Peninsula Rescue Mission Serves Through the Pandemic

Daelin Brown | Staff Writer

NEWPORT NEWS- Although the COVID-19 pandemic forced the United States to shut down, the Peninsula Rescue Mission homeless shelter did not let the pandemic stop them from sheltering the homeless population of Hampton Roads. 

“We have been operating as close to normal as we can. The people who are in the shelter still have to eat, so our doors have been open throughout the entire pandemic,” said Paul Speight, director of development at Peninsula Rescue Mission. 

The Peninsula Rescue Mission has a team of about 20 staff members, but they rely heavily on volunteers that serve meals. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the shelter experienced a drastic decrease of hands-on volunteers. 

“During the shutdown we lost more than half of our volunteers. When we did away with check out at the shelter, we were providing everything ourselves,” said Speight. 

Usually, the Peninsula Rescue Mission gives people the option to check in and check out a bed when they need a space to sleep. The one big change during the pandemic was that the shelter was not letting anyone check out. Therefore, when people are checked in, they have that bed available to them for 6 months. 

The pandemic also put the shelter at 50 percent capacity from  June of 2020 until November of 2020. However, even with half capacity, they did not have to turn anyone from the shelter. 

“When you work with the homeless population, they tend to be an isolated group anyway. Their concerns were the same as ours were and being outside was safer in their minds anyway,” said Speight. “Even in winter months, we only filled to full capacity a few times.” 

When the Peninsula Rescue Mission opened back up fully, at first only 30 percent of their volunteers came back, but gradually, the number of volunteers increased.

Even with less volunteers and full capacity, the shelter had generous donations. Many people recognize the homeless population to be the most vulnerable population in the Hampton Roads community, especially during a pandemic, so the shelter found themselves with an abundance of strong financial support and new donors. 

“We have been very blessed in the area that our donations have remained strong over the pandemic,” said Speight. “Homeless shelters and food banks were two subcategories of nonprofits that tended to perform pretty well.” 

Many organizations like churches and schools that didn’t want to participate in  hands-on volunteering participated in the shelters’ “adopt a meal” campaign. 

“We had a campaign called ‘adopt a meal’ and donation groups would purchase meals from a local restaurant. This helped both local businesses with sales and saved our staff workers a night of work,” said Speight. 

Over 100 different groups helped donate to the shelter in the midst of the pandemic and the Peninsula Rescue Mission was able to receive over one thousand dollars worth of meals.

Winter storms devastate the south, impacting virtual learning for Hampton students

William Paul Ellis | Staff Writer

The Trinity River is mostly frozen after a snow storm Monday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Fort Worth, Texas. A frigid blast of winter weather across the U.S. has left more than 2 million people in Texas without power. (Yffy Yossifor/Star-Telegram via AP)

Concurrent winter storms that swept much of the continental United States has left millions throughout the south without power or water for several days, according to The Associated Press

The impact of the winter storms was widespread, with many communities still feeling the aftershock of the weather. 

For many Hampton University students, power outages from the winter storms created a new obstacle for virtual learning. 

Mariah Smith, a sophomore economic major from Houston, Texas, says that living through a utilities crisis while being a student was not just an inconvenience, but it was highly stressful. 

“The power and water outage was [sic] very stressful for my family,” Smith said. “Spending most of the day in the dark with limited food and water was very mentally taxing.” 

Furthermore, Smith feels the severity of the situation was not completely respected by her professors. 

“The power outage caused me to miss days of classes,” she said. “Accommodations were not made by professors once I reached out to them. The vast majority of them did not respond to the emails.”

For Brianna Cry, a senior kinesiology major from Jackson, Mississippi, a lack of power and water for multiple days further exacerbated her angst connected to an atypical final year at Hampton. 

“Of course, being engaged in online learning this year has been somewhat difficult for most students,” Cry said. “But not having power, water or internet for days has left me with a lot of assignments to catch up on during my last weeks of college. 

The storms, known unofficially as Winter Storm Uri and Winter Storm Viola, left deep southern states such as Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi covered in ice—a rarity for this region. This most notably led to a power outage crisis in Texas, caused by an Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) infrastructure failure, according to a report from CBS. 

