Code Switch

About an hour south of Silicon Valley in a classroom at Hartnell Community College, Daniel Diaz and Brian De Anda stand at a whiteboard mapping out ideas on how to reduce the size of a mobile app their team is building.

This isn't a class, and the app they're building — an informational guide for a drug rehab center — isn't even a school project. But this is what it takes to have a chance at an elite summer internship, says Daniel Diaz.

James Estrin of The New York Times' Lens blog and his colleagues have become fixated on a old, recently rediscovered old photo taken by Gordon Parks, the legendary Life magazine photographer. So they've put out a call to their readers for any helpful info about it.

Sometime in March, Barack Obama is expected to announce his choice of the institution that will hold his presidential archive. Vying for the honor (and the money that comes with it) are the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois at Chicago, Columbia University in New York, and the University of Hawaiʻi (the Hawaiian language spelling of the state's name).

For most Americans, New Year's is fairly personal. It's a time to make resolutions and down some champagne — and it was also a couple of weeks ago. But for Berbers — the indigenous people of Northern Africa — the New Year starts this week, and it's an occasion to celebrate their heritage.

In Portland, Ore., some residents are celebrating Yennayer, the Berber New Year. It's a holiday that's not traditionally a big deal, but it's an opportunity to celebrate Berber culture, which hasn't always been easy to do.

New York city's first lady, Chirlane McCray, is being publicly dressed down for not dressing up enough when she attended the funeral of slain NYPD officer Wenjian Liu on Sunday.

The Story Behind '40 Acres And A Mule'

Jan 12, 2015

As the Civil War was winding down 150 years ago, Union leaders gathered a group of black ministers in Savannah, Ga. The goal was to help the thousands of newly freed slaves.

From that meeting came Gen. William T. Sherman's Special Field Order 15. It set aside land along the Southeast coast so that "each family shall have a plot of not more than forty acres of tillable ground."

That plan later became known by a signature phrase: "40 acres and a mule."

It's a half-hour until showtime in Selma, Ala., and the majority of the auditorium seats are already taken.

Paramount Pictures is offering free screenings of Selma, the film depicting the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery marches which led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act. In the movie's namesake town, the audience is excited.

In the front row, in the far left seat, is George Sallie, 85. He's black, grew up near Selma and was drafted as young man.

"Went to Korea fighting for someone else's freedom, and really I didn't have freedom myself," Sallie says.

'Selma' Backlash Misses The Point

Jan 10, 2015

Ava DuVernay's Selma is a cinematic masterpiece that depicts one of the most important episodes in civil rights history. The film presents history as a kaleidoscope, documenting the roiling Selma-to-Montgomery demonstrations that turned Alabama into a national symbol of racial violence and injustice in 1965. Many movie critics have enthusiastically praised Selma for its complex and intelligent screenplay and direction. David Oyelowo's extraordinary performance as King anchors a movie of unusual depth and breadth.

In the aftermath of the massacre Wednesday at Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French magazine, there are obviously big questions about the attackers, their motives and what it might mean for French society. For more of NPR's coverage of the attack and of Charlie Hebdo, check out the Two-Way.

In a moment many have called "the transgender tipping point," the news of Leelah Alcorn's suicide and her plea that someone "fix society" for transgender people have garnered massive attention, moving from conversations on social media to national news outlets.

Like many devoted fans, I jumped on the release of newly reconfigured, high-definition versions of HBO's classic cop series The Wire, binge-watching much of the show's five seasons on the HBO GO streaming service over the holidays.

The people who live in the northwest corner of New Mexico consider Darlene Arviso to be a living saint.

"Everybody knows me around here. They'll be waving at me," she says from behind the wheel of the St. Bonaventure Indian Mission water truck. "They call me the water lady."

That's because Arviso hauls water for tribe members of the Navajo Nation, where, on average, residents use 7 gallons a day to drink, cook, bathe and clean. The average person in the U.S. uses about 100 gallons a day.

Across the Hudson River in Newark, N.J., the murder rate is down, but the new mayor there says that's just a small step in a very long effort to make Newark a safer place to live.

The death of transgender 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn has started a national conversation about the issues faced by trans youth.

Alcorn left behind a suicide note referencing her parents' refusal to accept her identity, saying, "The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren't treated the way I was, they're treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights."

The state of race relations in the United States has captivated the country for months. But a group of Northeastern University law students is looking to the past to a sometimes forgotten, violent part of American history.

As we begin the new year, Code Switch takes a moment to look back at some of the extraordinary, influential and interesting people whom we lost in 2014.

In an interview this week with NPR, President Obama asserted that the country is less racially divided than when he took office:

In a Morning Edition interview, NPR's Steve Inskeep asked President Obama if he thinks America has become more racially divided during his administration.

"There's ... too many of them," a Y-wing pilot says as Imperial ships overwhelm the Rebel fleet in the climactic space battle in Return of the Jedi.

This scene is important because we've just learned that the Rebels have been lured to the forest moon Endor by the Emperor — it's a trap! It's also important for another reason: This is the first line spoken by an Asian character in the original Star Wars movies.

The movie Selma opened to high praise on Christmas Day — Variety says director Ava DuVernay delivers "a razor-sharp portrait of the civil rights movement." The film focuses on a 1965 voting rights march from Selma, Ala., to the state capital in Montgomery — a march remembered for the savage beatings participants sustained at the hands of both state and local police.

It is, perhaps, the worst nightmare for those of us constantly trying to get a white-dominated Hollywood to widen its doors of opportunity for people of color: All those executives who say the right things in public and give to the right causes, just might think something much less admirable about diversity behind closed doors.

On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration recommended a change in the discriminatory and unscientific policy that effectively prohibited men who have sex with men from donating blood for life. Those guidelines kept any man who had sex with another man — even just once — since 1977 from donating blood forever.

While gay discrimination has been reduced in so many other areas of life, up until now, there hasn't been enough medical or political will to intervene on the blood ban. That policy perpetuated stigma without improving safety.

A Very Code Switch Christmas TV Special

Dec 22, 2014

It's that time around Christmas, when all we can see
is the same set of specials on network TV.
There's
Frosty, and Charlie, and Ralphie, and Kevin
But not too much brown in this mostly white canon.

The voices in the Whiteness Project vary by gender, age and income, but they all candidly express what it is like to be white in an increasingly diverse country.

"I don't feel that personally I've benefited from being white. That's because I grew up relatively poor," a participant shared. "My father worked at a factory." These are the kinds of unfiltered comments that filmmaker Whitney Dow was hoping to hear when he started recording a group of white people, and hoped to turn their responses into provocative, interactive videos.

I was surprised by the strong emotional reaction I had when I saw the news of the U.S. change in policy toward Cuba. I found myself in tears. As a journalist, I could process it on an intellectual level and I understand the foreign policy implications. But as a naturalized American citizen of Jamaican and Caribbean heritage, I wanted to jump for joy and shout "Hallelujah!" that finally, Cuba was no longer a pariah and there was nothing to fear. This is something I never thought would happen in my lifetime.

The Walkout Protest: Past And Present

Dec 19, 2014

Workers at Buffalo's City Hall staged a walkout on Wednesday to protest the recent grand jury decisions to not indict white police officers in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. This follows a week of walkouts around the country to draw attention to troubled relations between police and communities of color.

That lovable moppet with the red dress, the curly hair, the big dog, and the even bigger voice is back.

This time, though, Little Orphan Annie is back with a difference: Quvenzhane Wallis is playing an African-American orphan in an ethnically diverse, up-to-date world. And that got us thinking about other instances where producers have breathed fresh life into familiar shows by making them dance to a new beat.

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