Tavis Smiley’s KBLA Gives Voice to Community as L.A.’s First Black-Owned Talk Radio Station

Lisa Collins

Tavis Smiley is used to making history. He did it as the first black to have a talk show on NPR and the first African American to have a talk show on PBS. Now, he is making history as with the launch of KBLA-1580, the first Black-owned talk radio format in Los Angeles.

Smiley closed the deal to purchase the station valued at $7.5 million late last year and is calling it the flagship station of what he hopes to build into a nationwide Black-owned and operated talk radio network.

“We’ve already identified other stations,” said Smiley. “So, the plan is long-term to syndicate our program from LA with these other stations that we hope to buy and lease across the country to build finally a black talk radio network across the country.”

For Smiley, the timing couldn’t have been better.

“Everything is properly situated in this moment for this. There is some black talk radio around the country, but it’s not thriving in the way that it once was. That’s why I think there’s an opportunity here. I’m dumb enough to try it and we’ll see if it works.”

So far, so good is the initial response from listeners and potential partners.

“After the first two weeks on the air, we started getting calls from stations around the country about syndicating our program, so we’re off to a pretty good start,” the veteran talk show host said.

The business venture follows a three-year hiatus from the airwaves for Smiley following his highly-publicized firing by PBS in 2017 for sexual assault misconduct in the wake of the “#MeToo movement and the subsequent 2018 wrongful termination lawsuit that led to a $2.6 million judgement against Smiley in favor of PBS in 2020.

Admittedly, Smiley says, “The PBS thing was ugly.

“I was lied on when I was a 12-year-old kid, and my father was so upset and so angry that he didn’t take the time to ask me whether or not the lie was true,” he digresses. “I was beaten so severely that I was in the hospital for almost two weeks and I’ve never forgotten the feeling of having someone stand up publicly and lie on me.”

He pauses for a moment, getting emotional.

“I promised myself as a 12 year old kid that I will never let anybody lie on me. So, I fought back and I’m still fighting back. You’re not going to lie on me and get away with it”, said the Gulfport, Mississippi native who got his start on radio in one-minute daily radio segments called The Smiley Report on KGFJ radio after working as an aide to former L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley.

“They (PBS) don’t care about that truth. It was about not wanting to renew my contract and wanting to get me off the air. Even four years after “me too”, I am still the only black person in the history of PBS to have his own show. What does that tell you about what they were really committed to? And that’s what that fight was about.”

Smiley—who has appealed the judgement— says he’s not bitter.

“Life goes on. You move on,” he states. “I don’t ever let misery have the last word in my life. You fight and you come back.”

The hardest part of the whole ordeal for Smiley was not having a voice during the last nearly four years.

“I would have loved to have been here, to use my platform, to get access to other forces, to be a megaphone and amplify our voices,” he explains. “I mean, frankly, it was painful for almost four years sitting on the sidelines while I saw my brother and sisters being killed by cops and this era of racial reckoning was taking place, but watching that moment allowed me to realize that they’re covering us now because we’re in the streets. But what happens when we know we’re not in the streets anymore? How do we continue to advance our narrative?

“So, the idea crystallized to try to do a talk radio station for us and the beauty of it is that unlike everything else I’ve done in my career, it ain’t about me. My name isn’t on this,”he continues. This is not a Tavis smiley project or venture or show. It’s about the community. It’s about giving them a platform— a megaphone, and letting their voices amplified. I feel really good about the fact that for once in my life, I ain’t got to cradle all the weight.”

Citing Los Angeles as the most multicultural, multi-racial, multi-ethnic city in the country —and given his beginnings in talk radio on KABC—Smiley is surprised that he didn’t think of it sooner.

“The problem is this city and everywhere else, the write up on Talk Radio is all day, all night, all white.”

Smiley’s answer to that is a format whose slogan is “unapologetically progressive”.

“To be clear, we are unapologetic black, but the station is unapologetic progressive,” said Smiley. “We took that slogan because I don’t want to leave out all good people who don’t look like us, who are with us, who came out in the streets during the protest.”

Black Angelenos recall the station’s dial location at 1580 as home to the former pioneering hip hop station, KDAY in the 80s. With 50,000 kilowatts of power, the signal reaches over 12 million in the L.A. basin and stretches from Thousand Oaks to San Clemente.

“The signal is huge,” notes Smiley. “The big boys in town KFI, KABC, KRLA have the same signal strength, so we can put it down as bad as they can.”

Getting the signal was a stroke of faith for the 56-year old broadcaster.

