California Foundations Drop $100 Million in “Black Freedom Fund”

Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media

Last week, philanthropic organizations and other funders joined hands to launch the California Black Freedom Fund (CBFF), a new $100 million initiative that will provide resources to Black-led organizations in the state of California over the next five years.

Co-created with Black leaders and organizers, the first-of-its-kind fund will ensure that California’s growing ecosystem of local grassroots, Black-led organizing groups have sustained investments that equip them with the resources they need to push back against entrenched forces of systemic and institutionalized racism.

“Over the past year, we’ve seen Black communities across the country step up boldly as the conscience of our nation to challenge the status quo,” said Cathy Cha, president and chief executive officer of the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, a Bay Area philanthropic organization that tackles a broad range of social issues. “The California Black Freedom Fund represents a great opportunity to build on that momentum and support Black-led organizations and a movement that can keep racial justice front and center and reimagine a better future for all of us.”

According to participating organizations, the fund intends to correct philanthropy’s history of underinvestment in Black-led organizations and “power-building” in African American communities. For example, across the United States, only about 1% of community foundation support was specifically designated for Black communities in recent years, according to the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.

“To make racial justice and equity real in California, philanthropy needs to elevate its investments in Black organizers that are focused on advocacy, organizing and holding our institutions accountable — something that we call power-building,” said Lateefah Simon, who is the president of Akonadi Foundation, an Oakland-based organization that fights against the criminalization of Black youth. “The vision of the California Black Freedom Fund is to bring justice to our communities by making sure Black-led organizations are sufficiently supported and strong, and their leaders are galvanized.”

Simon says the fund’s focus on “power-building” prioritizes mobilizing Black Californians to become engaged in their communities and effect systemic change through “advocacy, direct action, voter organizing and mobilization.”

“It is commendable that the funders are focused on equity. It has a positive ring to it. It’s encouraging,” says Paul Cobb, publisher of the Post News Group, a Black-owned newspaper publishing house based in Oakland. “But it is important that they follow these high-minded words with meaningful action – backed with a strategic plan of action to even the playing field.”

Robert K. Ross, president and CEO of The California Endowment, a statewide foundation headquartered in Los Angeles that is focused on improving the health of all Californians, says the initiative is a strong effort that addresses longstanding equity issues that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and amplified.

“But we know it will take bold moves such as this in order to reimagine institutions that are more inclusive and racially equitable for all Californians,” Ross stated. “The pandemic and the racial divide in this country have exposed the anti-Black systems that are in place. These resources will make sure we build and sustain an ecosystem of Black-led organizations and networks that can move racial equity work forward, while leading California towards healing and structural change.”

With an initial investment of $32.4 million, CBFF will raise additional dollars over the next five years through a mix of foundation, corporate and individual donor support to reach its $100 million goal.

Regina Wilson, executive director of California Black Media, says she applauds California’s largest foundations making a significant initial investment in community-based organizations, adding that she is hopeful multi-year funding will be expanded to include Black media.

“I’m optimistic funders will consider supporting Black newspapers and other African American-owned media outlets in the future because of the vital public service role they play in our state. The Black press watches and breaks down government policy, while keeping our community informed, connected and engaged,” Wilson said.

The funders currently participating in CBFF include Akonadi Foundation, Annenberg Foundation, Bishop Ranch, Blue Shield of California Foundation, The California Endowment, The California Wellness Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Crankstart, Emerson Collective, and Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund.

In addition, the roster of funders extends to Farella Braun + Martel LLP, Friedman Family Foundation, Hellman Foundation, JPMorgan Chase, Liberty Hill Foundation, Libra Foundation, Rob McKay, Rosenberg Foundation, San Francisco Foundation, Sierra Health Foundation, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Stuart Foundation, Tundra Glacier Fund and Weingart Foundation.

The Silicon Valley Community Foundation will provide fiscal and administrative management of the fund.

“The (CBFF) sets forth a model that can be replicated across the nation, potentially bringing significant resources to movement-building networks and organizations that are fighting racial injustice on behalf of marginalized groups,” said Nicole Taylor, president and CEO, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, a philanthropic organization based in Mountain View. “Silicon Valley Community Foundation is proud to support the California Black Freedom Fund, as it aligns with our aspirations of advancing equity and opportunity for all members of our communities.”

