TIME justice

Former Prisoners Applaud Program to Help Inmates Go to College

Alphonso Coates college prison education partnership
Patrick Semansky—AP Inmate Alphonso Coats, a participant in the Goucher College Prison Education Partnership, sits in a discussion with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other officials inside the Maryland Correctional Institution-Jessup on July 31, 2015, in Jessup, Md.

Glenn Martin knows exactly the kind of difference getting an education can make for a person behind bars. When Martin was 23, he was sentenced to six years in prison for robbery. That time, he told TIME on Friday, was arguably the lowest point in his life.

But a meeting he had with a correction’s officer during his early days behind bars in state prison in New York changed his life. After reviewing his file, the officer suggested that he consider advancing his education and enrolling in college courses.

“That was the first time anyone had ever said to me ‘you should go to college,’” Martin says. “I grew up in [the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn]. I distinctly remember people saying the opposite to me.”

While in prison, Martin was able to earn his associate’s degree through a prison education program called the Consortium of the Niagara Frontier, one of New York’s oldest post-secondary correctional education programs. It was in that program that Martin says he was able to consider all of the possibilities that lie ahead of him in life.

“I started to think of myself differently,” Martin says. “I saw hope beyond being in that prison for six years.”

Now, at 43, Martin serves as the president of Just Leadership USA, an organization aimed at significantly reducing the incarceration rate nationwide by 2030. And it was in that role that Martin was invited to attend an event at a prison in Maryland on Friday, where he participated in a roundtable discussion with the U.S. Attorney General and the Secretary of Education.

As TIME reported earlier this week, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan traveled to the Maryland Correctional Institution at Jessup to announce that the administration would temporarily grant incarcerated individuals access to federal aid that can help them pay for college. The experimental initiative reverses a 1994 law that blocked state and federal prisoners’ access to Pell Grants which critics say hurt their chances to start over.

The research on the topic of institutional education is clear: according to a 2013 study by the RAND Corporation funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, prisoners who took educational courses behind bars were 43% less likely to return to prison in three years than those who did not. With about 1.5 million Americans behind bars, changing the Pell Grant system could have a major effect.

“America is a nation of second chances. Giving people who have made mistakes in their lives a chance to get back on track and become contributing members of society is fundamental to who we are,” Duncan said in a statement.

Through the pilot program, prisoners who are eligible for release within the next five years and otherwise meet the requirements for federal aid could have access to grants to pay for tuition, fees, books, and supplies. Though the program is limited to Pell Grants and does not apply to any other type of aid, those who work in education are hopeful.

Vivian Nixon, the executive director of the College and Community Fellowship an organization that helps formerly incarcerated women get an education, didn’t have a chance to get an education while she was behind bars. When she was in her mid-thirties, Nixon was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for a series of white-collar crimes.

The possibility of being able to further her education while incarcerated gave Nixon hope, but those dreams were dashed when she was transferred to a prison that didn’t offer any post-secondary education courses. After suffering bouts of hopelessness and depression, Nixon started tutoring other women working toward their GED behind bars. Over the past decade and a half, she’s made it her mission to get the federal government to make it easier for prisoners to get an education.

“Education is transformative,” Nixon says. “When people are educated it opens up a whole set of different choices and without the kind of knowledge or confidence that education brings you can easily slip back into the old habits that landed you in prison.”

For Nixon and Martin, who collaborated to form the Education from the Inside Out Coaltion, an organization that aims to increase educational opportunities for prisoners, Friday was a special day. Both of them saw their handwork come to fruition firsthand.

“For [decades] we’ve dealt with this issue in ways that make for good politics, but bad policy,” Martin said. “This is an opportunity to undo some of that.”

TIME Foreign Policy

Obama Rallies Grassroots to Get ‘Active’ in Iran Deal Organizing

Obama told participants in a conference call to get more active in their efforts to garner support for the Iran deal

President Obama told grassroots organizers on a conference call Thursday to “get moving” on efforts to make their support for the Iran deal known to members of Congress.

