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Harlem Children's Zone Faces COVID Fallout; Interview with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX); Oscars Hopes to Raise Ratings. Aired 10:30- 11a ET

Aired April 23, 2021 - 10:30   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Their K through 12 school is Promise Academy, home to about 2,200 students chosen by lottery each year.

UNKNOWN: What are we thinking (ph)?

HARLOW (voice-over): It comes at a cost, roughly $3,300 per student annually, excluding school costs, and all raised from donors to provide these wraparound services.

GEOFFREY CANADA, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, HARLEM CHILDREN'S ZONE: I asked him three days ago, did we get 100 percent of our kids in college this year?


CANADA: And he said, yes, we did. Because I was -- I was asking --

HARLOW: A hundred?

OWUSU-KESSE: One hundred percent.

CANADA: -- the same --

HARLOW (voice-over): But they are worried, very worried about those children in a COVID recovery that is anything but equal.

CANADA: When you look at who's lost their job, who right now is terrified, in these apartments, that they can't pay their rent, who's worried that there's nowhere I can figure out how to pay my light bill and pay for food for -- it is women who have been decimated by this pandemic.

And as we're thinking about getting back to normal, we're not thinking about how do we make sure this happens so everybody has a safety net in this country.

OWUSU-KESSE: What was normal prior to the pandemic wasn't serving our community in any meaningful way. HARLOW: Are you saying you don't want to go back to normal?

UNKNOWN: I'm saying I don't want to go back to perpetuating the underinvestment, the discrimination, the large disparities that exist.

HARLOW (voice-over): This past year especially, Owusu-Kesse has had to answer the hardest of questions from their kids.

OWUSU-KESSE: There's questions about does my life matter.

HARLOW: They say that to you?

OWUSU-KESSE: Yes. And I think the --


OWUSU-KESSE: Absolutely, right? When you're constantly being bombarded by images on social media, on the television, of people who look like you that are mistreated or murdered, what else can you conclude?

CANADA: Poppy, it's so traumatic right now for young people growing up who are people of color. I never saw a lynching when I was growing up; I heard of them. Everybody saw what happened to George Floyd. It's not -- it leaves nothing to your imagination.

HARLOW (voice-over): They've managed to maintain a 90 percent attendance rate through the pandemic, but they warn often the deepest wounds aren't visible on the surface.

OWUSU-KESSE: So when we talk about the amount of death, the amount of uncertainty, we talk about the economic insecurity, the health insecurity? There's just a tremendous toll that is happening.

CANADA: This is going to be one of those sort of silent killers in our community that's going to exist for decades.

HARLOW: Silent killers?

CANADA: Yes. This is going to hit some people for years from now, there are going to be some folks who are going to realize, I never saw my mother pass away, I couldn't go to the funeral. And that, they're going to live with for the rest of their lives. And we -- one thing we know about this kind of trauma is that it impacts you physically, and then 10, 15, 20 years, it ends up killing people of color at extraordinarily high rates.

HARLOW (voice-over): Researchers at Harvard have long studied Harlem Children's Zone. In their landmark 2009 study of students at Promise Academy, they found it effectively closed the black-white achievement gap in math among middle schoolers, and in both math and English for elementary school students.

OWUSU-KESSE: We believe we have the vaccine to poverty, and we hope --

HARLOW: The vaccine to poverty?

OWUSU-KESSE: Absolutely. And that we hope that this is an opportunity the (ph) folks to be able to understand what we mean by comprehensive place-based services, and have the political will and the prioritization efforts to be able to center this work of what can really help unlock the great potential that exists in communities that have been underserved for generations.

HARLOW (voice-over): 2019 New York State data show a higher percentage of Promise Academy third and fourth graders scored in the proficient category in state math and English testing than the statewide average.

OWUSU-KESSE: This is no longer an experiment, right? We have two decades' worth of data that tells us that this work is effective. We have effectively eliminated the black-white achievement gap.

HARLOW (voice-over): Now, their biggest test? Maintaining that progress with stronger headwinds than they have ever faced before.

OWUSU-KESSE: "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men," Frederick Douglass.

CANADA: Frederick Douglass knew what was going on with children, if we didn't fix it, we were going to be dealing with all of the problems that lack of education, lack of decent health care would provide for our community? It still is true today.


HARLOW: You know, Jim, I think we all -- and the people in power in this country really need to listen to them when they say --



HARLOW: -- we have never seen it this bad. And I think it's a moral test for all of us: What are we really going to do for these kids, coming out of this? When our lives get back to normal --


HARLOW: -- and we still have our jobs, what are we going to do for those kids? It's a test.

