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COMMENTARY: Schools and streets have been named after Martin Luther King Jr. 

Those who misrepresent King and Critical Race Theory are illogical, and they only reveal their fear of him. There is no need to fear this American Black preacher who preached nonviolence and love. King was a peaceful warrior who was radically obedient to Jesus, who taught us to love even our enemies.

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Striking members of Memphis Local 1733 hold signs whose slogan symbolized the sanitation workers’ 1968 campaign. (Via Walter P. Reuther Library/Wayne State University)
Striking members of Memphis Local 1733 hold signs whose slogan symbolized the sanitation workers’ 1968 campaign. (Via Walter P. Reuther Library/Wayne State University)

By Dr. J. Alfred Smith Sr. | Baptist News Global

J. Alfred Smith Sr.

J. Alfred Smith Sr.

Churches and libraries are named after him. He is the only African American and the only American clergy honored with a national holiday. In many countries around the world, he is numbered with global heroes like Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela.

Some discredited him by calling him a communist, a detractor and troublemaker. Sophisticated ideological historians are deconstructing his history in order to distort the powerful truth of his ministry. Those who pass laws against teaching Critical Race Theory are making sure that present and coming generations will not learn as Professor Cornel West said, that King’s universal religious commitments led him to internationalize the American ideals of democracy, freedom and equality.

Those who misrepresent King and Critical Race Theory are illogical, and they only reveal their fear of him. There is no need to fear this American Black preacher who preached nonviolence and love. King was a peaceful warrior who was radically obedient to Jesus, who taught us to love even our enemies.

“There is no need to fear this American Black preacher who preached non-violence and love.”

Forgive us, Lord, for our ignorance

Forgive us, Lord, for reducing Martin Luther King to being only a civil rights leader. Forgive us, Lord, for our ignorance. All many people know about him is that he had a dream. He was more than a dreamer. Forgive us for ignoring your calling of Martin Luther King as a minister with good news for a bad news world.

In keeping with Luke 4:18-19, King — like Jesus — had a deep commitment to the poor, pushed down, left out, disrespected Black sanitation workers of Memphis. He addressed, to the displeasure of the white power structure, the basic constitutionally guaranteed rights of the Black population — equitable education, decent housing, jobs that paid living wages, and equal justice in the courts. The sanitation workers had lost their lives working long hours for dirt-poor pay with unsafe trucks that had taken the lives of several workers.

The workers had a strike with the support of many in the community. They carried signs that said, “I AM A MAN!” Some critics of King did not understand his identification with the cause of sanitation workers.

On March 28, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy, right, lead a march on behalf of striking Memphis sanitation workers. (AP Photo/The Commercial Appeal, Sam Melhorn)

On March 28, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy, right, lead a march on behalf of striking Memphis sanitation workers. (AP Photo/The Commercial Appeal, Sam Melhorn)

Professor Luther D. Ivory states in Toward a Theology of Radical Involvement that King used the teaching of Imago Dei to counter the notion of Black inferiority. Everyone irrespective of race, gender, education or economic status is to be valued and treated with respect and dignity. Blacks needed this message to overcome feelings of shame, inferiority and self-hatred caused by the absurdities of racism.

With this understanding, the foundation is built for Blacks and whites to live together in the beloved community. Living in the beloved community calls for Blacks and whites to work together to transform existing injustices in institutions and public life.

Forgive us, Lord, for our distorted gospel

Martin Luther King speaks to an overflow crowd at a mass meeting at Holt Street Baptist Church in Memphis. (AP Photo/Gene Herrick)

Martin Luther King speaks to an overflow crowd at a mass meeting at Holt Street Baptist Church in Memphis. (AP Photo/Gene Herrick)

Lord, forgive American Christians — Black and white — for their middle-class captivity with a distorted view of the gospel. This understanding of the gospel was concerned about life after death and not life after birth, addressing only the sweet by and by while ignoring the nasty now and now. This gospel condemns the personal sins of the individuals while ignoring corporate and institutional evils. This gospel refused to oppose chemical and nuclear waste dumps that are built on the edge of communities where the poor and politically powerless live.

