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First of All with Victor Blackwell

Court Date Set For Student Suspended Over The Length Of His Locs Hairstyle; TX Superintendent Defends Suspensions Over Hair: "Being An American Requires Conformity"; Museums Re-think Exhibits Featuring Native American Artifacts As New Federal Regulations Take Effect. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired January 27, 2024 - 08:00   ET




VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: First of all, we expect schools to prioritize what is in a student's head over what's on it. But a school district in Texas has kept a student out of the classroom since August because it says his locs are too long. The superintendent now says that being an American requires conformity. And now this case is heading to court. Today, that student and his attorney are with us.

Plus, President Biden likely needs Michigan to win reelection. The city of Dearborn has one of the largest Arab American populations in the country, and its mayor says he turned down a meeting with the president's campaign manager. He's here to explain why.

And Dante Wright's mother is with us. Dante was killed during a traffic stop in 2021 when an officer said she accidentally pulled her gun instead of her taser. Well, that city just rejected a proposal to change rules for when police can pull someone over. And Dante's mother says more people will die. I'm Victor Blackwell. Let's start the show.

So I'm starting with this story today because this is about more than hair. We thought about starting with politics as we usually do, but this fight that is happening in Texas is about more than a dress code. The school superintendent has made it about what it means to be an American.

Darryl George is 18 years old. He's a student at Barbers Hill High School just outside of Houston. Now, he wears his hair, as you can see here, in locs. Next month, he has to go to court to go back to class because the district refuses to allow him back into the regular classroom unless he cuts his hair. And Darryl has either been under some form of suspension or even at an alternative school since the summer because his hair violates the dress code.

He and his mother sued the school district and Texas Governor Greg Abbot in federal court months ago. They say that the suspension violates the state's crown act. The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of hairstyles commonly associated with race. But what caught my eye this week was a claim from the superintendent

of the Barbers Hill Independent School District. He responded to the outrage over this case in a full-page paid ad. It was published in the Houston Chronicle, and here's part of it.

He writes in this paid ad that, "being an American requires conformity with the positive benefit of unity and being part of something bigger than yourself". Being an American requires conformity. Now, we invited Superintendent Greg Poole to join us to explain how being an American requires conformity and how that applies to this, but he declined. And part of his response, he wrote this.

"The author of the bill in Texas clearly states in recorded interviews it protects locs and braids, et cetera which we have always allowed. She clearly states it does not protect unlimited student expressions such as length. This is not a Barber's Hill issue. It's a legal issue, and we are confident our interpretation will legally be upheld."

Well, Darryl George is here also with his attorney for the family there, Allie Booker. Thank you, both of you, for being with me.

Darryl, I want to start with you because you've been kept out of your regular classroom for months now. I just wonder, how does this feel to have to choose between your hair and being in the classroom?

DARRYL GEORGE, TEXAS STUDENT SUSPENDED OVER LENGTH OF HAIRSTYLE: Yes. Annoying. It feels annoying because why would I have to choose between my education and my hair? It makes no sense.

BLACKWELL: Allie, let me come to you. The Texas law here, the Crown act, protects against, as I said, discrimination against styles historically associated with race. The school district's dress code says that hair cannot come below the eyebrows, below the earlobes or the collar, or even be in a style that if it were that down, it would do that. The superintendent says that he's not violating the code. You say what.


ALLIE BOOKER, ATTORNEY: He is. Because the code protects the hairstyle in totality and in full. And to counter what he says, Reta BOWERS has long and for many times described what she meant. And what she has said is that the style is protected, the length is protected.

BLACKWELL: Let me read more from this paid ad. "The superintendent says the problem with relaxing standards without any regard to academic implication is the precedent it creates. Our military academies at West Point, Annapolis, Colorado Springs maintain rigorous expectations of dress. They realize that being an American requires conformity with the positive benefit of unity and being part of something bigger than yourself."