Over the next five years, the CBFF says it will strategically increase the resources available to Black-led organizations throughout California, prioritizing the courageous and visionary grassroots advocates and organizers leading California as a whole toward systemic transformation.

In its first round of grantmaking, CBFF is investing over $6 million to support three established Black networks that have proven, long-term working relationships with more than 50 Black-led organizations across the state.

The first of the three networks is the Black Census and Redistricting Hub, a network of over 30 Black-led and Black-serving organizations that focuses on maximizing participation in the census and redistricting process among hard-to-count Black communities.

Second is the Black Equity Collective, a community-public-private partnership dedicated to strengthening the long-term capacity and infrastructure of Black-led and Black-empowering social justice organizations in Southern California (Los Angeles County and the Inland Empire).

Third is PICO California: Live Free/ Bring the HEAT. This organization centers its work on intervention to protect the basic health, safety, and well-being of all people by demanding a series of immediate and sweeping changes to the current policing system in the United States.

“Black-led organizations have been leading the work to advance racial justice and dismantle anti-Black racism,” said Miguel A. Santana, president and CEO of the Los Angeles-based Weingart Foundation. “We are proud to join our colleagues in investing at greater scale to support these movement leaders and stand shoulder to shoulder with them in the work to eradicate systemic racism.”

CBFF’s next round of grantmaking is anticipated in late February 2021.

In addition to grantmaking, the fund will also provide capacity-building support through technical assistance in communications, narrative change, and policy; research and data; and convening and learning opportunities.

“Building a better future for everyone starts with centering those who have been politically, socially, and economically marginalized,” said Priscilla Chan, Co-founder and Co-CEO of the Redwood City-based Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Chan is Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s wife.

“We support the California Black Freedom Fund and its work to ensure that Black-led organizations and movements have the power, resources, and recognition to continue their missions and make racial equity a reality in California,” Chan emphasized.

To learn more about the Black Freedom Fund, visit CABlackFreedomFund.org.

Asm. Holden Takes on Unfair Lowballing When Black Californians Appraise Their Homes

Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media

Assemblymember Chris Holden has (D-Pasadena) introduced legislation, Assembly Bill (AB) 948, to address discrimination in the real estate appraisal process in California.

AB 948 proposes requiring the Bureau of California Real Estate Appraisals to gather demographic data on home sales and sellers of real estate property – and, most importantly, from homeowners from protected classes who file complaints about low appraisals.

“Black homeowners in predominantly White neighborhoods are getting their homes appraised for far less than their neighbors,” said Holden. “It’s just another example of how bias, whether explicit or implicit, creates inequity for Black Americans. This is redlining 2.0.”

According to Nationwide, the insurance and financial services company, during the process of buying or selling a house, a home appraisal is supposed to be “an independent, unbiased assessment” of how much a property is worth.

Administered by a licensed or certified professional, an appraisal is “based on equivalent sales in the neighborhood and market” as well as a visual assessment of the condition of the home, Nationwide stated.

Racial discrimination in housing has persisted for decades in California and across the country. There is a large body of evidence that has confirmed systemic bias in mortgage lending for decades now. There is also documentation of redlining, deliberate tactics governments and companies used to prevent potential Black homebuyers from securing home loans or purchasing property in majority White neighborhoods.

Home appraisals are just one of the ways real estate companies have discriminated against African Americans. Racism has also been widespread in the home buying process for Blacks, too, according to numerous studies.

A UC Berkeley study showed that both traditional and online lenders overcharge Black and Brown borrowers for mortgage loans to the tune of $765 million a year compared to equally qualified White borrowers,” reports Greenlining, a public policy and research institute based in Oakland. “Researchers found that banking algorithms still give White borrowers better rates and loans than Black ones.”

If the California Legislature approves AB 948 and the governor signs it into law, the measure would require appraisers to take anti-bias training when renewing their licenses. The bill has been submitted to the Assembly Committee on Business and Professions for review.

Making his case, Holden cites the example of a Black couple in Marin City, just north of San Francisco. In the process of selling their home, an appraiser lowballed their home value by nearly $500,000 less than the amount quoted to a White couple for the same property. Similar incidents have been documented in other parts of California and throughout the Country.

