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Oakland Post

Civil Rights Activist and Publisher Paul Cobb Turns 77

Michelle Snider

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Happy 77th Birthday Post News Group Publisher Paul Cobb. Mr. Cobb was a young civil rights activist in 1965 drawn to voter registration battles in Selma, Ala., he worked as a reporter for the Oakland Post.
In December 2004, Mr. Cobb purchased the newspaper, vowing to continue stories that impact the Black community without excluding issues that impact others as well, acknowledging that many social issues are intertwined.
He is known as a West Oakland community organizer who once led the Oakland Citizens Committee for Urban Renewal and served as a mayoral appointee on the Board of Education.

Associate Editor for The Post News Group. Writer, Photographer, Videographer, Copy Editor, and website editor documenting local events in the Oakland-Bay Area California area.

Activism

Silicon Valley congressman tackles Black maternal mortalities

The legislative package consists of a dozen bills aiming to prevent maternal mortalities. It would provide funding for further research, increase telehealth services for those in underserved communities and establish grants to help diversify the perinatal workforce, including doulas and midwives. It would also invest in community-based health organizations that work to promote equity and improve maternal health outcomes.

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Kira Johnson is pictured in this file photo. Photo courtesy of Johnson family.

Washington, D.C.—Charles Johnson said he quickly notified hospital staff when his wife’s catheter turned pink with blood. His wife, Kira Johnson, had just given birth to their second son during a scheduled cesarean section at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Staff examined his wife and ordered a CT scan, he said, but hours passed and no one performed the procedure.

“My wife was shivering uncontrollably because she was losing so much blood,” said Johnson, who was speaking during a recent congressional hearing examining the high rate of maternal mortality among Black women. “… I was begging and pleading, please do something, help her.”

But Johnson told legislators his wife didn’t receive proper medical attention for 10 hours—and by then it was too late. Kira, a Black woman, died from massive internal bleeding.

“It was not my wife’s race that was a risk factor; she did everything right,” said Johnson. “It was racism that was the risk factor.”

Black mothers in the U.S. are about three times more likely than white mothers to die from childbirth-related causes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They further experience higher rates of miscarriage and infant loss. Native Americans are also more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women.

Several medical experts testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform last week and urged lawmakers to address this growing crisis. Other witnesses, like Johnson and Rep. Cori Bush (D-Missouri), shared their personal experiences.

In an interview with San José Spotlight, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Fremont) said all the testimonies were deeply moving.

“I knew about the issue from a statistics perspective and a theoretical perspective, but the hearing brought home to me how much this impacts black women’s lives,” he said. “It’s not even a class issue. It affects people who are members of Congress.”

The congressman, who co-sponsored the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021, said its passage is crucial.

The legislative package consists of a dozen bills aiming to prevent maternal mortalities. It would provide funding for further research, increase telehealth services for those in underserved communities and establish grants to help diversify the perinatal workforce, including doulas and midwives. It would also invest in community-based health organizations that work to promote equity and improve maternal health outcomes.

“It’s something that I’m passionate about,” said Khanna, who sits on the committee. “I have been a lead sponsor on the bill and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure we get this into law.”

More than 200 organizations have endorsed the bill, including the NAACP, Johnson & Johnson and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

Dr. Tamika Auguste, who submitted a written testimony to the committee on behalf of the ACOG, told legislators many health disparities are linked to systemic inequities in income, housing or education. But she explained that wasn’t the full story.

“Although some inequities diminish after taking these factors into account, many remain because of factors at the patient, health care system and practitioner level,” she wrote. “Racism and implicit bias on the part of health care professionals contributes to racial and ethnic disparities in health outcomes.”

When it comes to maternal health, the U.S. lags behind other similarly developed nations. The CDC found approximately 700 women die each year as a result ofpregnancy or delivery.

Although the national maternal mortality rate has risen in recent decades, California has worked to reverse that trend. The state saw maternal mortality decline by 55% between 2006 to 2013, according to the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative.

Rev. Jeff Moore, the president of the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP, said a push to improve maternal health care is long overdue. The death rate of Black women during pregnancy is striking, he said, and far more work needs to be done to protect mothers and babies.

