The Cage Finally Open | A Tribute to Maya Angelou


Chrycka Harper, Poet & Literary CriticLast Modified: 00:07 a.m. DST, 31 May 2014

Maya Angelou - March 28,2008 - St. Sabina African American Speaking Series, Photo by Saint Sabina Photos

Not too long ago, Mandela joined the small community. He reunited with memorial friends, met with known ancestors, and joined the others to patiently wait for the next neighbor.

Eyes immediately focused on the glorious caged bird. Her songs send warm, comforting nostalgia to millions worldwide.

Our ears rejoice when she shares her wisdom, Our eyes rejoice when she graces the page with exceptional stanzas, Our mouths rejoice in smiles within her presence.

Maya Angelou, your songs kept us in remembrance of our history and heritage. But God said its time to unlock the cage So that the phenomenal bird can fly to its home.

Maya Angelou flew to her home, with Zora, Brooks, Wheatley, Aesop, but her spirit will never allow us to forget for the world.

Thank you, from an aspiring storyteller to a modern griot.

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Carrying on Nelson Mandela's Legacy


Jessamy Nichols, Africa CorrespondentLast Modified:03:02 a.m. DST, 17 December 2013

Nelson Mandela

QUNU, South Africa - Last week, the beloved Nelson Mandela passed away at the age of 95, leaving behind hundreds of thousands of mourners across the globe.

Mandela spent his entire life inspiring others and trying to make the world a better place, which made him more than deserving of an entire world grieving his absence.

Although he will be greatly missed, it is very important for those who respected and adored Mandela to carry on his legacy.

He advocated for equality for all of mankind, regardless of race, nationality, income level, or gender and this is an enormous struggle that most of the world still struggles with.

Racism and discrimination is evident across the world, and unnecessary war and strife continue to result because of it. In Mandela's eyes, most invasions and warmongering across the globe were unnecessary and imperialistic.

For example, he criticized the US invasion of Iraq as an act of "wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust." In many ways, he was right, evident in the recurring violence currently in Iraq despite us attempting to install a new, more democratic regime. If more leaders felt this way about international relations, there could potentially be a lot less tension and destruction.

Mandela also firmly believed that freedom from poverty is a "fundamental human right," which is an especially paramount point. He pointed out that in today's incredible advances in science, technology, medicine, and economics, there is the widest income inequality gap that there has ever been.

While the rich get richer, the poor become even poorer and more entrenched in this cycle. To anyone who wishes to honor Mandela's legacy, consider that Mandela called ending poverty a basic human duty. In today's world of excess and gluttony, there is no reason for more to not be done to end poverty.

“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.” ~ Nelson Mandela

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American Hate Mongers


Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 13:15 PM EDT, 30 March 2012

“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye.” 

CALIFORNIA & FLORIDA, United States – This past week Americans heard or read news reports of the brutal deaths of two people apparently because of race and faith. Their stories played out on the East Coast to the West, and both deaths are symptomatic of increased levels of xenophobia in a post September 11th America.

We are speaking of the deaths of Shaima Alawadi and Trayvon Martin. Both victims of racists, these two people have fallen prey to the xenophobic fears of their murders.

In the Nahmias Cipher Report we focus on atrocious human rights violations in Africa, India and the Middle East. Because we are based in the States, some people may feel superior to these 'other' people that we write about, as if those cultures lack the appropriate moral fortitude to control their behavior.

In some cases this is true, but in the case of Ms. Alawadi and Mr. Martin, these reprehensible acts of violence bring America in parity with the rest of the world's cultures and countries with abysmal Human Rights record.

In El Cajon, California, Shaima Alawadi was beaten to death in her home by an unknown assailant. Though the identity of the murderer has not been determined, based upon the evidence that the police found at the scene, it appears that this is a hate crime.

Alawadi’s 15-year old son, Mohammed said that recently he came home and discovered a note taped to the front door of their house which read, “This is my country. Go back to yours, terrorist.”

As residents of this quiet suburban community, neither Alawadi, nor her family thought much about the note, instead attributing it to mischievous neighborhood children. Despite her husband, Kassim Alhimidi’s desire to report the incident to the police, Alawadi didn’t feel that it was warranted.

Alawadi and her husband were Iraqi immigrants who have lived peacefully in the United States for 17 years. All five of their children were born in the United States and this is the only country that they have known because they are Americans. Post-9/11 the Alawadis have experienced increased discrimination such as being called ‘terrorists,’ but they shrugged off these slurs as ignorance.

