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Advocates: Internet Companies Must Partner With Ethnic Media to Close Digital Divide

Last week, Newsom signed Senate Bill (SB) 156 into law. That legislation requires the state to make a multi-billion dollar investment into the construction of a state-owned open access network of internet cable with several offshoot lines that will connect unserved households and businesses mostly in urban and rural areas.  

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Laptop and phone photo courtesy Benjamin Dada via Unsplash

Digital equity advocates – people who have been working for decades now to come up with solutions to narrow the divide between people who are connected to broadband and those who still aren’t – say Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must partner with the ethnic media to reach people in California who remain unconnected and under-connected to broadband service.

“We have focused on the importance of community and Ethnic Media. We think that the Internet Service Providers should be advertising with (ethnic media), reaching out to you and connecting with you,” said Sunne McPeak, CEO of the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) a statewide non-profit with offices in Concord and Los Angeles dedicated to closing the digital divide.

McPeak says, with its 91% broadband adoption rate, California has done a remarkable job getting people online with stable access to high-speed internet connections that can improve their quality of life. That number has skyrocketed from 55% in 2008.

However, there are still 6 million Californians, she says, who are not connected or under-connected (those with only smartphone access) to broadband. Most of those people live in low-income households.

Among Californians who are not connected to high-speed internet, 8% — more than half of them – are Black, according to CETF.

“There is still clearly a divide among groups that are most digitally disadvantaged socioeconomically,” McPeak said. “No state has more low-income people than California. Fifteen percent of our population is low income.”

McPeak was speaking during a news briefing organized by Ethnic Media Services last week titled “Trapped by the Digital Divide: Demanding Universal Broadband as a Basic Right.”

McPeak was joined on the online conference by Angela Siefer, executive director of the Cleveland-based National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA).

Siefer shared national numbers that reflect that the vast majority of people who are still not connected to the internet live in urban areas, challenging a widely held notion that rural areas remain the regions most unconnected to broadband in the United States.

“Prior to the pandemic, 36 million U.S. households did not have an internet connection in their home,” said Seifer. “Of that number, 26 million are urban and 10 million are rural. I want to confirm the bigger number piece of this is urban.”

In addition to having a high broadband adoption rate, California continues to take a number of steps to make sure there is universal connectivity to broadband.

Last week, Newsom signed Senate Bill (SB) 156 into law. That legislation requires the state to make a multi-billion dollar investment into the construction of a state-owned open access network of internet cable with several offshoot lines that will connect unserved households and businesses mostly in urban and rural areas.

“As we work to build California back stronger than before, the state is committed to addressing the challenges laid bare by the pandemic, including the digital divide holding back too many communities in a state renowned for its pioneering technology and innovation economy,” said Newsom at a rural elementary school in Tulare County.

“This $6 billion investment will make broadband more accessible than ever before, expanding opportunity across the spectrum for students, families and businesses – from enhanced educational supports to job opportunities to health care and other essential services,’ the governor continued.

Also continuing to ensure as many Californians as possible not only have access to broadband but also have reliable equipment to connect to it, California State University announced that it will give all incoming students and transfers at eight of its campuses across the state new iPad air tablets. The package includes accessories, including smart keyboards. The only requirement for the students is to register at a website called CSUSUCCESS (CSU Connectivity Contributing to Equity and Student Success)

“CSUCCESS will assure that students have immediate access to innovative, new mobile tools they need to support their learning, particularly when faced with the lingering effects of the pandemic,” CSU Chancellor Joseph Castro said, announcing the initiative.

McPeak says while there are a number of programs like the federal Emergency Benefit Broadband program that can help Americans connect to high-speed internet more affordably, many people are just not aware of them.

“We have to ask, what are (the ISPs) doing to work with ethnic media and community organizations?” asked McPeak.

Bay Area

Dream Fund: Entrepreneurs Can Apply for $10,000 Grants Through $35M State Program

Although a number of reports suggest that the outlook has begun to be more positive as the U.S. economy continues to bounce back defying the odds, and many Black businessowners have also become more optimistic, access to credit and technical support remain a challenge for many who had to dip into their own finances to keep their lights on.

