California Senate Gets Second Chance to Pass Prison Slavery Bill This Week

Antonio‌ ‌Ray‌ ‌Harvey‌ ‌|‌ ‌California‌ ‌Black‌ ‌Media‌

On June 23, the California Senate rejected a constitutional amendment to remove language in the state Constitution that allows involuntary servitude as punishment to a crime with a 21-6 vote.

A day later, the legislation’s sponsors went back to the drawing board to redraft the legislation for reconsideration.

The number of votes casted in favor of Assembly Constitutional Amendment (ACA) 3, the California Abolition Act,fell short of the two-thirds vote requirement needed to move the bill to the ballot for Californians to decide its fate in the November General Election.

The Senate is expected to hold another floor vote on the legislation this week.

Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), who authored ACA 3 in 2021 while serving in the Assembly, said she focused the language in the bill on the slavery ban and vowed to bring it back for a vote when Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus, asked her about it June 23.

“The CA State Senate just reaffirmed its commitment to keeping slavery and involuntary servitude in the state’s constitution,” Kamlager tweeted.

Jamilia Land, a member of the Anti-Violence Safety, and Accountability Project (ASAP), an organization that advocates for prisoners’ rights, said she remains committed to making sure slavery is struck out of the California constitution.

“All we needed was 26 votes,” Land said. “But we have made amendments to ACA 3 on (June 24). Now it could either go back to the Senate on (June 27) or Thursday, June 30.”

Five Republicans and one Democrat, Steve Glazer (D-Orinda), voted no against the amendment.

He stated that the issue is “certainly a question worthy of debate” and “can be addressed without a constitutional amendment.”

“Slavery was an evil that will forever be a stain on the history of our great country. We eliminated it through the Civil War and the adoption of the 13th Amendment,” Glazer said in a June 23 statement. “Involuntary servitude – though lesser known – also had a shameful past. ACA 3 is not even about involuntary servitude – at least of the kind that was practiced 150 years ago. The question this measure raises is whether or not California should require felons in state or local jails prisons to work.”

Glazer said that the Legislative Counsel’s office gave him a “simple amendment” that involuntary servitude would “not include any rehabilitative activity required of an incarcerated person,” including education, vocational training, or behavioral or substance abuse counseling.

The Counsel also suggested that the amendment does not include any work tasks required of an incarcerated person that “generally benefit the residents of the facility in which the person is incarcerated, such as cooking, cleaning, grounds keeping, and laundry.”

“Let’s adopt that amendment and then get back to work on the difficult challenge of making sure our prisons are run humanely, efficiently and in a way that leads to the rehabilitation of as many felons as possible,” Glazer added.

The 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution, ratified in 1865, prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude with one exception: if involuntary servitude was imposed as punishment for a crime.

The state of California is one of nine states in the country that permits involuntary servitude as a criminal punishment.

Article I, section 6, of the California Constitution, describes the same prohibitions on slavery and involuntary servitude and the same exception for involuntary servitude as punishment for crime.

Certain members of the Senate raised concerns about the financial impact ACA 3 would have on the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Inmates earn approximately eight cents to 37 cents per hour while incarcerated.

Kamlager says “involuntary servitude is a euphemism for forced labor” and the language should be stricken from the constitution.

The state’s Department of Finance (DOF) estimated that the amendment would burden California taxpayers with $1.5 billion annually in wages to prisoners, DOF analyst Aaron Edwards told Senate the Appropriations Committee on June 16.

“These are facts that we think would ultimately determine the outcome of future litigation and court decisions,” Edwards said. “The largest potential impact is to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which currently employs around 65,000 incarcerated persons to support central prison operations such as cooking, cleaning, and laundry services.”

Right before the Juneteenth holiday weekend, the appropriations committee sent ACA 3 to the Senate floor with a 5-0 majority vote after Kamlager refuted Edwards’ financial data.

This country has been having “economic discussions for hundreds of years around slavery, involuntary servitude, and indentured servants” and enslavement still exists in the prison system, Kamlager said. She also added that a conflict was fought over the moral issue of slavery.

“This bill does not talk about economics. It’s a constitutional amendment,” Kamlager said. “The (DOF) is not talking about any of this in this grotesque analysis about why it makes more sense for the state of California to advocate for and allow involuntary servitude in prisons. I think (this conversation) is what led to the Civil War.”

Three states have voted to abolish slavery and involuntary servitude — Colorado, Utah, and Nebraska — and in all three cases, the initiative was bipartisan and placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote of legislators, according to Max Parthas, the co-director of the Abolish Slavery National Network (ASNN).

ACA 3 is already attached to a report that addresses the harms of slavery. The Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans issued its interim report to the California Legislature on June 1.

The report included a set of preliminary recommendations for policies that the California Legislature could adopt to remedy those harms, including its support for ACA 3. It examines the ongoing and compounding harms experienced by African Americans as a result of slavery and its lingering effects on American society today.

“One of the preliminary recommendations in our report was to support ACA 3,” said Los Angeles attorney Kamilah V. Moore, chairperson of Task Force. “The Task Force saw how that type of legislation aligns perfectly with the idea of reparations for African Americans.”

