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Wood Street Residents and Advocates Host Memorial for Those Who’ve Died While Homeless

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More than a dozen unhoused Oakland residents and housing justice advocates gathered on the afternoon of Feb. 15 just west of Wood and 24th Streets to memorialize unhoused local residents who’ve passed away.

While the memorial specifically focused on two people, Gary Rosenquist and Benjamin Choyce Jr, attendees also honored all local unhoused residents who’ve died recently, many of whom suffered premature death due to homelessness.

“We’re here today to honor the lives of two very important people,” said housing justice activist Dayton Andrews at the memorial. “But I think it’s important to be clear that Gary and Ben were not the only people to die in the last couple of months and they won’t be the last ones to die while homeless. We’re here to honor all those that we didn’t meet as well.”

In addition to Rosenquist and Choyce, at least three other unhoused Oakland residents have died so far in 2020. While Rosenquist lived to be 74, and Choyce was 58, two other residents died in their 40s and one died in his 60s. All five people, all men, died before the average age of death for males living in Alameda county, 79.

“Housing is so important to health that those without a home die decades younger than those with a home,” wrote Seiji Hayashi in a 2016 article for The Atlantic. Hayashi is a graduate of Harvard’s School of Public Health and is currently medical director of Mary’s Center, a community health center in Wash., D.C.

In an interview with The Oakland Post, Rosenquist’s wife, Martha, explained that Gary had been dealing with pneumonia and a broken bone when he passed away and that it was difficult to cope with his medical conditions well while homeless.

“It wouldn’t have been as intense and I think he would have still been alive,” said Martha, when The Oakland Post asked her if having stable housing would have helped Gary. She then emphasized how difficult it is to live in a safe, clean way while homeless and that she and Gary had no regular access to water.

Both Gary and Martha Rosenquist were about two weeks away from moving into a permanent housing complex set aside for veterans called Embark Apartments before Gary’s passing. But now that Gary, who was a veteran, has passed, Embark Apartments has so far prevented Martha from securing housing. She claims they’ve refused to let her sign a lease even though before Gary’s death, they clarified that family members of veterans were also allowed to live in their complex.

Homelessness causes additional burdens on those who wish to care for those who are sick, and also makes mourning more difficult for those who lose loved ones. Benjamin Choyce’s daughter, Ramona, would visit and care for him as he was suffering from cancer but eventually had to stop.

“When he was alive I would leave here, go to East Oakland, be with my Dad, help him and see what he needed” said Ramona during the memorial to the crowd. She then said that her visits stopped after The City of Oakland towed her vehicle that she’d been using both to live in and for transportation in late September, 2019. After that she wasn’t able to visit anymore.

“They took me from my Dad. When he died I wasn’t there,” said Ramona.

Unhoused residents and housing justice advocates set up a garden, which they’ve called “Gary’s Garden,” that will serve as a memorial both to Gary and all unhoused people who suffer from premature death.

As the memorial observance wound down, people watered the garden and spoke fondly of both Gary and Benjamin.

“My father was outgoing and he didn’t judge. He was fun. He loved his music,” Ramona said.

“Gary was always for the underdog. He was always helping someone else. He had a good heart,” said Martha, as a song by Prince played.

Like Benjamin, Gary was also passionate about music. He had owned a nightclub in downtown Oakland from the 1980s to the early ’90s called The Old Warehouse Cabaret that once hosted Prince and The Rolling Stones.

“He put his heart and soul into that place. It was a beautiful nightclub,” said Martha.

Community

Assembly Candidates Confront the Issues:  Howard Terminal , Local Control of Schools, Reparations

The candidates are running to represent Oakland, Alameda and San Leandro in a June 29 special election for California State Assembly District #18, a seat that was previously held by Rob Bonta, who was recently appointed as California Attorney General.

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James Aguilar

Janani Ramachandran

Malia Vella

Mia Bonta

 

Candidates for State Assembly responded to pointed  questions on some of the critical issues facing Oakland schools and the community – including displacement, housing, reparations, public safety and returning full local control to the public schools – at a recent Education Candidate Forum on Zoom hosted by the School of Education at Holy Names University in Oakland, in partnership with the Oakland Post Community Assembly.

