one of them.

Ray Rice and Oscar Pistorius are bound by high-profile domestic violence incidents – both ended with the loss of a career; one ended with the loss of a woman’s life. How many more times are we going to watch this happen and have the same tired, discussion about who is to blame instead of what’s to blame and fixing the problem? The tie that binds Rice and Pistorius is more than domestic violence. It is the ways in which sports and media culture work together to ensure that perpetrators of violence like Rice and Pistorius are seen as victims, while the real victims like Palmer Rice and Steenkamp are victimized over and over again.

This post was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. is founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire, an award-winning news site that covers news of the African Diaspora. Follow her on Twitter @Ntellectual or @TheBurtonWire