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First of All with Victor Blackwell

HBCU Administrator's Death Prompts Calls For Change; Research Finds Kids Of Color Face Disparities In Health Care; Haley Defends View That U.S. Has Never Been A Racist Country; Research Finds Minority Children Face Disparities In Health Care; New Documentary Examines "Weaponization" Of Rap Lyrics; Advocated Push For Nationwide Menthol Cigarette Ban. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired January 20, 2024 - 08:00   ET




VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: First of all, Nikki Haley is wrong. America has been a racist country. I'm not saying that it is today, plenty of people debate that. It's a conversation for another time.

Today, why does Nikki Haley repeatedly assert that America has never been a racist country, despite the evidence in local and state and federal law? Plus, will it help her with those moderate and undeclared voters, she may need to beat Donald Trump in New Hampshire? Plus, the president of an HBCU in Missouri is on leave. Some students and alumni would have gone for good after a campus administrator died by suicide. The late administrators aren't and the leader of the Alumni Association are here to talk about what they want to see that change there at the school.

And if a child of color sprains an ankle or breaks an arm, that child will have a harder time getting relief for pain at the hospital. In fact, the new review shows that children of color are getting worse care than white children from the day they are born. I'm Victor Blackwell. Let's start the show.

New Hampshire votes next week. It's the first Republican primary of the 2024 presidential cycle. And Nikki Haley needs a strong finish stronger than she had in Iowa. But it's hard to explain the strategy behind her answer when asked if she really thinks that America has never been a racist country.


NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When you look at said all men are created equal, I think the intent, the intent was to do the right thing. Now, did they have to go fix it along the way? Yes. But I don't think the intent was ever that we were going to be a racist country. The intent was everybody was going to be created equally. And as we went through time, they fixed the things that were not all men are created equal. They made sure women became equal to all of these things happened over

time. But I refuse to believe that the premise of when they formed our country was based on the fact that it was a racist country to start with.


BLACKWELL: So yes, the Declaration of Independence includes that idea that all men are created equal. But there was also the idea included in the Constitution that when it came to counting black people in the population, enslaved people would be counted as three-fifths of a band for taxation and congressional representation. So not all men not all equal.

Plessy versus Ferguson, 1896. And Supreme Court upheld the legality of segregation. It's often known as separate but equal but the accommodations we know were not equal between whites and blacks. And when it comes to the separation, Justice Brown wrote, "If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane."

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the first and only federal law to prevent a specific nationality of people from becoming American citizens. The United States Congress apologized for it two years ago. 2022 and the federal government has overtime had to apologize to African Americans, and Japanese-Americans, and Native Americans, and on and on for racism.

I won't list every example of racism codified in federal law, and state law, and local law. That's just some of the history.

Now let's talk about politics. Ron DeSantis responded to her comments on racism, saying that the U.S. is not a racist country now. He did not go as far as Haley did and saying it never was. A win or second place for Haley in New Hampshire would be a springboard to the primary and our home state of South Carolina. To get there, she has welcomed support from independent and undeclared voters who can vote in New Hampshire's Republican primary.

Do these questions, and the fact really that we even need to still ask them have an impact. Let's talk about that now and more with Ryan Terrell. He's the Vice Chairman of New Hampshire's Republican Party.

Ryan, it is good to have you. I want to talk about the specific race. But first on this question. I've listened to some of your interviews on radio. I've watched some of your televised interviews, and you have talked about the American progress. I wonder your thoughts on this question. If America has ever been a racist country.


RYAN TERRELL, VICE CHAIRMAN, NEW HAMPSHIRE REPUBLICAN PARTY: Yes. Thank you for having me on your show. And the obvious answer is, yes, America has a history of racism in the building of our country. It's very obvious, particularly being a person from the south. I was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. We visit plantations that enslaved Americans and enslaved Africans work that.

