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California’s First African American Controller Malia Cohen Takes Office

“I am proud and honored to serve as California’s state controller,” said Malia M. Cohen. “The work to create a more equitable California has already begun. I look forward to ensuring fiscal accountability, with an eye toward transparency and innovation.

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Malia Cohen was sworn in by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Jan. 3. Photo by Robert Maryland, California Black Media.
Malia Cohen was sworn in by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Jan. 3. Photo by Robert Maryland, California Black Media.

By Antonio‌ ‌Ray‌ ‌Harvey‌, ‌California‌ ‌Black‌ ‌Media‌

Last week, Malia M. Cohen was sworn in as the first Black woman — and first African American — to serve as California’s state controller.

On Monday, Jan. 2, the oath of office was administered by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“I am proud and honored to serve as California’s state controller,” said Cohen. “The work to create a more equitable California has already begun. I look forward to ensuring fiscal accountability, with an eye toward transparency and innovation.”

On Jan. 6, Cohen was given the oath of office by San Francisco Mayor London Breed with her husband Warren Pulley by her side.

The community event was held at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Sacramento.

California now has three Black politicians holding Constitutional offices including Cohen. Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond are the others.

“Congratulations @MaliaCohen. As California’s first Black state controller, Malia has made history and continues to break barriers while helping build long-term equity throughout our communities. I’m confident she will continue fighting for the rights of all Californians,” Breed stated in a Jan. 6 post on her Twitter page.

“I am excited to get to work on creating a more equitable California as your next Controller,” Cohen tweeted on Jan. 6.

Cohen was elected to the California Board of Equalization (BOE) in November 2018 and was named chairperson in 2019 and 2022. As Controller, Cohen continues to serve BOE as its fifth voting member.

Prior to being elected to BOE, Cohen was president of the Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco. As a member of that body, she also served as the chair of the Budget and Finance Committee and president of the San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System (SFERS).

Cohen was born and raised in San Francisco. Her political journey, she says lightheartedly, began when she was elected class president of San Francisco’s Lowell High School, the oldest public high school on the West Coast.

She has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Fisk University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), and a master’s degree in public policy and management from Carnegie Mellon University.

She and her husband reside in San Francisco along with their daughter.

As the chief fiscal officer of California, Cohen is responsible for accountability and disbursement of the state’s financial resources. The controller also has independent auditing authority over government agencies that spend state funds.

Cohen’s duties include being a member of numerous financing authorities, and fiscal and financial oversight entities including the Franchise Tax Board. She also serves on the boards for the nation’s two largest public pension funds.

At the St. Paul Baptist Missionary Baptist Church swearing-in, Kenneth Reece, the senior pastor, gave the opening prayer.

Held at the church six miles from the State Capitol, Cohen’s swearing-in ceremony included prayers offered by Imam Yasir Kahn, the chaplain of the California State Assembly, and Rabbi Mona Alfi, the senior rabbi of Congregation B’Nai Israel.

Among the guests were Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), Director of Bay Area Rapid Transit Bevan Duffy, California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Lorena Gonzalez, the singer Aloe Blacc and Jaqueline Thompson, pastor of Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland.

Cohen’s swearing-in was held on the second anniversary of the attack on the U.S. Capitol. The day was packed with political activities in Sacramento and overshadowed by references to the infamous Capitol insurrection in Washington that shocked people across the country and around the world.

That day, Newsom was sworn in to a second term. Rob Bonta was also sworn-in for the first time as the state’s attorney general. He was appointed to the position by Newsom in March 2021.

Before Newsom’s outdoor ceremony, the governor, his wife, and four children led a march from West Sacramento, across the Tower Bridge, to the Capitol. During the governor’s address on the steps of the Capitol, he shared his feelings about the attack on the U.S. Capitol two years ago while addressing some of the state’s most pressing issues.

“Our politics doesn’t always reward taking on the hardest problems. The results of our work may not be evident for a long time. But that cannot be our concern,” Newsom said. “We will prepare for uncertain times ahead. We will be prudent stewards of taxpayer dollars, pay down debt, and meet our future obligations. And we will build and safeguard the largest fiscal reserve of any state in American history.”

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Antonio‌ ‌Ray‌ ‌Harvey‌

Shirley Weber Sworn in as California’s First Elected Black Secretary of State

The Secretary of State is the chief elections officer of the state, responsible for overseeing and certifying elections, as well as testing and certifying voting equipment for use in California. Weber’s duties also include overseeing the state’s archives division and registry of businesses.

