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African American News & Issues

Bay Area Counties Take Action Against High Rate of Black Babies Dying During Childbirth

Advocates argue that health equity is about more than just access to health care. They say it begins when people have access to everything they need — from health and childcare to economic security and housing.



Black Baby in a Basket; Photo Courtesy of California Black Media

Black babies in the Bay Area are born either too soon or too small, or they die before their first birthday, according to Bay Area public health experts.

But five Northern California counties, a region where the second-highest population of Blacks live in the state, are working to reverse those trends.

Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, Santa Clara and Solano counties have launched the #DeliverBirthJustice campaign to tackle the underlying racism that they say leads to the disproportionate death rates of Black women and infants as compared to other racial groups.

The campaign is an offshoot of the Perinatal Equity Initiative, a statewide effort to curb persistent iniquity and health disparities that threaten Black infant and maternal health, according to the California Department of Public Health.

“We need a Bay Area-wide movement that mobilizes all corners of the Bay Area — from health professionals to policy makers to community members — to end racism and birth justice for Black families. Similar to all the counties, we wanted to approach this issue from a regional lens,” said Mikaela Merchant, Perinatal Equity Initiative coordinator at the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH).

Merchant says the systems impacting Black moms and families are regionwide, therefore the approach to finding solutions to them must have the same scope. An understanding that Bay Area moms may live in one county but work and get their health care in another county stemmed from five focus groups with 33 directly impacted Black mothers across five Bay Area counties.

A regional approach reflects the lived experiences and needs of the moms and families they serve, said Merchant.
According to Dr. Zea Malawa, SFDPH’s Perinatal Equity Medical director and physician director of Expecting Justice, racialized stress is taking an undue toll on Black births.

Advocates argue that health equity is about more than just access to health care. They say it begins when people have access to everything they need — from health and childcare to economic security and housing.

“ Every single time we dismantle structural racism, we’re saving a Black mother’s life and we are saving a Black baby’s life. Our lives matter, so this work is something that we all need to take on right away,” said Malawa.

Black mothers fare worse on maternal/childbirth measures, with higher rates of low-risk, first-birth cesareans, pre-term births, low-birthweight births, infant mortality, and maternal mortality, according to “Health Disparities by Race and Ethnicity: The California Landscape,” a 2019 California Health Care Foundation (CHCF) report.

People of color face barriers to accessing health care, often receive suboptimal treatment, and are most likely to experience poor outcomes in the health care system, according to data included in the CHCF report. This is regardless of income and education levels, health habits or where they live, according to Merchant. She attributes it to structural and social racism Black people experience throughout their lives, and the biases they encounter from health professionals during their birthing experience.

In the California Legislature, Sen. Nancy Skinner’s (D-Berkeley) introduced Senate Bill (SB) 65, or the California Momnibus Act. If passed, the legislation will provide essential funding to help improve Black maternal infant health outcomes.

SB 65 includes Medi-Cal coverage for doulas, extending Medi-Cal postpartum coverage to 12 months, and a guaranteed minimum income pilot for families with low incomes, Merchant said.

Health professionals, policy makers, advocates and community members from each of the counties are working on different interventions specific to their challenges and needs.

For example, advocates in San Francisco have identified two strategies that they say are necessary and relevant. One is training staff and service providers around biases. The second is working to provide culturally relevant doula services to their communities.

Their work is centered on a partnership between Sisterweb Community Doula Network and county public health nurses. SisterWeb community-based doulas use a unique, innovative program model that provides extended, intensive support to families throughout pregnancy, during labor and birth, and in the early months of parenting in communities that face high risks of negative birth and infant developmental outcomes, according to Merchant.

“The serious challenges that Black moms are facing in regard to health and their community is because of racism,” said Sharayah Alexander, a Black mother in Alameda County, whose experiences helped shape the campaign.
“When we start listening to Black mothers, that’s when we’re going to start seeing health issues decline,” she said. “When people start listening to us, that’s when we’re going to start seeing more beautiful births and more Black mothers and babies actually surviving,” she added.

African American News & Issues

Jobs, Mental Health, Gun Violence: Cal Leaders Discuss Helping Black Men and Boys

Services include criminal record expungement for some marijuana-related crimes; job training and placement help; mental health treatment; addiction services; housing placement and more.



Young Black Boy Reading a Book, Stock Photo courtesy of California Black Media

The California Assembly’s Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color held a meeting last month that brought legislators face-to-face with community organizers to discuss investing in African American and other youth of color in a “post-pandemic California.”

Introducing the various panelists, committee chair Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), who is a member of the California Legislative Black Caucus, spoke about the bipartisan nature of the committee’s goals.

He said people from different backgrounds and political perspectives reach agreement when talking about the plight of youth of color because their conversations are based on hard numbers.

In California, per capita, Black men and boys are incarcerated more than any other group; are unhoused more than any other group; are affected by gun violence more than any other group; and in public schools, Black children’s standardized test scores fall only above children with disabilities.

