Friday, July 17, 2009

From Homeless to Harvard

She finally has a home: Harvard

Khadijah Williams, 18, overcomes a lifetime in shelters and on skid row.
By Esmeralda Bermudez

Khadijah Williams stepped into chemistry class and instantly tuned out the commotion.
She walked past students laughing, gossiping, napping and combing one another’s hair. Past a cellphone blaring rap songs. And past a substitute teacher sitting in a near-daze.

Quietly, the 18-year-old settled into an empty table, flipped open her physics book and focused. Nothing mattered now except homework.
“No wonder you’re going to Harvard,” a girl teased her.
Around here, Khadijah is known as “Harvard girl,” the “smart girl” and the girl with the contagious smile who landed at Jefferson High School only 18 months ago.
What students don’t know is that she is also a homeless girl.
As long as she can remember, Khadijah has floated from shelters to motels to armories along the West Coast with her mother. She has attended 12 schools in 12 years; lived out of garbage bags among pimps, prostitutes and drug dealers. Every morning, she upheld her dignity, making sure she didn’t smell or look disheveled.
On the streets, she learned how to hunt for their next meal, plot the next bus route and help choose a secure place to sleep — survival skills she applied with passion to her education.

Only a few mentors and Harvard officials know her background. She never wanted other students to know her secret — not until her plane left for the East Coast hours after her Friday evening graduation.
“I was so proud of being smart I never wanted people to say, ‘You got the easy way out because you’re homeless,’ ” she said. “I never saw it as an excuse.”

A drive to succeed

“I have felt the anger at having to catch up in school . . . being bullied because they knew I was poor, different, and read too much,” she wrote in her college essays. “I knew that if I wanted to become a smart, successful scholar, I should talk to other smart people.”Khadijah was in third grade when she first realized the power of test scores, placing in the 99th percentile on a state exam. Her teachers marked the 9-year-old as gifted, a special category that Khadijah, even at that early age, vowed to keep.
“I still remember that exact number,” Khadijah said. “It meant only 0.01 students tested better than I did.”

In the years that followed, her mother, Chantwuan Williams, pulled her out of school eight more times. When shelters closed, money ran out or her mother didn’t feel safe, they packed what little they carried and boarded buses to find housing in Los Angeles , San Francisco , Ventura , San Diego , San Bernardino and Orange County , staying for months, at most, in one place.

She finished only half of fourth grade, half of fifth and skipped sixth. Seventh grade was split between Los Angeles and San Diego . Eighth grade consisted of two weeks in San Bernardino.

At every stop, Khadijah pushed to keep herself in each school’s gifted program.. She read nutrition charts, newspapers and four to five books a month, anything to transport her mind away from the chaos and the sour smell.

At school, she was the outsider. At the shelter, she was often bullied. “You ain’t college-bound,” the pimps barked. “You live in skid row!”
In 10th grade, Khadijah realized that if she wanted to succeed, she couldn’t do it alone. She began to reach out to organizations and mentors: the Upward Bound Program, Higher Edge L.A., Experience Berkeley and South Central Scholars; teachers, counselors and college alumni networks. They helped her enroll in summer community college classes, gave her access to computers and scholarship applications and taught her about networking.

When she enrolled in the fall of her junior year at Jefferson High School , she was determined to stay put, regardless of where her mother moved. Graduation was not far off and she needed strong college letters of recommendation from teachers who were familiar with her work.

This soon meant commuting by bus from an Orange County armory. She awoke at 4 a.m. and returned at 11 p.m., and kept her grade-point average at just below a 4.0 while participating in the Academic Decathlon, the debate team and leading the school’s track and field team.

“That’s when I was really stressed,” she says, at once sighing and laughing.
Khadijah graduated Friday evening with high honors, fourth in her class. She was accepted to more than 20 universities nationwide, including Brown, Columbia , Amherst and Williams. She chose a full scholarship to Harvard and aspires to become an education attorney.

