The Official Blog of Dr. Jeremy Levitt

Central Florida 100 | Orlando Sentinel

Looking ahead: RACE FATIGUE? The surge in racial justice-based white philanthropy that swept through the nation in the wake of the murder of George Floyd less than a year ago is tragically dwindling among Orlando’s political and corporate elites. Why? Is it white indifference? Race fatigue? Are whites now desensitized to anti-Black police violence? Platitudinal social-justice statements published by corporations big and small have been replaced by nonsensical investments in diversity and inclusion and traditional philanthropy as opposed to strategic philanthropy aimed at change and change leaders dedicated to removing the knees, chokeholds and bullets from the souls of Black folk.

Central Florida 100 | Orlando Sentinel

Looking ahead: COMBATING RACISM: Next week it will still be hard to be Black! African Americans want white people to help end systemic racism but are too often shunned when they address race issues. Numerous Blacks believe that whites embody white privilege and/or anti-Black prejudice; disregard the racist sins of the past; eschew constructive racialized discussion; ignore African American grievances, and refuse to challenge institutionalized racism. While some might believe such beliefs derive from a culture of victimization and is equivalent to holding all whites responsible for the sins of their fathers, I identify with these suspicions and believe that we all have a responsibility to combat the disease that is racism.

Central Florida 100 | Orlando Sentinel

Last week: DIFFICULT RACIAL CONVERSATIONS: This week let’s recognize that sometimes it is hard being white. Many whites want to eliminate institutionalized racism in society but do not know where to start. Many whites fear saying the wrong thing; being blamed for racist sins of the past; racialized confrontation; not being heard; and having to change your life to repair historic discrimination. While some might think that the gravity of such privileged concerns are ridiculous and are tantamount to stoning victims of racism with marshmallows, I empathize with these fears and believe that we must create safe places and spaces to engage in solution orientated conversation.

Central Florida 100 | Orlando Sentinel

Last week: ANTI-BLACK LEGISLATION: Are Florida Republicans making normative warfare on Black Americans? Gov. Ron DeSantis’ racist, hostile and anti-democratic anti-protest bill (HB 1/SB 484) that would have imprisoned Martin Luther King Jr. for non-violent protests but may shield violent white supremacist counterprotesters, then his decision to exclude disproportionately Black inmates from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, it would seem so. DeSantis believes that only “law-abiding” citizens should receive the vaccine during a pandemic. Finally, DeSantis and his cronies like Rep. Spencer Roach introduced authoritarian legislation that would permit violent white supremacists and other purveyors of racial hate to speak on college campuses. What is their endgame?

Magic owners must do more to support Parramore and its Black residents.

(Orlando Sentinel) Is the NBA in the bubble or the City of Orlando? Who are the real bubbleheads, racial-justice-oriented NBA players or apathetic corporate leaders who have systemically failed to support racial justice work? Don’t systemic racism and deadly police violence interfere with and stagnate Christian morality, free enterprise and innovation? How many Black geniuses has society lost to systemic racism?

The Amway Center, the usual home of the Orlando Magic, is in Parramore, one of the poorest areas in the country. Besides a hot plate of regentrification, what palatable meal have the Orlando Magic and its owners, the DeVos family, served Parramore? They profit immensely from black bodies, whether they come in the form of professional athletes or black “independent business owners” that bought into the multi-level marketing model of business exemplified by Amway, which the DeVos family also owns.

Over the years the DeVos family has engaged in mega-philanthropy, donating over $1.4 billion to a variety of conservative and Christian-oriented institutions and causes including the Republican Party, the Heritage Institute and the American Enterprise Institute.

However, comparatively, they have given very little to Parramore, African American led organizations, Black Christians, Black Americans generally, nor to my knowledge supported racial equity, equality and justice initiatives. That said, the DeVos family has supported at-risk youth of every race through the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation. On Aug. 26, the Orlando Magic and the DeVos family issued the following statement: “Today we stand united with the NBA Office, the National Basketball Players Association, the Milwaukee Bucks and the rest of the league condemning bigotry, racial injustice and the unwarranted use of violence by police against people of color.”