“You guys have to get more active and loud and involved and informed,” Obama said on conference call Thursday.

Obama challenged the organizers to take an approach opposite what organizers took when Congress was mulling whether or not to authorize the Iraq War. His frustration with that effort, he said, was in the fact that everyone got “loud and active when it was too late.”

As Congress leaves for its summer recess, the Iran Deal will likely be a major topic of discussion at town halls and meetings in their districts

Obama’s strategy hit home with at least one organizer on the call, who spoke to TIME shortly after it ended.

“The still-raw memories of the Iraq war are the single motivating factor for those of us who are pushing for the deal,” says Ben Wikler, the Washington Director for MoveOn.org, who joined the call Thursday. MoveOn.org was one of the most active groups calling for diplomacy, not war in Iraq following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

According to the White House a wide-cross section of progressive groups were invited to join the call. At the outset, Obama thanked groups including MoveOn.org, the Truman National Security Project, and Organizing for Action for their support thus far on the nuclear deal with Iran. Wikler said it was “heartening” to hear directly from the President and to know that the White House is “pulling out all the stops” to ensure that the diplomatic agreement over Iran’s nuclear program comes into fruition.

“It makes all the difference in the world if you’re calling Congress, and attending town halls to know that there are people on your side,” Wikler says.

Wikler compared the tone of the call to one that could be experienced during an election season—Obama was forceful, direct, and adamant that the his bully pulpit alone won’t see the deal through a skeptical Congress. Wikler says his organization has a similar sense of urgency around the deal, which he says is their “overriding priority” leading up to the vote.

Thursday’s call made clear that the White House is leaving nothing on the table in its effort to garner support for the historic deal over Iran’s nuclear program. Members of the Obama administration have been actively lobbying Congress over the pending deal since it was announced on July 14. Cabinet members are making regular appearances on Capitol Hill and just Wednesday a group of House Democrats attended a working reception at the White House where the Iran deal was discussed.

Despite the White House efforts, opponents of the deal remain relentless in their efforts to block it and a hefty coalition of Congressional leaders are insistent upon keeping it from passing. Congress was given 60 days to either approve or reject the deal, though Obama has said he would veto any attempt to block it.

TIME White House

Obama: If I Ran for a Third Term, I Could Win

"But I can't"

President Obama said that if he could run for a third term he thinks he would win, while calling for African leaders to adhere to term limits during a historic speech before the African Union.

“I actually think I’m a pretty good president. I think if I ran, I could win. But I can’t,” Obama said in Ethiopia on Tuesday. ” There’s a lot that I’d like to do to keep America moving, but the law’s the law.”

President Obama addressed his third term viability while calling on African leaders to step aside when their terms end on Tuesday. During his speech, the first by an American president before the African Union, Obama said when a leader “tries to change the rules in the middle of the game” in order to stay in office it puts a nation’s stability and the future of Democratic progress across the continent at risk. Obama specifically noted recent elections in Burundi, where President Pierre Nkurunziza won a third term. The United Nations has said those elections occurred in an environment that was not “not conducive for an inclusive, free and credible electoral process,” according to the Associated Press.

” The point is, I don’t understand why people want to stay so long. Especially, when they’ve got a lot of money,” Obama said Tuesday, during the final stretch of his historic trip to two African countries. “And sometimes you’ll hear a leader say ‘I’m the only person who can hold this nation together.’ If that’s true, then that leader has failed to truly build their nation.”

Though Obama admitted he thinks he’s done a good job at the helm — something about 49% of Americans agree with, according his most recent CNN approval ratings — he didn’t hesitate to list off the freedoms he’ll gain back when he leaves office.

“I’m looking forward to life after being president,” Obama said. “I won’t have such a big security detail all the time. It means I can go take a walk, I can spend time with my family, I can find other ways to serve. I can visit Africa more often.”

TIME viral

Watch Obama Steal the Show by Dancing the Lipala During His Visit to Kenya

It seems the commander-in-chief can cut a rug like the best of them

We knew he could bring down the house singing Al Green and “Amazing Grace,” but we’d rarely seen Barack Obama put on his dancing shoes — until now.

