Author: lafocus

Cal Restaurants and Bars Can Apply for Aid From $28.6 Billion Relief Fund

Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is currently accepting applications to provide emergency assistance to restaurants and bars.

U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA-13) was an original co-sponsor of the proposal to create the lifeline for restaurants and she advocated for its inclusion in the American Rescue Plan (ARP).

“Black and minority-owned restaurants and businesses, as well as women and veteran-owned restaurants and businesses, have been hit hardest by this pandemic,” Lee said in a written statement. “I’m pleased that the SBA will prioritize applications for restaurants in economically or socially disadvantaged communities in the first three weeks of the grant program.”

The $28.6 billion restaurant relief legislation was signed into law as part of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion ARP.

Just 7% of U.S. businesses before the coronavirus pandemic were Black-owned, according to data from compiled by the University of California Santa Cruz study last year. In contrast, about 13% of the United States population is Black, and about 13% of restaurant employees are Black, according to federal data.

The SBA relief fund portal began accepting applications on Friday, April 30 at 6:00 a.m., Pacific Standard Time. In preparation for the grant program’s opening, the SBA released detailed guidance for those seeking relief money through the restaurant revitalization fund.

The SBA has tapped Lendistry, a Southern California-based lending firm, to help administer the restaurant relief funds. The Black-led and operated firm is the largest minority-led firm that has been disbursing both federal and state COVID relief money in California.

The program will provide restaurants with funding equal to their pandemic-related revenue loss — up to $10 million per business and no more than $5 million per physical location. Recipients are not required to repay the funding as long as the funds are used for eligible purposes no later than March 11, 2023.

SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman stated that the visionary leadership of congressional Democrats “laid the groundwork” for the SBA to deliver targeted relief swiftly and efficiently to the millions of small business owners and workers in restaurants.
“We’ve designed the Restaurant Revitalization Fund program to ensure this relief is delivered with a focus on equity. America’s small businesses are the engine of our economy,” Guzman said. “If we’re going to build back better, we must ensure all of our nation’s entrepreneurs have the tools they need to bring businesses back, create jobs and grow our economy.”

Lee encouraged restaurant owners across California to submit applications.

“I encourage all business owners that need funding to cover food costs, payroll, or any other business expenses to apply for this grant,” Lee stated. “My office is here to help you through this process.”

For information about the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, detailed guidance, and how to apply, visit: sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/covid-19-relief-options/restaurant-revitalization-fund.

The Lookout: Dems in Sacramento Take Steps to Make Voting Easier

Aldon Thomas Stiles | California Black Media

Watching your tax dollars, elected officials and legislation that affects you.

The electoral process is foundational to the durability of America’s democratic structure.

And as the battle for fairer voting laws rages on, politicians and activists on the political Right claim they are responding to allegations of widespread voter and election fraud. Those on the Left say they are rallying to fight a coordinated political offensive to restrict access to the polls and increasing reports of voter suppression.

Recently, in some states, most notoriously Georgia and Florida, lawmakers have taken steps to restrict voting access and rights for many Americans.

But in California, policymakers and legislators are doing the opposite, making proposals to simplify the voting process and expand access to the polls.

Invoking the violent history of voter suppression in the South that her parents endured, which sometimes involved murders — California Secretary of State Shirley Weber says it is a priority of hers to “ensure the right to vote.”

“I tell people all the time that no number is good unless it’s 100% in terms of voter participation,” Weber told the Public Policy Institute of California. “Why didn’t 5 million go to the polls? We need to figure out where they are and what stopped them from going.”
In the California Legislature, an amendment to Senate Bill (SB) 29, which passed earlier this year, was one bill in a broader legislative effort to secure the right to vote in vulnerable communities.

Before that amendment passed, California law dictated that a ballot would be mailed to all eligible voters for the Nov. 3 statewide general election in 2020 as
well as use a Secretary of State vote-by-mail tracking system to ensure votes are counted.

SB 29, which the governor signed into law in February, extended those requirements to any election “proclaimed or conducted” prior to Jan. 1, 2022.

2020 saw a record number of voter participation in California. Some political observers attribute that spike to the vote-by-mail system instituted last year.

“To maintain a healthy democracy in California, it is important to encourage eligible voters to vote and to ensure that residents of the state have the tools needed to participate in every election,” the bill reads.
Senate Bill (SB) 583, introduced by California State Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) would require the Secretary of State to register or preregister eligible citizens to vote upon retrieving the necessary paperwork from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Citizens who do not wish to be registered can opt-out of the process altogether.

