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Sandy Banks: What Martin Luther King taught me about ‘good hair’ and self respect

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Every January, as I read and listen to the tributes to Martin Luther King Jr., I think not only about what Dr. King gave the world, but also about what he gave me personally.

On his 1963 visit to Cleveland, Dr. King spoke from the back of a flatbed truck at a park not far from our neighborhood. My mother, who’d grown up in Alabama during the reign of Jim Crow, took me, then 9 years old, with her to see her hero.

She made sure to arrive early enough to claim a space near the front of the crowd. And when Dr. King leaned down to shake hands, my mother lifted me up and thrust me forward, thrilled to see the civil rights icon clasping her daughter’s small, outstretched hand. My mother was rapturous. I was too young to understand the hullabaloo, but I felt for a moment as if I had encountered a deity.

Honestly, I don’t remember much of what Dr. King said. His lilting cadence captivated me, but I was too young and ignorant of history then for the full measure of his message to sink in.

But there was one line he spoke that stopped me in my tracks; a rousing declaration that’s unlikely to show up in the holiday tributes, but that still speaks volumes to me:

“I don’t care what anyone says, I have good hair!”

His delivery was emphatic, and the crowd roared with laughter. I stood there totally confused, studying his head. His close-cropped hair looked to me like a patch of tightly coiled black beads, shiny with sweat.

I thought I knew what “good hair” meant. It was a comment often directed my way, as in “You’re so lucky to have good hair.” But his hair was nothing like mine.

“Good hair” in our vernacular then meant it didn’t require a hot comb. My curls were frizzy, and I mostly hated them, as many young Black girls did back in the day, but they were loose enough that I could wear my hair in ponytails that bounced. This was something other Black folks seemed to care about.

Still, I understood even then the implications of the “good hair” label. It accepted “white hair” as the standard by which all hair should be judged. The closer to white your facial features, skin color and hair texture were judged to be, the higher you were in the Negro hierarchy.

Yet here was this dark-skinned, kinky-haired man insisting that his hair was “good.” Was my hair still good? Was it going to wind up like his one day? I was curious about what he meant, but more than that, I was stirred by his boldness, his self-respect.

As I tuned in to his speech, a curtain in my mind began to lift. He talked about justice and sacrifice; about the resilience of our people and the dignity of our demands; about our connection to one another.

His hair began to look beautiful to me. And so did all the hair of the hundreds of people surrounding us.

I realized Dr. King was not commenting on the quality or texture of his hair. His hair was good because it was HIS hair; it was a Black man’s hair, and its worth didn’t rest on some arbitrary standard dictated by people who didn’t value him.

That was when it dawned on me that I was part of something bigger than my family. I was connected to all these people by a history that both shaped our strengths and seeded our physical differences.

It may seem like a small thing now, but his declaration was revolutionary to me then — in an era when calling someone Black was an insult. We had all been socialized to value straight hair and light skin.

It would be years before “Black” ceased to be offensive and became our chosen descriptor; a signifier of unity. And, in my life, that will always be a part of Dr. King’s legacy.

Sandy Bank writes a column for this The Los Angeles Times

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Ukraine: 200 bodies found in basement in Mariupol’s ruins

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Ukraine: 200 bodies found in basement in Mariupol’s ruins

By ELENA BECATOROS, OLEKSANDR STASHEVSKYI and RICARDO MAZALAN

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Workers digging through the rubble of an apartment building in Mariupol found 200 bodies in the basement, Ukrainian authorities said Tuesday, as more horrors come to light in the ruined city that has seen some of the worst suffering of the 3-month-old war.

The bodies were decomposing and the stench hung over the neighborhood, said Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the mayor. He did not when they were discovered, but the sheer number of victims makes it one of the deadliest known attacks of the war.

Heavy fighting, meanwhile, continued in the Donbas, the eastern industrial region that Moscow’s forces are intent on seizing. Russian troops intensified their efforts to encircle and capture Sievierodonetsk and neighboring cities.

Mariupol was relentlessly pounded during a nearly three-month siege that ended last week after some 2,500 Ukrainian fighters abandoned a steel plant where they had made their stand. Russian forces already held the rest of the city, where an estimated 100,000 people remain out a prewar population of 450,000, many of them trapped during the siege with little food, water, heat or electricity.

At least 21,000 people were killed in the siege, according to Ukrainian authorities, who have accused Russia of trying to cover up the horrors by bringing in mobile cremation equipment and by burying the dead in mass graves.

During the assault on Mariupol, Russian airstrikes hit a maternity hospital and a theater where civilians were taking shelter. An Associated Press investigation found that close to 600 people died in the theater attack, double the figure estimated by Ukrainian authorities.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused the Russians of waging “total war” and seeking to inflict as much death and destruction as possible on his country.

“Indeed, there has not been such a war on the European continent for 77 years,” Zelensky said, referring to end of World War II.

Moscow-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces in the Donbas for eight years and hold large swaths of territory. Sievierodonetsk and neighboring cities are the only part of the Donbas’ Luhansk region still under Ukrainian government control.

