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Debate Team Members Find Passions and Success

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By Jonathan Morales, SFSU News

For the first 21 years of her life, Sabrina Sakdikul didn’t know how to pronounce her last name. At school, she came up with jokes to explain away the difficult English pronunciation rather than accept her name for what it was.

Today, as a member of the San Francisco State University Forensics Team, she draws on those experiences in a poetic speech about the marginalization of non-European sounding names. With four of her teammates, she will bring her work to a national competition. From that large platform she will bring to light the issues she cares about.

“Although people might not think my piece is socially significant, I think it is,” said Sakdikul, a senior at SF State. “I think it needs to be said, and when I’m up there, it’s my 10 minutes for me to tell everyone why what I’m saying is important.”

Sakdikul, along with sophomore Adreanna Tirone and junior Ashley Johnson, qualified for the American Forensics Association’s (AFA) National Individual Event Tournament, which will take place April 3-6 in Portland, Oregon.

Senior Samantha Binley and junior Alex Carey will compete in the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) nationals to be held March 20-24 in Wichita, Kansas.

The AFA tournament is for individual events such as persuasive speeches or poetic and prose performances on topics of the speaker’s choice. The CEDA event will feature two-person teams of debaters battling rhetorically over whether one or all of the following should be legalized in the U.S.: marijuana, prostitution, online gambling, the sale of human organs or physician-assisted suicide.

“It’s intense,” Tirone said of the national-level competitions. “There are so many people who are just so good, and everybody is what we call ‘on point’ with their performances, so you get to see some pretty amazing performers and some pretty interesting topics.”

Ashley Johnson, left, will compete at the AFA National Individual Event Tournament, and Samantha Binley will compete in the Cross Examination Debate Association nationals March 20-24.

Ashley Johnson, left, will compete at the AFA National Individual Event Tournament, and Samantha Binley will compete in the Cross Examination Debate Association nationals March 20-24.

SF State’s team has, not surprisingly, developed a reputation for pushing the boundaries of which topics are appropriate for, or even worth bringing to, a speech or debate tournament. Sakdikul recently performed a piece about bodily functions and society’s controlling desire to keep women’s bodies “pristine.” Carey has written arguments about “cyborg feminism,” queer theory and gender binaries. Previous forensics team members have developed speeches on such topics as the femininity of indigenous women and incorporated slam poetry as a political debate technique.

“One of the things SF State celebrates is innovation, and that’s very true for the forensics team,” said Alexis Litzky, a lecturer of communication studies and director of the forensics team. “Our students push against argument boundaries, and that helps them be successful.” Despite having fewer resources than many of the teams they compete against, she added, SF State students frequently make it to the elite rounds of national events.

Johnson said her love of speech and debate grew out of her participation in theatre as a high school student. At the AFA event, she’ll perform a poetic interpretation on the topic of debt bondage in America as well as a prose interpretation based on the biography of Claudette Colvin, a teenage civil rights pioneer whose refusal to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, preceded the more well-known Rosa Parks’ by nine months.

“I read [her biography] and thought, I have to do this,” Johnson said. “This is such an interesting person that not a lot of people know about. She’s not well known in history books either.”

Like her fellow teammates, Johnson won’t be coming to the national event for the first time. “You get to meet a lot of people from different schools,” she said. “You develop a camaraderie, even though we’re all competing.”

Binley said that camaraderie is what has kept her passionate about forensics, but she also credits the leadership of Litzky, who “helps everyone not just in debate but with life lessons.” Binley is hoping to start graduate school soon and plans to stick with the activity she says has broadened her thinking.

“I never really knew what feminism was, or queer theory,” she said. “It’s been the most awesome experience ever because it has opened my eyes to different ideas that I would have never thought about before.”

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Activism

Oakland Promise and Kaiser Support Promising Student

Kaiser Permanente gave a significant grant to Oakland Promise, helping it reach a $50 million goal for its Generation Fund, which will offer college savings accounts and scholarships to all low-income Oakland public school students while they’re pursuing college degrees or trade certificates.

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Kaiser Permanente partners with Oakland Promise to cultivate mentor program, scholarships, academic guidance. Pictured, Kaiser Permanente mentor Ingrid Chen, MD, at right, with Sandy La, who begins her second year of college this fall.
Kaiser Permanente partners with Oakland Promise to cultivate mentor program, scholarships, academic guidance. Pictured, Kaiser Permanente mentor Ingrid Chen, MD, at right, with Sandy La, who begins her second year of college this fall.

By Carla Thomas

When Sandy La applied to two programs while a senior at Oakland High, she had no idea the Oakland Promise program would truly reward her for being a promising student on the rise. Now a successful student at UC San Diego majoring in Public Health, La has spent over 12 months mentored by Kaiser Permanente Oakland psychiatry resident Ingrid Chen. For Chen, mentoring a student and just being there for her was key.