Bill Cosby Ordered to Pay $500K To Woman He Assaulted in 1975

In 1975—at the age of 16—Judy Huth had a chance encounter with Bill Cosby on the set of the film, “Let’s Do It Again” and he invited her to a party at the Playboy Mansion where, she says, he’d rape her.

This week, following a two-week long civil trial in a Santa Monica courtroom, a California judge ordered Cosby to pay the now 64-year old woman $500,000.

Neither Cosby—who asserted his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination— or his lawyers were on hand for the reading of the court’s decision.

Huth initially filed the case in 2014. While the statute of limitations had past for the filing of a criminal case, underaged victims of sexual abuse are allowed to file civil lawsuits decades after an incident has taken place.

Famed attorney Gloria Allred, who represented Huth, was pleased by the decision.

Said Allred, “The late United States Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, once said, “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” Today our client, Judy Huth, won real change because she fought Bill Cosby one step at a time over seven and a half years, and she proved with the jury’s verdict that Mr. Cosby did sexually assault her when she was a minor, and that he should be held accountable for what he did to her.”

While she was awarded compensatory damages, the jury declined to award punitive damages to Huth. Her allegations are the first civil case on sex crime claims against Cosby to make it to trial.

A spokesman for the 84-year old entertainer—who claimed he’d never met Huth— said that they would be appealing the matter and declared it a victory for Cosby given that Huth was “looking for millions.”

California Commemorates Juneteenth ’22

Edward Henderson | California Black Media

On June 6, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed a proclamation making Juneteenth an official holiday for city employees.

Although President Joe Biden signed a bill declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday last year, cities and states still have the power to decide which holidays they will officially observe.

Mayor Garcetti’s signing is one among many commemorations of Juneteenth nationwide as a growing number of states and municipalities officially honor the historic holiday long celebrated in African American communities across the United States.

“We need every Angeleno to learn the full story of our past, no matter the ugliness of some of its chapters, and that means recognizing the lasting legacy of slavery in our country,” Garcetti said at the signing ceremony.

History of Juneteenth

The holiday is recognition of June 19th, 1865, the day Union soldiers notified enslaved African Americans in Galveston Bay, Texas that they were free under the Emancipation Proclamation.

Two and a half years earlier, enslaved and free African Americans gathered in churches and private homes across the country to mark what was known as “Freedom’s Eve” on Jan. 1, 1863. They were awaiting news confirming that President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation that ended slavery in Confederate States.

Anticipation heightened and celebrations began as the news spread of the 13th Amendment, the constitutional modification that established the abolishment of slavery. Union soldiers began their march to spread the news throughout plantations and cities in the South.

However, not everyone in Confederate territory would immediately be free. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation was signed into law in 1863, it could not be implemented in places still under Confederate control. As a result, in the westernmost Confederate state of Texas, enslaved people would not be free until much later.

In Galveston Bay, freedom finally came on June 19, 1865, when some 2,000 Union troops arrived. The army announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved black people in the state, were free by executive decree. That momentous day came to be known as “Juneteenth,” by the newly freed people in Texas.

The post-emancipation period known as Reconstruction (1865-1877) marked an era of great hope, uncertainty, and struggle for the nation. Formerly enslaved people immediately sought to reunify families, establish schools, run for political office, push radical legislation, and even sue slaveholders for compensation.

A California 2022 Juneteenth State Proposal 

On May 19, California State Senators Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) and Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles) introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 109, which would recognize Juneteenth an official holiday statewide this year. Nine other members of the California Legislative Black Caucus are co-sponsors of the resolution.

For the past three years, Gov. Newsom has issued Juneteenth proclamations commemorating the holiday and declaring it “Juneteenth National Freedom Day: A Day of Observance” in the State.

SCR 109 urges “the people of California to join in celebrating Juneteenth as a day to honor and reflect on the significant role that African Americans have played in the history of the United States and how they have enriched society through their steadfast commitment to promoting unity and equality.”

California joins Texas (1980), Massachusetts (2007), New Jersey (2020), New York (2020), Pennsylvania (2020), Virginia (2020), Washington (2021), Oregon (2021) and Delaware (2021) recognizing Juneteenth as an official state holiday giving state employees the day off from work.

“By making Juneteenth an official state holiday, California would demonstrate its commitment to celebrating the emancipation of all slaves,” Assemblymember Akilah Weber (D-San Diego) said in a statement.

“Juneteenth is an important and special annual celebration for Black culture, resilience, and achievement,” Weber continued. “Designating this date as a paid state holiday mirrors the federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.”

A Snapshot of Juneteenth Events in California

Here are a few highlighted Juneteenth 2022 events in California.

Sacramento

CALIFORNIA LEGISLATIVE BLACK CAUCUS PRESENTS

JUNETEENTH: A DAY OF REMEMBERANCE

State Capitol – West Steps

From 12: 30 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday, June 20, the California Legislative Black Caucus will hold will host a lunch celebrating Black freedom with family, friends, food trucks, and more festivities. The CLBC is calling on all Californians to support AB 1655, which will permanently make Juneteenth a state holiday in California.