“I was in escrow with another station,” he reveals. As fate would have it, that escrow fell out and I was just crushed. I was praying and 48 hours later, I got a phone call that said, would you be interested in buying KBLA? And I just started crying, because the two stations I was in talks with, were nice stations, but the history of 1580, when you say 1580 to Negroes, you ain’t got to say nothing else. There’s nothing like buying a brand people already know.

“The bad news was that 1580 at the time we purchased it, was a Spanish language/ Christian radio station. What that meant was none of your advertisers are going to stay. So, we’re starting from scratch with no advertisers and flipping the format.”

With almost $650 million in advertising spent every year on radio in LA, the commercial viability adds to the pressure of getting it right and Smiley has $1.5 million of his own money as skin in the game.

But buying the station was only the first step. Now he needed the operating capital to assemble a team as his sales force got up to speed. And that’s where Smiley is getting by with a little help from some rich and powerful friends, including Bill Maher, Ice Cube, Van Jones, some NBA players and even an L.A. pastor, all of whom wrote generous checks.

With adequate financing Smiley was free to engage the kind of talent he believed would captivate listeners and create the kind of content that will lead to solid ratings in what is one of one of the nation’s most competitive markets.

One of his first calls was to Dominique diPrima, long time host of KJLH’s highly popular early morning talker, Front Page.

“I love Dominique on KJLH and Front Page, but I said to Dominique, ‘You have earned a bigger platform and because Stevie is music, he can’t give you a bigger platform. The city deserves an opportunity to hear you for longer than 90 minutes.”

DiPrima had hosted the popular show for more than 16 years and though it was difficult to leave, welcomed the opportunity.

“We all want the opportunity to grow and expand and make history and I think what Tavis is doing with KBLA is historical,” said DiPrima, who is making history as the first black woman to host a morning drive talk radio show.

“When you think about Los Angeles being such a catalyst for change —whether it’s the Watts Uprising or the ‘92 civil unrest or the Black Lives Matter Movement—we are an epicenter of change and black voices and we’ve never had a talk radio station, that’s significant.”

KBLA’s lineup also includes comedian/actor turned political commentator D.L. Hughley, whose syndicated radio show, The D.L. Hughley Show, was not heard in Los Angeles until Smiley made handed him the afternoon drive slot; and Don Amiche who was teamed for years with Tammi Mac on KJLH.

Smiley was also particularly happy to include Danny Morrison into the mix.

“He’s like the Stephen A. Smith of politics,” said Smiley. “He’s loud. He’s brash. He’s bombastic and boisterous, but agree or disagree, he always makes his point.”

And then what would a talk radio station owned by Tavis Smiley be without having him on the air, doing what he does best—interviewing influencers, celebrities and the newsmakers of the day.

What Smiley will not be at a loss for is content. It was one of his dear friends, Grammy-award winning R&B icon Prince, who impressed upon him that content is king, to which end Smiley owns all of his PBS and NPR libraries, his radio content dating back to his days as a commentator on “The Tom Joyner Show” and his more than a dozen books, including his 2006 best seller, “The Covenant With Black America”.

KBLA operates from the Leimert Park office complex that has served as his based for more than 20 years.

“We’re putting bigger studios in the back of the building,” Smiley said. “Once I get my hooks into something, I’m not a hit and quit. We’re going to build this thing with God’s help to make a portal for this community.”

In the meantime, his biggest challenge is getting the word out.

“We don’t have a multimedia dollar budget to do billboards, so right now, more than anything else, it’s about getting the word out.”

For however great the challenge is, Tavis Smiley is more than equal to it.

“If it were easy for black people to own radio and television stations, a lot more of us would”, DiPrima says. “L.A. is very particular. These streets know who you are and you’re going to get credential checks whether you know it or not. But Tavis has a long history of educating and uplifting. He has a high standard in terms of the quality of what he does, and I think he has an amazing track record.”

Indeed, for Smiley, KBLA represents a higher calling.

“I’ve always viewed my career in this way that however long I have to do the work God’s called me to do, I know that the eyes of the future looking back at us,” Smiley shares. “Black children are looking back at us, hoping we get this moment right.

“They’re going to ask that of all of us. What did we do in this moment of racial reckoning to advance our narrative? And my answer will be KBLA Talk. That in this moment, I took the opportunity to try to step up my game and to present to the community a platform that we can all use to advance our narrative.”

With Clemency from Former President Donald Trump, Corvain Cooper Resets His Life as Entrepreneur and Community Activist

Corvain Cooper knows what it is like to be behind prison walls and feel like the people you love the most have forgotten about you. He served seven years of a life sentence for a nonviolent marijauna conviction.

Since receiving clemency from former President Donald Trump before he left office in January, Corvain has hit the ground running, hoping to shine light on those whose individual stories are overshadowed within the fight for prison reform. 