When you read that, Allie, what was your thought that he equated? These are military academies, and they wear uniforms for a reason, and that being an American requires conformity. What did you think? BOOKER: It made me say, if being an American requires conformity, and the people that wrote the law have told you that length is covered, then why won't you conform? And then it also made me say, they're not fighting a war. There are safety reasons and issues and strategical reasons as to why military personnel do not have long hair. That doesn't apply in the classrooms.

BLACKWELL: The superintendent also cites safety concerns for why Daryl should cut his hair. Do you know what those are?

BOOKER: Oh, I do. It means we don't want any specific-colored individuals in our schools, and that will keep it safe. Because if you go throughout that article, he does speak about how small the African American population is in his district. So that's what I believe that he means.

BLACKWELL: Darryl, I've read that you considered cutting your hair just to end this because your family has been through so much. Is that accurate?


BLACKWELL: No. Okay. I'm glad I got that clarity. When you hear that being an American requires conformity in the discussion of your hair, what do you think, Darryl?

GEORGE: It makes no sense to me because all this is over something that could have been easily avoided. My hair has nothing to do with what I do in the classroom. Yes. My hair literally has nothing to do what I do in the classroom.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Your attorney just mentioned that this relates to specific colors of people. And the superintendent invoking the small African American population of the district. Do you think that this has something specifically to do with your race more than just your hair? Darryl?



GEORGE: Because I just do. They don't pick on nobody else but me. They don't pick on none of the white people, don't pick up none of the Mexican people. Don't pick on nobody else but me. Like, and I feel like -- and I feel like that, what is it called, that rule? I feel like that rule is. Is just there to attack people with dreads. People with braids. Because, you know, if you grow in dreads, if you grow in braids, if you grow in locs, they grow. They grow. You don't grow them to cut them. They just grow.

BLACKWELL: And there was. I should point out that there was another African American male who was faced with having to choose between the prom and walking across the stage and cutting his hair several years ago. He decided to go to a different school district. Last question to you, Allie. What is the strategy as you go into court next month? BOOKER: My strategy is to prove that hair discrimination in the

workplace and in schools is no longer going to occur in Texas. They can't keep discriminating. This is a melting pot. And we cannot welcome people to this country and understand that this country was built on the backs of many different people and then make them deny their heritage and their identity. So we plan to fight this case, and we plan to win.


BLACKWELL: All right, Darryl George and Attorney Allie Booker, we, of course, will continue to be in contact with you. Thank you so much for your time this morning.

Let's go to Minneapolis, to Minnesota now. And despite all the changes over the last several years after the killing a black man at the hands of police, the marches were not about adding murals. They were not about painting Black Lives Matter down the middle of the street or taking Auntie Mama off the pancake box. They were about changing policing policies that would ultimately save lives.

Well, now the Minneapolis suburb where Dante Wright was killed will not adopt new rules that would limit when police can pull drivers over. He was killed in April of 2021 after Brooklyn Center police pulled him over for an expired tag and a legal air freshener. Officer Kim Potter said that she was reaching for a taser but accidentally shot and killed Wright.

Last year, Potter was released from prison after serving 16 months of a two-year sentence for manslaughter. As part of a settlement with the Wright family, Brooklyn Center agreed to pay out $3.2 million and make policy changes. While the policy would have restricted police officers from making traffic stop for low level offenses like having an expired registration or having a broken head or taillight, or, as it's described in the proposal, objects suspended between the driver and the windshield. The city council in Brooklyn Center rejected it this week in a vote of three to two. And Katie Wright, Dante's mother, blasted the decision.


KATE WRIGHT, MOTHER OF DAUNTE WRIGHT: I thought, it's been dead for two years and nine months, and you guys say no to a policy that's going to protect people?


BLACKWELL: Dante's mother, Katie Wright, is with us now. Thank you for a few minutes this morning. What were you thinking when you heard that proposal was struck down?

WRIGHT: I was absolutely shocked. We have been working on this policy. We have brought it to city council numerous of times. We've actually sat in a room with all of the people that needed to be there. We were with police, city council, community members, and were all in agreement. So to walk into that room and hear three no votes, I was floored. I felt like I was punched in my stomach.

