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Billionaire’s Outer Space? How about the Outer Space Caused by Inequality in Oakland?

I’m contemplating this because frankly, “outer space” as metaphor makes me wonder. If you’re a person of color, we’ve been there before.

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Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

Did you relate to Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson’s recent PR blitz where he’s trying to make it a “thing” to go to the edge of space? 

If you’re in Oakland, would outer space be Orinda? Or the Oakland hills?

I’m contemplating this because frankly, “outer space” as metaphor makes me wonder. If you’re a person of color, we’ve been there before.

When I was a fry cook’s son, the first in my family to go to an Ivy League college, I didn’t just get a full-ride scholarship. 

To me it was like a ticket to …outer space.

Though it’s hard to say who was the alien. The kids I met from the expensive prep schools. 

Or the public school me. 

What about asking your boss for a raise in a company where you feel like an alien? You’re in outer space.

That was my lens watching Branson’s PR stunt when he forayed into the edge of space last weekend. 

For the record, there was one person of color on board Branson’s flight on Sunday. One out of six? The numbers still don’t sound terribly diverse. So, thank God for Sirisha Bandla.

Bandla, 34, immigrated with her family from India as a young girl when her father, an academic, came to America. Bandla grew up with a love of science and went on to Purdue University to study aeronautical engineering, then got an MBA. She’s now the VP of Virgin’s government affairs and research operations. Cush gig. And she gets to go into space.

On Sunday, after getting her wings, and popping champagne like a Super Bowl champ, Bandla was grabbed from behind by Branson, who went underneath Bandla’s legs to lift her up on his shoulders and carry her off the stage. (Hello, Virgin H.R. department?) 

Perhaps it was just the post-flight exuberance.

When Branson went to the edge of outer space last Sunday he did just enough to qualify as a civilian astronaut.  More than 50 miles into the sky, the Virgin rocket plane went about the same distance as a car would have from the southernmost part of Wash., D.C. to the northernmost part of Baltimore. Just enough for some G-force fun, a bit of weightlessness, and a glimpse of the Earth that was to die for.

But will that be worth $250,000 a ticket to an average consumer? 

For all the talk about the billionaire space race being the “democratization” of space, I’d correct that adjective to describe the venture as space and its “commercialization.”

This isn’t just something you put on the Discover card. Not enough space (pun intended). 

Nor would you take out a mortgage on your home to be a 21st Century space tourist.  Would you?

Let’s face it. This is an elitist’s bucket list fantasy. 

But Branson has the answer. You can enter his lottery/charity to win your ticket to ride.  “Space for Humanity” gives you a chance to win two seats aboard a Virgin Galactic flight.

“Just imagine a world where people of all ages, all backgrounds, from anywhere, of any gender, of any ethnicity, have equal access to space, and they will in turn, I think, inspire us back here on Earth,” Branson said, brimming with a sense that diversity has a place in space.

It’s the good guy thing to say in a vanity moment to the extreme. 

Much had been said about the so-called “overview effect,” the humbling shift in perspective when one gets a galactic glimpse of the earth.

But Branson is already considered a better than average “good guy.” How much better will he be post-flight?  If space is transformative, shouldn’t we be sending the climate deniers? The vaccine deniers? The people who still think Trump was robbed of victory last November and will be re-installed as president at any moment? The people who want to restrict voting rights that will impact all people of color?

You know the type. Essentially, it’s the people who threaten our democracy. They’re the Americans in need of a perspective change. People for whom a bungee jump from a tall canyon is not enough. Send them to the edge of the world for that “we are all one team” moment, with the hope they’ll return as kinder, more empathetic humans for the good of the country, if not the world.

You know we need it when 4,100 attended CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) in Dallas this past weekend, where Trump won a straw poll among attendees as their presidential choice for 2024.

Does Branson sell one-way tickets?

Frankly, if Branson wants to really make a difference with his billions, forget about traditional “space” and look to the space that’s emerged from the inequality in this country.

There are places in Oakland no one cares about or bothers to visit that may as well be in outer space. They’re areas with real people that all could be developed and made productive. And it wouldn’t even take a big investment to be life changing. 

Now that would be far more gratifying than selling billionaire joy rides to the edge of space.