We saw the cotton fields and the tobacco fields that my great-great grandfathers and grandmothers worked in. And so for Nikki Haley to make that big of a historical misstep, maybe out of ignorance, maybe out of optimism is just one of the biggest political gaps of this entire election cycle. I think she's trying to be optimistic and saying that we are no longer a racist country, which I have to hold that belief, but to completely rewrite history and say that the Civil War was not driven based off racism in the antebellum South. It's just a huge misstep and frankly unbecoming of a leader to really understand the context of a nation in which they would like to lead.

BLACKWELL: Do you think it hurts her with Republican voters and these undeclared voters in New Hampshire?

TERRELL: If I'm being candid with you, I don't believe it takes away from some of the momentum of her campaign as much as maybe it should. If certainly was a huge misstep, and it definitely got people interested in why she would say something like that. But from the rallies that I've seen her do in New Hampshire and some feedback from primary voters, particularly independents, it didn't make them question what she was trying to say in that way. But I don't know if it'll have any real long-term impact on those supporters of hers.

BLACKWELL: All right. Let's talk about the Democrats and their move to put South Carolina at the front of the line. The reason that the DNC and the President as well say that they're moving, South Carolina up is for greater representation of black voters making a larger percentage of the Democratic Party.

You've said that that decision shows that they are willing to, quote, forego history and tradition for political expediency you call the political expediency? Is it not political reality? The electorate is not the same in New Hampshire now as it was a century ago, when it became the first primary in the nation. Why is this a bad idea to move into a more diverse state?

TERRELL: Well, for me, it's a bad idea for a number of philosophical reasons. The first one that is that I believe that positioning voters based on their racial identity, in effect is racist. And to clarify with Joe Biden and the DNC decision did is they didn't just say that it was because they wanted to mock a more diverse voting electorate. They specifically said it was because New Hampshire was too white.

Now I've lived in New Hampshire in the Granite State since 2011. As you know, I'm the vice chair of this party and I also serve on the State Board of Education. I've never had a negative experience in relation to race as I've been in New Hampshire, nor as I am in Louisiana.

And so not to discount any views or individuals that have encountered racism, but to make the notion that a group of people vote solely based on their racial ethnicity is just simply short-sighted. And it doesn't actually respect the rich tradition that New Hampshire has with the first donation primary. The reality is that New Hampshire is the first in the nation, because

of the retail politics angle. We have a little over 1.2 million people. So it allows candidates to really get down deep and understand the constituents that they would like to serve. And as a philosophical premise, I just reject the notion that voters should be characterized based on the racial demographics, and not how engaged they are, or thought independency. And that's what I really look at when I think about primary voters.

BLACKWELL: Okay. So let's come at this from a different angle, because you say that you have not experienced any explicit racism in New Hampshire. I want to look at it from a different angle here, that the first two states Iowa 90% White, New Hampshire, about 93% White. It's not so much that that it is wrong for a large portion of white voters to go first. The question is the issues that are unique to communities of color that really is it a voter base to ask those questions.

A candidate can go to all 99 counties in Iowa, and then go to all 10 counties across New Hampshire and never really have to engage on policies for HBCUs. Never really have a large voter base that questions them about policies for Indian Country, never really having a lot of people there who are representative of Latino business owners who could say what is your policy for those groups. They can go to the states and completely ignore minority communities because they are such small minorities, and still win in a landslide by only speaking to majority white voters. Is that not even for just the viability of the party in the future a challenge?


TERRELL: You know, I think we may be two ships in the night on this issue because I hear what you're saying. But because I wholly reject the idea that decisions are made based on ethnicity. I don't actually agree with the premise that there are unique questions that only affect minority or people of color voters. And the reason why I believe that is because legal immigrants that come from Spanish- speaking countries and other countries don't agree with illegal immigrants or illegal migrant crisis, just like every other voter.

Black American voters care about upward mobility, and their child's public school education, the same as any other race of voter. And so I think the reason why I'm giving these philosophical difference is because for me, every issue that a voter is making a decision on is relevant to them as an individual removed from their ethnicity.

Now, there may be certain ethnic topics that can be addressed based on the region that a candidate Linnaean. However, in New Hampshire, we actually have a very rich culture of Native Americans in New Hampshire, along with a growing population of black Americans and Latino Americans.

