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Former Foster Youth Sokhom Mao Is Making a Difference

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By Victor Valle, CSC.

Sokhom Mao shows me the 11th floor of Oakland City Hall, where he chairs meetings for the Citizen’s Police Review Board, an entity that works between community members and police officers to ensure police accountability and improve police services.

“For me, being raised on the lower end of the economic ladder, and now being the chairman of the Citizen’s Police Review Board on the 11th floor, really tells a tale,” said Mao.

Onlyabout 15 years ago, Mao was in the foster care system, jumping from group homes to transitional housing. Now, at 27, he is running for Oakland City Council, and hoping to use his years of policy and advocacy experience to take lead of the same area he was raised in.

Mao is the child of two Cambodian refugees who made their way to Oakland, Calif. His mother passed away when he was nine and his father, who was physically abusive to his mother and struggled with alcoholism, was left as the sole guardian for Mao and his five other siblings.

“My father would leave us alone at home with no food. Sometimes, there wasn’t even hot water or electricity,” said Mao of living under his father’s care. “That’s when social services were called.”

That all changed after Mao told his middle school counselor about the issues he was dealing with at home. For a couple of months, Mao and the rest of his siblings were split apart. After some time, four of Mao’s siblings were placed into kinship care with his aunt. Mao and his brother Sokha were forced to stay in a group home because of delayed paperwork.

After bouncing around between group homes, his father and his aunt, who also became abusive, Mao moved into the Bay Area Youth Center’s Real Alternatives for Adolescents (RAFA) while his younger siblings remained with his aunt.

“It was there they taught me how to be independent,” he said. “And it was there where I got the guidance I needed to apply for colleges.”

Mao applied to a handful of California State University schools, but eventually landed at San Francisco State University to pursue a degree in criminal justice. At the time of his acceptance in 2005, the university was just starting their Guardian Scholars Program, which helps former foster youth navigate higher education through support and resources.

This marked the beginning of his work in advocacy.

“I went to one of the focus groups they had and met with the executive director at the time,” said Mao. “There we had the chance to structure, design and really shape the program.”

Through the Guardian Scholars Program, Mao was able to effectively navigate higher education which, he notes, is a difficult task for anyone, and especially foster youth.

Mao moved back to Oakland during in his third year at San Francisco State University. Upon doing so, he got an apartment and took in his two younger siblings who were still living with his aunt.

“I was going to school full time, working part time, and had to worry about registering my little brother who was in eighth grade for school,” said Mao. “I met with his teachers, made sure he did his homework and everything.”

It wasn’t long until Mao was able to get his other, older siblings into the same apartment complex, and until most of the family was reunited.

Mao was also a member of the California Youth Connection from high school through his graduation from San Francisco State University and afterward. He got a job at The Stuart Foundation after college, where he worked on initiatives looking to improve higher education access for foster youth. He also worked for the California Social Work Education Center, where he developed curriculum and training for social workers all across California.

“I like to say I made a full 360 within the system,” he said. “I was a client of the system, I was an advocate, and then I became the person who developed the same curriculum I was going through just a couple of years before.”

In 2010, Mao was called upon by Daniel Heimpel, executive director of Fostering Media Connections, to go to the state capitol where he met with President Pro Tempore of the California Senate, Darrell Steinberg and Speaker of the California State Assembly, Assemblyman John Perez to urge support of Assembly Bill 12 (AB12), a 2010 bill that extended foster care services from 18 to 21. And then, in 2012, Mao became vice president for the California Youth Connection board of directors.

Now Mao is moving beyond topics that relate just to foster care, and looking to grapple with citywide issues in District 2 of Oakland’s City Council.

“The foster care system is not a silo to the foster care community, it is the root cause of many problems we encounter as a community,” said Mao. “I started advocating for foster care issues, and that leads into things such as education and juvenile justice.”

Five other candidates are running for the area that covers parts of Grand Lake, Ivy Hill, Highland Terrace, and other parts of Oakland.

“For a child to have been raised in public housing, in the public welfare system, in public education both K-12 and then after, no one can say they are more a product of the public system,” Mao said. “I’m a public child. I know this city, and I know how to serve it.”

The Chronicle of Social Change (CSC) is an online periodical covering juvenile justice, child welfare and other industries that should be strengthening youth and families. The CSC is run by Fostering Media Connections, a San Francisco-based organization that uses journalism and media to drive public and political will behind policy and practice to improve the well being of children experiencing foster care.

