‘There Is Clearly Something Happening’: 3 Black Churches Are Set On Fire In Louisiana

Federal authorities have joined the investigation into a string of fires that engulfed three historically black churches in southern Louisiana in the span of just 10 days.

The fires began on March 26 in Louisiana’s St. Landry Parish, a rural community north of Lafayette. Officials have not determined the cause of the fires, but have said they are unable to rule out the possibility of arson or that the three incidents were all related.

“There is clearly something happening in this community,” State Fire Marshal H. Browning said in a statement on Thursday. “That is why it is imperative that the citizens of this community be part of our effort to figure out what it is.”

The fires caused extensive damage to the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church and the Greater Union Baptist Church in the city of Opelousas, and the St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre. No deaths or injuries have been reported in either of the fires.

Separately, officials say a fourth fire was “intentionally set” on March 31 at the Vivian United Pentecostal Church, a predominately white church roughly three hours north in Caddo Parish.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is now investigating the fires, as is the FBI. So far officials have not connected the four fires, identified a suspect or determined a motive.

The narrow window in which the fires took place has raised fears that racial motivation may be at play. The fires have also rekindled painful memories of the violence that frequently targeted black churches in the South during reconstruction and the civil rights era. That violence has continued in recent years with incidents such as the 2015 shooting at the Emmanuel AME Baptist Church in Charleston, S.C., when a white supremacist fatally shot nine people.

For congregants like Florence Milburn, a member of the Greater Union Baptist Church, the fires have been devastating.

Milburn said she learned on Thursday about the fire at Greater Union.

“When I was notified at 2:30 in the morning, I was on my feet, and I was there,” Milburn told NPR. “My husband and I drove over there along with our other family members, and along with our church family, we were on site and we watched our church burn to the ground.”

The congregation of the Greater Union Baptist Church was preparing to celebrate the 130th anniversary of its construction this July. “This is my family church. My family has been in this church for over 100 years, going back to my great grandparents, so when I heard of the fire, I was devastated. And I am still uneasy. I am still hurt,” Milburn said.

Like others in the community, Milburn said there was “something irregular, out of the ordinary” about the fires. “Something that should not have occurred.”

“Why they did it, what motive, we’re at a loss. So whether or not we are told who did it, or why they did it, it doesn’t bring our church back, and all the memories that we had,” Milburn said. “It’s like losing a family member, or losing a family home.”

Milburn said that on Sunday morning, congregants will gather at a building loaned to them temporarily for worship. Plans for rebuilding have already begun, she said.

“We have to rebuild God’s church.”

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Mummified Mice And Falcons Found In Newly Unveiled Egyptian Tomb

An archeologist holds an ancient mummified bird, found in a burial site unveiled on Friday.

Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters


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Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

The recent discovery of mummified cats in a well-preserved tomb probably shouldn’t be surprising. It’s a long-established fact that Ancient Egyptians loved cats.

What’s perhaps more remarkable, however, is the fact that a tomb unveiled on Friday contained a sort of mummified menagerie of 50 animals — and there were mummified mice and falcons in addition to the cats.

The Tomb of Tutu in Sohag contains mummified mice and falcons, pictured here.

Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters


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Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

The tomb is colorfully painted and well-preserved — and Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, called it “one of the most exciting discoveries ever in the area.”

Waziri told Reuters the tomb contains a lobby and a burial room with two stone coffins. It is said to have been built for a man named Tutu and his wife. The area outside the burial chamber also contained mummies of a woman and a boy between 12 and 14 years old.

The newly discovered site also contains well-preserved wall paintings. The walls of the tomb depicted funeral processions, images of the owner, Tutu, and his family genealogy.

Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters


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Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

This animal-filled tomb is part of a series of recent archaeological discoveries in Egypt. According to Reuters, the tomb was one of seven burial sites found near the Egyptian town of Sohag last October. Smugglers were illegally digging for artifacts in the area and authorities found them.

Another tomb was unveiled in Saqqara, outside of Cairo, in December. Dozens of cat mummies and 100 cat statues were also found in Saqqara in November. February, 2018 saw the unveiling of another 4,400-year-old tomb.