Working as brand ambassador of 40 Tons Clothing, along with his business partner and CEO Loriel Alegrete, Cooper has found a unique lane of merging his past fashion pursuits within his current focus of cannabis equity and restorative justice.

“The people who you thought will remember you, will forget about you. I want to be the person who is not forgetting about the people serving life sentences,” Cooper said. “I know how it is sitting in the cell, looking at the wall, wishing you get some pictures or wishing to hear from somebody on the outside.” 

When Cooper was sentenced in 2014, he said that he never accepted “life in prison” as his final judgement. Although he understood the magnitude of the sentencing, he knew that everything close to him would crumble, including the future of his two young daughters. He also knew that the essence of who he was as a man would begin to fade and deteriorate. 

Two of his female co-defendants also received jail time in the case. 

As he sought different avenues to try and obtain freedom, this is when Cooper’s faith in God was really all he had to stand on, as well as the fact that thousands of people on the outside began to petition and rally for his freedom. 

His story landed on the front page of the Washington Post in 2020, as well as the BET documentary “Smoke” which shows how the war on drugs has systematically targeted Black communities with the criminalization of marijuana. 

Ivanka Trump would eventually hear of Cooper’s story and was touched not only by the hypocrisy of his sentence but also that he had two daughters that needed him. Although her father granted Cooper clemency and he was released from prison, since he did not receive a full pardon, he must still undergo ten years of parole and is limited in what he can do within the world of cannabis, especially at a time when there is so much growth in the market.

Despite these barriers, he has still been able to have his own strain of marijuana packaged and sold in the popular cookies marijuana dispensary.

For now, Cooper is focused on community events anywhere in L.A County and beyond where he can lend his resources, voice and lived experiences with 40 Tons. So far, 40 Tons has sponsored expungement clinics in South Central, as well as coding workshops for the youth. 

On September 3rd, they are hosting a job fair for the formerly incarcerated to obtain employment in Hawthorne. When you go to 40 Tons website you can choose to write to a prisoner or purchase a shirt directly from them and 100% of the proceeds will be put into their personal accounts. 

Another focus of Cooper’s, is catching up for lost time with his two daughters who are 15 and 11.

“They are with me right now,” Cooper reveals. “I got them working, showing them responsibility, how to trade stocks and how to get their own wealth so they won’t have to depend on anyone when they get older. That’s my basic strategy right now,”

Congresswoman Waters Demands Federal Probe into L.A. Sheriff’s Department “Executioners” Gang

Staff

Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Chairwoman of the House Committee on Financial Services, is calling on  U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to take immediate action in directing the U.S. Department of Justice to look into the reports of a rogue, violent gang of law enforcement officers, who call themselves the “Executioners,” and operate within the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD).

In a letter directed to Garland, Waters wrote: “I write to ask that the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) take immediate action to address the reported existence of a rogue, violent gang of law enforcement officials, who call themselves the “Executioners,” operating within the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD), specifically the LASD Compton station. “…an LASD deputy provided sworn testimony identifying more than a dozen deputies with matching tattoos symbolizing their association with the Executioners gang… Deputies at the LASD Compton Station reportedly “chase ink”, a slang term for a deputy who attempts to win favor with the Executioners by committing violent acts in hopes of receiving the group tattoo denoting gang membership.”

“The gang allegedly sets illegal arrest quotas, threatens and harasses fellow deputies, and holds parties after shootings, called ‘998 parties,’ which are in part a celebration that a new deputy will be inked by the gang,” Waters continued. “The tattoos worn by the police gang reportedly feature Nazi imagery… In disturbing evidence of the violence perpetrated against the Los Angeles community by the LASD gang, the whistleblower identified the two deputies responsible for the death of Andres Guardado, a Gardena, California teenager killed by police on June 18, 2020, as members of the Executioners…The killing of Andres Guardado is not the only example of the LASD’s excessive and brutal tactics in the Los Angeles community. On August 31, 2020, LASD deputies fatally shot Dijon Kizzee in South Los Angeles.”

Waters said that her concerns extended beyond the Sheriff’s Department, but to a troubling pattern of police associating with militant groups nationwide, citing four San Jose police officers who were suspended after participating in a racist Facebook group and an Orange County officer caught wearing patches affiliated with a white supremacist group.

“There exists a clear pattern and practice of LASD deputies affiliating with white supremacist, militant police gangs, with the Executioners being the only the latest example,” Waters asserted. “According to ABC News, right wing extremist police gangs that have operated within LASD and other Los Angeles County law enforcement agencies include: the Executioners, the Vikings, the Regulators, the Jump Out Boys, the 3000 Boys and the Banditos. Since the 1990s, there have been dozens of cases…related to [LASD deputy gangs that have led to nearly $55 million in court judgements and settlements.”