Holden’s legislation in California is aimed at combating just one front of a broader national issue that is pervasive. Bryan Greene, vice president of policy advocacy at the National Association of Realtors, told the Philadelphia Inquirer in January that the ills of home appraisals will open up a window to other aspects of housing discrimination.

“As an industry we’re all concerned about the homeownership gap for Blacks, and we need to roll up our sleeves and figure out what those barriers are,” said Greene, who oversaw enforcement of the Fair Housing Act at the Department of Housing and Urban Development before joining the realty group. “As we dedicate more attention to that, it’s going to uncover issues throughout the entire industry that need our attention and that includes the appraisal industry.”

Fifty-three years after the Fair Housing Act of 1968 became law, Blacks still face racism in the housing and real estate markets. That federal legislation, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, outlawed discrimination based on race, religion, sex or national origin in the sale, rental or financing of housing.

In California, the Fair Housing Act of 1963, commonly called the Rumford Act, predated the federal anti-discrimination housing legislation that became national law a few years later. That first-in-the-nation fair housing law that protected the rights of Blacks and other minorities became a lightning rod for conservative groups and real estate organizations who vehemently pushed back against it. In November 1964, California voters repealed the law through Proposition 14, a ballot initiative. Then, two years later in 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court declared Proposition 14 illegal, restoring the Rumford Act in California.

Now, the housing industry is increasingly coming under a microscope again. More and more, Black homeowners are voicing complaints, and more data is being mined that corroborate allegations that African American-owned properties are being appraised for less than those of their Non-Black neighbors.

“This bill reflects a starting point in a much-needed conversation about how discrimination is still prevalent in the home buying and selling process, and I am committed to addressing this inequity,” said Holden.

Asm. Sydney Kamlager-Dove Pushing Law to End “Slavery” in California’s Prisons

Tanu Henry | California Black Media

For 24 years now, Samual Brown – who was convicted for attempted murder in Sacramento – has been serving time in California state prisons. Right now, he is at a correctional facility in Lancaster, a Los Angeles County town northeast of L.A. While in prison, Brown says he has evolved. In addition to earning an associate degree, Brown will be awarded his B.A. from CSU Los Angeles in the Spring, graduating with a 4.0 GPA.

Before moving to the Lancaster facility that currently houses him, Brown says he was serving his sentence at a maximum-security prison in New Folsom near Sacramento. That prison was notorious for its high homicide and suicide rates, Brown says. Responding to the death, violence and despair all around him there, Brown says he drafted the proposal for a successful intervention effort called the 10 P program. Since authorities implemented his plan, there have been less deaths at New Folsom.

“At the core of the program is effectuating emotional literacy,” Brown told California Black Media on a phone call from California State Prison Los Angeles County. “We encourage the inmates to adopt pro-social behaviors and reclaim their narratives. We teach them how to address intergenerational trauma and adverse childhood experiences that influence their behavior. We prepare them to face the parole board.”

But as an inmate, Brown says he is also forced to work. He has no say-so regarding his safety, or about how much he is paid, or the kinds of work he performs. Recently, the state prison has assigned him to COVID-19 sanitation duties, paying him 55 cents per hour.

“It’s unfortunate but this is true: the 13th amendment did not end slavery in the United States,” said Brown. “As long as there is forced labor and state constitutions that have conditions for ‘involuntary servitude,’ there is still slavery.”

Brown says too many racist ideologies and practices from the old slaveholding South survive today. They didn’t end, he argues, they transitioned.

“It’s wrong to have private prison corporations that can influence policy — not because of what is right or wrong but because they directly benefit from it,” says Brown. “In prison, if you refuse to work, you get the modern-day equivalent of a whip on your back. You could get a 115, a disciplinary write-up that could prevent you from getting parole.”

Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Los Angeles) agrees with Brown. The lawmaker is pushing legislation that would strike out the words “involuntary servitude” from the California Constitution.

In January, Kamlager-Dove introduced ACA 3: The California Abolition Act.

Kamlager-Dove who represents the 54th Assembly District — which covers sections of Los Angeles County, including Ladera Heights and Baldwin Hills — says she wants to build off the momentum of similar laws recently passed in Colorado, Nebraska and Utah.

“As it currently reads, the Constitution of California prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude ‘except to punish crime,’” she said. “The California Abolition Act would remove such conditional language, abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude without exception.”

