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‘Empire’ Star Jussie Smollett Still a Social Activist

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Jussie Smollett (AP Images/Invision)

Jussie Smollett (AP Images/Invision)

By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Before he was Jamal Lyon, the sensitive, talented gay son of drug dealer-turned-music mogul on the hit television show, “Empire,” Jussie Smollett, was a social activist.

Smollett, 31, said that the root of his activism, his ability to speak openly and honestly about sex was always his mother, because she set the tone for who he was, what he was and what he believed in.

“My voice has always been linked to this fight before anybody new anything about my voice,” said Smollett, adding that you don’t need a television show or a hit record to make a change in the world your community.

Smollett continued: “The work doesn’t start with ‘Empire.’ My mother didn’t give us a choice of whether or not we wanted to be activists or not, that was built into us.”

His father, Joel, emigrated from Russia and Poland. His mother, Janet, is mixture of African, Native American and European. In addition to Jussie and Jurnee, an actress, the couple had four other kids: Jake, Jocqui, Jojo and Jazz

All six Smollett children appeared together in the ABC TV program, “On Our Own,” which was broadcast 1994-1995. The Smollett siblings played a family reared by the oldest brother after both parents had died in a car accident.

Jurnee starred in “The Great Debaters,” “Eve’s Bayou,” and appeared in episodes of the Cosby show.

Jussie, a native of Santa Rosa, Calif., currently serves on the board of the Black AIDS Institute (BAI), a Los Angeles-based think tank focused solely on ending the AIDS epidemic in the Black community.

Smollett recently sat on a panel on HIV/AIDS and the role of the Black family in fighting the epidemic at the Essence Festival in New Orleans. Smollett was joined by Otis Harris, a 28-year-old gay man living with HIV from Dallas; Harris’ mother, LaTongia Harris-Amadee, and Leo Moore, a clinical scholar with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation at the University of California at Los Angeles. Award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien moderated the panel.

According to national surveys by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 66 percent of Black Americans say HIV rarely, if ever, comes in family discussions– including 30 percent who have never talked about HIV with anyone in their family.

According to the Black AIDS Institute, more than 60 percent of parents of Black children said that “they are ‘very concerned’ that their son or daughter will get HIV,” compared to about 20 percent of White parents.

“Families in general play such an important part in the fight against HIV and AIDS because families,” said Smollett. “It’s not just Black families but the family as a whole – the village. It takes that village to get rid of the stigma to get rid of the shame so that people feel like they have someone to talk to.”

In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), launched a national campaign that identified stigma and complacency as two critical challenges to ending the AIDS epidemic in the United States.

Declining awareness and concern about HIV among the American public may lead some to underestimate the continued need or action to fight the epidemic, a fact sheet on the campaign said.

“Young people who have grown up without seeing the epidemic’s devastating effects may be particularly vulnerable,” the fact sheet said. “For example, a study among young black gay and bisexual men in 20 major cities found that among those who thought they were at low risk of infection, nearly one in five was, in fact, already infected with HIV.”

The fact sheet noted that in 2011 the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that not only are people reporting that they’re reading and seeing information about HIV in the U.S. 30 percent less than they were in 2004, but less people also named HIV, “as the nation’s most urgent health problem.”

According to the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW), HIV-related stigma can result in the loss of income, loss of marriage and childbearing options and the loss of hope and feelings of worthlessness.

“We live in a nation that we’re about shaming,” said Smollett. “Cultural shaming, religion shaming, sexuality shaming and gender shaming, there’s so much shame. It’s time for people to step up and say, ‘enough is enough.’”

Smollett added: “We have to remember that Black lives matter. We also have to remember that we can not pick and choose when Black lives matter.”

Phill Wilson, the president and CEO of BAI, agreed.

“If we’re serious about the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, we need to talk about all the things that are important for us to live longer healthier lives,” he said,

And that dialogue must include decreasing the number of new HIV infections, getting people into treatment that need it and ending the AIDS epidemic, said Wilson.

Smollett said that even though Black people have been oppressed since we were enslaved and shipped to this continent, we still helped build this nation and this world.