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Everett Sands, CEO Lendistry. Lendistry photo. 
Everett Sands, CEO Lendistry. Lendistry photo. 

By Tanu Henry, California Black Media

Since 2017, there has been a 9.8% increase of new small businesses — firms with less than 500 employees — in the United States. Over the past two years alone, over 10 million applications were submitted to start new small businesses across the country, according to the Small Business Administration.

That growth trend is true for California, too, where there are about 4.1 million small businesses, the most in the country. Those companies make up 99.8% of all business in California and employ about 7.2 million people.

But for Black-owned and other minority owned small businesses across the country, there was a steep decline in numbers, almost 41%, due to the pandemic, a Census Population Survey found in 2020. During that same time, nearly 44% of minority-owned small businesses were at risk of shutting down, a Small Business Majority report found.

Although a number of reports suggest that the outlook has begun to be more positive as the U.S. economy continues to bounce back defying the odds, and many Black businessowners have also become more optimistic, access to credit and technical support remain a challenge for many who had to dip into their own finances to keep their lights on.

Recognizing the outsized contribution small businesses make to the health of the California economy and the hit many of the smallest of small business have taken during the pandemic, the California Office of the Small Business Advocate (CalOSBA) has been making grants of up to $25,000 to small business in the state.

In its latest round of funding called the Dream Fund, which is now accepting applications on a rolling basis, CalOSBA has partnered with Lendistry, a Los Angeles-based, minority-led small business and commercial real estate lender to administer the $35 million grant portion of its program. The fund provides $10,000 to each small business that qualifies.

To become eligible, California-based small business owners will have to complete training at one of the centers run by the state’s Technical Assistance Expansion Program (TAEP) and receive a certificate.

“For the millions of Californians that have dreams of owning their own business, this grant coupled with one-on-one counseling and business expertise from hundreds of counselors at our eighty-seven Technical Assistance Centers, has the power to jumpstart their dreams,” says Tara Lynn Gray, director of CalOSBA.

Jay King, president and CEO of the Sacramento-based California Black Chamber of Commerce, says he applauds Gov. Gavin Newsom for understanding the historic systemic challenges minority businesses face and for “doing something about it.”

But giving Black businesses grants are not a “cure-all,” he says.

“It is like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound if we don’t do more to really fix the problems small businesses face,” King explains. “Ninety-six percent of Black businesses are mini- or micro- that means they make less than $100,000 or less than $35,000 a year, respectively,” King continued. “Only 4% of our businesses earn more than $100,000 annually. We have to put more resources and technical support around these businesses.”

King says informing Black business owners about opportunities like the Dream Fund and making sure they know how to apply for or access the funding is critical to making sure the people who need the help gets it.

“You have to get down into our communities,” he said. “You have to reach people through groups that are plugged into our communities to get the word out. We do not hear about these kinds of programs enough. We definitely don’t benefit from them enough.”

Everett K. Sands, the CEO of Lendistry, says he is excited to help California’s new businesses access the capital they need to “begin on their journeys.

“Over the past two years, almost 10 million new businesses have been created in the U.S.,” he says. “With record numbers of new small businesses entering the marketplace, many of which are owned by women and minorities, programs like California Dream Fund pave the way for a more robust and equitable economy as these new businesses make the leap from employing just their founders to employing their communities.”

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Activism

Biden Administration Invests $145 Million in Re-Entry Programs for Formerly Incarcerated

According to a 2021 Stanford University Study, reentry programs in California have contributed to a 37% decrease in the average re-arrest rate over the period of a year.

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By Aldon Thomas Stiles, California Black Media

After serving a 22-year sentence in a California prison, James Morgan, 51, found himself facing a world of opportunities that he did not imagine he would have as an ex-convict once sentenced to life for attempted murder.

Morgan, a Carson native, says he is grateful for a second chance at life, and he has taken full advantage of opportunities presented him through California state reentry and rehabilitation programs.

After completing mental health care for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Morgan was released from prison and granted parole in 2018.

