Commentary: African American Scientists and Inventors
By Black Kos Editor, Sephius1
Erich Jarvis is an associate professor of neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center. He leads a team of researchers who study the neurobiology of vocal learning, a critical behavioral substrate for spoken language. The animal models he studies include songbirds, parrots and hummingbirds. Like humans, these bird groups have the ability to learn new sounds and pass on their vocal repertoires culturally, from one generation to the next. Jarvis focuses on the molecular pathways involved in the perception and production of learned vocalizations, and the development of brain circuits for vocal learning.
To accomplish this objective, Dr. Jarvis takes an integrative approach to research, combining behavioral, anatomical, electrophysiological, and molecular biological techniques. The discoveries of Dr. Jarvis and his collaborators include the first findings of natural behaviorally regulated gene expression in the brain, social context dependent gene regulation, convergent vocal learning systems across distantly related animal groups, the FOXP2 gene in vocal learning birds, and the finding that vocal learning systems may have evolved out of ancient motor learning systems.
In 2002, the National Science Foundation awarded Jarvis its highest honor for a young researcher, the Alan T. Waterman Award. In 2005 he was awarded the National Institutes of Health Director’s Pioneer Award providing funding for five years to researchers pursuing innovative approaches to biomedical research. In 2008 Dr. Jarvis was selected to the prestigious position of Investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Jarvis received a B.A. from Hunter College and a Ph.D. from Rockefeller University......Read More
News round up by dopper0189, Black Kos Managing Editor
Texas Tech recently announced it will no longer take race into account in admissions to its medical school—a move that might affect not only aspiring doctors, but many of their would-be patients as well. The Atlantic: When Medical Schools Become Less Diverse
At Texas Tech University’s medical school, just 4 percent of students are black; 13 percent are Hispanic. And those numbers might soon shrink. Research has shown that’s what happens when schools stop considering race in admissions, and that’s what the school plans to do.
In late February, Texas Tech University reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to end its use of race in admissions to its medical school. The resolution, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, brought to an end a 14-year federal investigation into the school’s affirmative-action practices. The complaint had been filed following the Supreme Court decisions in the Michigan affirmative-action cases Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, where the Court decided race could be used in admissions, but only in a “narrowly tailored” way. Texas Tech had stopped using race in admissions at its pharmacy school in 2008, and at its undergraduate college in 2013, but not at its medical school. There, the school argued, it needed to use race as a factor to ensure a diverse class of future doctors, and there was no other way around it.
The law, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in affirmative-action cases over the past 40 years, requires schools to show that they have exhausted all other, race-neutral options to achieve a diverse student body before using race as an admissions criterion. Most schools are able to show that they are using race in admissions in the narrowly tailored way that the Supreme Court has said, time and again, is legal. But Texas Tech was not periodically reviewing those race-neutral alternatives, or, at least, could not show that it was. That’s why it’s hard to read too much into what this means for the future of affirmative action, Scott Schneider, a higher-education attorney with Husch Blackwell, told me; the details of the case were specific to Texas Tech.
In a letter to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Eric Bentley, the general counsel for the Texas Tech University system, said that the school could prove that it was using race in an constitutionally accepted way, but that Texas Tech would voluntarily agree to drop the practice anyway. Still, he wrote, the medical school “strongly believes that diversity in academic medicine is not only a necessity at the [School of Medicine], but is a necessity nationally as well; therefore, we continuously strive to enhance the diversity of our student body.” But diversity in medical schools, broadly, has been difficult to achieve—especially without the use of race in admissions.
Many minority groups—particularly blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans—are significantly underrepresented at medical schools, Liliana Garces, an associate professor at the University of Texas who has studied the effects that affirmative-action bans have had on student representation, told me.
Dr. Cherniak and Rodgers Ssekawoko Muhumuza, the Ugandan clinical officer he was training, stared at the iPhone into which the scanner was plugged, watching Gordon’s lung expand and contract.
“O.K.,” Dr. Cherniak finally said. “What do you recommend?”
Gordon had a persistent cough and swollen lymph nodes, and looked tired and unwell. As other boys ran around outside, kicking a soccer ball made of rags and twine, he clung weakly to his mother. The scan on the iPhone’s screen suggested his lungs had fluid in them.
As Dr. Cherniak nodded approval, Mr. Muhumuza prescribed an antibiotic, and ordered blood tests to rule out tuberculosis, malaria and H.I.V. He arranged for Gordon and his mother to get a ride to a local clinic for an X-ray and a night of observation.
Dr. Cherniak, an emergency medicine specialist from Canada, said he would upload the scan that evening so an ultrasound specialist in Toronto could double-check the diagnosis: early-stage pneumonia.
The diagnosis was made possible by a new invention that Dr. Cherniak hopes will revolutionize front-line global medicine: a hand-held ultrasound scanner called the Butterfly iQ.
The Butterfly is about the size of an electric shaver. It is battery-powered and contains microchips rather than piezoelectric crystals, so it usually won’t break if dropped. (That was accidentally tested a few times during a week that a reporter spent in rural Uganda with Dr. Cherniak’s team.)
For Butterfly Network, the Connecticut company that makes it, the profitable target customers are doctors and nurses who can afford a $2,000 device that fits in a coat pocket and is as portable as a stethoscope.
