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Op-Ed

Child Watch: From ‘Crack Baby’ to A-Student

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Marian-Wright-Edelman15
By Marian Wright Edelman
NNPA Columnist

 

The odds were stacked against Britiny Lee before she was born. Her mother was addicted to drugs, like Britiny’s grandfather and many others in their poverty-stricken Cleveland neighborhood. Britiny’s mother used drugs throughout her pregnancy and went to prison for a year just after Britiny’s birth. As a poor, Black “crack baby” with an addicted, incarcerated mother and an absent father, Britiny started life in danger.

Being born into an unstable poor family or to a single, teen, incarcerated, or absent parent are all known risk factors in America’s Cradle to Prison Pipeline® crisis. The disadvantages millions of poor children and children of color face from birth along the continuum to and through adulthood and can include no or inadequate prenatal and health care; no or little quality early childhood education and enrichment; child abuse and neglect; failing schools; grade retention, suspension, and expulsion; questionable special education placements; dropping out of school; unaddressed mental health problems; violent drug infested neighborhoods; and disproportionate involvement in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

Entering the child welfare system would have been still another risk factor for baby Britiny but she was lucky.

Her grandmother, who already had custody of Britiny’s older brother and sister, stepped in. She brought Britiny home, too.

Britiny says, “My grandmother stepped up to the plate to raise us because she didn’t want us to go into the foster care system.” Britiny’s grandmother didn’t have a lot of money, but she was a stable source of love and support throughout childhood and Britiny flourished in her care.

Despite doctors’ concerns when she was born as a drug-addicted child, Britiny was resilient and became a straight-A student who loved school from the beginning. Britiny’s grandmother was her rock even while struggling with the autoimmune disease lupus, which got worse as Britiny got older. When she was 8 years old, her grandmother suffered a seizure when they were home alone and Britiny had to call 911 and ride in the ambulance with her grandmother to the hospital.

From then on she was terrified of losing her grandmother. Britiny’s mother Felicia, who had come in and out of her life throughout her childhood, was struggling towards sobriety. Nine months after Felicia became sober, when Britiny was 10 years old, her grandmother died.

Felicia remembers the moving moment: “[My mother] held my hand and she told me, ‘Licia, I want to go home.’ And I thought that she meant go home, like put her in the car and take her home. No. She was saying she was tired and she was ready to go home to Glory . . . She looked at me in my eyes, and she said, ‘And God told me that you were ready, that you were ready to be a mom, that you’re going to be a good mom, that you’re not going to use drugs anymore, and that I could go.’”

Britiny’s mother was finally ready to step in, regain custody, and learn how to be the parent her daughter needed and deserved. Today, Britiny is a high school senior about to graduate from Cleveland’s John Hay School of Science and Medicine and dreams of becoming a cardiac surgeon. She recently received a Beat the Odds® scholarship from Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio.

She says of her beloved grandmother, “She’s looking down on me. I’m sure she’s proud, and right now I just want to make her even more proud. I want to show her that she didn’t fight for me for nothing.”

Britiny’s grandmother was one of the many caregivers raising children in “kinship care” or “GrandFamilies,” headed by grandparents or other relatives who step in when parents are unable to do so. Sometimes a child is removed from parents’ care by the state and placed with relatives in foster care; in other cases, children like Britiny are placed informally with relatives outside foster care. More than 6 million children are being raised in households headed by grandparents and other relatives. Of those 6 million, 2.5 million children are living in households without their parents present. These relative caregivers like Britiny’s grandmother are willing to care for the children, but often need financial or other help to appropriately meet their children’s needs.

A number of states have used subsidized guardianship programs to support kinship families and GrandFamilies. Kinship care has been found to help children maintain family, and oftentimes community, connections. There is also strong evidence that children placed in kinship care experience greater stability, have fewer behavioral problems, and are just as safe – if not safer – than children in non-relative care.

In Britiny’s case, all of these positive outcomes came to pass, and after her grandmother “stepped up to the plate,” a child who could easily have become a statistic is beating the odds and is a star with a bright future.

 

Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.

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Commentary

Biden, Vax Americana, and What the Recall Could Mean in COVID-19 Wars

Masking works. You can see it working. Vaccines work too, but we’re on the honor system for that. And people lie or show a fake vax cards. 