Between stops in the busy itinerary of his visit to Kenya this weekend, which included visiting his father’s family and giving a ringing speech on Africa’s potential for innovation, Obama found time to dine at Nairobi’s State House. There, he joined Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, first lady Margaret Kenyatta, and U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice in doing the Lipala. A traditional dance common at rural celebrations, the Lipala has returned to mainstream popularity recently after Kenyan afro-pop stars Sauti Sol chose its moves to accompany the video of their hit song “Sura Yako (Your Face).”

The band, which performed at the dinner, posted a video on Instagram showing Obama getting down with fellow dignitaries, ably keeping up with the steps and clearly enjoying himself.

TIME White House

President Obama Dines With Relatives in Kenya

KENYA-US-OBAMA
Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images US President Barack Obama sits alongside his step-grandmother, Mama Sarah, left, and half-sister Auma Obama, right, during a gathering of family at his hotel in Nairobi on July 24, 2015.

Obama is in Kenya for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, but made time for family on Friday

President Obama made time to meet with family on the first night of his four-day trip to Kenya and Ethiopia. About three dozen of the President’s relatives joined him for dinner on Friday, including his half sister Auma and his step-grandmother Mama Sarah.

Obama is in Kenya for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, of which he is co-chair. His trip marks the first time a sitting U.S. president has traveled to both Kenya and Ethiopia, but the trip also has historical significance given Obama’s personal connection to the East African nation. Obama’s father, Barack Obama, Sr., was born in Kenya and later died there. Obama was born in Hawaii.

Per the White House pool report on Friday’s dinner:

Potus, still in suit and tie, was seated in the middle of two long tables filled with relatives, about three dozen in all. Seated to his right was his step-grandmother, Mama Sarah, whom he calls Granny, wearing a [gold]-colored head scarf. To his left was his half-sister, Auma Obama, wearing a white jacket and black blouse. The other relatives were all wearing suits or other appropriately dress clothes. There were a lot of smiles all around.

 

TIME Race

Majority of Americans Now Say Race Relations Are Bad

Confederate Flag Columbia South Carolina
John Moore—Getty Images A man holds a Confederate flag on the state house grounds in Columbia, S.C. on July 18, 2015.

A significant reversal since President Obama's election

When Americans elected the first black president in 2008, two-thirds thought race relations were generally good. But that’s not the case anymore.

According to a new New York Times/CBS poll, six in 10 Americans now think race relations are poor, and four in 10 think they are getting worse. The reversal comes in the wake of the June killing of nine black people in a historically black church in South Carolina and amidst ongoing, racially charged protests concerning police killings of black people around the country.

Blacks in particular have had a dramatic shift in their view of race relations during the Obama era. Six in 10 said race relations were bad in 2008, but that figure dropped to around 30% just after President Obama was elected. Today more than two-thirds of blacks say race relations are poor, which is close to the figures seen in the aftermath of Rodney King’s beating by police officers in the early 1990s.

A majority of white respondents also said race relations were poor, but for them it was the first acknowledgement of that fact in a long time. In 2008, before Obama’s election, nearly 60% of whites said race relations were good in the U.S.

[NYT]

TIME White House

The Lack of Change in Gun Laws During His Presidency Has Been ‘Distressing,’ Obama Says

Michelle Obama Hosts 2015 Beating The Odds Summit At White House
Mark Wilson—Getty Images U.S. President Barack Obama greets guests during a surprise visit to First Lady Michelle Obama's event on higher education in the East Room of the White House July 23, 2015

The President spoke of feeling "most frustrated and most stymied" over the issue

Failure to pass what he called “common-sense gun-safety laws” during his tenure in the White House has ranked among his greatest frustrations, Barack Obama has told the BBC, in a wide-ranging interview covering much of the last years of his presidency.

Obama said he felt he had made strides in many political arenas but that it was “distressing” not to have affected significant change in gun laws “even in the face of repeated mass killings.”