And so if you go back to what I said about the retail politic angle, in fact, what I would push back and put on your plate is that candidates are actually confronted with those questions here more than they would be confronted in other states simply because of the retail politic angle that New Hampshire takes one on one small crowd small candidate interactions. And that's the reason why you have questions like what was the nature of the civil war coming out of New Hampshire.

And so I wholly reject the idea that people vote based on their ethnic minority status. I really think that people are voting on upward mobility in the vision that they would like for this country.

BLACKWELL: Ryan's Terrell, Vice Chair of the New Hampshire GOP. I thank you for engaging. Thanks for being with me this morning.

All right. If you've not heard the name, and the story of Dr. Antoinette "Bonnie" Candia-Bailey, you should. She was an alumna and the Vice President of Student Affairs at Lincoln University and HBCU in Missouri.

Her funeral is this morning. On January 8, she died by suicide, and an email dated January 8, Dr. Candia-Bailey accused the university president of harassing her bullying her, and setting her up to fail. And now some students and the alumni president of the organization there, they want the president Dr. John P. Mosley to be fired. And for now, the University says Mosley is on a voluntary and paid administrative leave. While the University's Board of curators looks into this.

Now he has not responded to CNN requests for comment himself. But statements from the board governing the school say that a team of attorneys is conducting a review that's beginning this week. They also say this.

"As a Board, we are committed to make certain the mental health of Lincoln University employees is a priority and that every employee is always treated with dignity and respect. The Board has confidence in the leadership team we have at Lincoln but as we all work together to serve students and the Lincoln University community, this review will fully examine important questions, concerns and gather facts.

Dr. Mosley argued -- agrees rather that those issues should be examined and has volunteered to go on leave during the review so that it can move forward in a fully independent way. The board has called Candia-Bailey's death, tragic.

Students on campus have been protesting this week calling for more answers and for accountability.


JILLIAN PATTON, STUDENT AT LINCOLN UNIVERSITY: Justice to me means like just everyone taking accountability of what they did. No matter if it was treating her unfairly or ignore her requests for mental leave.

CHELSEA ROBINSON, STUDENT AT LINCOLN UNIVERSITY: We still be protesting. We'll still be fighting for justice for Dr. Bonnie, to save our university and get it back to where it should be.


BLACKWELL: Joining me now is Dr. Candia-Bailey's aunt, LaDonna Flanagan, and Sherman Bonds. He's the president of the Lincoln University National Alumni Association. Thank you both for being with me.

LaDonna, let me start with you. And first, my condolences on the loss of your niece. I know her wake in her funeral or later this morning. Your niece was honest and upfront about some of the mental health challenges that she was having. She made the university aware of those. Can you tell us about some of the challenges she was having that she told leadership about?

LADONNA FLANAGAN, DR. ANTOINETTE CANDIA-BAILEY"S AUNT: Yes, good morning, and thank you for your condolences. Yes, she did disclose to us that she wanted to take some form of leave to take care of her mental health or that she you know, wanted to have -- what she told us that the environment that she was working in was toxic. She didn't share all of what she shared in the letter with her family. And I'm assuming it's because she didn't want us to worry about it, or worry about her. But yes, we were aware that she was having some struggles there at the university.

[08:15:27] BLACKWELL: Several pages written and addressed directly to the

president of the university. Sherman, She wrote here that to the President, you had no intention of retaining me as the vice president of student affairs. It went downhill after the Family and Medical Leave Act. And Americans with Disability Act documents were submitted due to my severe depression and anxiety. Do you believe that hurt termination, which is ultimately, what this process of review how it ended, was connected to her request for relief for help?

SHERMAN BONDS, PRESIDENT, LINCOLN UNIVERSITY NATIONAL ALUMNI ASSOCIATION: I can say if I can speak to that, definitively. I know that I can assume that she was meaning in time in the relationship, but I just think that what I can glean from the letters that the President was not was careless in his leadership and engagement that he brought on board. And his tenure, as President, is he's only been there for two and a half years, and he's terminated or lost three scholars that Dr. Brown, and now Dr. Biden, I just think that his lack of experience may make them ineffective, as as president of the university.

