California Pushes Back on Judge’s Decision to Outlaw State’s Ban on Assault Weapons

Bo Tefu | California Black Media

California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta announced last week that the state has appealed a federal court’s decision that declared California’s ban on assault weapons unconstitutional.

Several state officials, including San Francisco Mayor London Breed, also shared their disagreement with the court’s ruling during a press conference held at the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. The state partnered with a number of gun control advocate groups for the event, including the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Giffords Law Center.

“We can agree that the decision was disappointing,” said Bonta.

“In many ways, the opinion was disturbing and troubling, and a big concern but we cannot be, and we are not, deterred by this,” he said.

Federal Judge Roger Thomas Benitez presided over the decision in Miller v. Bonta. The case was heard at the United States District Court for the Southern District of California.

Bonta said his office has appealed the decision, requesting that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit leave the current laws in effect for 30 days.

California’s gun laws are some of the strictest in the nation under the Roberti–Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989 (AWCA) which bans the use of specific models of firearms classified as assault weapons. In the pending court case Miller v. Bonta, James Miller, a lawyer who serves as a board member of the San Diego County Gun Owners, advocated for the use of the AR-15 rifle. However, the semiautomatic rifle with certain features is an illegal assault weapon according to California gun laws. Miller argued that AR-15 rifles can be used for self-defense under the second amendment. Miller, who also serves on the Cajon Valley School Board, initially challenged former Attorney General Xavier Becerra on California’s criminalization of AR-15 rifles in April this year. The ongoing case, which Attorney General Bonta inherited, sparked heated debates about gun laws in the wake of increasing gun violence and mass shootings.

Breed recalled her personal experience with gun violence growing up in the Bay Area.

“We’re here at San Francisco General Hospital. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been here, after a friend that I grew up with was shot,” she said.

Breed was joined by Mattie Scott who lost her son to gun violence. The mayor grew up with Scott’s son who was killed in 1996 at a graduation party in San Francisco.

“We don’t want to see another person, another child lost to gun violence in this city in this state in this country,” said Mayor Breed.

“We’ve had a law on the books in the state for over 30 years, and a judge decides that our law is no longer constitutional. That law has saved countless numbers of lives,” she said.

According to Statista Research Department, California had a total of 22 mass shootings between 1982 and 2021. In the court decision, Judge Benitez compared the effectiveness of an AR-15 rifle to a Swiss Army Knife. Based on the federal court’s ruling, the semiautomatic machine gun is, “Good for both home and battle,” said Judge Benitez.

“Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment,” the federal judge said in favor of Miller.

Bonta disagreed with the federal judge’s reasoning to justify the court’s decision.

“Equating assault weapons to Swiss Army knives, and false claims that COVID-19 vaccines have killed more people than mass shootings was shocking,”

Although the murder of Scott’s son remains unsolved, she is an avid activist for social justice related to gun violence.

“The judge who issued this decision is wrong,” said Scott.

“It is insulting to read his decision when he called the kind of weapon that killed my son, akin to a pocketknife,” she said.

“Pocket knives don’t tear families apart. They don’t shoot up schools, churches, movie theaters, and street corners,” she said in reference to the recent mass shootings across the country.

Contrary Benitez’s belief that AR-15 rifles can be compared to pocket knives, trauma surgeon Dr. Andre Campbell said that the semiautomatic rifle is a lethal assault weapon designed for the battlefield.

“An AR-15 is a weapon of mass destruction. It is used in the battlefield to kill the enemy, it’s a gun that is used in warfare and should not be available or used in the streets of the United States,” said Campbell.

Campbell has treated many bullet wounds on the frontlines of trauma care for over two decades and has witnessed the devastation a single bullet can cause to the human body.

“It is as if a bomb went off in the tissues of patients,” said Campbell describing the impact of an AR-15 bullet in patients he’s treated over the years.

The executive director of the Giffords Law Center Robyn Thomas said that the federal judge’s decision to give civilians access to military-grade weapons sets California’s gun laws back by 32 years.

“The decision is not based on the correct interpretation of the law,” said Thomas.

“The comprehensive gun regulation which we have pioneered here in the state is protecting the lives of Californians. It is making us safer,” she said.

In its budget for 2021-22, the state has allocated $200 million for the California Violence Intervention and Prevention Grant Program. The investment was set up to prevent gun violence in high-risk communities statewide.

“Folks that wax on about public safety, and they sit back passively and say nothing about this outrageous decision. Shame on them. What frauds,” said Newsom.

The governor urged lawmakers to evaluate the absurdity of the court’s decision to justify the personal use of a rifle that is, “nothing more than a weapon of war,” he said.

