Romance Novels Written by Stacy Abrams—Under Assumed Name—Set to be Reissued

Staff

President Biden recently said she could be whatever she wanted to be, even president. But Stacey Abrams probably already knew that. Fact is, before she was an activist, attorney, former Gubernatorial candidate and one of the most powerful and influential African-American women in America, Stacy Abrams, it seems, had a whole other career as a romance novelist. And next year, three of the eight out-of-print romance novels she authored more than 20 years ago—under the assumed name of Selena Montgomery—are set to reissued.

Random House recently acquired the novels—Rules of Engagement, The Art of Desire and Power of Persuasion—and will begin releasing them in 2022. Not that she didn’t have some modicum of success with the eight novels— including such titles as Hidden Sins, Secrets and Lies, Reckless, and Deception— which altogether sold upwards of 100,000 copies, but to be sure, sales of the re-released titles are sure to soar.

(Look out Shonda Rhimes).

‘As my first novels, they remain incredibly special to me,’ Abrams said in a statement. “The characters and their adventures are what I’d wished to read as a young Black woman — stories that showcase women of color as nuanced, determined, and exciting. As Selena and as Stacey, I am proud to be a part of the romance writing community and excited that Berkley is reintroducing these stories for new readers and faithful fans.”

The 47-year old voting rights advocate and founder of Fair Fight Action, is said to be considering another run in Georgia’s 2022 gubernatorial race. In the meantime, her latest book, While Justice Sleeps, set for release on May 11, is being described as “a gripping, complexly plotted thriller set within the halls of the U.S. Supreme Court”.

“My success is tied at the most base level with the success of my people, and my people are the South,” Abrams recently posted. “My people are Americans. My people are people of color. My success can only ever be real if I’m doing it for the success of others.”

“Keeping Everything In Perspective”

LISA COLLINS
Publisher

Last month, the nation’s rollout in vaccina- tions experienced a hiccup when the CDC -temporarily paused Johnson & Johnson’s one dose vaccine, – a move that set vaccine hesitancy back a notch or two. The decision was made after six (eventually increasing to a total of 15) cases of thrombosis-thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) or blood clots in the large blood vessels in the brain in what was an extremely rare occurrence for those with low blood platelets.

Of course, the rarity makes little difference if your loved one is the one in a million, but here’s some data that could help to keep things in perspective, keeping in mind that all of the cases occurred in women between the ages of 18 and 59–with a median age of 37 years with symptom onset 6 to 15 days after vaccination.

Deadly blood clots caused by birth control pills kill 300-400 women in the U.S. every year. According to another report, 100 people die every day of taking too much Tylenol. In fact, Acetaminophen (Tylenol) toxicity is the second most common cause of liver transplantation worldwide and is responsible for 56,000 emergency department visits, 2,600 hospitalizations, and 500 deaths per year in the United States. Fifty percent of them unin- tentional according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
The truth is there are risks to nearly every medication on the market.

Here’s the more relevant statistic. Without any of the three vaccines, 290 out of 100,000 blacks in L.A. County will die of COVID-19, according to the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

The good news is we are heading towards normalcy. Just recently, the CDC relaxed some of the restrictions about mask wearing and Governor Newsom has said that by June 15 California will lift most COVID restrictions and reopen the economy.

With outdoor mask restrictions the first to go, experts are now focused on high risk settings, such as large gatherings and closed spaces with poor ventilation, which is why –erring on the side of caution–our annual First Ladies High Tea is scheduled for April 2022.
And keep those vaccination cards handy. All indica- tions are that you will need them to prove that you have been immunized against COVID-19. According to some, they are the ticket back to the good old days and yet another reason to get vaccinated,– that’s unless you live in Texas or Florida where they are being banned.

In what was last month’s other big news story, a jury in Minneapolis came to the right verdict in a decision that is reverberating in police departments across the nation following a case that sparked the nation’s most intense reckoning on racial issues since the civil rights movement. This, as Americans are finding out just how deadly traffic stops can be for black men, and though less frequently black women, with Daunte Wright among the latest fatal casualties.

A report by the Los Angeles Police Department’s Office of the Inspector General, published last year found traffic stops of whites (and some other groups) were most likely to be related to how the suspects were driving, while Black and Hispanic people were most likely to be stopped for having expired vehicle registration docu- ments, or some other regulatory or equipment violation.

Philando Castile was stopped 52 times resulting in 86 minor traffic offenses before he was ultimately shot to death in a traffic stop in 2016 that turned tragic in less than a minute.

We understand that police are human and make mis- takes. So too are the people they stop. Caution is always advised. Abuse is not acceptable.