Brown’s wife Jamilia Land, who lives in Sacramento, is a member of the Abolish Slavery National Network (ASNN), an organization committed to ending all forms of slavery in the United States. She is also the co-founder of A.S.A.P, an organization that advocates for the mental health and well-being of children impacted by police or community violence.

With Land’s input, Brown drafted the original language that appears in Kamlager-Dove’s bill. Along with other Sacramento community activists, the couple has worked closely with the Assemblymember’s office and others in the state legislature to lobby for the bill.

“We are very excited. My husband and I are strong supporters of ACA 3. Our organization and ASNN now have 30 states on board,” Land says. “Senator Jeff Merkely of Oregon is working on this legislation on a federal level, and we are building a coalition here in California while working with a national steering committee.”

Kamlager-Dove, who calls involuntary servitude “modern-day slavery,” has written to her legislative colleagues asking them to support the bill by becoming co-authors.

“The U.S. House of Representatives passed the 13th Amendment in 1865, codifying what is commonly considered the outlawing of slavery and involuntary servitude nationwide,” Kamlager-Dove wrote in the letter. “California was the second state — behind Oregon — to ratify the amendment. However, conditional language remains in both the federal constitution and that of our state’s.”

In California, there are an estimated 115,000 people incarcerated, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. Based on the demographics of the state prisons and county jails, Blacks are 10 times more likely to be imprisoned than whites. Black men alone account for 28.5 % of the prison population although they make up under 6 % of all adult Californians.

Kamlager-Dove said neither the California Constitution nor the state courts require physical labor as a condition of imprisonment. But she points out that most incarcerated prisoners end up working in jobs that can pay them as little as 8 cents an hour.

Sometimes in California, prisoners are given an option to volunteer to work. For example, CalFire hires inmates who are serving time in minimum security prisons through its Conservation (Fire) Camps program and pays them $2 a day when they are on duty and $1 a day when they are not. The program saves the state between $90 million and $100 million annually, according to Bill Sessa, a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Brown says many of the businesses that have profited from the prison industrial complex are the same ones now investing in rehabilitative programs.

“The prison industrial complex is not one corporation or one group of people. We have to attack the beast and deconstruct it from many angles,” said Brown.

On March 5, Land says ACA 3 co-sponsors are organizing a rally in Sacramento at a location to be decided.

“We have to educate the public,” says Land. “Instead of tearing down statues, we need to be tearing down statutes.”

COVID-19 School Closures Are Costing Black Parents

Dr. Margaret Fortune

Contributor

While politicians in Sacramento debate how to reopen schools, there is one thing they should keep in mind: our public policy ought to acknowledge the vital role parents are playing to educate their own children during this pandemic. While we have rightly secured the jobs of public school employees, we need to be clear, parents are doing some real heavy lifting — and at a price. 

In a soon-to-be-released poll of California’s Black registered voters, 71 percent of respondents who are parents said they or someone they know has spent out-of-pocket to cover educational expenses due to COVID-19 school closures. 

Parents have hired teachers and tutors, bought desks and paid for childcare or given up jobs to stay home with their children. Some are paying tuition for their children to attend private school because their neighborhood public school is closed.  

In California, the decision to reopen schools has been left to local school systems, putting the pressure on school boards, superintendents, and charter school leaders. What has resulted is a hodge-podge response – dictated in part by local public health mandates, in part by public pressure and increasingly by politics as President Biden overlaid his goal to reopen schools within his first 100 days in office on the landscape.

There are public schools that have been opened for much of the school year in areas of the state where the coronavirus is less prevalent and others that have remained closed where the virus continues to be widespread.  

After months of deadlock, Governor Gavin Newsom and leading Democrats in the Legislature just struck a deal offering $2 billion to public schools to reopen by April 1.  The Governor’s original plan to push schools to reopen in February proved too quick a pivot.  This new timeline appears likely to stick as vaccinations become more widely available to educators and public schools throughout the state that have been shuttered since last March, announce plans to reopen this spring.  

Even as schools reopen, most will offer hybrid programs for less than 5 days a week. This is because of public health mandates requiring social distancing and that children learn in small groups of no more than 16 people (including the teacher) that can’t mix.  As a result, some form of distance learning will continue for many families. That means parents across California will continue to foot the bill for the hidden costs of distance learning because of schools that can’t operate at full capacity. 

