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COMMENTARY: Prayers and COVID-19 Prevention — A Black Church Near You Is Here to Help

The pastors in our network, their congregations, staff, and volunteers at our churches and in our community have done an excellent job. Their effort has contributed in no small way to the high COVID-19 vaccination rate and lower positivity rate we now have in California. We are truly proud and grateful.

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Oakland Pastor Gerald Agee encourages African Americans to continue to take precautions regarding COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Pastor Gerald Agee 
Oakland Pastor Gerald Agee encourages African Americans to continue to take precautions regarding COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Pastor Gerald Agee 

By Rev. Gerald L. Agee | Special to California Black Media Partners

Holiday celebrations have come, and while many families have safely gathered this season, we know that COVID-19 has not taken a vacation.

The Omicron variant now poses a new danger. And cases have begun a gradual rise again here in California and around the country. Therefore, we can never be too careful when it comes to keeping our loved ones safe and healthy. The death rate resulting from COVID-19 is 15% higher for Black Californians than the statewide average, according to numbers from the California Department of Public Health.

Black pastors across California recognize the urgency of this threat. We have accepted the responsibility of this fight, and we understand as faith leaders in our communities that we must combine faith with action. Prayers for healing and health must be backed up by a plan for protection and prevention.

That is why dozens of faith leaders across our state have worked together to open the doors of our churches for convenient COVID-19 testing and some sites offer vaccinations. This effort to keep our congregations and our neighborhoods safe has been made possible with the support of our testing partner Color and the California Department of Public Health.

The pastors in our network, their congregations, staff, and volunteers at our churches and in our community have done an excellent job. Their effort has contributed in no small way to the high COVID-19 vaccination rate and lower positivity rate we now have in California. We are truly proud and grateful.

As we mark the end of 2021 and usher in the new year, some of us may get together with people we love to reflect, celebrate, give thanks, and to ask God for grace and wisdom in 2022. During this time, we must be accountable to each other and prioritize safety, especially for those among us who are aging or otherwise fragile.

As our slogan tells us, “Don’t guess, get the test” before going back to work or school. Look up one of our centers in your community to get vaccinated and tested. It is the surest way that we can stem the spread of this virus.

As we walk into the uncertainties of the next year, we must decide to renew our hope and lead with faith even stronger than we have had this past year. With that resolve, committing ourselves to keeping each other and our communities safe will be easy.

Remember, we can push through this pandemic together and we can beat it.

The Rev. Gerald L. Agee is the founder and pastor of Christian Friendship Church in Oakland and the statewide manager for the Black church testing program.

Activism

City Receives $3 Million Grant to Advance Violence Prevention Among School-Age Youth

Although the Department of Violence Prevention works to advance community outreach with life coaching, gender-based violence services, violence interruption, and community healing, this funding is focused on the family systems model, targeted specifically at Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) schools for school-site violence intervention and prevention teams.

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Guillermo Cespedes is the head of Oakland’s Dept. of Violence Prevention.
Guillermo Cespedes is the head of Oakland’s Dept. of Violence Prevention.

By Post Staff

The City of Oakland’s Department of Violence Prevention (DVP) has received a $3 million, three-year grant to support its violence interruption efforts.

In partnership with the Oakland Public Fund for Innovation, the Gilead Foundation awarded the grant to invest in health equity strategy, including a focus on prevention and intervention services to school-age youth, disrupting the pattern of violence.

“The Gilead Foundation is proud to support the Oakland Fund for Public Innovation and the City of Oakland’s Department of Violence Prevention,” said Kate Wilson, executive director of Gilead Foundation.

Chief of Violence Prevention with the City of Oakland Guillermo Cespedes said the grant will allow “DVP to strengthen families and protect its members from becoming involved in lifestyles associated with violence, while increasing educational outcomes and lifelong learning skills.”

Although the Department of Violence Prevention works to advance community outreach with life coaching, gender-based violence services, violence interruption, and community healing, this funding is focused on the family systems model, targeted specifically at Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) schools for school-site violence intervention and prevention teams.

Students who are routinely exposed to violence at home or in the community often experience toxic stress that leads to cognitive impairment, hyperactivity, and attention deficits that make it challenging to succeed in the classroom.