The governor said that gun control has always been a bipartisan issue that helped California lawmakers enact, “progressive and aggressive,” gun safety laws that regulated the people’s right to bear arms for over three decades.

California’s ban on assault weapons remains in effect for 30 days as the attorney general appeals the court’s decision in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

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

NAACP Student Members Can Apply for $15,000 Scholarships Until June 18

Tanu Henry | California Black Media

The NAACP and SmileDirectClub, a Nashville-based oral care company specializing in teeth-straightening technology, have partnered to offer scholarships to African American and other students of color.

They must maintain a 3.0 grade point average or above.

The $15,000 awards will be granted to young people studying Science, technology, engineering or math and must be used for tuition and fees. Payments will be annualized at around $3,500 each year.

Winners must also be high school seniors or undergraduates and members of the NAACP, the country’s oldest civil rights organization, which was founded in 1909 and has over 20000 branches across the country.

“The SmileDirectClub Scholarship will help empower students in the Black community studying STEM with financial support so they can pursue their education with less of an economic burden,” said Yumeka Rushing, Chief Strategy Officer, NAACP.

“This partnership is one of the ways the NAACP is working to secure educational equality of rights to eliminate race-based discrimination and ensure the health and wellbeing of everyone,” Rushing added.

Students interested in the scholarship can apply on the NAACP site. The deadline is June 18. The winners, who the NAACP’s N-SPIRE committee – a group that “focuses on the creation, development and awarding of scholarship programs” –will be announced August 9.

“Through the SmileDirectClub Scholarship with the NAACP, we’re investing in the next generation of innovators and supporting the growth of diversity in STEM, a field that affects almost all aspect of our everyday lives,” said Cheryl DeSantis, Chief People & Diversity Officer, SmileDirectClub.

Cal Unemployment System Backlogged With More Than 200,000 Claims

Quinci LeGardye | California Black Media

California may be reopening beginning June 15, but for many unemployed workers, the economic struggle caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is nowhere near ending.

Many Californians are still waiting for the state’s Employment Development Department (EDD) to clear their backlog of claims, with the department’s data page showing over 221,000 claims are pending past 21 days as of June 12.

On May 28, Assemblymember Mike A. Gipson (D-Carson) hosted a press conference featuring constituents from his district who are seeking immediate help from EDD. Three constituents spoke about their struggles while trying to get their unemployment benefits. They experienced extremely long wait times while calling EDD and faced difficulties trying to verify their identity or correct claim amounts with the department.

The difficulties with EDD that the speakers expressed in their stories mirrored complaints the department’s service and call centers have been reporting since the pandemic began last year.

Roneisha Williams, a Gipson constituent, is waiting on an appeal after receiving an incorrect benefit amount. She described her experience communicating with EDD representatives over the phone as “confusing.”

She said that she received conflicting information from the EDD and representatives asked her for a different set of documents each time she called.

“When you call and speak with someone regarding the solution, you’re not given the same information. You can call one representative and they’ll tell you to submit a documentation. You submit that documentation. You call to confirm that it has been received. The other representative will tell you that not only you weren’t supposed to submit that documentation, but really you need to go to this step, and we need to see this documentation.”

Williams also spoke about her difficulties going through the identity verification process with the third-party company ID.me.

EDD launched the ID.me verification process in October 2020 as part of an effort to crack down on fraud. The department also suspended 1.4 million accounts last December and made some claimants verify their identities. Since then, unemployed Californians directed to ID.me have faced delays and technical issues. Willams also expressed concern for less technologically-savvy claimants who may have to use ID.me.

“Having to contact a third party to qualify for your unemployment benefits is very stressful, especially when they do not have any human contact customer service available. With the ID.me verification, everything is done through your phone. So that in itself is very isolating. I know how to work technology but what about the constituents that aren’t familiar with it. What about the constituents that don’t have a high-powered or accurate camera on their phone to send a copy of their ID?” Williams said.

Roger Lozoya, a pipeline welder who also lives in Gipson’s district, lost his job five months ago, and has had no income since. He said his identity was stolen and used to receive EDD benefits. So, when he tried to get benefits, the EDD told him that he owed them money.

Lozoya said, “I’m a welder, and I’m blessed to have a career that I worked hard to get. I pay a lot of taxes and I pay into EDD. The only thing they constantly do to me is call me a liar — that I’m stealing from them. They told me I owe them $69,000. How do I owe $69,000? At the time they were saying that I was claiming it, I was working.”

In the months without income, Lozoya said that he has sold his possessions, including his work truck and tools, to support his family.

During the press conference, Gipson called on the EDD to take measures to get through the claims backlog. He also urged the EDD to extend working hours and keep phone lines open during evenings and weekends.