In his book Stride Toward Freedom, King corrects the distorted view of the gospel saying: “The gospel deals with the whole man, not only his soul, but his body; not only his spiritual well-being, but his material well-being. … Any religion which professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the conditions that scar the soul is a spiritually moribund religion only waiting for the day to be buried.”

Forgive us, Lord, for our white nationalism

Forgive America, Lord, for her ethnocentrism and white nationalism that justifies her behavior whether it is right or wrong. American arrogance has been promoted by persons who have held the highest leadership positions in the nation. America has promoted herself as being No. 1 among the wealthy nations of the world.

In “A Lament for Humanity” on Humans Rights Day 2021, pastor, author and judge Wendell Griffen wrote, “The world’s richest 1% have more than twice as much wealth as 6.9 billion people. Nearly half the world’s population of 3.4 billion people lives on less than $5.50 per day. Every year, 100 million people are pushed into poverty because they must pay out-of-pocket for health care. Currently 258 million children (one out of five) will not be allowed to attend school.”

Pastor Griffen adds: “And it came to pass that humanity appears to have cursed itself and the world by that greed, lust for power, inequality and bigotry that make community seem like a global fantasy instead of a human imperative.”

The inequality is not accidental; it is deliberative, calculated and purposeful.

Forgive us, Lord, for we were warned by King in his last book, Where Do We Go from Here? He wrote, “We have inherited a large house, a great world house in which we have to learn to live together, Black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu. A family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who because we can never live apart, must somehow learn to live with each other in peace.”

Forgive us, Lord, for our violence

Martin Luther King delivers a sermon on May 13, 1956, in Montgomery, Ala. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Martin Luther King delivers a sermon on May 13, 1956, in Montgomery, Ala. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Forgive us, Lord, for our worship of guns. There are more guns in America than people. Our money says “In God We Trust” but there are 121 firearms for every 100 residents. And 75% of homicides are related to guns. America leads all other nations in gun deaths. Our children have fears of being killed in school by a student. Black Christians in churches and Jews in synagogues have been killed while worshipping. Our shopping centers have had mass killings.

On Jan. 6, 2021, the U.S. Capitol was invaded by persons with guns attempting to stop the counting of the Electoral College votes. The reports say the lives of the vice president and the Speaker of the House were marked for death.

Guns are used to settle differences. The United States is the No. 1 seller of arms to the countries of the world. Forgive us, Lord, for giving deaf ears to the apostle of nonviolence. He preached against what he called the triplets of evil: war, poverty and racism. It was he who said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

A prayer for hope

May those of us who have become discouraged because racism seems to be on the increase find hope. May those of us who have become discouraged because white supremacy and white nationalism are boldly obtaining a stronger foothold in state and national governments find hope. May those of us who have become discouraged because voting rights for which people shed their blood so we could vote are now being stolen, placing democracy in jeopardy find hope.

Forgive us, Lord, if we forget how Martin Luther King told us in his very last speech that we would face difficult days. Those days are here.

Two months before his assassination on April 4, 1968, he spoke powerful words of hope. We must not forget them. He said, “We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.”

Yes, the immediate future may not look promising. Negative news about climate change may haunt us. Young college graduates are uncertain about career opportunities. The COVID-19 virus and its mutations trouble us. These finite disappointments multiply geometrically, but we must not lose infinite hope.

I am not speaking of blind hope but an infinite hope that presses forward believing that if we do our part, our way-maker God, who brought us through the Middle Passage, the horror of runaway slaves chased by bloodhounds and beaten with many stripes if caught, the sexual abuse of the slave woman bearing a mulatto child for the slave owner, and the way-maker God of liberation who helped us survive the terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan and inspired our preachers to preach on after their churches were burned and to rebuild them back bigger — that this God will inspire us and create in us the power to keep the dream alive.

Not the God of the slave master’s preacher who told us not to steal the master’s chickens when our babies were crying from hunger, but the God of infinite hope, the God who creates ex nihilo, who makes a way out of no way. The way-maker God inspires us and creates in us the power to keep the dream of Martin Luther King alive.

