Monday, February 14, 2011

Through Egypt's Eyes

The last 24 hours of Mubarak's reign as president of Egypt were described as the worst in the nation's history by professor Lilian Mina, who emigrated from Egypt in August 2010.
She sat up all night waiting for Mubarak's address Thursday night, and when she heard his news, she shared the emotions of her home country with her dismay.
Mubarak announced in this address that he was not stepping down from his position.
"We cursed him one-thousand times in his speech," Mina said.
She said that she almost had a heart attack, fearing that Egypt would soon break into civil war. Violence escalated in the streets as clashes between the military and civilians reached a climax.
"I cried like never before," she said.
Civilians marched toward Mubarak's military-protected palace and surrounded it. 17,000 prisoners were released by the government to scare the country into submission. The prisoners roamed the streets with official weapons.
The violence came to a sudden halt with a 29-word address.
"He finally surrendered," Mina said. "Finally, we could rest and get some sleep."
Egypt saw immediate changes, particularly in its media, the primary resource for protesters and demonstrators.
"Now we can see all the old faces that were banned from national TV," Mina said.
The Egyptian parliament was dismissed and the constitution was suspended yesterday.
Yet, the country will need time to recover from its crippling blow. The country was in a standstill for over two weeks, and the economy went lower than ever before. Businesses shut down and the stock market was closed.
"People felt they had no future in Egypt," Mina said.
The nation's economy is supported primarily by tourist income, bringing in approximately 50 percent of the Egypt's wealth. The winter is typically the high season for them. The stock market will likely reopen next week, according to Mina.
"The one good thing about the whole situation is that the army is taking over," Mina said. "We trust the army so much." She added that while this takeover looks grim to Westerners, it is generally accepted by Egyptians given the current tumultuous state.
Elections for the new president and parliament are expected to occur in less than six months.
"We'll see how things go," Mina said.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Egyptian Revolution

The Egyptian Revolution began Friday, January 28, with police dousing pro-democracy leaders with water canons.
Soon after, all lines of communication were cut in Egypt, according to an Indiana University of Pennsylvania professor who emigrated from Egypt in August. The protesters were organizing their meetings through Twitter and text messages. The government responded quickly by eliminating all forms of electronic communication.
This display of power from Egyptian leaders shows that technology plays a crucial role in the fight for democracy in the 21st century, but that a corrupt government can still easily stifle the voice of the people.
This revolution is distinct from past revolutions also because of the prevalence of womens' participation and unity of the populace.

Photo by The Huffington Press.
A cohesive cry for purity evolved through the protests, according to Newsweek. Sara Abu Bakr, an Egyptian journalist, told Newsweek that Egypt is notorious for sexual harassment, especially during mass public events. Yet, there were no reports of harassment.
Bakr said that there was a unifying quality to these purity protests. He said that people were not identifying each other as as the Muslim Brotherhood or by political parties. Everyone was solely and purely Egyptian.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The KKK in Western PA

Joe and Mary Walbeck of West Wheatfield Township lived peacefully in their predominantly white neighborhood until Nov. 15, 2009, when they found the remnants of a 6-foot cross burned in their yard.
The Walbecks are white parents of an adopted black son, Shaquille Howard, 16, who came to live with the family three years ago, according to Mary Walbeck.
"We just fell in love with him, and we didn't want him to leave," said Walbeck from her home in a Feb. 18 phone interview.
After seeing the cross, she was "dumbfounded" and became fearful, she said. If a criminal would trespass in her yard, she did not know where the person would stop.
Her foster son responded to the incident with disbelief.
"I thought it was a joke," Howard said from his home in a phone interview on Feb. 9. "We found out later that it wasn't a joke. It hurt me, actually."
Walbeck said her neighbors were equally shocked by the cross burning.
"Everyone thinks it's terrible, or just wrong, to do something like that to a kid," Walbeck said.
On Jan. 22, the FBI took over the case. The lead investigator is Special Agent Sonia Bush, who said in a Feb. 18 phone interview that she cannot speak about the ongoing investigation.
The FBI identified a person of interest in the cross burning. Walbeck said that the man is the grandson of a Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard, the organization's national leader. Walbeck said the investigation is dragging on, and no arrests have been made.
"The longer this goes on, it just gets worse," Walbeck said.
Walbeck said investigators have released no new information since November. She added that she expressed her concern to Bush.
"She says all the right things," Walbeck said. "But they don't make you feel a lot better."
Walbeck said her adopted son is a caring member of the community.
"He's athletic, very social, easy to get along with, leader-type kid," Walbeck said.
She said that news articles portraying Howard as a troubled child are innacurate, and that Howard makes significant contributions to his community, she added.
"He has educated us all," Walbeck said.
Walbeck said her adopted son's contributions will affect the country, and that he will be elected president.
"He'll be somebody someday," she said.