BLACKWELL: And your letter to the board of curators, you say that they must restore consciousness and peace, consciousness of peace and healing. Can that happen under the current president's leadership?

BONDS: No, it cannot, because it needs a separation. It needs a new beginning. People need to exhale. And you can't do that with him in the room, because it doesn't change anything.

I think Dr. Bailey letter also was outlined a few things to him to improve them. And maybe you can go on and move on with his career somewhere else and make those improvements. He's definitely demonstrated that he does have skill sets necessary to be in the role that he's turning, and then come back and practice again on another scholar to some other scholars, particularly of African American descent as it doesn't bode well that would work. BLACKWELL: LaDonna, university campuses are stressful places. We're not talking about stress. She says that this was toxic. And she also had some mental health challenges she was honest about. Beyond your niece's story, what is the story? What is the message to people who are watching who are working in places that are toxic, other campuses, agencies, companies? What do you want them to know? From the specter perspective of someone who's lost a family member now?

FLANAGAN, Yet no one should be exposed to a toxic or a harassing work environment. I believe people when they go to their respective jobs, that they have intentions on doing their best work. It's a challenge I imagined because like with Bonnie, she loved Lincoln University.

She loved working with the students. She did not want the option to be let me leave and go to another university. She wanted to be there. So it's that's a difficult question because really reality is that you either stay and deal with it, quit. But what I think Bonnie has done in this case is that she has spoken out and speaking out, I'm hoping will help other people to speak out, and make this a national concern or issue.

BLACKWELL: LaDonna Flanagan, again, our condolences and I hope you're right, is that what we can learn from this tragic story is that others are offered the support that they need when they ask for it. Sherman Bonds, I thank you as well.


And to you watching, if you are a loved one you're going through a mental health struggle, there is help. Call or text 988 to reach the suicide and crisis lifeline for 24/7 free and confidential support. Still ahead the parents of a Muslim students threatened with beheaded by her teacher speak out about that nightmare.


LINA AL SHROOF, MOTHER: That's when I started crying. That sentence like, wow, that's when I was like really broke into. You read it and you feel like you're looking at a horror movie.


BLACKWELL: Plus is the criminal justice system weaponizing rap lyrics a new documentary makes the case in a unique film premiering at Sundance.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This film was always about telling not the story of a single trial, but instead about the 400-year history of black lyrics.


[08:25:14] BLACKWELL: A teacher in Georgia has been fired and is facing criminal

charges. Police say he threatened to behead a 13-year-old student. According to witnesses, the girl said that she was offended by an Israeli flag hanging in his classroom. Diane Gallagher spoke with the girl's parents.

Diane, good morning to you. What did they tell you?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Victor, it was not an easy decision for this family to actually talk about what happened to their daughter, in part because they still fear for her personal safety. But they tell me that they knew that was important to speak out because they wanted to put a face a name of reality to the hate that is spreading across this country.


AL SHROOF: That's when I started crying. When I reach that sentence --


GALLAGHER (voice-over): Alat Afifi (ph) and Lina Al Shrooff say it's still tough to read what their 13 year old daughter went through.

AL SHROOF: You read it and you feel like you're looking at a horror movie.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): One that unfolded in the halls of a middle school in central Georgia one month ago. 51-year-old social studies teacher Benjamin Reese was arrested for allegedly threatening to behead their daughter and slit her throat. After she told him she found his display of the Israeli flag in the classroom offensive.

More than 20 witnesses were listed in a lengthy sheriff's incident report. The adults recounted seeing Reese follow three young girls down the hole shouting violent threats. Like she is a stupid mother effer and I will drag her by the back of my car and cut her effing head off disrespecting my Jewish flag.

Reese was charged with making terroristic threats a felony and Cruelty to Children in the third degree. He was released on a $7,500 bond.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As a father (inaudible) it was not safe. And don't know that she's not safe. I cannot even protect her.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Hi. We visited recent home but he declined to comment saying his attorney would reach out. So far that has not happened and court records do not show well-listed attorney for Reese. Helston County Schools tell CNN that Reese is no longer an employee with the district. Something Al Shroof says she appreciates but she still fears for their daughter's safety.