According to its website, ERCOT is a nonprofit corporation that operates Texas’ electrical grid and supplies power for more than 90 percent of the state’s electrical needs. 

ERCOT is unique in being the only deregulated energy market in the nation, meaning that it is completely disconnected from the national power grid and was ultimately unable to borrow power from other states. 

The domino effect of a power outage not only led to food and water shortages but is also connected to dozens of deaths according to the Texas Tribune

The impact of the winter storms was widespread, with many communities still feeling the aftershock of the weather. 

Rochester Police Under Fire for Pepper Spraying a 9-Year-Old

Jourdyn Grandison | Staff Writer

Police officers in Rochester, New York, are under fire after pepper-spraying and handcuffing a nine-year-old girl while responding to a call of “family trouble.” 

Body camera footage, released on Sunday, show officers restraining the girl, putting her in handcuffs, and trying to get her into the back of a police car as she cries and calls for her father repeatedly. The officers then ask the girl to put her feet in the car, but after she fails to comply, they pepper-spray her. 

The video has led to public outrage and has resulted in the suspension of the officers involved.

“They should be fired,” said Elba Pope, the victim’s mother. “Regardless of what happened prior, there is no reason why a child should be pepper-sprayed when she is already detained in handcuffs in a car.”

The incident strikingly resembles Daniel Prude, an African American man who died in March after being pinned by Rochester police. Footage showed officers putting a hood over Prude’s head as he experienced a mental health crisis.

After the Prude incident, Mayor of Rochester, Lovely Warren, fired the police chief saying there was a “pervasive problem” in the police department.

In a press conference Sunday, the Interim Rochester Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan said that the girl’s treatment was not acceptable.

“I’m not going to stand here and tell you that for a nine-year-old to have to be pepper-sprayed is OK. It’s not,” said Herriott-Sullivan in the press conference. “I don’t see that as who we are as a department, and we’re going to do the work we have to do to ensure that these kinds of things don’t happen.”

Mayor Warren said the girl reminded her of her daughter. 

“I have a 10-year-old daughter. So she’s a child; she’s a baby. And I can tell you that this video, as a mother, is not anything you want to see. It’s not,” said Warren during the press conference. “We have to understand compassion, empathy. When you have a child that is suffering in this way and calling out for her dad, I saw my baby’s face in her face.”

The victim arrived at the Rochester General Hospital, and was later released, according to Rochester Deputy Police Chief Andre Anderson.

NEW MUTATION OF THE COVID-19 RAISES CONCERNS

Sydney McCall | Staff Writer

Associated Press/ Frank Augstein

New and more contagious strains of COVID-19 that originated in South Africa, the United Kingdom and Brazil have hit the United States.

Towards the end of January, a new COVID-19 strain known as B.1.1.7 from the United Kingdom began to emerge in the United States. This variant is 70 percent more transmissible than the original COVID-19 strain, according to the CDC. Scientists have also reported that evidence suggests that the B.1.1.7 variant may be associated with an increased risk of death.

The Virginia Department of Health has currently reported four cases of the new strain in the state. 

“Viruses change all the time, and we expect to see new strains as disease spreads,” said Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver. “We know this variant strain spreads more quickly between people than other strains currently circulating in our communities, but we still have more to learn about whether it causes more severe illness.”

As of February 2, 33 states have reported a total of 541 cases of the new strain, according to the CDC. 

The death rate of COVID-19 is expected to rise with the new strain, as it will infect more people due to it being more contagious.

COVID-19 vaccine developers are working hard to make new shots that are proven to protect people from the new strains

When the strains first emerged, vaccine companies said that they believed their shots offered protection. However, new studies showed COVID-19 vaccines aren’t as effective against the mutation of the strain that spread in South Africa, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

The Biden-Harris Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board warned about the highly transmissible new variants.

“They’re more virulent, can cause more death, and some of them may even escape the immune response, whether it’s natural or from the vaccine,” said Dr. Celine Gounder, a member of the advisory board, to CNBC. “So it’s really important right now that we do everything possible to preserve the vaccines to make sure they keep working and that means preventing the spread of these new variants.”