Still, there are those who would argue that the jury had to find him guilty to stave off riots characterizing the verdict as mob justice even as one columnist ironically wrote: “a guilty man was railroaded.”

The truth of the matter was a not so perfect man was killed that day, despite people pleading with a heartless officer to take his knee off his neck so he could breathe.

After years of drug abuse, perhaps his heart wasn’t the strongest. He also had Fentanyl in his system and he may have inhaled carbon dioxide, but keeping everything in perspective, but for the knee on his neck, George Floyd would have lived to die another day.

There are reports that officers are leaving police forces in droves. But if that’s due to the idea that they could or should be held accountable for their actions–or their prejudices, perhaps they shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

I respect the fact that police put their lives on the line every day, but I respect just as much that the black com- munity shouldn’t have to fear that a traffic stop could cost them their lives.

I’ve always believed that police should be held to a higher standard given the power they’ve been given under color of authority. And for all the talk about bad apples, some- times they fall from rotten trees.

George Floyd’s family got $27 million in a settlement, but that won’t solve the problem. After all, in police set- tlements, it’s taxpayers like you who foot the bill.

In closing, I want to wish all a Happy Mother’s Day, especially to my Mom, Aleasta Newborn, who taught me that for every problem I had, that I was part of the problem and that just as surely I was most of the solution.

Keep the faith.

BET Innovator Bob Johnson Proposes $30 Billion Tax Incentive for Those Who Invest In Black Businesses

Kisha Smith

Inspired by an FCC Tax Certificate Policy established in the 70’s, BET founder Bob Johnson has proposed the enactment of a $30 billion tax incentive legislation to provide preferential treatment on gains to those who invest in businesses owned by Black Americans and other minorities. The proposed legislation— dubbed the BOOST Act (Better Opportunity and Outcomes for Socially Disadvantaged Talent)—addresses the longstanding problem minority businessowners face in attracting capital, particularly “strategic equity” capital. 

The biggest challenge to racial equality in our nation is the glaring wealth chasm between Black and white American families,” said Johnson, in announcing the plan.  To close that gap, there must be a commitment to finding a workable solution to the lack of capital in the Black community.”  Johnson further stated, “The BOOST Act, if enacted by Congress through tax legislation and embraced by investors, would elevate Black and minority businesses into the wealth-building and wealth-accumulation economic system that is the principal driver of economic opportunity and achievement in our capitalistic economy.”

Johnson—who presently serves as CEO of The RLJ Companies—believes that access to capital is just as important as voting rights and is urging Congress to act swiftly on the BOOST Act.

“I fundamentally believe the BOOST Act is consistent with and a real solution to the Biden/Harris focus on equity and thus merits full support.  Lastly, I hope that the American people will support the BOOST Act as a morally responsible and economically viable solution to help solve socioeconomic problems confronting this country,” Johnson said.

Reynaga and Sherif Face Off in June 1 Compton Mayor Runoff

Chez Hadley

Compton is getting a new mayor, but with no candidate receiving a majority threshold in last month’s primary, residents will have to wait until a June 1 runoff to find out which of the two top vote getters—Cristian Reynaga or Emma Sherif— will precede Aja Brown as mayor of L.A. County’s “Hub city.”

With 31 percent (2290) of the less than 6,000 votes cast, Reynaga, a business owner who founded “Neighborhood with Anointing” and serves as vice-chair of the city’s Community Relations Commission, enjoyed a commanding lead over District 4 Councilwoman Emma Sherif, who garnered 19.32 percent, 1427 votes.

But according to Compton insiders, the equation changes dramatically if those who voted for the other five black candidates on the ballot in the primary throw their support behind Sherif, giving her a clear advantage and in the words of one Compton resident, making it a “Black vs. Latino race”.

“I know that a great many people may see it that way, but it really should be about who will best represent and advocate for the residents of Compton,” said J.T. Torbit, who has lived in Compton for four years and is disappointed at the 11 percent voter turnout.

Ironically, more than two thirds of Compton’s 96,000 residents are Latino. About 30 percent are black.

“I think the low voter turnout really speaks to the level of apathy that exists in Compton concerning their future,” said Pastor Michael Fisher of the Greater Zion Church Family. “I urge everyone to vote. It’s the most significant race for the City of Compton. Whoever wins this race will determine if Compton steps forward or backwards.”

Aja Brown—who at 31 became Compton’s youngest mayor in 2013— announced in January that she would not seek reelection.