Newman stressed the importance of access and simplifying the voter registration process.

“In our state there are an estimated 4.6 million U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote who have not yet registered,” Newman said. “Our obligation as the people’s elected representatives is to make the process simpler and more accessible for them.”

On April 27, the Senate Transportation Committee passed SB 583 with a 13 to 3 vote. The Appropriations Committee has set a hearing for May 10.

Senate Bill (SB) 503, introduced by Sen. Josh Becker (D-Menlo Park), proposes that if a signature shares enough characteristics with a previous signature from the same voter, then it would be recognized as official on voting paperwork.

Current law dictates that a signature has to match exactly for it to be considered valid.

Disability Rights California (DRC), a non-profit advocacy organization that
advances and protects the rights of Californians living with disabilities, has come out in support of SB 503.

“Studies have shown that signature matches disproportionately impact voters with disabilities,” Eric Harris, director of public policy for the DRC wrote in a letter.

“Voters with disabilities, including seniors, are more likely to vote by mail and would have to sign their name on their ballots,” Harris argued. “A voter’s signature changes over time and for people with disabilities, a signature can change nearly every other time one is written. Some people with disabilities might have conditions that make it difficult to sign your name the same way multiple times.”

For now, the Senate Appropriations Committee has tabled SB 503, placing the bill in what the Legislature calls a “suspense file,” where it awaits further action by lawmakers.

At the federal level, lawmakers have introduced two bills in the U.S. Congress to expand voting rights, the For The People Act of 2021 and the John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

The For The People Act, or H.R.1, proposes a three pronged approach to expanding election access: Voting, campaign finance, and ethics.
Hilary Shelton, Director to the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy, compared the current voting rights battle to that of the Civil Rights Movement in a press conference about H.R.1 and the John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

“If you look at some of those 1960s shots of the C.T. Vivians of the world, of the Joe Lowerys and so many others that helped lead Americans to those registration
sites, you’ll see them actually literally being beaten to the ground,” Shelton said, referring to well-known Civil Rights Movement activists.

The John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021, or S.4263, would amend the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to restore the powers it lost after the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby v. Holder. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that laws requiring states and local communities to first clear any changes to voting their local laws with the feds, was unlawful.

“Well, we’ve become more sophisticated in our disenfranchisement,” Shelton continued. “We want to make sure that we stop that disenfranchisement all along the way and that’s why we’re convinced that a bill named for John Lewis and a bill that speaks for the people are bills that need to pass.”

Sen. Steven Bradford Brings Strength and Reason to Police Reform Fight

Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media

California State Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC), admits that he will meet challenges along the way as he fights for police reform in California.

Last week, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing he defended a bill he introduced in the Legislature that, if passed, would decertify cops for inappropriate behavior. During that appearance, Bradford made a persuasive case for police reform that was at times forceful and thoughtful, bringing a cool head but passionate voice to a topic that has created a bitter divide in the California electorate, pitting advocates of police reform violently against people who support law enforcement.

“This is a tough issue, but it’s a righteous issue,” Bradford told his colleagues.

“And we want to be intentional about what we are doing here in California when it comes to police reform,” he continued during his passionate closing argument for police reform on April 27. “That’s what this bill does. It’s intentional in what we are trying to achieve. This is a fair measure and far better than any that exist today.”

Co-authored by Senate President pro Tem Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego), Senate Bill (SB) 2 passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with a 7-2 vote that same day. Also known as the Kenneth Ross Jr. Police Decertification Act of 2021, the legislation aims to increase accountability for law enforcement officers that commit serious misconduct and illegally violate a person’s civil rights.

SB 2 will create a statewide process to revoke the certification of a peace officer following the conviction of serious crimes or termination from employment due to misconduct.

Bradford praised the judiciary committee’s majority vote, describing it as progress that would put California on the “right side of history.”

Atkins agrees.

“The passage of SB 2 yesterday is another step toward the goal of achieving much-needed accountability in policing, and I thank Senator Bradford for his steadfast commitment to achieve critical and necessary reforms,” said Atkins. “As with anything this big, there is a lot of work ahead, and I remain committed to working with my colleagues to get this bill in the position to cross the finish line.”

The California Peace Officer Association (CPOA) believes that Bradford’s bill would turn the California Committee on Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) into an investigative agency. A sticking point for the group is that the people who would be given the authority to probe police misconduct would primarily be non-peace officers.