Gipson also mentioned the state audits of EDD, and suggested that implementing the recommendations of the State Auditor would likely help address the backlog.

“We absolutely have to do everything we can to make sure that the people who need this help the most, get the help that they’re seeking to put food on the table, clothes their children’s back and also a roof over the head,” said Gipson.

In response to a California Black Media request for comment, EDD Media Services said, “We understand how challenging this pandemic has been for millions of people. Since April 2020, EDD call centers are — and have been open 12 hours a day, seven days a week — which includes evenings and weekends, among many other efforts to continually work to improve the customer experience. EDD offers useful self-help information including a 24-hour self-help line 1-866-333-4606, AskEDD and an online chatbot answering frequently asked questions, a YouTube channel with helpful videos, and many articles on at EDD.ca.gov. The call center can be reached 8:00 am to 8:00 pm seven days a week at 1-800-300-5616.“

EDD also shared the actions that the department has taken to improve the customer experience, including, “improving the online help text to clearly explain what is required by the bi-weekly certification questions to help claimants avoid delays, deploying document upload, including a mobile-friendly version, to help claimants save time over mail, launching a new feature that allows a caller to hold their place “in line” when contacting the call center until the Department calls the claimant back, [and] continuing to monitor customer areas of confusion and trending issues and addressing them with improved public information.”

As California Opens Up, Black Pastors, Community Orgs Urge More Testing

Covid-19 cases are plunging as California prepares to slowly reopen this week.

However, returning workers will face a different environment. Some workplaces such as restaurants and amusement parks will require proof of testing and vaccination. Testing — or some other proof of vaccine status — are already required to enter health facilities or to fly. According to Disney Parks’ blog, the organization recommends attendees be vaccinated or provide a negative test if they want to visit the park. Guests are also required to wear face masks. Kelsey Lynch, public relations manager, Disneyland Resort, said the amusement park will accept visitors from outside California after June 15. The California Department of Health’s website contains a link to a page where you can find the nearest testing site by entering your ZIP Code. The website also provides a list of all the testing centers in the state. According to the health department, it takes about two days to get the results of a COVID-19 test. Testing is still free at some locations.

Several community groups are also partnering with the state to keep testing free and accessible in vulnerable communities. The California African American Community Empowerment Council (AACEC) is partnering with the Tabernacle Community Development Corporation to provide testing at Black churches. Dr. Gerald Agee Sr., pastor of Friendship Christian Center, Oakland, and statewide director of the African American COVID testing program, is working with the California Department of Health to organize free testing sites at African American churches around the state. 

According to Agee, people can get tested at churches in San Bernardino, Alameda, Riverside, San Francisco, Solano, Sacramento and San Diego counties. Agee said, through their statewide church partnership, African Americans are still testing positive for COVID-19 at a rate of about of 4.5 %, which is higher than the state’s 1.5 % rate. Agee explains that he has experienced the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic firsthand as many of his church members have contracted the disease.

“We won’t be satisfied until we’re testing at the same rate as the state,” he said. According to Agee, the key to driving down the Black community’s COVID-19 numbers is testing and vaccination. 

Many business leaders welcome the idea that the state is taking a sensible approach to reopening. According to Sabrina Lockhart, executive director of the California Parks and Attractions Association, the new guidelines outline how families can enjoy themselves at attractions. 

“The latest state guidelines give amusement parks a path to get more people back to work and provide visitors more options for safe family fun this summer,” she said. “As the state reopens, amusement parks will update their own safe and responsible plans for operation based on state and local guidelines.” 

Gov. Gavin Newsom recently announced the Employer Vaccination Toolkit, which aims to make it easier for employers to make the vaccine available to their employees.

“Anyone who wants to, should be able to get vaccinated,” said Newsom. “Getting more people vaccinated will bring us closer to ending this pandemic. That’s why we’re working with employers to make it easier to access COVID-19 vaccines – so no one misses their shot at protecting themselves and their communities.” 

Newsom has also unveiled a $100 billion stimulus package to help California recover from the coronavirus-related economic downturn. The state also recently launched the “Vax for the Win” program, an effort that offers a series of financial incentives for people who get vaccinated. Prizes include cash awards and grocery cards. 

“Getting every eligible Californian vaccinated is how we bring our state roaring back from this pandemic,” said Newsom.

HUD Moves to Restore Obama Fair Housing Mandate

Staff

With HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge’s reinstatement of a 2015 rule making it mandatory that communities accepting federal funds take steps to ensure against residential segregation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has taken the first step in reinstating the Obama era rule to address the persistent inequities in house for people of color.  