AL SHROOF: You always have this what if these threats, you know, can I get on and he show up in my house.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): As a Palestinian American, Al Shroof says the war in Gaza has never felt far away for their family. But they didn't expect the ripple effect to reach them in their beloved Warner Robins community.

AL SHROOF: Small community, loving community. We never have any, you know any problem.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): But Civil Rights Advocates say what happened to their daughter, while extreme fits into a pattern that's emerged in Georgia, mirroring a national trend with a spike in anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and anti-Arab reports.

In the months following, Hamas is October 7 attack and amid Israel's continued deadly siege of the Enclave. The numbers have skyrocketed in the Peach State.

AZKA MAHMOOD, CAIR GEORGIA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: When you compare the three months of 2022 to 2023, that increases 1,100%.

GALLAGHER: That's astonishing.

MAHMOOD: It's shocking. We have never been busier.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Meanwhile, Al Shroof and Afifi are busy trying to keep things feeling normal at home. While working to ensure this isn't a long-term threat to their child's self-worth.

AL SHROOF: I went to her to be confident to love who she is and stand up for the right things. And to not to let this change her.


GALLAGHER: Now the family tells me they feel very supported by their community and the school but they are demanding that the district change their personnel policy when it comes to notifying families of serious incidents that involve teachers. And that's because they say their daughter didn't actually hear some of the most violent threats because she was trying to get away at the time. And the family found out about them on the news, not from the school.

Now Victor, she is back in classes now and the school district is taking extra precautions but trying to make sure she doesn't feel singled out. She tells me that she is feeling safe at school.

BLACKWELL: Well, that's good. Diane Gallagher, thank you so much for that report. Still ahead. Pain Management, emergency care mental health care, a new review says that structural racism is exacerbating inequality in medical care for kids of color. A researcher behind the analysis walks us through it next.



BLACKWELL: We've talked here before about the health care disparities that minority adults have come to expect in this country. Well now there's a new report that children of all minority groups also face disparities in care. In a review of studies done over a five-year period, research has found that overall, the literature reveals widespread patterns of inequitable treatment across pediatric specialties. Those include specialties everything from neonatal care to end of life care.

Joining me now to talk about her findings is Dr. Nia Herd Garish. She's a pediatrician and researcher who oversaw the review. Thank you so much for being with us. From neonatal care, from the beginning of life to the end of life and across all specialties, what did you find?

DR. NIA HEARD-GARRIS, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY RESEARCHER: Yes. So from the very first moments of life all the way to the last moments of life for children, we're seeing disparities in almost every aspect of pediatric care. And as a pediatrician, and as a mom, it's pretty disheartening. But every, almost every single specialty we have, we found disparities.

BLACKWELL: And the one that shows one of the greater disparities is in pain management. If a kid breaks his arm, tumbling or sprains an ankle while roller skating children of color are less likely to get those painkillers. Explain the disparity here.

HEARD-GARRIS: Absolutely. There's been so much research, especially in the emergency room department, about pain management in minoritized use, so black and Hispanic youth are less likely to get the pain medicine that they need despite having a bone fracture, appendicitis, migraine, and even those that are getting a finger or toe replaced are less likely to get pain medicine. And that is absolutely unacceptable.


BLACKWELL: Is it clear why?

HEARD-GARRIS: So we think a lot of these disparities and inequities that we see, are driven by structural racism and implicit bias and other factors that are pervasive not only in our society, but also in our healthcare systems. We need to do more research to understand exactly why we're seeing this. But one of the things we did in our study is taking out the argument that it's only insurance.

The reason why people aren't getting the care that they need is because they don't have insurance. And that is not true for the study. We controlled for that. That means we made sure that all of these children had insurance, and we're still seeing these disparities.

BLACKWELL: So they all had insurance, or their economic levels in which they are treated differently based on the communities in which they live or the income of their families.

