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Asian/Black Relations Can Get Better Together During Heritage Month

Heritage months are ways to benchmark our progress and see what urgently needs to be done now. 

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Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

President Joe Biden has given May a new name. It’s no longer Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, as proclaimed by Obama in 2009.  And it’s definitely not Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, as proclaimed by Jimmy Carter in 1978. It’s Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Month, as proclaimed by Biden on the last day of April this year. 

That’s our new umbrella. A big one, incorporating everyone. From the East Bay’s Rocky Johnson, the father of Dwayne the Rock, an African American/Samoan American. To Vallejo’s Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson, a/k/a H.E.R., the African American Filipino of Grammy- Oscar-winning- songs fame.

Despite how huge the umbrella is incorporating more than 23 million people from more than 20 countries of origin, we are all American. And we’re the fastest-growing group in the nation, set to double in size, overtake the Latinx population and, with 46 million people, become the largest ethnic group in America by 2060. 

And so we’ve come to expect people seeking to divide us up. During a Zoom conference of attorneys general last week, a member of the audience had a question. “There seems to be an emphasis on attributing anti-Asian violence to white people,” said a white male to the panel. “And I’m just wondering if it is healthy to do that, or an effort to do that…when in some incidents, the attacks were committed by non-white people.”

Essentially, the man was saying, “Don’t blame white people,” implying that Blacks have often been perps in some high profile crimes against Asians. 

But it seemed more like a question to drive a wedge to break up our solidarity.

Fortunately, civil rights activists John Yang knew exactly how to answer that one. 

“Yes, there have been attacks on Asian Americans by people that are not white, no question about that,” he said. “But I would ask everyone to be really, really careful about what the actual statistics are, because the statistics show that the predominant number of people attacking Asians are Caucasian.” Then he referred to some high-profile cases in the Bay Area where Blacks attacked elderly Asians, once again pointing out it was the exception, not the norm.

It was the right response to avoid creating divisiveness and to let everyone know that the only way to end racism is to fight it together.

But he also said something that rang true to most Asian Americans. 

“Let’s be clear, there (are) elements of anti-Blackness in the Asian American community, that we do need to unlearn as well,” he said. Then he made it personal. “And that’s something that I’m going to call out on myself, and in our community, and we would ask everyone to do the same thing as we’re all learning together.”

It was a rare candid public moment that unveiled a sense of friction between Asian and Black communities that has existed since the days I wrote op-ed pieces in the 1990s in the Tribune. 

Heritage months are ways to benchmark our progress and see what urgently needs to be done now. 

Like the speaker said, a lot of it involves calling out where we have fallen short of the ideal.

That’s what Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month is really for—to learn the good, and unlearn the bad, together. 

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

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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Art

Oakland’s Cultural Affairs Manager Wins $25,000 Berresford Prize

United States Artists, the funding organization, named Bedoya a winner this year because of his significant contributions to the care and advancement of artists.

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Roberto Bedoya, who won the 2021 Berresford Prize for contributing to the well-being, advancement, and care of artists. Bedoya, in this undated photo, is the city of Oakland’s cultural affairs manager. (Bryan Mitchell/Courtesy of Grantmakers in the Arts).

Oakland’s Cultural Affairs Manager Roberto Bedoya has won the Berresford Prize, given each year to people who contribute to the well-being of artists, a national arts funding group said.
United States Artists, the funding organization, named Bedoya a winner this year because of his significant contributions to the care and advancement of artists.
Bedoya was one of two recipients this year. The other was Portland-based Native-Hawaiian arts leader Lulani Arquette.
“They are ideal recipients of the Berresford Prize, as they represent a deep commitment to artists, placing them at the heart of their life’s work,” said United States Artists Program Director Lynnette Miranda, in a statement.
Bedoya said in an interview on June 11 that he has been involved in the arts ever since high school.
He grew up in a now-annexed Latino enclave of Union City called Decoto and earlier in his life created an oral history of the area.
Later he worked for Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco followed by arts work in Wash., D.C. and Tucson, Arizona. He moved back to the Bay Area to be closer to family, he said.
“It’s a really sweet and wonderful award,” Bedoya said.
It came as a surprise and is an affirmation of his career, he said.
The prize was created by several fellows of United States Artists because people who dedicate their careers to helping artists have received little recognition. The inaugural prize was given in 2019.
Berresford Prize winners receive $25,000, which Bedoya said he is not sure what he is going to do with it.
    One of Bedoya’s recent accomplishments, which United Starts Artists noticed, was his unveiling of Oakland’s first cultural plan in three decades.
    The Berresford Prize is named after Susan Berresford, past president of the Ford Foundation, and co-founder United States Artists.

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