“More than 50 years since the Fair Housing Act’s passage, inequities in our communities remain that block families from moving into neighborhoods with greater opportunities,” said Fudge.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters was among those applauding the move.

“I am pleased that Secretary Fudge has begun to reverse the previous administration’s actions that gutted the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) Rule,” said Waters. “Under President Obama, HUD instituted the AFFH Rule to fully enforce provisions of the Fair Housing Act and strengthen local jurisdictions’ fair housing planning requirements. Instead of continuing the efforts to hold localities accountable to remedy racial residential segregation and ensure equitable investment in every community, the Trump Administration weakened protections by altering the definition of AFFH to focus on housing production, not fairness, absent accountability mechanisms. 

“In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, these changes left communities all the more vulnerable to heightened housing discrimination,” she continued. “Since the Trump Administration began its attack on civil rights in this country, I have been sounding the alarm on the importance of preserving the 2015 AFFH and 2013 Disparate Impact regulations. In December 2020, I called on then President-Elect Biden to take immediate action to undo the damage done by the previous administration.

The 2015 rule required local governments to analyze patterns of segregation and poverty and submit plans to address those patterns in order to receive funding through HUD grant programs, including the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME Investment Partnerships programs. 

In January, Biden directed HUD to reverse the actions taken by Trump administration to undermine fair housing tenets.

During his visit to Tulsa earlier this month, Biden addressed his plans to stimulate Black wealth in part by curtailing housing discrimination with vigorous enforcement of the Fair Housing Act.

Said Biden, “My administration has launched an aggressive effort to combat racial discrimination in housing. That includes everything from redlining to the cruel fact that a home owned by a Black family is too often appraised at a lower value than a similar home owned by a White family.”

What California’s Reopening Means for You

Well, California has reopened, sparking celebrations statewide with the revelry including some state residents actually burning their masks. But before you do away with those masks, consider that despite the state’s June 15 reopening, they will still come in handy.

In fact, California’s reopening begs the question: just what will change? Here are some answers.

On masks:

•You will still need to wear them on public transit (planes, trains, buses, subways, Ubers and Lyfts); in airports; K-12 schools; hospitals and perhaps even at your workplace.

•Employers can still mandate masks; and some have gone as far to require proof of vaccination. • •Employers are also required to provide respirators such as N95 masks for unvaccinated workers who want them when they are working indoors or in vehicles with more than one person.

•Retail establishments—including restaurants and grocers—can also require masks even if the state of California doesn’t.

•Check with your local gym on their requirements as some as letting those who are fully vaccinated go maskless.

•Unvaccinated people are still required to wear a mask indoors. Businesses do not have to enforce the rules, they are, however, required to post them.

Physical Distancing:

•Gyms, churches, restaurants, bars and stores can all go to full capacity with no mask restrictions.  

•Physical distancing mandates will no longer be required, but not likely to ease the minds of those who have become accustomed to the sanctity of their surroundings, so tread lightly.

Vaccine Passports

Those who can prove they’ve been vaccinated will have a great many more options as it relates to major events—sporting events and concerts. At many of these events, attendees will have to prove they’ve been vaccinated or show a negative test prior to entry. Some are designating sections for those who cannot show proof of having been vaccinated.

Finally, Governor Newsom has indicated that an electronic system that will allow businesses to check vaccination status is in the works. 

Audubon Middle School Sets the Stage for the “Coolest School In America” Thanks to Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine

Chez Hadley

Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner, music producer and entrepreneur Jimmy Iovine and artist, producer, and entrepreneur Andre “Dr. Dre” Young announced a joint effort to launch a new high school in South Los Angeles building on USC Iovine and Young Academy’s groundbreaking approach combining design, business, and technology with hands-on, real-world learning to help develop young leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs.

The school, known as Regional High School #1 until the official naming process is completed, will be co-located on the Audubon Middle School campus and serve up to 124 students when it opens in fall 2022, with the ninth and 10th grades; adding the 11th and 12th grades the following year as the school’s capacity expands over time to accommodate 250 students.

“This new partnership with Jimmy, Dr. Dre and the USC Iovine and Young Academy will help open the doors of opportunity for students, in particular Black and Latino children, from communities which have been historically underserved,” Beutner said. “Much like the work of the Academy, this effort will help develop the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators.”

“I think it’s going to be something extremely different,” Dre said. “I’m still trying to learn myself and understand the politics and the hurdles that we have to get over to help. All we’re here to do is help the kids.” He added, “We’re here strictly for the kids and trying to give them a future and something promising that maybe wasn’t available before then, so that is our intent.”