“We of course know that not all reform is good reform, and CPOA among others is open to ‘reimagining public safety’ in California,” Shaun Rundle, CPOA’s deputy director said in a written statement about several police reform and public safety bills scheduled for hearings. “What we didn’t imagine, however, was the continued attacks against a noble profession who have proven to improve and drive down crime in this state year after year.”

With the passage of SB 2 out of committee, the legislation will move on to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration. If it advances out of that committee, SB2 could head to a Senate floor vote.

During the Judiciary Committee hearing, which lasted for nearly three hours, a few senators expressed their support, but asked Bradford to modify language pertaining to the Bane Act.

SB 2 would strengthen the Tom Bane Civil Rights Act. Enacted in 1987, that legislation prevents law enforcement abuses and other civil rights violations. Authored by California State Assemblymember Tom Bane, the legislation was created to allow victims to seek compensatory and punitive damages, attorney’s fees, and civil penalties.

Supporters of police reform in California say the Bane Act has been undercut by bad court decisions over the years. Thy argue that it was once an effective law intended to protect the civil rights of people in the state but has since been weakened as an effective check against police excessive use of force.

The California State Sheriffs’ Association views SB2 as problematic, too, in terms of hiring, recruiting, and maintaining employees.

“We are concerned that the language removing employee immunity from state civil liability will result in individual peace officers hesitating or failing to act out of fear that actions they believe to be lawful may result in litigation and damages. In so doing, SB 2 will very likely jeopardize public safety and diminish our ability to recruit, hire, and retain qualified individuals,” the California State Sheriffs’ Association said in a written statement.

But Bradford’s says his bill essentially addresses rogue policing and hinders the ability of fired officers to find employment at other agencies even when they have a record of misconduct that got them terminated.

Among states that do not have a process to decertify cops for criminal behavior are Hawaii, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and California.

“We lead in technology, we lead in environment, we lead in all those things that are important except for criminal justice reform,” Bradford said, referring to California’s reputation as a political trailblazer on several fronts.

People of color live in the communities where the majority of police misconduct incidents take place, Bradford said, adding that SB 2 will save Black and Brown lives.

“How many more people, regardless of color need to lose their lives because of the callous acts of law enforcement?” Bradford asked his colleagues. “There are two systems of justice in this country. But you’ll never know, and really understand. Its far different than anything any of you guys have encountered or will encounter.”

Many Black Renters, Hit Worst By COVID, Remain in Dark About Billions in Relief Funds

Aldon Thomas Stiles | California Black Media

California is in the process of rolling out a massive billion-dollar rental relief program. It is designed to help people who fell behind on their rent due the global coronavirus pandemic recover.

But many renters, including Black Californians who lease residential property, may not know about the state’s new CA COVID-19 Rent Relief program or they may not have details on how to apply for the available assistance. Other advocates say some renters could simply be confused because there are multiple rental relief programs at the county or city level to help renters.

One of the many factors that may complicate the confusion and low awareness in communities about the state’s rental relief program is the fact that the state is under-investing in the public awareness campaign, say some critics who have been following the state’s rollout of rental assistance. Typically, they say, state-run awareness campaigns are executed by public relations and advertising agencies. They then create and deploy campaigns to let state residents know about taxpayer-funded, government-administered programs created to benefit the target audience.

A number of people watching the state process that awarded Prosio Communications, a Roseville firm, the $3.2 million contract to get the word out to Californians about rental relief, say the winning firm slashed its media budget by more than half to submit the lowest bid to win the contract.

A total of eight companies applied that is scheduled to begin in June and end in December. All of them proposed budgets of about $4 million, unlike the wining contractor.

“The bidding process was troubling on several fronts, but here are some examples,” said one source who spoke to California Black Media but asked to remain anonymous. “First, the company that won the bid did not cut their own fees. Instead, they slashed the money that the federal government provided – that’s taxpayer money — to inform people of this critical help.”

The source said even though the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) allotted $6 million for public awareness, Prosio’s budget for outreach to Californians has been dwindled down to a mere $2 million.

“There is no way on earth, $2 million could successfully inform Californians about this program. There’s just no way in a state of 40 million residents,” the source said.

The federal government has so far authorized $25 Billion to support rental assistance programs in states across the country. Of that money, California is expected to receive $2.6 billion.

A total of $1.5 billion will go directly to the state and another $1.1 billion will be allocated to counties and cities with populations of 200,000 people or more.

Black renters accounted for the highest number of Californians — about 23 %, of Golden State residents last July — who could not pay their rent on time, according to a UCLA report.