HEARD-GARRIS: Absolutely. There needs to be more work in this space, because we know that even though children have insurance, all insurance is not created equal. So if you have public insurance, or you have commercial insurance or private insurance, there's still levels within those insurances. So there is possibilities that even because -- even though you have insurance, doesn't mean you're going to get the top quality care. But even despite that, even looking at those that only had Medicaid insurance, or only have private insurance, those disparities by race and ethnicity still persisted. So it didn't really matter that you only had a certain type of insurance, what seemed to really be the drivers here were race and ethnicity. And that is, again, very unfortunate as a pediatrician and a mom.

BLACKWELL: It certainly is. And last for the moms that who are watching and dads too, what do they do with this? What -- how do they then advocate for care for their children?

HEARD-GARRIS: Absolutely. I think there needs to be a multilevel approach to this. I don't want their, you know, to read the study and just leave with a heavy heart and say what do I do, you know, my kid needs care, I need help, and then be scared to interact with the healthcare system.

So there are things that I think parents and caregivers can do advocating for their children, you know your child fast and trying to push for the care that they need. But it shouldn't only be on the patient and family. Our healthcare systems need to review their policies and look at their data to make sure that we're not exacerbating or making disparities and inequities worse for kids.

And then for society, policymakers and policy politicians can help to make these inequities better by investing in communities and making sure there are good solid systems for children and families.

BLACKWELL: Dr. Nia Heard-Garris, thank you for doing the work and thank you for the conversation.

All right, here's what coming up.





BLACKWELL: Rapper Kemba is here to talk about the documentary in which he's featured that argues rap lyrics are being weaponized.


BLACKWELL: No one questions Johnny Cash thinking about how we shot a man in Reno just to watch him die or Freddie Mercury when he's saying "Mama, just killed a man. Put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger, now he's dead." But when a judge here in Atlanta said rap lyrics could be admitted as evidence in an ongoing gang trial, some saw disparity. Rapper Young Thug is a defendant in the case. Here's an example of his lyrics, the ones we're talking about.




TAPPER: One of our new documentary on what the producers call the weaponization of rap lyrics by our criminal justice system, As We Speak, will compete at the Sundance Film Festival. And joining us now is Director J.M. Harper and Kemba, a rapper featured in the documentary. Gentlemen, good morning to you and thank you for spending a few minutes with me.

J.M. let me start with you. And most of us learned about this use of lyrics as evidence through this YSL Young Thug trial, this RICO trial, that's still going on here in Georgia. What your documentary I think exposes to a lot of people as this has been going on for decades really.

J.M. HARPER, DIRECTOR, "AS WE SPEAK": Right. Rap lyrics in trial situations used by prosecutors as evidence, as autobiography instead of as what the art form is, has been going on for decades, almost 30 years. But then the entire story of black lyrics and the way that black lyrics have been treated by authority and by a state power is a story that goes back 400 years, so that's what the documentary explores.

BLACKWELL: Kemba, the doc characterizes this as weaponization the exploitation of an art form. Explain why it's in that framework.


KEMBA, RAPPER FEATURED IN DOCUMENTARY "AS WE SPEAK": It's weaponization because, you know, rap is literally like, I can write a song about a story that I heard, a friend tell. I can write a song about an experience that I had. I could write a song about a dream that I had. It could be totally like my imagination.

And what you see in the courtroom is you have oftentimes a young black kid, black or brown kid, against a whole system against a jury that's not really of his peers. And you have people that are taking lyrics from different songs and like putting, like mixing them up and matching them up, and then like creating a storyline out of it. It really is like a person against a whole entire structure, a whole entire system.

BLACKWELL: The difference between what we're seeing in the Young Thug trial, obviously, with Johnny Cash and Freddie Mercury, is that, you know, the prosecutors will argue that if Johnny Cash had actually been accused of shooting a man in Washoe County in Nevada, then those lyrics would have been used as evidence against him. Do you think, Kemba, that this is unique to rap and hip hop?