Will Smith Moves Production of Next Film Out of Georgia in Protest

Staff

The shooting of the Will Smith’s slave thriller, Emancipation, just became the latest revenue hit in the fallout over Georgia’s new restrictive voter legislation. Instead, Smith and famed director Antoine Fuqua (The Equalizer, Training Day) have decided to move production of their upcoming film to Louisiana.

“At this moment in time, the Nation is coming to terms with its history and is attempting to eliminate vestiges of institutional racism to achieve true racial justice,” said Fuqua and Smith in a prepared statement. “We cannot in good conscience provide economic support to a government that enacts regressive voting laws that are designed to restrict voter access. The new Georgia voting laws are reminiscent of voting impediments that were passed at the end of Reconstruction to prevent many Americans from voting. Regrettably, we feel compelled to move our film production work from Georgia to another state.”

Ironically, it was the sensitive subject matter of the film that became the deciding factor, overriding the efforts of those like Stacy Abrams and Tyler Perry to sideline boycott efforts.

In the film, Smith plays a slave who has fled a plantation in Louisiana after being brutally whipped and his perilous journey north. Based on a true story, Smith’s character then joins the Army where during a routine medical examination the scars of his beating are exposed, subsequently photographed and published as indisputable proof of the cruelty and barbarity of slavery. The images—widely distributed—came to be dubbed as “The Scourged Back”.

As Cal Drops Age for COVID Shot, Black and Brown Nonprofits Demand Bigger Role

Bo Tefu | California Black Media

In Los Angeles County last week, 211 LA, a local non-profit organization that provides health-related information and services to residents, announced that it had reached an important milestone.

Celebrating its success, the community-based organization shared with California Black Media that it has been instrumental in helping more than 100,000 Angelenos sign up for vaccines since the state started rolling out its COVID-19 vaccination plan. Most of the people 211 LA helped get vaccinated were minorities living in greater LA communities that COVID-19 has hit hard.

“211 LA County has been there to connect people in our county with essential services for decades,” said Maribel Marin, executive director of 211 LA. “As we face a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, it was natural for us to partner with the County in helping people access the vaccinations that will help them get their lives back again.”

As California prepares to lower the state’s vaccine eligibility age to 16 by the middle of this month, community-based nonprofits around the state like LA 211 are demanding a bigger and more formalized role in California’s vaccination rollout, touting their unique ability to reach residents through long-established communication channels and because of trust they have earned over the years in the communities they serve. A history of racial disparities in the healthcare system has caused issues of mistrust and misinformation in Black and Latino communities, the community organization leaders say.

Earlier this year, the state launched a $30 million grant program for 180 community-based organizations to engage with underserved communities in efforts to boost health equity and counter vaccine hesitancy. But the leaders of many of those organizations say their work – and as a result the state’s vaccine plan — would be more effective if they state integrated them more into the structure of the state’s vaccination program and charged them with a broader scope of responsibility.

Rhonda Smith, the executive director of the California Black Health Network, said the news of vaccine expansion is great, but the road to widespread immunity has a number of barriers.

“The challenge still is accessibility,” Smith said. “Even though we’re opening up to a broader age range, there’s still the challenge of getting an appointment, and the accessibility and the ease of getting an appointment.”

Fortunately, she said, faith-based and community-based organizations have launched pop-up vaccination sites to address the issue of accessibility, particularly in regions of the state where large numbers of Black Californians live.

Last Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Prior to taking his shot, the governor announced the state’s plans to expand vaccine eligibility for people 50 years and older starting April 1, and people 16 years and older on April 15. Approximately 18 million vaccine doses have been administered since the announcement.

The state’s partnership with community-based organizations has boosted equity and vaccine efforts across California, state officials say.

Isaiah Antoine agrees. He is the community impact director of California Human Development, a nonprofit that runs a number of anti-poverty and human development programs throughout Northern California.

Antoine said vaccine expansion is necessary for low-income communities with predominantly Black and Brown populations. But to successfully implement it, the state would need to partner with groups that are rooted in the most affected communities.

According to state data, 46 % of COVID-19 related deaths were Latino Californians. Reports also show that Black and Latino people have been the most affected by the health and socioeconomic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Vaccine expansion is the first step in ensuring these groups are receiving the protection and care they deserve,” said Antoine.

Andie Martinez Patterson, the vice president of government affairs at the California Primary Care Association, said the relationship between community health and public health agencies has not been strong across the state. She believes California needs to formalize those partnerships.

“For community-based organizations and the churches, there have been casual relationships, but not a strong network for when there’s a crisis,” said Martinez, adding that if that was the case, “you would immediately know what to do and which person to call.”

“The pandemic underscored the need to have a tighter social network surrounding the patients in the community, that should be prioritized, and we need to do a better job,” she continued.