Attorney John Sweeney—who won a $7 million lawsuit against L.A. County for the family of Donta Taylor, a 31-year-old Black man fatally shot by sheriff’s deputies in 2016—has been trying to raise the alarm on violent cliques in the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department for decades.

“These deputy gangs do exist. My goal was to expose it to the world,” Sweeney told L.A. Focus in March. “And I knew that some decent people within the sheriff’s department would come forth and corroborate what I’ve been trying to prove for years.”

Despite numerous allegations of deputy gangs revealed in the CBS report and various investigations, Sheriff Alex Villanueva has repeatedly denied the extent of a gang problem within the department, but at the same time says he has zero tolerance for deputy gangs.

“Any employee who aligns with a clique or subgroup, which engages in any form of misconduct, will be held accountable. I do not want you joining these alleged cliques anymore,” Villanueva said in a video on the LASD’s website.

His comments drew sharp rebuffs from Attorney Carl Douglas, who told L.A. Focus earlier this year that Villanueva is deliberately misleading the public about the troubling pattern within the L.A. County Sheriff’s and its well-documented deputy gang problem.

“Anyone who denies the existence of gangs within the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, like Alex Villanueva, is presenting false information to the public for his own self-interest,” Douglas said. “He knows in his heart that gang culture is a serious problem.” 

Calif. Reps. Lee and Bass Are Pushing Bills to Probe COINTELPRO; Remove Hoover’s Name From FBI Building

Quinci LeGardye | California Black Media

California’s U.S. Congresswomen Barbara Lee (D-CA-13) and Karen Bass (D-CA-37) are backing legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to remove former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s name from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) headquarters in Washington, D.C. Another bill they are supporting calls for probing the racially motivated counterintelligence programs that Hoover organized and oversaw known as COINTELPRO. Under Hoover’s watch, the FBI often relied on extra-legal tactics to accomplish its aims.

Last month, Representatives Bobby L. Rush (D-IL-01), Barbara Lee (D-CA-13) and Steve Cohen (D-TN-09) hosted a virtual forum focused on the activities of COINTELPRO. Several African Americans with direct knowledge of COINTELPRO programs testified, including 1960s activists Akua Njeri, Bobby Seale and Ericka Huggins, testified. Fred Hampton Jr also testified.

COINTELPRO is the moniker used to describe a series of covert projects the FBI coordinated between 1956-1971. They were aimed at surveilling, infiltrating and disrupting several domestic political movements and individuals that the agency deemed subversive or critical of the United States. Targeted groups and individuals included the Communist Party USA, the Black Panther Party, the Nation of Islam, anti-Vietnam war organizers, feminist organizations and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The 2021 Oscar-nominated film “Judas and the Black Messiah” depicted the strategy COINTELPRO used to infiltrate the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, which led to the assassination of Black Panther Party leader the late Fred Hampton Sr.

The lawmakers hosting the virtual forum condemned the COINTELPRO programs and J. Edgar Hoover’s leadership over the operation and, more broadly, the FBI. Hoover was the first and founding director of the FBI and he ran the agency from 1935 until his death in 1972. Hoover was also the head of the Bureau of Investigation, a government agency founded in 1924 and the forerunner to the FBI.

They are also calling for the uncovering of the still-classified history of COINTELPRO.

Rush, the co-founder of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, introduced his COINTELPRO Full Disclosure Act on May 4, which would require federal government agencies to publicly release all counterintelligence files related to COINTELPRO, and remove J. Edgar Hoover’s name from the FBI building in Washington, D.C. Representatives Cohen, Rush and Lee are also co-sponsoring a separate bill aimed at removing Hoover’s name from the FBI headquarters.

“I know the damages of J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO firsthand. I was put in the middle of their aggressive surveillance and counterintelligence activities after becoming involved with the Black Panther Party as a community worker,” said Lee. “As a community worker, I used my organizational and fundraising skills to help implement the Ten Point Program, which made programs like Free Breakfast for Children possible and paved the way for our own government’s free breakfast plan for low-income children.”

Calling the FBI’s activities and methods under Hoover “government-sponsored harassment,” Cohen said “COINTELPRO was not just violent and illegal. What made it so pernicious is it undermined our Constitution and democracy.”

“The United States was born of dissent, and alternative perspectives should be welcomed, not ‘neutralized.’ We may disagree, but every American has the right and freedom to speak their mind, to petition their government, to protest, to be engaged and active in civic life, and to contribute their energy and efforts in pursuit of our ‘more perfect union,’” he said. he FBI, attempted to snuff out minorities and minority viewpoints.”