Black renters also had the highest rates (29%) of being behind on housing payments in general due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among homeowners with a mortgage, Black households also had the highest rates of missed or partial payments at 22 %, according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS).

“An estimated 1.5 million California families, front-line workers and low-wage earners are behind on their rent due to the economic fallout of this pandemic,” said California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency (BCSH) Secretary Lourdes Castro Ramirez.
“They have accumulated significant debt and their landlords are struggling to meet their financial obligations,” Ramirez continued. “The CA COVID-19 Rent Relief program will be a lifeline to renters and landlords. It clears accumulated rental debt, keeps families hardest hit housed and will lead to a more equitable economic recovery.”

California has the highest number of people in the country who are housing insecure. According to Tenants Together, a renter advocacy organization, more than 22 million people are renters, about 55% of the population, in a state where about half of its residents live at or near the poverty line.

Among Black Californians, 3 in 5 Black people live in renter households, according to the California Budget and Policy Center. Of that number, about 6 in 10 Black individuals are classified as “housing cost-burdened” – that is households that spend 30 % or more of their income on a rent or mortgage.

According to Ramirez, since the state launched the rental assistance programs, there has been an underrepresentation of minority applicants.

Adding to the state’s housing woes, is the unavailability of affordable homes and an enduring homelessness crisis, the worst in the nation.

The average price of a home in California is more than seven times higher than the average income.

In the midst of a global pandemic, the homeless population in Los Angeles — where the twin crises of homelessness and housing affordability are worst in the state — has gone up 13% over the course of a year. Reports indicate that there have been about 41,000 homeless people in Los Angeles.

State housing officials say the rental program is designed to provide California residents in select cities with income-based financial relief by paying landlords the money owed.

“The CA COVID-19 Rent Relief program will reimburse landlords up to 80 % of an eligible renter’s unpaid rent accrued between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021, if they agree to forgive the remaining 20 %,” said Kimberly Brown, a spokesperson for HCD. “Eligible renters whose landlords choose not to participate in the program may apply on their own and receive 25% of unpaid rent between April 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021. Paying this 25% by June 30, 2021 can help keep you in your home under the extended eviction protections in SB 91.”

During a recent HCD webinar, speakers came together to discuss various plans and proposals in the Legislature aimed at solving California’s housing crisis.
Gustavo Velasquez, director of the HCD, believes it is the duty of the California Legislature to set the standard for housing issues. However, according to Velasquez, local partners are the greatest weapon in the state’s war on homelessness.

“As elected leaders, local agency staff and local government officials, you are really the most important partners in California in addressing this unsustainable housing crisis,” Velasquez said in the webinar. “The state can set the standards but success or failure ultimately rests on the local level in communities that are struggling today to meet the housing demands of so many.”

Brown detailed some of the qualifications for rental relief through the program.

“For all applications received, the state will first review and commit funds to applicants who are eligible and meet the priority requirement having income at or below 50% of Area Median Income (AMI) to ensure those most in need receive assistance,” Brown stated.

Brown told California Black Media how many applicants have applied for the program.

“So far, there have been 48,175 applications submitted,” Brown said. Another 96,000 applications are in progress, according to the BSCH.

Get more information on the California rental assistance program.

$6.2 Billion Cal Fund Will Shield Small Businesses from COVID-Related Taxes

Bo Tefu | California Black Media

California lawmakers have approved Assembly Bill (AB) 80 legislation spearheaded by Assemblymember Autumn Burke (D-Inglewood). The legislation will give a $6.2 billion tax cut to small businesses across the state that received loans under the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

California lawmakers approved the bill, they say, to safeguard the financial future of small businesses as a supplement to the American Families Plan proposed by President Joe Biden in March this year. AB 80, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom protects small businesses that received PPP loans from the federal government by ensuring that the loans will not count as taxable income. Expenses covered by the federal funds are also tax deductible under this legislation.

State legislators passed a unanimous vote on the tax, “marking it as one of largest tax cuts in state history,” Burke said on Facebook.

“My bill will provide assistance to businesses who were financially harmed during the COVID-19 pandemic by allowing them to deduct all expenses paid for using forgiven PPP loans,” she said.

Small businesses play a key role in the economic recovery of the state especially since the state plans to reopen on June 15 this year.

“California’s small businesses have been hampered and hammered by this pandemic, and we are using every tool at our disposal to help them stay afloat,” Gov. Newsom said.

Also, “This small business tax relief is exactly what is needed to keep businesses open so they can continue paying their employees,” he said.

Maria Salinas, the president of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, supported the state’s efforts to allow major tax cuts for small businesses that employ people from Black and Brown communities.