Russian forces have achieved “some localized successes” despite strong Ukrainian resistance along dug-in positions, British military authorities said.

Moscow’s troops also took over the town of Svitlodarsk and raised the Russian flag there, Ukrainian media reported. Svitlodarsk is about 50 kilometers (31 miles) southeast of the strategically important city of Kramatorsk.

Two top Russian officials appeared to acknowledge that Moscow’s advance has been slower than expected, though they vowed the offensive would achieve its goals.

Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council. said the Russian government “is not chasing deadlines.” And Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told a meeting of a Russia-led security alliance of former Soviet states that Moscow is deliberately slowing down its offensive to allow residents of encircled cities to evacuate — though forces have repeatedly hit civilian targets.

As Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, recovers from weeks of weeks of relentless bombardment, residents formed long lines to receive rations of flour, pasta, sugar and others staples this week. Moscow’s forces withdrew from around Kharkiv earlier this month, pulling back toward the Russian border.

Galina Kolembed, the aid distribution center coordinator, said that more and more people are returning to the city. Kolembed said the center is providing food to over 1,000 people every day, a number that keeps growing.

“Many of them have small kids, and they spend their money on the kids, so they need some support with food,” she said.

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Becatoros reported from Kramatorsk, Ukraine. Associated Press journalists Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Danica Kirka in London and other AP staffers around the world contributed.

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Former South St. Paul basketball coach dies by suicide, two days before sentencing on federal fraud case

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Undated courtesy photo, circa January 2022, of Matthew McCollister, head boys basketball coach at South St. Paul High School. (Courtesy of South St. Paul Public Schools)

Former South St. Paul boys basketball coach Matthew McCollister died by suicide on Monday, two days before he was to be sentenced for fraud in federal court.

McCollister, 40, leaves behind his wife and three young children.

He pleaded guilty in January for his role in a scheme to defraud car insurance companies with false medical claims while working as a personal injury attorney.

Matthew McCollister (Courtesy of South St. Paul Public Schools)

Mendota Heights Police Chief Kelly McCarthy said officers were called around 3 p.m. Monday for a possible suicide in the 3600 block of Wesley Court and found McCollister dead in his home.

McCollister was charged in December in U.S. District Court with felony conspiracy to commit health care fraud from 2016 to 2017. He was charged by felony information, a process by which a defendant agrees to waive a grand jury indictment and instead plead guilty.

McCollister resigned from the team and his student support assistant job at South St. Paul High School on Jan. 12, the day the Pioneer Press first reported the accusations and just hours before he was scheduled to plead guilty at the federal courthouse in St. Paul. That hearing was postponed after his attorney fell ill.

McCollister entered his plea on Jan. 19. Sentencing guidelines called for 10 to 16 months in prison. McCollister remained free on his own recognizance pending his sentencing, which was scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright.

“We ask that you give his family time and space to grieve,” his attorney, Ryan Pacyga, said in a statement Tuesday. “There will not be a sentencing hearing tomorrow. I have no further comments.”

McCollister had been South St. Paul High School’s head basketball coach since November 2019, and was credited with leading a turnaround of a once-struggling program. Prior to joining South St. Paul, McCollister had been a head coach at Breck, St. Croix Preparatory Academy and Brooklyn Center.

FRAUD SCHEME

McCollister was admitted to practice law in Minnesota in 2009. Starting around 2015, McCollister began his own law practice that focused primarily on pursuing personal injury claims on behalf of people who had been in car accidents.

About a year later, a chiropractor introduced McCollister to a confidential informant who was working with the Minnesota Commerce Fraud Bureau and posing as a “runner,” according to federal prosecutors. A runner is someone who gets paid to recruit people who supposedly were injured in car crashes and then receive chiropractic treatment paid for by auto insurance companies.

McCollister met with the runner at the Red Cow restaurant in St. Paul on March 1, 2016, and asked the individual to find people who supposedly were injured, prosecutors said. McCollister’s idea was to then have them go to chiropractors for care and that he would represent them in bringing claims against auto insurance companies for the purported injuries, according to the plea agreement. McCollister offered to pay the runner $300 or more for each person recruited.

Prosecutors allege McCollister then directed one of the two undercover patients to be “treated” by chiropractor Huy Nguyen, who is currently serving a prison sentence for his role in the conspiracy.

In December 2015, law enforcement executed a search warrant at Nguyen’s chiropractic clinic, Healthcare Chiropractic, in Brooklyn Park, where McCollister maintained an informal office and spent considerable time, according to U.S. Attorney David MacLaughlin.

“Huy Nguyen’s notoriousness could not have escaped Mr. McCollister’s attention,” MacLaughlin wrote in an April 26 memorandum that argued for a 16-month sentence for McCollister.

McCollister’s “brazen use of a known crooked chiropractor” continued throughout 2016 and into 2017, the memo read. On March 16, 2016, the undercover runner had lunch with McCollister, Nguyen and another now-convicted conspirator/MRI specialist named Quincy Chettupally at Fogo de Chao in downtown Minneapolis. The lunch was video recorded without McCollister’s knowledge and the conspirators openly discussed the scheme, according to prosecutors.