Early adversity

She tried her best; she never smoked or drank, never did drugs, and she never put us in abusive situations. However, that was the best she could do.
There are questions about her mother Khadijah is not ready to ask, answers she is not ready to hear. How did her mother end up on the streets? How come she never found a stable home for her daughters? Why wasn’t there family to turn to, no father, no grandparents? And what will become of her little sister?
“I don’t know. I don’t know,” is often her response. Ask personal questions about her mother and the fire in Khadijah’s eyes turns dim. She knows when she arrives in Cambridge , Mass. , she will need to seek counseling. So much of her life is a blur.
She knows she was born in Brooklyn , N.Y. , to a 14-year-old mother. She thinks Chantwuan might have been ostracized from her family. She may have tried to attend school, but the stress of a baby proved too much. When Khadijah was a toddler, they moved to California . A few years later, Jeanine was born.

She has chosen not to criticize her mother. Instead Khadijah said she inspired her to learn. “She would tell me I had a gift, she would call me Oprah.”
When her college applications were due in December, James and Patricia London of South Central Scholars invited Khadijah to their home in Rancho Palos Verdes to help her write her essays.
When they went to return her to skid row, her mother and sister were gone.
Khadijah accepted the Londons ’ invitation to spend the rest of her school year with them.

In their comfortable hilltop home, Khadijah learned a new set of lessons. The orthopedic doctor and nurse taught her table manners, money management and grooming.
She won’t be the first homeless student to arrive at Harvard.
Julie Hilden, the Harvard interviewer who met with Khadijah to gauge whether she should be accepted, said it was clear from the start that Khadijah was a top candidate. But school officials had to make sure they could provide what she needed to make the transition successful.
They plan to connect her with faculty mentors and potentially, a host family to check in with every so often. She will also attend a Harvard summer program at Cornell to take college-prep courses.
“I strongly recommended her,” Hilden said. “I told them, ‘If you don’t take her, you might be missing out on the next Michelle Obama. Don’t make this mistake.’ ”

Seeking connections

“I think about how I can convince my peers about the value of education.. . . . I have found that after all the teasing, these peers start to respect me . . . . I decided that I could be the one to uplift my peers . . .. . My work is far reaching and never finished.”

Khadijah expected to feel more connected after nearly two years at Jefferson , to make at least one good friend.
Students flock to the smart girl for help with homework and tests and class questions. She walks through campus tenderly waving and smiling and complimenting everyone she knows.
But when prom pictures arrive, they show her posing alone in a silky black and white dress. In her yearbook, hundreds of familiar faces look back, but the memories are missing.

“It’s a nice, glossy, shiny, colorful yearbook,” she said. “But it feels like they’re all strangers. I’m nowhere in these pages.”
In the last six months, she saw her mother only a few times and on Thursday tried to find her. Khadijah headed to a South-Central storage facility where they last stored their belongings.

She found Chantwuan sitting on a garbage bag full of clothes.
“Khadijah’s here!” her sister Jeanine yells. Chantwuan’s face lit up.
She explained the details of her graduation, the bus route to get there and gave her mother a prom picture. She said she would leave for summer school Friday.
There is no talk of coming home of for Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Proudly, Khadijah modeled her hunter green graduation cap and gown and practiced switching the tassel from right to left as she would during the ceremony.
“Look at you,” her mother says. “You’re really going to Harvard, huh?”
“Yeah,” she says, pausing. “I’m going to Harvard.”

Madonna stage accident kills two

Aftermath of the stage collapse at the 60,000 seater Velodrome

A second person has died following the collapse of a stage being constructed for a Madonna concert in France.

Charles Prow, a 23-year-old from Headingley in Leeds, died overnight at a hospital in Marseille.

Technicians had been setting up the stage at the city's Velodrome stadium when the partially-built roof fell in on Thursday, bringing down a crane.

Madonna said she was "devastated" by the news. Her concert, planned for Sunday, has been cancelled.

Charles Criscenzo, a 53-year-old French worker, was killed outright in the accident, which took place at around 1715 (1615 BST).