BLACKWELL: Yes. This panel was named for your son, but also for Kobe Dimock-Heisler, a 21-year-old with autism who was shot and killed by Brooklyn Center police in 2019. And you say because this has now failed, more people will die. Explain that.

WRIGHT: Just data and statistics show that traffic stops are very deadly. Brooklyn Center actually is one of the deadliest police forces in Minnesota. They have killed a lot of people, Kobe Heisler being one of them. But there's six deaths of Brooklyn Center within just such a short time from the police department.

And to do no changes in regard to reforming traffic stops, mental health crisis. It's statistically shown that you don't have the training. You're not reimagining what policing is going to look like. They're still doing the same thing. And unfortunately for black and brown people in Brooklyn Center, that's very dangerous. And without changing policing, we will have more deaths unfortunately.

BLACKWELL: You said to the council, and I watched the whole meeting. You said to the council, I got to make sure I ask this the right way. In conversations with other families, specifically mothers who are in the situation you are in, who have lost children too, at the hands of police violence. I know that this work is part of the healing, that getting laws changed, changing policies is part of the healing. Was that the case for you?

Dimock-Heisler It's very much so part of the healing process. But the bigger pictures, it's bigger than Daunte, it's bigger than Philando Castile. It's bigger than so many names that I could sit here and name and go on and on with names, unfortunately, that have been killed by police during traffic stops.

I think the main thing is that I don't want any other family, mother, father, grandfather, anybody, to have to feel the pain and the void that our family is feeling from something that could have been easily avoided and deescalated. And unfortunately, that's the bigger picture. Of course, I want, and many families will say that it is part of the healing. We want to remember our children and making big changes like this, historical changes, is very important to us for that healing process. But again, there is a bigger picture.


BLACKWELL: So Brooklyn center has rejected the proposal. What's next? What's next?

WRIGHT: I'm going to keep bringing it back. Amity and I, which is Kobe Heisler's mom, we started a 501 called Daunte and Kobe No More Names initiative. We're going to take it to the state level. We're going to try to change traffic policies at state levels in every state so that way our babies can be safe driving, you know, not only Minnesota, but Wisconsin, other cities, other states.

And right now, we can bring it back every single year to Brooklyn Center. I'm going to continue to do so. Every single council meeting, I'm going to remind them, I'm going to bring my son there with his faith and continue to ask for these policy changes that they promised, not only community, but to our family when they killed my son.

BLACKWELL: Katie Wright, it's hard to believe, at least on this side of the conversation. It's been two years and nine months, as you reminded us, since your son was killed. Thank you so much for the time you spent with us this morning.

Coming up, why an Arab American mayor in battleground Michigan turned down a meeting with the Biden campaign. Plus, why are museums across the country starting to cover or restrict access to Native American art?



BLACKWELL: Michigan is critical to President Biden's reelection campaign, and to that point, the president's campaign manager was there Friday. The idea was to meet with Hispanic leaders and black leaders and local Arab and Palestinian American leaders, but some of the leaders invited said no.

Before the meeting, the mayor of Dearborn posted, "Little bit of advice. If you're planning on sending campaign officials to convince the Arab American community on why they should vote for your candidate, don't do it on the same day you announce selling fighter jets to the tyrants, murdering our family members. The city of Dearborn is a Detroit suburb where more than half of the population is of Middle Eastern or North African descent, and a lot of people there are angry with the White House over the war in Gaza.

And with me now is the mayor of Dearborn, Abdullah Hammoud. Mr. Mayor, thank you so much for being with me. You were invited to this meeting. What were you told was the purpose of the meeting?

MAYOR ABDULLAH HAMMOUD (D-MI), DEARBORN: Thank you so much for having me first and foremost. I was informed that the meeting was for the campaign to listen, to understand the concerns of the American community for the sake of understanding what it would take to earn support for the upcoming November election.

BLACKWELL: And the meeting with Arab American leaders, including yourself, was not held. Were you planning to go before it was canceled?