KEMBA: I think, yes, honestly. I try to find a nice way to say it, but that's what this study show, honestly, is what the studies show, you know, without giving away too much, it's like, when people associate, you could say the same lyrics to people and, you know, tell them it's by different people and people will associate it as more violent if it's black, if they think it's hip hop. HARPER: And that's -- those are empirical studies that have been done that are covered in the documentary. And as the last 30 years have proven, not just in the United States, but also in London, where the documentary travels to, it shows that when authorities are asked surveillance -- surveilling authorities are asked, do you look at other genres? Do you look at heavy metal? Do you look at country music? Do you look at any other genre, that speaks about violence, in these expressive artistic ways?

And what we found and what went out to speak to those the powers that be, I mean it was just a sense of confusion and misunderstanding. They didn't -- they don't even think to look at the other genres in the way that they look at hip hop. And underlying that, of course, is a clear pattern of racism that's found its way into the criminal court system. And again, these are empirical studies that are covered in the documentary and we find it really eye opening.

BLACKWELL: Yes. I look forward to seeing it. I won't be there on Monday when it premieres. But hopefully one day I'll be able to get a screener to be able to watch the documentary. J.M. Harper, Kemba, thank you both for the conversation. Good luck in the competition. Now for more on "As We Speak," you can check it out at the Sundance website.


Coming up, why advocates say today is a critical day in their push to ban menthol cigarettes and in their view, save black lives.


BLACKWELL: Health advocates and activists say that this is an important day in their push to ban menthol cigarettes. If the FDA were to make a decision now, sometime today, it could be the time that's needed to put into effect a ban by Inauguration Day next year. A decision has not yet been made public. So this week, there's been more public pressure on the White House. There was a menthol funeral in D.C. to highlight the thousands of black people who died from tobacco related illnesses.


ERIC BATCH, VICE PRESIDENT FOR ADVOCACY AT THE AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION: Other flavored cigarettes were banned years ago but the flavor that causes the most harm in black communities was left out. We had acted over a decade ago. More than a quarter million black lives would have been saved by 2050.

NIA NAYLOR, PRESIDENT, HOWARD UNIVERSITY STUDENT ASSOCIATION: This action has the potential to save lives now and protect potential future generations like mine from nicotine addiction and reduce health inequalities nationwide. Black people deserve to live long, healthy lives. And this is one step we can take forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLACKWELL: One study found that black people account for 41 percent of smoking related premature deaths. A study by the Council on Foreign Relations estimates that if menthols were banned, the gap between black and white lung cancer deaths would close within five years. So what's the argument against the ban? Well, recently, I asked civil rights leader document Benjamin Chavis on this show about the argument in favor of delaying the ban.


DR. BENJAMIN CHAVIS, PRES. & CEO, NATIONAL NEWSPAPER PUBLISHERS ASSOCIATION: Those who sell it with this ban would be illegal. And if you do something illegal in America, the police arrive. They're just going to cause an illicit underground market if you put this ban in place. I agree. I don't smoke. But I want to see harm reduction done in appropriate way, not in a way that's racially targeting blacks and Latinos.


BLACKWELL: So far, the Biden administration has delayed a decision three times.


Coming up, the story of two young men getting college degrees before their high school diplomas.


BLACKWELL: It's the time of the year that high school seniors are deciding what they want to do when they graduate. Will they go to college? What will they study? Well, there are two seniors in Gary, Indiana who have already moved on to deciding where to get their medical degrees because Abram Lewis and Khaya Njumbe will earn their bachelor's degrees before they pick up their high school diplomas. They carried a load of college classes while they were going to high school.


ABRAM LEWIS, GETTING BACHELOR'S DEGREE: It's kind of surreal because I'm just getting a head start on college.

KHAYA NJUMBE, GETTING BACHELOR'S DEGREE: Around campus, a lot of people live in shocked when they saw me especially when I was much younger they would think I'm either the professor's son or something of that sort.



BLACKWELL: Abram, Khaya, congratulations. I see you. And if you see something or someone I should see, tell me. I'm Victor Blackwell on socials. Thank you so much for joining me this weekend. I'll see you back here at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on Saturday. Smerconish is up next.