Eight other people were seriously hurt, including an American who was hospitalised in a life-threatening condition.

More than 30 people suffered minor injuries and shock, according to authorities.

'Shaking and collapsing'

The 60,000-seater Velodrome is France's second-biggest sports arena and home to the Olympique de Marseille football club.

Firefighters said the accident occurred when the roof of the stage became unbalanced as it was being lifted by four cranes, toppling one of them.

About 50 people from a range of nationalities were working to set up the structure, city sports official Richard Miron said.

The roof "started shaking and collapsing" gradually, said Marseille city councillor Maurice Di Nocera.

"Since it did not collapse right away that allowed several people to get out," he said.

Madonna, who is performing on her Sticky and Sweet tour, was in Udine, Italy, when she was told of the incident.

"I am devastated to have just received this tragic news," she said in a statement released by Live Nation, the organisers of the concert.

"My prayers go out to those who were injured and their families, along with my deepest sympathy to all those affected by this heartbreaking news."

Mr Prow's family have contacted the BBC, saying he was "a much-loved son, grandson, brother, uncle and friend".

'Great tragedy'

"Charles was a happy-go-lucky guy with a big personality and he will be deeply missed," said a representative.

Footage posted online shows Madonna making an emotional tribute to the technicians at her concert in Italy on Thursday.

"I just wanted to take a moment to acknowledge and pay tribute to two people who lost their lives today," she told fans at the Fruili Stadium in Udine.

"It's a great tragedy to me," she continued, choking back tears. "I feel so devastated to be in any way associated with anyone's suffering.

"Let's all just take a moment to say a prayer for Charles Criscenzo and Charlie Prow. Our hearts go out to their family and loved ones."

Jersey Boys

Undaunted by a new poll showing his visit could have a limited impact, Pres. Obama literally rolled up his sleeves today in NJ, delivering speeches touting his health care reform agenda and his continued support for Gov. Jon Corzine (D). "You decided it's time for change," Obama told a loud crowd of some 17K in Holmdel, NJ. "If you stand with us, if you reelect Jon Corzine there's nothing that's going to stop us New Jersey from getting health care reform done."

The president, back on the trail supporting a candidate for the first time since being sworn in, mentioned the five Jersey City police officers who were shot in the line of duty this morning, and then talked up his support for Corzine. "He's been tested by the worst recession in half a century," Obama said, adding that the recession was precipitated by a "do nothing attitude" that has "plagued our politics for decades."

"That's not the kind of leader Jon Corzine is," Obama said. "This is a man who is here because he cares about what is right in New Jersey." Minutes earlier, Obama delivered similar remarks to a funder for the gov.'s camp and the New Jersey Democratic State Committee (over a $1M raised was the early word from the Corzine camp).

In front of the heavily African American crowd at the open-air PNC Bank Arts Center, Obama said there are some in DC "who want us to go down the path we've already traveled for the last decade, and do the same old same old." The only thing they're offering is more tax breaks, he said. "That's their idea of America."

"That's not a future Jon Corzine accepts," he said. "We did not come this far as a country because we looked backwards."

Obama's speech focused heavily on health care reform and was delivered with the tone of a leader still very much in campaign mode. While he talked about his partnership with Corzine, he left it to the gov. to throw jabs at his opponent, ex-U.S. Atty Chris Christie (R).

"There will always be critics," Corzine said in a 12-minute speech. "Here in New Jersey, those critics promise the moon." He cited GOP campaign promises to cut taxes and balance the state budget while laying off state workers. He then said his "critics" believe "there should be two legal systems." Corzine: "No bid contracts for their friends and tough love for everyone else."

"The same people who so miserably failed in the White House now want you to hand your keys to the Statehouse to them," Corzine said, attempting to link Christie to George W. Bush. "They don't know how to lead."

Obama is the definition of leadership, Corzine said. "I share his values and I share his commitment and I share his sense of purpose. ... We're both working to repair the incredible damage done to our country from a Republican Congress and a Republican White House."