“We know that small businesses are what fuels the economy not only in Los Angeles but across the state of California and across this country,” said Salinas.

Despite small businesses receiving PPP loans to soften the financial blow of the pandemic, the tax bill also aims to remedy, “the tax burden that we saw in the differences between the federal and the state,” said Salinas.

According to state officials, in addition to the tax bill, California also legislated $2.5 billion in relief funds to support small businesses across the state earlier this year. Eligible businesses can receive grants up to $25,000 to make up for financial loss incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The tax relief bill comes at a critical moment in Gov. Newsom’s time in office as state officials prepare for recall efforts his Republican opponents initiated.

But the Governor remained optimistic.
“We’re going to defeat the recall,” he said.

Despite the optimism, the state has validated over 1.6 million signatures exceeding the number of signatures required for California to move forward with a re-election.

“We’re going to focus on getting people back to work,” said Gov. Newsom.

According to the California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials, a bipartisan government agency, a reelection could cost the state $400 million based on previous election data and the current economic factors.

“We’re going to get this economy moving again and more important than anything else, we’re going to get vaccines in people’s arms so we can do all of that faster,” said Gov. Newsom.

Dr. Shirley Weber, the California Secretary of State, is leading efforts to prevent the projected fiscal setback expected to be triggered by the prospective re-election. According to the Secretary of State’s office, there is an allocated time period for people to withdraw their signatures from recall petitions in their respective counties.

State economic strategy for American Families Plan

State officials are combining federal and state initiatives to boost efforts to reopen by mid-June this year. The state is initiating programs to provide relief funds for individuals – some of them grants — for small businesses and organizations, including $600 stimulus checks for Californians who have low incomes.

“Right here in California, our stimulus programs have provided tax relief for small businesses and money in pockets for struggling families, and we’ve expanded childcare and made community college free,” said Gov. Newsom.

According to state officials, relief programs have helped more than 40,000 small businesses and nonprofits across California so far.

“These strategic investments, which are complemented by President Biden’s American Families Plan, will bolster California’s equitable economic recovery and bring us roaring back,” he said.

State officials are set on achieving their goal to reopen and to restore job losses for small businesses and academic setbacks for schools across California.
California Black Media’s coverage of COVID-19 is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.

South L.A.’s “Dr. Fauci”: Dr. Jerry Abraham Is On A Mission to Vaccinate the Community With A Shot of Faith

Keith DeLawder

Two days before Christmas of 2020, Dr. Jerry Abraham–Director of Vaccines at Kedren Community Health Center in South Los Angeles– was fed up. It had been nearly two weeks since the Pfizer vaccine had received emergency authorization from the FDA, and despite the fact that Kedren was on the verge of closing for the second time because too many of its staff had contracted COVID-19, the community health center had yet to receive a single dose of vaccine from the county.

To add insult to injury, the very day the Pfizer vaccine was authorized he saw that local health giants like Kaiser Permanente, Dignity Health, Cedars-Sinai, and UCLA & USC Medical Centers had the vaccine and made a big show of vaccinating their staff. It would seem the Kedren and their team of majority black and brown healthcare workers– and by extension, the people of their South L.A. community– had been overlooked and forgotten, yet again.

That’s when Dr. Abraham took action. That night he began calling county officials demanding vaccines and inquiring as to why no one had yet to even reach out to him– especially since at that point 1 in 5 residents of South L.A. had contracted the virus.

“The initial vaccine distribution roll-out was a complete hot mess during that time,” Dr. Abraham tells L.A. Focus. “I was incredibly frustrated that the places like South L.A. were getting the most infections but wasn’t where the vaccine was going right away. We were watching wealthy physicians and health care workers who were not even seeing patients at that point getting the shot, and we were like wait, what about the people who are actually on the front lines? So, the way they did the whole thing was botched for a lot of reasons.”

The county’s initial response was apologetic but unsatisfactory, and when a week passed and Kedren still didn’t have the vaccine, Dr. Abraham had to take matters into his own hands. Two days before the New Year’s Eve, Dr. Abraham drove down to the L.A. County Department of Public Health warehouse in person and banged on the door asking for doses of the life-saving vaccine which enabled him to get Kedren’s first fifty doses and vaccinate his staff of nurses. The next day they were able to get another 150 doses, and then 300 after that.

But the early days of Kedren vaccine effort were challenging to put it mildly. Dr. Abraham says that they were receiving such a limited supply of vaccine that they would start each day not knowing how they would get through it.