 Experts say it’s urgent that people do not begin to let their guards down as winter comes to end and spring breaks begin. “Pandemic fatigue” is the phrase that has been coined to describe people being tired of restrictions outside their homes.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the President, said in an interview with MSNBC that the new strains could be “worse than the coronavirus that ravaged the world in 2020.

Experts have continued to encourage citizens to wear masks, avoid large indoor gatherings and stay socially distant from those not in your household to prevent the spread of the virus. Some experts are suggesting doubling up on masks, to increase protection.

Outspoken Critic of Russian Government Detained Five Months After Poisoning

William Paul Ellis | Staff Writer

Alexei Navalny, the leader of the Russia of the Future Party, who rose to prominence as an outspoken critic of President Vladmir Putin, was detained by Russian authorities after returning to Moscow on January 17. 

Navalny’s return to his home country comes after a five-month stay in Germany where he received treatment  after being poisoned by the nerve agent Novichok. The chemical agent left Navalny in a medically induced coma. Novichok is the same chemical infamously used to poison former Russian spy turned double agent Sergei Skripal in 2018, according to NBC News. While many, including Navlany himself, believe the poisoning was done at the behest of President Putin, no official explanation has been offered. 

Navalny’s arrest has sparked international outrage, with many prominent government officials criticizing the Kremlin’s relentless efforts to suppress critics. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have called for European Union foriegn ministers to discuss enacting sanctions against Russia, according to Reuters. Furthermore, the foriegn ministers of Germany, Britain, France and Italy have called for Navaly’s release.

Outgoing United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that he was “deeply troubled by Russia’s decision to arrest Aleksey Navalny,” and commented in a separate statement that Navalny’s arrest was “the latest in a series of attempts to silence Navalny and other opposition figures and independent voices who are critical of Russian authorities.”

While the Kremlin has yet to offer a full explanation, Russian foriegn ministry officials have taken the opportunity to defend the decision while attempting to maintain an image of internal fairness and stability. 

“We should probably think about our image, but we’re not young ladies going to a ball,” Russian Foriegn Minister Sergei Lavrov stated. 

Foriegn Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova furthered these sentiments with a statement published on Facebook. 

“Respect international law, do not encroach on national legislation of sovereign states and address problems in your own country,” Zakharova wrote. 

In a recorded statement targeted at his supporters, Navalny called for public protests for his release. 

“They are afraid of you,” Navalny said. “I call on you to stop being silent, resist and take to the street. There are so many of us.” 

Navalny is scheduled to appear in court on February 2, where a judge will decide if his original suspended sentence will be converted to three and a half years in prison.

Outspoken Critic of Russian Government Detained Five Months After Poisoning

William Paul Ellis | Staff Writer

Alexei Navalny, the leader of the Russia of the Future Party, who rose to prominence as an outspoken critic of President Vladmir Putin, was detained by Russian authorities after returning to Moscow on January 17. 

Navalny’s return to his home country comes after a five-month stay in Germany where he received treatment  after being poisoned by the nerve agent Novichok. The chemical agent left Navalny in a medically induced coma. Novichok is the same chemical infamously used to poison former Russian spy turned double agent Sergei Skripal in 2018, according to NBC News. While many, including Navlany himself, believe the poisoning was done at the behest of President Putin, no official explanation has been offered. 

Navalny’s arrest has sparked international outrage, with many prominent government officials criticizing the Kremlin’s relentless efforts to suppress critics. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have called for European Union foriegn ministers to discuss enacting sanctions against Russia, according to Reuters. Furthermore, the foriegn ministers of Germany, Britain, France and Italy have called for Navaly’s release.

Outgoing United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that he was “deeply troubled by Russia’s decision to arrest Aleksey Navalny,” and commented in a separate statement that Navalny’s arrest was “the latest in a series of attempts to silence Navalny and other opposition figures and independent voices who are critical of Russian authorities.”

While the Kremlin has yet to offer a full explanation, Russian foriegn ministry officials have taken the opportunity to defend the decision while attempting to maintain an image of internal fairness and stability. 

“We should probably think about our image, but we’re not young ladies going to a ball,” Russian Foriegn Minister Sergei Lavrov stated. 