SACRAMENTO JUNETEENTH FESTIVAL 2022

William Land Park

Sacramento Juneteenth Incorporated will produce this year’s festival June 17-19, 2022, in William Land Park. This year’s theme will focus on systematic economic injustices. They will partner with several local organizations to highlight and expose the systems and laws that perpetuate the continued economic injustices inflicted on communities of color. Events include a gospel concert, live entertainment, vendors, and more.

You can find more Sacramento Juneteenth events here

Los Angeles

LEIMERT PARK RISING (JUNE 19-20)

4395 Leimert Blvd., Los Angeles 90008

Leimert Park Rising is a collaborative effort to build a more cooperative Leimert Park Village through arts, culture and commerce. Taking place from noon to 8 p.m. on June 19-20, the annual Juneteenth Celebration is a family friendly event for all ages with craft vendors, food trucks, and multiple stages featuring live music and DJs. Free admission.

You can find a more comprehensive list of Juneteenth events in the Los Angeles area here.

San Diego

JUNETEENTH A Summer Celebration of Culture

The Jacobs Center (404 Euclid Ave) Saturday June 18, 2022, 10am-5pm

Community Actor’s Theatre and Common Ground Theatre two of San Diego’s most prestigious African American Theatres are hosting this majestic outdoor event at the Jacob’s Center in Market Creek Plaza. Come out and treat yourself to a time filled with history music dancing story telling reflection vendors and physical art on display! All Are Welcome!

You can find more San Diego Juneteenth events here.

Inland Empire

JUNETEENTH CELEBRATION OF FREEDOM

June 18th San Bernardino Valley College 12pm-6pm

“Come out and Celebrate Juneteenth Celebration of Freedom, we will have vendors, live performances, speakers, kids’ zone, spade and domino tournaments, food vendors, cook offs, resources and much more. This will be a one-of-a-kind Juneteenth event to hit our city, we are going educate the community on the history of Juneteenth and its origins, make sure you come out you do not want to miss this event. This is a free event. A day of fun and entertainment.”

Oxnard

JUNETEENTH FESTIVAL CELEBRATING ARTISTIC AND FINANCIAL FREEDOM

Oxnard College and 5th Street Downtown

Art enthusiasts and community-based organizations in Oxnard are marking Juneteenth this year with a two-day event celebrating art and artists while promoting financial freedom.

Artist Milton “510” Bowen, an Oakland native, is headlining the festival that will be held at various locations in Ventura County’s largest city, about 60 miles north of Los Angeles.

June 17 • 6PM – 8PM

Private Artist Reception and Pre-Sale

99Three FM Radio Station, Oxnard College

June 18 • Noon – 4PM

Milton 510 Collection Exhibition and Public Sale

Open Door Studio – 329 W 5th St, Downtown Oxnard (Next door to Carnegie Art Museum)

June 18 • 10 – 5PM

Juneteenth Celebration

Oxnard Plaza Park (Downtown Oxnard) – 500 S C Street, Oxnard 93030

Peers Praise Alameda Judge Trina Thompson’s Rise to Federal Court

 

Edward Henderson | California Black Media

Judge Trina L. Thompson of the Superior Court of Alameda County, who is African American, was confirmed to the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

The United States Senate voted 51-44 to confirm Thompson, who President Biden nominated.

Appointed under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, federal district court judges serve lifetime appointments upon good behavior.

“All of us in the Northern District are grateful and excited to have Judge Thompson join us,” said Chief Judge Richard Seeborg of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

“She brings a wealth of experience as a highly regarded trial judge, which will be most welcome on our very busy Court,” he said.

Since taking office, the Biden Administration has made it a priority to diversify federal courts.

“Our current federal bench is not representative of the diversity of our democracy,” said U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA) in remarks on the floor last week. “We have a lot of work to do to rebuild a judiciary that deserves the faith of the American people.”

More than 70% of President Biden’s 92 district and appellate court picks have been women, and a vast majority have been people of color.

Prior to her appointment, Judge Thompson served as a juvenile court commissioner, a criminal defense attorney in private practice for nearly a decade, and as an assistant public defender as well. Thompson holds the distinction of being the first African American woman elected to the Superior Court of Alameda County.

In addition to her work on the bench, she serves as a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, where she received her bachelor’s degree in 1983, and her juris doctor from the university’s School of Law in 1986.

Thompson has contributed to educating the public and her peers about equity and equal rights under the law. Her work contrasted the tenets of American law with the history and contemporary realities of discrimination when she participated in the ‘Continuing the Dialogue’ series for the Center for Judicial Education and Research Division (CJER) of the Judicial Council of California. She discussed the history of housing discrimination in California effected through illegal racial covenants, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. She has also presented a CJER lecture on wrongful convictions and the learnings judicial officers can adapt to prevent them.

Thompson is a member of the Association of African American California Judicial Officers, Inc., (AAACJO). The organization was established in 2017 to address the professional interests of Black state and federal judicial officers presiding in the California. The membership includes Superior Court Judges and Commissioners, Appellate Court Justices, Administrative Law Judges and State Bar Court Judges.

“Given her body of work and her dedication to the community, it is clear Judge Thompson will be an invaluable asset in her new role as District Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California,” the AAACJO said in a statement congratulating Thompson.