“Every day was like the miracle of loaves and fishes,” remembers Dr. Abraham. “We were only receiving a few hundred doses a week, but somehow we made it.”

To ensure that every drop of vaccine possible was administered into the arms of his community, Abraham and his team would race from one end of the county to the next picking up vaccines that were about to expire– a routine that they still do to this day. That’s why it infuriated Dr. Abraham when he found out that not all of his fellow medical professionals were handling the situation with the same sense of urgency.

“I’d be on calls with directors from other hospitals and hear them casually mention having to throw out hundreds of doses because they didn’t do what we did and open their doors to the public, because it was too difficult or wasn’t their job. It would bring me to the point of rage!”

To date, the Kedren team has administered an estimated 160,000 doses of vaccine, with a present average of 5,000 daily.

Once Kedren began receiving regular supply of vaccine, Dr. Abraham was able to mobilize his team of nurses, hundreds of volunteers, partners such as the American Red Cross, AmeriCorp, California Volunteers, the International Medical Corps, and all the resources at Kedren’s disposure to move with an urgency that has been quite literally life or death. Currently Kedren’s operation facilities are full of outdoor tents that resemble a military field hospital to optimize the number of people that can come through and receive their shot on a daily basis.

“It’s been a race against time– not a moment to lose, not a drop to spare,” says Abraham so often it has become somewhat of a catch phrase. “We need to get black and brown L.A. vaccinated yesterday. We were dying at higher rates than wealthier zip codes and other skinned people and that was not fair. That’s the disparity that we live with every day.”
Much of Kedren’s success in distributing so many vaccines so quickly is due to the commitment Dr. Abraham has made ensuring that the vaccine is accessible to everyone.

“We quickly gained a lot of attention because we took down every barrier to getting vaccinated,” says Dr. Abraham. “No appointment, no internet, no phone, no car, can’t walk, don’t speak English, no I.D.– no problem. None of those things were going to keep people from getting their vaccines at Kedren.”
Kedren was also one of the first places in the state to pilot vaccine eligibility programs based on zip code and household rather than simply by age.

“When the Governor said seniors were eligible for the vaccine, we knew that was going to be a flawed strategy from the beginning,” says Abraham. “Because now what we saw were rich grandmas and grandpas who had been socially isolated all showing up at Kedren trying to get there shot– but I had not fought to get Beverly Hills vaccinated. I fought to get the people of South L.A. vaccinated. We had told the county from the get-go that they should focus on zip codes and geographic priorities first, and then we begged them to let us pilot a household based strategy where if one person in the home was eligible for the vaccine, everyone in the home could get it. So, we fought for and achieved pilot programs that would end up being policy recommendations and led to our success of increasing the vaccination rates in the black and brown community.”

But word got out that Kedren had the vaccine and was giving it out liberally, which brought in the much reported influx of “vaccine chasers” to their facility. So-called “vaccine chasers “are folks from outside the community that lined up in front of Kedren, waiting all day long in lawn chairs with camping supplies for the chance of getting an unused vaccine at the end of the day which would otherwise expire. Oftentimes white and notably affluent, they could be seen typing away on their laptops and ordering Uber-eats while they waited for the possibility of getting a shot. Local media jumped on the story as the line of white people in front of the South L.A. medical center invoked reminders of the gentrification and vaccine distribution inequity that was happening around the county.

“But while everyone was freaking out about white people lined up outside Kedren, what some of those news stories failed to share was who was getting in and out,” notes Dr. Abraham. “It was always black and brown healthcare workers and the frail and elderly who got their shots first, every day.”

Abraham goes as far as condemning those news stories that painted a false narrative of the vaccine distribution process at Kedren.

“I don’t blame anyone waiting in any line for a lifesaving essential medicine. What I ask is that you wait your turn and help us get people who are eligible in and vaccinated, and we will get to you,” says Abraham adding, “We have from our inception done so much with so little, don’t be surprised that this historically black institution becomes the place where we care for and save all Angelenos lives.”

Founded in 1965 after the Watts riots, Kedren Community Health Center was started by a group of 22 black psychiatrists who came together to create a mental health institution that would serve the needs of the mentally ill population in South L.A. who were continuously excluded by white institutions at that time. Since then, Kedren has expanded on their psychiatric hospital to include a primary care clinic which provides for the general health care needs of the community.