“I did not expect what I found when I got out,” Morgan told California Black Media (CBM), explaining that he was fortunate to participate in a program for the formerly incarcerated in San Francisco.

“I was mandated by the courts to spend a year in transitional housing,” said Morgan. “Those guys walked us through everything. They made it really easy. It was all people I could relate to, and they knew how to talk to me because they used to be in the prison population —and they were from where we were from.”

Morgan says he also took lessons on anger management and time management.

Now, he is currently an apprentice in Local 300 Laborers Union, specializing in construction, after he participated in a pre-apprenticeship program through ARC (the Anti-Recidivism Coalition).

“Right now, I’m supporting my family,” Morgan said. “I’d say I’m doing pretty good because I hooked up with the right people.”

Supporters of criminal justice reform say Morgan’s success story in California is particularly encouraging.

Black men in the Golden State are imprisoned nearly 10 times the rate of their white counterparts, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. And just a little over a decade ago in 2011, the Supreme Court of the United States ordered California to reduce the number of inmates in its overcrowded prison system by 33,000. Of that population, nearly 30% were Black men even though they account for about 5% of the state’s population.

To help more formerly incarcerated people like Morgan get back on their feet after paying their debt to society, last month the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Labor announced that the federal government is investing $145 million over the course of the next fiscal year to support reentry programs across the country.

The Biden-Harris Administration also announced plans to expand federal job opportunities and loan programs, expand access to health care and housing, and develop and amplify educational opportunities for the formerly and currently incarcerated.

“It’s not enough to just send someone home, it’s not enough to only help them with a job. There’s got to be a holistic approach,” said Chiraag Bains, deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council on Racial Justice and Equity.

Bains told CBM that that reentry programs help establish an “incarceration-to-employment pipeline.”

The White House announced the programs late last month as President Joe Biden commuted the sentences of 75 people and granted pardons to another three, including Abraham Bolden, the first Black Secret Service agent on White House detail.

Bolden had been sentenced to 39 months in prison in 1964 for allegedly attempting to sell classified Secret Service documents. He has always maintained his innocence.

“Today, I granted pardons to three people and commuted the sentences of 75 people. America is a nation of laws, but we are also a nation of second chances, redemption, and rehabilitation,” Biden tweeted April 26.

According to Bains, about half of the people the President pardoned are Black or Brown.

“The president has spoken repeatedly about the fact that we have too many people serving time in prison for nonviolent drug offenses and too many of those people are Black and Brown,” said Bains. “This is a racial equity issue.”

Both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have faced sharp criticisms in the past for supporting tough-on-crime policies that, as U.S. Senator and California Attorney General respectively, have had disproportionately targeted Blacks and other minorities.

According to a 2021 Stanford University Study, reentry programs in California have contributed to a 37% decrease in the average re-arrest rate over the period of a year.

Over the last decade, California has funded a number of initiatives supporting reentry and rehabilitation. In 2015, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation launched the Male Community Re-Entry Program (MCRP) that provides community-based rehabilitative services in Butte, Kern, Los Angeles and San Diego Counties. The Butte program services Tehama, Nevada, Colusa, Glenn, Sutter, Placer and Yuba counties.

A year later, Gov. Newsom’s office introduced the California Community Reinvestment Grant Program. The initiative funds community groups providing services like job placement, mental health treatment, housing and more to people, including the formerly incarcerated, who were impacted by the War on the Drugs.

Morgan spoke highly of programs that helped him reintegrate into society — both in prison and after he was released.

“In hindsight, I look back at it and I’m blown away by all of the ways that they’ve helped me,” Morgan said.

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Bay Area

Mayor London Breed, Speaker Nancy Pelosi Celebrate Grand Opening of 100% Affordable Housing in Mission

“As a proud representative for San Francisco, it was my privilege to join Mayor London Breed in celebrating Casa Adelante’s grand opening,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “This development will be a vital anchor for The Mission’s Latino community, providing families with the homes they need to survive and the services they need to thrive. It was an honor to help secure $2 million in federal funds for the community-serving nonprofits in Casa Adelante, and House Democrats will continue fighting to expand affordable housing as we Build a Better America.”