“The pandemic was a learning curve for leaders in local organizations, primary healthcare, and public health to nurture relationships that will eventually save lives through quick and equitable response,” Martinez said.

Dr. Jeffrey Reynoso, executive director of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, said the state’s vaccine expansion has the potential to increase access for Latinos Californians, too. However, health disparities among Latinos and the challenges of race and immigration status will be barriers to an effective vaccination program.

“There are implementation challenges on the ground, just because the guidelines say that those over the age of 16 will have eligibility for the vaccine that doesn’t mean that they have access,” said Reynoso.

Several community partners say they have kickstarted rapid response campaigns that have provided resources for economic assistance and information sessions on COVID-19 and vaccinations.

From Smith’s perspective, sharing vaccine success stories would be helpful because they will encourage people in the community to get vaccinated. Smith said understanding Black and Latino people, “geographically, mentally, physically, and spiritually,” is key to knowing how to best serve their communities.

“Going into the community and showing up is one way to build trust,” she said.

California Black Media’s coverage of COVID-19 is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.

Extended Tax Dates Spark Confusion

Staff

Last month, the Internal Revenue Service announced that the federal income tax filing due date for individuals has been extended from April 15, 2021 to May 17, 2021. But apparently the announcement came without much fanfare or promotion and has led to some confusion.

“I was rushing to get my taxes done when I was informed by my accountant informed me that the deadline had been pushed back to May. I had no idea,” said Keisha Wilson.

“Although the IRS do some press surrounding the announcement and it was picked by local and national news, a lot of people didn’t know that they had pushed back the deadlines. So, there was some confusion,” said Michelle Oduntan, of Santa Monica-based MMF Accounting. “Tax preparers, for the most part have been letting people know about the extension.”

Wilson is one of the countless taxpayers unaware of the change in filing dates the IRS was prompted to make in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This continues to be a tough time for many people, and the IRS wants to continue to do everything possible to help taxpayers navigate the unusual circumstances related to the pandemic, while also working on important tax administration responsibilities,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “Even with the new deadline, we urge taxpayers to consider filing as soon as possible, especially those who are owed refunds. Filing electronically with direct deposit is the quickest way to get refunds, and it can help some taxpayers more quickly receive any remaining stimulus payments they may be entitled to.”

The automatic extension means that if you owe taxes for 2020, you have until May 17 to pay without penalties, regardless of amount owed. As stated, those who are due a refund are encouraged to file their returns as soon as possible as e-filed returns can be issued in a few as 21 days.
The extension does not apply to estimated tax payments —made quarterly to the IRS by people whose income isn’t subject to income tax withholding, including self-employment income, interest, dividends, alimony or rental income. Those taxes are still due on April 15, 2021.

While the IRS extension only applies to federal taxes, California’s Franchise Tax Board has announced that consistent with the IRS, it haspostponed the state tax filing and payment deadline for individual taxpayers to May 17, 2021 as well.

“We recognize what a challenging year this has been for Californians statewide,” said State Controller Betty T. Yee, who serves as chair of FTB. “I am pleased we are able to postpone tax filing and payment deadlines for all individual taxpayers in California to May 17. Hopefully, this small measure of relief will continue to allow people to focus on their health and safety and navigate the complexities caused by the pandemic.”

Los Angeles Times Report Reveals Zero Black Members in Hollywood Foreign Press Association

Staff

An investigation from the Los Angeles Times has revealed that the people behind the Golden Globes, a small group of 87 international journalists named the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, includes no Black members.

It represents a glaring issue in an organization that has been labeled outdated and unfair in the past. This year, the group received criticism (again) for once again passing over several celebrated TV shows and movies that featured Black stars and creators. For example, “Da 5 Bloods,” “Judas and the Black Messiah” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” all expected to receive Oscar best picture nominations, failed to receive Golden Globe nominations for top film.

“We do not control the individual votes of our members,” the association said in a statement. “We seek to build cultural understanding through film and TV and recognize how the power of creative storytelling can educate people around the world to issues of race, representation, and orientation.”

Shows that were also snubbed included “Lovecraft Country,” which boasts a predominantly Black cast. None of the actors were nominated, although the series did receive a drama series nomination. “I May Destroy You” from HBO was wholly omitted alongside Netflix’s hit show from Shonda Rhimes, “Bridgerton.”

“Reveals? As in, people are acting like this isn’t already widely known? For YEARS,” tweeted Ava DuVernay in response to the report.

Some Contract Workers Worry They May Owe State for EDD Overpayments

Quinci LeGardye | California Black Media 

A difficult year for unemployed Californians is closing out with one more thing for them to worry about.  