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As her grandchildren Kadir and Jalil Gakunga looked on California Secretary of State Shirley Weber was sworn in to her first term in the position by Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego). CBM photo.
As her grandchildren Kadir and Jalil Gakunga looked on California Secretary of State Shirley Weber was sworn in to her first term in the position by Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego). CBM photo.

By Antonio‌ ‌Ray‌ ‌Harvey‌, California‌ ‌Black‌ ‌Media‌

On Jan. 9, with the sound of African drumming in the background, Shirley Weber was sworn in as the first elected Black Secretary of State (SOS) of California and the 32nd person to hold the position.

The ceremony was conducted at the SOS’ auditorium in downtown Sacramento, one block south of the State Capitol.

Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego) administered the oath of office in front of Weber’s grandsons Kadir and Jalil Gakunga.

“I want to thank all of those who work so hard to make this position, the Secretary of State — and all of those wonderful things that come with it — possible, and for being in my life,” Weber said. “I have been blessed beyond imagination with all of the good things California has to give.”

The daughter of a sharecropper from Hope, Arkansas, Weber said she is “not supposed to be here” as the state’s chief clerk, overseeing a department of 500-plus employees.

Weber grew up in a two-room, “clapboard house” in Arkansas with her parents and five other siblings before the family relocated to Los Angeles where they lived in Pueblo Del Rio, a housing project known as the “pueblos.”

Weber said the “data” projected that she would not have a bright future. Still, she went on to graduate from UCLA with a PhD, serve on the San Diego Board of Education, teach African American studies at San Diego State University, and successfully run for California State Assembly in November 2012.

“My father came from Hope, Arkansas, because there was no hope in Hope,” Weber said. “He came to California because he wanted his children to have a better chance and a better life.”

When Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Alex Padilla the state’s junior U.S. Senator in January 2021, he nominated Weber as SOS. Padilla filled in for Sen. Kamala Harris, who had been elected U.S Vice President. Weber was officially installed as SOS in April 2021.

Weber’s plan after serving in the Legislature was to move to Ghana, Africa, and “build a house up in the hills.” But that all changed when Newsom called.

“It was hard for me to think about becoming Secretary of State because I was so content in the Assembly,” Weber said. “When I was asked to be Secretary of State, I thought hard and long about it. I realized that everything about the Secretary of State was central to my life. I thought to myself that I am always the one taking the hard challenges. I said who better than a kid of sharecropper, who never had a chance to vote, who could fight for the rights of voters.”

The Secretary of State is the chief elections officer of the state, responsible for overseeing and certifying elections, as well as testing and certifying voting equipment for use in California. Weber’s duties also include overseeing the state’s archives division and registry of businesses.

In her remarks, Atkins praised Weber’s “leadership” and “morality” and called her “a tireless champion of democracy,” adding that those characteristics are integral to performing the duties of Secretary of State.

Atkins told guests that she first met Weber when she was 24 years old and that Weber helped her run for state Assembly.

For the first time in its history, California has three Black constitutional officers. The others are Controller Malia M. Cohen and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.

“You know, our constitutional officers are unique, and I give credit to our Governor (Gavin Newsom) and the people of California.”

“There is no other list of constitutional officers like this? Where do you have a list of constitutional officers where it only has one white male in it? That is unheard of. The diversity (and) the fact that women are constitutional officers in California is historic.”

Weber’s daughter, Assemblymember Akilah Weber (D-San Diego) was the ceremony’s emcee while Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) provided the invocation. David Bauman’s African drumming and musical selections by Dr. Tecoy Porter, pastor of Genesis Church Sacramento and president of the National Action Network Sacramento Chapter and his Genesis Church choir provided the entertainment. Weber’s son Akil Weber provided the closing statements.

“Words cannot express how truly proud I am of what my mother has done, what she will continue to do, the door she has opened, the legacy she is creating,” Assemblymember Akilah Weber said of her mother.

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Activism

State Task Force Getting Closer to Identifying What Reparations Look Like

The five-member expert panel, appointed by the task force, is quantifying past economic injustices African Americans faced in the state and elsewhere, and determining what or how much compensation should be made to Black people living in California.

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The five-member expert panel, appointed by the task force, is quantifying past economic injustices African Americans faced in the state and elsewhere, and determining what or how much compensation should be made to Black people living in California.
Economic experts for the California Reparations Task Force Dr. Kaycea Campbell, right, and Williams Spriggs, left, explain to the 9-member panel in Los Angeles that the group has “rough estimations” for five harms that could be used to determine compensation. CBM photo by Antonio Ray Harvey.