Really, since when? What has the DeVos family fortune, including the Orlando Magic, done to empower the “people of color” in Parramore, and why in benevolent public statements do predominantly white-led organizations always lump non-white persons together who have nothing in common except refined melatonin?

If the DeVos family truly cares about bigotry, racial injustice and excessive uses of force against Black Americans, why have they been virtually silent about these issues in the very community in which the Orlando Magic thrives, Parramore? Why haven’t they offered any viable strategy to empower Black people and businesses in Parramore and beyond? Fighting anti-Black bigotry, racism and police misconduct demands action, not charitable uttering; it mandates supporting change and change leaders.

African Americans are a people that have origins in the Black racial groups of Africa. Our histories, cultures, experiences and struggles in this country are entirely distinct from any other group. Hence, solutions to anti-Black racism necessitate divergent strategies that so-called diversity and inclusion experts are ill-equipped to manage.

Are we willing to make the sacrifices and investments necessary to bring about authentic racial equity, equality and justice? No more Uncle Toms! No more tokens! No more divide-and-conquer schemes! Not unlike the DeVos family-backed Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, the majority of Black people also want a “free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles.” Sounds like the Black church to me.

Nevertheless, the DeVos family has not meaningfully supported African American Christians or institutions responsible for nurturing the professional athletes from whom they immensely profit. The Orlando Magic and other stakeholders promised to revitalize Parramore — but for whom? The Parramore Heritage Neighborhood and the Creative Village complex are detached from the everyday lived existence of Black Orlandoans. The people of Parramore are disproportionately poor and I don’t understand why there are more shotgun houses and arrests than employment and enrichment opportunities.

How many corporate leaders in Orlando have taken concrete and sustainable action to combat racial injustice? The shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha, Wisconsin police officer Rusten Sheskey shocked the nation. Yet the city seems indifferent about the killing of Salaythis Melvin at Florida Mall. The succinct NBA boycott led by the Milwaukee Bucks and supported by professional athletes across the sporting world pinpricked the bubble, but it’s not clear how many bubbleheads in corporate Orlando felt it. We thought the murder of George Floyd brought about a new form of corporate wokeness, but corporate Orlando has a short memory. Are NBA players right, will it take a national boycott of this city and others to bring about authentic change? Black Jesus, pray for us!

Apathy toward racial justice is racism.

Do I have your permission to be provocative? If you keep reading, you implicitly consent. Why are so many white people uncomfortable, worrisome and even scared to discuss racism, racial justice and racial reconciliation? Why is corporate Orlando, which is disproportionately represented by whites, reticent to support racial justice work?

These are painfully important questions given that racism was not created by African Americans, nor have we benefited from it. Who has profited from structural racism, intentional inequality, and indifference to inequity? At a time when Black Americans are being disproportionately affected by deadly police violence and anti-Black racism is surging, apathy towards racial justice is racism.

May I state the unobvious? Racial justice is a concept that recognizes the natural equality of all people. At its core, racial justice seeks to universalize fairness among the races through the institution of law, norms, doctrine, policy, practices, attitudes and protest that safeguards the racial equality of the person in all spheres of existence. Everyone has a right to racial justice and a moral and ethical responsibility to defend it.

Can I be transparent? Hear me out. Black Americans did not capture, enslave, dehumanize, exploit, lynch and segregate white Americans, so why do so many whites avoid conversations about racial justice like the plague — maybe not COVID-19. Must the victims of racial injustice always create the safe place and spaces for its beneficiaries to talk about racism? I guess.

What’s clear is that Black Americans continue to bear the brunt of the multi- generational burden of combatting racial injustice. Is this fair? Shouldn’t we all be fighting it? Although we are in a season of racialized political declarations and corporate pledges to support racial justice work, I believe that the politicians and corporate leaders around the country are hoping that this watershed moment passes without watershed change.

Can Orlando’s leaders move beyond tweets, actionless statements, quoting slain civil-rights activists, and Negritude art to commit to a racial justice agenda defined by Black people for Black people? Scary, right?

Can we move beyond painting Black Lives Matter murals and racial-justice- themed NBA jerseys to concrete actions to support racial justice? What has Orlando done to combat deadly police violence, police brutality, violent white extremist vigilantism and economic inequality?