Shaquille Howard (left) with his brother Chauncy Howard. (Photo from Facebook)

Criminal Racism
Cross burning is a hate crime. A hate crime is defined as a crime motivated by a bias against a race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability.
Hate crimes include murder, rape, assault, intimidation, robbery, arson and vandalism with a discriminatory motive.
Americans committed 13,690 hate crimes in 2008, according to the FBI ( Of these, 51.3 percent were racially motivated. Of those, 72.6 were committed against blacks.
The number of hate crimes increased nationwide between 2004 and 2008, according to the FBI crime statistics. Incidents increased from 7,649 in 2004 to 7,783 in 2008, an increase of 1.8 percent.

Racism at IUP
Racism is evident elsewhere in Indiana county, residents say.
Devvon J. Horn, 20, an IUP sophomore from Philadelphia, said both white and black students "disliked" his relationship with a white student.
Students wrote discriminatory remarks on a white board attached to his dorm room door, he said in a Feb. 16 interview in Putt Hall.
Horn also said two of his friends were walking to dinner in the fall 2009 semester when white men shouted racist slurs from a window of Delaney suites.
Clifton J. Hardison, 21, a former student and Indiana resident, said he experienced more racism in Indiana than in his hometown, Harrisburg. He said a fight broke out at New Year's Eve party at IUP.
"A white guy called my boy a n*****," said Hardison in a Feb. 16 phone interview.
Dr. Susan R. Boser, IUP sociology professor, is striving to end discrimination on campus.
"I came close to it because I saw a need," Boser said in Stouffer Hall her office on Feb. 19. "I have strong opinions on equity and social justice."
Boser spoke of a black Muslim student who wore a head scarf to class.
"In the middle of the night, somebody wrote 'n*****' on her door," Boser said.
In summer of 2008, one of Boser's advisees was accused of academic misconduct.
"She said it wasn't her. I listened to her story, and I believed her," Boser said. "I had so much respect for her."
The university judge determined that the wrong student was accused. A different black student was guilty.
"It was, essentially, an act of discrimination, that they all look alike," Boser said.
Dr. Roger Briscoe, professor and adviser of the NAACP at IUP, said less than 30 of the 750 IUP faculty members at IUP are black, about 4 percent. Thirteen percent of students are from a racial minority.
"In order for there to be a resolve in racism, there has to be a change in attitudes," Briscoe said in his Stouffer Hall office on Feb. 22. "If there's going to be a change, it has to start in schools."
Briscoe said the Klan is active in Punxsutawney and that the majority of students on IUP's campus there are black.
"Of all the places to put an extension campus," Briscoe said, "Punxsutawney is the worst."
Charles M. Simelton, 23, is a black student from Philadelphia who transferred from the Punxsutawney campus in 2007.
"It was crazy that they would put us there," Simelton said in the Stapleton Library at IUP.
Simelton compiled a list of his experiences with racism at Punxsutawney. On his first day on campus, he said a young girl pointed at him and said, "Hey, Mommy, there is a nigger!"
"The mom just laughed and acted as if nothing was wrong," Simelton said. "That was crazy."
He said he was grocery shopping when a girl turned to her friends and said some black people were hanged a few miles outside of the city and hoped Simelton and his friend would be next.
He said a KKK meeting house was about two miles from campus. One of his friends, a black Muslim, unintentionally signed a lease for an apartment next door to the meeting house. Simelton suspected that the landlord was "trying to set her up."
He said Punxsutawney students were warned by faculty not to walk around at night. They carried BB guns to protect themselves. He said some of his friends were chased by men in pick-up trucks.
"We honestly walked around scared at night," Simelton said.

The Ku Klux Klan in the 21st Century
The Ku Klux Klan experienced membership growth in the mid-Atlantic regions from Maryland to New York in the 2000's, according to the Anti-Defamation League (
The ADL was founded to fight anti-semitism but now promotes civil rights for all groups. There are 30 offices throughout the country. The ADL, based in Washington, D.C., is funded through donations.
The ADL estimates that 5,000 Klansmen are active in more than 40 Klan groups, many with multiple chapters called "klaverns."
The World Knights of the Ku Klux Klan originated in Sharpsburg, Md., and spread to Pennsylvania, according to the ADL. The World Knights lead statistically in recruiting new members and organizing racist events. Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware comprise Federal District 3 of the KKK, according to the KKK Web site (
This Web site allows prospective Knights to join for a yearly donation of $35. The site also hosts a store ( which sells merchandise with slogans such as "The Original Boyz N The Hood: Knights of the Ku Klux Klan" and "Klan Kids Kare."
The site also links to the Internet television show "This is the Klan" (  The Black History Month edition for February, 2010, opens with sarcastic comments about black contributions to the United States.
"We would not be a nation today if it wasn't for the black leaders who built this nation in Philadelphia in 1787. They were all black, weren't they?" says Thomas Robb, national director of the Knight's Party as he turns to his co-host, Rachel Pendergraft on the Web show.
Pendergraft is the Premier Spokeswoman for The Knights Party. Her response was that the history books may say that the nation's founders were black in a few years.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Life on the Pittsburgh Streets