Generation Z Sparking the ‘Great Resignation’ as Employers Realize Shortages

Stacy M. Brown/ NNPA Newswire

The pandemic has spurred the Great Resignation phenomenon, and it is still on.
Many workers have continued to resign and switch jobs, and the pandemic reportedly has changed what matters to employees and what they want from their jobs – leading to a disconnect between leaders and workers.

GenZ and younger Millennials are speaking up about what they want their workplace to look like – and feel like – something that no other generation has done.

“Many GenZ workers got their first job during the pandemic, so they expect flexibility and remote work as the standard option. In addition, they view jobs as ‘experiences’ that they can end if they no longer need or feel connected to them,” said Dr. Ximena Hartsock, founder of BuildWithin.

This D.C.-based company identifies, trains, and manages tech-related apprentices.
“And, they have always been presented with a ‘buyers’ market,’ in terms of jobs which has led to job-hopping, which is unlikely to go away and puts pressure on employers to lead with an employee-centric and value-driven culture,” Hartsock insisted.

“This new generation is putting needed pressure on employers to make the workplace more empathetic. Perhaps the Great Resignation will transition to the Great Enlightenment.”
Mark Pierce, CEO of Cloud Peak Law Group, said he believes that employees aren’t feeling valued or that their working location puts them at a disadvantage. He said that’s a primary contributor to the Great Resignation.

“Whether employees are working in-person, fully remote, or hybrid, it’s important to ensure that everyone feels welcome and valued in their roles,” Pierce stated.

He noted that focusing on company culture and giving employees autonomy are solutions.
“It can be easier to focus on employees who work in the same way that you as a leader do most often. If you’re in the office a lot, you’ll likely be more in touch with employees who work in-office frequently, and vice versa if you work remotely,” Pierce observed.

He added that micromanagement becomes amplified when performed remotely, making it even more bothersome for employees than when they worked in the office where employers did so in person.

“Giving employees autonomy shows that you as a leader trust them to do their work without needing to intervene,” Pierce insisted.

“It also frees you to focus on the most important tasks at hand, rather than simply monitoring employees.”

Pew Research Center survey found that low pay, a lack of opportunities for advancement, and feeling disrespected at work are the top reasons Americans quit their jobs last year.
Released in March 2022, the survey also found that those who quit and are now employed elsewhere are more likely than not to say their current job has better pay, more opportunities for advancement, and more work-life balance and flexibility.

“A few factors are driving the Great Resignation, but one that stands out is that most workplaces simply aren’t doing as much as they could to support the health and wellness of their employees,” advised Logan Mallory, vice president at Motivosity.

This company helps employees remain engaged remotely and in the office.
“This means offering support for mental health and workplace options that support overall health and wellness, such as flexible working hours or the ability to work remotely,” Mallory stated.

“When employees see that their employers truly care about them as individuals, they’ll be much happier, more engaged, and less likely to resign.”

Pavel Stepanov, the CEO of Virtudesk, added that COVID confronted many workers with the question of what it means to have meaning in their lives.

Stepanov said Generation Z, a group with a different mindset and culture, has entered the workforce.

Further, the cost of living increases and housing and homeownership are becoming more unattainable for young people.

“So many factors are contributing to the Great Resignation. However, this isn’t just a brief trend anymore. What’s looking to be a long-lasting shift is changing culture and economic environment,” Stepanov stated.

“Also, the culture of Gen Z has also proven to be very different from Gen X and Millennials, where they strive to attach more meaning to what they do and strive to have a strong impact on the world.”

He continued: “This, coupled with the hardship of COVID in the last two years, is having people demand greater job fulfillment when they enter or participate in the workforce. People want to stand out, be different, and make change where they are, and many jobs have been designed not to deliver that feeling of purpose.”

Bill That Would Allow Calif. Parents to Sue Social Media Companies Moves Forward

Edward Henderson | California Black Media

Last week, the State Assembly voted 51-0 to pass a bill that, if the State Senate approves, would open the door for parents whose children are addicted to social media to sue companies like Tik Tok and Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram.

Assemblymembers Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo County) and Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) co-authored the legislation, Assembly Bill (AB) 2408.

The bill’s language defines ‘addiction’ as children under 18 who are “both harmed – either physically, mentally, emotionally, developmentally or materially – and who want to stop or reduce how much time they spend on social media but can’t because they are preoccupied or obsessed with it.”

Cunningham says evidence of social media addiction affecting children is well documented and it’s time to hold social media companies accountable.

“According to whistleblowers, certain social media companies have been designing their products to get children addicted. The results have been calamitous for our youth: anxiety, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, depression, and loneliness,” he said.

“It’s time we treat the dangers of youth social media addiction with the level of seriousness it warrants,” Cunningham continued.

Wicks says as the mother of two daughters, the bill is particularly relevant for her.

“For every parent like me who is anxiously watching their children grow older in the digital world, there are millions of others whose teens (and often, even younger kids) are already experiencing the mental health impacts of a system that has a moral responsibility to protect them,” she said.  “Our number one job as legislators is to protect the health and safety of Californians — especially our kids and teens — and I’m proud to jointly author this bill that takes that responsibility as seriously as it deserves.”

The bill permits parents to sue for up to $25,000 per violation. If proven that a company intentionally created products that were meant to be addictive to children, they could face an additional $250,000 civil penalty.