I believe it would be reasonable for California to pay parents for the education expenses they are incurring because of COVID-19 school closures. 

There are different vehicles to accomplish this at a state level, including tax credit scholarships which put less pressure on the state budget.  A tax credit scholarship allows individuals or corporations to make a tax free contribution towards education scholarships for families in need. A nonprofit organization chosen by the state would distribute the scholarships to eligible families for allowable education expenses.  

Schools have never successfully done the job of educating children alone. We’ve always relied on parents as our partners. The pandemic throws into sharp relief the indispensable role parents play in their child’s education. California lawmakers should make provisions for parents to receive economic relief in light of the real costs they are shouldering during distance learning. 

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Margaret Fortune is the president/CEO of Fortune School, a network of K-12 public charter schools based in Sacramento, California she founded to close the African American Achievement gap in her hometown. Dr. Fortune has been an education advisor to two California governors.  She is on the board of National Action Network Sacramento, an affiliate of Rev. Al Sharpton’s national civil rights organization. 

A-List Stars to Headline 29th Annual Pan African Film Festival, Now Underway

The 29th Annual Pan African Film Festival launched over the weekend, kicking off with David Oyelowo’s feature directorial debut of “The Water Man.” The invitation-only virtual premiere of “The Water Man” attended by 600 viewers ended with a Q&A discussion with Oyelowo and two of the film’s stars Lonnie Chavis and Amiah Miller, according to a press release from the festival

The famed film festival will take place virtually this year, showing off 207 films from 45 different countries over the next 14 days (through March 14). Highlights of this year’s festival include the world premiere of the Coming 2 America—starring Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall with Wesley Snipes, Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan, Jermaine Fowler, Bella Murphy, Rotimi, KiKi Layne, Nomzamo Mbatha and Teyana Taylor. Other highlights include Nate Parker’s American Skin, and a special conversation with director Lee Daniels and the cast of The United States Vs. Billie Holiday. 

Dedicated to the promotion of ethnic and racial respect and tolerance through the exhibit of films, art, and creative expression, America’s largest black film festival was established in 1992 by award-winning actor Danny Glover, Emmy Award-winning actress Ja’Net DuBois and executive director, Ayuko Babu. 

The event hopes to showcase the broad spectrum of Black creative works, “particularly those that reinforce positive images, help to destroy negative stereotypes and depict an expanded vision of the Black experience.”  Films, the festival’s founders believe, are the perfect medium for that better understanding and a positive way to “foster communication.” 

“This year we had to recalibrate in order to meet this moment. We will certainly miss seeing everyone in person this year out we’re excited about our innovative new platform that promises to be a unique experience for viewers and will bring the Pan African Film Festival to audiences worldwide. Virtual or in-person we remain dedicated to the promotion of ethnic and racial respect and tolerance through the exhibit of films, art, and creative expression,” said Babu. 

Among the showcased films are the screenings of four Academy Award Best Foreign Film submissions including “the Milkmaid” from Nigeria, “The Fisherman’s Diary” from Cameroon, “The Letter” from Kenya and “This is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection” from Lesotho. The event will end with a spotlight of Lazaro Ramos’ directorial debut, “Executive Order.” 

To attend the festival people can still purchase a festival pass or screening ticket at paff.org. 

L.A. City Council Overrides Mayor’s Veto to Reimagine $88 Million in Funding to Communities of Color

Chez Hadley

This week, the L.A. City Council voted —11 to 4 —to override the Mayor’s veto of a proposal they backed in December to reallocate $88 million from the Los Angeles Police Department to programs targeting communities of color, reimagining public safety and the city’s Targeted Local Hire Program. 

“If we’re going to address the systemic racism that lies in our society and if we’re going to address the fact that the children of color are placed yards behind the starting line, it starts with reinvesting in communities that they come from,” stated City Council President Nury Martinez.

Garcetti has maintained that he initially vetoed the plan because he felt it didn’t go far enough in addressing racial inequities, but this revamped proposal—including many of the revisions he requested—has his approval.

The new plan will direct the money to the “highest need census tracts” and includes funding for employment development programs, eviction defense services, community beautification projects, recreation and youth programming, groups providing assistance to the homeless and a 24-hour, unarmed crisis response pilot program to dispatch mental health workers to certain nonviolent 9-1-1 calls instead of police.

