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Book Review: “The Extraordinary Journey of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf”

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By Terri Schlichenmeyer, The Bookworm Sez

Your friends follow what you have to say.

Whether on social media or otherwise, they listen to you and understand, ask your opinion, seek your wisdom, and look to your lead. With them, you live a good life. Have followers like those, as you’ll see in “Madame President” by Helene Cooper, and you can change the world.

“This child will be great.”

Roughly translated, that’s what a local prophet said about Ellen Johnson when she was born in Liberia in October 1938. Those words were repeated in praise and in sarcasm as Johnson grew up, but no one had any idea then how right the man would be.

Though illiteracy was very common in Liberia, Johnson’s parents strove to educate their children in a manner befitting their upper-class status.

Johnson expected to go to Europe for college but when her father fell ill, she knew that college would no longer be possible. Instead, she married Doc Sirleaf, a man several years her senior.

The babies started coming almost immediately; shortly after their fourth son was born, Sirleaf and her husband seized an opportunity to go to America, to Wisconsin for college. Leaving her children was difficult for Sirleaf, but it wouldn’t be the last time. It would, however, be a few years before she’d leave her abusive husband.

By then, she was working for Liberia ’s Treasury Department and it was obvious that there were problems. Politically and socially, things had been shaky for some time, in part because of a two-tiered society that wasn’t functional anymore.

Sirleaf attempted to continue working in-place but her connection to Liberia ’s controversial president Tolbert made her vulnerable, so she applied for a job in America with the World Bank.

It, and that she was a native Liberian, probably ultimately saved her life.

In 1980, following the government’s overthrow and Tolbert’s murder, Sirleaf continued being vigilant while working for the new President as well as for World Bank.

She knew she could do more if she stayed in-country during Liberia ’s civil war, but her eventual outspokenness was consequently perilous: for her rebellious actions, she was jailed in 1985, which outraged the country’s market-women.

They helped get her released. It would be two decades before they’d get her elected.

Whew. Reading “Madame President” very well could wring you out.

Starting with birth and a basic history of Liberia, author Helene Cooper takes us through a half-century of turmoil with a woman that, considering what surrounded her, possessed grit and guts.

Cooper tells Sirleaf’s story as one that’s triumphant but also brutal and raw, with violence in a little too much gruesome detail; still, despite that those parts are uncomfortable to read, they inherently tell readers more about who Sirleaf is and why her Presidency is so remarkable.

Though you’ll cringe often when reading this, it’s a book that’ll make you want to cheer, too. World history buffs will truly enjoy “Madame President,” as will fans of international politics and women’s issues. And if that’s you, then it follows that you’ll love it, too.

Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf” by Helene Cooper, c.2017, Simon & Schuster, $27; 336 pages.

Barbara Lee

In a Letter to Voters, Rep. Barbara Lee Reflects on Pres. Biden’s First 100 Days

I was particularly struck seeing the Bay Area represented on the dais by Vice President Harris and Speaker Pelosi. That was the first time in history two women have held that position. It was reflective of the price women have paid to get to this point.

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Dear Friend,

     Last week marked the first 100 days of Joe Biden’s presidency. On (April 28), President Biden presented his vision for an American future that builds back better after some of our most challenging years. 

     I sat in the chamber and listened to President Biden reflect on his first 100 days, confidently reporting that we have a stronger economy, more resilient pandemic response, and a unified mission of building back better and bolder.

     I was particularly struck seeing the Bay Area represented on the dais by Vice President Harris and Speaker Pelosi. That was the first time in history two women have held that position. It was reflective of the price women have paid to get to this point. While this was a historic moment, as Vice President Harris pointed out, it is past time that it becomes “normal.”

      During his speech, President Biden discussed his recently unveiled American Families Plan (AFP). The AFP is a bold step in advancing racial equity and closing the gap in education, childcare, wealth inequality, and more. By extending provisions under the American Rescue Plan (ARP), and through programs of its own, the AFP would lift more than 10 million people out of poverty.

      I am excited to support this plan and similar efforts to improve equity in our school and childcare systems, and to combat inequality in the East Bay and across the country.

     The AFP offers an extended tax cut for families with children and American workers. This includes the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). This will work to mitigate the growing wealth inequality that we see in America and invest in low- and middle-income families who help our economy thrive.

     Additional provisions of the AFP include:

  • Making child care affordable by ensuring that families will pay no more than 7% of their income on high-quality child care
  • Creating a national comprehensive paid family and medical leave program through worker payments of up to $4,000 a month
  • Expanding school meal programs and summer EBT funds
  • Extending ACA premium tax credits that were expanded under the American Rescue Plan
  • Providing up to $1,400 in additional assistance to low-income students by increasing the Pell Grant award
  • Addressing teacher shortages and improving teacher preparation, including programs that strengthen pipelines for teachers of color

     (Last) week, we heard about some of the progress we have made in the first 100 days of the Biden-Harris administration, but we cannot let our foot off the gas. Among many challenges ahead, we need we need to address disparities in our public health system, do more to help families that are struggling through this economic crisis, dismantle structural racism, implement police reform and immigration reform and address the climate crisis. 

     We still have much work to do, but I am committed to continue fighting for you.

