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Black Woman Thrives in Washington’s World of Cigars

By Michael H. Cottman, Urban News Service

Negest Dawit, a savvy businesswoman from Ethiopia, steered her 1998 Mercedes Benz past a vacant building on 9th Street near downtown Washington, D.C. and gazed into her future.

“I looked at the building and said ‘This will be my store,’” Dawit told Urban News Service.

That was 10 years ago. Today, Dawit — affectionately called TG — owns a cigar store. TG Cigar Lounge is at 1118 9th Street, NW.

But her journey from Ethiopia to entrepreneurship was not easy.

She moved from that East African nation to Canada in 1996 and worked as a housekeeper. That job paid the bills, she said, but not one she wanted for long.

“I only had $50 when I got to Canada,” she said. “My mother gave me the money.” Dawit sat in her modest apartment, talked to her sister, and, during meals, discussed her future.

In 2000, Dawit packed her bags and moved to Washington, D.C. seeking better opportunities. She spent four years at an Ethiopian restaurant on U Street.

Even as she waited tables there, she planned her next move, next job, and next challenge.

“It was very hard moving here,” she said. “I had to learn the streets, the Metro, driving. It was a lot to learn. I moved here and started from scratch.” 

And there also was the language: Dawit learned English at school in Ethiopia and speaks it well. But her thick accent reveals her African heritage.

Dawit took a job at Presidential Cigars at Union Station in 2004, and it changed her life.

“They taught me everything I know about cigars,” she said. “I worked in sales, and I learned the business. And the owner encouraged me to open my own business.”

And that’s just what she did.

“I was a housekeeper, a waitress, a cigar saleswoman, and then I opened my own cigar store,” Dawit said. She now is Washington’s only female cigar store owner. 

“Customers ask if they can speak with the owner, and they are surprised when I tell them I’m the owner,” Dawit said.

Dawit opened her business in 2006 after standing inside the dusty storefront building and imagining what how her operation would look after she renovated. 

“It was formerly a T-Mobile store,” Dawit said. “It was dirty, and it needed a lot of work. But it was mine.” 

Mark Jackson, Dawit’s store manager, recalls meeting Dawit as he strolled through Presidential Cigars.

“I was checking out local cigar shops, doing research to launch my own line of cigars, ‘Blacksmoke,’ which I eventually did,” he said.

Jackson said he was immediately drawn to Dawit.

“She was absolutely beautiful and very knowledgeable about cigars,” Jackson said.

But opening her own store had its unique challenges, Dawit said. She required inventory — $30,000 to start — and needed people to vouch for her, tough things for someone just getting started. 

“They were asking me for referrals, but I didn’t have any,” Dawit said. “It was a challenge. I built relationships with sales people and wholesalers, and they helped me build my inventory, and some gave me credit.”

Dawit now has a $500,000 inventory and is arranging to buy the property, which she now leases. She has more than 3,500 customers, some of whom pack into the shop seven days a week to smoke cigars, sip Scotch, and network with other smokers.

“My customers include businessmen, politicians, and cigar club members,” Dawit said. “One third of my customers are women.”

She said the three cigar clubs that loyally meet at her store help her business flourish.

“They feel like they are at home,” she said. 

Dawit proudly points to the 2,000 cigar brands for sale inside her state-of-the-art glass-case humidors

The aroma of cigar smoke fills Dawit’s spacious location. Next to the well-stocked bar is a roomy lounge with comfortable seats and a large flat-screen TV.
While nearly 13 billion cigars were sold in America in 2015, according to the Center for Disease Control, Dawit is not the typical cigar store owner: She doesn’t smoke.

“I don’t smoke cigars, and I don’t drink,” Dawit said as she walks through her stylish venue, and cigar smoke hangs in the air. “But I do offer my customers a great deal of knowledge about cigars.”

Dawit is friendly, attractive and formidable. She has a sly smile, long black hair that flows over her shoulders, and a sultry accent that hints of mystery.

“TG’s gift is certainly her personality,” said Jackson. “She hugs people, shakes hands, it’s a genuine passion for her business and it brings folks back.” 

Dawit agreed.

“I haven’t had a vacation in 10 years,” she said. “I work seven days a week; I’m always here.”

Dawit says her store also offers a full-service tobacco shop with house-blended tobaccos, cigar lighters, novel ashtrays, vaporizers and hookah pipes. 

And she drives to work in her 2017 Range Rover.

“I know everything there is to know about cigars,” Dawit said. “I can smell cigars, roll them, merchandise them, and sell them. I just don’t smoke them.”

Black, Hispanic Minors Are More Likely to be Tried as Adults Than Whites

By Frank Kineavy 

Black and Hispanic minors in New Jersey are far more likely to be prosecuted as adults than those in other groups, according to a new analysis of court records by WNYC. Further, far more Black and Hispanic youths are given adult sentences or, in some cases, sent to adult prisons.

Over the past five years, state prosecutors were asked to try 1,251 minors as adults. According to the data, 87.6 percent of those minors were Black or Hispanic.

Race Number of Minors Requested to be Tried as Adults Percent of Total
Black 849 67.9%
Hispanic 247 19.7%
Caucasian 139 11.1%
Other/Unknown 10 0.8%
Asian 5 0.4%
Native American 1 0.08%

Roughly half — 692 — of those requests were granted, and those minors were all tried as adults. Of those minors, 87.4 percent were Black or Hispanic.