During the pre-program, NJ Dem vice chair Dana Redd called Christie a "loyal Bush fundraiser" who "wants to take the state backwards" with the "same failed policies" as nat'l GOPers.

The rally crowd boasted several prominent Corzine backers, including ex-Gov./NJ Senate Pres. Richard Codey (D) and Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D). Asked if he thought African American voters would support Corzine in November, Booker told On Call: "I think we're all frustrated with the state of affairs right now."

He continued: "It's time to participate more. ... I think the issue is not will [African Americans] support [Corzine], but just making sure we get a large voter turnout and people get excited about this election and realize what's at stake here."

"We've made some tremendous strides in cities like Newark," Booker went on, citing a drop in crime, an increase in affordable housing; building new parks. "A lot of these good things are happening because we have a partner in the White House, a partner in the Statehouse and what's going on in Newark. So people need to understand that powerful link to actually getting real progress in communities where, traditionally, African Americans live."

Turning it back to local issues, NJ GOP Chair Jay Webber said in a statement: "Corzine's record of failure has led to 17 consecutive months of job losses and the highest unemployment in the state in 32 years. No amount of campaigning by the President or any of Governor Corzine's Washington friends can change this fact."

GOPers were buoyed today by a new Monmouth poll that indicates that while 59% of NJ voters approve of the job Obama's doing, three out of four likely voters say their vote for GOV will be based solely on state and local issues. And seven out of ten said that having Obama actively campaign for Corzine would have no effect on their vote.

Still, it seems this event was good for both Dems' prospects. As the line for will-call tickets grew over the morning, it became an easy target for the some 40 Organizing for America volunteers canvassing for signatures in support of Obama's health care plan. Both campaigns will continue through the fall.


Hey Michael Steele, don't forget the watermelon

Republican National Chair Michael Steele sure has a way of ingratiating himself with black voters. The shoot from the lip Steele with a wry smile and a chuckle told a questioner that he'll get more black folk into the GOP by ladling out scoops of potato salad and every black's favorite, fried chicken to them.

Of course, if a white male RNC chair had insulted blacks with the most demeaning of racial stereotypes he'd be run out of Dodge on a rail. But Steele can get away with the culinary insult because A. He's black, B. He's widely considered an amusing cartoon figure within and without the GOP and C. He's got as about as much relevance to black folk (that's black voters) as George Wallace in his worst segregationist days.

But there are two intriguing questions in Steele's shuck and jive quip. One is since Steele is black and one of the dwindling (not that there's much to dwindle too) number of blacks in the GOP, did the GOP bribe Steele with a bucket of fried chicken to get him into the party, and did he lick the grease from his fingers? The other even more compelling question is did Steele polish off his fried chicken gorge by slurping away at a big slice of watermelon? Do you have an answer to that Mike?

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, "The Hutchinson Report" can be heard on weekly in Los Angeles on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and nationally on

D Wade Dumps Converse For Nike’s Brand Jordan Endorsement

Posted by Juan

“I want to go global. It’s something I feel like I have to do. I want to continue to build my brand.”

That’s right kids…time to throw out those old D-Wade Converse sneakers, cause your boy is going to the Evil Empire. Today, star Miami Heat point guard, Dwayne Wade announced that he’s switching sneaker brands to Nike and will be wear the Brand Jordan/ Jumpman label joining fellow athletes Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Derek Jeter. Finalized Thursday afternoon, the terms of the deal were not released, but it is believed to a match the remaining three years on the Converse contract.

A move from Converse seemed invitable after Wade was rarely seen rocking the most recently released signaures shoe, the “Wade 4″ last season instead choosing to rock the older model. The departure is clearly a big hit for Converse who had been trying to reinvigorate the company’s once-thriving basketball business with Wade as its biggest athlete.

Despite having three years remaining on his deal, Wade jumps ship to the 12-year-old Jordan Brand owned by Nike (which also owns Converse.)

Wade originally inquired about switching to Jordan before the 2008 Beijing Olympics over concerns about Converse’s long-term viability in the basketball marketplace.