Dante Stewart reminds us how Pastor James Bevel spoke about infinite hope: “There is a false rumor around our leader’s death. Martin Luther King is not our leader. Our leader is the man who led Moses out of Egypt. Our leader is the one who went with Daniel in the lion’s den. Our leader is the man who walked out of the grave on Easter morning. Our leader never sleeps nor slumbers. He cannot be put in jail. Our leader is still on the case. Our leader is not dead. One of the prophets died. We will not stop because of that.”

Alfred Smith served four decades as pastor of Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, Calif. Now pastor emeritus, he is a member of the American Baptist Churches in the USA and dually aligned with the Progressive National Baptist Convention, where he served as the organization’s 12th president.

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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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Why Sarah Syed Is My Choice for AC Transit Board of Directors, Ward 3.

As the AC Transit board president, a challenge I am confronted with is that traditional transit planning practice has ignored the pervasive issues of segregation, displacement, and exclusion from opportunity. Although the impacts of redlining can be felt in almost every aspect of life: from access to high quality education, to job opportunities and even healthy food options, our region doesn’t invest in transit service to repair past harms.  

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Elsa Ortiz is the AC Transit board president and the retiring Ward 3 director, which includes Oakland, San Leandro, and Alameda.
Elsa Ortiz is the AC Transit board president and the retiring Ward 3 director, which includes Oakland, San Leandro, and Alameda.

By Elsa Ortiz, President of AC Transit Board

The challenge of inequitable transportation access is felt by tens of thousands of residents in inner East Oakland and communities of color across the Bay Area.

These challenges are compounded by the legacy of redlining, which systematically denied Black and Brown residents access to homeownership and lending programs. Ultimately, the American dream of homeownership, investment in communities and building generational wealth was blocked.

As the AC Transit board president, a challenge I am confronted with is that traditional transit planning practice has ignored the pervasive issues of segregation, displacement, and exclusion from opportunity. Although the impacts of redlining can be felt in almost every aspect of life: from access to high quality education, to job opportunities and even healthy food options, our region doesn’t invest in transit service to repair past harms.

Last week, aboard an AC Transit bus, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg toured Oakland as part of his new effort to repair the damage done by large federal transportation projects, like freeways, which divided neighborhoods where people of color were the majority of the population.

Residents of underserved communities are the experts in understanding what they need. Unfortunately, the number of local political leaders who are ready to invest in transportation equity are few and far in between. Therefore, we have important ballot choices on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Sarah Syed, a candidate for AC Transit Board Ward 3, is the leader our region needs to turbocharge equitable cities. As a mixed-race woman, Sarah understands that access to transit is a question of equity. Through her work with the Bay Area Rapid Transit, the Valley Transportation Authority, and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, as a transportation planner and engineer of 20 years, Syed worked to help underserved communities.

In Los Angeles, where 88% of riders are people of color, Sarah took on a heavily bureaucratic system and planned enhancements to the routes disadvantaged riders were already using, including improving service frequency to every 10 minutes on two lines, new bus shelters at nearly 400 locations, and improvements along six different streets to extend the sidewalk and improve street safety and accessibility to bring better bus service.

Through her work with UC-Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute, Syed is helping community-based organizations and local government agencies in eight communities across the state of California so that local equity leadership can drive the agenda of transportation planning to meet the priority concerns of underserved residents

As your next AC Transit Director for Ward 3, Syed will champion policy-based interventions to close equity gaps, equitable hiring and personnel practices.

She will work to build broad, ethnically inclusive coalitions to stand up for bus transit and communicate its value in ways that inspire members of the public and potential political allies.

When we improve bus service, we make our cities better places to live and help address some of America’s deepest problems.

Please join me, State Senator Nancy Skinner, Supervisor Nate Miley, the Alameda County Democratic Party, the three Mayors in Ward 3, and three BART Directors in supporting Sarah Syed for AC Transit Ward 3.

Elsa Ortiz is the AC Transit board president and the retiring Ward 3 director, which includes Oakland, San Leandro, and Alameda.

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We Will Not Incarcerate Our Way Out of This

Housing is a human right. We can use public resources to ensure everyone has a safe place to live and effective mental health and substance use treatment. Instead, we’ve gutted our social programs to the point where they don’t function and assume this lack of functionality means there’s no solution.