Councilmembers Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Curren Price, Mark Ridley-Thomas joined with three other councilmembers in a statement that read as follows: “Too often there is resistance when it comes to providing funds, services and assistance to low income communities. From the start, our plan laid out clear intentions to meet the needs of our communities. We will continue the work we started this past summer and while this $88 million will not undo decades of neglect, the commitment we are making today is only the beginning.”

Many of the councilmembers submitted ideas on how they felt the $88.8 million should be reimagined. 

Said Ridley-Thomas, “As I considered how to reinvest these resources in the 10th District, I’ve appreciated the work of a range of community organizations, convened by Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, who developed the proposed “People’s Budget LA”, based on a survey of over 24,000 respondents. This survey indicated that residents overwhelmingly support “Universal Aid and Crisis Management”, and under this category, addressing housing security – defined as ensuring people have housing and can stay in housing – was the top priority of Angelenos.”

To that end, his proposed allocations include an “Encampment to Home” Initiatives to transition the homeless from the streets into housing in Koreatown, Mid-City and Leimert Park/Crenshaw Corridor; a city-wide effort to study unarmed traffic enforcement models, hiring and training community intervention workers, and eviction defense services.

Part of Councilmember Price’s vision for District 9 includes a $6 million Guaranteed Basic Income pilot program, which would provide $1,000 a month for 500-single parent households during the span of a year.

Other programs that District 9 will be pursuing, contingent on the outcome of Tuesday’s vote, include but are not limited to: an unarmed crisis response team, community intervention workers helping to reduce violence in neighborhoods, homelessness prevention, and other community-based initiatives that address economic inequality and prevent poverty.

“The programs I’ve outlined will provide meaningful investments in our communities that aim to combat social inequities and racial injustices while uplifting our Black and Brown neighbors,” added Councilmember Curren Price. “I’m especially excited about implementing a Guaranteed Basic Income program, which will give single-parent households stability and provide them a much-needed lifeline to get through these extraordinary times.”

Technical Difficulties Force Postponement of COGIC Elections, Sparking Confusion and Controversy

On Tuesday, Feb. 23, the nation’s largest Black religious body, the Church of God in Christ held its Quadrennial Election to fill numerous positions, including vacancies to the General Board, Financial Secretary, General Secretary, Treasurer, Trustee Board, and Judiciary Board (General Assembly).

However, due to technical difficulties, the elections were suspended, leading to a great deal of confusion over when—and how—they would take place.

In a statement and video released to the entire church body, Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake indicated he was troubled by an election spirit in conflict with the fundamentals of the Word and what he described as a slow and systematic compromise of the groups’ constitution.

“I’m grieved by what I see,” said Blake. “I have a responsibility to you both ecclesiastically as the Chief Apostle of our denomination, and civilly as the President and CEO of our beloved Church of God in Christ, to speak the truth in the midst of lies; to speak peace in the middle of confusion; and to speak order to chaos.”

A date for rescheduling the election has been the subject of ongoing debate.

“The present agenda of forcing an election in the coming days despite consequences and without transparency is unacceptable. Postponing the election will give us time to address this matter.”

“We have always operated with excellence and integrity,” Blake added. “We can do better and we will do better. I am still on watch and I will not leave my post as your Chief Apostle until we are assured that technological due diligence has been done and constitutional efficacy has been observed.”

L.A. Focus & Union Bank Team for The First Ladies “We Got Your Back” Townhall Series   

In partnership with Union Bank, LA Focus Charities is launching the virtual “We Got Your Back” townhall series on March 12. The series of six town halls will focus on sharing vital information for women attempting to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged Americans in all sectors in ways that grow increasingly more difficult every day, particularly for African Americans who are disproportionately affected,” said Lisa Collins of L.A Focus Charities. “The Black Church, in particular, exercises a vital function within the communities they serve and the pastors’ wives (“first ladies”) wield a great deal of clout and influence within those communities. It is only fitting that we bring the black faith community together with its more popular first ladies to discuss critical issues during this COVID crisis.”

“Union Bank takes a critical role in keeping their local economies vibrant through the investment of local dollars back into the community to ensure growth.  The COVID-19 economic downturn has challenged all of us, particularly the African-American community, hard.  Our partnership with L.A. Focus and the First Ladies “We Got Your Back” Townhall Series will help educate and empower women of color to take control of their financial future and navigate what has been a difficult season for so many,” added Frank Robinson of Diverse Markets & Community-Based Programs Executive.