“We want to give the next generation of students access to a proven, revolutionary learning experience that will not only prepare them for the jobs of today, but equip them to reimagine and shape the jobs, technologies and creative enterprises of the future,” Iovine said. “We’ve already succeeded in higher ed, now we’re bringing it to high school.”

In establishing what they hope to be “the coolest school in America”, the two hope to get students excited about attending school. They will be exposed to new career paths and opportunities as well as increased access to top college programs through a first-class college preparatory curriculum, and enhanced learning programs that focus on critical thinking and analysis.

“Generations of students will benefit from the extraordinary career opportunities this dynamic partnership will offer Los Angeles Unified students,” Board Member Dr. George J. McKenna III said. “These innovative academic programs are exactly what our students need to stay motivated and inspired to continue their educational journeys to college and beyond. Thank you for investing in our future.”

If all goes as planned, Iovine and Young may be looking to expand the high school program nationwide. 

Artists Partner with the State for “Your Actions Save Lives” Campaign

Bo Tefu | California Black Media

More than 20 California artists partnered with the state for the “Your Actions Save Lives” campaign. The effort was created to uplift and celebrate the resilience of communities and encourage safe practices that stop the spread of COVID-19 as Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plans to reopen the state on June 15.

The 14 original art projects included in the campaign range from murals, interactive exhibits, and live performances from artists based in communities highly impacted by the COVID-19, including Oakland, Sacramento, Stockton and San Diego.

“The arts have an opportunity to be uplifting and healing to your emotions,” said Jessica Wimbley, an African American digital artist who collaborated with the state for an advertisement on an Oak Park billboard in Sacramento and a digital art display at Arden Fair Mall in Sacramento.

“It’s been a breath of fresh air to work on this campaign. There’s been so much negativity and divisiveness that’s happening in the world that is heavy on the spirit,” said Wimbley.

“It’s been transformative to work on this project,” she added.

The campaign shows us that, “we can move forward, and we are moving forward. We all have things to live for,” she said.

 

The state partnered with the Center at Sierra Health Foundation in Sacramento for the project which relies on the power of art to communicate the importance of health awareness in addition to 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,” said Chet P. Hewitt, president and CEO of the Sierra Health Foundation.

“Art has incredible power, and we believe these works will spark important conversations, connections, and inspiration throughout the state,” he said.

Four female artists, including Wimbley, have used the project to tap into their respective cultures to create powerful visual artworks that empower and inform their diverse communities.

Sunroop Kaur, a classical artist, whose Spring mural is located in Stockton was inspired by her Punjabi-Sikh heritage. The interactive installation, ‘Benevolent Animals, Dangerous Animals,’ by Masako Miki located in Oakland’s Chinatown was inspired by Japanese folklore. In San Diego, the mural ‘Stop the Spread’ by Tatiana Ortiz-Rubio honors her Mexican heritage.

In addition to the art campaign, Newsom recently announced a $116.5 million incentive program that will reward people in California for getting vaccinated. The state allotted $100 million in grocery gift cards worth $50 each for the next two million people who get vaccinated. The remaining $16.5 million will be awarded as cash prizes to people who have been vaccinated across the state. More than 17 million people in California are fully vaccinated which is about 44 % of the state’s population. The incentive program aims to encourage everyone in California to get vaccinated with a goal to reopen the state by mid-June this year.

State officials say they are determined to fully reopen California schools and businesses in efforts to help the economy recover.

Black and Brown families continue to experience the brunt of the economic blow caused by COVID-19 despite the state’s efforts for community outreach to minimize hardship in their respective communities.

The artists featured in the state’s “Your Actions Save Lives” campaign hope to communicate messages of unity and solidarity through art influenced by their different cultures.

Four local artists celebrate their heritages and draw inspiration from their multicultural 

communities.

Jessica Wimbley

Wimbley, a renowned African American artist, uses her digital art to empower Black people to have agency in their own lives.

The Oak Park Billboard, which is part of a state-sponsored advertising campaign, features Wimbley’s husband as the model. The representation of dark-skinned Black men is important when there have been many incidents of people dying in the media.

 

The billboard reinforces, “This notion of a Black man living,” said Wimbley.

“It’s really important to bring humanization to the representation of Black people in media. And focus on producing an agency, and empowerment,” she said.

Wimbley’s Masking Series was inspired by the tradition of masquerade which is celebrated in many cultures across Africa. The art series features a still photo of a face with a mask modeled by her husband and a multimedia image with a mask reflecting different visuals.

“The storytelling communicates the important occurrences within the community, I was reflecting on wearing a mask within the masquerade culture and the transformative nature of both putting on a mask and wearing one,” said Wimbley.

Wimbley also wanted to humanize Black and Brown people who were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. The added stress of police brutality

resulting in the death of African Americans nationwide also inspired Wimbley to show that Black people have agency in their own lives.

