Bebe Moore Campbell's Heart and Mind Live On

Cancer claims best-selling author Bebe Moore Campbell at 56, but it won't silence her legacy. Her books included Brothers and Sisters and What You Owe Me. Her success gave her a platform to speak out about mental illness.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya. On today's Roundtable, the president makes his way to the NATO summit, and a hate crime in California divides a city.

Joining us today from our New York bureau is Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition. We've also got Laura Washington, Chicago Sun-Times columnist at WLRN in Miami, Florida. And at member station WRNI in Providence, Rhode Island, Glenn Loury, professor of the social sciences and professor of economics at Brown University.

So thanks everyone for joining us, and let's go straight to the NATO summit in Latvia today. President Bush is focusing on Iraq and Afghanistan. He's also going to meet with the Iraqi prime minister in Amman, Jordan this week. Meanwhile, there's kind of been a shift in language about the war.

NBC News and the L.A. Times declare Iraq is in a civil war. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan isn't ready to use that phrase, but King Abdullah II of Jordan told CBS News he sees several struggles going on at once.

King ABDULLAH II (Jordan): So we're juggling with the strong potential of three civil wars in the region- whether it's the Palestinians, that of Lebanon or of Iraq.

CHIDEYA: So what do we make of this, Glenn? Is this just kind of bad news all around?

Professor GLEN LOURY (Social Sciences, Economics, Brown University): It's very bad news, very bad news indeed. The security situation in Iraq is so bad that the president of the United States can't meet with the leader of that country in the country. He has to go to Jordan to do it.

What King Abdullah says is just painfully too obviously true. The situation in Lebanon is fragile. The conflict between Israelis and the Palestinians continues. And the situation in Afghanistan is actually going critical, although he didn't mention that. And, of course, we see what's happening in Iraq.

This change of language, this willingness some news organizations to use the term civil war is very significant as I think it signals a collapse of the Bush administration's capacity - which has been very impressive to date - to control some of the parameters of the debate and to kind of define the conceptual terrain.

Things are spinning out of control over there, I'm very sorry to have to say.

CHIDEYA: Michael, is this a situation where we're having a much needed reality check, or is it premature to use the phrase civil war about Iraq?

Mr. MICHAEL MEYERS (Executive Director, New York Civil Rights Coalition): I've been using the term civil war long before all of these pundits and great intellectuals have. Of course it's a civil war. I mean, this change of language is just that, it's just a change of language - a slow recognition, acknowledgment of the real situation on the ground.

It's all very interesting that Vice President Cheney went to Saudi Arabia last weekend, because how appropriate for a man with his head in the sand to do so. George Bush has his head in the sand. This is nothing is changing of policy. Everybody's waiting for the Godot, everybody's waiting for the James Baker, Lee Hamilton report. And that's not going to be a cure-all for the Iraq situation.

You know, we went to, quote-unquote, “war” on bogus grounds. There are no weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein is headed for the gallows. Why are we still there? Draw up a bill, give it to them. Let the Iraqis police and control their own country. It's time to get out.

And all this talk with the coalition of the willing and the unwitting and the disengaged is just that - talk.

CHIDEYA: Laura, you know, if this is a civil war - and there's a lot of evidence to support that view if you have it - what responsibilities does that leave America with? Because it doesn't necessarily mean just because there's a civil war going on doesn't mean that we don't have any responsibility to the nation. Or does it?

Ms. LAURA WASHINGTON (Columnist, Chicago Sun-Times): Well, our great intellectual, Michael - and you are a great intellectual. I wouldn't deny it if I were you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MEYERS: I didn't deny that.

Ms. WASHINGTON: You said, you said, you…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MEYERS: I don't know…

Ms. WASHINGTON: Well, I'm helping you out on that one. You said this is all talk, and I think part of the problem is there's a lot of people we are not talking to that we do have, Farai, that we do have a responsibility to talk to. One of the big tensions within the administration is that we have not been willing to talk to the Iranians and the Syrians. We're talking to our long-time traditional allies who really can't help us out of this jam alone.