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San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi. Twitter.com photo.

2828 16th Street provides 143 affordable homes for low-income families, including 36 homes for public housing residents

Mayor London N. Breed joined Speaker Nancy Pelosi and community leaders on May 5 to celebrate the grand opening of Casa Adelante — 2828 16th St., a 143-unit, 100% affordable housing development in the Mission District.

Formerly known as 1990 Folsom, the development designates 36 units for public housing residents relocating from Potrero Hill and Sunnydale HOPE SF sites. The remaining 107 units are designated for low-income households making between 40% and 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI).

Additionally, 2828 16th St. offers 30 units with accessibility features for people with impaired mobility and three units with features for people with impaired vision and/or hearing.

“These 143 units come at a time when addressing housing affordability for all San Franciscans is crucial,” said Breed. “2828 16th Street allows families to stay rooted in their community while providing critical on-site services that will help them thrive in the neighborhood they call home. This project is a perfect example of how we are working to make San Francisco a more affordable place to live for everyone.”

“As a proud representative for San Francisco, it was my privilege to join Mayor London Breed in celebrating Casa Adelante’s grand opening,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “This development will be a vital anchor for The Mission’s Latino community, providing families with the homes they need to survive and the services they need to thrive. It was an honor to help secure $2 million in federal funds for the community-serving nonprofits in Casa Adelante, and House Democrats will continue fighting to expand affordable housing as we Build a Better America.”

The building on 2828 16th Street transformed a vacant and underutilized property into a mixed-use development with space for the arts, nonprofits, early child care, and education. In addition to the 143 units, the development features an inner courtyard, rooftop urban farm, two community rooms, and bicycle parking.

The property also includes an affordable childcare center operated by the Felton Institute, ground-floor space for Mission-based nonprofits Galería de la Raza and HOMEY to provide community empowerment and cultural enrichment programming, and on-site social work and property management services provided by Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC).

“I am incredibly proud of the work that TNDC and MEDA have done, in collaboration with funders and our City partners, to bring 143 affordable new homes for families in District 9 at Casa Adelante — 2828 16th Street,” said Supervisor Hillary Ronen. “This 100% affordable housing development, that will be home to more than 300 community members and includes on-site childcare and a rooftop urban farm for free produce, is exactly what is needed to keep our working families and residents home in San Francisco.”

“In celebrating the opening of Casa Adelante — 2828 16th Street, we celebrate the opportunity for families, children, and individuals to build stability and vibrant futures in San Francisco,” said Maurilio León, CEO of TNDC. “This building is a testament to innovation in affordable housing. With on-site services like a rooftop farm providing access to free produce and options for affordable childcare, TNDC and our many partners are actualizing a strong community for current and future generations.”

“Casa Adelante — 2828 16th Street symbolizes how we have upended the narrative in the Mission, as we continue to turn the tide of displacement of residents and arts and cultural institutions in our community,” said Luis Granados, CEO of Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA). “MEDA is honored that in conjunction with the Mission community, co-developer TNDC, numerous funders, and valued City partners, 143 households and three esteemed organizations all now have a place to call their permanent home.”

Completed in November 2021, the eight-story, 155,000-square-foot building and associated landscaping were designed by Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects (LMSA) and GLS Landscape to address the community’s need for family-centered homes, affordable arts space, and cultural preservation. 2828 16th Street received a LEED Gold Certification in recognition of its achievement and leadership in sustainable design and construction.

2828 16th Street represents a joint venture partnership between Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC) and Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA). The development team leveraged low-income housing tax credits, tax-exempt bonds, a mortgage, and federal Project-Based Vouchers.

The Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development invested more than $46 million into the project through the 2015 General Obligation Bond. Bank of America, Barings Multifamily Capital/MassMutual, and Century Housing Corporation provided additional financing. Local firms LMSA, GLS Landscape, Nibbi Brothers General Contractors and Gubb & Barshay were enlisted on the project.

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