“We can not sit idly by while our children, our fathers and mothers, our sisters and our brothers, our nieces and nephews, and our uncles and our aunts are dying and are being left to feel ashamed for who they are,” said Smollett.

Smollett said that ending the AIDS epidemic is not about gender or sexuality or race it’s about taking responsibility for you and yours, which is the human race.

“Everybody wants somebody to oppress, let’s not be that way,” said Smollett. “Lets spread love. Let’s make sure that everybody knows that they have someplace to go in life, so that they don’t feel alone.”

Bay Area

Bay Area Health Officers Urge Public to Take Precautions as COVID-19 Levels Rise

The Bay Area now has California’s highest COVID-19 infection rates, fueled by highly contagious Omicron subvariants. Bay Area counties are seeing increases in reported cases, levels of virus in wastewater, and hospitalizations. Actual case rates are higher than those reported because of widespread use of home tests.

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Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County Public Health Officer.
Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County Public Health Officer.

Courtesy of Marin County

Twelve Bay Area health officers are emphasizing the importance of taking safety precautions, including continued masking indoors, as the region experiences a new swell of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

The Bay Area now has California’s highest COVID-19 infection rates, fueled by highly contagious Omicron subvariants. Bay Area counties are seeing increases in reported cases, levels of virus in wastewater, and hospitalizations. Actual case rates are higher than those reported because of widespread use of home tests.

The health officers reiterate their continued, strong support for people to mask up indoors, keep tests handy, and ensure they are up to date on vaccinations by getting boosters when eligible.

“As cases rise around us, it’s important to understand that more people around you are likely infected or have been exposed,” said Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis. “Masks are an easy tool you can use to protect yourself and lower your risk of infection.”

The grim milestone of 1 million deaths from COVID-19 in the United States, reached earlier this week, underscores the need for continued vigilance against the virus.

Although not required, masking is strongly recommended by the California Department of Public Health for most public indoor settings, and health officials say wearing higher-quality masks (N95/KN95 or snug-fitting surgical masks) indoors is a wise choice. Vaccines remain the best protection against severe disease and death from COVID-19.

Health officials say people should also stay home and get tested right away if they feel sick. Officials also encourage getting tested after potential exposure and limiting large gatherings to well ventilated spaces or outdoors. For those more likely to get very sick from COVID-19 infection, medications are available that can reduce chances of severe illness and death. Talk with a health care provider right away if a test comes back positive.

This statement has been endorsed by health officers from the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Benito, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Sonoma as well as the City of Berkeley.

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Bay Area

Multiple Services Offered at June 1 County Event

Clean Slate is a new community-minded collaboration of the County’s justice-oriented departments plus key support from Health and Human Services. The motivation was to bring services from the Civic Center to the people who might need them the most. The program helps ensure that every resident can succeed following a criminal conviction by informing them about job training, government benefits, and basic health care needs.

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Clean Slate program supporters at Civic Center include (from left) Assistant DA Otis Bruce Jr., Health and Human Services Director Benita McLarin, Probation Chief Marlon Washington, Health and Human Services Division Director D’Angelo Paillet, DA Lori Frugoli, and Public Defender David Joseph Sutton.
Clean Slate program supporters at Civic Center include (from left) Assistant DA Otis Bruce Jr., Health and Human Services Director Benita McLarin, Probation Chief Marlon Washington, Health and Human Services Division Director D’Angelo Paillet, DA Lori Frugoli, and Public Defender David Joseph Sutton.

Clean Slate program to address justice-related & health needs in San Rafael

Courtesy of Marin County

Bringing assistance directly to Marin County residents in their own neighborhood is the idea behind the Clean Slate program, which made a successful debut in February in Marin City. This time, an array of services from four County of Marin departments will be available Wednesday, June 1, at the Multicultural Center of Marin in San Rafael.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will be on hand for assistance with public benefits such as Medi-Cal, CalFresh food assistance, CalWORKS services, employment training, and general financial relief for families. COVID-19 vaccinations and booster shots will be available as well.

People in need of help with justice-related tasks such as clearing one’s record, terminating one’s probation, or dismissing a conviction will be able to walk in with documentation and receive help from the Public Defender’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, or the Probation Department.