    Carl Harris grew up in a house that he can clearly see from the place he spends the weekend. Harris begs on Saturdays and Sundays in Pittsburgh's Strip District, at the base of the hill where he was raised. He tries to make 42 dollars by the time the bus comes at 3 p.m. so he can stay in a motel near West Mifflin.
    Harris has two daughters, ages 30 and 9. One lives in South Carolina, and the other lives in the Hill District with her mother, he said. (Photo/Alyssa Choiniere)

    Harris lost his left arm and left leg at age 10 when he was run over by a train. "I was playing on freight trains and fell off," he said. He has a positive demeanor, offering a smile that shows several missing teeth to passerbys. He welcomed the sunshine instead of cursing the hot day.
    This gives me something to do -- keeps me busy," he said. "Is this what you do in your leisure time?" he asked, laughing and motioning toward the camera. (Photo/Alyssa Choiniere)

   "I hope you like Pepsi," says a man bringing Harris a meal of roast chicken and fries. He invited Harris to an outreach for hungry people called "The Table," held at the Hot Metal Bridge Church on Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m.
    "People are pretty nice out here," Harris said. "You want some of this?" he asked with a grin as he opened his plastic fork with his one arm and few remaining teeth. (Photo/Alyssa Choiniere)

    A man sneaks a glance at Harris' change cup, walking swiftly by, while a girl points toward Harris with a look of disgust. The majority of people pretended not to notice Harris, though some openly acknowledged him, either positively or negatively.
    One time last year, a police officer told Harris he was not allowed on the Strip. "I transferred, and then came back," Harris said. (Photo/Alyssa Choiniere)
    Harris looks out on the crowds of people walking by, some dressed in church clothes, others with designer purses and high-heeled boots. He started begging in the Strip District four years ago, and many pedestrians recognize him, saying they will see him next Sunday.
    "I think sometimes that's a good thing, in case I get in trouble or something," he said.
    He is saving up to get an apartment in the city, and is taking classes during the week to earn his G.E.D. (Photo/Alyssa Choiniere)

    "This is the hardest part," Harris said. "Cleaning up after you're finished." He hobbles across the street on one crutch, avoiding cars to redeposit his chair, a milk crate. He then returns to pick up every scrap of paper he dropped before walking several blocks to catch a bus that would take him 35 minutes away, to the place he calls home for now.
    "I hope this weather lasts," he said. Minutes after Harris boarded the bus, thunder rolled and lightning broke the gray clouds open, turning the sidewalk into a riverbed. (Photo/Alyssa Choiniere)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Remembering RMU Students 2 Years Later pt. 2

Today would be Gillie's 25th birthday. I don't feel like being overly depressing, so just watch this video. I made it after I heard the jury's verdict on the double murder.
And if anyone feels inspired, watch Hot Fuzz tonight in memory of Gille. :) Thanks.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Remembering RMU Students 2 Years Later

On Jan. 22, 2008, two years ago to date, an off-campus apartment of Robert Morris University was transformed from a friendly study group to a blood bath.

Students Jonathan “Gillie” Gilbert, 22, Michael “Fudd” Tatolovich, 20, and Michelle Machusko, 20, were gathered around a computer for session of studying and socialization. Within minutes, laughter was replaced by screams as H. Paul Visnansky entered the room. He opened fire on the three students.

A cell phone fell to the floor as a friend heard the last words of Tatolovich. He rushed toward the back door in a feverish attempt to save his own life, but was shot down within inches of his goal. Visnansky shot multiple rounds into Gilbert, who fell to the floor, dead. Beside Gilbert, Visnansky pressed the head of his fiancĂ©e into the floor. Machusko, was shot seven times. 

Machusko suffered severe injuries, but survived to sustain paralysis on her right side. She was the only survivor. Her injuries destroyed her dreams of graduation and ballet.

Visnansky was arrested when he jumped from the window that Tatolovich missed by moments. Visnansky landed on the ground with his weapon, a .357 Magnum, still in hand. He told police officers that he had killed three in the room.
The only recollection Visnansky gave of the incident was that “the gun powder smelled really bad." Police reported that Visnansky was laughing and grinning in the backseat of the police car.