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As we’ve overfunded police and underfunded housing, treatment, and other essential services, we’ve seen more policing but less safety.
Last week, California Highway Patrol (CHP) and CalTrans violently evicted the Wood Street community, the largest encampment in the Bay Area.

People Are Liberating Public Spaces to Fight the Criminalization of Poverty

By Cat Brooks

How many times have you walked by an unhoused neighbor and told yourself it’s their fault, that they made the wrong life choices?

But the truth is that our unhoused crisis is the result of decades-long policies that criminalize poverty, addiction and mental health disabilities and treat human beings like garbage to be swept away with Friday’s trash while ignoring root causes.

Every city in the U.S. responds to visible poverty with fences, fines, cops, courts, and cages. These shortsighted responses make great photo ops, and let politicians pontificate, but all only accomplish terrorizing the most vulnerable, who move into new neighborhoods and reestablish their right to exist.

No matter how many arrests or evictions, the people will continue to be, and as part of that being — reclaim public spaces.

When San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen called for the erection of fences around the 24th Street Bart Plaza, the community struck back and retook the plaza. @MissionDeFence_SF posted a statement in solidarity with other current public land struggles, including: People’s Park in Berkeley, Parker Elementary in Oakland, Echo Park in Los Angeles and Mystic Garden in Daly City.

These struggles are proof positive that the power lies with the people who will rise up, resist and reclaim the people’s space.

Last week, California Highway Patrol (CHP) and CalTrans violently evicted the Wood Street community, the largest encampment in the Bay Area. CHP (the 4th most murderous law enforcement agency in California) descended on the camp for phase one of an armed eviction that will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Wood Street’s estimated 200-300 residents are being offered little relocation support or resources. Only a fraction has been given shelters or RV spots. Two were arrested for non-violent civil disobedience amidst an outpouring of community support.

Most of the Wood Street folks are Black, several are elders, many extremely vulnerable, and almost all are victims of gentrification and criminalization.

I was there to bear witness as the state demolished a tiny home, towed RVs, and destroyed lives. No effort was made to move their homes and belongings. Mayor Libby Schaaf doesn’t believe the city has any obligation to do so.

In an open letter to Schaaf, Governor Gavin Newsom, and others, residents offered concrete solutions and laid out their needs. They’ve been asking for sanitation services and fire safety for years. They’ve been ignored.

In their letter, they wrote, “The Wood Street community stands strong in our determination to keep our community together. We plan to continue organizing and fighting for long-term and permanent housing solutions.”

For now, they’ll be forced to move into residential areas where NIMBYS will call cops to protect their fragile senses from the brutality of visible poverty. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

This story is playing out across California.  Instead of meeting people’s basic needs, the state legislature does things like “CARE Courts” — to force unhoused people into court-ordered treatment that will cost millions and target Black and brown folks. The bill is Governor Newsom’s brainchild and a continuation of criminalizing the unhoused under the guise of “care” which he’s done since his days as mayor of San Francisco.

Housing is a human right. We can use public resources to ensure everyone has a safe place to live and effective mental health and substance use treatment. Instead, we’ve gutted our social programs to the point where they don’t function and assume this lack of functionality means there’s no solution.

Poverty is a political choice. Oakland’s unhoused population increased 24% since 2019 (thank you Libby), yet the Town spends 10 times as much on police as it does on housing.

As we’ve overfunded police and underfunded housing, treatment, and other essential services, we’ve seen more policing but less safety. We are less safe when we build walls to keep unhoused neighbors out of public spaces. We are less safe when we respond to mental health crises with a badge and gun.

We are less safe when the treatment plan for substance use problems is a cage.

If seeing unhoused people makes us uncomfortable, then we should invest in housing for all. If public drug use offends us, then we should invest in safe injection facilities (a proven public health intervention that Newsom just vetoed).

If watching someone experience a mental health crisis is distressing, then we should invest in community-driven approaches to support individuals in crisis.

Until we do these things, no matter how much our elected officials try to sanitize the crises we face, the people will keep knocking down fences to liberate public spaces.

Cat Brooks is co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, executive director of the Justice Teams Network and host of Law & Disorder on KPFA, a new show that exposes the cracks in our system and agitates for resistance.

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