“One of the things that brings both sides of the aisle together is data. What we would like to see is either internal audits or accountability measures to show that your numbers are not only successful but you’re keeping data over a period of time showing your success rate,” Jones-Sawyer said.

Committee vice-chair Assemblymember Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), a Republican, agreed with this assertion.

“I am looking forward to the instruction that we’re going to get today,” Lackey said. “This is a part of our population that deserves the attention and a much stronger effort than has been displayed in the past.”

The first topic discussed during this meeting was gun violence, as panelists towed the line between cracking down on gun violence and preventing the over-policing of communities of color.

“How can we do this without returning to a punitive approach that grows the prisons, the jails and the criminalization of our community without achieving the public safety we so desire,” asked the Rev. Michael McBride who is known in the Bay Area as “Pastor Mike.” McBride is a social justice advocate and the national director for Urban Strategies/LIVE FREE Campaign with the Faith in Action Network.

The meeting was an opportunity for participants representing community-based organizations to share ideas with legislators with the hope of influencing their decision-making.

As of 2019, California had the seventh-lowest firearm mortality rate in the country. But with the state’s large population of almost 40 million people – the largest in the country — that still equated to 2,945 deaths that year.

“As everyone knows, there are probably too many guns in too many people’s hands who should never probably ever have guns,” Jones-Sawyer said.

Jones-Sawyer addressed the racial element of victims of gun violence in America.

“Many of those individuals were Latino and African American so it behooves us that post-pandemic, we need to figure out what we’re doing, what we need to do if we want to protect our boys and men of color,” Jones-Sawyer said.

He also offered up part of a solution.

“This year we need to infuse the California Violence Intervention and Prevention grant program (CalVIP) with a large sum. We did put in money for a large sum to fund the work that we so desperately need to get not only guns off the street but out of the hands of people who should not have them.”

The second topic on the agenda was post-pandemic mental health care.

Le Ondra Clark Harvey, chief executive officer of the California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies, spoke on the intersectional nature of mental health issues in communities of color.

“Historically, Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC) communities’ mental health and substance abuse disorder services have been impacted by several factors including access to treatment, cultural beliefs and stigma,” she said.

Largely, Clark Harvey said mental health treatment for BIPOC people has not been preventative.

“When BIPOC individuals do seek help, it tends to be at a time of crisis; at an emergency room, a psychiatric hospital or due to some type of interaction with law enforcement,” Harvey said.

She also spoke about the increase in opioid use, suicide and calls to crisis hotlines for boys and men of color.

Two of the programs in California mentioned during the meeting that are making headway on mental health problems facing Black men and boys are COVID-19 Black, an organization dedicated to lessening the effects the pandemic has had on the Black community, and Strong Family Home Visiting Program, a Los Angeles County-based program that provides in-home family support services.

Wraparound service approaches to care were also discussed as a way to shift “focus away from a traditional service-driven, problem-based approach to care and instead follows a strengths-based, needs-driven approach,” according to the California Department of Social Services.

The last topic of discussion was on career pathways and building generational wealth for communities of color.

Tara Lynn Gray, director of the California Office of the Small Business Advocate, highlighted that most of the disparities in communities of color can be traced to economics.

“Some of the challenges facing boys and men of color stem from economic challenges in their communities and lack of investment for years prior to this administration,” Gray said.

“The pandemic induced economic hardships that we’ve experienced have exacerbated those issues with many businesses closing their doors and roughly 40% of Black and Latinx businesses closed,” Gray continued.

Gray claimed that it is not all doom and gloom, however, as she mentioned what the state has done to assuage these disparities.

“The good news about the challenges we have seen is that our leadership, both in the administration and in the Legislature, have created access to programs, resources and financial assistance for small businesses to help with economic recovery and make an impact on some of the challenges facing boys and men of color,” Gray said.

Gray also spoke about investing in business opportunities for the formerly incarcerated.

Through the California Reinvestment Grant Program CalCRG, for example, the state has been directly funding community-based organizations across California to expand job and re-entry programs for Black and other men of color who were impacted by the “War on Drugs.”

Services include criminal record expungement for some marijuana-related crimes; job training and placement help; mental health treatment; addiction services; housing placement and more.

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African American News & Issues

Oakland, Stand Up and Be Counted in This Recall Election

At a vote center, you can vote in person, get help in multiple languages, cast your vote by using an accessible voting machine, and utilize same day registration and cast your ballot Voters can vote at any center in the county up to 10 days before Election Day.



Election Mail in Ballot

In the next two weeks, we all have a decision to make that will shape California for years to come. The recall election is currently underway and on election day, Sept. 14,  the votes cast will decide not just the future of Gov. Gavin Newsom, but that of the whole state.