Though some accounts reported that Tatolovich and Gilbert were strangers to Visnansky, friends have reported that the four spent time together.

Gilbert was a sophomore elementary education major at Robert Morris. He transferred from the Community College of Beaver County in 2007.
He was the only child of Lorraine Gilbert, who was planning to celebrate his 23rd birthday with him in less than two weeks.

Gilbert worked in the campus daycare center, where he and the children shared a mutual love of life. The children called him “Mr. Jonathan,” and gave him his first and final experience impacting young lives.

Gilbert had a contagious energy and natural light. His enthusiasm, humor, and childish innocence set him apart from his peers. He left a mark with the children, his friends and family, and everyone that ever came in contact with him long enough to hear his infectious laugh.

Gilbert left a permanent mark on the world with his art. He was a member of The Organization of the Arts for Awareness and Change, and acted in the Organization's production, titled, “The Worst Day Since Yesterday.”

The production was founded on the words of Stephen Covey, “While we are free to choose our actions, we are not free to choose the consequences of our actions.” This message resonates deeply in the tragically concluding act of these innocent victims.

 Tatolovich was a friend of Gilbert's since high school and his roommate in college. His legacy was established by his family, who are rekindling the warmth of his friendly and selfless lifestyle with a memorial scholarship dedicated to his honor and memory.

The Tatolovich family, of Center Twp., is well-known throughout their hometown. The family owns funeral homes established in Center, Aliquippa and Ambridge. The Tatolovich family has been the forerunner in providing sincere empathy to local families with lost loved ones.

Tatolovich was a popular figure as a player on the Center Area High School football team and a friendly face on campus at Robert Morris.

A death sentence was initially sought in the Visnansky trial. However, because he pleaded guilty, Visnansky was charged with two consecutive life sentences for first-degree murder, plus 20 to 40 years for attempted criminal homicide.

Lorraine Gilbert said, “I feel justice would be served if he would die.”

According to Keith Johnson, a retired prosecuting attorney, the vast majority of trials are resolved with plea bargains. He said that justice is not purely served based on facts of a crime but based on the answer to the question, “Can I win this case?”

Campus shootings are an increasing travesty in our society. According to the Associated Press, there were at least 13 fatal campus shootings between June, 2000 and February, 2008. These records are not inconclusive, as it did not include the Robert Morris shootings.

Eight of the 15 confirmed shootings in this decade occurred between April 2007 and April 2008. The shooting at RMU followed the Dusquesne University shooting of September 2006, making this the second campus massacre in the Pittsburgh area in less than two years.

Many of these fatal shootings are covered by the press for days, or even weeks. However, some, like the RMU campus shooting, seem to fall below the eye line of national coverage, and the travesty is scarcely heard outside of the immediate area.

Many locals of Pittsburgh reported that they were never even told about these shootings. Some of these are students themselves.

RMU students were not informed of the tragedy until 2 p.m. the next day, in a time in which campuses across America claimed to be tightening up security measures.

There are 19 colleges and universities in the Pittsburgh area, many with multiple campuses. Measures taken against campus violence save lives. The most fundamental of these measures is awareness.

Awareness of these issues demands action, and action demands that the lives of Jonathan Gilbert, Michael Tatolovich, and many others, were not lost in vain.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Kiva: Loans that Change Lives

Kiva is a micro-lending organization, unique because of its mission to connect lenders directly with entrepreneurs in developing countries.

This organization was the first of its kind. Kiva is affiliated with worldwide micro-financing groups which enables individuals to loan to qualified entrepreneurs across the globe.

Lenders can make contributions as little as $25 and will be repaid according to a preset timetable, which varies by case.

The person-to-person connection of Kiva starts with a photograph. While exploring the benefits of becoming a lender, you can scroll through a list of real people in developing countries, see their faces, hear their stories, understand their needs and fulfill them.

This is Koffi Hounlessodji, a 22 year-old trained in sheetmetal work in Tojo. He seeks a loan of $1,200 to purchase supplies so that he can make stoves and doors in greater quantities.

Similar stories are posted on Kiva every day and loans are distributed, giving these hard-working individuals a chance at success and a boost to the local economy.

William Easterly, economist and author of "The White Man's Burden," writes, "Acknowledging that development happens mainly through homegrown efforts would liberate the agencies of the West from utopian goals, freeing up development workers to concentrate on more modest, doable steps to make poor people's lives better."

Kiva is an organization making doable steps. Instead of handouts, this organization allows people to help themselves and make a drastic difference in their lives and communities.

The Poverty News Blog started a lending team for Kiva. The team writes, "We want those who read the blog to take action upon what they read."