The forum featured both activists with deep knowledge of COINTELPRO’s efforts and former members of the Black Panther Party. Akua Njeri, Fred Hampton Sr.’s partner, shared a harrowing account of the Black Panther Party leader’s death. Her son, Fred Hampton Jr., also spoke about his own experience with COINTELPRO.

According to Njeri and Hampton Jr., the majority of COINTELPRO’s subversive activities involving Black nationalist groups was directed at the Black Panther Party.

While the forum was mostly focused on testimonies, Lee stressed the need to learn about the past COINTELPRO operations in case similar efforts are used again in the future. She cited the FBI’s “Black identity extremism” report, which was written by the FBI’s Domestic Terrorism Analysis Unit in 2017, and claimed that “perceptions of police brutality against African Americans” had spurred“ an increase in premeditated, retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement.” Lee criticized the idea of a “Black identity extremist,” saying that such a thing “did not exist.”

“This was another way for the FBI to surveil the Black community. So, we must be vigilant now, this briefing is so important, because we all have to understand what a COINTELPRO 2 looks like now,” Lee said.

Haitian American Artist Brings His Vision, Gift to State’s COVID Campaign

Bo Tefu | California Black Media

California’s “Your Actions Save Lives” art campaign recently unveiled two “Safety First” murals in San Francisco. The artworks, created by the Grammy-nominated visual artist Serge Gay Jr, were commissioned to encourage people to continue to take safety precautions against COVID-19 even though the state reopened last month, according to the governor’s office.

One is located in the Castro, the city’s renowned historical “gayborhood,” as it is affectionately called by some locals, and the other in the Tenderloin, near downtown — two well-known districts steeped in the Golden Gate City’s famous history of Leftist political organizing and the visibility of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) people.

The Tenderloin mural, which he dedicates to the city’s transgender community, was inspired by the idea of, “breaking free because during the pandemic, we were all just home and kind of stuck there,” said Gay.

The mural, he explains, emphasizes the feeling of being free, “once you get vaccinated you have that experience back again, that freedom of moseying around the city,” said Gay.

Gay’s second artwork is located at 2390 Market Street in the Castro.

Gay says he chose the Castro district strategically since the area has a history that is committed to the safety and protection of the LGBTQ+ community.

The state says the “Your Actions Save Lives” campaign equips Californians with information about what they can do to help stem the spread of COVID-19. To get the word out, it partnered with The Center at the Sierra Health Foundation and 20 local artists across the state to reach communities that have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The project engages Latino, Black/African American, Asian American/Pacific Islander, Native American/Indigenous and LGBTQ artists and communities,” according to a press release from the governor’s office.

The arts initiative, organizers say, is designed to raise awareness of critical actions Californians have taken to help stop the spread of COVID-19, such as wearing a mask, washing hands, physical distancing and getting vaccinated.

“These accomplished artists are tapping into their culture and creativity to share empowering messages with communities that have been hard hit by COVID-19. Art has incredible power, and we believe these works will spark important conversations, connections and inspiration throughout the state,” said Chet P. Hewitt, president and CEO of The Center at Sierra Health Foundation.

According to Gay, he celebrates the Tenderloin for its inclusion of Black and Brown people. The message behind the mural places an emphasis on freedom of movement following the COVID-19 pandemic and encourages the public to get vaccinated, says the artist whose collaboration with film director Matt Stawski clinched him a Grammy nomination for “Best Short Form Video.”

“I wanted to really kind of also showcase our trends visibility,” said Gay.

The work that Gay produced for the statewide art project captures the diversity of Black and Brown people in San Francisco’s LBGTQ+ community. Gay says, because of his own personal experiences, he realizes that it is important to represent Black and Brown people in his work. He remembers feeling unwanted and invisible when he first moved to San Francisco from Miami.

“Being part of the LGBT community is just wanting to kind of have the opportunity to show diversity on everything,” said Gay.

As a third-generation artist, Gay wants Black people to recognize themselves in his artwork. When he sees artwork centered around Black people, Gay says, he often thinks to himself, “This is me, it resonates with me when I see another artist painting something that I can relate to.”

The fine artist attributes his artistic style (some critics have described it as graphic realism) — as well as his personal flair — to his Haitian culture and heritage as well as his upbringing in Miami, which taught him life lessons about the importance of community. As a Haitian American artist, Gay wants his work to indicate that Blackness is not a monolith. Gay pays homage to his Haitian roots through his artwork which celebrates various Black communities in the Bay Area — African Americans as well as African and Caribbean immigrants, he explains.

“I have this sense that everything is like a celebration of our culture, identity, and roots. So, I tend to put down a lot in my work, bringing the fresh immigrant story, almost like an outsider perspective,” said Gay.