Through her art, Wimbley said that she wants Black people, “to be in a place of empowerment, versus, a space of trauma.”

“We are a part of an interconnected story and part of each other’s stories. We have agency in how we move forward, and we can write, claim, and develop what that next phase looks like,” said Wimbley.

The symbolism of the images presented on the Oak Park billboard and the digital display at Arden Fair Mall highlight different codes that have inspired social justice movements throughout the nation. On the billboard, the model is wearing a mask with coded patterns promoting vaccinations and several rings, one with Harriet Tubman.

Sunroop Kaur

Kaur, an artist of South Asian descent, aims to decolonize classical art by using people of color as the center of attention in her paintings.

The large population of Punjabi Sikh immigrants in Stockton is a major influence in Kaur’s artwork. Kaur is intentional about using people of color as the focal point in her ‘Spring’ mural located at JMP Restaurant Supply.

“This mural is a visual celebration of my community and its resilience to not only survive in a foreign land but to thrive,” said Kaur.

The mural draws from the idea of, “decentering whiteness within my work by using people of color is my main fitters,” she said.

“The appropriation of Western classical art canons as a way to decolonize my own body and my culture,” she said.

The artwork includes two people socially distancing and wearing masks depicted through the Italian Baroque portraiture, a 17th-century art style associated with grandeur, movement, and drama.

The body language from the figures symbolizes, “the universal longing and yearning we feel for one another, but also acknowledging the fact that to keep our loved ones safe,” said Kaur.

The mural also includes pastel-colored floral patterns in reference to Spring which represents the reemergence of life following the pandemic. The mural includes royal blue arches as well as pink and malachite with historical pastel pigments that are part of Persian culture.

Tatiana Ortiz-Rubio

In her ‘Stop the Spread’ mural located at Bread & Salt Gallery in Chicano Park, Mexican-American visual artist Ortiz-Rubio used the image of a Latina woman to raise awareness on COVID-19 safety precautions in her community.

According to national data, Latinos make up about 30 % of San Diego’s population. They were disproportionately affected by COVID-19 because a disproportionate number are essential workers or undocumented people.

“This is truly a message for anyone in the world because a pandemic has affected us all. But it hasn’t affected us equally,” said Ortiz-Rubio.

“In the United States, minorities have been affected because of their race and economic status,” she said.

Muralism was a social movement which helped foster systematic change in Mexico. Ortiz-Rubio said that the Black Lives Movement also inspired her to challenge racism and inequality through her artwork.

“It speaks to everyone, and the fact that it is a Latin American woman speaking to anyone, is also important because usually generalized images are of a White person,” she said.

Being a woman is an integral part of Ortiz-Rubio’s experience creating the mural. She recalled young girls and their mothers witnessing her paint the mural from their backyards which reaffirmed her desire to use a Latina as the centerpiece of her mural.

“It’s very empowering to be celebrated,” said Ortiz-Rubio.

“This will be a message that will take that stigma away,” she said.

The visual artist said that she wants Latin Americans to be represented and celebrated in her art especially when they are the target audience.

Masako Miki

The interactive art installation ‘Benevolent Animals, Dangerous Animals’ by Miki was inspired by the idea of a treasure hunt throughout Chinatown in Oakland. The pandemic forced people to stay indoors, but the public art installation encourages people to explore different shops and restaurants while admiring the art.

The artwork was inspired by shapeshifting animals in Japanese mythology.

“I wanted to make this positive and uplifting because when things are dark and difficult, we need to have more positive images,” said Miki.

The current reality of the pandemic is, “so dark and difficult that we need to have imagery that gives us the ability to envision something positive,” she said.

In Japanese culture the tiger is a majestic animal that is fearless, she says. The cultural message in the artwork echoes notions of toughness.

“Resiliency is our strength,” and the benevolent animals featured in the art are meant to encourage people to, “respect each other and have empathy to get through this difficult time together,” said Miki.

Recent incidents of violence against Asians have fueled racial tension in America, in addition to the violence toward African Americans nationwide. Miki aspires to use her artwork to dispel stigmas related to COVID-19 about the Asian community.

“We have to have this dialogue so that I can introduce my cultures in such a way that it becomes familiar and it’s not something that they’re afraid of because they don’t know about it,” said Miki.

Artistic performances and visual displays created by all the artists in the “Your Actions Save Lives” campaign have been exhibited since April and will continue until June this year.

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

Black Educators Discuss Education Equity Ahead of School Re-Opening This Fall

Joe W. Bowers Jr.| California Black Media

The California Association of African-American Superintendents and Administrators (CAAASA) held their 13th annual professional development summit May 26 – 28th in San Diego. The theme for this year’s conference was, “Achieving an Equity Driven Education.”