For more information, visit www.fosteringmediaconnections.org.

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Activism

School District Security Violently Clashes with Parents, Community at Parker Elementary School

According to a press release issued by the Parker protesters, “The security officers physically ejected several people and unlawfully detained one parent in the building in handcuffs, injuring the parent in the process. Within two hours, nearly 60 people from the public education community and neighborhood had amassed outside with a single demand: let go of this parent. After an hour, OPD arrived with four officers. As they opened the building, the group of people who were amassed outside entered the building and were met with excessive force by the OUSD security forces. More than 10 people sustained minor to moderate injuries, and two people went to hospital for treatment.”

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This Wednesday, protesters held a press conference, accusing the district of political repression and retaliation by firing two educators who have been active in the fight against school closures and in defense of Parker school.
This Wednesday, protesters held a press conference, accusing the district of political repression and retaliation by firing two educators who have been active in the fight against school closures and in defense of Parker school.

By Ken Epstein

Oakland Unified School District security officers arrived at Parker Elementary School in East Oakland on Thursday, Aug. 4 to change the locks and clear people from the school.

Parker, located at 7929 Ney Ave. in East Oakland, has been occupied and kept open operating community programs for the last two months by community protesters, who are resisting the school board decision to permanently close the school at the end of May.

According to a press release issued by the Parker protesters, “The security officers physically ejected several people and unlawfully detained one parent in the building in handcuffs, injuring the parent in the process.

“Within two hours, nearly 60 people from the public education community and neighborhood had amassed outside with a single demand: let go of this parent. After an hour, OPD arrived with four officers. As they opened the building, the group of people who were amassed outside entered the building and were met with excessive force by the OUSD security forces. More than 10 people sustained minor to moderate injuries, and two people went to hospital for treatment.”

In a response to Oakland Post questions, OUSD spokesperson John Sasaki wrote: “OUSD staff went to Parker on Thursday and found all the people who had been inside the building had left the premises. So, staff changed the locks and set the alarm.

“Someone picked, cut, or otherwise broke through a lock to get back inside the building. They were removed. But unfortunately, individuals forced their way back into the building.”

Sasaki continued, “Parker K-8 School is now closed. The individuals at Parker have been and continue to trespass. We have directed them to leave from day one and have continued to do so on many other occasions. Of great concern is that the children that were onsite were sleeping in unsafe conditions and that the adults were running an unsafe and unlicensed childcare program. We continue to demand that they find other ways to safely and peaceably express their concerns.”

Parker protesters condemned the actions. “It was unthinkable that the district would send a group of poorly trained security —consultants ­— to injure, aggress, and antagonize a peaceful community where children were receiving services, located in a predominantly Black neighborhood of East Oakland, which already experiences disproportionate police violence,” the release said.

Parker activists say they are not leaving and will continue their fight to keep the school from being permanently closed and privatized.

Civil rights attorney Walter Riley, who represents the protesters, says that his investigation told the Oakland Post that description of the incident on Aug. 4 “were concerning in a number of ways.”

“The people had been there all summer, and the district had allowed them to continue. No notice of eviction had ever occurred. After locks were placed on the door, a protester made entry, not by breaking in but through a door with a key, as has been the case all summer,” said Riley.

The security agency employed by the district does not have the authority to use “self-help” (that is to physically evict people from the building). They are untrained, and the district is liable for their injuries.

Riley continued: “OPD officers, when they arrived, stood by, and watched unlawful physical attacks. One person was thrown headfirst into a wall by security causing significant injury. Another person, a candidate for school board and an active parent, was taken to the ground, a knee placed on his neck by security. He was brutalized, handcuffed, and held for up to two hours without medical aid for injuries to his wrist, neck, and face.”

Since May 25, the final day of classes of the 2021-22 school year, protesters have occupied Parker 24 hours a day, utilizing the space for a summer program for school-age children, youth empowerment initiatives, free food distribution, voter registration drives, and hosting community town halls and other events, according to protesters’ press statement.

This Wednesday, protesters held a press conference, accusing the district of political repression and retaliation by firing two educators who have been active in the fight against school closures and in defense of Parker school.

One of the two teachers who was fired was Craig Gordon, a 32-year veteran Oakland teacher and union activist. The other teacher who was fired was not named.