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Bay Area

De La Fuente Runs for Mayor

De La Fuente said he “will not tolerate homeless encampments where violence and drug abuse are rampant.” These encroachers are disrespecting our neighborhoods, our schools, our businesses, our residents, taking over our parks and defacing our city. He said the residents and businesses in our low-income flatland neighborhoods have been disproportionately affected by these encampments, and they deserve better. In collaboration with the county, we will serve our homeless residents who need it most, but not at the expense of other residents and businesses in our city.”

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Photo Caption: Ignacio De La Fuente

By Paul Cobb and news services

Ignacio De La Fuente, the former President of the Oakland City Council for 11 years, says he will run for mayor to rescue the city from its deep troubles.

He said he is returning to political leadership after a 10-year absence. Claiming that he is “sick and tired of what’s happening to our city,” and he can’t just stand by and witness “the city that I love become a place where people are afraid to walk the streets, to take their children to parks, to go out to dinner with their families or to park their cars on the street. I cannot let our city continue [to] be a place where seniors are assaulted and robbed in broad daylight, a place where illegal side-shows are constant throughout the city and a place where children are being shot and killed! ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! Oakland is not a dumping ground, and it is time to take action!”

He, along with the support of his former council colleague Nate Miley, who is now serving as an Alameda County Supervisor, and who is sponsoring a fundraiser for De La Fuente, has boldly declared that he will “do whatever it takes to increase the number of police officers, but I will give them the resources that they need to help them do their job, but above all, I will provide them the back up and political support that they need and deserve to perform their job for our residents and for our businesses.”

He said he “will not tolerate homeless encampments where violence and drug abuse are rampant.” These encroachers are disrespecting our neighborhoods, our schools, our businesses, our residents, taking over our parks and defacing our city. De La Fuente said the residents and businesses in our low-income flatland neighborhoods have been disproportionately affected by these encampments, and they deserve better. In collaboration with the county, we will serve our homeless residents who need it most, but not at the expense of other residents and businesses in our city.”

He wants to change the focus and emphasis of how the city spends its infrastructure money on what is truly needed by “repairing potholes, taking back and beautifying our parks, fixing our sewers and providing robust programming for our recreation centers and libraries to enrich the lives of our kids and seniors.”

In a characteristic fearless, colorful style that he achieved a no-nonsense reputation De La Fuente announced “The job of mayor is not for the faint of heart! Oakland is a great city that needs a mayor with the political backbone and experience to make the tough decisions to get this city back on track!

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Activism

Sheriff’s Deputies Skate with Marin City Youth

Sgt. Scotto and Deputy Gasparini, two officers from the Marin County Probation Department, came to interact with the youths and help them learn to skate and play basketball. Sharika Gregory, who hosted the event, really appreciates how Scotto and Gasparini interacted with the kids and said that it made a great difference.

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Top: Scotto lifting Aria, 7, so she can make her basketball shot. Middle: Sgt. Scotto and Dep. Gasparini of the Marin County Probation Department. Bottom: Scotto playing limbo. (Photos by Godfrey Lee)
Top: Scotto lifting Aria, 7, so she can make her basketball shot. Middle: Sgt. Scotto and Dep. Gasparini of the Marin County Probation Department. Bottom: Scotto playing limbo. (Photos by Godfrey Lee)

By Godfrey Lee

The Father’s Day Skating event on Sunday, June 12, at the Golden Gate Village’s Basketball Court in Marin City was a successful event that contributed positively to the relationship between the Marin County Sheriff’s Department and the Marin City community and helped some of the children get to know the officers.

Sgt. Scotto and Deputy Gasparini, two officers from the Marin County Probation Department, came to interact with the youths and help them learn to skate and play basketball. Sharika Gregory, who hosted the event, really appreciates how Scotto and Gasparini interacted with the kids and said that it made a great difference.

During the event, Scotto helped lift Aria, a 7-year-old girl, so she could make a basketball shot into the basket. Later Scotto played limbo with the children and tried his best to go under the rope.

The community generously contributed to the skating event. The Corte Madera Safeway and Costco donated the food. The Costco in Novato gave the skates. The Target in Marin City and the Marin County Probation Department also gave skates and gift cards.