SCIUTTO: No question. It starts with acknowledging that some groups in this country are paying a bigger price, right? I mean, it's --


SCIUTTO: -- in the data. But I also think stories like this -- and I'm glad you did it -- they're an antidote for pessimism, right? Because --

HARLOW: Oh, thank you. SCIUTTO: -- we could throw up our hands --


SCIUTTO: -- or you can highlight the folks who are attempting to make a difference, and then making a difference.

HARLOW: Yes, they are. They're heroes in my book. All right, thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, bipartisan talks on police reform -- another big topic we've been covering a lot on this broadcast -- have hit a sticking point. What is it, can they get over it? We're going to discuss with someone who's involved, next.



SCIUTTO: The future remains uncertain for a sweeping bill to overhaul policing practices in America. Right now, lawmakers at sharp odds over whether to make it easier to prosecute members of law enforcement criminally. The issue, very important to both Democrats and Republicans. I'm joined now by Texas Congresswoman, Democrat, Sheila Jackson Lee. She also serves on the Judiciary Committee.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): Thank you for having me this morning, greetings.

SCIUTTO: So let's begin on this sticking point, because the issue here is changing the standard for prosecuting officers from willful intent to reckless disregard. So in other words, from it being a willful but illegal use of force to one that's reckless. I wonder, is that a red line for Democrats, that change?

JACKSON LEE: Well, let's just say it's a red line for me. But I believe in moving the ball forward, and I think it is very important that the discussions that we all are engaged in, that we will continue to be engaged in to move this legislation as swiftly forward as possible so the president can sign it. It is long overdue.

To be honest with you, the Judiciary Committee's been dealing with policing issues for at least two decades, and put forward a number of initiatives that I think, frankly, if they'd been passed 20 years ago, 15 years ago, such as the training component that is in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act -- definition of excessive force -- we would have been in a different place.

The 242 Section that you speak of, I understand that it may be challenging for some members of the Senate to get their hands around it, but it's a simple test. And I think if we continue discussions, we can find common ground.

So I take, for example, willful means that you came with some purposeful intent. The tragedy of Mr. Toledo, Jim, could we say that officer -- I don't know what the facts will ultimately bear out -- was willful, or could we say that he was reckless?

And so that means that if we're still using the old standard, that police officer is not held accountable. And, frankly, I think the video suggests that that individual, when the investigation goes forward, maybe should be held accountable. That's the fine line that we're talking about, and there are many cases like that that we need to address.

SCIUTTO: The other issue is on qualified immunity. GOP Senator Tim Scott, who's helped leading the efforts in these bipartisan negotiations, he backs an idea that would allow civil litigation against police departments rather than individual officers. Again, a source of disagreement, but I wonder: Do you see that being surmountable as well to get this over the line?

JACKSON LEE: Again, I'm on the train that wants to go forward. Maybe it's a high-speed train, maybe it's a long-distance train, but I'm prepared to just project the fact that there are many members of Congress, House and Senate, that are in the same position.

We'll be open to -- I think what has to happen is that we do something like let's see the language. And so if we see the language and we look to see whether or not a wide swath of people will be protected -- remember now, what is happening is that the modification of qualified immunity is to ensure that both the victim and the officer has a chance to be in court and not be thrown out. So we'll be open-minded to the idea in a civil case that the victim has an opportunity to be heard.

SCIUTTO: OK. I want to talk about another issue close to your heart -- that, of course, the issue of voting rights and this slew of new voting restriction laws we're seeing in a number of areas, including in your home state of Texas here. You know the debate, you have President Biden, for instance, in relation to the laws in Georgia, comparing them to Jim Crow; you have Republicans saying he's lying when he makes that comparison. Explain, if you can, how the changes in Texas make it harder to vote in your view?

JACKSON LEE: First of all, Jim, the district that I represent in Texas is what we call a voting rights district, I would not have had an opportunity to go to the United State Congress but for the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Obviously I wasn't elected way back there, but my predecessor, the honorable Barbara Jordan, was. She ran so many times at large, and could never win until the Voting Rights Act came into place.

Is it about race? Yes, it's about race. Is the S.B. 7 bill about race? Yes, in Texas, it is about race. And that is tragic. And the reason why I say that is, they had a solution running for a problem. There was no charges of the question of fraud, both in Georgia and in Texas. There's no widespread fraud, there is no discernible fraud. It was minute, if at best.

[10:45:05] And so we asked the legislature, when schoolchildren don't have enough resources to make up for this terrible pandemic, why are they focused immediately on voting rights? It was because they lost the 2020 election, rather than getting back on their feet, putting their issues forward and running. This is truly about race.

What do you think about a poll watcher -- that is, not anyone officially connected to the poll -- a poll watcher, designated by parties, having a videotape and watching voters while they're voting? Can you tell me what good news is that? It is intimidation, I've seen it, I've seen it in my congressional district, which is a majority minority district.