But last Wednesday, Ms. Alawadi was discovered by her 17-year old daughter, lying unconscious in a pool of her own blood.  Badly beaten, with a severe head wound, her daughter discovered another note similar to the earlier one, lying next to her mother.

Though the police are reticent about proclaiming this killing as a ‘hate crime,’ many Muslims in the El Cajon community feel that Alwadi’s death was definitely a 'hate crime' because she was easily identifiable as Muslim. Ms. Alwadi wore the tradition Hijab of observant Muslim women, which may have contributed to her being singled out.

Like many communities across America, as war and strife rage out of control in nations across the globe, and particularly as factions fight over resources in emerging economies, the citizens of these countries pay the highest price. In an effort to secure a better, safer future for their families they often leave their countries and immigrate legally or illegally to more stable countries like America or other European nations.

Thus, there has been an increased influx of immigrants from heavily Islamic nations in Africa and the Middle East where America is currently engaged in war. For instance, in Lewiston, Maine, where I went to college, there is a thriving community of Somalis who have fled the strife of their unstable government or lack thereof.

Here in Northern Virginia, there is an equally large community of Middle Easterners from all across the Arab world.  In fact, one of my best managers is a Palestinian who immigrated to the States from Jordan nearly twenty years ago.

In Miami, where I lived for nearly a decade, the predominant immigrants are the Cubans, but other South and Central American Spanish speakers have also taken root. This has occurred to such an extent that one can drive through neighborhoods where the signs are in Spanish and many of the people who live there don’t speak English.

Just like these three areas of the East Coast, El Cajon, just northeast of San Diego, was also transformed from a largely white and English-speaking area into a more multicultural and diverse community. Two decades ago, as wars in their homelands increased in intensity, more and more Iraqis and other Middle Easterners immigrated to the States.

El Cajon now houses one of the largest Iraqi communities in the country. Like Miami with the Cubans, El Cajon now has numerous Middle Eastern grocery stores and restaurants, Mosques and other religious centers, and many of the pedestrians can be heard conversing in Arabic.

Yet there are xenophobes in this nation that still believe if you are Middle Eastern then you are not a citizen, and were born outside of America.  If you wear a turban, like many Indian Sikhs, then you are a terrorist. And for the purposes of this report, if you are an Iraqis who lives in El Cajon then you are Muslim, when in fact many Iraqis who reside in that community are Christian.

The case of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, harkens back to the racism of the Old South in which Klu Klux Klan members could burn, tar and feather, hang, decapitate, and castrate black men with impunity. That is what makes the case of Trayvon Martin so polarizing.

The fact that his killer, remains free despite police tapes which indicated his culpability, reinforces the stereotype that if you are a ‘black’ male in America then you are a violent criminal who must be subdued at all costs, including deadly force.

George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood ‘watchman,’ shot and killed an unarmed black teenager because he was ‘walking’ in the gated community where the vigilante lived.  Zimmerman who claims that he is ‘white’ has been identified as Hispanic, another population which has experienced a great deal of discrimination over illegal immigration issues.

However, this did not stop Zimmerman from singling out Trayvon Martin, 17, and shooting him because he looked ‘suspicious.’ Martin was reportedly on his way home when he was confronted by Zimmerman who asked him what he was doing in the neighborhood. Zimmerman, who was on the phone with the police, could be heard talking to teenager in an accusatory tone.

Since a car had been dispatched to the scene, the police advised Zimmerman to stop following the youth, as they were on their way. Zimmerman pointedly ignored the injunction and continued to pursue Martin. It is unclear what occurred next, but Zimmerman, a man twice the size of Martin, claimed that the teenage attacked him and that he fatally shot the teenager in self-defense.

Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood ‘watchman,’ was taken into custody shortly after the police arrived to find Martin dead; however, he was subsequently released and has remained freed since the shooting, despite nationwide calls for his arrest.

Much like the story of Sub-Saharan Africans who are being targeted in Libya, America’s struggles with race have seemingly digressed since the election of President Barak Obama. One would think, like the election of former South African President Nelson Mandela, another first ‘black’ president; that there would be a more profound paradigm shift in America.

However, the exact opposite has occurred as people so steep in racism and xenophobia feel inspired to act out their racism by deliberately violating the human rights of fellow Americans who have done them no harm. As one reader pointed out, there are just as many good people who are outraged by the behavior of racists, but the fact remains that incidents like these are on the rise.