But the scanner also has huge potential in rural Africa, Asia and Latin America, where the nearest X-ray machine may be hours away and the only CT and MRI scanners may be in the nation’s capital.
Weed aficionados can do more than smoke in celebration of their favorite plant this 4/20. They can also learn the history of marijuana in the United States with the release of the Netflix documentary “Grass Is Greener.”
Artist and cannabis advocate Fab 5 Freddy makes his directorial debut with the film, which explores the cultural influence the plant has on music and art through interviews with performers like Snoop Dogg and Damian Marley. The film also digs deep into the racist criminalization of marijuana in the United States and the devastating impact it has on Black and Latinx communities.
“Marijuana, from its entry point into the U.S., has been associated with African-Americans and Mexicans,” a voice-over says in the trailer for “Grass Is Greener.” That racist association has led to Black and Latinx people being disproportionately targeted for marijuana use and possession in the criminal justice system. Even as marijuana slowly transitions into big business for some, the film explores the ways in these groups are denied access to the benefits of that growth. As Snoop says in the documentary, “We’re not the war on drugs, we’re fighting the war on drugs.”
Is Brooklyn’s gun court getting weapons off the streets—or just locking up more young black men? Slate: Charged
In graduation photos that Viceland called “fun and flirty,” Bennett—a young white woman in a white sundress and heels—presented herself as a poster child for the gun lobby. She went on to appear on Fox and Friends and got respectful coverage in the Washington Post and other mainstream outlets. Her gun read as a political statement or provocation.
As it happened, I was spending a lot of time with young people with guns that spring. But they were nobody’s poster children. They were Bennett’s age or younger, but they were black and male, and in their hands, guns read as violent and threatening. If they flashed one on social media, the cops showed up at their door and a criminal prosecution followed. My new book Charged tells their stories, and so does a podcast with the same name that Slate is launching Wednesday.
When gun control advocates discuss how to restrict access to lethal weapons, they mostly talk about permit requirements and background checks. But that coin has another side: punishment for people accused of possessing guns without the state’s permission. In January 2016, Mayor Bill de Blasio established a specialized gun court in Brooklyn to fast-track the city’s “remaining evildoers”—his words—to prison. Almost all of them faced the most serious possible charge for possession of an illegal loaded gun, which in New York carried a minimum sentence of 3½ years in prison and a maximum of 15 years. In theory, the mayor’s initiative was a tough-minded solution to gun violence that anti-gun liberals and law-and-order conservatives could unite behind.
Two and a half years ago, I started visiting the Brooklyn gun court to see how it was working.
I thought I’d find horrific stories of gun violence and hardened evildoers, like de Blasio said. Instead, over many months of my reporting, I found hundreds of teenagers and young people, almost all of them black, being marched to prison not for firing a gun, or even pointing one, but for having one. Many of them had minimal criminal records. To be precise, when I went through 200 case files, I found that 70 percent of the defendants in gun court had no previous felony convictions.
Here’s what predicted who ended up on the benches in gun court: race and age. Black people are less likely to own guns than white people, but the defendants in gun court were almost all black teenagers and young men. An initiative that sounded like a targeted attack on America’s gun problem looked up close more like stop-and-frisk or the war on drugs—one more way to round up young black men. Reviewing my book in the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik suggested that a kid locked up for a drug offense would have made a more representative subject. But drug charges are the old way of shunting people to prison. Gun possession, and similar offenses that states treat as violent, is the new way. And the 20-year-old whose case I followed wasn’t “the wrong kid” from the point of view of the system or the politicians that built it. His case was typical in gun court, because he was exactly the kind of person the mayor’s plan was designed to ensnare.
Defendants in gun court often said they had guns for “protection,” a classic Second Amendment argument. They saw them as a means of defense. There’s a heartbreaking element to this, because the guns don’t deliver on that promise of protection. They make things more dangerous. And yet the guns retained their allure as a kind of costume—a way to signal that the person who has one is not prey.
Prudence Powell says that being a Black immigrant mother in the United States requires incredible resilience, and sometimes that means “suffering in silence.”
The Philadelphia resident experienced this firsthand in 2006 when, two years after moving to Pennsylvania from New York City, she was overwhelmed by the process of navigating the state’s health-care system while pregnant with her now-13-year-old daughter. She ended up commuting back and forth between the two cities because New York offers undocumented immigrants more options for prenatal and postpartum care.
While undocumented immigrants pay billions of dollars in taxes each year, they mostly remain ineligible for health insurance, outside of “a handful of benefits that are deemed necessary to protect life or guarantee safety in dire situations,” the National Immigration Forum reported. Unlike in most other developed countries, maternity care is billed item by item in the United States, making it more expensive than if it were bundled, creating additional hardships for families without insurance coverage.
“It’s never been that Black people don’t want to take care of themselves; it’s about not being able to afford to,” Powell told Rewire.News. “Even if you have health insurance, if you are living paycheck-to-paycheck, how are you going to afford your co-pay? Exams, blood work, people can’t afford it.”
Black Maternal Health Week, founded and led by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, has forced the United States to reckon with the unacceptably poor maternal health outcomes experienced by Black women, including disproportionately high rates of death related to pregnancy or childbirth. Compared to white women, Black women are more likely to be uninsured, face greater financial barriers to care when they need it, and are less likely to access prenatal care.
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