HAMMOUD: No. When I was first called and invited, I immediately expressed my concern about such a meeting happening and this idea that Arab Americans should have to come to have a political conversation. What's unfolding overseas, the genocide that's happening to Palestinians, this is not a political conversation. This is a conversation, one of humanity. And so if we want to talk about how we change course, you have that conversation with senior policy leaders. You don't have that conversation with campaign staff.

BLACKWELL: So it was the person they sent. It was the campaign manager. It was not that you would have rejected a conversation with a senior advisor to the president or a meeting with the president himself. It was just how they approached you is that's the major concern for me.

HAMMOUD: If there's any conversation with any individual where it's not a photo op, you want to have a meaningful dialogue about how we put pen in both of our hands and we construct the policy about how we move forward together, I'm happy to have that conversation. But if there's a conversation where you say, I've listened and heard the concerns for the sake of having that talking point, that's not a conversation that this community wants to engage in.

BLACKWELL: So let me come at this from a different angle. I hear the reason that you say you were not going to attend, and I should also say this, there were several other Arab-American leaders in that part of Michigan who said that they would not attend either. Could this have been a moment to say very sharply, very clearly to the campaign? Here is why what you're doing is wrong, and this is what it will cost you if you come and ask for our votes. This could have been a moment of potency to explain it there and still come on and talk with me here.

HAMMOUD: We have been expressing our disdain for the decision making that's coming out of the White House for over 100 days now. And so if you actually respect us and you dignify us for the human beings that we are, you don't send campaign staff to talk about such a pressing issue. You bring forward your senior policy delegation. You bring forward your cabinet members to have such a conversation and dialogue because at the end of the conversation that could have unfolded, your campaign manager cannot even gain entrance into the White House to talk to you about foreign policy decision making. So don't disrespect us by sending forward campaign stock. You want to understand our concerns. You want to understand how we move forward together as a country, regardless of the direction in which we vote, because our humanity is not dependent upon how we vote for an upcoming election.

That's the conversation we're willing to have. But at the foremost, what we demand immediately is a ceasefire. All we're really asking for, and I think it's a very low bar, we want a president who doesn't support a genocide. That's a fairly low bar from my perspective and from the community's perspective.


BLACKWELL: Our politics, political and global affairs analyst Barack Ravid, who actually is a reporter with Axios, had this line that stood out that I wanted to ask you about in his reporting for Axios that "President Biden last week pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to scale down the Israeli military operations in Gaza, stressing he is not in it for a year of war." Of course, a year of war would put him a month out from the general election. And there is some concern, sources tell Axios, about losing voters as he approaches the November election.

Of course, you've just said this for you, is not in the context of an election, but your reaction to this conversation as reported by Axios between the president and the prime minister.

HAMMOUD: I mean, I think all we've heard from press conference and at the podium is that they've had really meaningful conversations with their friends and their partners in the state of Israel. And what you find on the other side is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a notable war criminal, coming out and actually being opposed to each and every single thing that the Americans have suggested. And so from our perspective, you don't reward a war criminal with unlimited military aid that's unrestricted. You don't reward them by sending another 24 stealth fighter jets. You don't reward them by coming out yesterday and saying you're no longer going to provide support for Onarwa, which is the United Nations agency responsible for the Palestinian refugees.

You don't reward them with a letter 100 days after October 7th without the sole word mentioning of Palestinians or 24,000 people that have been killed. These are intentional decisions. And so from our perspective, were promised a president who has humanity, who was a decent human being, who had foreign policy experience. And what we're finding right now is a president who was pursuing endless wars in the Middle East. And we thought we could close those chapters.

BLACKWELL: All right. On the allegation of a war criminal. As you know, those allegations have been made to the ICC. We also saw what came out of the UN's top court urging Israel to work to try to avoid genocide. Mayor Abdullah Hammoud of Dearborn, Michigan, thank you so much for your time this morning.

Up next, the impact of a border deal that includes new power to shut down the border and to restrict migrant crossings.



BLACKWELL: So Congress has been trying to pass meaningful immigration reform and border security for decades, but their best chance in a long time may be falling apart. Now, if you haven't been watching too closely, you've been hearing a bit, but not all of it, here's what's going on. I'm going to try to do it in about 90 seconds. House Republicans passed their own border bill. This is May of 2023.