Kaiser Permanente gave a significant grant to Oakland Promise, helping it reach a $50 million goal for its Generation Fund, which will offer college savings accounts and scholarships to all low-income Oakland public school students while they’re pursuing college degrees or trade certificates.

“The program is very well organized, and very accessible for busy working people,” said Dr. Chen. Kaiser Permanente is partnered with Oakland Promise to cultivate mentor programs, scholarships and academic guidance.

La was one of the lucky few of 300 to 400 Oakland high school students who received college scholarships ranging from $2,000 to $16,000 each year from Oakland Promise, and Dr. Chen is one of the 34 mentors from Kaiser Permanente who help keep them in college, often forming long lasting friendships.

“When I first moved to Oakland in 2020 to start my residency, the social justice movements spotlighting racial inequality in our society inspired me to help the community,” said Dr. Chen. “My parents are first generation Taiwanese immigrants, so I have a heart for immigrant families and other groups that are often marginalized in society.”

Dr. Chen makes herself available to La and one other student to talk about anything and help them identify opportunities in college and beyond.

“It’s been great to have someone to talk to and support me,” said La, who says the extra support really matters.

Dr. Chen says it has been great getting to know La and supporting her. La says the support has been a great confidence booster and she now pays it forward while counseling incoming freshmen. “I’m majoring in public health because I want to make a difference in health care and solve some of the disparities in the field,” said La.

Kaiser Permanente is also a founding sponsor of Oakland Promise, said Yvette Radford, Kaiser Permanente Northern California vice president of External and Community Affairs. “Oakland Promise is creating brighter futures for children and families by supporting children at every stage in their lives, from the day they’re born to the day they graduate from college,” said Radford. “This innovative public-private partnership is helping Oakland’s children become more successful in school and in life.”

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Activism

Meet the Woman Who Spearheaded Equity, Inclusion in the Business World

Among many things, Mason Tillman Associates conducts disparity studies that show how equitably or inequitably governments distribute contracts to outside businesses. “We have been able to improve the lives of many minority and woman business owners,” said Eleanor Ramsey, president and CEO of the firm Mason Tillman Associates, adding that the work has been helping them secure contracts and improve profitability.

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Eleanor Ramsey, president and CEO of Mason Tillman Associates, a consulting firm that shines the light on unfair practices in government contracting nationwide. (Pat Mazzera/Mason Tillman Associates via Bay City News)
Eleanor Ramsey, president and CEO of Mason Tillman Associates, a consulting firm that shines the light on unfair practices in government contracting nationwide. (Pat Mazzera/Mason Tillman Associates via Bay City News)

By Keith Burbank, Bay City News

Eleanor Ramsey, president and CEO of the firm Mason Tillman Associates, has been creating change for Black people and other minorities long before she started consulting.

In an interview last Wednesday at her office in downtown Oakland, Ramsey said she first worked on easing racial conflict by serving on the student relations council in high school. The goal was to integrate the lunchroom in a school that consisted of 80% white students and 20% Black students.

Ramsey went on to get a doctorate in anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley and has been operating Mason Tillman Associates since starting it in 1978. Her firm’s name is a combination of Ramsey’s maiden name, Mason, and Tillman, a last name by which her husband was known.

Among many things, Mason Tillman Associates conducts disparity studies that show how equitably or inequitably governments distribute contracts to outside businesses.

“We have been able to improve the lives of many minority and woman business owners,” Ramsey said, adding that the work has been helping them secure contracts and improve profitability.

Mason Tillman Associates’ statistical research has revealed institutional practices systemically limiting minority businesses’ access to public contracts.

The company’s disparity study research and policy recommendations have helped identify and modify governments’ practices. Consequently, billions of dollars have been distributed more fairly in over 150 cities, counties, and states since 1978, she said. For example, New York State’s current minority business law is predicated on a Mason Tillman disparity study.

Oakland officials were at first reluctant to release a disparity study for their city, causing an outcry from the Black community. The study — kicked off by Ramsey’s firm — was eventually released in November 2020. Mason Tillman Associates plans to update it following a year of talks.

The company is also credited with preparing the nation’s first competitive disparity study, which was done for Maricopa County, Arizona, in 1990.

Disparity studies aren’t just the right thing to do, they’re the law. Following a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson, disparity studies must be prepared to document the need for awarding contracts to minorities. Lawmakers can no longer give preference to minorities without evidence from a study.

Ramsey suspects 300 to 400 studies have been conducted since the SCOTUS decision.

She has also been at the forefront of breaking through ceilings for businesswomen.

“The notion of the glass ceiling was very real,” she said, adding that for Black women, the ceiling was made of “concrete.”

Starting Mason Tillman Associates gave her an occupation when doors were closed for Black women following her attempt to become a university professor, she said.

“You walked a fine line,” said Ramsey.

Women could not come off as too intelligent without offending men. She refined the art of levity to make people feel comfortable.