Right now we know that Philip Zelikow, the long-time aide, and close aide, to Condi Rice has announced he's resigning. He's claiming he's going back to the classroom. But the reality - from what people say on the inside in the State Department - is that he was very frustrated because he's been trying to get the administration to deal with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. We can't talk to them about that. We can't push ahead on that.

Our Middle East policy is in disarray. And it's not just in terms of the fact that we do have possibly three civil wars on our fronts, but that we're not willing to get in there and roll up our sleeves and that we have been in denial. This whole - even the debate about whether or not we're in a civil war.

Indeed, the civil war moniker has been something that the administration has fought, you know, ferociously to keep the media from the using. It is though by not using that, it's though by remaining in denial that that somehow will get this out of this mess. And, again, our policy is in disarray, and we don't really know how to get out of it.

CHIDEYA: Well, you know, we are staying on top of the situation with Iraq, so I'm going to move on to some other topics…

Mr. MEYERS: You're getting out of this topic, huh?

CHIDEYA: Well, you know, I mean I know that it's a situation where we keep revisiting this. And I love to hear how everybody's opinions and everybody's intelligence evolves over time. So I'm not trying to cut us off…

Mr. MEYERS: No, that's fine.

CHIDEYA: All right. Moving ahead: whites-only scholarship. This is a very interesting, perhaps just a token gesture, if I can put it that way.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: Boston University's Republicans Students Group is taking a stand against race-based programs. It's offering a scholarship for white students.

Now what's interesting here is they're saying that they're doing it to demonstrate the absurdity of race-based scholarships. But it's only 250 bucks, and it requires that applicants be at least 25 percent Caucasian, which frankly, a lot of black folks could meet that. So here's what the president of the group, Joseph Mroszczyk, had to say.

Mr. JOSEPH MROSZCZYK (President, Boston University Republicans Student Group): If you get all scholarships based on, you know, economic need, that's one thing. But to base it just on race and race alone, when they're coming from the same communities that the white folks are - or any ethnicity is coming from - I don't think that provides much diversity on campus at all.

CHIDEYA: All right, Michael. You have gone on the record on our show saying that you are not in favor of single race colleges. What about this move by this campus Republican group?

Mr. MEYERS: Racially identifiable colleges. Look, this is a very interesting question, because this is a private group offering a race-based scholarship, as other private groups offer race-based scholarships. This is not the university offering race-based scholarships. But they are raising significant and substantial question. I mean, some of the student groups have affirmative action bake sales, where they have different prices for whites and minorities. It is an interesting catalyst to discussion.

With respect to race-based scholarships, I think when they are offered by the university, they are - in effect - a failure of the human intellect on the part of the guardians of the academy. These are crudely drawn affirmative action programs. You do not have to base scholarships on the sole or exclusive basis of one's skin color. You can do it on the basis of economic or financial need, and why don't they do that? You know why? Because these great intellectuals - and I use that term mockingly - and that is that they are not as smart as they pretend to be or purport to be.

CHIDEYA: But, you know, Michael, I just have to ask you this: I mean, there is socioeconomics, but isn't race - it's a related metric, but it's not the same.

Mr. MEYERS: Race may be used as a factor for purposes of integration or desegregation or for diversity. Of course. And there's nothing wrong with using race as an inclusionary factor. Using race as an exclusionary criteria by a university that is federally funded is seriously questionable, and guess what? It is intellectually lazy and crude and, I think, obscene. Unnecessary.

CHIDEYA: Okay, Laura, that's a - obscene. That's a large charge. What do you think?

Ms. WASHINGTON: Michael, Michael - not only is he an intellectual, but he has such a way with words. I would agree that there is no reason to base scholarships on race alone. And Farai, you're right. They are connected. Race and economic status are connected. And there's no reason to do that in this case. Let me just make a couple of points.