Co-hosted by the San Diego County Office of Education and Moreno Valley Unified School District, the conference was held in-person and virtually. For their safety, in-person participants were required to have been vaccinated or to have tested negative for COVID-19.

According to Dr. Daryl Camp, President, CAAASA and Superintendent, San Lorenzo Unified School District, “CAAASA was one of the last organizations to host an in-person conference in 2020 and will be the first organization to host an in-person conference in 2021.”

CAAASA welcomed about 150 in-person attendees. About 600 other participants joined the conference online. Those attending were education practitioners, including school administrators, teachers, and staff; education researchers; policymakers; and community members inspired and motivated to learn ways to improve the educational experiences and outcomes for African American and other students of color by promoting equity and social justice and improved school climates.

The conference theme, “Achieving an Equity Driven Education” acknowledges the need, “to ensure the next normal will achieve an equity driven education for students,” says Camp. “While the pandemic has presented many challenges, it has also provided an opportunity to re-envision what an equity driven education may look like for underserved students.”

 

The conference was organized around seven goals: Align strategies that promote access to excellence for boys and girls of color; Utilize Social Emotional Learning (SEL) supports to address the impact of trauma and poverty on learning and academic achievement; Use assessment data (Single Plan for Student Achievement – SPSAs) and Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAP) as strategic and equity-driven tools to positively impact academic achievement; Increase meaningful family engagement and identify strategies and resources to improve graduation rates and increase college readiness and access for students of color; Provide strategies to ensure the safety and wellbeing of youth in school and the community, including issues such as violence, social justice concerns, bullying and human trafficking; Address school climate, including student discipline, suspension, expulsion, truancy and chronic absenteeism; and increase awareness about the advantages and values of early childhood education.

 

The three-day conference was divided into morning and afternoon plenary lectures followed by seminars and workshops. There were six plenary lectures and attendees had access to their choice of fifty-five seminars and workshops that supported the conference goals.

 

The opening plenary was titled “National Health & Educational Concerns Due to the Impact of COVID-19.” The speakers were Dr. Robert Ross, President and CEO, The California

Endowment; Dr. Theopia Jackson, President, Association of Black Psychologists; and Dr. Nana Efua B. Afoh-Manin, founder of myCovidMD. They spoke about depression, anxiety, stress, isolation and the increasing number of Black students contemplating and committing suicide due to impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic, among other factors.

 

The afternoon plenary was “Black Girls Institute: Challenges & Crises Faced by Black Girls in Public Schools & Society.” Participating in an all-female panel were Cara McClellan, Assistant Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense Fund; Dr. Angela Clark Louque, Professor, California State University San Bernardino; and Dr. Kimberly Hendricks-Brown, Principal On Special Assignment, Fresno Unified School District. They addressed issues related to how girls of color are bearing the brunt of policies and practices that diminish their opportunities and harm their potential. The panel was moderated by Dr. Sonjhia Lowery, Superintendent, Old Adobe Union School District.

 

On day two, the morning plenary was “Addressing Education and Economic Empowerment for African Americans and Other Communities of Color.” Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA-13); Marc Morial, President and CEO National Urban League; and Dr. Michael Drake, President, University of California; spoke about the financial wealth gap and the resultant challenges to education and life in the African American and other communities of color. Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, President, California State Board of Education, spoke on the state of education in California, representing Gov. Gavin Newsom.

 

The afternoon of day two plenary was the “Research Institute Panel Discussion: Achieving An Equity-Driven Education – Post COVID.” This is CAAASA’s annual research institute panel and it was led by Darling-Hammond and Dr. Travis Bristol, Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Education, Berkeley. The panel provided views on what an equity-driven education looks like once the COVID pandemic ends. Also speaking were Dr. Justin A. Coles, Assistant Professor, Fordham University; Dr. Maria E. Hyler, Director of the Learning Policy Institute’s Washington, DC Office and Ms. Kimberly Young, Ethnic Studies Teacher, Culver City High School.

 

On day three, the morning plenary session was titled “Shared Educational Inequities, Discrimination, Disparities and Commonalities for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color).” This panel featured members of the BIPOC community, and it addressed common disparities that each community has faced within the educational system. Topics discussed included inequity and discrimination within the school systems.