With less than two years left in power, Obama said guns were the policy area that made him feel “most frustrated and most stymied. “If you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism, it’s less than 100,” he said. “If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it’s in the tens of thousands.”

During a turbulent summer that saw nine African Americans killed at a South Carolina prayer meeting in June, Obama told reporters that “politics in [Washington]” precluded most options for change in gun control policy.

The BBC interview was conducted previous to the July 23 shooting at a movie theater in Louisiana and did not touch on that event.

[BBC]

TIME

President Obama Heads to Kenya and Ethiopia for Trip Filled with Firsts

President Barack Obama is heading back to his ancestral homeland.

A couple of decades ago, Obama traveled to Kenya, the birthplace of his estranged father, to learn about his heritage. On Thursday evening, he left Washington to make the trip again. And when he arrives on Friday, he’ll become the first sitting U.S. president to visit the East African nation.

Over the course of four days, Obama will travel both to Kenya and Ethiopia, starting in Nairobi for the annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit and ending in Addis Ababa, where the African Union is headquartered. The trip is peppered with firsts: the first time Obama has traveled to Kenya as commander-in-chief and the first time a sitting president has visited Ethiopia. His speech before the African Union will also be the first time a sitting American president addresses the body.

The explicit purpose of the trip is for Obama to participate in the annual gathering of entrepreneurs, business leaders, and government officials, of which he is co-chair, and to engage with African leaders. Throughout the trip he will participate in a number of bilateral meetings and press conferences. He will participate in a civil society event, meet with government officials, and address the Kenyan people directly.

National Security Advisor Susan Rice said Wednesday he will not have time to visit the village where his family is rooted, but will make time to meet with family members while he’s in Kenya. Rice also said the trip will offer President Obama an opportunity to advance the U.S.’s trade and investment relationship with Africa, call for greater human rights protections and transparency in government, and highlight American efforts to increase opportunities for the next generation of Africans.

“This is an opportunity not only to support that Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which is something the president is deeply committed to,” Rice said. “But, it’s also an opportunity to strengthen and deepen our relationship to Africa.”

But for many in Kenya, the historic trip feels like an opportunity to welcome home their American brother, a man whose face has been painted on the sides of buildings and whose name resonates from villages to city centers. “They take it really personally,” a café owner told the Associated Press.

While Obama’s will largely focus on economic issues like trade and investments while he’s in Kenya, human rights activists are urging the president to address some serious concerns raised by those on the ground. Jedidah Waruhiu, of Kenya’s National Commission on Human Rights said on a conference call Wednesday she hopes that Obama uses his voice to “speak truth to human rights.”

Obama is also expected to address the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights in Kenya. Earlier this week, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta called LGBT rights a “non-issue” that’s “not on our agenda at all” ahead of the visit by Obama.

“We as a country, as a continent, are faced with much more issues which we would want to engage the U.S. and all our partners with,” Kenyatta said.

If pressed, however, Obama isn’t likely to shy away from the topic. When Obama traveled to Senegal in 2013, he advocated for universal rights for LGBT folks to the dismay of his host. Ambassador Rice hinted Wednesday that if asked to address the in Kenya, Obama will speak openly. “This is not something that we think is a topic we reserve for certain parts of the world and not others,” she said.

“We always—not just in Africa, but around the world—when we are traveling to countries where we have concerns about the rule of law, human rights, corruption, whatever…we make those concerns known publicly and privately,” Rice said later on Wednesday.

The issue, Waruhiu said, is “emotive” in Kenya and activists worry about potential backlash if Obama goes too far on LGBT rights.

“However much he feels strongly about this issue—this is an issue that will cloud other important issues like security and trade any the country, because any other good thing he says or does in the country will be whitewashed with the whole issue of LGBTI issues,” she said.

The trip to Kenya and Ethiopia will also provide an opportunity for President Obama to discuss countering terror groups like al Shabaab, which has a stronghold in the region, and the ongoing crisis in South Sudan. Both activists and government leaders are looking forward to the pending discussions on counterterror strategies, promoting trade, and providing opportunity during Obama’s visit, though the president’s tone throughout his time in Kenya will be closely monitored.