And so yes, I don't believe this has anything to do with voting rights. We must rush immediately to pass two bills: H.R. 1, that could be merged into H.R. 4, which is the John Robert Lewis Voter Enhancement Bill. That's what the Congress has to do to protect the American people -- and I mean, Jim, all of the American people.

SCIUTTO: Does it need to break -- should it be willing to break the filibuster to pass those voting bills? You know, Democrats -- some, Manchin, Sinema -- oppose that.

JACKSON LEE: This is where I'd like to sit down with my colleagues and really collaborate and have a meeting of the minds, because I think if they understood the original concept of the filibuster, not grounded in the Constitution but grounded in obstructionism, and for the period of time in the 20th century, the southern segregation used it to block every single civil rights initiative, not even law -- every single civil rights initiative.

So frankly, I think the filibuster has ended its relevant time. I believe there should be an opportunity for the minority. I'd like to see some options that minorities could have -- when I say that, the minority party in the Senate, whoever it might be -- would have the ability to have their voices heard.

But in this instance, the president's job plan, the voting rights bill, the George Floyd bill, I frankly believe that we need to find a way to work with as many people as possible, but yet not have it blocked by a few. And not these crucial elements that will help heal the nation. All of these bills will bring the nation together.

SCIUTTO: Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

JACKSON LEE: Oh, thank you for having me, look forward to seeing you again. Get out and get vaccinated, the Congressional Black Caucus is initiating a GOTV, Get Out To be Vaccinated.

SCIUTTO: Listen to that, folks, it's the right thing to do. And we'll be right back.



HARLOW: As they say in Hollywood, the show must go on. And the Academy Awards will happen in L.A. this Sunday. Our Stephanie Elam has more.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From struggle --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am a revolutionary!

ELAM (voice-over): -- to desperation

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I need work, I like work.

ELAM (voice-over): -- the times are felt in this year's Oscar nominees.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you concerned about an overreaction from the cops?

ELAM (voice-over): But so is the silence, including from viewers, whose lack of interest made most award shows this year a bomb.

MATTHEW BELLONI, FORMER EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: If the ratings continue to decline, you're going to see some changes. I think some awards shows might go away.

ELAM (voice-over): The Oscars want to reverse the trend. Gone is the internet remote access feel that hindered shows like the Golden Globes.

BELLONI: It ended up being like a bad version of an office meeting, and the Oscars don't want that.

ELAM (voice-over): Enter Steven Soderbergh and Stacey Sher, the team -- ironically -- behind the film "Contagion." The pandemic will be a big theme, they say, but Soderbergh wants a show unlike any other.

BELLONI: And he has said that he wants the Oscars to feel like a movie. They're going to have shots from behind shoulders of people, moving cameras.

ELAM: To pull it off, the show is moving to a smaller venue, here to L.A.'s iconic Union Station, itself a star in Hollywood films like "Catch Me If You Can" and "The Dark Knight Rises."

ELAM (voice-over): And with vaccines out and fewer restrictions, the biggest challenge may not be the pandemic, but the movies themselves. Absent of any theatrical hits like years past, this year, the best films come mostly from streaming platforms.

BELLONI: It's very different than choosing to go to a movie theater, buy your popcorn, sit in the theater and watch a movie. People just become attached to those movies in a way that they don't when they're on streaming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please call me Mank.

ELAM (voice-over): "Mank" leads with 10 nominations, but no "Nomadland" is the frontrunner for best picture.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, I know what I'm doing.

ELAM (voice-over): Chadwick Boseman is expected to win a posthumous award for best actor, but the pressure to win may just be on the Oscars themselves.

BELLONI: Will they be able to get that audience back when there are movies in theaters, or is this just accelerating a trend that already existed, and those audience members are not coming back?

ELAM (voice-over): In Hollywood, I'm Stephanie Elam.


HARLOW: Stephanie, thank you very much.


And thanks to all of you, we'll be right back.


HARLOW: Best part of the day happened before the sun came up. SpaceX has launched its third astronaut mission in less than a year, carrying those four astronauts from three different countries.


SCIUTTO: Those astronauts -- and I hope to be one of them on the next flight -- maintain that they're all a part of a global effort to understand and fight climate change, and how humanity affects this planet. That (ph), thanks to the research done in space, NASA and its partners are able to better assess the health of the planet.


HARLOW: I'm going to hold my breath for that one, Jim.

All right, be sure to tune in tonight, everyone. We've got a special climate crisis town hall. Dana Bash hosts. It's 10:00 Eastern tonight.

Thanks to all of you for joining us today and all week. Have a good weekend. We'll see you Monday. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto.