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Lift Every Voice and Sing
Special Sioux City choir to help celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day

SIOUX CITY -- As her choir sang a powerful rendition of Percy Gray's "I've Got Favor," director Sandra Pearson couldn't help but smile.

"Hey, that's what I'm talking!" she exclaimed to the singers gathered for a rehearsal on Jan. 17. "You've got the spirit in you!"

Normally the head director of the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church's Consecrated Mass Choir, Pearson has been given the additional task of conducting an all-community choir that will be honoring the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as part of the Siouxland NAACP's annual Martin Luther King Day celebration.

The event, which will also include speakers and local dignitaries, is being held at 7 p.m. Monday, at the Mayflower Congregational United Church of Christ, 1407 W. 18th St.

"We have singers from five or six local churches in our choir," Pearson said, wiping perspiration from her brow immediately after the rehearsal. "We have some of Siouxland's best voices singing their praises for Dr. King and his legacy."

Kemi Brown nodded her head in agreement.

Brown and other community choir members raised the roof with James Weldon Johnson's "Lift Every Voice and Sing."

"Many people think Martin Luther King Day is an African-American holiday and it isn't," she said. "Martin Luther King fought for the civil rights of everyone and that's why his legacy will always live on."

Acting as accompanists for choir members were pianist and music director Leland Mickels and drummer Brent Witthoeft.

"When I became a part of the Mount Zion congregation, they saw something inside me that I didn't know was there," Witthoeft explained. "I've been paying it forward ever since and it has been powerful."

Standing in front of a lectern, Pearson raises her hand in order to get the attention of the community choir.

"OK people, first we're gonna sing 'Happy Birthday' to Dr. King the traditional way," she said. "Then we're gonna sing 'Happy Birthday' to Dr. King the 'Stevie Wonder' way."

"You mean the right way," someone in the choir interjected as Pearson grinned. 

Noting that the theme of this year's MLK celebration will be "Making the Dream a Reality," Pearson said King is as important now as he's ever been.

"Dr. King preached about love, faith, standing up for justice and equality," she said. "We haven't achieved that dream yet but we will some day."

This sentiment isn't lost on Gakoby Pearson.

A West High School tenth grader and Sandra Pearson's son, Gakoby said young people should look to Martin Luther King Jr. as a role model.

"(King) had a powerful message," Gakoby explained, "but he said it in a peaceful way. If we don't reflect upon King's life and legacy today, we may go backwards and repeat the mistakes of the past."

"We can't go backwards," he said. "We need to keep going forwards."

Omaha Tribal elder at center of uproar over tensions at National Mall

MACY, Neb. -- The former chairman of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska expressed disappointment Sunday with the conduct of high school students who were captured on video engaging in a confrontation with an Omaha elder in Washington, D.C. 

In the video, students from Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky, appeared to mock 64-year-old Nathan Phillips, an elder in the Omaha Tribe, as he sang and played a drum. Many of the students wore "Make America Great Again" hats, and one student stood close to and stared at Phillips, a Vietnam veteran. 

Phillips was participating in the Indigenous Peoples March, which coincided with the March for Life, an event that drew thousands of anti-abortion protesters, including the Covington students. 

Video footage of the incident created a major and contentious stir online over the weekend. Thousands considered the students disrespectful, while rumors swirled -- particularly in conservative circles -- that Phillips was at fault, not the students. 

Rudi Mitchell, 79, is a former chairman and elder of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, who met Phillips last summer at a powwow. He was not impressed by the behavior of the students in the video, which he saw in news coverage. 

"I was just taken aback at the way those young high school students treated him," said Mitchell, who, like Phillips, is a veteran of the Vietnam War. "One of our main values is respect to elders."

Mitchell said it was an "insult" for the students to behave as they did toward Phillips, particularly since Phillips is a veteran. Members of the Omaha Tribe gathered at the Nebraska State Capitol Sunday afternoon to protest Phillips' treatment, according to the Lincoln Journal Star. 