A grand jury in December 2016 indicted Nguyen in the conspiracy to which McCollister would later plead guilty. In August 2017, the grand jury added Chettupally to the conspiracy count.

Despite the indictments, McCollister sent two letters to Liberty Mutual Insurance, demanding a $25,000 bodily injury settlement for two separate bogus claims, prosecutors say.

DISBARRED

McCollister was the second Minnesota attorney charged and convicted through what was dubbed “Operation Back Cracker,” an effort by the state Commerce Fraud Bureau, the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office to combat personal injury protection fraud cases.

In November 2020, Minnetonka attorney William Sutor was sentenced to 16 months in prison after being convicted of the same offense as McCollister.

Pacyga, McCollister’s attorney, planned to argue for a five-month prison sentence followed by home confinement or community supervision.

McCollister “promptly accepted responsibility” by forgoing an indictment, Pacyga noted in his April 25 sentencing memorandum. “McCollister has lost not one, but two careers,” he added.

McCollister in February was disbarred by the Minnesota Supreme Court for professional misconduct unrelated to the federal charge. He had admitted to intentionally misappropriating more than $16,300 in client funds from his trust account between July 2020 and December 2020.

“Besides the father and husband that he has been and continues to be, he continues to work on himself with therapy and stays sober, even in the face of a federal criminal sentencing and the loss of both his law and coaching careers,” Pacyga wrote in his memo.

When McCollister left the team, South St. Paul was 14-0 and among the top-ranked teams in Class 3A. Assistant coach Darren Edwards took over as head coach and the team went on to win 14 straight games before falling to DeLaSalle 69-67 in the Section 3 final. It was South St. Paul’s second straight loss in the section final.

Prior to resigning, McCollister was a full-time student support assistant at the high school. In that role, he worked with student-support specialists who focus on student behavior.

To get help for thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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Heat may need to keep Victor Oladipo caffeinated with jolt required vs. Celtics in East finals

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Ravens kicker Justin Tucker’s record-breaking kick honored as NFL’s Best Moment of the Year

Considering Jimmy Butler is a walking coffee shop, one would not think the Miami Heat would have an issue getting caffeinated.

But a bench set on domination in the Eastern Conference finals has come up short, making the strained left groin that took Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro out of Monday night’s loss to the Boston Celtics all the more significant.

With all eyes on the Heat injury report, it has become apparent that depth might be the only answer for the Heat to regain control of the best-of-seven series that is tied 2-2 going into Wednesday’s 8:30 p.m. Game 5 at FTX Arena.

Hope was added in Game 4, with Victor Oladipo closing with 23 points.

“Just being aggressive,” Oladipo said.

At 11.8 points per game in this series, Oladipo is not far behind Herro’s 12.3. The difference is Oladipo also is 6 of 15 on 3-pointers, compared to Herro’s 1 of 14, as well as 17 of 23 from the line, as opposed to Herro’s 4 of 4.

So an aggressive Oladipo plus a revived Herro could be worth more than any double shot being served up by Butler’s Big Face Coffee grinders, with the Heat’s starting forward with his own series concerns.

“He’s just being successful in his role,” Heat center Bam Adebayo said of Oladipo. “He’s been doing that night in, night out. We can’t take anything from him. He’s definitely a spark that was keeping us in the game.”

Oladipo’s effort in Game 4, in fact, was so unique that, according to ESPN, he became the first reserve to outscore his team’s starting lineup in a playoff game since starters first were tracked by the NBA in 1970-71.

“Just got to continue to keep improving, continue to keep playing hard and figure out ways to win,” said Oladipo, as he continues to work back from May 2021 quadriceps surgery. “It’s a seven-game series, so on to the next one. Got to get ready for Game 5.”

Better looks

Among the Heat’s priorities is creating a better shot menu than Game 4, when they had only three shots at the rim in Monday night’s first half.

“I think that’s on us,” Butler said. “We settled for too many mid-range jump shots, myself included. A lot of shots behind the three that weren’t even good ones, at that.

“Ain’t nothing more than that. We need to move the ball around, get it to the open guy and let that guy make the play and live with what we get out of it. I think we’ve just got to be better.”

It starts, Butler said, with better ball movement.

“Move the ball, get it from one side to the other, keep the game extremely simple,” he said. Whenever we tend to do that, we tend to play well. When anybody tries to hit a home run and do it by themselves, we kind of get in trouble. Ball sticks. We turn the ball over. We take a bad shot.

“We just need to do everything together like we’ve been doing all year long. It will be on myself, on Kyle [Lowry], on Bam to make sure that we make that happen.”

Higher calling

Having missed the Celtics’ Game 2 victory at FTX Arena for the birth of his son, Celtics guard Derrick White said he felt twice blessed after playing a major role in Monday night’s victory, closing with 13 points, eight rebounds and six assists while playing in the injury absence of Marcus Smart.

But, he said, it mostly was about the after party, getting back to see his son.

“He’s been a super blessing to myself and my family,” White said. “I can’t wait to go home and see him and just hold him. It’s cool just to watch him. I’m excited to see how he grows.”

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