Senate Democrats killed that in the House. The Dem said that it did nothing to address the root cause of migration. Fast forward to the fall, Congress passed a funding bill to keep the government open. Now House Republicans needed some Democrats to get it done, so the bill did not include any border provisions. That angered some House Republicans and ultimately cost Kevin McCarthy his job.

That same month, the President asked Congress for $105 billion, most of it would go to Israel and Ukraine, but Biden threw in about $13 billion for border security as a sweetener to get Republican support. By November, a group of bipartisan negotiators in the Senate started working to find a compromise on the border provisions so the entire bill could get through and start to let the money flow to Ukraine and Israel. Those talks have been going on for months now, and the Senate got close to a deal and then Iowa happened and then New Hampshire. And the closer that Donald Trump gets to the nomination, the tighter his grip gets on Capitol Hill. And Trump does not want a deal to pass.

Here's his argument. I want you to hear it and the outrage from republican Senator Mitt Romney.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): We have a crisis at the border. The American people are suffering as a result of what's happening at the border. And someone running for president ought to try and get the, you know, the problem solved as opposed to saying, hey, save that problem. Don't solve it. Let me take credit for solving it later.


BLACKWELL: On Friday, President Biden called the bill "the toughest and fairest set of reforms to secure the border we've had in our country." And he added, "It would give me, as president, a new emergency authority to shut down the border when it becomes overwhelmed. And if given that authority, I would use it the bill the day I sign it into law."

Now, one immigration advocate called those comments callous.

Coming up, the president of one of the most visited museums in the world is here to explain why they are the latest to make a major change in how Native American artifacts are displayed.



BLACKWELL: Museums are stewards of our history, but even those institutions have lessons to learn. Maybe you've seen the headlines about museums closing or covering or just rethinking how they display indigenous artifacts. New federal government regulations now require consultation, collaboration, and in the case of scientific study or research, consent from descendants of Indian tribes or native Hawaiian organizations. The latest museum making a change also happens to be the, at least one of the most visited museums in the world, the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Well, this weekend it's closing two halls that feature Native American artifacts. The president of the museum says that actions that may feel sudden to some may seem long overdue to others.

The man who wrote that, the president of the American Museum of Natural History, Sean Decatur, is here. Also with us, Kara Vetter. She's been navigating these issues as a senior director of cultural resources for the Museum of Us in San Diego. Welcome to you both.

And Sean, I want to start with you. Should we expect that a lot of these artifacts, these relics will be leaving the museum? Or is this just closing these sections off until there's a conversation?

SEAN DECATUR, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY: You know -- well, first, thank you, Victor, for the opportunity to have this conversation. The intent of the regulations and I think the intent of this process is to make sure that the voices of indigenous peoples have a say both in how their stories are told in museums and participate actively in the presentation of their narratives in museums and that they are able to have control over the objects that are currently in possession of museums and that can range from requesting return of those items, can be putting constraints on how those items are displayed or restrictions on how those items are used.


And so, really, all of those options are things that are possible as we look ahead and navigate the future of these spaces.

BLACKWELL: Yes, Kara, and let's actually discuss it from that angle, because we came into this talking about the museums, because that's how most Americans experience these items. But these have been out of the custody of these communities for, in some cases, centuries. What is the value of this process from their perspective of now engaging? And what does that engagement look like?

KARA VETTER, SENIOR DIRECTR CULTURAL RESOURCES, MUSEUM OF US: Well, first, I would state that I'm not indigenous, so I cannot speak to every single indigenous community, and they are not monolithic. But the value in engaging in this process with museums now especially, is critically important. There is a great drive within these communities and has been for many decades around retaining their cultural history, around revitalizing their communities and cultures. And when museums are -- were and are actively holding their belongings and their ancestral remains without their consent, they are losing access to that knowledge. And it goes by the wayside in some cases.

And so it's really important to be able to have these conversations, to have these consultations, and to see that authority around how museums need to be working with indigenous communities.