The California Employment Development Department (EDD) has asked at least 920,000 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) recipients to verify their income. Now, some of those Californians who lost their jobs because of the pandemic are concerned that an unclear question the EDD used to determine their income may be coming back to haunt them. Whether it was intentional or an honest mistake, if they received too much money in emergency unemployment payments from the department based on the amount of income they reported, they may now have to pay it back.

EDD began sending out notices on Nov. 21, and the agency has added a page to their website clarifying which documents can be used to verify income. The notice requires workers who received more than the PUA minimum benefit of $167 per week to verify their 2019 income using a copy of a 2019 federal or state tax return document. If they don’t have one, they can send business records, contracts, billing statements or similar records.

If the EDD determines that a person’s net income was less than the amount they reported on the initial PUA application, the person’s benefit will be reduced to reflect their net income, and EDD will seek repayment of the difference between their “current weekly benefit and the decreased benefit amount, for each week you were paid,” according to the notice. 

There are now instructions regarding paying back overpayment on the EDD’s website, and repayment plans are available. According to the EDD, PUA claimants will not be required to pay back the $600 federal supplemental compensation or $300 lost wage assistance payments. However, even just paying back the state overpayment would mean a bill of thousands of dollars for some Californians. 

According to some gig workers, the confusion comes from the type of income that the EDD requires self-employed workers receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) to report versus unemployed people who qualified for regular unemployment insurance (UI). PUA, which was created to get COVID-19 relief to gig and contract workers as well as workers who do not qualify for traditional UI, calculates aid based on net income, or the income someone makes after deducting expenses. UI is based on gross income, or the amount one makes in total.

The difference between gross and net income can be wide for self-employed workers. 

Expenses that can be deducted include gas, maintenance or mileage for vehicles used for work, equipment and office supplies, and a percentage of rent for a home office. The large difference between gross and net income can mean that people who reported their gross income for PUA may have received thousands of dollars more in benefits.

This development comes six months after there was widespread confusion and a series of mishaps during the initial rollout of PUA – a period marked by unclear information about how people could sign up for unemployment benefits, which online portal they could use to file their claims and even a state website that crashed.  For months, beginning last Spring into the summer, contract workers did not know whether they were even eligible to receive unemployment benefits from the state or the temporary extra $600 per week the federal government provided to help bring relief to people left jobless by the pandemic. 

Gig workers say there may have also been confusion among applicants who did not have accurate income information because they had not yet filed their 2019 taxes when the state started receiving PUA applications.  This year, both the federal government and California extended their tax filing deadlines to July 15.

“If individuals reported gross wages instead of net income, which is an understandable mistake, it could lead to an overpayment. Under the CARES Act, a PUA overpayment currently cannot be waived,” According to a statement from the EDD.

Even if the California EDD, wanted to forgive the overpayments, they would not be able to. Only the federal government can make that decision because the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which established PUA, does not allow states to waive repayment. There is currently a bipartisan bill moving through the U.S. House of Representatives that is proposing repayment waivers if the worker was not at fault for overpayment and if repayment would mean severe economic hardship for that individual. 

Across California last month, the state unemployment rate stood at 8.2 % compared to 3.0 % at this same time last year. During the first two months of the pandemic, an estimated 2.6 million Californians lost their jobs. 

Los Angeles County Surpasses 9,000 Covid Deaths

By Staff

Los Angeles County has hit a “tragic milestone” as deaths surpassed 9,000 this week. 1,000 of those deaths came over the last two weeks. The county is currently averaging 85 deaths a day. 

“Unfortunately, today marks another tragic milestone as we acknowledge and grieve the more than 9,000 residents that have passed away from COVID-19. Our actions have an impact on the health and well-being of many people in our county, and not following the public health rules has deadly consequences,” said L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer in a statement Tuesday.

The record numbers are expected to get worse as Los Angeles faces an ongoing surge of coronavirus cases and hospitals become overwhelmed. ICU capacity statewide remains around 2%. It is 0% in Southern California, forcing hospitals to enter “surge” mode. 

One survey determined that only 30 ICU beds were available on Sunday. That’s down from the 69 beds available last week. 

Hospitals are now preparing to possibly begin rationing care in the coming weeks according to a document obtained by the Los Angeles Times. The document outlined guidelines on how to allocate resources to save as many patients as possible, instead of trying to save every patient. If the guidelines are put in place it would mean patients determined less likely to survive would not receive the same care that they normally would. 

Photo by Los Angeles County (Flickr)


© Copyright 2021 - LA Focus Newspaper