Racial justice is not a dirty catchphrase, nor is the Black Lives Matter movement a leftist conspiracy. They are concepts and movements that all sensible Black people embrace knowing that white liberals have as much to learn about racism as white conservatives. Racial justice is not an anti-white slogan, a call to Black militancy (which is not inherently bad anyway), nor an indictment of the white race.

Rather, racial justice is a universal call to action to end the indignities of systemic and structural racism, racial inequality and racial violence in the public and private spheres.

Racism is so deeply woven into the psychology, social structure and legal architecture of our nation that its core draftsmen, beneficiaries and advocates either deny its existence all together, disregard its daily reality, or simply can’t imagine living in a society where whiteness doesn’t predominate.

Racial justice starts by confessing that 400 years of tyrannical violence commencing with the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, enslavement, black codes and racial segregation were not simply “original sins,” but devastating crimes committed against Black nations, peoples and people for which today’s  inequalities and inequities are rooted. Is that controversial?

Racial justice necessitates action: intangible and tangible measures intended to create racial equality — actions that create shared value and community, restitution and reconciliation. Racial justice addresses systemic racial inequality with long-term solutions; robust investments in social capital equality leads to corporate profitability and changes that serve the public good.

Supporting racial justice is not simply writing a check, either; it requires a personal commitment to anti-racism as well anti-racist personnel policies and race-conscious training. Racial justice demands transformational shifts in policing and the criminal justice system that corporate America must help lead, not simply stand behind. It mandates that racial justice does not operate in a silo — in the absence of pay equity, fair pay and shared governance, racial justice is ill-conceived. Racial justice is not a wait and see or spectator sport. We need all hands on deck.

The true meaning of Black History Month.

(Orlando Sentinel) What is the origin and purpose of Black History Month? Last week at a local restaurant, I sat next to a group of spunky and delightfully opinionated middle-aged white women who were enthralled in passionate discussion about the relevance of Black History Month.

I assume they meet regularly. I admit I was intrigued but tried very hard not to make eye contact. I received several courteous glances from the group, but I didn’t break ranks — my bagel was my solace. But like clockwork one of the women turned to me and gregariously said: What do you think?

I was the only black man in the joint and happened to be wearing a boubou, a type of West African clothing like a dashiki. I curiously smiled and thought to myself, what have they gotten themselves into?

Let me begin by telling you what Black History Month is not. It is not some cultural festivity reserved for black people. It is not a month-long affirmative action holiday for African Americans. Nor is it a 30-day shaming of white people for 400 years of enslavement and racial segregation.

It isn’t reparations. It is not a month of mourning for deceased black icons. The creation of Black History Month was a reaction to the widely held belief among white Americans in the early 20th century and prior that blacks made no significant or viable contribution to human civilization, let alone America.

The formal celebration of black history in the United States began in 1926 as “Negro History Week.” Carter G. Woodson, known as the “Father of Black History” and the second black to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University after W.E.B. Dubois, selected the second week in February for Negro History Week because it marked the birthdays of two of the most influential figures in American politics: Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.

Other significant events that took place in February make it an ideal time to reflect on and celebrate black history, including the birth of W.E.B. DuBois, the famed intellectual, civil rights and pan-Africanist leader and co-founder of the NAACP (Feb. 23, 1868); the passage in Congress of the 15th Amendment granting blacks the right to vote (Feb. 3, 1870); the taking of the oath of office of the first black U.S. senator, Hiram R. Revels, a Republican from Mississippi (Feb. 25, 1870); founding of the NAACP (Feb. 12, 1909); the historical civil rights lunch counter sit-in at the segregated Woolworth’s store in Greensboro, N.C. (Feb. 1, 1960), and the murder of Malcolm X (Feb. 21, 1965).

Black History Month affords us the opportunity to honor the monumental achievements of living pioneers and departed path-breakers from advocates and educators to innovators and discoverers. Black History Month provides all Americans with the opportunity to celebrate the rich culture, heritage, and achievements of blacks from Compton to Cairo and Brooklyn to Benin. Malcolm X said, “of all of our studies, history is best qualified to reward our research.” Studying black history is vital for African Americans and important for all Americans. When nearly everything that is taught in primary and secondary school excludes, denigrates and white washes black history and people, and nearly every movie, television show and children’s book discounts or excludes black actors, narratives and stories, all Americans are miseducated and indoctrinated into a disingenuous and warped history of African Americans that fortify scientific racism or racial inferiority and superiority doctrines. No group is more harmed by this than African Americans.