“We need to have more black and brown doctors, more doctors who look like them and specialize in this type of treatment,” he said. “More of an effort needs to be made to teach and train black physicians to be in these communities.”

Czarina Bowers would also love to see more diversity among the doulas and midwives in the South Bay area. Bowers, the co-founder of Silicon Valley Doulas, is a certified doula and lactation counselor.

“That would be fantastic for the diverse community that we live in,” she said.

Bowers added she has seen racial biases “in action” while working as a doula.

“We have had clients who told providers they were in pain and they were not believed,” she said. “As a doula, I had to step in and say, ‘Hey, there’s something wrong here and this needs attention.’”

Although it’s important to examine data while working to find solutions, Johnson reminded legislators last week that there are people and families behind those numbers.

“There is no statistic that can quantify what it is like to tell an 18-month old that his mommy is never coming home,” he said.

Kira, who died in 2016, was an entrepreneur who ran marathons and spoke five languages. Her husband said she had a sunny personality and was thrilled to learn she was expecting a second child. Johnson said their kids would grow up without a mother because his wife gave birth in a country that didn’t value her.

“We must and we can do better,” he said.

Contact Katie King at KatieKingSJS@gmail.com or follow @KatieKingCST on Twitter.

 

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Black History

Wadie Jean Johnson Amar, 87

We will remember her forever, as she is lifted in God’s gentle embrace into the silent land, and we, her children, family, and friends will never cease to feel her holding our hands throughout the rest of our lives.

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Wadie Jean Johnson

  Wadie Jean Johnson Amar, the daughter of the late Wade and Maggie Johnson, was born on Jan. 1, 1934, in Wichita, Kansas. After Wadie’s parents relocated to Oakland, she attended Cole Grammar School and later graduated from Oakland High School. 

     She was blessed with four lovely children: Wade, Rene, Jalna and Gary. Wadie Amar professed her faith in Jesus Christ and joined Cooper Zion AME Church, where she was recognized by many for her musical talents. From that day forward, she was a song leader and soloist in the choir.

   Wadie never had a problem finding employment. She was a clothing salesperson for Hirsch and Company, a skip tracer (bill collector) for Mel Benning and Associates, a public relations specialist with Chicago Title Company, and later she became the office manager for a law firm.

    Wadie provided for all of her children in grand style, as she loved them all. She was preceded in death by her parents Maggie Nola Johnson and Wade Hamilton Johnson; sister, Vera Leola Pitts and grandson Pascal Sarouté Amar.

    She leaves to mourn her passing sons, Wade Gregory Amar and Gary Randall Amar; daughters, René Elisse Amar and Jalna Arlene Amar; grandchildren, Drake Anthony Dawson, Nicole Amar Rutland, and Jaderienne Rachelle Minger; and great-grandchildren, Cheyenne True Amar and Dash Cutler Dawson.

     We will remember her forever, as she is lifted in God’s gentle embrace into the silent land, and we, her children, family, and friends will never cease to feel her holding our hands throughout the rest of our lives.

 

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Community

Students, Community Organizations Ask Judge to Order Mental Health Services, Internet Access

Arguing that appropriating billions of dollars alone will not ensure action, community organizations and parents from Los Angeles and Oakland are asking an Alameda County Superior Court judge to order the state to immediately provide computers and internet access and address the mental health needs of children who have borne the brunt of the pandemic.

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Arguing that appropriating billions of dollars alone will not ensure action, community organizations and parents from Los Angeles and Oakland are asking an Alameda County Superior Court judge to order the state to immediately provide computers and internet access and address the mental health needs of children who have borne the brunt of the pandemic.

The May 3 request for immediate relief comes six months after the plaintiffs sued the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. Now, they are seeking a preliminary injunction to force the state to respond. Superior Court Judge Winifred Smith has set June 4 for a hearing.

“The state cannot just write big checks and then say, ‘We’re not paying attention to what happens here,’” said Mark Rosenbaum, a directing attorney with the pro bono law firm Public Counsel. Public Counsel and the law firm Morrison and Foerster filed the lawsuit on behalf of 15 children and two organizations: The Oakland Reach and the Community Coalition, which is based in Los Angeles. 