     As always, my office is here for you. If you need help with a federal issue, please call my Oakland office at (510) 764-0370. You can also connect with me via email, Facebook Twitter , and Instagram .

Please continue to stay healthy and safe.

Best,

Barbara Lee

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Bay Area

Most Californians Worry Schools Won’t Reopen Fully Next Fall, Poll Says

The majority say they approve of how Newsom handled schools this year.

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More than 4 in 5 California adults, including public school parents, believe that the pandemic has caused children, especially low-income children and English learners, to fall behind academically.

  Six in 10 Californians are concerned that schools will not be open for full-time, in-person instruction in the fall, according to a survey by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) released on April 28.

  The annual survey of Californians’ perspectives on education also found that a majority approved of the way Gov. Gavin Newsom has handled K-12 public schools, although opinions were split along partisan lines, with 22% of Republicans and 79% of Democrats supporting him on the issue.

  And perhaps in an indication of the erosion of support for public schools, 42% of parents say they would send their youngest child to a private school if cost and location were not at issue. This compares with 31% who would choose a traditional public school, 14% a charter school, and 13% a religious school. The preference for a private school increased from 35% last year and 31% two years ago.

  The survey of 1,602 adults over 18 was taken from April 1-14 and was offered in English or a choice of Spanish and three other languages. The margin of error was 3.4%, plus or minus, overall, and 7.4%, plus or minus, for the 295 respondents who are public school parents.

  Facing a recall election, Newsom can take solace in the poll’s finding that a majority of Californians (57% of adults, 64% of public-school parents) approve of how he has handled K-12 education.

  “Majorities of Californians approve of the way that Governor Newsom is handling the state’s K-12 public schools and school reopening, while they remain deeply divided along party lines,” said Mark Baldassare, president, and CEO of PPIC.

  However, a year ago, when the last survey was taken weeks after schools closed quickly in response to the first throes of the pandemic, his approval marks were higher, with 73% of adults and 78% of public school parents expressing approval.

  The poll, which focused on education, also found:

  Of those who said children were falling behind academically during the pandemic, 60% said that was happening by a lot and 22% by a little. The views were similar among ethnic and racial groups. Eight in 10 adults said they were concerned that low-income children were falling farther behind other children. More Blacks and Latinos were very concerned about this than whites;

  Amid continuing debates and lawsuits claiming that schools aren’t opening quickly enough, slightly more adults overall than public school parents said that schools should at least be partially open now (53% vs. 48%), while 28% of all adults and 27% of public school parents said that schools should be fully open now;

  Looking ahead to the fall, 61% of all adults said they were concerned that K-12 schools would not be open for full-time in-person instruction (24% very concerned, 37% somewhat concerned), and two-thirds of public school parents said they were concerned (25% very concerned, 41% somewhat concerned).

  When it comes to their own schools, two-thirds of adults said they approved of how their school district handled closures during the pandemic. Support was highest in the Los Angeles area (74%) and the Inland Empire (68%) and lowest in Orange County and San Diego (54%). Approval among public school parents was 72%.

  The clear majority of all adults said that teachers’ salaries in their communities are too low. About 1 in 3 said salaries are just about right while 7% said they are too high, and 3% said they didn’t know. Among racial and ethnic groups, 76% of Blacks said pay is too low, compared with 59% of whites, 61% of Asian Americans, and 62% of Latinos.

  Last month, the U.S. Department of Education ruled that California school districts could substitute local assessments for the state standardized test, the Smarter Balanced assessment, under some conditions. Many districts are expected to exercise that option.

  Asked whether they favor conducting year-end state testing this spring to measure the pandemic’s impact on student learning, 75% of all adults (and a similar proportion of public school parents) said they were in favor of continuing testing, with 23% opposed. Latinos were the most in favor (83%) and Blacks the least supportive (68%) with 70% of Asian Americans and whites in favor of continuing year-end testing.

  As for the perennial issue of school funding, 49% of all adults, 53% of likely voters, and 51% of public school parents said that the current level of state funding for their local public schools is not adequate — about the same level as a year ago.

  When it comes to school construction and renovation, 59% of all adults, 55% of likely voters, and 74% of public school parents said they would vote yes on a state bond measure to pay for school construction projects. Legislative leaders plan to place a bond on the state ballot in 2022.

 

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Art

Student Work – Nayzeth Vargas

There is freedom with the Zentangle; there is no expected visual outcome and students are less prone to creative blocks and self-criticism. 

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This piece was created by Nayzeth Vargas, a senior at Oakland Technical High School. The Zentangle Method is a therapeutic technique which uses combinations of contrasting patterns and values to create an image. Students were introduced to the Zentangle Method to offset the mental stress they were experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic and social isolation.  

There is freedom with the Zentangle; there is no expected visual outcome and students are less prone to creative blocks and self-criticism. 

Nayzeth is enrolled in the West Oakland Legacy and Leadership Project, an integrated arts program that supports youth in developing thoughtful, educated voices for their communities. Though art, youth practice mindfulness and boundless creativity. Enrollment for the West Oakland Legacy and Leadership Project is open to youth ages 13-18 through AHC, for more information visit ahc-oakland.org/legacy.

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