April 25, 2013
By SANDRA CHEREB
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — As Nevada legislators emotionally debated a move toward same-sex marriage, one lawmaker rose to his feet and declared, “I’m gay.”
Nevada state Sen. Kelvin Atkinson says that he quickly picked up hundreds of new friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter.
“I never considered myself not out,” said Atkinson, a North Las Vegas Democrat. “I didn’t care who knew, I just didn’t ever think that I needed to make a public statement about it.”
However, he was moved to speak out late Monday night after listening to passionate, soul-searching testimony from his colleagues as they debated Senate Joint Resolution 13, which would abolish the heterosexual definition of marriage that’s been in the Nevada Constitution since 2002, when voters overwhelmingly approved the Protection of Marriage Act.
“I didn’t think. I just knew it was time,” Atkinson said.
Nevada is one of 29 states with a constitutional provision prohibiting same-sex marriage, and SRJ13 seeks to repeal the law and declare that Nevada recognizes all marriages, regardless of gender. It passed the Senate and is now in the Assembly where passage is likely. If approved by legislators this year and in 2015, it would go before voters in 2016.
The debate brought revelations from lawmakers who described personal evolutions on gay marriage and personal conflicts between religious convictions and their love for gay family members and friends.
State Sen. Mark Hutchison, who is Mormon, said supporters of gay marriage should refrain from categorizing those against it as bigots and intolerant. He said he supports same sex unions, but not marriage.
“I simply cannot do that because of my own religious beliefs and convictions,” he said.
Atkinson, on the floor, scoffed at comments that gay marriage would threaten the sanctity of marriage.
“If this hurts your marriage, then your marriage was in trouble in the first place,” he said.
Atkinson said his statement confirmed something that he hadn’t tried to hide.
“I know who I am,” he said. “My family knows who I am. My daughter knows who I am.”
April 18, 2013
By Frank J. Phillips
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper
Two African-American generals made history this year by simultaneously taking charge of major regional commands.
President Barack Obama nominated Generals Lloyd Austin and Vincent Brooks to head U.S. Central Command and U.S. Army Pacific, respectively. Each powerful command position allows the generals to oversee operations in either the Middle East or Asia. Brooks will earn his fourth star upon assuming command, while Austin is already a four-star general.
Although the nominations highlight a first for African Americans, both generals have had a career of firsts. A year ago, Austin became the first African American to hold the Army’s second highest position, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army. In 1979, Brooks became the first African-American to assume the cadet First Captain position at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, the highest position a cadet can hold.
Along with their graduations from West Point, their honorary doctorates degrees and their 6-foot, 4-inch frames, these generals also share an ability to understand, counsel and inspire others toward excellence.
“Gen. Austin …is an outstanding illustration of what a Black male can achieve in America,” said Craig Hanford, president of Hanford Consulting and Austin’s West Point classmate. “He’s a great leader, decorated warrior, and compassionate mentor.”
“Lt. Gen. Brooks is a soldier’s soldier,” said Col. Rivers Johnson Jr., public affairs officer for U.S. Cyber Command. “I’ve never worked so hard in my Army career as I did when I was his executive officer. He was the consummate mentor, teacher and dedicated leader.”
Both generals have legacies rich in military service. Austin, who hails from Thomasville, Ga., traces his military roots back to his distant relative, 2nd Lt. Henry O. Flipper, the first African American to graduate from West Point in 1877.
Brooks, born in Anchorage, Alaska, comes from a family of generals. His father, and older brother, Leo Brooks Sr. and Jr., retired as general officers. Brooks’ family service dates back to the Civil War, when his great-great grandfather, an escaped slave, joined the Union Army.
While some may see these nominations as the reasoned and strategic choices of a wise president, Foster Payne II, retired Army Col., also sees their value to others.
“In a society that searches for role models for our youth, both generals are trailblazers not only for their service to the nation but to mankind,” said Payne.
Whether defending America’s interests, developing soldiers or inspiring youth, these storied generals continue to make history.
April 18, 2013
By VERENA DOBNIK
NEW YORK (AP) — A Rwandan genocide survivor who became a U.S. citizen Wednesday says she was saved because her father trusted an exceptional member of an enemy tribe that slaughtered the rest of her family.
“My father always used to tell us, ‘Never judge people by putting them in boxes, because of their country, their race, their tribe,’” Immaculee Ilibagiza, a Tutsi, told fellow immigrants at a Manhattan naturalization ceremony.
The 43-year-old mother of two is the author of “Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust” — a best-selling book translated into 35 languages that has turned her into a successful speaker around the world.
Eyes brimming with tears, she received her citizenship 14 years after being granted asylum in the United States. Then, as the ceremony's keynote speaker, she took 50 other immigrants on the personal journey that transformed her from an angry, emaciated young Rwandan hiding from ethnic killers into a radiant American who forgives them and feels “that no tragedy is big enough to crush you.”
The 1994 civil war claimed more than a half-million African lives, with members of the Tutsi tribe pitted against the ruling Hutus.
Life for her family — four siblings with parents who were teachers — changed on April 7, 1994, when she was a college student visiting her village and her brother announced that the Rwandan president died in a plane that was shot down.
He belonged to the Hutu tribe, and the Tutsis were blamed. The killings began.
Ilibagiza said her father decided she should flee to the home of a neighbor he knew and trusted — a Hutu.
She told fellow immigrants from 16 countries that “if I am here today, it's because my father had trust in the man from that tribe” — whose members “were supposed to be our enemies.”
She spent three months locked into a tiny bathroom in his house with seven women and girls, sleeping practically upright and eating what little he could shove through the door daily. She was 23 and weighed 65 pounds, her bones protruding from her limbs.
“I was angry a lot; I thought, if I ever come out, I was going to be a killer,” she said.
In despair, she said her Catholic childhood prayers. But when she got to “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” — she stopped.
“How do you forgive somebody who is killing you?”
Suddenly, one day, something unexpected happened inside her.
“I felt God was showing me there are two parts of the world: a part that was love, and a side that was hate — people like Hitler, and like people causing genocide in Rwanda,” she said. “And people like Mandela, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King — people who have suffered but who will do everything to make sure that those who are wrong change their mind.”
She began to think of those doing the killing “as people who were lost, who were blind,” she said. “And if I did not let go of the anger, I would not be here today; I would have tried to kill people, and they would have killed me.”
The eight captives left their hiding spot when the genocide was over.
The Hutus had won the civil war.
Everyone in Ilibagiza’s family was killed, “my mom, my dad, my two brothers, my grandpa, my grandma, my aunts, neighbors, schoolmates, best friends.”
She got a job with the United Nations in Rwanda, and eventually moved to New York.
Here, “I saw Koreans, and Indians and Chinese and I thought, ‘Those are not Americans,’” she said. “But no, they are Americans; every nationality here is accepted as Americans.”
And they had their stories too — some equally tinged with tragedy.
Friends who watched her thrive, despite her past, urged her to write her story. They wondered, she said, “how can you be happy after what happened to you? Why are you smiling today?”
“Something in my heart was born anew; I did not have to hate no matter how much you hate me,” she said.
She gets hundreds of emails and letters “telling me, ‘because of your story, I’m a better mom, I’m a better dad, I can forgive my wife, I can forgive my husband, my friends.’”
Ilibagiza’s life now is not so different from other Americans. She's divorced and bringing up her two children — a 14-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy — on Manhattan’s East Side.
On Wednesday, Ilibagiza planned to join friends for a celebratory lunch, “and I want a really good hamburger, because I’m feeling so American today,” she said with a carefree laugh.