The candidates are running to represent Oakland, Alameda and San Leandro in a June 29 special election for California State Assembly District #18, a seat that was previously held by Rob Bonta, who was recently appointed as California Attorney General. Candidates attending the forum were James Aguilar, Victor Aguilar, Mia Bonta, Joel Britton, Janani Ramachandran, and Malia Vella.

The event was hosted by Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, dean of the School of Education at  Holy Names, who emphasized the importance of these issues for the city’s future.

“We have just come through a moral and political crisis (in this country) around racism and the government’s role in maintaining this system. We are looking for a new approach, and this is the lens we will be using today for this education forum,” said  Dr. Mayfield.

Also welcoming the candidates and the public to event were Oakland Post publisher Paul Cobb and his wife Gay Plair Cobb, who highlighted  their intense interest in schools and education. Paul Cobb is a former member of the Oakland Board of Education, and Gay Cobb served for many years on the Alameda County Board of Education.

The first question to  candidates was whether they would oppose the big money coalition of politicians and  powerful interests  behind  Oakland A’s owner John Fisher’s stadium and massive downtown real estate project at Howard Terminal. 

 Opponents of the project  argue  that the A’s proposal is vaguely worded and would come at a  high cost to Oakland taxpayers, who would foot the bill for decades. They say the development would create  a city-within-a-city, like Piedmont, that would  displace local residents and likely wreck  the Port of Oakland and its decent-paying longshore jobs, turning the city’s waterfront  and downtown into a tourist attraction like Pier 39 in San Francisco.

Of the three candidates who are considered to be the top contenders., only Janani Ramachandran was strongly opposed to Fisher’s deal. Malia Vella and Mia Bonta raised concerns but did not oppose the development. 

James Aguilar, Victor Aguilar and Joel  Britton were also against the project.

Bonta, president of the school board in Alameda, said, “I believe that there is a way for us to be able to hold the Oakland A’s accountable to the plan and the processes that they made … starting with stakeholder involvement in the environmental impact of the proposed project.”

Malia Vella,  vice mayor of Alameda and attorney for the Teamsters Union, said, “We need to have community input. The best projects are the results of a robust process that involve community stakeholders,… and an opportunity to meaningfully engage.. to get the best community benefits.”

Said Janani  Ramachandran, a social justice attorney, “I was the first candidate in this race who took an uncompromising, clear and public stand against the project … because having visited Howard Terminal, I have seen why it is entirely unfeasible and harmful to our West Oakland residents and extremely harmful to our thriving port, the fifth largest in the country.”

The candidates supported the statewide demand or reparations and the movement for Reparations for Black Students raised by community groups in Oakland.  They also backed an approach to public safety that deemphasizes policing and stresses the need for jobs, housing and health care to build safe communities. 

Candidates also backed the return of local control of Oakland schools and loan forgiveness, to end the domination of the schools  by a state-imposed trustee and the austerity program pushed by Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT),as well as halting the closing of schools in flatland neighborhoods.

Bonta called for “an end state receivership, which is decades old, and  the FCMAT order that has created a status of fiscal enslavement of Oakland Unified, which paired with growth of charter schools has created a structural deficit that OUSD  can’t get out from under.”

About teacher recruitment, all the candidates said would seek to end expensive standardized tests and other obstacles facing Black and other people of color who want to become teachers.

Janani Ramachandran said she would support legislation  “to remove excess and expensive tests and other barriers that .. keep Black and other potential teachers of color from entering the profession.”

 

To watch the video of the forum, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vsEi_7bXx4

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Bay Area

Pastors of Oakland, Oakland Police Expanding Community Chaplaincy Program

The program is seeking clergy with cultural competency to meet the needs of Oakland citizens who are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Taoist – especially in Asian, Latino and African American communities.