While it may be the shortest month of the year, Black History Month empowers us to examine the great contributions of black people to the America’s and human civilization generally, and forces us to study the critical role that other groups of people and nations have played in shaping Black History as liberators, allies and oppressors. When we study Black History, we study ourselves, our national history and heritage. No one group owns, controls or is entitled to celebrate Black History Month more than any other. It is the product of a shared legacy of tragedy and triumph that all Americans have a civic responsibility and duty to learn about, reflect upon, debate and share. We should never allow political correctness, convention, privilege, guilt, or perceived racial ownership interfere with our quest for knowledge and cross-cultural exchange, because to know black history is to know world history. What will you do to celebrate Black History Month?

White nationalists pervert democracy – Trump encourages their hate.

(Orlando Sentinel) Are you tired of the politics of division? Societal chaos may be inevitable, but we hold the power to make change. Pervasive and unapologetically brazen white nationalist ideals are perverting our democracy, tribalizing our citizenry, and corrupting the constitution of order. During these quarrelsome times, let us remember that we are one people united by shared values.

Is President Donald J. Trump responsible for racism, anti-Semitism, sexism and xenophobia in our nation? No. “We the People of the United States” are solely responsible for failing to embrace and live by our own creed and democratic ideals. Trump is simply a symbol of the imperfections of our democratic experiment that unfortunately abandoned the ideal of racial equality in the mid-1960s once black and white folk could lawfully drink from the same water fountains. Modern America was birthed by a pact between North and South — a political union between slavocrats and Republicans — an imperfect union forged out of racial division and bloody war. Dog whistles tribalize Americans because we have yet to heal the open wounds of a wickedly violent past that is withering injustice, interposition and nullification.

From Charleston to Pittsburgh, the Trump administration has emboldened and inspired violent white extremism by serving Americans a steady flow of racist and xenophobic cocktail that is perverting our democracy and morals and placing immense social pressure on historical fractures.

Despite our racial, ethnic, political or religious differences, all Americans share common values that we must safeguard now more than at any other time in recent history. Traditional American ideals of liberty, equality, democracy, individualism and rule by law are under siege by dangerous right- wing perspectives, policies and actors.

America is at a critical juncture, and we must not fall prey to President Trump’s incessant and premeditated cultural wars designed to disrupt civility, generate hostility and subvert democracy. We are not Serbs and Croats, nor Hutus and Tutsis. We are not European fascists, nor a new confederacy. We are Americans and understand that nationalism is not nativism. The former embraces diversity, inclusion and patriotism; and the latter, the uniformity, exclusion and intolerance responsible for last week’s white nationalist- inspired massacres. It is estimated that 71 percent of domestic extremist- related killings were conducted by right-wing violent extremists.

Trump inspires closet bigots to come out, white nationalists to speak out, and violent white extremists to act out. Seismic change prompted by the prejudiced pomposity of Trump has given license to a new wave of racialized chaos. Nowhere is this clash more apparent than in the Florida gubernatorial election where race politics is wearing blackface.

In the 242-year history of our nation, only two African-Americans have been elected governor: Douglas Wilder (Virginia) and Deval Patrick (Massachusetts). Today, Florida’s Andrew Gillum is one of three African- Americans running for governor across the country, the other two in Georgia and Maryland. From Dewey McLaughlin and Connie Hoffman’s arrests for miscegenation in Miami Beach to the St. Augustine Civil Rights Movement, Florida’s long-standing and entrenched history of slavery and racial segregation, anti-Semitism and anti-miscegenation law potentially make Gillum’s bid for governor as unique as Barack Obama’s ascendency to the American presidency.

Floridian history is not on Gillum’s side in another vital way. No Florida Democrat, including white centrists, has won the governorship in two decades. However, I predict that Gillum will win because he is a maverick and a pioneer. He is young, gifted and black, fearless, and well-funded. Gillum is a true Floridian who can comfortably cross racial, ethnic, religious and sexual identity spaces, and navigate Florida’s rural and urban places.