“I didn’t want to be in the Converse brand anymore because it seemed like they didn’t know what to do with me,” Wade told the AP.

But was the move perhaps motivated by something more, more business and marketing related? Already donning an endorsement résumé which includes T-Mobile and Gatorade, Wade said “I want to go global. It’s something I feel like I have to do. I want to continue to build my brand.”

Well there’s certainly no better brand to align yourself with those lofty goals than Nike and of course the greatest player that ever lived.

“I grew up on the south side of Chicago idolizing Michael Jordan and have worked hard to achieve the same success that he’s had on the court,” Wade said. “I have enormous respect for this brand.”

So what does his airness think? “I’m thrilled to have Dwyane Wade join the Team Jordan family,” Jordan said.

Wade teased the announcement late Thursday via his Twitter feed to which Tennis Star Andy Roddick speculated that he might have signed a contract extension or the Heat acquired Carlos Boozer.

Murder At Sea Aboard A Carnival Cruise To Mexico

Where are re-runs of The Love Boat when you most need them? Cruise travelers these days have never had it so difficult, what with the threat of possible Norovirus and Swin Flu outbreaks, not to mention the occasional occurrence of people mysteriously falling overboard. The latest news, that a man has stabbed his wife to death this week while onboard the Carnival ship Elation, doesn't threaten the whole ship but it does make for one creepy cruise.

After sailing away from San Diego for a 5-night cruise to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, ship authorities were called to the couple's cabin to investigate a domestic disturbance. After finding the wife already deceased, the ship announced "gray star"—supposedly crew code for a murder onboard—and placed the woman's body in the ship's morgue and her husband in the brig, or ship's prison.

The murder happened on the final day of the cruise, which makes us sad that the husband didn't find comfort in the wise words of someone like Love Boat bartender Isaac, who always managed to say the right things to make couples iron out their differences and disembark happier than ever. Perhaps the cruise lines put the advice-dispensing bartenders on the newer ships?

Mexico beefs up 'drug war' forces

Mexico's government is sending 5,500 police and military personnel to Michoacan state, which has seen a surge in violence linked to drug cartels.Twenty police officers and troops have been killed in the state in suspected revenge attacks for the arrest of an alleged cartel boss last weekend.

Since 2006, more than 45,000 troops and tens of thousands of police have been deployed to tackle Mexican drug gangs.

The government said earlier that it would never negotiate with the gangs.

The statement came after a man man purporting to be a leader of La Familia cartel - the group that was blamed for the reprisal attacks against security forces in Michoacan - called a TV station to suggest a deal.See the Mexican cartels' main areas of influence

Late on Thursday Interior Minister Fernando Gomez Mont said the government was sending 1,500 police, 2,500 soldiers, and 1,500 navy personnel to the western state.

Previously believed to answer to Gulf Cartel, listed as separate group in March 2009 government report
Combines code of violence with idea of protecting people in Michoacan from outsiders
Also involved in counterfeiting, extortion, kidnapping, armed robbery, prostitution, protection rackets
They will provide extra support for several hundred federal police officers already deployed in the state.

"For the members of these criminal groups, there is no alternative... but to obey the law," Mr Gomez Mont said.

In the worst recent incident in Michoacan and neighbouring states 12 officers were tortured and killed before their bodies were dumped in a heap by the side of a remote road.

Six police officers and two soldiers were killed in other attacks.

Authorities believe the violence is in retaliation for recent arrests, including that of La Familia's operations chief Arnoldo Rueda last weekend.

La Familia has extensive power in Michoacan, where it has infiltrated the police and the local political system, correspondents say.

President Felipe Calderon has vowed to continue his war against Mexico's drugs cartels.

More than 11,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since he took office in December 2006.

"You pay, we'll play" ACU's Keene tells FedEx

A story in this morning exposes the attempt of a national conservative organization, the American Conservative Union, to sell its influence for $3 million to Fed Ex. See the story HERE. FedEx didn't take up ACU's offer, but it's opponent in a dispute over federal legislation apparently did.