Only social media companies that have had at least $100 million in gross revenue would be liable under the proposal. It would not apply to streaming companies like Netflix and Disney Plus.

If passed, AB 2408 will also allow guardians and the California Attorney General to sue social media companies.

The bill has drawn opposition from several business groups including the California Chamber of Commerce and TechNet, a network of tech CEOs and executives.

They argue that the bill would impose an “unimaginable civil liability” on social media platforms and “interferes with the expressive rights of both the minors who will be banned from social media services and the service providers themselves.”

TechNet alleges that the bill is unfair and extra-legal.

“There is no social media company, let alone any business that could tolerate that legal risk, especially considering how much this bill puts the thumb on the scales of justice for plaintiffs,” TechNet wrote in opposition.

If the bill becomes law, it will take effect on Jan. 1, 2023. Then, social media companies would have until April 1 to remove features deemed addictive to children to not be held liable.

Also, companies that conduct regular audits of their practices and features to identify products or offerings that could be addictive to children would be immune from lawsuits.

AB 2408 is now head to the State Senate for review.

Pres. Biden, V.P. Harris Praise Rep. Bass for Leadership on George Floyd Policing Act

Aldon Thomas Stiles | CA Black Media

Last week on the second anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, President Joe Biden signed an executive orderinspired by police reform legislation introduced in Congress called the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA-37), who is running for Mayor of Los Angeles, introduced the legislation that passed in the House of Representatives but has stalled in the Senate.

“When the Senate failed to act, [Sen. Cory Booker] and I went to the President and asked him to act,” Bass tweeted the day Biden signed the order.

“We worked closely with the White House and came up with an executive order that will help bring transparency and accountability to law enforcement,” she said.

The executive order establishes a new database for federal law enforcement officers, such as FBI or DEA agents, who have been fired for misconduct.

While state and local law enforcement agencies are not required to contribute to this database, there will be an avenue for them to participate in this process if they decide to do so.

“It will enhance accountability, improve transparency, and raise policing standards in an effort to help end the horrific incidents of violence that we often witness, like the murder of George Floyd,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said in a statement. “That the families of those impacted by police violence, law enforcement groups representing our nation’s officers, and civil rights groups are standing with the administration in solidarity to embrace this executive order shows that positive change is possible.”

Los Angeles-based activist Kelli Todd Griffin, Convener of the California Black Women’s Collective, believes that this executive order is “a step in the right direction,” but that there is still more work to be done to reduce violent police encounters.

“The executive order cannot do what Congress can do, but it can still address some of the critical issues,” Griffin said. “There’s got to be change in order to progress.”

Biden made a similar assertion during the signing event at the White House, where Bass was present.

“Members of Congress, including many here today like Senator Cory Booker and Congresswoman Karen Bass … spent countless hours on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to find a better answer to that question [of public trust and public safety]. I sincerely thank you all for your tireless efforts. But they’re not over,” Biden said.

Bass’s work on the bill has gained support from community leaders like Griffin.

“I want to make sure that I applaud Congressmember Karen Bass who stayed committed to ensuring this sea change moment happened,” Griffin stated. “She spent countless hours working with her colleagues, civil rights organizations and the Administration to develop an executive order that had substantial, systemic actions that can be taken. We needed her leadership and vision in this work.”

On the day of the signing, Booker took to Twitter to share a message of remembrance for George Floyd.

“He was a son, a father, a brother,” Booker said. “We all bear responsibility for a system that has allowed what happened to George Floyd to happen with such frequency. Changes are coming at the local, state, and national level. But more change is needed.”

“Tony Thurmond: Overcoming the Unimaginable to Take On the Impossible”

Lisa Collins

“When I think about the way my life began, I know it is no accident and I attribute it to a higher power.”

The words are those of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, whose ascension to the post of the state’s top education official is no short of miraculous given the circumstances of his childhood, beginning with the passing of his mother when he was just six years old.

“I went from being a very young child in San Jose to moving to Philadelphia with a cousin I’d never met, who immediately became my mother figure,” Thurmond recalls. “She took me in sight unseen and my younger brother who was five and though she had no formal education, she insisted that education was the key.”

Thurmond would not only have to adapt to a new environment but to hard times as well.

“All my friends made fun of me for being on food stamps, free lunch —the whole ticket,” Thurmond recounts. “But as an adult, I realized the demographics of my neighborhood meant that everybody was on free lunch. We had government cheese delivered to my house and I remember it fondly now because we had something to eat and while we didn’t always have enough, there was never a time we didn’t have something. My great aunt Jean — who was the matriarch of our family— would often say God will provide. I didn’t understand that as a child, but God always did provide and continues to provide.”

Early on, he not only excelled at school, but was impassioned by it.

“I saw kids going to classes that looked like some kind of college prep and I’m like, I’m gonna be in that too,” he continued. “So, my cousin signs us up to be in a lottery for what they called the academic plus school— a public school where they only allow 50 kids into the program. Somehow my brother and I both ended up on that list and were bused from our all Black neighborhood into a school in a white neighborhood.

“My cousin to her credit, went to night school, got her associates degree and brought us to her graduation. Then she went to night school, got her bachelor’s and again, brought us to her graduation. I believe she was role modeling for us to have a college education.”

But his network of support expanded well beyond his cousin.

