LaVar Charleston Named UW–Madison’s Next Chief Diversity Officer

University of Wisconsin-Madison

LaVar Charleston, an innovative leader and accomplished researcher with nearly two decades of experience related to diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education, has been named to lead the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s diversity and inclusion efforts.

Charleston will serve as the university’s chief diversity officer, also holding the titles of deputy vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion, vice provost, and Elzie Higginbottom Director of the Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement (DDEEA). He will begin on Aug. 2.

“This is a role of utmost importance as we continue to work toward a day when every member of our campus community is able to thrive, with no barriers to success,” says Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “Dr. Charleston thoroughly understands the challenges ahead and brings a comprehensive and impressive set of skills to address them. I’m excited to see where his leadership takes us.”

Charleston currently serves as the inaugural associate dean for equity, diversity and inclusion at UW–Madison’s School of Education, where he is a clinical professor of higher education in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. He earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from the department in 2007 and 2010, respectively.

“It is with gratitude and a deep sense of responsibility that I take on this new role,” Charleston says. “UW–Madison means so much to me — it’s where I grew as a scholar, a researcher and an administrator. I want every member of the campus community to feel welcome, accepted and supported here.”

In his new position, Charleston will provide overall leadership for the university’s efforts to create a diverse, inclusive and successful learning and work environment for all students, faculty, staff, alumni and others who partner with the university. He will partner with schools, colleges and other administrative units across campus while supervising the units that comprise the DDEEA.

African American Spelling Bee Champ Makes History With Flair

CBS News

Zaila Avant-garde made history when she won the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee on July 8. The 14-year-old from New Orleans, Louisiana, is the first African American winner in the bee’s 96-year history. First lady Jill Biden attended the bee and witnessed the moment Avant-garde claimed the title after spelling the word “murraya.”

Avant-garde told “CBS This Morning” that winning the spelling bee felt like a dream come true for her.

“It felt like really good. It’s like a kind of like a dream come true because I’ve been working toward that goal for like two years. And so to finally have it, it’s like the best possible outcome because it couldn’t have gone any better,” Avant-garde said.

The teen said even though she had millions of eyes on her, she wasn’t nervous during the competition. Avant-garde told CBS News’ Jaime Yuccas that she was proud to make history but noted it was “sad” that it took so long for an African American to win the bee.

“It felt really great to be the first African American champion because it’s nice. Just almost 100 years of no African Americans. It’s not too surprising or anything, but it’s still kind of sad and stuff for there not to be any African American winners. But it feels good,” Avant-garde said.

Her love for spelling and her love of the roots of difficult words pushed her to study seven hours a day.

“It sounds really difficult, but if you like study and know the roots and then suddenly it is really easy,” she said.

Spelling isn’t her only talent. The teenager is a basketball prodigy. She is one of the top eighth-grade basketball prospects in the country. Avant-garde said she hopes to go to Harvard, work for NASA and even play in the WNBA.

Badgers name Anita Nelson Director of Inclusion and Engagement

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Anita Nelson has been named director of Inclusion and Engagement for the University of Wisconsin Department of Athletics, Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez announced.

“I’m grateful and excited for the opportunity to work alongside such an amazing group of administrators and students within the athletic department,” Nelson said. “The culture at Wisconsin is unmatched and I’m ready to reaffirm to our student-athletes why they are here!”

Nelson will create and manage diversity-related initiatives and coordinate programming with other department staff. She will also work to develop and improve programming that supports and increases student-athlete experiences.

“I am excited about Anita joining our staff,” said Deputy Athletic Director Chris McIntosh, who will take over as director of Athletics on July 1. “As a former student-athlete herself, I know she appreciates the value of the student-athlete experience. We are all looking forward to working with her as we continue to enhance our diversity-related efforts.”

Nelson, who has 13 years of experience in higher education and student services, has been serving as the Executive Director of Financial Aid at UIC Law where she had a primary focus on student retention, programming geared toward diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and process development.

Nelson is a 2007 graduate of Judson University where she earned a B.A. in communications. She earned an MBA in 2011 from Colorado Tech. Nelson, a women’s basketball student-athlete, was inducted into her school’s hall of fame in 2020.

Civil Rights Leaders Announce Another March on Washington After Voting Rights Bill Fails in Senate


A group of civil rights organizations will host another March on Washington in August to demand that Congress pass sweeping voting rights legislation and that state lawmakers halt efforts to enact bills that restrict voting access.

The announcement of the march comes one day after Senate Republicans blocked the For the People Act — a signature voting and election bill that Democrats had pitched to counter state-level efforts. Republicans denounced the bill as a partisan power grab and a federal overreach into state voting and election systems.

The march, set for Aug. 28 with the theme “March On for Voting Rights,” will mark the 58th anniversary of the historic March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Marches are set to be held in Washington D.C., Atlanta, Miami, Phoenix and Houston.

Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of Martin Luther King Jr., will lead the march with his family’s organization the Drum Major Institute along with March On, Service Employees International Union and the National Action Network.