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COVID/Photo Courtesy of Stacy M. Brown NNPA Newswire 

At Oakland’s Stagebridge, I taught a class this year. One of my students couldn’t make the final. The student had COVID.

I don’t know if the student was vaccinated or whether this was a breakthrough case. But the fact remains, the COVID war must be our No. 1 priority—no matter how many people you see on TV at football games and sporting events unmasked. 

Masking works. You can see it working. Vaccines work too, but we’re on the honor system for that. And people lie or show a fake vax cards. 

This is why President Joe Biden’s speech last week, what I call his “Vax Americana” speech was so much more important than people want to admit.

It was his first get tough moment. And it reminded me of the phrase, “Pax Americana,” from post-World War II in 1945 to describe how the U.S. used its dominance to bring peace and prosperity to the world. 

After months of “nice,” Biden was a little less nice ordering federal workers to get vaxed, and OSHA to lean on employers with 100 workers to mandate vaccinations.

But all you need to remember from the speech was the last line, when Biden in a hushed, aggressive whisper said, “Get vaccinated.” 

What are you waiting for—a death bed conversion? 

It’s time to get serious about public health, about caring for our country and each other. 

We can end the war on COVID if we all do our part, masked and vaxed. 

I wonder if Biden knows about a non-profit in Stockton called Little Manila Rising

“Someone Pulled a Gun” 

You know what guns do to a situation. In the COVID wars, the anti-vaxers are insane. 

One of the handful of Filipino American canvassers for Little Manila Rising going door to door to provide the public with good information, got a rude greeting from an anti-vaxer.

“A gun!” said Amy Portello-Nelson, the head of the Get-Out-The-Vaccine drive in Stockton. The canvassers are armed only with information. No one was hurt, but you see how dangerous fighting COVID can be when you’re armed only with facts. 

Here’s what Little Manila Rising’s done in two months on the job. It has knocked on more than 32,000 doors and had 20,000 conversations. The area they’ve worked has gone from a vaccination rate of 32% to more than 50%. 

Talking to people and telling them to get vax works. It’s how we’re going to get back to normal. It’s going to take a “Vax Americana” effort.

The Recall

Of course, whatever happens with this gubernatorial recall will determine how quickly the state gets to the 70%-80% rate that gives us an effective herd immunity. 

My deadline is before any official recall results. And even then, mail-in ballots with a September 16 postmark will take time to be counted. 

The talk of voter fraud is greatly exaggerated. There’s more rhetorical fraud than anything else. 

With more than 8 million ballots in already, unless there’s a strange crossover vote, the Democrats should continue in power. 

But let’s say the recall succeeds and a person with the most votes among 46 also-rans becomes the new governor, it would not bode well for the state.

The Black conservative Larry Elder was leading among those who want to replace Governor Gavin Newsom.

Elder is an anti-vaxxer and has espoused views indicating that – under his leadership– California would look a lot more like Alabama, Texas, Louisiana and Florida on the COVID map. 

That would be the real monumental tragedy for California and for Vax Americana. 

Let’s face it, the political virus unleashed by the Republicans on our democracy is worse than COVID. 

The recall effort needs to die a natural death this week.

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Op-Ed

Opinion: Governor Newsom Has More Than Proven He’s Worthy of Office

When Newsom became lieutenant governor (2011-2019), that tenure allowed him to acquire on-the-job-training, which, in today’s electoral climate seems to be a forgotten asset. 

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Gov. Gavin Newsom. Photo by Scott Varley/MediaNews Group/Daily Breeze via Getty Images.

It seems more than 1 million Californians are upset.  They are mad at Gov. Gavin Newsom, and – in their minds- that is justification for this very expensive recall election.

I, too, was upset with Newsom long before he became the Golden State’s top leader.  It was circa 2010, the period when Newsom initially sought the gubernatorial post.  I so wanted to participate in that campaign, but my excitement was short-lived.  In deference to Jerry Brown’s candidacy Newsom withdrew, and his decision upset me.  Why, you ask? I had longed to support a gubernatorial candidate that displayed capacity, commitment, compassion, competence and, might as well say it, a degree of coolness.

When Newsom became lieutenant governor (2011-2019), that tenure allowed him to acquire on-the-job-training, which, in today’s electoral climate seems to be a forgotten asset.