In their initial, 84-page filing, they claimed the state had shirked its responsibility to ensure that low-income Black and Latino children were receiving adequate distance learning, with computers and internet access the Legislature said all children were entitled to. Instead, they argued, children “lost precious months” of learning, falling further behind because of poor internet connections, malfunctioning computers and a lack of counseling and extra academic help.

“While the COVID-19 pandemic was unavoidable, these harms were not. Yet for most of this period, state officials constitutionally charged with ensuring that all of California’s children receive at least basic educational equality have remained on the sidelines,” the plaintiffs argued.

Angela J., of Oakland, whose three children are plaintiffs in the case, elaborated on the difficulties they encountered during a year under distance learning in a declaration filed with the latest plaintiffs’ motion. 

Although she is president of the PTA, her school has been uncommunicative and unresponsive to requests for technical help and lesson plans, she wrote. Her children are falling behind and “suffering emotionally,” she said. Her third-grade twins are supposed to be doing multiplication and division but are struggling with subtraction. “They are supposed to be able to write essays, but they can barely write two sentences.”

The Oakland Reach and the Community Coalition have stepped in with technical help and support for hundreds of families that district schools should have provided, the plaintiffs’ motion said. The Community Coalition hired tutors and partnered with YMCA-Crenshaw to provide in-person learning pods with 100 laptops on site. The Oakland Reach hired 19 family liaisons, started a preschool literacy program and offered online enrichment programs for students.

Months passed, infection rates declined, schools made plans to reopen, and then in March, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature appropriated $6.6 billion in COVID-19 relief that school districts can put toward summer school, tutoring, mental health, teacher training and other academic supports. By June 1 — less than a month from now — districts and charter schools are required to complete a report, after consulting with parents and teachers, on how they plan to spend the money.

But the plaintiffs argue in their latest filing, “this funding comes with no oversight, assistance, or enforcement to ensure that the funds will be used properly to address the issues relating to digital devices, learning loss, and mental health support.” And there’s no requirement that districts begin this summer to address the harm that the most impacted students have felt, the statement said.“Schools are indeed ‘reopening’ to one degree or another, but absent a mandate that all students receive what they need to learn and to catch up, or any guidance from the State that would help them do so,” the filing said.

In a statement, California Department of Education spokesman Scott Roark acknowledged that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted those who “are vulnerable by historic and systemic inequities,” and cited the department’s work obtaining hundreds of thousands of computers, expanding internet access and providing guidance to educators on distance learning for highest-needs students.

“As we work to return children back to the classroom, we will maintain a laser focus on protecting the health and safety of our school communities while providing the supports needed to ensure learning continues and, where gaps persist, is improved,” the statement said.

In passing legislation accompanying the state budget last June, the Legislature laid out requirements for distance learning that school districts must meet to receive school funding. They included providing all students with access to a computer and the internet. 

Missing, however, was an enforcement requirement, like the monitoring that’s used to verify that students in low-income schools have textbooks, safe and clean facilities and qualified classroom teachers. That system was set up in 2004 through a settlement of Williams v. State of California, in which low-income families sued the state over its failure to assure safe and equitable conditions in schools.  

At the time, Rosenbaum was a lead attorney for the ACLU of Southern California, which brought the lawsuit with Public Advocates and other civil rights organizations.

Despite efforts by Thurmond and districts over the past year to get technology in place, Thurmond estimated in October that as many as 1 million students lacked devices or sufficient bandwidth to adequately participate in distance learning from home. Between federal and state funding, districts have plenty of money to buy computers, and the Legislature is considering several bills to fund internet access statewide (see here and here). 

They won’t solve the immediate challenge, but they could become relevant if there were to be a settlement in this case, as in the Williams lawsuit.

Among their requests, the plaintiffs are asking the court to order the state to:

  • Determine which students lack devices and connectivity and ensure that districts immediately provide them;
  • Ensure that all students and teachers have access to adequate mental health supports;
  • Provide weekly outreach to families of all low-income Black or Latino students to aid in transitioning back to in-person learning through August 2022;
  • Provide a statewide plan to ensure that districts put in place programs to remedy the learning loss caused by remote learning.

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