King called it a “sad state of affairs” that the voting bill didn’t get the support it needed from Republicans. He said he hopes the march will not only energize people to take a stand against voting rights restrictions in their own states but to get millions more people registered to vote.

“We are suggesting that we are going to continue to exert pressure on policymakers, our Republican senators who represent us in our states,” King told CNN on Wednesday. “These 50 Republican senators decided that it’s not even worth a discussion and that’s pretty sad.”

Rev. Al Sharpton, who heads the National Action Network, said it is critical that Americans march to defend the right to vote. This year, 48 states have introduced 389 bills that would restrict voting access after record turnout in the 2020 election delivered victories for Democrats. Some of the restrictions include banning ballot drop boxes, cutting early voting days and hours, prohibiting serving food and beverages to voters waiting in line and limiting who can vote by mail.

This will be the second consecutive year that organizers have commemorated the March on Washington with a renewed effort to fight for equality.

NBA Creates Annual Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Award

The NBA announced the creation of the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion award, a new annual honor that will recognize a current NBA player for pursuing social justice and upholding the league’s decades-long values of equality, respect and inclusion.

The award is named after six-time NBA champion and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  The recipient will have advanced Abdul-Jabbar’s mission to drive change and inspired others to reflect on injustice and take collective action in their communities over the previous year.

The winner of the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion honor will select an organization to receive a $100,000 contribution on his behalf.  The other four finalists will each select an organization to receive a $25,000 contribution.

“I’m honored and grateful to be associated with this award that will recognize the dedicated and selfless people fighting to promote social justice for all marginalized people,” said Abdul-Jabbar.  “To me, it’s another giant step in the right direction for the country and all people who value equality.”

All 30 NBA teams will nominate one player from their roster to be the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion.  The finalists and winner will be selected by a committee composed of NBA legends, league executives and social justice leaders.

“In addition to being one of our greatest players, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has devoted much of his life to advocating for equality and social justice,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.  “With this new award, we are proud to recognize and celebrate NBA players who are using their influence to make an impact on their communities and our broader society.”

Abdul-Jabbar has been a champion of inclusivity dating to his youth.  At 17, he met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Abdul-Jabbar’s hometown of Harlem, New York.  Inspired by King’s message, Abdul-Jabbar committed to using his influence as a visible athlete to engage on critically important social issues during the Civil Rights Movement.  He attended the 1967 Cleveland Summit where Bill Russell, Jim Brown and other prominent Black athletes gathered to discuss Muhammad Ali’s refusal to serve in the Vietnam War.

Charles Drew:
Black Inventor of
the Blood Bank and PBS

Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood. Thanks to Charles Drew, that blood is available. Drew was a physician, surgeon, and medical researcher who worked with a team at Red Cross on groundbreaking discoveries around blood transfusions. In World War II, he played a major role in developing the first large-scale blood banks and blood plasma programs.

Born in 1904, Drew was the oldest child of a Washington, D.C. carpet installer and a schoolteacher. An excellent student and athlete, Drew finished college at Amherst in 1926. He applied to medical school but could not afford the tuition, and instead taught college-level science in Baltimore for several years to save money. In 1929, he started medical school at McGill University in Canada.

In 1938, Drew accepted a fellowship at Columbia University. There he developed a method for processing and storing blood plasma that allowed it to be dehydrated, shipped, and then reconstituted just before transfusions. It was a tremendous breakthrough. Up until then, unprocessed blood was perishable and would become unusable after about a week. Drew’s innovation would immediately be put into practical use.

As World War II began, Drew received a daunting request via telegram from his former professor, Dr. John Beattie, in Britain: “Secure 5,000 ampules of dried plasma for transfusion.” That was more than the total global supply. Drew met the challenge, organizing an American “Blood for Britain” campaign for the beleaguered nation by September 1940. Drew’s success took him to the helm of the American Red Cross blood bank. He recruited 100,000 blood donors for the U.S. military. Yet he found himself up against a narrow-minded policy of segregating the blood supply based on a donor’s race. When he protested and the government refused to change the policy, Drew chose to resign.

Drew taught at Howard University’s medical school and became chief surgeon at Freedmen’s Hospital. He inspired a generation of students, receiving honorary degrees and awards including the prestigious Springarn Medal. Later, he was elected to the International College of Surgeons, and traveled through post-war Europe to assess hospitals and advise the U.S. Surgeon General. He died in a car accident in March 1950, while driving to a medical meeting.

Annette Nance-Holt Becomes First Black Woman to Lead Chicago Fire Department

NBC Chicago

Annette Nance-Holt will become the first woman of color to lead the Chicago Fire Department in the department’s 162-history. The Chicago City Council voted to approve the selection of Nance-Holt, a more than 30-year veteran of the CFD and currently serving as acting commissioner of the department, as Chicago Fire Department commissioner.

Prior to her role as acting commissioner, Nance-Holt was named the First Deputy Commissioner in 2018, the first woman to hold that No. 2 role in Chicago. She also served as Deputy District Chief, Battalion Chief-EMT, Captain-EMT, Lieutenant-EMT and as a firefighter.