“Kedren is today as it was when it was founded: a city on a hill, a beacon, and a safe harbor for everyone in the community seeking health needs,” says Dr. Abraham. “We’re ‘the little Kedren that could’. It’s ingrained in our DNA to be a go-to resource and that’s what we’ve been during the pandemic crisis when we became a city and county resource for testing and when we picked up the phone and demanded our vaccines. We take pride in being an exemplary role model for equitable vaccine distribution and a model template for the whole nation on achieving health equity.”

And “the little Kedren that could’’ has now caught the attention of the entire country. Along with the national news media coverage Dr. Abraham and Kedren have received from outlets like VICE News and CNN for their valent vaccination efforts, in March Dr. Abraham was invited to go to Washington D.C. to testify in front of the U.S. Senate to share his story about their frontline response to the pandemic.

Locally, Kedren is partnering with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office in launching their “Live, Work, Worship, Play” (LWWP) initiative which is centered around taking the vaccine mobile and integrating the vaccine effort into the community by meeting people where they’re at such as work, schools, churches and community centers. Kedren has also opened a new permanent site in Watts which, through their NiteVax program, is open until midnight daily to expand vaccine availability. The Watts site also functions as a bus terminal where busloads of people from schools, churches, workplaces and housing areas can be brought to receive their shot and conveniently returned to their lives. Kedren is also planning on throwing events for young people with music and festivities including Vaccineland for children, VaxFest for high school ages, and MAXVAX for the millennials and gen z.

“We believe what we are building here is a revitalized healthcare delivery system and we’re laying the groundwork for public health infrastructure that was lacking here in South L.A.,” says Dr. Abraham. “Connecting churches, schools, and all the places we live, work, worship and play are part of the solution so the next time there is a major public health crisis we will be better off and there will be less needless loss of life.”

In February California Governor Gavin Newsom came and toured the Kedren main facility operation and was so impressed that he asked Kedren to take over the “Shot of Faith” initiative where they hold mass vaccination events at churches around South L.A.

“The Governor knew that we would work to meet the pastors and the congregants where they’re at and not put the burden on them,” says Dr. Abraham. “We really take the time to engage, educate, vaccinate and activate their congregants, because we want people to be able to open up their churches safely, and that’s crucial to us. Churches are an important part of the public health infrastructure and will play an important role in revolutionizing health care delivery.”

For Dr. Abraham the church holds an especially important place in his heart as he was in the middle of becoming an Episcopal Priest when he was accepted into medical school.

“I knew that I’d always had a calling to faith, but then I hit this fork in the road. Do I continue my training in the priesthood or do I go on to medical school? I had to make a choice and I chose medical school because I believe in healing. I believe in healing the mind, the body, the spirit, and the soul so for me when I had to choose, I knew I could always minister regardless of whether I got my calling through the structures that exist. For me, I knew that the best way to heal was to make sure that I was competent, credible and that would practice sound, responsible, and safe medicine and being a doctor was the best way to do it,” tells Dr. Abraham.

Abraham did his residency training after medical school at USC Medical in the school of family medicine program where he became chief resident and later joined the faculty. After graduation he found his passion caring for patients experiencing homelessness and substance abuse at the community-based health center, Eisner, in downtown. In 2019 he was recruited to come to Kedren where he’s championed work surrounding chronic pain including people with opioid addiction, providing high quality care for people with psychiatric illnesses, and the care he provides for migrants. Then in 2020 the pandemic happened, and Dr. Abraham jumped into a new position—Director of Vaccines.

“This job was not really something that happened by design or something I sat around hoping to do,” says Abraham. “But we knew we had to be part of the response so this was the work needed to be done.”

According to Dr. Abraham, he hasn’t taken a day off since before Christmas, oftentimes working tireless hours in fast paced and high stakes situations. But when he’s so often asked by the media—who has historically been predominantly white—why he’s taken on such a colossal project with the relentless ferocity and dedication that he’s shown, he can’t help but scoff.

“What do you mean?” he typically answers. “We didn’t have a choice. We had to do this. It was our patients, our staff, our families that were getting infected. The Lord called and we answered.”

Social Justice Protests and Black Lives Matter Apparel Banned from Summer Olympics

Chez Hadley

The Summer Olympics—postponed from 2020— are now set to take place from July 23, 2021 through August 8, 2021 in Tokyo, against the backdrop of the COIVD-19 pandemic. Though no international fans will be allowed, millions will view the games on TV or online.

What officials are trying to ensure that they do not see on that global center stage are any social justice protests from athletes as witnessed in 1968 when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists during the medals ceremony. Athletes have also reportedly been warned against kneeling during the national anthem.