By Antonio‌ ‌Ray‌ ‌Harvey‌
California‌ ‌Black‌ ‌Media‌

The California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans will be conducting its last meeting of 2022 on Wednesday, Dec. 14, and Thursday, Dec. 15, at Oakland City Hall Chambers located at 1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza adjacent to 14th Street.

The start time is 9 a.m. for both days beginning with one hour of public comment. The meetings will be live streamed via the official Task Force website or ETM Media on YouTube.

Task Force Chairperson Kamilah Moore says that the next meeting is of high importance “for a few reasons,” and will include an in-depth conversation about redress and repair.

“No. 1, we will begin to refine community eligibility standards (including residency requirements); No. 2, we’re inviting leaders from local/municipal reparations efforts from across the state to share their incredible work (i.e., Oakland, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Russell City, Palms Springs etc.),” Moore said in a written statement on Dec. 1. “No. 3, it will be the first-time task force members will collectively discuss and begin to determine what types of reparation proposals will be in the final report that will be released in June 2023.”

The task force’s two-year charge is scheduled to end in June 2023.

California’s AB 3121, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom into law in 2020, created the nine-member task force to investigate the history and costs of slavery in California and around the United States.

The law charges the Reparations Task Force with studying the institution of slavery and its lingering negative effects on Black Californians who are descendants of persons enslaved in the United States.

From the information they collect, the task force will develop reparation proposals for African Americans and recommend appropriate ways to educate Californians about the task force’s findings.

After the task force decided who would be eligible for compensation in March, the panel approved a framework for calculating how much should be paid — and for which offenses — to individuals who are Black descendants of enslaved people in the United States.

An expert panel reported to the task force in March that a “conservative estimate” of 2 million African Americans in California have ancestors who were enslaved in the United States. According to the U.S. 2020 Census, there are about 2.6 million Black Californians out of a total state population of nearly 40 million residents.

The five-member expert panel, appointed by the task force, is quantifying past economic injustices African Americans faced in the state and elsewhere, and determining what or how much compensation should be made to Black people living in California.

The expert panel includes William Spriggs, chief economist for the AFL-CIO and former chair of the Department of Economics at Howard University; Thomas Craemer, Public Policy professor at the University of Connecticut; Dr. Kaycea Campbell, CEO for Ventana Capital Advisors and Los Angeles Pierce College associate professor of Economics; Dr. William A. “Sandy” Darity Jr., director of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University; and Kirsten Mullen, a writer, and lecturer whose work focuses on race, art, history, and politics.

All five experts participated on the first day of the two-day meeting held at the California Science Center in Los Angeles two months ago. Spriggs and Campbell attended the event in person, while the other three experts appeared virtually.

Campbell and her colleagues discussed with the task force the “models” to provide a “road map” that would determine how reparations would be “paid and measured.”

Milagro Jones, a participant at the Reparation Task Force meeting in Los Angeles, holds up a 500-page interim report that was submitted to the California Legislature in June 2022. CBM photo by Antonio Ray Harvey, Sept. 23, 2022.

Milagro Jones, a participant at the Reparation Task Force meeting in Los Angeles, holds up a 500-page interim report that was submitted to the California Legislature in June 2022. CBM photo by Antonio Ray Harvey, Sept. 23, 2022.

The experts presented “five harms or atrocities,” down from the 13 they originally proposed, that could be used to determine compensations.

Campbell said the five categories under review will not be “exhausted” until they have received enough data to complete the process.

“This is not to say that other harms and atrocities are not important. As soon as, or if we get better data or more recent data, then we can, in fact, go through the process of what these look like,” Campbell said.

The experts made “rough estimates,” of property unjustly taken by eminent domain, devaluation of Black businesses, housing discrimination, the disproportion of mass incarceration and over-policing, and health inequities as the major harms.

Task Force Member Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Inglewood) released the following statement as clarification that the task force has not proposed that California compensate descendants of slaves with direct compensation for historical housing discrimination.

Bradford said, “Since its formation, a lot of misinformation and willful misrepresentation of the work from the Task Force has been released. The fact is that the Task Force has not completed its work and has made no formal recommendations to the Legislature. It’s important that we be deliberative and get this right because the nation is watching and it’s more than likely ours will be the model for all to follow.”

Members of the community and media are encouraged to visit the Reparations Task Force website and subscribe to the task force’s mailing list for updates at: https://oag.ca.gov/subscribe or call (213) 519-0504.

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Activism

Panel Discusses Supreme Court Case Threatening End of Affirmative Action

On Oct. 31, SCOTUS listened to oral arguments in two cases challenging race-conscious student admissions policies used by Harvard University and the University of North Carolina (UNC) to promote creating diverse student populations at their schools. The case emerged in 2014, when SFFA, a nonprofit advocacy organization opposed to affirmative action, brought an action alleging Harvard violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (Title VI).