BLACKWELL: This just went into effect on January 12, so maybe it's too early for this, and I'll accept if that's the answer, but because of the genocide of indigenous peoples, some of these tribes are extinct. So then what happens to some of the relics, some of the items, Kara, if you know, that are the property of or related to some of those tribes that no longer exist?

VETTER: Thank you for that question. And really, it comes down to who are the communities that surround them? Who might have a broader cultural affiliation in that way, depending on what the community state the cultural affiliation is? This is a sad reality that because of genocide, because of expansion west, you know, that this has occurred. But that does not mean that these belongings cannot be repatriated or cannot be stewarded without consent.

It just means it is a broader conversation that needs to be had with the communities that may have some level of connection to those clans or those nations that are no longer with us.

BLACKWELL: Sean, what's the process?

DECATUR: You know, I think the process is researching and understanding the items we have and to identifying and getting in touch with, consulting with descendant, communities that surround the, as Kara was saying, the cultures and communities that, you know, that own these objects, or these objects from which these objects originated. And you know, that's actually going to be, you know, a process that involves building up and restoring trust. The reality that we face is that, you know, the -- many of these items came into possession of museums by mechanisms of, you know, theft or taking things that without consent from land. And so, there's really a lost and breakdown of trust between museums and communities. And so, restoring that trust, kind of building a sense of connection so that we can find ways to identify, return where appropriate, and get consent and consultation about what happens to these objects is really critical.

BLACKWELL: Yes, I think you, Sean, put it very well when you wrote in that letter to members there and employees at the museum that actions that may feel sudden to some may seem long overdue to others.

Sean Decatur and Kara Vetter, thank you both for the conversation.

Coming up, a school district in the Atlanta area said that students would be given cheese sandwiches for lunch if they couldn't afford to pay their unpaid lunch debts. That is until one woman stepped in. And she's here next.



BLACKWELL: In the richest country in the world, student lunch debt is a significant problem. Here in the Atlanta area this week, a GoFundMe needed to be set up in order to help kids in the city of Decatur school system with lunch debt. They were being offered an alternative lunch of a cheese sandwich and milk until my next guest stepped in.

Joining me now is Jasmine Crowe-Houston. She's the founder of Goodr, which is a hunger solutions company. And she's also a mother who organized a fundraiser for these students.

I'm glad you did this and I'm glad you came in. When I saw this story, I thought about the stigma --


BLACKWELL: -- because it's got to be hard enough. You can't pay for the lunch and now everybody at lunch knows you can't afford to pay for your lunch. What did you think when you saw it?

CROWE-HOUSTON: I saw the exact same thing. I thought the exact way that you did is that, you know, we were meal shaming kids. And so if everyone else is having a hot lunch, lasagna, chicken, whatever it is, and you're having a cheese sandwich, especially day after day, what was that going to do to that student? And these are lifelong, lasting trauma that they'll never forget. And I think I just was upset and decided, I mean, I tweeted or X'd it, I don't know what the new -- BLACKWELL: Yes.

CROWE-HOUSTON: -- word is, you know, can we get a list of these unpaid balances so that we can pay this off for these students so that they don't have to face this embarrassment? And that's kind of what sparked the campaign.


BLACKWELL: The city of Decatur said that the unpaid balance told about $88,000.


BLACKWELL: And that they needed to -- the students need to pay this off by February 1 in order to not have to get this alternative lunch. You started raising tens of thousands of dollars through this GoFundMe in just a matter of days. And then a corporate supporter stepped in.

CROWE-HOUSTON: Correct. Yes.

BLACKWELL: Yes, tell me about that.

CROWE-HOUSTON: So, within -- less than 48 hours, I set out to raise $80,000 because as I read the articles a bit deeper, I realized that about 12 percent of that debt was for students that were no longer had transferred out of the district. So the goal was set for 80,000. We ended up raising about 86,000 under 48 hours. And I was told by the school district that a corporate foundation had came in and kind of cleared the debt. And then my intention was to still make the donation, set it up almost as a reserve fund so that the parents and students would have something to draw from and that was declined.