Before Mason Tillman Associates, Ramsey worked as a flight attendant for the now-defunct yet iconic Pan American Airways. She was the second Black female flight attendant to be hired by Pan Am, which was the only international carrier in the U.S. in the 1960s. Pan Am was known for its stewardesses — now called flight attendants, another positive change for women in the workforce.

Ramsey managed to earn her doctorate in 1977 while raising six children. Then she applied for jobs as a professor and neither UC Berkeley nor the University of Colorado Boulder would hire her. Society wasn’t ready for a Black female professor, she said.

Her experience has taken her on some interesting journeys. While living in Boulder, she secured a contract with the National Park Service to investigate whether Wilberforce, Ohio, was once part of the underground railroad. That, she said, was the start of her consulting business.

Since starting Mason Tillman Associates 44 years ago, Ramsey has trained many professionals in the company’s Oakland headquarters. The firm continues to help redefine managers’ views of Black businesses in agencies nationwide.

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Activism

New Lifelong Medical Center Holds Dedication Ceremonies in Richmond

In a pre-dedication ceremony, Dr. Brazell H. Carter, president of the Robinson Weeks Robinson (RWR) scholarship program and a physician at LifeLong, officially welcomed early attendees in the RWR Conference Room, announcing that the WJHC has been in full operation since the facility opened in February 2020. The dedication was postponed in March 2020 because of the pandemic

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Lifelong Medical Center
Lifelong Medical Center

By Clifford L. Williams

A cascade of blue and white balloons, amazing colorful artwork, and nearly 300 excited patrons, were all part of the grand dedication last week for the LifeLong William Jenkins Health Center (WJHC), located at 150 Harbour Way in Richmond, CA.

In a pre-dedication ceremony, Dr. Brazell H. Carter, president of the Robinson Weeks Robinson (RWR) scholarship program and a physician at LifeLong, officially welcomed early attendees in the RWR Conference Room, announcing that the WJHC has been in full operation since the facility opened in February 2020. The dedication was postponed in March 2020 because of the pandemic

Dr. Nathan Stern, Associate Medical Director of the LifeLong William Jenkins Health Center, discussed some of the services available at the huge, 33,000 sq. ft., three-story complex. “We are the only LifeLong facility in Richmond, with services for newborns to older adults.”

“We have the only urgent care services in Richmond which are currently open five days a week, in addition to a behavioral health department that includes mental health therapy for adults. Since its opening, the center has served over 80,000 patients.”

“We also have a very active prenatal program. Many pregnancies have come through the facility. We have an 18-resident Family Medicine residency program which started over two years ago, with our first class scheduled to graduate next summer. The faculty will bring with them a lot of specialty services including podiatry, acupuncture, procedure clinics, women’s health procedures, and radiology.”

“In addition, we have a large dental clinic that includes services from extractions to implants, as well as COVID-19 labs where staff can provide COVID testing and vaccinations. The LifeLong faculty also has a wellness center which focuses on healthy eating, and exercise classes which have been conducted via hybrid classes and Zoom because of the pandemic.”

The WJHC accepts MediCal and Medicare patients, as well as people who do not have any insurance at all. “As a federally-qualified health center, we do not deny medical services to anyone, even if they don’t have the ability to pay,” said Dr. Stern.

“Our main population of patients, nearly 70%, have MediCal, and since May of this year, that number has increased significantly. Other patients, about 15%, are uninsured. Some patients may pay on a sliding scale from $45 to $115, based on their income.”

As one of the leading Scholarship Funds in West Contra Costa County, the RWR scholarship has been at the forefront of making a difference in the community since 1989. The program supports students with ambitions in medicine and S.T.E.M. programs, looking to create a lasting change. Dr. Carter, who oversees its operation, has been providing medical services for over 40 years.

Dr. Carter is a Bay Area community leader in health medicine. He practiced at his facility on McDonald Avenue in Richmond for the last 40 years until he joined LifeLong as a practicing physician. He also is a director of four nursing facilities in the area.

Dr. Stern noted that there’s a big difference in how well the County takes care of undocumented residents. “There are fewer services out here for those patients,” said Stern. “When it comes to the health care the County provides, it’s on a different level.

“I’m amazed what a great health center this is in Contra Costa County. Having this health center with all these outstanding services and community resources is why I came to work here. The only other medical facility is the nearby Kaiser Hospital.”

LifeLong has another large clinic in San Pablo, however, the facility does not have a residency program. LifeLong also operates a smaller site in Pinole, as well as a satellite site in Rodeo.

For more information on how to obtain care at LifeLong Medical Care or to make a donation, call 510.981.4100 or visit www.lifelongmedical.org. For more information on the Robinson Weeks Robinson scholarship program and to make scholarship donations, contact them at 510.426.6044 or RobinsonWeeksRobinsonScholarships.org.

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