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California Black Clergy, Political Leaders Condemn Racism in Ukraine

CBC members Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA-13), Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations; Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH-03), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus; Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY-05); Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA-37), Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations; and Rep. Stacey E. Plaskett (VI-At Large) signed the letter, which was sent on March 4.

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Congressmembers condemn treatment of people of African and Asian descent trying to escape Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. From l-r: Rep. Barbara Lee; Rep. Joyce Beatty; Rep. Gregory W. Meeks and Rep. Karen Bass.
Congressmembers condemn treatment of people of African and Asian descent trying to escape Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. From l-r: Rep. Barbara Lee; Rep. Joyce Beatty; Rep. Gregory W. Meeks and Rep. Karen Bass.

By Tanu Henry, California Black Media

“There were many persons of color living in the Ukraine, enjoying, working and going to school. The Russian invasion on Feb. 24, 2022, made a major change,” read a letter shared with parishioners and friends of St. Paul African Methodist Church in San Bernardino via e-mail.

“For those persons of color, an additional crisis has emerged, the added burden of racism. As these people flee to the bordering countries, they are being met with open hostility,” the letter continued.

The Rev. Steven Shepard, pastor of St. Paul’s, forwarded the letter, which called on AME Church members around the globe to support a student from the Ivory Coast who was seeking asylum in Ukraine until the war broke out. Shepard encouraged church members to stand with “our African brothers and sisters” and to condemn the racism in Ukraine.

The young woman had to wait for nearly 24 hours in frigid weather, hungry and cold, before crossing the Ukrainian-Polish border.

The letter Shepard shared was among hundreds of thousands, perhaps more, of videos, letters, memes, photos and other media sent around the world highlighting racism in Ukraine on two fronts.

First, the way Ukrainian citizens were treating people from Africa, the Caribbean and other people of African descent as people clamored to board trains and buses escaping the advancing Russian military.

“We write with concern regarding the treatment of people of African and Asian descent who are trying to flee Ukraine,” members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) wrote to Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, asking for her to push back on the discriminatory incidents being reported.

CBC members Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA-13), Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations; Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH-03), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus; Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY-05); Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA-37), Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations; and Rep. Stacey E. Plaskett (VI-At Large) signed the letter, which was sent on March 4.

“Thank you for clarifying that the borders of the European Union are open to everyone fleeing the war in Ukraine,” the lawmakers continued. “Nonetheless, numerous press and social media reports indicate that many Black families, immigrants from the African diaspora and other people of color are subject to discriminatory or inhumane treatment as they seek to flee Ukraine for the safety of other European countries.”

“We applaud that you have publicly rejected discriminatory treatment of refugees,” they continued. “We ask for more information about how European Union institutions and its member states are working to implement equitable and humane policies and procedures towards refugees. We further ask that a representative of the Commission brief us on the progress of these efforts.”

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari said the racist actions of Ukrainian citizens violated international treaties.

“All who flee a conflict situation have the same right to safe passage under U.N. convention and the color of their passport or their skin should make no difference,” he said.

African leaders, commentators, civil rights leaders, public figures and mass media personalities also spoke out against racist coverage of the war in the media as well.

“This isn’t a place, with all due respect like Iraq or Afghanistan. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European — I have to choose those words carefully, too — city where you wouldn’t expect that or hope that it’s going to happen,” said CBS News Correspondent Charlie D’Agata, reporting from Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.

D’Agata, who has since apologized for that comment, has been widely criticized for his bias.

Comedian Trevor Noah also reacted to D’Agata’s comments. “Here’s the thing. Beyond the racism. You do realize, until recently, fighting crazy wars was Europe’s thing. That is all of European history. They even had something called ‘the Hundred Years War,’” he said.

“I don’t know about you, but I was shocked to see how many reporters around the world, by the way, seem to think it’s more of a tragedy when white people have to flee their countries,” Noah said.

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Activism

Call to Protect Geoffrey’s Inner Circle from Threatened High-Rise Development

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by reso-lution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and cul-ture of Oakland.

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By Ken Epstein

Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, a downtown Oakland Cultural Center that has featured live jazz and served music lovers and the Black community for decades, is now under threat from a proposed real estate development that could undermine the stability and future of the facility.

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by resolution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and culture of Oakland.

Now, the Oakland Planning Commission is considering a high-rise building proposed by out-of-town developers next to Geoffrey’s, which would jeopardize both the survival of the venue and the Black business district as a whole.

In addition to running a business that has been a crucial institution in the local community and the regional arts scene, Geoffrey Pete, founder, has utilized his business to offer meals for thousands of unsheltered individuals and hosted countless community events.

The following petition is being circulated in defense of Geoffrey’s and the Black Arts district (To add your name to the petition, email info@geoffreyslive.com):

“The African-American community in Oakland has been seriously damaged by developers and public offcials who are willing and sometimes eager to see African Americans disappear from the city. Black people comprised 47% of the population in 1980; now they make up only 20% of said population. In response to this crisis the 14th Street Corridor from Oak to the 880 Frontage Road was established as the Black Arts Movement and Business District by the City Council on Jan. 7, 2016, in Resolution 85958.

Tidewater, an out-of-town developer, is proposing to build a high-rise building at 1431 Franklin, which will damage the Black business district and the businesses in the area including the iconic business of Geoffrey’s Inner Circle at 410 – 14th St.