Exposure to violence also contributes to lower school attendance and a higher likelihood of suspension, which further promotes disengagement from school.

Using a public health approach, the DVP will strengthen family, school, and community contexts for OUSD school students living in neighborhoods with high rates of violence, to reduce their exposure to violence and increase their chances of succeeding academically.

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Activism

OPINION: Oakland Could Take More Innovative Steps to Help Solve Homelessness 

We must ensure that we are able to build sufficient housing, especially that which is affordable. Oakland is currently producing under 10% of our state Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) requirements for very low-income housing; in contrast, we have met our goals for market-rate housing.

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Janani Ramachandran is running for City Council seat for District 4. Photo courtesy of Janani Ramachandran 
Janani Ramachandran is running for City Council seat for District 4. Photo courtesy of Janani Ramachandran 

By Janani Ramachandran

First, we must conduct a comprehensive audit of where our homelessness dollars are being spent. The recent City Auditor’s report revealed $69 million was spent on homelessness services for 8,600 people over the past three years – yet at least half the participants are believed to have returned to homelessness. We must conduct a deep dive into the third-party entities receiving homelessness contracts and to what extent they use evidence-based models of homelessness reduction.

Second, we must establish a regional board across all neighboring East Bay towns because homelessness certainly crosses borders, and the financial costs of assisting our unhoused while building affordable housing should not exclusively fall on Oakland. We must develop a plan to build on land owned by cities, CalTrans, BART, EBMUD, and other public agencies. A regional strategy must also include better partnership with the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, which is primarily responsible for providing meaningful mental health and addiction services. Oakland must ensure that our residents in need are able to access the County’s supportive services, regardless of language or technological barriers, and not waste funds duplicating efforts.

Third, we must ensure that we prioritize homelessness prevention, whether tenants or homeowners, from losing their homes. The city should re-allocate some of its homelessness dollars to provide emergency vouchers to at-risk individuals, prioritizing households with children and elders.

Finally, we must ensure that we are able to build sufficient housing, especially that which is affordable. Oakland is currently producing under 10% of our state Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) requirements for very low-income housing; in contrast, we have met our goals for market-rate housing.

There’s little doubt as to why – it’s expensive. Each unit of permanent housing may cost up to $500,000 to build. The elimination of redevelopment agencies under Governor Jerry Brown was a severe blow to Oakland’s ability to build affordable housing, and we must compensate for that by ensuring developers pay their fair share.

This involves drafting an inclusionary zoning ordinance (moving away from the current tiered “in-lieu fee” system) to ensure that developers either include a percentage of affordable units in new buildings, or pay an impact fee, up front and at the start of construction, that directly funds other affordable housing projects.

But the private sector should not shoulder this burden alone – we must be more proactive in applying for competitive state and federal funds. This will require our city to streamline internal processes to help nonprofit or private developers secure local funding (which is generally the first step in applying for state and federal grants) with predictable deadlines.

Underlying all of these priorities, our policymakers must shift their perspective and recognize that those who are housing-insecure or unhoused are not a monolith. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but my stated priorities will hopefully begin to move us forward in the right direction.

Janani Ramachandran is a public interest attorney and former Oakland Public Ethics Commissioner running for Oakland City Council District 4.  For more informationJananiForOakland.com

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Activism

Through Ads and Advocates, Battle Over Calif. Gambling Propositions Heat Up

A statewide survey by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), conducted between Sept. 2 and 11 and released on Sept. 15, revealed that 54% of California voters would vote “no” for Prop 27, while 34% would vote “yes.” Twelve percent of the respondents were “unsure.” The survey’s authors wrote that a strong majority of Republicans wouldn’t vote for the proposition, compared to half of Democrats and independents.

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The dueling propositions have raised a combined $400 million for advertising leading up to Election Day this November.
The dueling propositions have raised a combined $400 million for advertising leading up to Election Day this November.

By McKenzie Jackson | California Black Media

Clint Thompson, a Santa Monica resident in his 30s, wouldn’t say he has been inundated with advertisements supporting or denigrating Propositions 26 and 27, but he sees an ad focused on one of the legislations each time he turns on his television.