As NPR’s Laurel Wamsley reported, Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities sees the announcement of new discoveries as a way to attract tourists.

Tourism in Egypt slowed for years after the 2011 revolution. In December, The Associated Press reported that the industry has yet to recover, even though visits are gradually increasing. A new Grand Egyptian Museum, a project costing more than $1 billion and financed largely by Japan, is set to open in 2020.

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U.N. Urges An End To Fighting In Libya As Opposition Army Heads Toward Tripoli

Gen. Khalifa Hafter is Libya’s former top army chief. He now leads the Libyan National Army, which is advancing toward the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli.

Mohammed El-Sheikhy/AP


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Mohammed El-Sheikhy/AP

International concern is mounting over the situation in Libya. The Libyan National Army, led by Khalifa Haftar, says it has now advanced into the southern outskirts of the capital Tripoli, where the U.N.-backed government is located.

G7 foreign ministers have urged an end to the fighting. “We urge all involved parties to immediately halt all military activity and movements toward Tripoli,” the body, which is composed of the foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. wrote in a statement.

The U.N. Security Council, which met behind closed doors on Friday, has also called on Libyan National Army forces to cease their advances.

The fear, according to The Associated Press, is that the Libyan National Army’s advances toward the capitol could lead to “a major showdown with rival militias.” Both the Libyan National Army and the U.N.-backed government have various militias supporting them.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres left Libya on Friday. He met with Gen. Haftar and then told journalists he was leaving Libya “with a deep concern and a heavy heart.” Guterres has insisted that Libya needs a political solution, not a military one, and said the U.N. is available to facilitate a peace process.

Libya has been extremely unstable since NATO-backed forces deposed its former dictator Moammar Ghadafi in 2011.

In a 2016 interview with Fox News, former President Barack Obama called his handling of the aftermath of that revolution the worst mistake of his presidency. Obama has said the U.S. should have done more to fill the vacuum left by Ghadafi.

By 2014, Libya had devolved into a civil war, and ISIS had become increasingly influential there. According to Reuters, the U.S. provided air support to Libyan forces fighting ISIS in 2016 and continued to launch strikes on suspected militants there after the end of that campaign.

A study conducted by the New America Foundation found that at least 2,158 airstrikes and drone strikes were conducted by foreign and domestic powers in Libya between September 2012 and June 2018. According to the study’s estimates, between 242 and 395 civilians were killed in the strikes, and between 324 and 524 were wounded.

New America found that the Libyan National Army, led by Haftar, conducted 1,112 of those airstrikes. The United States conducted 524 of them.

In addition to political and military chaos in Libya, there have also been reports of gross human rights violations there. Last year, the United Nations human rights office found that the country contained “open slave markets” where migrants were bought and sold. According to Reuters, various armed groups control many of the country’s ports and beaches.

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Fresh Air Weekend: Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin; A Therapist Goes To Therapy

Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross interviewed conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin before a live audience at WHYY on April 2, 2019.

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Daniel Burke Photo&Video/WHYY

Fresh Air Weekend highlights some of the best interviews and reviews from past weeks, and new program elements specially paced for weekends. Our weekend show emphasizes interviews with writers, filmmakers, actors and musicians, and often includes excerpts from live in-studio concerts. This week:

For Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Making Music Is ‘Like A Religious Call’: Nézet-Séguin uses every part of his body when he conducts — including his eyes, eyebrows, shoulders and feet. He’s the music director at New York’s Metropolitan Opera and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Overlooked In The ’70s, ‘Wanda’ Finally Gets Her Due: Written and directed by its star, Barbara Loden, Wanda is based on the true story of a crime gone wrong. A restored version is now out from the Criterion Collection.

A Psychotherapist Goes To Therapy — And Gets A Taste Of Her Own Medicine: Lori Gottlieb is a psychotherapist who started seeing a therapist herself after the man she thought she would marry unexpectedly broke up with her. Her new book is Maybe You Should Talk to Someone.