Although there is misinformation and disinformation, Gay wants his work to reassure people that the vaccine is safe. Racial disparities in the healthcare system had a devastating impact on Black communities across the nation. Gay stressed that the number of lives lost due to

COVID-19 in Black and Brown communities indicates that people need to get vaccinated.

An award-winning artist, Gay says the COVID-19 pandemic pushed various Black communities to, “come together to fight for a cause.”

He said it important for Black and Brown communities to “remember what we have learned through this and figure out how we move forward and how we deal with it the next time.”

Through his artwork, Gay takes on the responsibility of, “educating people to go back to what happened in the past and to learn from the past,” he said.

New Strain of Covid Proving Fatal to Unvaccinated People

Manny Otiko | California Black Media 

Don’t put away that mask. While the American public might be celebrating the lifting of the tightest COVID-19 restrictions in most parts of the United States, the coronavirus pandemic is far from over.

According to medical doctors, the United States is currently dealing with a new strain of the virus, the Delta variant, which is more lethal and virulent than previous strains. The Delta variant originated in India towards the end of last year and was first identified in America in March. The Los Angeles County Health Department is so worried about a new outbreak, its told residents to mask up again. “Since the Delta variant is more infectious than other variants, Public Health recommends wearing a mask around others in indoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status,” said the LA County Department of Health in a tweet. Dr. Jerry Abraham, director of Kedren Vaccines at Kedren Health in Los Angeles, has already seen signs of the new strain in the Los Angeles community. He said medical professionals are already gearing up for what he called the “5th wave” of the coronavirus pandemic. “

It’s already in LA,” he said. “We assume the rates will go back up.” Like other viruses, Covid-19 is constantly mutating. When the virus encounters new hosts (particularly unvaccinated bodies,) it changes and gets stronger. The best way to eliminate the disease is to vaccinate about 70 % of residents in a community (herd immunity,) so the virus doesn’t have any places to grow and survive. Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and health economist and a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C., emphasized this point during a recent Ethnic Media Services virtual briefing on the efficacy of continued mask use. “The more warm bodies the virus has, the more opportunity it will have to mutate,” said Feigl-Deing, who is also the Chief Health Economist for Microclinic International, a San Francisco-based non-profit that bills itself as an organization that “revolutionize how deadly diseases are prevented and managed worldwide.”

“If you let it spread, it will mutate,” he warned. Feigl-Ding added, at this stage, reaching herd immunity is not realistic, and we need to look at alternative solutions to contain the virus, such as continued mask usage, ventilation, hand washing, disinfecting surfaces and air purification devices. But over the last year, the debate about vaccinations became political. A large number of people who supported former President Donald Trump downplayed the virus and accused Democrats of overstating the severity of the pandemic. A lot of those skeptics even refused to take the vaccines.

Some say they don’t trust the science. Others do it to resist what they see as pressure coming from liberals.

But health experts say, refusing to take one of the three vaccines approved to fight COVID-19 in the United States is dangerous and only allows the virus to thrive.

Data is beginning to show the effects of politicizing public health. Deaths and infections are going up in red states, while the numbers have been steadily declining in blue states. “A study from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, finds that states with Republican governors have experienced the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to Medical News Today. Medical data shows that 99 % of recent Covid 19 deaths were unvaccinated people, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading virologist and director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Abraham is a big proponent of vaccination and estimates his clinic has given about 300,000 inoculations to people in the South Los Angeles area. But he still sees worrying trends. According to Abraham, only about 40% of Black Men in the area are vaccinated. He is also troubled by the attitude he sees in a demographic he calls “the Invincibles” (young people in their late teens and early 20s who don’t think they’ll ever get sick.) Many of them, Abraham says, ar reluctant to take the vaccination, even though they’re eligible. Abraham said he encountered many “Invincibles” at the recent Juneteenth celebration in Los Angeles, and many of them had a nonchalant attitude towards Covid-19. He said many young people he encouraged to get vaccinated said, “I’ll get over it.” They think if they eat right and are healthy, they’ll survive Covid, he said. But Abraham said healthy people can get sick and still need to get vaccinated. “You’re never going to exercise or eat your way off a ventilator,” said Abraham. Abraham also warned the situation would worsen during the fall when it gets colder, and people spend more time inside. “It’s not a matter of if,” said Abraham. He also said that pandemic diseases are becoming more common. There are several reasons why this could be occurring, such as overpopulation, children growing up in sterilized environments, poor nutrition, global warming, poor health and poor sanitation in the developing world. And we live in an increasingly globalized world, so it’s easy for a disease that originated on the other side of the world to end up in the West. “What happens in South Asia will affect us in L.A.,” said Abraham.