As your Oakland NAACP president, I encourage all registered voters of our community to get out and vote, either by mail or at the polls. The NAACP, which has been fighting for the right to vote for Black Americans for over a century, is today bringing a state-wide message to all Californians – no matter who you choose, vote in this election for your future, and for your community. If you are not registered, it’s not too late to register to vote in person.

The recall ballot, asks two questions. The first question asks if you support recalling (removing) Gov. Newsom. If more than 50% support the recall, Newsom will be removed from office. The second question lists all the recall candidates vying to be governor. Whoever gets the most votes will hold the office through January 2023, the remainder of Newsom’s term.

Whether Newsom remains or is replaced, whoever is declared governor after election day will have authority to make important decisions that impact your lives and your access to important services — like funding for our public schools and how the state taxes you pay are used to support state programs.

The outcome of this election will decide who manages the budget of the world’s 5th largest economy. It will determine the path we take on problems like housing affordability and homelessness, or the historic drought and wildfires we’ve seen this past year. And that’s just to name a few.

The Oakland NAACP wants the community to understand that its vote has power and that it is critical to ensuring our democracy works. We learned that from those that preceded us, people like James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, three activists associated with the Congress Of Racial Equality (CORE), who were abducted and viciously murdered in Mississippi in 1964 during the civil rights movement. Their sacrifice — alongside countless other racial equity fighters — is a reminder that the right to vote as a US citizen can never be taken for granted.

Thankfully, our state makes voting so convenient that there is no excuse for anyone not to vote. In 2016, California lawmakers passed the Voter’s Choice Act (VCA). The VCA expanded early voting in Alameda County. Traditional polling places have been replaced with vote centers which serve as a one-stop shops for all your voting needs.

At a vote center, you can vote in person, get help in multiple languages, cast your vote by using an accessible voting machine, and utilize same day registration and cast your ballot Voters can vote at any center in the county up to 10 days before Election Day.

All registered Alameda County voters have been sent a ballot in the mail. Returned ballots have already been counted. The deadline for registering or re-registering for the recall election was Monday, Aug. 30. If you missed the deadline, you can “conditionally” register and vote at any vote center after the voter registration deadline, up to and including Election Day.

The Secretary of State website also offers a tool to help you find early voting and ballot drop-off locations in your neighborhood. You can use the BallotTrax tool to confirm that your vote has been counted.

Too many fought for too long for our right to vote for us to pass it up. You have a choice to make – take this chance to shape our futures.

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African American News & Issues

CalHOPE Project Meets Critical Needs of Families During COVID-19 Crisis

Through this effort to meet the critical needs of this often under-resourced but high-risk population, 16 part-time African American crisis counselors and three administrators with diverse living experiences and a deep commitment to their community are readily available to respond to calls and chats.



Shown are two Pictured are two of their CCP Crisis Counselors: Alfonzo Edwards (right) and Kenneth Robinson. Photo by Gigi Crowder, executive director NAMI Contra Costa.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness Contra Costa (NAMI CC) has provided critical non-clinical supports to individuals and their families since its establishment over 30 years ago.

However, in the last seven months the work has been more intense as the agency became a subcontractor for the FEMA-funded CalHOPE Project administered by the California Department of Health Care Services and the California Mental Health Services Authority.

NAMI CC is on board to provide culturally specific resources and emotional support to African Americans experiencing challenges due to COVID-19.

Through this effort to meet the critical needs of this often under-resourced but high-risk population, 16 part-time African American crisis counselors and three administrators with diverse living experiences and a deep commitment to their community are readily available to respond to calls and chats.

The challenges that African Americans have faced during this pandemic have been multifaceted and exacerbated by the social unrest due to senseless killings of unarmed Black people at the hands of those in place to protect and serve.

Executive Director Gigi R. Crowder has over the last 20 years demonstrated her passion for improving mental health outcomes for African Americans, and she embraces this project as a labor of love.

She and the team have focused the bulk of their attention on outreach and offering lifesaving resources, prayer, and encouragement to equip the African American community across the state with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions. We share accurate information about the importance of COVID-19 testing, getting vaccinated, taking advantage of resources and rejecting foolish misinformation.

Through already established relationships, the NAMI CC CCP Project partnered with key African American faith leaders, influencers and other cultural brokers from across California and hosted educational trainings to replace inaccurate information with truths about the pandemic and how African Americans in California should protect themselves.

Our goal was to positively influence as much as possible the devastating impact of COVID, considering the history of this country, on this under-resourced and too-often neglected population.

Gigi Crowder and her team of highly skilled and committed staff host tables at vaccination clinics. They work with county staff public health leaders to overcome vaccination hesitation without judgment by hosting town hall sessions.

The primary daily focus is playing an essential role in assisting individuals from their community to take advantage of local and staff incentives, and resources such as rental and housing assistance, funeral service expenses reimbursements, childcare and other financial incentives.

The African American CCP Program is working hard to lift up the word “hope” while adding a few others such as “faith”, “promise”, “trust” and “resilience” to ensure African Americans get through this with an improved sense of belonging.

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