Michael mentioned the bake sales. There is these bake sales that are similar to this kind of a tactic that are popping up all - at campuses all over the country, including my campus at DePaul University, where they - this white group comes in and they offer cookies and baked goods, and the cookies are a dollar for white young men, they're $.50 black women, and they're $.10 for black men.

It's basically sending a message about the various values that we place on these scholarships. I think this is a movement that is going beyond just a student level. A lot of these activities are being funded by conservative groups. The Republican Party in Boston claims that they were not involved with this particular activity, but there is a conservative movement behind it.

Be it as it may, if you look at the stats at Boston University, clearly, there's a lot of young people that are getting financial aid. More than 50 percent of student population at Boston is white. Only 2.6 percent is black. And yet, according to the stats, 67 percent of students there are on financial aid. So clearly, there's a lot more going on in making - in terms of making those financial aid decisions other than race, and I think that that's appropriate, that race be taken into account along with economic status.

and race only…

CHIDEYA: Glenn, I know this is crazy, but sometimes I have to go there. If this scholarship is for people who were 25 percent white, you know we can get a lot of folks and my family to qualify. Maybe black folks should just do like a 25 percent black scholarship. You know, show that we're a big tent - which we always had been. I mean, on some level doesn't this just point out - although race is very real - it also points out that this nation is much more mixed than maybe we even want to admit.

Professor LOURY: Look, look, Farai. This is a publicity stunt. This is a grandstand move. And the fact that we're talking about it here is illustration that the stunt succeeds. There isn't any affirmative action at Boston University. I taught there for 14 years. 2.6 percent of the student body being black…

Mr. MEYERS: You were affirmative action.

Professor LOURY: …is lower…

Get out of here.

essentially no effort to recruit African-American students. I was aware of no

Now, Laura and Michael are right to observe that if the university was simply to say, we'll take the top two students from each high school in the city of Boston - or the cities of Boston and Laurence, Massachusetts, and so forth, and University if they choose to come, they'd get plenty of black and Hispanic kids in the mix and they'd never have to have a racially-based scholarship.

So it's correct, that you could do this without explicitly using race. But that's not really the point. The point is whether or not the university cares about the diversity of its student body. If it does, then it can find means, racial or otherwise, to do something about that.

Now I just want to point the irony here. They say, along with Michael, that race shouldn't matter. Race isn't a relevancy. But you see, the depth of race in our society is so real that even as these students object to race-based scholarships, they're engaged in racial move. They're helping to construct the white interest. They're appealing to people on the basis of their race. They're not outside the system of racial classification and racial conflict.

Mr. MEYERS: You're wrong, because these students are not all white students. Some of them, including the spokesperson…

Professor LOURY No, no, no. I don't care what color the students are. What I'm saying is, what I'm saying is - no, no, no, no. You interrupted me. What I'm saying is that the protest, the conflict over affirmative action constructs a racial interest. It invites whites to see themselves as…

Mr. MEYER: Only whites? Only whites?

Professor LOURY: Contra-black. Mr. MEYERS: First of all, I did not say that race is irrelevant. I did not say that. In fact that's it that you get opposite - you're not listening very well. Secondly, I only…

Ms. WASHINGTON: Oh, play nice, people.

Mr. MEYERS: I want to make it a clear that - I want it very clear that while these some of these students or some of these groups may very well be misguided - and I think this group is misguided. And it's not a question of what is happening quote, unquote, “at Boston University.” But it is an issue, with respect to society at large, and that's what the student groups are raising -the issue that there are private groups that are offering race-based scholarships.

And there have been public universities, and colleges and universities that are private, that have offered race-based scholarships. They're making a larger point. And I say - make it. I don't care if there are - that they may feel that debate. I don't believe in censorship, I say let them speak.

CHIDEYA: All right Michael, last word goes to Laura, very briefly. Is this really a racial play as Glenn argues? I mean, you know, can you debate these issues without being racial about it?