It's disappointing to see such a respected group has picked up on using coercive fundraising tactics Rev. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have been using for years. Don't you wonder why Jackson and Sharpton have attracted media attention like this for their patented high jinx? Nevertheless, it is what it is. In a 3-page letter on the ACU's letterhead, the group's head David Keene, offered to sell its nationwide contact list:

“For the activist contact portion of the plan we will contact over 150,000 people per state multiple times at a cost of $1.39 per name or $2,147,550 to implement the entire program,” the letter says. “If we incorporate the targeted, senator-personalized radio effort into the plan, you can figure an additional $125,000 on average, per state” for an estimated 10 states. The total would be $3,397,550.” ...

Under the grassroots program ACU proposed, “Each person will be contacted a total of seven times totaling nearly 11 million contacts total in the ten targeted states.” “Within 72 hours of an agreement on the whole plan we can have the data sets delivered and the first round of e-mail ready for delivery,” the offer states. “Within 7 days the mail can be in the USPS system and the phone call delivered.”

Barack Obama at NAACP Convention: Stop Making Excuses, Black Kids Need Aspirations Beyond ‘Ballers and Rappers’

Barack Obama spoke at the annual NAACP convention and we have the highlights and the entire video under the hood

Some highlights:

“We’ve got to say to our children, Yes, if you’re African-American, the odds of growing up amid crime and gangs are higher. Yes, if you live in a poor neighborhood, you will face challenges that someone in a wealthy suburb does not have to face. That’s not a reason to get bad grades, that’s not a reason to cut class, that’s not a reason to give up on your education and drop out of school,” he said. “No one has written your destiny for you. Your destiny is in your hands – and don’t you forget that.”

“No excuses. No excuses,” Obama added, verging off his prepared remarks. “You get that education. All those hardships will just make you stronger, better able to compete. Yes, we can.”

“What is required to overcome today’s barriers is the same as was needed then. The same commitment. The same sense of urgency. The same sense of sacrifice. The same willingness to do our part for ourselves and one another that has always defined America at its best.” The “steepest” barriers are not prejudice and discrimination, he said, but the “structural inequalities that our nation’s legacy of discrimination has left behind.”

These are barriers we are beginning to tear down by rewarding work with an expanded tax credit; making housing more affordable; and giving ex-offenders a second chance. These are barriers that we are targeting through our White House Office on Urban Affairs, and through Promise Neighborhoods that build on Geoffrey Canada’s success with the Harlem Children’s Zone,” he said.

“When it comes to higher education, we are making college and advanced training more affordable, and strengthening community colleges that are a gateway to so many with an initiative that will prepare students not only to earn a degree but find a job when they graduate; an initiative that will help us meet the goal I have set of leading the world in college degrees by 2020,” he said.

Obama said the economy has made progress difficult, but assured the audience that his administration was working to “lay a new foundation for growth and prosperity” for future generations.

“One pillar of this new foundation is health insurance reform that cuts costs, makes quality health coverage affordable for all, and closes health care disparities in the process. Another pillar is energy reform that makes clean energy profitable, freeing America from the grip of foreign oil, putting people to work upgrading low-income homes, and creating jobs that cannot be outsourced,” he said.

Ritz-Carlton, Marriott Hotels In Jakarta Bombed

Bombs hit 2 hotels in Indonesia, police say
Bodies reported at Marriott; Ritz-Carlton damaged by explosion

BREAKING NEWS news services
updated less than 1 minute ago

JAKARTA, Indonesia - At least four people were killed Friday when bombs exploded at the Ritz-Carlton and Marriott hotels in Indonesian capital, police and a television station reported.

South Jakarta police Col. Firman Bundi said the dead were foreigners and their bodies were taken to a hospital.

Debris and shattered glass littered the street outside the neighboring hotels in an upscale Jakarta neighborhood. Ambulances were being shuttled into the area.

The bombs reportedly went off 5 minutes apart. This is the same Marriott hotel where 12 were killed in a 2003 attack blamed on terror network Jemaah Islamyah.