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Remembering Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam

raceAhead is taking a moment to remember a beloved jurist, Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam, an associate judge on New York State’s highest court and the first African-American woman to serve on that bench. She became the first-ever Muslim woman jurist in 1994 when she began serving on the State Supreme Court.

She was found dead in the Hudson River yesterday. Authorities found no sign of foul play. She was 65.

Lest the mysterious circumstances of her death overshadow her life, let’s talk about that for now.

From the New York Times:

On the court, Judge Abdus-Salaam was among the most reliable and steadfast liberal voices, regularly siding with vulnerable parties — the poor, impoverished immigrants and people with mental illnesses, for instance — against more powerful and established interests. She also tended to lean toward injured parties who brought claims of misconduct, fraud or breach of contract against wealthy corporations.

She was best known, at least recently, for a landmark decision last summer known as Brooke S.B. v Elizabeth A.C.C., which expanded the definition of parenthood, particularly for same-sex couples. The case involved a sad dispute between two women, one who had conceived a child through artificial insemination, and later sought to prevent her partner from continuing her relationship with their son. She wrote: “[T]he definition of ‘parent’ established by this court 25 years ago in Alison D. has become unworkable when applied to increasingly varied familial relationships.” The decision affirmed that a caretaker who was not related to or a legal guardian of a child had real rights. “[W]here a partner shows by clear and convincing evidence that the parties agreed to conceive a child and to raise the child together, the nonbiological, nonadoptive partner has standing to seek visitation and custody.”

The decision was a powerful nod to the complexity of life in a world where some people remain invisible in the eyes of the law.

She grew up poor, one of seven kids, and became an exemplary public defender before she moved up the ranks. But she came from someplace and that mattered to her. She was the great-granddaughter of slaves. “That’s important,” she says in a short and charming video about the importance of knowing one’s own history. “All the way from Arrington, Va., where my family was the property of someone else, to my sitting on the highest court of the State of New York is amazing and huge. And it tells you and me what it is to know who we are and what we can do.”

On Point

Start-ups focused on diversity on the rise in Silicon ValleyThey’re new, and the solutions they offer are unlikely to solve the problem entirely, but their existence proves a market need: Tech companies eager to diversify their ranks will pay to get there. One, like Teamable, uses tech to make employee referrals more inclusive. Others, like Jopwell and Blendoor, are recruiting platform for diverse candidates. PayScale analyzes employee data – one tool specifically looks for gender wage gaps. In many cases, the start-ups are finding investment and ramping up themselves. “Diversity is both a big problem and opportunity,” said Eric Kim, co-founder of Goodwater Capital.Mercury News

A slave cabin, once a home, is now a treasured artifact
Isabell Meggett Lucas, 87, grew up in a two-room wood house in Edisto Island, South Carolina, where she lived with her parents and nine brothers. The cabin was originally used to house enslaved people starting in 1853, but her family didn’t know that, she says. They never had electricity, a bathroom or running water, and yet the family thrived. The last remaining family member moved out in 1983 (you read that right) and the house has since been moved and restored, piece by piece, to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.  The house is the only remaining  from a row of ten slave cabins owned by a land and slaveholder named Charles Bailey.
NBC Washington

Crucified man had a troubled past
“Born (possibly out of wedlock?) in a stable, this jobless thirty-something of Middle Eastern origin had had previous run-ins with local authorities for disturbing the peace, and had become increasingly associated with the members of a fringe religious group.” Columnist Alexandra Petri, bristling at the notion that journalists are now obligated to drag up the irrelevant past lives of crime victims, fires back with a write-up of the crucifixion of Christ “[i]n accordance with this new house style.” It’s a tough bit of satire. “He spent the majority of his time in the company of sex workers and criminals,” she writes. If you click through, stay for the kicker.
Washington Post

Data suggests that race anxiety trumped economic anxiety in the presidential election
The Intercept’s Mehdi Hasan cites new data about voter sentiment in a post that’s focused on politics but deserves to be considered through a business lens. He says there’s no reason to think that it was just an inept Democratic party or a sputtering economy that drove the “drain the swamp” crowd. Citing a number of studies starting with the recently released data from the American National Election Studies (ANES), he says the relationship between anti-blackness and the election is clear. “Whether it’s good politics to say so or not, the evidence from the 2016 election is very clear that attitudes about blacks, immigrants, and Muslims were a key component of Trump’s appeal,” said political scientist and race expert Philip Klinkner. Voters were more likely to describe African Americans as criminal, violent and lazy, be concerned that they were taking “white jobs” and say that were less evolved than white people.
The Intercept