Foriegn Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova furthered these sentiments with a statement published on Facebook. 

“Respect international law, do not encroach on national legislation of sovereign states and address problems in your own country,” Zakharova wrote. 

In a recorded statement targeted at his supporters, Navalny called for public protests for his release. 

“They are afraid of you,” Navalny said. “I call on you to stop being silent, resist and take to the street. There are so many of us.” 

Navalny is scheduled to appear in court on February 2, where a judge will decide if his original suspended sentence will be converted to three and a half years in prison.

The U.S. Pushes For Globalization of COVID-19 Vaccine

 Jourdyn Grandison | Staff Writer

U.S Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, announced that under the Biden administration, the United States plans to join the COVAX vaccine facility.

“President Biden will issue a directive later today which will include the intent of the United States to join COVAX and support the ACT-Accelerator, said Dr. Fauci to CNN. “[This] advances multilateral efforts for COVID-19 vaccine, therapeutic, and diagnostic distribution, equitable access, and research and development.”

COVAX is known as one of the three pillars of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, introduced in April to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Commission and France. The COVAX initiative was started to ensure that poor and developing nations have access to coronavirus vaccines at the same pace as rich and developed nations.

Former President Donald Trump and his administration announced the U.S. would not join the alliance back in September due to distrust in the WHO and the Chinese government. The administration’s action sparked outrage from public health experts who said it reflected a global initiative’s provincial view.

At the time, almost every country in the world joined the alliance except for Russia and the U.S. The result of Trump’s decision led to the WHO losing $400 to $500 million in required and voluntary donations.

Vaccine developers estimate that there is a possibility of sufficient doses for more than one-third of the world’s population by the end of 2021. Even with this possibility, many people in low-income and developing countries might have to wait until 2023 or 2024 for vaccination, according to estimates from the Duke Global Health Innovation Center.

To combat this, WHO plans to distribute vaccines to developing countries in February under the COVAX strategy. Despite this, there are concerns that more prosperous countries may still be grabbing a large share of available shots.

The U.S. will work with the other 193 member states to reform the U.N. agency and will make research accessible and available to professionals, Dr. Fauci said.

“We believe strongly that we can ensure that every American gets the vaccine, but also help make sure that others around the world who want it have access to it,” Fauci closed.

A Presidential Transition Like None Other

Sydney McCall|Staff Writer 

After an unprecedented four years, the Trump era came to an end on January 20, following the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. However, the transition to the next presidency was not without controversy.

Following the victory of Biden in November, former President Donald Trump, convinced his supporters that the election was stolen and claimed the election was rigged. He and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, spent months after the election filing lawsuits in battleground states that helped Biden win the election.  

On January 6, Trump gave a passionate speech during a rally near the White House where he argued that the election was “stolen from you, from me, and from the country.” He urged his supporters to walk down to the Capitol in an attempt to “stop the steal” of the election.

Hours following his speech thousands of his supporters violently stormed the U.S. Capitol, one of the most important democratic institutions in America. Inside were rioters with baseball bats, bear spray and explosives.

Wearing Trump paraphernalia, they took over the Capitol halls, sending officials into hiding. Five people, including a Capitol Police officer died as a result of the attack. 

Later that night, despite the violence, Congress confirmed Joe Biden’s win. Many of Trump’s longtime Republican supporters including Chris Christie, Mitch McConnell and Kelly Loeffler spoke out and condemned the violence as well as the role Donald Trump played in inciting the attacks.  

On January 13, Donald Trump was impeached for “incitement of insurrection,” just one week before his term expired. In the same week, the former president was also banned indefinitely from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and several other social media sites.

In fear of more riots and attacks D.C. became a fortified city and Muriel Bowser, the city’s mayor, enacted a curfew. Almost every road in downtown D.C. was closed, and major metro stations were closed for days.

Thousands of National Guard troops from D.C., Maryland and Virginia guarded federal buildings and some even slept in the U.S. Capitol to ensure overnight protection.  

“I came to DC to see a friend, and I have never seen the city that dead and scary,” said Xavier Wilson, a first-year strategic communications major at HU. “It was sad, seeing that all this security was to protect us from mainly domestic terrorism.” 