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On Oct. 31, SCOTUS listened to oral arguments in two cases challenging race-conscious student admissions policies used by Harvard University and the University of North Carolina (UNC) to promote creating diverse student populations at their schools. The case emerged in 2014, when SFFA, a nonprofit advocacy organization opposed to affirmative action, brought an action alleging Harvard violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (Title VI).
“(Ending Affirmative Action) essentially, completely upends our ability to level the playing field and remediate for centuries of discrimination and marginalization,” said panelist Lisa Holder, an attorney and president of Equal Justice Society (EJS).

By Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media

A webinar hosted by ChangeLawyers, the American Constitution Society (ACS) Bay Area, and Equal Justice Society was held Nov. 15 to discuss the possible outcomes of the pending decision by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in the case of Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. Harvard.

The online event titled, “The End of Affirmative Action: How SCOTUS Is Coming After BIPOC Students” delved into the impact of banning the consideration of race as a factor during the college admissions process.

Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) students would be affected by such a ruling, said panelist Lisa Holder, an attorney and president of Equal Justice Society (EJS). EJS is an Oakland-based nonprofit and civil rights organization that does work geared toward transforming the nation’s consciousness on race through law, social sciences, and the arts.

“(Ending Affirmative Action) essentially, completely upends our ability to level the playing field and remediate for centuries of discrimination and marginalization,” said Holder. “If you do not have intervention and take affirmative steps to counteract continued systemic racism, it’s going to take hundreds of years to repair those gaps. It will not happen by itself.”

Holder is also a member of the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans, a nine-member panel established after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 3121, authored by then-Assemblymember Shirley Weber. The task force is investigating the history and costs of slavery in California and is charged with recommending an appropriate remedy for the state to implement.

Also participating on the End of Affirmative Action panel were Sally Chen, education equity program manager at Chinese for Affirmative Action, and Sarah C. Zearfoss, senior assistant dean for the University of Michigan Law School.

Shilpa Ram — senior staff attorney for Education Equity, Public Advocates and a board member of the ACS Bay Area Lawyer Chapter — was the moderator.

On Oct. 31, SCOTUS listened to oral arguments in two cases challenging race-conscious student admissions policies used by Harvard University and the University of North Carolina (UNC) to promote creating diverse student populations at their schools.

The case emerged in 2014, when SFFA, a nonprofit advocacy organization opposed to affirmative action, brought an action alleging Harvard violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (Title VI).

SFFA argues that Harvard instituted a race-conscious admissions program that discriminated against Asian American applicants. SFFA also alleges that UNC is violating the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, by unfairly using race to provide preference to underrepresented minority applicants to the detriment of white and Asian American applicants.

Chen, of Chinese for Affirmative Action, is a first-generation college graduate from a working-class immigrant family. She is an alumna of Harvard College. She was one of eight students and alumni that gave oral testimony in support of affirmative action in the 2018 federal lawsuit Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. Harvard.

“Particularly as these cases were taking advantage of a claim that Asian American students don’t benefit from Affirmative Action or are harmed; we really saw how this was a misrepresentation of our community needs,” Chen said of hers and seven other students’ testimonies. “My testimony really spoke to that direct experience and making clear that Asian American students and communities are in support of affirmative action.”

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued Executive Order 11246, requiring all government contractors and subcontractors to take affirmative action to expand job opportunities for minorities.

Fifty-seven years later, a decision by SCOTUS could be reached at the end of the current term in late June or early July 2023 banning affirmative action. The decision would dismantle race-conscious admission policies that overwhelmingly help BIPOC students create a better future for themselves, members of the panel stated.

“Schools take race into account as a factor in admission because that is the single-best, most effective way to create a racially diverse class,” Zearfoss said.

Zearfoss directs the University of Michigan Law School Jurist Doctorate (JD) and Master of Law (LLM) admissions and supervises the Office of Financial Aid.

California ended affirmative action policies in 1996 with the passage of Proposition 209.

Prop 209 states that the government and public institutions cannot discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to persons based on race in public employment, public education, and public contracting.

Proposition 16 was a constitutional amendment designed to repeal Prop 209, but the initiative was defeated by voters in 2020. Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber introduced the legislation that was the basis for Prop 16 when she was a state Assemblymember for the 79th District.

“When we no longer live in a white supremacist society then we can start thinking about ending these interventions that are necessary to counteract preferences for white people that exist and continue to exist,” Holder said.

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