As an independent who eschews far-left politics, I voted for Andrew Gillum because Ron DeSantis largely ignored the black male vote and failed to apologize for his “monkey it up” comment. His allegedly racist dog whistles, code words and accompanying failure to condemn black minstrel robocalls made it impossible for me to support him. DeSantis’ attempts to vilify and criminalize Gillum with racialized stereotypes, his bromantic fawning over Trump, and his willingness to use his children as a prop in campaign commercials that arguably propagate racist and xenophobic policy are indefensible. Fellow citizens, white nationalist politics corrupts our shared values that “We the People of the United States” must safeguard.

African bronze art: Anchor of Soul.

(Orlando Sentinel) African art gallery Bronze Kingdom heads to new digs in the Orlando Fashion Square Mall.

If you’re like me, you may be bored of the artwork affronting the walls and spaces in your home or office. You may desire change but not know where to start. You may be too conservative for Feng Shui and too liberal for Mannerism? Right! I have a suggestion: Try African bronze art.

While I don’t consider myself an art aficionado, I am a student of it. After living and working in West Africa for decades I developed a familial connection to bronze art. African bronze art is not simply art; it is crafted and infused with life force that anchors the soul of its intended owner. You don’t pick bronze art, it picks you.

Almost all African art is rooted in religious, ceremonial and ritual tradition commemorating African royalty. The technique and process used to create African bronzes begins with royal tribute and ends in spiritual thankfulness. It truly is a village enterprise where artisans imbue spiritual sustenance or the souls of black folk into what literally becomes the life force of the art that attaches to the prospective owner.

So, I have been chosen. I was awestruck by a six-foot high bronze statue of an elegant King and Chief Justice holding a bible from Benin, Nigeria. Allow me to elucidate: I was treated to a VIP tour of the new Bronze Kingdom Gallery at Fashion Square Mall before its opening and returned for the soft opening.

Brilliance! Transcendence! Vivaciousness! These are the expressions that personify my toured experiences led by Rawlvan Bennet, president of the Bronze Kingdom Gallery. He is a genuine connoisseur of African art who possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of its breathtaking bronze statuaries dating back to the great West African empires of Ghana (7th through 13th century) Mali (13th through 16th century) and Songhai (15th through 16th century) to the present.

A sage storyteller, Bennet provided me with an illuminating tour de force of Africa’s royal art history. Quite impressive.

For millennia, human history has been imagined, imparted and surmised through African history and African art has been its most profound storyteller beginning with Black Egypt’s Predynastic Period in 6000 BCE. Africa’s mastery of bronze art is vital to discovering ancient knowledge and history because it was the preferred archival device of its royal potentates. Africa’s history is recorded on and in its bronze tablets, figures, masks, staff heads, rattles, bells, figures and armlets with its most preeminent bronzes being birthed in dynastic West Africa in about 700 AD.

African art enthusiasts and collectors can acquire what Bennet calls “legacy” pieces — perhaps with the intent to bequeath to future generations, a legacy that must be embraced by African descendants not monopolized by the heirlooms of colonial conquest. Bronze art exponentially serves as a conduit to understanding the manifold contributions of African people to human civilization.

Bronze art is not cheap. I’ve had my eyes on a large Egyptian Bronze statuary of Isis and Horus from Egypt’s 25th Dynasty (747-656 BCE) for years. Unfortunately, the famed art dealer Christies recently sold it for nearly $1.5 million. Not!

I have lived and worked in every region of Africa for nearly 30 years and with every experience marveled at her rich and illustrious art history. I’ve canvassed the top museums in Africa, Europe, and the United States, yet, none of those experiences captivated me like my visit to the Bronze Kingdom. Why? Its exquisiteness largely rests in is accessibility to the average person, especially those seeking to more closely connect with their ancestry — something that can’t really be done at national and international museum. Bennet’s notion of “lineage art” can create transformative connections between African descendants and others with Africa through the prism of African bronze artwork that tells the collective stories of Africa and her people. He seeks to connect people with art that reflects their spiritual or cultural uniqueness. Part of the profits from Bronze Kingdom’s sales will support humanitarian projects in the towns and villages where the artwork originates. This includes the building of bridges and schools, digging water wells, funding orphanages and entrepreneur programs in, among other places, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso and Congo Kinshasa. Nice.