“I usually watch the news during the day — NBC — and on NBC, Prop 26 or Prop 27 comes on every other commercial break per show,” said Thompson, an actor, who admitted he hasn’t researched the sports gambling propositions. “Both of the props seem to have good things with them. The commercials seem to have reasons why you should say ‘yes,’ or ‘no.’”

Prop 26 would legalize roulette, dice games, and sports betting on Native American tribal lands if approved by voters in the Nov. 8 election. It is backed by over 50 state Native American tribes.

Prop 27, supported by sportsbooks DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, Fanatics, PENN Entertainment, and WynnBet, would give those sports betting companies the reins in sports gambling in the Golden State and allow online gambling.

If people like Thompson feel the advertisements from the campaigns for and against the propositions seem to be flooding the television and radio airwaves — and to be ever-present on social media (Watched a YouTube video lately?) — they might be right.

The dueling propositions have raised a combined $400 million for advertising leading up to Election Day this November. That has led to ads backing and slamming the two propositions to be front and center in all forms of media Californians consume.

Dinah Bachrach of the Racial Justice Allies of Sonoma County, a group supporting Prop 26, said the proliferation of ads supporting Prop 27 is concerning.

“They are all over the place,” Bachrach said. “Gambling is already a pretty big business, but to be able to do sports gambling online is dangerous because it hurts what tribal casinos have been able to do for their communities in the state.”

According to Bachrach, Prop 26 protects the sovereignty of native tribes. “It’s a really important racial justice issue,” she said. “Indian casinos provide a tremendous amount of financial support for the casino tribes and the non-casino tribes, and they contribute a lot locally and to the state.”

Bachrach’s organization is one of several civil rights or African American organizations that have thrown its support behind Prop 26.

Santa Clarita NAACP spokesperson Nati Braunstein said in an email, “The NAACP supports Prop 26, which would legalize retail sports betting at California tribal casinos only and opposes Prop 27 which would allow online sports betting via mobile sportsbooks.”

Kathy Fairbanks, speaking for the Yes on 26/No on 27 coalition, composed of California Indian tribes and tribal organizations, and other partners, said winning the approval of every potential voter, including Black Californians, is their goal.

Yes on 27 – Californians for Solutions to Homelessness, the campaign arm of Prop 27 backers, had not returned California Black Media’s requests for comment for this story as of press time. Prop 27 proponents say in ads and the Yes on 27 website repeats that the initiative would help solve California’s homelessness crisis.

Prop 27 imposes a 10% tax on adjusted gross gaming revenue. Eighty-five percent of the taxes go toward fighting California’s homeless and mental health challenges. Non-gaming tribes get the remaining 15% of tax revenue.

Organizations such as Bay Area Community Services, Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness, and individuals including Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Bay Area Community Services CEO Jamie Almanza, and Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians Chairman Jose “Moke” Simon are listed as Prop 27 supporters on the Yes on 27 website.

On the campaign’s Facebook page, commenter Brandon Gran wrote under an advertisement photo that voting for Prop 27 was a “no brainer.”

“People are already gambling using offshore accounts,” he typed. “Why not allow CA to get a piece of the pie … money that will (hopefully) go to good use.”

However, a statewide survey by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), conducted between Sept. 2 and 11 and released on Sept. 15, revealed that 54% of California voters would vote “no” for Prop 27, while 34% would vote “yes.” Twelve percent of the respondents were “unsure.”

The survey’s authors wrote that a strong majority of Republicans wouldn’t vote for the proposition, compared to half of Democrats and independents.

“Regionally, majorities in the Inland Empire, Orange/San Diego, and the San Francisco Bay Area would vote ‘no,’ while likely voters in the Central Valley and Los Angeles are divided,” they wrote. “At least half across most demographic groups would vote ‘no.’ Likely voters age 18 to 44 (52%) and renters (51%) are the only two demographic groups with a slim majority voting ‘yes.’”

The survey, titled “PPIC Statewide Survey: Californians and Their Government,” did not ask participants about Prop 26. The Yes on 26/No on 27 coalition, said in a news release that the PPIC’s research confirmed what Prop 26 supporters have said for some time.

“Despite raising more than $160 million for a deceptive advertising campaign, California voters are clearly not buying what the out-of-state online gambling corporations behind Prop 27 are selling,” the statement read.

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