Major League Baseball Commits up to $150 Million to Get More Blacks Into the Game

In what has been the largest financial commitment in its history, Major League Baseball has pledged $150 million to the Players Alliance to improve its investment in Black players and professionals across the game over a ten year period.

The money will go to a variety of programs built around participation in baseball, mentorship and professional baseball employee development. In addition, the funding will include initiatives that celebrate Black baseball history and culture, educational grants and service opportunities to communities.

“Major League Baseball’s commitment to support the Players Alliance is a monumental turning point in the history of our game, establishing a pathway to progress for equity and access for the Black community,”

said former All-Star Curtis Granderson, who now serves as president of the Players Alliance.

“Major League Baseball is thrilled to expand our commitment to the Players Alliance, which will include joint efforts to strengthen our sport’s engagement with Black communities,” said MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.

“The relationship grew because we were united behind two really fundamental goals. First of all, we all wanted to see more young people of color playing our game. We want young people period playing the game, but particularly young people of color. Secondly, we all know that we need more diversity in our game. Not just on the field, but everywhere — front offices, Commissioners Office, everywhere. Those two goals continue to bring these two groups together.”

To that end, starting in 2023, MLB will provide $10 million annually—with an additional $5 million in matching contributions from external Players Alliance fundraising— to programs aimed at increasing the participation of Black youth and young adults in baseball as well as programs designed to attempt to increase the number of Black employees and contractors in all positions and at all levels associated with professional baseball. 

Monies will also fund programs in support of Jackie Robinson Day; appreciation days for the Negro Leagues; Black participation in the business of baseball; programs to support baseball in city schools; and programs designed to eliminate barriers to participation in the sport for Black youth.

Educational grants, scholarships and additional community services to the Black community are also being incorporated into the program.

JT Torbit

White Farmers Thwart Plan to Provide Relief to Black Farmers

Staff

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plan to redress decades of loan discrimination by handing out $4 billion in payments to an estimated 16,000 Black farmers has been thwarted by a group of white farmers who have sued the USDA claiming its reverse discrimination.

Last week, a U.S. District court issued a temporary restraining order on the program—which is funded as part of the American Rescue Plan—as it determines whether or not white farmers are being discriminated against. Further, it was ruled that the federal government had failed to prove that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has discriminated against people of color.

The injunction is the third to result from litigation filed in seven states, including Tennessee, on behalf of white farmers in the past month, according to court records.

In yet another surprise move, in a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Visack, the American Bankers Association, the Independent Community Bankers of America, and the National Rural Lenders Association, threatened to withhold credit from farmers of color if the USDA moved forward with the program.   

The program —initially introduced by Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock— would benefit Black farmers in a way no legislation has since the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In addition to debt relief, the funds would provide other forms of assistance in acquiring land including grants, training and education.

Due to systemic racism, Black farmers in the nation have lost more than 12 million acres of farmland over the past century, and while blacks represented 14% of the nation’s farmers a century ago, they stand at fewer than 2% today.

Justice department lawyers maintain the government can employ race-based exclusions if they are “narrowly tailored” to address a specific wrong and that the USDA initiative for farmers of color meets that constitutional threshold

“Congress considered strong evidence that discriminatory loan practices at USDA have placed minority farmers at a significant disadvantage today: these farmers generally own smaller farms, have disproportionately higher delinquency rates, and are at a significantly higher risk of foreclosure than non-minority farmers,” the lawyers argued.

“Congress found that minority farmers’ diminished position was only made worse by a global pandemic that disproportionately burdened them and the general failure of recent agricultural and pandemic relief to reach them,” the response continued.

The Justice Department will almost surely seek an appeal.

Haitian Americans Fear What Comes Next As Assassination of Jovenel Moïse Casts Nation into Political Crisis

Haitian Americans and immigrants are expressing alarm following the shocking midnight assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and the attack on his wife, first lady Martine Moïse at his home near Port-au-Prince.

According to reports, the president was assassinated at his private residence at around 1am in an assault by unknown gunmen dressed commando-style who spoke English and Spanish; had nine new Nissan pickup trucks; falsely identified themselves as agents of the DEA; and appeared to know the layout of the home. 

First lady Martine Moïse, who survived the attack was said to be stable but in critical condition and at press, had been flown to Miami for treatment.  

“People are being stressed with economic uncertainty, COVID and now this,” said a local Los Angeles man of Haitian descent who for more than two decades has been doing mission work in Haiti at a clinic he helped to build from the ground up. 

“There’s so much political unrest,” he continued. “I’m told they have gangs controlling the roads so it’s not safe and if you’re a foreigner you’re subject to kidnapping. 