 

The Closing Plenary was called “Ensuring, Increasing and Providing Digital Equity in Schools, Homes and Communities.” This panel discussed ways to enhance capabilities to close the divide and ensure that African American and other students of color are able to stay connected and up-to-date. The Digital Divide was brought to the spotlight due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Panelist included Tony Thurmond, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction; Paul Gothold, Superintendent, San Diego County Office of Education; Toby Boyd, President, California Teacher Association; and Dr. Martinrex Kedziora, Superintendent, Moreno Valley Unified School District. The panel was moderated by Superintendent L. K. Monroe, Alameda County Office of Education.

 

CAAASA was founded in 1993 but was called the California Association of African American Superintendents. In 2007, it was reorganized and took on its current name. When CAAASA started, there were just 13 African- American school district superintendents out of approximately 1,100 statewide. Today there are 35 district and county superintendents. CAAASA is committed to identifying and addressing the critical issues in education through public policy relative to the status and performance of African-American students in California.

 

A complete description of the conference workshops and list of presenters can be found at https://www.caaasa.org/

California Awards Ceremony Celebrates the Best of Ethnic Journalism

Jenny Manrique | Ethnic Media Services

Some 30 ethnic media journalists were honored for their coverage of the epic events of 2020 at a virtual California Ethnic Media Awards ceremony, which took place June 3.

 

Selected from 235 submissions from reporters working in print, digital, TV and radio (in eight languages), the winners were chosen by judges with language and cultural fluency who know the challenges of working in the sector.

“Ethnic media has quickly become an increasingly indispensable bridge for communicating with diverse populations within our state,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said at the opening ceremony.

“You have worked against enormous odds to make sure our communities were informed about historic news events of the year. You are key to sustaining an inclusive communications infrastructure that knits our communities together when so many forces, as you know well, threaten to drive us apart,” the governor added.

The multilingual awards were sponsored by Ethnic Media Services and California Black Media. Each winner received $1000 in cash. Entries were submitted in nine categories: the 2020 census, the COVID-19 pandemic and its disproportionate impact on ethnic communities, the economic crisis that exacerbated racial and economic fault lines in California, the rights of immigrants, and the movement for racial justice sparked by the murder of George Floyd, exceptional reporting on the impact of climate change, the 2020 elections, commentary that serves as a call to action for ethnic audiences, and community media innovation and resilience to survive the pandemic.

“Thank you to all the journalists, reporters, editors, photographers and publishers who work long hours without recognition every day. You are committed to telling stories and covering underreported stories that we would otherwise never hear,” said Regina Brown Wilson, Executive Director of California Black Media.

In their acceptance speeches, the awardees recognized the support of their editors, publishers and families, as well as the challenges of covering ethnic communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, racist policies, and hate crimes.

“Words can be deadly, or they can be life affirming. While the idle intellectual elite strive to cancel culture, we are tasked with removing the knee out of the throat of truth and reaffirming and defining journalism in our own image,” said Rose Davis of Indian Voices, awarded for her landmark essay: “The Census and the Fourth Estate,” which advocates for the participation of Native Americans in the census despite centuries of being excluded.

Danny Morrison, winner in the category of English language broadcast TV for his analysis of the Black Lives Matter movement in Bakersfield said that “as an African American man in central California, I’ve always known that we have a lot of work to do regarding the inequities within our ethnicity. That is the reason why my team and I went to prisons, schools, churches, youth groups and more to speak to the underserved and the forgotten because we understand the struggle that in most cases we have lived through.”

 

Jorge Macias, awarded for his digital coverage of climate change for Univision, recalled how in the last four years, “we all suffered from the denial of climate change, and even in moments of terror in California with these devastating fires, the former president (Donald) Trump said that science didn’t know. This prize means a lot because as human beings we have to battle with that absurd view denying climate change.”

 

Hosts for the evening were Odette Alcazaren-Keeley and Pilar Marrero, both distinguished veterans of the ethnic media industry. Some 20 elected officials, community leaders, scholars and writers paid tribute to the sector in videotaped remarks. Sandip Roy, once a software engineer in Silicon Valley, now an award winning author and journalist in India, said if it weren’t for ethnic media giving him a platform, he wouldn’t be a writer today.

 

After presenting awards to Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese reporters for stories on issues impacting Black and Latinx communities, Alcazaren-Keeley announced a special judge’s award for cross-cultural reporting. The winner, Jeanne Ferris of News from Native California, documented how the destinies of two groups of people converged when Japanese Americans were incarcerated in World War II on reservation lands.

 

At the closing of the ceremony, Sandy Close, executive director of Ethnic Media Services, said the coming together of reporters from so many racial and ethnic groups to celebrate not just their own but each other’s work was the real takeaway for the night. “Ethnic media are like fingers on a hand,” she said, quoting

 

Chauncey Bailey, a veteran of Black media killed in 2007 for investigating wrongdoing in his own community. “When we work together, we’re a fist.”


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