“There was the Black teacher who just said you are going to get this and stayed with me when I couldn’t figure out algebra until I got through,” he noted. “There were people in my faith community who would drive us to church and bring food to our house.”

Looking back, Thurmond believes it was the combination of education and his support network that accounted for how he was able to make it.

“I think about that in relation to today’s young people trying to overcome obstacles,” he says. “We’ve got to provide them with that education, and they need caring adults around them who support them every step of the way.

“I take this job very seriously because of my own circumstances,” he goes on. “I see it with urgency to try and help young people who are struggling and to prevent the younger kids from having to go through those struggles. That’s exactly why I chose this and it’s why I’m running for reelection because our families and kids have been through the most difficult experience ever— a pandemic, the killing of George Floyd, racial hate, —all these things we saw before our very eyes.

“We see a spike in depression for kids, suicide rates being double for Black kids. LGBTQ+ kids feel totally attacked because of what’s happening. Even with all these things happening, I still have hope for California kids. That’s what my platform for running is all about, to help kids heal from the trauma, recover academically and socially, and then allow them to thrive.”

It was in college that Thurmond first decided to run for office.

“My buddy kind of talked me into it,” Thurmond recalls, “and after getting elected, there were issues we were able to change and it’s like a light bulb went off.”

But it would be 20 years before he would put his name on another ballot in 2013 and launch a successful bid to represent the 15th District (Alameda County) in the California Assembly from 2014 – 2018.

“I loved serving in the California State Assembly and was reelected with 90% of the vote,” he states. “I made a choice to leave the assembly because I realized that my politics were about helping young people and that a job like state superintendent meant working on education every day, all the time.”

What he feels makes him uniquely qualified is due in part to the relationships he’s built with Governor Gavin Newsom and members of the legislature to access critical resources and what he has been able to accomplish since taking office in 2019.

Working with lawmakers in both the California Senate and Assembly, he is sponsoring and supporting a range of focused legislation that, if approved, would increase access to education opportunities and improve learning for Black, Hispanic and other children who were most affected by the pandemic.

“Our number one bill is Senate Bill (SB) 1229.” The bill, authored by Sen. Mike McGuire (D-North Coast), offers incentives to recruit 10,000 professionals to help support the growing mental health needs of students.  SB 1229 provides $25,000 grants to aspiring mental health clinicians who commit to serving a minimum of two years as a mental health professional either in a school district or youth-serving community organization in high need areas.

Approximately eight million Californians, most of them from communities of color, live in areas with a shortage of behavioral health professionals.

“There’s no question that our students need all kinds of support for academic recovery, but our students and families need to really heal from the trauma that is this pandemic.” Thurmond said. “We’ve seen a spike in suicide for Black students; we’ve seen an increase in hospitalizations for young people.”

Addressing childhood literacy and biliteracy, is another of Thurmond’s priorities. Last year, he announced his vision that by 2026 all California students will be literate by third grade. He pulled together a Statewide Literacy Task Force of experts and community partners to design a strategy for reaching that goal. Also, to support the initiative, Thurmond pledged to secure one million book donations for students in need and he exceeded his goal with more than five million free online books downloaded.

Thurmond is sponsoring three bills focused on literacy expansion working with two legislators: Sen. Monique Limón (D-Santa Barbara) and Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Alameda). The first is Senate Bill (SB) 952 (Limón), written to help existing schools convert to dual-language immersion programs. The second, Assembly Bill (AB) 2498 (Bonta), would expand Freedom School programs — evidence-based Afrocentric literacy programs that have been shown to help students improve their reading by one to two grade levels in as little as six weeks. The third is AB 2465 (Bonta), which would expand literacy programs to fund home visits.

There are several other game-changing education bills Thurmond is sponsoring. Among them are SB 830, which Sen. Anthony J. Portantino (D-Thousand Oaks) introduced. The legislation calls for funding schools based on school district enrollment instead of attendance. It would also finance efforts to address chronic absenteeism and truancy.

According to Thurmond, “SB 830 gives districts predictability on how they receive funding and gives them important resources to address what has been one of our most perplexing challenges: dealing with chronic absenteeism in ways we have not yet seen before. It will put students and schools on a better path to further close opportunity and education gaps.”

With the funds included by Gov. Gavin Newsom in the state budget and passed by the Legislature, Thurmond is implementing a Universal Prekindergarten Planning & Implementation Grant program to expand prekindergarten for every four-year-old. The budget is covering a program serving two meals free of charge (breakfast and lunch) during each school day to students in grades K–12. Also budgeted is $3 Billion to establish community schools across the state that offer additional services to students and families.

Another of his priorities is Inglewood, which he has named as a partner district.

“Like Oakland, it has been saddled with debt from borrowing and sadly under Governor Pete Wilson, that debt got sold to a private entity,” Thurmond explains. “So, even if the state wanted to, it can’t excuse that debt. Instead, part of what I’m trying to do is to help Inglewood get money from the state of California to pay off that debt that is strangling the Inglewood Unified School District, a district that is trying to make the turn and show they can provide quality education.”