Rev. Stephanie Ryder and the Redwood Presbyterian Church in Larkspur, also donated money to help to buy more skates for the events.

Gregory said that this was a very wholesome event for the community and will continue to host similar events in the future.

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Activism

Advocates Pressure Gov. Newsom to Fund Health Equity, Racial Justice in Final Budget

“Our state boasts a staggering $97 billion budget surplus,” said Ron Coleman, managing director of the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network. “If not now, when? Given the devastating impact of racism on the health and well-being of Californians of color it’s a travesty of the highest order that racial justice isn’t even mentioned in the Governor’s budget proposal,”

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Attendees were encouraged to contact the governor’s office and the Legislature to keep the pressure on them to include the fund.
Attendees were encouraged to contact the governor’s office and the Legislature to keep the pressure on them to include the fund.

By Edward Henderson, California Black Media

On June 8, community leaders, public health advocates and racial justice groups convened for a virtual press event to urge Gov. Gavin Newsom to support the Health Equity and Racial Justice Fund (HERJ Fund).

The initiative supports community-based organizations addressing the underlying social, environmental and economic factors that limit people’s opportunities to be healthy — such as poverty, violence and trauma, environmental hazards, and access to affordable housing and healthy food. Health advocates would also address longstanding California problems related to health equity and racial justice problems.

The fund cleared a significant hurdle last week when the state Legislature included $75 million in their joint budget proposal. This means both the Assembly and Senate support the HERJ Fund and they will go into negotiations with the governor to seek his support to approve it.

“Our state boasts a staggering $97 billion budget surplus,” said Ron Coleman, managing director of the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network. “If not now, when? Given the devastating impact of racism on the health and well-being of Californians of color it’s a travesty of the highest order that racial justice isn’t even mentioned in the Governor’s budget proposal,”

Last Wednesday’s virtual community meeting and press event capped off a series of rallies held by supporters in cities across the state calling on Newsom to make room in his budget for the HERJ Fund.

Coleman facilitated the online event featuring representatives from service organizations speaking about their support for the fund and presenting plans for how the money would be used to support their shared mission of providing services to minority and underserved communities in California.

Jenedra Sykes, a partner at Arboreta Group, spoke about inequalities that exist in funding for smaller grassroots nonprofits and how traditionally larger, white-led nonprofits use state funds to subcontract with grassroots nonprofits to provide services to communities of color at lower costs.

“The faith-based non-profits on the ground have the relationships, the access to those who are most vulnerable and marginalized among us who disproportionately have poorer health outcomes,” said Sykes. “This bill also evens the playing field a bit. Instead of going through the middleman of the established larger non-profits, funding will go directly to the people who are doing the work. The passion, the heart, the skills, the talents are there. It’s about the resources to fund these talents”

Coleman gave attendees an update on the status of the HERJ Fund’s path to inclusion in the state budget.

Now that the state Legislature has included the fund in their spending proposal for Fiscal Year 2022-23 (it was not included in Newsom’s “May Revise”), it must survive negotiations with the governor’s office before the June 15 deadline to finalize the budget.

A final budget needs to be in place by June 30, the last day for the governor to approve.

HERJ Fund supporters remain hopeful that funding for their program will be included in the final budget.

Updated mechanisms about the budget were added to the HERJ Fund’s proposal to alleviate those concerns and supporters of the fund believe that Newsom is out of excuses.

“Our best shot at getting the HERJ Fund in the budget is now. We are hoping that all of you will keep the pressure on the governor to ensure that this becomes a reality,” Coleman said. “If he does care about the intersections of health equity and racial justice then we will see funding.”

Attendees were encouraged to contact the governor’s office and the Legislature to keep the pressure on them to include the fund. You can visit herjfund.org to learn more about the proposal and the effort to include it in the state budget.

Nadia Kean-Ayub, executive director of Rainbow Spaces, shared details about the valuable events and services community-based non-profits provide. She said there is no shortage of families in need who want to participate in their organizations’ programs but, due to limited funding for transportation, many people never access services meant to help them.

“This tells me that when things are created in our communities, they are not making the impact we need in our Black, Brown and API communities,” Kean-Ayub said. “I will continue to fight. To really make this grow, we need the state to understand that the true impact comes from the community and the people who are living these issues and who know how to help them.”

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