African-Americans for gun rights: Blacks embrace Second Amendment.

(Orlando Sentinel) The evil massacre of 17 innocents at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland two weeks ago reinvigorated the national debate over gun rights and gun control; however, the debate has largely excluded African-American voices.       

Despite its reputation for being apathetic to black life, the National Rifle Association has tens of thousands of black members. The National African- American Gun Association has 20,000 members and has grown from four chapters in 2016 to 30 chapters in 2017. Gun sales among African-Americans significantly spiked after the Charleston church massacre and election of Donald Trump.

One vital root cause of mass shootings curiously eludes public discussion: violent white extremist ideology. White supremacists murder more people through gun violence than any other domestic extremist group. Violent white extremist groups and actors, such as the Ku Klux Klan, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVey, Charleston murderer Dylan Roof, and Parkland accused killer Nikolas Cruz, are American born and bred. What are we feeding them? Does anyone doubt that when swastikas and Confederate flags offend Americans more than hijabs and skull caps, mass shootings will decrease?

African-Americans arguably have the richest tradition of gun-rights advocacy despite being targeted by and resisting local, state and federal gun-control measures since before America’s founding. The 1792 Uniform Military Act restricted militia service by excluding black men from joining. White fears that free blacks would rebel and organize slave rebellions proliferated violent search, seizure and punishing arms control law.

For example, the sale of firearms to enslaved people was unlawful in Florida. In 1825, when Florida was a U.S. territory, it adopted a gun-control law aimed at disarming free blacks. It created white citizen patrols with the power to search and seize arms and other weapons in “all Negro houses” and mandated that blacks could only use a firearm “in the presence of a white person.” It tightened said restrictions in 1831 and 1833. After Florida became a state, in 1846 and 1861 it permitted white patrols to summarily punish any blacks — free or enslaved — in possession of a firearm.

Further restrictions on black ownership of guns and racial conflict in the late 19th and early 20th centuries set the stage for the massacre and destruction of entire black communities such as Rosewood and Ocoee in Florida and in Colfax, La., and Tulsa, Okla. ln self-defense African-Americans were forced to establish private self-defense militias. Violent white extremism reached a zenith after the Supreme Court’s 1857 Dredd Scott v. Sanford ruling that “neither free blacks nor slaves could be citizens” of the country, setting the normative order for black codes intended to disarm and regulate African- Americans.

The 1874 Cruikshank decision essentially held that the federal government had no authority to prevent hate crimes (lynchings and murders) of blacks by violent white militia groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and White League. This case concerned the 1873 Colfax Massacre (Louisiana) where violent white extremist groups slaughtered 100 black male Republicans seeking to vote. Black history demonstrates that African-Americans overwhelmingly embrace the Second Amendment and endorse the use of firearms for self-defense. Armed black citizens regularly guarded nonviolent civil-rights activists from Mississippi to Calfornia. James Farmer, the late head of the Congress for Racial Equality praised the 900-strong Deacons for Defense and Justice for providing him with armed protection from the Klan.

The Black Panthers were the pioneers of America’s modern gun-rights movement. From several armed slave rebellions such as Nat Turner’s (1831) to Malcolm X — recalling the Ebony magazine photo of him holding an M-1 carbine assault rifle — African-Americans have a tradition of gun-rights advocacy despite gun violence in urban America.

When the Black Panthers embraced gun rights in California, the state Assembly, with NRA support, speedily adopted the Mulford Act aimed at banning blacks from publicly carrying firearms in public places. Some 40 years later, Otis McDonald, a 76-year-old black grandfather seeking to protect himself from criminals, successfully argued that the Second Amendment right to carry firearms applied to states, defeating an ordinance that sought to ban private handgun ownership in private residences in Chicago, also known as “Chi-Raq.” African-Americans have been pioneering gun-rights advocates and owners since before America’s founding. Our history of combating anti-black violence dictates that we cannot not adopt the privileged ideals of liberal white gun- control advocates and should be suspicious of those who argue otherwise. There is a very good reason why Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X owned firearms. I understand. I’ve been a member of the NRA for years.

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