Presently, Thurmond is campaigning for a second term, which most believe he will win. Those campaigning against him for the post are openly critical of the 53-year-old leader of California schools for everything from prolonged classroom shutdowns and pandemic policies to hiring policies and turnover, while groups like the California Teachers Association praise him as a fierce advocate for public education.

“If people want to serve in this job, they have to understand you don’t have control over the thousand school districts in this state who are run locally with their own school boards.’ And”, he states emphatically, “they [speaking to his detractors] don’t have to like the choices I’ve made, but I would appreciate if they just recognize that we’ve been working nonstop to try and do the impossible under impossible circumstances.”

In the meantime, says Thurmond, “I’m always focusing on what’s the next level.”

The Race to Keep Our Children Safe: COVID Boosters For Kids Are Here

Christal Mims

Along with the rest of California, L.A. County is seeing a rise in overall coronavirus cases. This comes after the lifting of several mask mandates around the country. The U.S. is now averaging 100,000 new coronavirus cases a day for the first time since February, and during the month of May, the number of L.A. County COVID-19 hospitalizations rose to its highest level since March.

Five subvariants of the Omicron strain are circulating and more are developing.

More than 350 children ages 5 to 11 have already died from the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC’s count also estimates that three out of four U.S. children between these ages have been infected since the pandemic’s start.

In California, approximately 274,000 children under the age of five and more than 1.3 youth between the ages of 5 and 17 have been infected with the virus as of April 2022.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized a COVID-19 vaccine booster for children ages 5 to 11. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is currently the only vaccine approved for children and is available for those who completed their primary series at least 5 months ago. State officials have formally supported the newly authorized booster dose and are urging those eligible to get boosted as soon as possible.

In a clinical trial of over 2,000 children between the ages of 5 and 11, it was found that the vaccine was over 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 symptoms.

“The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine is effective in helping to prevent the most severe consequences of COVID-19 in individuals 5 years of age and older,” said Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

Despite its safety and easy access, just 30 percent of 5 to 11 year olds in L.A. County have been vaccinated – with the lowest vaccination rates being among Black and Latino children – compared to the 80 percent of teens and adults. Health officials are urging parents to prioritize getting their children vaccinated, and make sure that the over 255,000 children eligible for a booster shot receive one.

“Our bodies need a boost to remain highly protected,” said L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer at a recent press conference. “We also know that in L.A. County over the past month, cases among children 5 to 11 increased 264%. This is a faster rate of increase than what we saw in young adults ages 18 to 49 where the increase was 116%.”

Dr. Donna White Carey, who has spent over two decades in clinical medicine and is the executive pastor of True Vine Ministries in West Oakland, uses her YouTube channel, “Talking with Dr. Donna” to answer health questions about the coronavirus and more. She also led the church’s COVID response efforts, during which they were able to vaccinate almost 8,000 people. The church’s success can be attributed to her ability to effectively quell concerns and not shame those who hold what she calls, “justified mistrust.”

“It made absolute sense,” Dr. Donna White Carey told L.A. Focus. “You have a new virus. You created a brand new vaccine using brand new technology. You would be a fool to not have questions. Particularly in our community where racism and historical mistreatment of our bodies is documented for centuries.”

She believes physicians should have to earn the trust of the Black community.

“Our bodies have been misused and abused from the time of slavery until present day by the medical and scientifc community. And we cannot ignore that,” she said.

Booster doses are a normal part of most vaccine series and have proven to be the most efficient way to maintain immunity and protection from infection.

“The booster shot is necessary for all of us. We know that the vaccine wanes after about 6 months,” Carey said. “The booster revs back up your antibodies so if you come into contact with COVID, your body is able to fight it off.”

L.A. County health officials are monitoring several outbreaks in schools, making the necessity of booster shots even more apparent.

“While we recognize that many children who test positive experience mild illness, national trends are showing increases in cases and hospitalization rates for children and more concerns about long term impacts of even mild infection in children,” Ferrer said in a statement. “We encourage parents, students, teachers, and staff, during this time of high transmission with the most infectious strains seen to date, to wear a mask when indoors and get vaccinated and boosted when eligible.”

According to the Department of Public Health, there were 5,918 positive cases at L.A. County schools during the week ending May 15 compared to the 2,742 positive cases just a month prior. Ferrer is encouraging school staff and students to take the proper precautions after exposure.

“If we can all do our best to protect each other, and those who are more vulnerable to severe illness or death, we can safely celebrate the end of the school year and enjoy the beginning of summer,” she said.

“Vaccination with a primary series among this age group has lagged behind other age groups leaving them vulnerable to serious illness,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, in a statement. “We know that these vaccines are safe, and we must continue to increase the number of children who are protected,” she said.

A small study concluded that the approved Pfizer vaccine increased the amount of virus-fighting antibodies in young children, including those able to fight off the extremely contagious omicron variant. The omicron surge resulted in twice the rate of hospitalizations amongst children ages 5 to 11 who were unvaccinated versus kids who’d received their first two doses. Black children specifically made up about a third of those hospitalized during the alarming winter surge.

“Increasing vaccination coverage among children, particularly among racial and ethnic minority groups disproportionately affected by Covid-19, is critical to preventing Covid-19-associated hospitalization and severe outcomes,” a C.D.C. study stated, after finding that racial disparities were leaving Black children more exposed to severe illness from the virus.