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Pastor Phyllis Scott is president of Pastors of Oakland. Photo courtesy of Phyllis Scott. By Post Staff

In preparation for building up the Community Chaplaincy Program with the Oakland Police Department (OPD), the Pastors of Oakland (POC) is looking for potential chaplains to serve  citizens in the worst of times.

According to Phyllis Scott, pastor of Tree of Life Empowerment Ministries and current president of Pastors of Oakland, OPD Chief LeRonne Armstrong is looking for at least 30 men and women to accompany officers to help victims of crime and their families who are in crisis.

The crises can range from homicide to sexual assault, to domestic violence, to car accidents and more.

Community Chaplains must have the ability to serve believers and non-believers alike and “must advocate for healing regardless of faith,” Scott said.

The program is seeking clergy with cultural competency to meet the needs of Oakland citizens who are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Taoist – especially in Asian, Latino and African American communities.

Not all Community Chaplains must have a religious affiliation. Professionals like teachers, caregivers and healers who have several years working in community may also serve.

Though Scott feels that some cultural values can be taught in the training, it’s not so easy to teach a language, and so bilingual chaplains will also be in demand.

“We are looking for people who have heart for Oakland,” she said.

Lt. Aaron Smith, who is assisting Chief Armstrong in expanding the program, agrees. Currently, there are 15-25 chaplains on call but “not all are willing to go where emotions are running high,” he said.

Once the details are hammered out, dates will be set for training, Scott said, who was herself certified to do this work in 2009. The training, six weekly sessions, will include instruction by specialists familiar with the emotional states of people who are in shock because of a homicide, domestic violence, sexual assault, and sex trafficking “without interfering with law enforcement,” Scott said.

Typical needs are help with planning a vigil, getting the body of a victim out of the morgue, finding a church or a place to hold a funeral that isn’t too expensive. Once those issues are dealt with, the family can freely grieve, and then they can begin to heal.

Scott cited an instance where a boy was shot to death, and the family and community, fearing reprisal, were essentially afraid to grieve openly. That’s where the chaplaincy came in, joining forces with OPD so the young man was funeralized safely, Scott said.

OPD and Pastors of Oakland want chaplains who are located in all parts of the city, roughly East Oakland, West Oakland and North Oakland. Once contacted by OPD, a ‘beat’ captain will call on the chaplain or chaplains in that area who have agreed to be available day or night.

Besides the city streets, Scott would like to see Community Chaplains at Highland Hospital, which is where many trauma victims are treated and where further violence against victims can be perpetrated as when gang members try to kill someone who survived an attack.

Scott said she is bracing for an escalation in violence, not just because it’s almost summer, the most dangerous season of the year, but because homicides were already alarmingly high so far this year, despite the pandemic.

Last month, there were four homicides in one week: two 17-year-old boys were shot to death, and the next day two teenaged girls died when a party bus was shot up by more than one assailant as it traveled from the freeway and ended up at 73rd and MacArthur –  just a few blocks from Scott’s home. She wished she could haven there.

For those interested in learning more about the Community Chaplains, please call Pastors of Oakland at 510-688-7437.

 

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Bay Area’s Black Fraternities and Sororities Award $180,000 in Scholarships

Graduating seniors from all over the Bay Area as well as continuing college students were recognized for their academic achievements by the member organizations.

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Photo courtesy of NPHC facebook

On June 6, the San Francisco Bay Area National Pan Hellenic Council held its annual scholarship reception virtually where over 100 students were awarded a total of $180,000 in scholarships.

Chaired by Dr. Joseph Marshall, the SF Bay NPHC is comprised of 25 chapters of the nine historically Black fraternities and sororities – Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, and Iota Phi Theta Fraternity.

Graduating seniors from all over the Bay Area as well as continuing college students were recognized for their academic achievements by the member organizations.

Recipients will be attending a wide variety of schools including HBCUs, prestigious colleges and local institutions like Howard University, Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, UC Berkeley, San Francisco State and Cal State East Bay.

In addition to the scholarships awarded by the individual chapters, the council awarded the Mrs. Bethola Harper Scholarships and the two SF Bay NPHC book scholarships.

Brigitte Cook is the vice president of the NPHC.

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