Serving as spokesperson for the townhall series is Grammy-winning Gospel superstar, author, radio host and TV personality, Erica Campbell of “Mary Mary”. Campbell—who serves as first lady of the California Worship Center—will play an active role and will take the lead on a panel exploring the impact COVID has had on Gen Z and why now is the time to set financial goals.

“I’m glad to be a part of The First Ladies “We Got Your Back” Townhall series. It is an honor to be partnered with LA Focus magazine and Union Bank to increase financial literacy and financial freedom in our communities,” said Erica Campbell.

The series kicks off on March 12—hosted by Myesha Chaney, author, entrepreneur, and first lady of Antioch Church of Long Beach— will focus on “Rethinking Small Business and Stepping Up Your Side Hustle. Guest panelists include actress/entrepreneur Wendy Raquel Robinson.

“The pandemic might have stopped many things, but it has not hindered our creative ability to think outside of the box. Small business owners have a great opportunity to tap into unfulfilled potential and step up their side hustle. There is no moment greater to have relevant discussions about how the small business landscape is changing and what we can do to thrive in the midst of it,” said Chaney.

Later this month on March 25, First Lady, Dr. Shalonda Crawford—a practicing psychologist who specializes in depression, anxiety, trauma, relational issues among others— will host the second town hall, “When Storms Collide: Financial Hardships and Your Mental Health.”

“Minding your mental health is minding your business! Staying in the know is your responsibility. Facts matter,” Crawford stated.

Other topics include youth struggling with the pandemic, credit tune ups, COVID assistance, resources available to purchase a home and financially equipping women to escape abusive situations.

L.A Focus Charities has a history of outreach efforts and events, such as the Annual First Ladies High Tea.

“L.A. Focus was the first to recognize the power and influence of first ladies with the establishment of our First Ladies High Tea in 1998. This townhall series represents an opportunity to build on all we’ve done with first ladies and to highlight their vast influence and how they are changing lives in more ways than we know. We are so very happy to join with Union Bank in this effort to shine a light on how financial empowerment is so very critical at this moment in time,” explained Collins.

The virtual series is set to continue through May, with updates provided monthly on www.lafocusnewspaper.com. The event is free. Those who want to participate in the question and answer forums, can register on Eventbrite. For more information, call (310) 677-6011.

A Culture of Gangs & Violence Plagues L.A. County Sheriff’s Department

Stephen Oduntan

A violent gang of Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies who call themselves “The Banditos” have planted weapons on victims to try and justify shootings of unarmed suspects, a deputy alleged in a recent CBS investigation.

“They operate as a gang. They commit crimes, they assault people,” the deputy said, adding that many of the recruits are looking to get a “shooting” as a way to gain initiation within the gang.

“If you get in a shooting, that’s a definite brownie point.”

The whistleblower, who remained anonymous for fear of reprisal, said the officers mostly consist of Latino deputies patrolling Black and Latino neighborhoods in East L.A.

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 said. “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.”

On Aug. 25, 2016, Samuel Aldama – one of the two deputies who shot at Taylor – were assigned to neighborhoods struggling with gangs when they encountered Taylor walking in an area controlled by the Cedar Bloc Pirus reportedly wearing attire commonly worn by those affiliated with the gang.

One of the deputies making the allegations against the Sheriff’s Department said the Banditos “do racially profile.”

Sweeney believes Taylor was killed in cold blood by the deputies that day.

During Taylor’s lawsuit, explained Sweeney, Austreberto Gonzalez, a former Marine and a sheriff’s deputy since 2007, confirmed allegations of a gang problem operating within the sheriff’s Compton’s division.

“We later found out,” “that their name was the Executioners”, said Sweeney of the 10 to 20 deputies who controlled a patrol station in Compton through force threats and intimidation.

An FBI probe investigating members deputies assigned to the Sheriff’s East L.A. station said sources with knowledge of the matter told agents about deputies who brand themselves with matching tattoos of a skeleton outfitted with a sombrero, bandolier and pistol.

Aldama admitted under oath to having a tattoo depicting a skull with a rifle and a military-style helmet emerging from flames. The letters “CPT,” for Compton, were on the helmet, representing the station where Aldama worked.