The lessons I gleaned from observing the lieutenant governor would alleviate any ire.  Even prior to holding that position, as mayor of San Francisco from 2004-2011, Newsom weathered controversies, again on-the-job-training. However, all told, nothing like the ones contrived by today’s dissenting voices that have amassed this recall election with some 40-plus contenders.  I’ve stopped trying to make sense of it; I just voted my reconstituted anger, “NO” on the recall.

My mind won’t let go of questions I would love to get answers on from the contenders:

  • Describe your experience balancing budgets of, let’s say, more than $200 billion?
  • What accomplishments did you achieve while serving in elected office?
  • Where were you and how did you show up during the raging firestorms of the past and present?
  • What are your commitments and plans to mitigate homelessness in California?
  • What allocations did you facilitate for small businesses to help them during this COVID-19 pandemic?
  • Are you vaccinated against COVID-19? Have you encouraged others to get vaccinated?

Of course, there are many more questions I’d love to get answers to but, I am busy organizing and planning because, when the smoke clears and the drought ends, I want a clear conscious and an experienced leader.

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Commentary

No Further Delays on Launching MACRO!

City Administration must implement Civilian Crisis Responders Program and keep planned community advisory board 

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Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan

COMMENTARY 

At this week’s Public Safety Committee, councilmembers received an update on the status of launching Oakland’s emergency civilian responder program, Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland (MACRO).

I, along with my Council colleagues, call on the City Administration for the speedy implementation of this important public safety service as an in-house program and to include meaningful community input and involvement, as was previously directed by the Council to include a community oversight board.

The implementation of this program is highly awaited and urgently needed, as the goal is to provide services to those experiencing non-violent crises. A Community Intervention Specialist, Emergency Medical Technician, and a Case Manager would respond to non-violent crisis calls, rather than a police officer.

This would simultaneously free police to respond to violent crimes.

In 2019, the idea of this program was presented as part of my budget proposal, with strong grassroots community backing and an informational memo brought by Councilmember Noel Gallo. 

That same year, I successfully allocated the funding for the feasibility study of creating this civilian mobile response program in my budget amendments.

The City Council then approved $1.85 million in the FY 2020-21 Mid-Cycle Budget Amendments (88174 CMS) to implement the proposed program. On Dec. 15, 2020, my resolution to pursue the option for in-house hiring process for MACRO was adopted (88433 CMS).

In 2020, the City Council, along with strong community support, pushed to fund the launching of the pilot. With the goal of improving coordination, response, and creating job opportunities for the communities in which MACRO will be launched, Council, along with community grass-roots organizations,  called on the program to be launched as an internal city program.

Earlier this year, Noel Gallo and President Pro Tem Sheng Thao advocated to have the program in-house within the Oakland Fire Department (OFD). Bas and Councilmember Dan Kalb introduced the resolution that was unanimously adopted by Council directing the establishment of MACRO within OFD and creating an Advisory Board, which would consist of crisis health service experts, individuals impacted by the criminal legal system, unsheltered individuals, domestic violence survivors, youth, and/or survivors of state violence, to serve as advisory partners to the Oakland Fire Department in further developing MACRO.  

The state has shown support of MACRO by responding to my advocacy letter, asking for funding; Senator Skinner included $10 million for the launch of MACRO in the state budget. 

Meanwhile, other cities have successfully launched similar programs including Olympia, Wash., Portland, Ore., and Albuquerque, N.M. 

Thanks to strong grassroots advocacy working together with Council members, we were able to pass the proposal to launch civilian responders for Oakland, and to win funding in both the city budget and state budget to support this vital public need.

We know that this type of program can save dollars and save lives.  We call on the administration to launch it timely and effectively, and include vital community input, to ensure success.

“It’s urgent that the Administration implement MACRO, Oakland’s mobile crisis response program in the Fire Department. Oaklanders agree that we need medical professionals and crisis responders to address mental health and other non-violent issues, allowing police to focus on violent crime,” said Bas.

Gallo said, “I am thankful for my colleagues on the council who supported launching MACRO in-house in the fire department. Working together we can provide effective civilian responders to provide community needs and handle low-level calls that do not require a police officer.”

Added Thao, “The City Council committed to its goals to reimagine public safety with the funding of the MACRO program, and I join my colleagues and the community in urging the City Administration to implement this important emergency response program. Oakland cannot wait for this common sense and holistic approach to public safety any longer.”

 

Watch the September 14  Public Safety Committee Zoom Meeting at: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87171430933

“The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.”

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