“Commissioner Holt has more than three decades of proven leadership and a passion for public service that makes her the perfect fit for this role,” Lightfoot said in a statement in May, when she announced Nance-Holt’s selection. “Furthermore, in a time where more work remains in order to eliminate discrimination, racism and sexism from the firefighter profession, Commissioner Holt’s history-making appointment as the first woman and Black woman to lead as Fire Commissioner couldn’t have come at a better moment.”  

Nance-Holt said in May that Chicago’s fire department must have firefighters and leadership “that mirrors the communities it serves every day.”

“As a child, I never laid eyes on either a female firefighter or a firefighter of color,” Nance-Holt said in a statement. “There were no role models who looked like me, and so I never thought that becoming a firefighter, which was my dream, would be a possibility for me. As Fire Commissioner, I intend to show the next generation of young black women that they too can achieve any and everything they set their minds and hearts to.”

France is sending a second Statue of Liberty to the US


New Yorkers have a surprise gift to look forward to for this Independence Day: a second Statue of Liberty sent by France. This new bronze statue, nicknamed the “little sister,” is one-sixteenth the size of the world-famous one that stands on Liberty Island. 

The smaller sibling was lifted and loaded into a special container at the National Museum of Arts and Crafts (CNAM) in central Paris, where it has been installed since 2011 in the museum’s garden. It will be erected on Ellis Island, just across the water from the original, from July 1 to July 5. The statue, over 450 kilograms (992 pounds) in weight and just shy of 10 feet tall, was first made in 2009. It is an exact replica of the original 1878 plaster model preserved by CNAM.

“The statue symbolizes freedom and the light around all the world,” said Olivier Faron, general administrator of the CNAM. “We want to send a very simple message: Our friendship with the United States is very important, particularly at this moment. We have to conserve and defend our friendship.”

The replica bears the same neoclassic design as its “big sister” in New York, who represents the Roman goddess Libertas and measures 151 feet tall atop the giant pedestal. She is imbued with symbolism: the crown with seven spikes, representing sun rays extending out to the world; a tablet inscribed with America’s date of independence in Roman numerals; and broken chains and shackles lying at its left foot, signifying the abolition of slavery in the United States.

Amazon Commits $150 Million to Supporting Black-Owned Businesses

Chain Store Age

Amazon is launching the Black Business Accelerator (BBA) to help Black entrepreneurs develop businesses and act as third-party sellers on the Amazon store.

The e-tail giant created the initiative, intended to explicitly target barriers to access, opportunity, and advancement created by systemic racism across America, in partnership with its Black Employee Network and a coalition of strategic partners. As part of the effort, Amazon is committing $150 million over the next four years to help thousands of Black entrepreneurs become successful sellers on its site.

Amazon is inviting Black business-owners to explore and participate in the BBA initiative, which provides financial support, business education and mentorship, and marketing and promotion of their brands and products as third-party Amazon sellers.

Amazon’s BBA will provide access to financial assistance, strategic business guidance and mentorship, and marketing and promotional support to help both current and aspiring Black small business-owners grow their businesses and maximize the opportunities of selling on Amazon.

Specific opportunities include Amazon credits and services valued at $3,900 that include free product imaging services and advertising credits. In addition, multiple teams across Amazon and its Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud computing division are helping fund an initial round of $10,000 cash grants in partnership with Hello Alice, an organization dedicated to helping entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses. Applications for these grants will open on July 1 and be awarded on Sept. 2.

Participants can also obtain access to a minimum of one year of free strategic advisory services, as well as connect with a dedicated network of business mentors, including Amazon experts and small business thought leaders, to continue to accelerate business growth.

Dianne Durham, First Black National Gymnastics Champion, to Join USAG Hall of Fame


USA Gymnastics announced Friday that Dianne Durham will be inducted into the 2021 Hall of Fame, 38 years after she became the first Black gymnast to win the senior national championship and four months after her death at age 52.

Durham will be inducted alongside the 2004 U.S. men’s Olympic team and four individuals, including six-time world medalist Rebecca Bross, on June 26 in St. Louis.

“While our community continues to mourn Dianne’s passing, her trailblazing legacy lives on each day in gyms across the country,” USA Gymnastics president Li Li Leung told ESPN in a statement. “We could not be more pleased that the Hall of Fame Committee has chosen to memorialize Dianne’s significant and lasting contribution to our sport in this special way.”

Born in Gary, Indiana, Durham was known for her artistry and power, as an all-around gymnast and as a joyful performer who infused routines with her personality. After winning back-to-back junior national titles in 1981 and 1982, Durham moved to Houston to train with Bela and Martha Karolyi, who defected from Romania in 1981. At 15, she captured the 1983 senior national title, a groundbreaking achievement, and along with her teammate, Mary Lou Retton, ushered in an era of power tumbling and progression in the sport.

Durham retired from competition at 16 and eventually became a coach, gym owner and national-level judge in Chicago.

“Dianne loved gymnastics no matter what,” Durham’s husband, Tom Drahozal, told ESPN. “But after what happened in 1984, even though she loved it, she always felt part of the community didn’t love her as much as she loved the sport. She felt like the powers that be didn’t value her contribution to the sport.”