We demand that the Planning Commission and the City Council reject this predatory building proposal and proceed with plans to fund and enhance the Black Business District.”

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Activism

16th Annual MLK Day of Service on the Richmond Greenway

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

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“…Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

The event was hosted by Urban Tilth and the City of Richmond. Event partners were Groundwork Richmond, Rich City Rides, Moving Forward, Hope Worldwide, The Watershed Project, Contra Costa Resource Conservation District, Building Blocks for Kids, City of Richmond, Cal Cameron Institute, Friends of the Richmond Greenway; and Pogo Park.

The celebration made possible with the support of the Hellman Family Foundation, City of Richmond, and hundreds of individual donors.

The day’s schedule included volunteer projects along the Richmond Greenway and a Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial and community celebration at Unity Park.

Among the community service projects were opportunities to take part in projects to transform and beautify the Richmond Greenway Trail, like tending to the Greenway Gardens, trash pickup, and planting native plant and trees.

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Activism

Sheng Thao Sworn in as New Mayor of Oakland, Pledges New Direction for the City

Mayor Thao provided a few minutes on the program to introduce to the community Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, the newly appointed deputy mayor, who has served as vice president of external affairs and dean of the school of education at Holy Names University, a leader of the Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

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Mayor Sheng Thao, sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Oakland, is flanked by her son Ben Ventura and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.
Mayor Sheng Thao, sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Oakland, is flanked by her son Ben Ventura and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Mayor Thao appoints HNU’s Dr. Kimberly Mayfield as deputy mayor

By Ken Epstein

Sheng Thao, a daughter of Hmong refugees who overcame homelessness and domestic abuse to attend university and build a life for herself and her family in Oakland, received the official oath of office Monday afternoon as the new mayor of the City of Oakland.

Sworn in at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Oakland by California Attorney General Rob Bonta, she stood on stage surrounded by friends, family, and staff members. She was flanked by her son Ben Ventura, who performed a musical piece on the cello, and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao.

The mayor called on Oaklanders to join with her to create a more humane, inclusive, and just city. She spoke about her commitment as a progressive to significantly improve the quality of life for residents, making the city safer and cleaner, building 30,000 units of truly affordable housing, fostering jobs, promoting economic development, supporting small businesses and providing solutions to homelessness that recognize the dignity of the unsheltered.

“I know what we can do together, Oakland,” she said. “Our city’s’ best days are still to come. The Oakland that we all know is possible and within our reach.”

Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield (left) with Mayor Sheng Thao. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield (left) with Mayor Sheng Thao. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Mayor Thao provided a few minutes on the program to introduce to the community Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, the newly appointed deputy mayor, who has served as vice president of external affairs and dean of the school of education at Holy Names University, a leader of the Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

In her remarks, the mayor focused on the city’s long fight to become more inclusive and equitable.

“We believe everyone deserves a seat at the table, not just a few, not just the wealthy, not just the well-connected,” she said.

“Sometimes, we take our shared progressive values for granted, our advances toward justice and equality,” said Mayor Thao.

She reminded people that “a…century ago, our city was dominated by members of the Ku Klux Klan (where) Klan members burned crosses in our hills and marched through our streets. As recently as the1970s, freeways were made possible by tearing down thriving Black, Latino, and Asian communities,” she continued.

“We recognize what we have overcome together to remember what is worth fighting for every day…(and) to take stock of how far we still have to go.”

Promising a “comprehensive” approach to public safety to make all neighborhoods in the city safer, she said she would bolster anti-crime programs like Ceasefire and “we will fill (police) vacancies with home-grown police officers who know our community, who look like us.”

At the same time, she said, the city must increase opportunities for young people, reinvigorating the summer jobs program (for youth) and enhance the school-to-work pipeline so young people can gain experience and job skills.

She said she would beef up the many city departments that are currently operating on skeleton staffing, promising to fill the staffing vacancies that “plague our city.”

Mayor Thao said she herself is a renter, and that she “will fiercely protect Oakland renters. If you are a renter in Oakland, you’ve got a mayor who’s got your back.”

Speaking about the Oakland A’s proposed waterfront real estate development promoted by former Mayor Libby Schaaf, Mayor Thao said the city will continue negotiations to keep the team “rooted in Oakland.”

“Working closely with the A’s, I’m hopeful we can reach a good deal, (based) on our Oakland values,” she said.

The former mayor’s plan for building the proposed waterfront real estate development at the Port of Oakland was dealt a major setback this week when Oakland failed to secure more than $180 million in federal funds to help pay for infrastructure development for the project.

Speaking of the importance of the appointment of Mayfield as deputy mayor, the Mayor’s Office explained her role in the new administration:

“Mayor Thao was thrilled Kimberly Mayfield agreed to join her team because of her tremendous and longstanding leadership in Oakland. In recognition of her vast experience, it was decided that the best role for her would be as deputy mayor where she will be an instrumental part of the leadership of both the Office and Oakland.”

In her introduction at the Paramount Theatre, Mayfield said, “Today is not about political agendas…It’s about the power of the people…it’s a recognition of the rejection of the status quo. This new chapter begins with a mayor that understands how to build a culture that works for everyone. Thank you, Mayor Thao for the opportunity to serve.”

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