Ms. WASHINGTON: Absolutely you can. And is the - no more of a racial play than the people who support affirmative action are making a racial play. And I…

Professor LOURY: Yes.

Ms. WASHINGTON: …don't think that there's anything wrong with making that kind of conversation. I agree with Michael on this point, that it does engage people, it does get the information off from the table. If Boston has such a terrible affirmative action record, let's talk about that, you know, along with talking about supposedly race-based scholarships. It provokes conversation and debate. And race is such a hard thing for us to talk about. You know, go to it is what I say.

CHIDEYA: All right. We're going to have to leave it right there. Laura Washington, Chicago Sun-Times columnist; Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition; and Glenn Loury, professor of the social sciences and of economics at Brown University, thank you all.

Mr. MEYERS: Thank you.

Professor LOURY: You're welcome. Now, we remember a lady who changed lives with her pen. Bebe Moore Campbell died at her home yesterday in Los Angeles, of complications from brain cancer. She was just 56 years old. The Philadelphia native once said she wrote her characters layer by layer, seeing each one from their childhood up. Campbell's books included the acclaimed “Brothers and Sisters” and “What You Owe Me.”

Her success gave her a platform to speak out about mental illness. And last summer, she spoke to NEWS & NOTES about her book on the issue called “72 Hour Hold.”

(Soundbite of previous NPR broadcast)

Ms. BEBE MOORE CAMPBELL (Author, “72 Hour Hold”): With the novel, I mean primarily, I'm making this story up. I'm borrowing from things that I've experienced but I'm not the protagonist. My loved one is not, you know, the person in the story. So it's freer, actually. You know, I can take all that passion, all that experience, and then infuse it with my story-telling ability and I can just run with it. And I think the book wrote itself.

Society in general is stigmatized by mental illness. No one wants to say, I don't have control of my mind. No one wants to say I have a family member who doesn't have control of his mind. But people of color, and particularly black people, really don't want to own up to it. When I first discovered NAMI, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill - I live in Los Angeles, I had to go to Beverly Hills.

The thing about being in denial, and being in the closet, and bowing down to stigma, is you don't get any information. And after being in that organization with some friends who are also family members of mentally ill people, we decided, hey, we need to start this on our side of town.

And so, part of my mission for this book tour is to get black people owning up to the fact that, yes, we have mental illness in our families; and to know that recovery is possible - but it's not possible if you stay in the closet.

CHIDEYA: Bebe Moore Campbell was also a wife, mother, and grandmother. She leaves behind her husband, her mother, two children, and two grandchildren.

(Soundbite of music)

world experience. Plus former SWV singer Coko, drops her first gospel album, “Grateful.”

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Author Bebe Moore Campbell Dies at 56

Bebe Moore Campbell i i

Bebe Moore Campbell was the author of several best-selling books that explored issues of race from several vantage points, including Brothers and Sisters, Singing in the Comeback Choir and Your Blues Ain't Like Mine. Barbara DuMetz hide caption

itoggle caption Barbara DuMetz
Bebe Moore Campbell

Bebe Moore Campbell was the author of several best-selling books that explored issues of race from several vantage points, including Brothers and Sisters, Singing in the Comeback Choir and Your Blues Ain't Like Mine.

Barbara DuMetz

Author Bebe Moore Campbell died of complications from brain cancer at her home in Los Angeles on Monday. She was 56.

In addition to being an author, Campbell was an NPR commentator and an advocate for the mentally ill.

"Stigma is one of the main reasons why people with mental health problems don't seek treatment or take their medication," Campbell said. "People of color, particularly African Americans, feel the stigma more keenly. In a race-conscious society, some don't want to be perceived as having yet another deficit."

Campbell is survived by her mother, husband, daughter and two grandchildren.

Michele Norris talks with Marita Golden, a friend of the author's and a fellow novelist, about how Campbell's journalism background and coming of age in the 1960s shaped her work.

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