Race Number of Minors Tried as Adults Percent of Total
Black 460 66.5%
Hispanic 145 20.9%
Caucasian 76 10.9%
Other/Unknown 7 1.0%
Asian 3 0.4%
Native American 1 0.1%

According to the U.S. Census’ QuickFacts, New Jersey is 56.2 percent white, 14.8 percent Black, 19.7 percent Hispanic, 9.7 percent Asian, 2.1 percent two or more races and less than one percent American Indian and Native Hawaiian.

WNYC went through New Jersey prison records for everyone currently incarcerated who was a minor at the time they committed a crime and found:

“• At least 152 inmates are still in prison today for crimes they committed as kids in the past five years

• 93 percent of them are Black or Latino

• The most common crime they committed was robbery

• 20 percent of them have sentences of 10 or more years

• 2 are female inmates”

If a minor is convicted as an adult, they are subjected to adult sentences, which are longer than juvenile sentences. Adult sentences also give the minor a permanent record, rather than juvenile records that usually end up sealed. The minors are also sent to adult prisons. A minor is only tried as an adult if a prosecutor makes a special request, and then the judge either accepts or denies that request.

The study also showed that some county prosecutors are more likely than others to make special requests, and some counties are more likely to accept these requests for Black minors to be tried as adults compared to their white counterparts. Hunterdon County’s prosecutor has not requested to have a minor tried as an adult in the last five years, and their minor population is 80 percent white.

“Controlling for nature of offense, controlling for family background, controlling for educational history — all of the things that go into a prosecutor’s decision, there are still disparities, significant disparities, that cannot be explained by anything other than race,” says Laura Cohen, the director of the Criminal and Youth Justice Clinic at Rutgers Law School.

The data from New Jersey matches up with trends nationally, as an estimated 60 percent of those under 18 serving life sentences without parole are Black.

Psychological research also supports these statistics. In 2014, the American Psychological Association published a study, “The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children.” The study concluded that Black children are less likely to be seen as children or “childlike” than white children:

“We find converging evidence that Black boys are seen as older and less innocent and that they prompt a less essential conception of childhood than do their White same-age peers. Further, our findings demonstrate that the Black/ape association predicted actual racial disparities in police violence toward children. These data represent the first attitude/behavior matching of its kind in a policing context. Taken together, this research suggests that dehumanization is a uniquely dangerous intergroup attitude, that intergroup perception of children is underexplored, and that both topics should be research priorities.”

According to the study’s authors, white children are more often perceived as innocent than Black children.

“The evidence shows that perceptions of the essential nature of children can be affected by race, and for Black children, this can mean they lose the protection afforded by assumed childhood innocence well before they become adults,” said co-author Matthew Jackson, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles. “With the average age overestimation for Black boys exceeding four-and-a-half years, in some cases, Black children may be viewed as adults when they are just 13 years old.”

“Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection. Our research found that Black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent,” noted author Phillip Atiba Goff, PhD, also from UCLA.

In March of 2016 New Jersey signed into law that minors who are tried as adults will no longer be sent directly to adult prisons until they are the appropriate age. However, this law is not retroactive, meaning minors already serving sentences in adult prisons will not be moved to a juvenile facility.

Read more @ DiversityInc.com

Autistic Teen Chef Launches Cookbook at Los Angeles Restaurant To Raise Money To Set Up Autism Support Charity

LOS ANGELES, CA- Autistic teen chef Chase Bailey from Orange County, CA, who hosts his own hit cooking show www.chasenyurface.com launches his first cookbook this autumn to raise money to enable other people with autism to follow their dreams.

The official launch takes place at Santa Monica’s popular and award-winning Upper West restaurant in Santa Monica, CA. on November 10. Executive Chef Nick Shipp has been a huge fan of Chase since they cooked together at Autism Speaks’ Hollywood Celebrity Chef Gala in 2015. Between them they will be creating a five-course tasting menu based on The Official Chase ‘N Yur Face Cookbook. On hand to film the event will be Joey Travolta with a crew from his Inclusion Films company. The company teaches adults with developmental disabilities the practicalities to film making and many go on to work in major entertainment organizations.

Featuring over 75 recipes 15-year old Chase has developed, supported by mouthwatering photography, fun facts and anecdotes, The Official Chase ‘N Yur Face Cookbook (Chase ‘N Yur Face Media LLC, $24.95) includes an endorsement from Chef Mario Batali, who Chase appeared with on ABC’s top cooking program The Chew.

Using part of the book’s proceeds, Chase has decided to set up his own foundation www.chaseyurdreams.org  to assist people with autism who are working towards their dreams of living independently. 

“When Chase was little, he had some serious food aversions, which is common among people with an autism diagnosis.  One day I noticed how drawn he was to TV cooking programs.  Soon food became his world – he started overcoming his aversions and even started trying exotic foods,” Mary, Chase’s mom states. “The show began simply enough with me filming Chase cooking at home and posting the results on YouTube.  People loved it! Chase started inviting chefs and foodies to join him – Roy Choi, Becky Reams, Galia Orme, Anne Scioscia, Fuschia Sumner, and famed chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken are just some of the stars who’ve shared their recipes with him on Chase ‘N Yur Face.”

Tickets for the event, which starts at 7pm, cost $70 (plus tax & tip), and includes a signed copy of Chase’s cookbook plus a gastronomic goody bag. Tickets are available from www.upperwest.com or by calling the restaurant direct on 310-586-1111