North Carolina lawmakers introduce bill to outlaw same-sex marriage; are immediately shut down
Barely 24 hours after four republican North Carolina representatives filed House Bill 780, or the “Uphold Historical Marriage Act,” banning same-sex marriage in the state and disavowing existing marriages from other states, North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore announced that lawmakers would not hear the bill. It has been two years since the Supreme Court upheld the nationwide right to same-sex marriage. The North Carolina legislation cites, among other things, the U.S. Constitution and the Bible, claiming that “the United States Supreme Court overstepped its constitutional bounds.” In response, North Carolina governor Roy Cooper [D] tweeted, “This bill is wrong. We need more LGBT protections, not fewer.” At press time, the sponsors of the bill have not issued a statement.
Washington Post

New report: Sexual abuse of the very poor rampant and unpunished among U.N. peacekeepers
The Associated Press has an important update to their exhaustive investigation of rampant sexual abuse among U.N. peacekeeping forces, in Haiti and other countries.  “An Associated Press investigation of U.N. missions during the past 12 years found nearly 2,000 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers and other personnel around the world — signaling the crisis is much larger than previously known.” In Haiti alone, an internal U.N. report found that at least 134 Sri Lankan peacekeepers exploited nine children in a sex ring from 2004 to 2007. No one was punished. Other reports include gang rapes of women and men. There is also the question of the cholera epidemic strain linked to Nepalese U.N. workers. “Imagine if the U.N. was going to the United States and raping children and bringing cholera,” said one Haitian human rights lawyer. “Human rights aren’t just for rich white people.”
Associated Press

The Woke Leader

The mathematical genius of John Coltrane
Coltrane was a magical figure to many, part transcendent jazzman, part spiritual seeker. Those two elements came together in a sketch called “the Coltrane circle,” a  version of the musical “circle of fifths” – a representation of the twelve tones of the chromatic scale – but amplified with a Coltrane twist. Some see elements of Islam in the sketch, musical mathematics connected to the divine. But in addition to his mystical journey, “Coltrane was also very much aware of Einstein’s work and liked to talk about it frequently,” says musician and writer Josh Jones. “Musician David Amram remembers the Giant Steps genius telling him he ‘was trying to do something like that in music.'”
Open Culture

Being black on the Appalachian Trail
There are many I-hiked-the-Appalachian-Trail-alone tales in the world, all of them worthy additions to a noble canon. But Rahawa Haile’s contribution deserves to be an instant classic. She is black, from Miami by way of Eritrea, “but not black-black,” a friendly white man is quick to point out to her at a popular layover. “Blacks don’t hike.” And so begins her tale, surrounded by others who have given it all up for the woods, none of whom are black-black like her. “Heading north from Springer Mountain in Georgia, the Appalachian Trail class of 2017 would have to walk 670 miles before reaching the first county that did not vote for Donald Trump,” she writes. Cold, wet, achy and awed, she reconciles the grandeur of nature with the smallness of those who profit from it. “It will be several months before I realize that most AT hikers in 2016 are unaware of the clear division that exists between what hikers of color experience on the trail (generally positive) and in town (not so much).” A must read, if only for the resplendent prose.
Outside Online

An abandoned town is a fading part of Great Migration history
Dearfield, CO is just a few run-down buildings now. But back in the day, starting in 1910, it was a thriving town of black homesteaders and farmers who defied Jim Crow odds to create wealth, culture and a place where black and white folks could co-exist with a rare bit of peace. “At its height in the early 1920s, 700 residents lived in town, with churches, a school, a blacksmith shop, a dance hall and a restaurant,” explains NPR.  An iteration of the Homestead Act first attracted black people to the area, people who were interested in owning some land and living freely, explains a professor and local historian. The town’s most successful champion was a man named O.T. Jackson, a charismatic entrepreneur who looks a little like a long-lost Marsalis cousin, and who made sure that Dearfield didn’t fall prey to other post-Reconstruction woes. A wonderful bit of history that deserves to be preserved.
NPR

Quote

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear / I rise / Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear / I rise / Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, / I am the dream and the hope of the slave. / I rise / I rise / I rise.
—Maya Angelou