Despite the chaos, Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris were still inaugurated and for the first time in 150 years, the outgoing president was not in attendance.  

Even though Trump was not present, he said it was “a great honor” to serve as president.

Kamala Harris Makes History as America’s First Black, First South Asian and First Female Vice President

Sydney McCall | Staff Writer  

For the first time in American history, on November 7, a woman was elected to the nation’s second highest office.  

Kamala Harris, the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, will be sworn in as the highest ranking woman in the country on January 20, 2021. Her victory makes her America’s first Black, first South Asian, and first female vice president-elect. Harris’ win comes at the end of the Trump era, largely affiliated with a rise in white supremacy, xenophobia, and misogyny.  

This is not the first time the California Senator, has broken barriers. In 2016, she became the second African American woman and the first South Asian American to ever serve in the United States Senate. Her position as the future vice president comes as a triumph to many that were devastated in 2016, when Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump, after being the first woman to ever win the presidential nomination of a major party.

Kamala Harris’ win symbolizes a beacon of hope for women, people of color, and HBCU students around the nation. Harris is a 1986 graduate of Howard University and member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the oldest Black sorority in the country. Her victory gave her sorors and students at historically black colleges a moment to shine while also seeing a representation of themselves in a powerful place.  

“I feel very empowered to know that a woman of color is going to be making some of the big decisions in this country,” said Janiya Pearson, freshman class president at Hampton. “Kamala has truly made history in this nation and seeing her lets me know that I can one day do the same.” 

In her first speech as vice president-elect, Harris wore all white, mirroring the uniform of the suffragettes who 100 years ago, advocated for women’s right to vote in this country. She also recognized how historic the moment was and what it meant for women.  

“While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last,” she said. “Every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities. And to the children of our country, regardless of your gender, our country has sent you a clear message: dream with ambition, lead with conviction and see yourselves in a way that others may not, simply because they’ve never seen it before. But know that we will applaud you every step of the way.” 

  The Vice President-elect also used her victory speech to recognize the importance of black women in this election, honoring them as the “backbone of our democracy.”   Harris and President-Elect Biden have stressed the importance of compassion and unity in our country and plan to use their time in office to do so.

Mississippi Votes “Yes” to Adopt New State Flag

William Paul Ellis | Staff Writer

Photographer: Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

In addition to voting for the next President of the United States, and for the legalization of medical marijuana, Mississippi Voters were tasked with a referendum that would address the state’s legacy and national perception. 

Ballot measure 3, which asked voters if  the state legislature should vote to adopt a new flag, passed with 71.4 percent of voters choosing yes.

In 2001, Mississippi voters voted overwhelmingly to keep the state flag; and in 2015, state legislators unsuccessfully proposed a bill that would take state funding away from schools that refused to fly the state flag with the confederate emblem. 

The current state flag was adopted in 1894, and as of 2020, is the only state flag that still had the confederate emblem.

While many felt that the flag continued to highlight the state’s role in the country’s history of  slavery and segregation, others argued that it prevented the state from growing relationships with outside economic influences. For example, in June, the NCAA announced that no championship game would be played in Mississippi until the state flag was changed. 

The Mississippi legislature took the first steps in replacing the flag by passing House Bill 1796, which called for artists to submit proposals for a new flag and the retirement of the current flag. 

A task force established by the bill would sort through more than 3,000 flag submissions, before eventually settling on the new “In God We Trust” magnolia flag. 

The flag features a large magnolia, the state flower, in the center of a deep blue background. The magnolia is surrounded by 20 white flowers, which represents Mississippi being the 20th state. A single gold star symbolizes the tribes of indigidous people native to Mississippi. 

State representative Jeramey Anderson praised the bipartisan effort by his fellow legislators in a statement to CNN. 

“This was a bold, bipartisan step that shows the world Mississippi is finally ready to step out from under the cloud of slavery and Jim Crow. But it isn’t the final step,”Anderson said. “Mississippi and the United States remain plagued by systemic racism that keeps people of color from being truly free and equal.”

This measure of progress is an example of the changing culture of the south, as changes are being made that were unthinkable less than two decades ago.