Dr. Carl Earl Lambert Jr.,MD, an assistant professor and member of the American Medical Association, believes education needs to be at the forefront of outreach efforts, not blame.

“If there’s hesitancy, we don’t get frustrated or angry. We try to see the ‘why’ behind that and handle that with an inquisitive spirit,” he said. “Are we thoroughly educating our patients about the vaccines? Are we treating vaccine hesitancy?”

Dr. Donna White Carey also believes it’s important to speak a language that people can understand and focus on not talking at them, but to them.

“Let’s break it down to where it’s just me and you, and we’re just having a conversation,” Carey explained. “I’m not talking over your head and using all this medical, scientific jargon that you can’t understand.”

The pandemic has undeniably affected everyone, but children have had to face incalculable damage socially and mentally, especially in regard to their academic growth. A Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) study revealed that Black and Hispanic children faced the worst of this impact. Black and Hispanic parents were more likely to say their household suffered a job disruption due to childcare needs since the start of the pandemic. They also revealed that the disruption had a major impact on their family’s finances and stress level.

While some studies are being done to monitor the impact of vaccination among children, health experts are calling for more. Due to the fact that children being vaccinated and boosted is the best way to prevent illness and school outbreaks, it’s crucial to know who is getting vaccinated and when. A lack of vaccination data also prevents school districts from making informed decisions when it comes to outreach and safety.

“We’re making sweeping decisions across these very diverse school districts about policies,” said Dr. Rebekah Fenton, a pediatrician and adolescent medicine fellow at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. “Assuming that it’s safe to determine because of high vaccination rates among parents or children themselves, without recognizing the unique needs of certain communities in particular schools.”

More data can also prevent Black and Hispanic children from being left behind in vaccination efforts.

“Without that information, we would potentially get to this place where if COVID was doing well in the larger communities, that smaller communities such as Black and brown individuals will just get looked over,” she said.

A modeling study revealed that 318,981 COVID-19 deaths could have been prevented if the U.S. had reached 100 percent COVID-19 vaccine primary series coverage, all the more reason why the CDC is also strengthening its recommendation that those 12 and older who are immunocompromised and those 50 and older should receive a second booster dose at least four months after their first booster dose.

Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Stanford University, believes outreach messaging needs to highlight the severity of illness that children can face if they contract the virus and haven’t received their booster shot.

“I don’t think people take the disease seriously in kids,” Maldonado said. “We just need to keep getting that message out that children should be safe. And if we can keep them safe, why not keep them safe?”

The effects of long COVID are also relatively unknown, and there is no telling what impact it could have on a child in the long run. A child being unvaccinated ups the chances of complications in the present, and potentially in the future.

“We don’t know the long-term impact of COVID on our bodies. We are starting to see that now, since it’s been two years,” Dr. Donna White Carey told L.A. Focus. “For example, the spurt of hepatitis around the world. Half of the kids in the studies who have died of hepatitis have tested positive for coronavirus in the past.”

While children aren’t experiencing the same death rate as adults, the long-term impact of COVID on children is just as worrisome and could be harder to trace in the early stages.

“Kids may not have the vocabulary to say that they have a headache everyday, or that they’re feeling tired, unfocused or unable to concentrate. But we know that kids are having memory issues and don’t have the same level of energy that they used to,” Carey said.

She believes we have a long way to go when it comes to effectively executing outreach efforts and making the best decisions to lessen positive cases, specifically amongst children.

“We need to have a lot more open forums for our parents to come and talk to professionals and get their questions answered, especially in the Black community,” she said. “We need to get back to basics. I know wearing masks is annoying, but I want to stay around. And I don’t want to be sick.”

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is urging every child who is eligible to get boosted, as it remains the best way to prevent hospitalization or death from COVID-19. Californians are also being encouraged to follow the state’s SMARTER Steps plan, which includes continuing to wear a mask and getting tested when necessary, in order to continue to protect themselves and their loved ones.

South L.A. Church Blesses City With $20,000 in Free Gasoline

As gas prices continue to surge in California—surpassing even the federal minimum wage of $7.25 at some Los Angeles gas stations and topping $8 at a downtown station—one South L.A. church is doing what it can to provide at least some temporary relief for those burdened by the pain at the pump.

On June 18, the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church will be blessing approximately 400 South L.A. residents with $20,000 worth of free gas. It will be first come, first served for those looking to fill up at the Shell station located at 5805 Crenshaw Blvd (at the intersection of Crenshaw and Slauson) beginning at 9am.

“What sparked this idea is the need,” said Pastor Joshua Daniels. “We believe that where there’s a need, God wants the church to meet that need. Right now, gas prices are exorbitant, and we believe that this will be a way to help a lot of families and to just show the community that Jesus cares. Everybody doesn’t necessarily need a sermon. Some people need supplies, so we want to try and supply this need.”

The event is part of the church’s “Zion Cares” outreach and is the second effort Daniels has undertaken since being called as the church’s senior pastor last church. In December, the church fed 1,000 people over the Christmas holidays.

“Mt. Zion has been involved in missions and outreach for decades, most notably under the leadership of Dr. E.V. Hill,” adds Daniels. “We’ve rebranded as Zion Cares because we want our city to know us as a church that cares about community.”


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