“He needs to earn the Obama mania a little,” said Brian Dooley, Human Rights First’s Director of Human Rights Defenders on a conference call. “He can’t just turn up and expect to be welcomed as a prodigal son.”

“Some people are not happy he’s taken so long as president to visit Kenya,” he added Wednesday. “He needs to, I think, earn a bit of popularity and not take it for granted.”

TIME White House

This Was the First Time a Sitting U.S. President Visited Africa

FDR Inspects The Troops
PhotoQuest / Getty Images Franklin D. Roosevelt (in suit, seated in jeep at left) reviews US troops as military commander Lieutenant General George S. Patton (right), Casablanca, Morocco, Jan. 17, 1943.

President Obama visits Kenya and Ethiopia this month. The circumstances were quite different in 1943

President Obama travels to Kenya on Thursday to attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, and then continues his African trip with a visit to Ethiopia, the first time a sitting U.S. president will visit that country. He’ll be focused on global business and peaceful diplomacy—a far cry from what happened with the first sitting president to visit Africa.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt landed on the continent 72 years ago amid World War II, it was the first time since the Civil War that a sitting president had visited an active war zone, as well as the first time ever that one had traveled by plane. The occasion was Roosevelt’s January 1943 visit to Casablanca to discuss the conflict with Winston Churchill.

As TIME reported shortly after, the trip was a fruitful one. The air-travel part of the plan was kept secret—an important concern given that the president’s plane was flying over an ocean patrolled by Axis planes and ships—but, once he arrived safely and the meetings got underway, the world was looped in on what had happened:

U.S. news correspondents in North Africa were flown secretly to Casablanca for a press conference on the tenth day. They found well-pleased Franklin Roosevelt in the garden of the villa where he had stayed: he was comfortable in a light grey suit, the angle of his long cigaret holder was even jauntier than usual.

This was the first press conference any American President had ever held beneath a protective umbrella of fighter planes. In the desert heat, beneath the roaring planes, General de Gaulle and General Giraud shook hands while photographers’ flash bulbs popped. The President said this was a momentous moment.

The two war leaders lived up to the moment. They explained that they had reached “complete agreement” on 1943 war plans, that the goal was “unconditional surrender” of the Axis nations. The President remarked that their meeting had been unprecedented in history; the Prime Minister added that it surpassed anything in his World War I experience. The President had some good morale-building words for American troops abroad: “I have seen the bulk of several divisions. I have eaten lunch in the field, and it was a darn good lunch, too. . . . Our soldiers are eager to carry on the fight and I want you to tell the folks back home that I am proud of them. …”

Read the full story from 1943, here in the TIME Vault: Appointment in Africa

TIME Foreign Policy

White House Launches Twitter Account to Sell Iran Deal

Press Secretary Josh Earnest said officials will use the account to engage with the public and share information

Correction appended, July 21, 2015

The White House is ramping up its efforts to sell the nuclear deal with Iran to the American public, launching a webpage and a Twitter account focused on the pending agreement.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters en route to Pittsburgh on Tuesday that the digital tools would be used to “advocate for the recently announce agreement to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”

Administration officials will use the Twitter handle @TheIranDeal, which had gathered 2,000 followers by early Tuesday afternoon, to “distribute facts” and “engage” with the public about the deal. The webpage will host fact sheets and infographics.

Tuesday’s announcement is the latest in the White House’s all-hands-on-deck approach to pitching the nuclear deal with Iran, which awaits approval from a skeptical Congress.

Administration officials immediately began their sales pitch once the historic deal was reached last week, sending Vice President Joe Biden to visit with Democrats on Capitol Hill and having the President host a press conference at which he sought to address concerns about the deal raised by members of Congress and allies in the region who are opposed to it.

On Sunday, as Secretary of State John Kerry made his rounds on talk shows, President Obama took a handful of Congressional members golfing.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated where White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was traveling to when he discussed the new Twitter account. He was en route to Pittsburgh.

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