And yes, Black Lives Matter apparel has also been banned in accordance with a ruling from the International Olympic that any athlete donning them in risk of being punished and or sent home.

However, the words “respect”, “solidarity”, “inclusion” and “equality” are allowed on apparel.

Any athlete breaking the rules can be sanctioned by the IOC, the actual sports governing body or their country’s national Olympics committee.

As the move had been expected, some ruling bodies for individual Olympic sports—like World Athletics,  the international governing body for track and field—have indicated that they will not be punishing athletes for protesting. The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee has also pledged not to sanction athletes for peaceful protests.

In fact, some have promised legal support for athletes who decide to protest.

Global Athlete, an international athlete-led movement, issued a statement against the suppression of an athlete’s rights to freedom of expression, writing: “The International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) archaic approach to limiting athletes’ rights to freedom of expression is another sign of an outdated sport system that continues to suppress athletes’ fundamental rights. The competitors are humans first, athletes second.”

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.”

More Trouble for Inglewood Mayor James Butts

The City of Inglewood had better have some deep pockets because attorneys for the City of Los Angeles are suing for nearly $300,000 in damages stemming from an automobile accident involving Mayor James Butts two years ago.

In the April 2019 incident—which was captured on video—Butts, who is riding in an SUV near USC, collided with an oncoming car and then strikes a parked motorcycle traffic officer who is thrown off of his bike and into a water fountain.

The officer, Michael Flynn, suffered extensive injuries, including broken ribs, damage to his nervous system and “permanent physical disability, impairment, scarring and disfigurement, according to legal documents.

The occupants of the other vehicle—a woman and her four year old son—also suffered injuries, though they were not disclosed.

The lawsuit seeks $290,000 in damages to offset not only the officer’s medical costs, but also damage to city property. The officer is also separately suing the City of Inglewood and Butts to cover medical expenses, loss of income and even damage to the officer and his wife’s relationship.

A third lawsuit has been filed on behalf of the woman and her son for lost wages and emotional distress as well as past and future medical fees.

Butts initially said he would take responsibility for the accident if he was found to be at fault, but the City of Inglewood is now reportedly suggesting— in legal papers—that he may only be partially to blame for the accident.

To that end, Inglewood’s City Council has rejected claims from all three parties, the City of Los Angeles, Officer Flynn and the occupants of the second vehicle.

Butts, who is currently being sued by former assistant and ex-girlfriend, Melanie McDade, was also recently accused of sexual misconduct by a second woman, who is seeking $5 million in damages.

This claim was also rejected by Inglewood’s City Council on April 12 and the Mayor has denied the allegations.

More Trouble for Inglewood Mayor James Butts

The City of Inglewood had better have some deep pockets because attorneys for the City of Los Angeles are suing for nearly $300,000 in damages stemming from automobile accident involving Mayor James Butts two years ago.

In the April 2019 incident—which was captured on video—Butts, who is riding in an SUV near USC, collided with an oncoming car and then strikes a parked motorcycle traffic officer who is thrown off of his bike and into a water fountain.

The officer, Michael Flynn, suffered extensive injuries, including broken ribs, damage to his nervous system and “permanent physical disability, impairment, scarring and disfigurement, according to legal documents.

The occupants of the other vehicle—a woman and her four year old son—also suffered injuries, though they were not disclosed.

The lawsuit seeks $290,000 in damages to offset not only the officer’s medical costs, but also damage to city property. The officer is also separately suing the City of Inglewood and Butts to cover medical expenses, loss of income and even damage to the officer and his wife’s relationship.

A third lawsuit has been filed on behalf of the woman and her son for lost wages, emotional distress as well as past and future medical fees.

Butts initially said he would take responsibility for the accident if he was found to be at fault, but in legal papers, the City of Inglewood is now reportedly suggesting he may only be partially to blame.

To that end, Inglewood’s City Council has rejected claims from all three parties, the City of Los Angeles, Officer Flynn and the occupants of the second vehicle.

Butts, who is also being sued by former assistant and ex-girlfriend, Melanie McDade, was also recently accused of sexual misconduct by a second woman, who is seeking $5 million in damages.

According to the lawsuit, filed by Attorney Carl Douglas who also represents McDade, “Butts would make it known to claimant that if she did not give into his sexual advances, he would destroy her reputation and make sure she had no chance of working with the City of Inglewood.

The encounters allegedly ranged from demanding she rub his feet, to forcing her to perform sexual acts.

The claim was rejected by Inglewood’s City Council on April 12 and the Mayor has denied the allegations.


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