News reports and analysis of the incident have given rise to more than one narrative. Perhaps the most widely reported version, as of Sunday night, was that Phillips had tried to deescalate a heated confrontation between the Covington students and a small group of Black Hebrew Israelites, as was reported by the Cincinnati Enquirer. 

Nathan Phillips, who was attending the Indigenous Peoples March Friday, said in an interview with The Associated Press that he was trying to keep peace between some Covington students and the religious group that was also on the National Mall on Friday. The students were participating in the March for Life, which drew thousands of anti-abortion protesters. 

"Something caused me to put myself between (them) — it was black and white," said Phillips, who lives in Ypsilanti, Michigan. "What I saw was my country being torn apart. I couldn't stand by and let that happen."

Phillips said it was a difficult end to an otherwise great day, in which his group sought to highlight injustices against native people worldwide through marching and prayer. He said his first interaction with the students came when they entered an area permitted for the Indigenous Peoples March.

"They were making remarks to each other ... (such as) 'In my state those Indians are nothing but a bunch of drunks.' How do I report that?" he told the AP. "These young people were just roughshodding through our space, like what's been going on for 500 years here — just walking through our territories, feeling like 'this is ours."

Nearby, the black religious activists were speaking about being the only true Israelites. Phillips said group members called the Native Americans "sell-outs."

Nick Sandmann, the Covington student who was facing Phillips and smiling in the video, released a statement Sunday about the episode. Sandmann said the Black Hebrew Israelites were making derogatory statements toward the students, calling them "racists," "bigots," "white crackers" and other, more obscene insults. 

The students, according to Sandmann, then replied with school spirit chants. His statement maintains that, as far as he knows, students did not chant "build the wall," as has been reported elsewhere.

Sandmann's statement says that Phillips, as he walked through the crowd, was not harassed by himself or other students, and that it was Phillips who positioned himself close to Sandmann's face. 

"I believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to diffuse the situation," Sandmann's statement says. 

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School issued a joint apology to Phillips, saying they plan to take "appropriate action, up to and including expulsion," the Associated Press reported. 

Phillips told The Washington Post Saturday that he felt threatened by Sandmann and the other Covington students. 

“It was getting ugly, and I was thinking: ‘I’ve got to find myself an exit out of this situation and finish my song at the Lincoln Memorial,’” Phillips told The Post. “I started going that way, and that guy in the hat stood in my way and we were at an impasse. He just blocked my way and wouldn’t allow me to retreat.”

Frank LaMere, a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and a local Native American activist, said in an emailed statement Saturday that "Make America Great Again," a slogan popular among Trump supporters and visible on the students' hats, is part of what makes the video so divisive. 

“It is easy to pull people apart. Those who donned Make America Great Again hats in Washington and disrespected an Omaha spiritual leader and veteran showed us how easy it is to do that," LaMere's statement said in part. "It is hard to bring people together! That is what Nathan Phillips was seeking to do when young white men maligned his sacred and fervent prayer songs offered for all of us! Their actions were insensitive at best and clearly racist at worst!”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

Briar Cliff Brandon Oswald passes the ball during a volleyball team practice. Oswald comes to the Chargers as a transfer from Ottawa.

Survival Media Agency, via AP 

In this Friday, Jan. 18, 2019 image made from video provided by the Survival Media Agency, a teenager wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat, center left, stands in front of an elderly Native American singing and playing a drum in Washington. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington in Kentucky is looking into this and other videos that show youths, possibly from the diocese's all-male Covington Catholic High School, mocking Native Americans at a rally in Washington. (Survival Media Agency via AP)

At 30-day mark, shutdown logjam remains

WASHINGTON — Thirty days into the partial government shutdown, Democrats and Republicans appeared no closer to ending the impasse Sunday than when it began, with President Donald Trump lashing out at his opponents after they dismissed a plan he'd billed as a compromise.

Trump had offered the previous day to temporarily extend protections for young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children and those fleeing disaster zones in exchange for $5.7 billion for his border wall. But Democrats said the three-year proposal didn't go nearly far enough.