The walk-in event will be set up from 4-7 p.m. at the Multicultural Center of Marin, 709 5th Avenue, in San Rafael.

Clean Slate is a new community-minded collaboration of the County’s justice-oriented departments plus key support from Health and Human Services. The motivation was to bring services from the Civic Center to the people who might need them the most. The program helps ensure that every resident can succeed following a criminal conviction by informing them about job training, government benefits, and basic health care needs.

“I believe that this collaboration really shows the commitment of each of the departments to help remove barriers to self-sufficiency and have a presence in the community,” said D’Angelo Paillet, HHS Social Services Director.

Those seeking law-related help are asked to bring all relevant documents with them, including past correspondences and state Department of Justice records. Each participating department will have Spanish translators on hand to help with health or immigration-related relief.

For questions about the event related to legal services, contact the Public Defender’s Office at (473) 473-6321. For health-related questions, contact Health and Human Services at (415) 473-3350.

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Activism

Council Unanimously Declares Oakland a Pro-Choice Sanctuary City

Said Council President Sheng Thao: “The passage of this resolution makes Oakland the first City in California to declare itself a Sanctuary City for Abortion Access and is the first step we will be taking to expand abortion access to anyone who needs it. Healthcare is a human right, and the City of Oakland stands firmly behind anyone exercising their right to reproductive care.

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Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan, Council President Pro Tem Sheng Thao and council President Nikki Fortunato-Bas. (Photos: City of Oakland/oakland.gov)
Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan, Council President Pro Tem Sheng Thao and council President Nikki Fortunato-Bas. (Photos: City of Oakland/oakland.gov)

By Post Staff

The Oakland City Council unanimously passed a resolution declaring Oakland a Pro-Choice sanctuary city, backed by Council President Pro Tem Sheng Thao, Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan, Council President Nikki Forunato Bas, as well as Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice California, and Assemblymember Mia Bonta.

This resolution was passed on Tuesday, May 17, introduced by Thao, Bas, and Kaplan. The resolution puts Oakland on record as a city that celebrates abortion-access and reaffirms the city’s support for Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s Women’s Health Protection Act, which would codify Roe v. Wade into federal law, and advocates for more state and county funding to be provided to reproductive care providers in anticipation of an influx of out-of-state patients.

Said Council President Thao: “The passage of this resolution makes Oakland the first City in California to declare itself a Sanctuary City for Abortion Access and is the first step we will be taking to expand abortion access to anyone who needs it. Healthcare is a human right, and the City of Oakland stands firmly behind anyone exercising their right to reproductive care.

“This resolution says to women across the country, who are under attack, that your rights will be protected here.”

Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas said, “With this resolution, Oakland reaffirms loud and clear our fierce commitment to our values of freedom, justice, and honoring each person’s dignity and sovereignty to choose what is healthiest and safest for their body. I am proud to co-author this effort and committed to working with my colleagues and urging other jurisdictions not only to protect abortion access, but to significantly expand the inclusiveness, capacity, and quality of reproductive health services for all who need them in our community.”

Vice Mayor Kaplan said, “Make no mistake, the Supreme Court is threatening to turn back the clock. They are threatening our rights and fundamental liberty. The laws that guarantee the right to reproductive freedom are the same laws that ensure the right to contraception, the right for LGBTQ+ people to be allowed to live and love as we choose, and privacy and racial justice. Let us continue to move forward, not backwards.”

Added Dr. Jessica Hamilton, associate medical director of abortion services for Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, “The news of the SCOTUS leak has been heart-wrenching for those of us on the front lines. No patient or physician has ever asked for a politician to be in the exam room with them.

“Since SB 8 (the heartbeat bill) went into effect in Texas in September, we have watched California remain a beacon of hope for people seeking abortions. At Planned Parenthood Mar Monte alone, between July 2021 and April 15, 2022, we have provided care abortion care to twice the number of patients from out of state than we did during the same time period the previous year. The reversal of Roe could drive up the number of out-of-state patients whose nearest abortion provider would be in California to 1.4 million! And while no patient should have to travel for care, at Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, we have been building capacity and are ready to support this increase in patients seeking care in California, especially in major transportation hubs and sanctuary cities like Oakland,” she said.

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