And what I wanted to do then is -- my first thought was, I know that this is happening all over the country, all over the state, but I had to honor, you know, people's money and my word because I stated I was raising specifically for these students and that's what made me ultimately offer a refund to everybody.

BLACKWELL: This put me in the mind of something else that I read a couple of weeks ago that there are 15 Republican governors across the country who have rejected federal summer --

CROWE-HOUSTON: Including the state of Georgia.

BLACKWELL: Including the state of Georgia.


BLACKWELL: We got a map we can put up here to show exactly which states have rejected this federal summer grocery aid for low-income families expected to provide food assistance for 21 million young people. The Iowa governor, Kim Reynolds, said this, "An EBT card does nothing to promote nutrition at a time when childhood obesity has become an epidemic." Your reaction to that characterization, that map in the work you do? CROWE-HOUSTON: I think it's wrong. Right? Because one of the things that we say at Goodr all the time is that hunger is not only an issue, it's not an issue of scarcity, it's a matter of logistics. What people don't understand is Summer Meal Programs have existed for decades. They do require that students get to a location to pick up a meal.

What they don't always understand is that a lot of times, parents are still working during the day during the summer. There's not always access to transportation to get to these meals. So what that EBT card allows families to do, it's an additional $40 per month per student that now they can go and add extra groceries on. And so we can't always weaponize how they're -- what they're going to purchase. We don't know what they're going to purchase.

And to say that it does nothing for childhood obesity is an opinion. You don't know what if they're vegan and they're not buying anything but vegetables and produce for the house. You don't know to say that they're going to just be buying junk food. You can't state that for a fact. So, I think that this is a huge program that every state should have adopted because parents, food is more expensive today than it's been ever.

Like, it's, I think a 7 percent increase. Raises stayed flat across the country. People are struggling, and so they need access to these funds to be able to provide for their children.

BLACKWELL: Jasmine, I initially thought about doing this in the ICU segment where we just acknowledge what people are doing right. But I wanted to come in and have this conversation with you and thank you for the work you've done.

CROWE-HOUSTON: Oh, thank you.

BLACKWELL: And I'm glad I did. Thank you so much for coming in.

CROWE-HOUSTON: Thank you so much, Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right, Jasmine Crowe-Houston.

Coming up, why the work of an artist whose paintings depict black men in a positive light is especially resonant today?



BLACKWELL: We started the show with Darryl George, an 18-year-old black student in Texas who's being kept out of the classroom because he refuses to cut his locks. The superintendent of the school district says, in the context of hair, quote, "Being an American requires conformity."

In this week's Art is Life, I'm introducing Xavier Daniels. His work examines and challenges societal pressures that do not allow black men to feel free to be themselves.


XAVIER DANIELS, PAINTER: I'm Xavier Daniels. I'm an oil painter, and I live in Atlanta, Georgia. I am now a full-time painter.

After being a firefighter for 13 years, I paint my lived experiences. There are negative stereotypes as black men being criminals, absentee fathers, et cetera. However, my experience as a black male, we are not those stereotypes. And so because of that, in my work, I create a positive stereotype of black men. I do that through color symbolism.

I use the color white in my paintings as a symbol of innocence and purity. I also use the color purple as a symbol of being regal as well as a spiritual color. And I also use gray as a symbol of intellect and sophistication.

You will see the portrait, or the figure fragmented, not painted whole, because that shows the emotion of the figure, because they do not feel -- they do not feel whole, and they do not feel free to be themselves. And so it is important to me that I encourage other black men to feel free to be themselves without any type of stereotype.


BLACKWELL: Our thanks to Xavier. And you can see more of his art at Frieze Los Angeles starting February 29. That show runs from the 29th through March 3.

And if there's an artist you think I should know or some art that I should see, I'm always looking for that intersection of art and news and life. Hit me up on the socials. I'm at Victor Blackwell.

And thank you for joining me today. I'll see you back here next Saturday at 08:00 Eastern. Smerconish is up next.