On Sunday, Trump branded House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a "radical" and said she was acting "irrationally." The president also tried to fend off criticism from the right, as conservatives accused him of embracing "amnesty" for immigrants in the country illegally.

"No, Amnesty is not a part of my offer," Trump tweeted, noting that he'd offered temporary, three-year extensions — not permanent relief. But he added: "Amnesty will be used only on a much bigger deal, whether on immigration or something else."

The criticism from both sides underscored Trump's boxed in-position as he tries to win at least some Democratic buy-in without alienating his base.

With hundreds of thousands of federal workers set to face another federal pay period without paychecks, the issue passed to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has agreed to bring Trump's proposal to the floor this week.

Democrats say there's little chance the measure will reach the 60-vote threshold usually required to advance legislation in the Senate. Republicans have a 53-47 majority, which means they need at least some Democrats to vote in favor.

McConnell has long tried to avoid votes on legislation that is unlikely to become law. And the Kentucky Republican has said for weeks that he has no interest in "show votes" aimed only at forcing members to take sides after Trump rejected the Senate's earlier bipartisan bill to avert the shutdown.

What's unclear is how McConnell will bring Trump's plan forward — or when voting will begin. The Republican leader is a well-known architect of complicated legislative maneuvers. One question is whether he would allow a broader immigration debate with amendments to Trump's plan on the Senate floor.

McConnell spokesman David Popp said Sunday, "When we have (a plan) we will be sure to let everyone know."

One key Republican, Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, said that he and other lawmakers had been encouraging the White House to put an offer on the table — any offer — to get both sides talking.

"Get something out there the president can say, 'I can support this,' and it has elements from both sides, put it on the table, then open it up for debate," Lankford said on ABC's "This Week."

"The vote this week in the Senate is not to pass the bill, it is to open up and say 'Can we debate this? Can we amend it? Can we make changes?'" Lankford said. "Let's find a way to be able to get the government open because there are elements in this that are clearly elements that have been supported by Democrats strongly in the past."

"The president really wants to come to an agreement here. He has put offers on the table," said Rep Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., on NBC's "Meet the Press." "The responsible thing for the Democrats to do is put a counteroffer on the table if you don't like this one."

Vice President Mike Pence said on "Fox News Sunday" that Trump had "set the table for a deal that will address the crisis on our border, secure our border and give us a pathway" to reopen the government.

Democrats, however, continue to say that they will not negotiate with Trump until he ends the shutdown, the longest in American history.

"The starting point of this negotiation ought to be reopening the government," Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., told NBC. "We cannot reward the kind of behavior of hostage-taking. Because if the president can arbitrarily shut down the government now, he will do it time and again."

As news media reported the outline of Trump's proposal ahead of his Saturday speech, Pelosi and other Democrats made clear the president's plan was a non-starter — a quick reaction Trump took issue with Sunday.

"Nancy Pelosi and some of the Democrats turned down my offer yesterday before I even got up to speak. They don't see crime & drugs, they only see 2020," he said in the first of a flurry of morning tweets.

Trump also lashed out at Pelosi personally — something he had refrained from early on — and accused her, without evidence, of having "behaved so irrationally" and moving "so far to the left that she has now officially become a Radical Democrat."

He also appeared to threaten to target millions of people living in the country illegally if he doesn't eventually get his way, writing that "there will be no big push to remove the 11,000,000 plus people who are here illegally-but be careful Nancy!"

Pelosi responded with a tweet of her own, urging Trump to "Re-open the government, let workers get their paychecks and then we can discuss how we can come together to protect the border."

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer also dug in during an appearance in New York, where he predicted Democrats would block the president's proposal from passing the Senate.

"If he opens the government, we'll discuss whatever he offers, but hostage-taking should not work," Schumer said as he pushed legislation that would protect government workers who can't pay their bills because of the government shutdown. "It's very hard to negotiate when a gun is held to your head."