You can listen to the original interviews here:

For Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Making Music Is ‘Like A Religious Call’

Overlooked In The ’70s, ‘Wanda’ Finally Gets Her Due

A Psychotherapist Goes To Therapy — And Gets A Taste Of Her Own Medicine

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Breaking The Cycle Of Disinvestment In Lower-Income Communities

Project Reo Collective is a coffee shop in San Diego’s Paradise Hills neighborhood that had trouble getting a bank loan to expand after a year of operation.

Claire Trageser/KPBS


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Claire Trageser/KPBS

It’s not uncommon for people who want to start businesses in lower-income neighborhoods to have trouble getting bank loans. But increasingly, there are investors looking specifically to help businesses in those areas, with the aim of reversing the cycle of disinvestment.

“There’s always reasons to say no to a borrower. We are looking for reasons to say yes,” says Lauren Grattan, a founder of the San Diego-based investment company Mission Driven Finance. She explained that her company doesn’t look at personal credit scores. “We instead look at the validity of the business and how well can you repay from the business earnings.”

Her company’s goal is to fill the gap between more traditional profit-motivated investing and philanthropy that focuses on economic development.

One business that could have used help like this is Project Reo Collective, a coffee shop in Paradise Hills, a lower-income neighborhood of San Diego.

The coffee shop is situated in a small strip mall near a Mexican restaurant and a cell phone store. On most days, the cafe is filled with people working on laptops or hanging out while drinking Mexican mochas or lavender lemonades.

Two specialties of the Project Reo Collective coffee shop are its lavender lemonade and Mexican mocha.

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Claire Trageser/KPBS

“Project Reo Collective started out as five families who got together … cleaning up the neighborhood here,” says Tommy Walker, one of the owners. “A lot of people in the neighborhood said, ‘We wish we had somewhere to hang out, somewhere we grab a cup of coffee, meet our neighbors, do some homework or study.’ “

Walker says that after a successful first year, he went to a bank asking to borrow $4,000 for an espresso machine. But, he didn’t have any luck.

“They said, ‘No, you guys don’t qualify because you haven’t been around long enough,’ ” he says.

A problem of disinvestment

Having trouble getting a small-business loan like this is typical, according to data compiled by the nonprofit Woodstock Institute in a report titled “Patterns of Disparity.” It shows that between 2012 and 2016, only about one in five businesses in low-income areas across the United States received bank loans or even business credit cards. That’s compared with almost three in five businesses in higher-income areas.

“You have a cycle that kind of perpetuates that neighborhood being less friendly to business,” says Spencer Cowan, the researcher who compiled the data. “Businesses don’t get started. So employment stays depressed. The job opportunities aren’t there in the neighborhood. Businesses that are there don’t expand.”

He says it can also drive businesses to predatory lending.

That’s what happened to Natalie Gill. After running her flower-arranging business out of her home, she wanted to expand to a flower shop and cafe called Native Poppy.

“I had two years of experience with profit, but I got rejected for every loan I tried for,” she says.

A normal small-business loan has 5 to 10 percent interest, but she took a loan from an online company. “It was at 18 percent interest, and I had to pay it within three years, which was a risk I was willing to take because I had no other options,” she says.

Bank investment vs. community investment

Banks are restricted in whom they can choose for loans, says Carty Davis, an investment banker with C Squared Advisors.

“A bank can’t just say, ‘I really like this person. I’m going to take a flier on them because I know they’re going to be successful,’ ” he says. “They have a good business plan, but if they don’t have equity to put into the deal or cash to put into the deal, it’s going to be very difficult to get a loan approved.”

Davis says banks have certain criteria that must be met, such as a good credit history. He suggests that if potential borrowers don’t have that, they can go to the federal Small Business Administration.

But here’s the issue for lower-income communities: Those loans still require big cash down payments or home equity, which business owners may not have.

There are alternative ways of getting financing, such as from a company like Mission Driven Finance. In addition to investing in small community businesses, Mission Driven Finance also helps people looking for small-business loans better understand the technicalities of borrowing money to open or expand businesses.

The point, founder Lauren Grattan says, is to invest in neighborhoods that really need it. Because when businesses succeed, they hire locally and the entire community reaps the benefits.

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