Another whistleblower corroborated evidence gathered in the FBI probe that deputies affiliated with gangs identify themselves with a tattoo.

Still, 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 said 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. He knows in his heart that gang culture is a serious problem,” Douglas said.

Recently elected Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, said his department takes any allegations of gangs within law enforcement seriously – a departure from his predecessor who failed to prosecute law enforcement officers in cases involving the use of force.

“If, in fact, we believe that there is criminal activity within the sheriff’s department then we will deal with it accordingly,” Gascón has stated.

But the president of the San Fernando Valley NAACP,  James Thomas, a professor at Cal State L.A. and Clergy member for Black Lives Matter, said that while Gascón may mean well, he’s fighting an uphill battle.

“Gascón has done a lot since he took office. But these police associations and the D.A., along with Trump’s America, have come together as a trifecta to do whatever they must to make sure that he can’t accomplish any of his goals”.

“Every day, police departments prove why they need to be defunded, because there’s no way you can reform this kind of ideology, no more than you could reform slavery,” Thomas continued. “The institution of slavery could not be reformed; it had to be abolished. And this institution of policing has to follow that same course”.

Sydney Kamlager Succeeds Holly Mitchell as Calif. Senate’s Only Black Woman 

Sydney Kamlager Succeeds Holly Mitchell as Calif. Senate’s Only Black Woman 

Tanu Henry | Contributor | California Black Media 

 

On March 2, voters in California’s 30th Senate District elected Sydney Kamlager to represent them in the upper house of the state legislature.

 

With that win, Kamlager, 48, becomes one of two African Americans in the State Senate — the other is Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Los Angeles) — and the only Black women in that legislative body, replacing former Sen. Holly Mitchell. Mitchell resigned from the Senate last November after she won a seat on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.

 

“I woke up this morning to the next chapter — and I am ready,” said Kamlager, who currently serves in the state Assembly. In her current role, Kamlager represents the 54th District, which includes Baldwin Hills and Ladera Heights.

 

“Last night was our win,” she continued. “If you are Black, Brown, Asian, Native American, a woman, LGBT, a worker, a small business owner, a proud union member; if you are fighting for social, racial, environmental, criminal or economic justice; if you are an artist, a truth-seeker or truth-teller; if you believe in true emancipation from systems designed to shame and defeat us – then this is your win, too.”

 

Senate Pro-Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) says she looks forward to working with Kamlager and the Senator-elect can count on her support.

 

“Extending a big congratulations and welcome to my soon-to-be fellow Senator,” Atkins tweeted. “Asm. Kamlager is a champion for women’s rights, civil rights, criminal justice reform and equality.”

 

Wining two-thirds of the vote, Kamlager bested seven other hopefuls, including her closest contender Culver City Councilman Daniel Lee, who is also African American and a Democrat. Lee won 13.46% of the vote, according to uncertified election results provided by the Los Angeles County clerk’s office Tuesday.

 

About 10.35% of all eligible voters in the district participated in the special election.

 

“Sydney has shown her dedication to her district and this win shows that they believe in her and trust her leadership,” said Taisha Brown, chair of the California Democratic Party Black Caucus. “I am honored that we once again have a Black woman as a state senator.

Brown says she has to remind her fellow Democrats that although 90 percent of all Black women consistently vote for Democratic candidates, the make-up of the party’s leadership does not reflect the high levels of grassroots involvement and the deep commitment of African American women.

 

So far, two African American Angelenos have thrown their hats in for Kamlager’s Assembly seat: Heather Hutt, Vice President Kamala Harris’ former state director when she was U.S. Senator, and Isaac Bryan, executive director at UCLA’s Black Policy Project.

 

Supervisor Mitchell has endorsed Bryan. His other endorsements include several progressive groups, including Black Lives Matters LA, and Los Angeles city councilmembers Mark Ridley-Thomas and Mike Bonin; author and artist Patrisse Cullors; CSU professor Dr. Melina Abdullah; and former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs.

 

Hutt’s list of high-profile endorsers includes Assemblymembers Autumn Burke (D- Inglewood), Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-South Los Angeles), Mike Gipson (D-Carson) and Jim Cooper (D-Sacramento), along with retired African American State Senators Isadore Hall and Kevin Murray. Retired Assemblymember Willard Murry has also given Hutt’s candidacy his nod.


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