“Our people are located in the more remote areas, but in terms of where the urban centers like Port-au-Prince are, there is a lot of concern about what will happen to people. It’s a very bleak outlook.”

“I’m just worried for my family,” said another Haitian immigrant. “I’m unable to reach them and to see what’s happening and to know that it’s a dangerous situation you can do nothing about is difficult. You just don’t know what’s next.”

“We condemn this heinous act,” U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement. “The United States offers condolences to the people of Haiti, and we stand ready to assist as we continue to work for a safe and secure Haiti.”

Haiti’s Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph announced the news—while stating that he was now in charge of the country and urged citizens to remain calm. Moise’s assassination has sparked concern for the stabilization of the country already experiencing political unrest. Earlier this year, Haitian security forces arrested nearly two dozen people in a suspected coup attempt. 

Due to the ongoing security situation, the U.S. Embassy was closed and flights in and out of Haiti’s main airport in the capital Port-au-Prince were cancelled or delayed until further notice. U.S. personnel were urged to stay at home.

Moise’s death marks a horrific end to a presidency marked by controversy, bloody protests against his rule, chronic poverty, accusations of corruption and dictatorial governance, escalating gang violence and an alarming surge in murders and kidnappings. Just last month, the U.S. State Department issued a “do not travel” warning to U.S. citizens for Haiti because of risk of kidnapping, crime and civil unrest.

Moise first ran for president in 2015, but following accusations of widespread fraud, his victory was annulled. New elections were delayed for more than one year and the 53-year old former entrepreneur subsequently took office in February 2017, but a dispute ensued over whether or not his term expired in 2021 or 2022 and if his stay in office beyond 2021 was even legal, leading to calls for him to step down.

For the widely unpopular president to postpone elections in the wake of widespread protests only fueled mistrust and contributed to the political turmoil that was engulfing the nation, prompting the UN Security Council, the U.S. and Europe to call for free and transparent legislative and presidential elections to be held by the end of this year.

“I extend my thoughts and prayers to the people of Haiti. The unfortunate assassination of Jovenel Moïse, the president of Haiti, further exacerbates the ongoing political and constitutional crisis plaguing the country,” said Congresswoman Maxine Waters. “Jovenel Moïse had been ruling Haiti by decree, and as of late, I have been very concerned about the increase in violence across the country under his rule. I am hopeful that the United States can be helpful during this critical time by cooperating with the people of Haiti to manage this crisis and assisting them as they try to move forward and establish a just, peaceful, and democratic government.”

The United Nations Security Council is moving to meet quickly to address the assassination in what is being characterized as “a critical moment” in the nation, ranked as the poorest country in the Americas. Joseph has called on the “international community to launch an investigation into the assassination”.

Ironically, while Joseph—who took office in April as Interim Prime Minister—has declared himself to be the acting president, Moise had just days ago announced the appointment of a new prime minister, Ariel Henry, who was scheduled to be sworn in today. Given that no official swearing in took place, it is uncertain who will take over and even greater fears that the fight to replace Moise will cast the nation deeper into crisis.

Already there are reports of armed groups calling for revolution against the system in Haiti. 

A DOCTOR’S NOTE ON VACCINES

A DOCTOR’S NOTE ON VACCINES 

 Dr. Eloisa Gonzalez, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health

  • What are the chances the vaccine has any long-term side effects on my health?

After you receive your COVID-19 vaccine, you may feel some slight side effects, just like you would after the flu vaccine. Some of the most common side effects include  arm soreness, a mild fever or a headache. But these symptoms will subside after 24 hours. If you do feel any of these side effects, there’s no need to worry. This is your body’s way of telling you it is building immunity and protecting you against COVID-19. There are no known long-term negative effects of the vaccine. We do know that the vaccine protects you from getting extremely sick, possibly needing hospitalization or worse.

  • How do I know if my vaccines will protect me from new variants that begin to circulate that may be more infections and dangerous?

Scientists are working around the clock to test the COVID-19 vaccines against the new variants that may be more infectious or dangerous. So far, all three of the vaccines have proven to be effective against the variants—keeping you and your loved ones safe and protected against the virus.                                                                                                                   

  • Will I need to get a booster shot and if so, how many months after I have been fully vaccinated?

We don’t know yet if we’ll need booster shots or annual vaccines, but scientists are studying this now.                                                                               

  • What should parents know about the vaccines for those younger than 16 years of age?

If we want to protect all of our loved ones from this deadly virus, we all need to be vaccinated. The COVID-19 vaccines, like other vaccines your children get, are safe and effective and help us eradicate disease in our community. Remember that only the Pfizer vaccine is available for those who are 12-17 years old. 

Visit Vaccinatelacounty.com to make your vaccination appointment.


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