It remains to be seen if the perpetrators guilty of killing Alawadi will be found, convicted and sentenced to death, a sentence which they unilaterally meted out against her for no just cause. Or if Zimmerman will be charged, convicted, and sentenced to a long jail term for murder; a crime which if a ‘black’ man had committed but the circumstances were in dispute, he would certainly be incarcerated pending the outcome of the investigation.

Shame on these people and as Alawadi’s son said, “There’s only three people that know what happened, God, my mom and the guy who did it.”

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Nelson Mandela Doing Well After Procedure


Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 23:25 PM EDT, 25 February 2012

Nelson Mandela, 2008JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Nelson Mandela, the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize winner and former South African President has been hospitalized. The 93-year old is undergoing test to identify the cause of an undisclosed stomach ailment.

In a statement, President Jacob Zuma said that Mandela isn’t in any immediate danger, but asked that the press respect his privacy. Mandela has “had was had a long-standing abdominal complaint and doctors feel it needs proper specialist medical attention.”

Mandela became South Africa’s first president of color to be elected in a fully representative democratic election. Then President F. W. de Klerk bowed to international pressure and freed the anti-apartheid leader on 11 February 1990 after he had served 27 years of a life sentence.

Mandela subsequently led his party, Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC) in the first multi-party negotiations that resulted in the country’s first multi-racial elections. South Africans duly elected Mandela as president, a position which he held from 1994 to 1999.

Mandela continues to be active in numerous causes including the eradication of AIDS, the disease to which his son succumbed in 2005. He is also one of the founding members of a group of world leaders known as, The Elders. This group is comprised of prominent people of diverse backgrounds and heritage who are dedicated to addressing humanitarian issues from around the world.

The current Chairman of The Elders, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 80, is another prominent South African and Noble Laureate. We recently wrote about his visit to India with other Elders to spearhead a global movement called “Girls Not Brides” which is aimed at ending child marriages.

By contrast, Mandela's public appearances have become increasingly rare which may be a consequence of his health issues. According to the Associated Press, he was last publicly seen at the closing ceremonies of the 2010 World Cup, and met privately with First Lady Michelle Obama when she traveled to South Africa in 2011.

Mandela underwent some “planned, diagnostic tests” and is expected to be released from hospital on Sunday or Monday. Though the results of the tests were not released to the public, the doctors believe that the abdominal distress is consistent with someone of Mandela’s age." In an effort to calm the public Zuma concluded by saying, “We are happy that he is not in any danger.”

Liu Xiaobo | The Power of Words

Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 14:07 PM EDT, 27 December 2009

CHINA - This blog addresses many issues regarding human rights and seeks to encourage the reader to act even if it is through sharing a post or video. Somewhere in the world today, some person or group of people are being treated inhumanely. We blithely read about such abuses, but we live in a society where we can insulate and anesthetize ourselves to their suffering.

It is true that sometimes all of the evil and hatred in the world seems ubiquitous and insurmountable, and the natural human reaction is to shrink away and adopt a protective sphere around family and personal friends, or to remain silent and bury one's head like the proverbial ostrich. These however are not the only choices available to us.

In Christianity, Judaism and Islam, the spoken word is accorded with reverence because of the creative power inherent in thought, which leads to spoken communication, which leads to action otherwise known as creation. It is a simple concept, but in our current world where spiritual, faith-based, intangible concepts are under attack as being childish and atavistic, the need to control our thoughts and words and thus what we creatively manifest is of the utmost importance and urgency.

In the recent past, we have had many great souls stand up on behalf of humanity, however, just as many quietly but effectively work in the shadows and are never elevated onto the world stage. People like Nelson Mandela, Mohandas K. Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Jr. are notable and internationally recognized figures. Now Liu Xiaobo joins their ranks as one who is less known today, but who may in the future be the defining face of freedom of speech in China.  Because of this Xiaobo was  sentenced this past Friday to 11 years imprisonment by the Chinese government.

The video below was disseminated to Amnesty International supporters with instructions to share it with as wide an audience as possible. Although I am not an ardent supporter of the United Nations, because I feel it has not lived up to the ideals for which it was created; I also recognize that its ineffectiveness lies in its membership, which is composed of individuals who are representatives of governments and corporations with interests that are often contrary to human dignity and well-being.  This does not, however, diminish the power of the dream, for in dreams are the realities of tomorrow.

The poem by Martin Niemöller, a Protestant pastor and social activist sums up the essence of this post, and will I hope provide you with a reminder that tyranny and abuse does not stop with its intended victim.

When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews, I remained silent; I wasn't a Jew.

When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.

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