District spokesman Sasaki declined to comment on the firing of the two teachers. “We don’t comment on personnel matters,” he said.

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Bay Area

Jamie Scardina Appointed Marin County Sheriff

Scardina was elected as Sheriff in the June primary election, running unopposed, and was to be sworn in when Doyle’s term ended Jan. 2, 2023. However, Doyle retired June 30 after more than 52 years of public safety service to Marin, and Scardina became acting Sheriff. The board’s action July 19 covers the time until Jan. 2.

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As Sheriff, Scardina will lead a department of 311 full time staff and oversee a $77,735,000 operating budget.
As Sheriff, Scardina will lead a department of 311 full time staff and oversee a $77,735,000 operating budget.

Courtesy of Marin County

Acting Marin County Sheriff Jamie Scardina had the “acting” taken off his title July 19 when the Marin County Board of Supervisors appointed him to the position, becoming the 22nd sheriff in county history. Scardina, a Marin native and 23-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, replaces the retired Robert Doyle. Scardina took the oath of office, administered by Doyle, at a public swearing-in ceremony on July 28.

Scardina was elected as Sheriff in the June primary election, running unopposed, and was to be sworn in when Doyle’s term ended Jan. 2, 2023. However, Doyle retired June 30 after more than 52 years of public safety service to Marin, and Scardina became acting Sheriff. The board’s action July 19 covers the time until Jan. 2.

Scardina grew up in Corte Madera and attended Marin Catholic High School and College of Marin. He earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology with an emphasis in criminology from the University of Montana. After starting his law enforcement career as a Tiburon police officer, Scardina joined the Sheriff’s Office in 2000 and gradually was assigned more responsibilities as he was promoted from deputy to sergeant to lieutenant to captain. Scardina replaced the retired Mike Ridgway as Undersheriff in 2018.

Scardina is only Marin’s third Sheriff since 1983. He thanked Doyle for giving him a “tremendous amount of autonomy” during the past four years as he served as Undersheriff. He pledged to listen to concerns and make decisions together with resident involvement.

“This is not an appointment I take lightly or for granted,” Scardina said at the July 19 Supervisors meeting. “I know it comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility. … This is something I’m looking forward to, working with staff and working with the community. I know there are a lot of people in the community who want to talk, and we’re looking forward to having those conversations.”

As Sheriff, Scardina will lead a department of 311 full time staff and oversee a $77,735,000 operating budget. His annual salary will be $251,825.60 and benefits will be consistent with those received by other department heads.

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Activism

Marin County Offers Booklet to Parents to Prevent Preteen Substance Abuse

Each middle school teen is different and there is no single right way to address their changes, experiences, and their transition to middle school. But the book endeavors to help parents more objectively understand and support their children.

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Top: Mother and daughter talking (From care.com). Bottom: English and Spanish covers of the booklet “Let’s Start Talking.” Go to letstalkmarin.org for more information, downloadable digital booklets, and video recordings of recent “Let’s Talk” community discussions.
Top: Mother and daughter talking (From care.com). Bottom: English and Spanish covers of the booklet “Let’s Start Talking.” Go to letstalkmarin.org for more information, downloadable digital booklets, and video recordings of recent “Let’s Talk” community discussions.

By Godfrey Lee

Marin County District Attorney Lori E. Frugoli recently distributed an informational booklet “Let’s Start Talking – A Parent’s Toolkit for Understanding Substance Use in Marin County Through the Middle School Years” at the San Rafael Elks Lodge 1108 on Tuesday, July 19.

The toolkit booklet was created with support from the Marin Prevention Network and the Marin County Office of Education. The booklet was also translated and published in Spanish under the title “Hablemos.”

The booklet begins by saying that although drug usage among 7th graders remains low, their substance abuse can increase as they grow older. Parents and caregivers can still lay the foundations to support preteens/teens as they grow and help prevent negative consequence from substances use. This involves knowing the facts, communicate openly, and focus on relationships and resilience.

Each middle school teen is different and there is no single right way to address their changes, experiences, and their transition to middle school. But the book endeavors to help parents more objectively understand and support their children.

The major life experience for middle schoolers is the start of puberty, where their bodies, brains, and social environments rapidly and dramatically change, along with their hormones levels and emotions. The booklet says, don’t joke about or dismiss the child’s puberty process as being unimportant.

Parents are still in charge and should also teach and model healthy coping skills. Accept the child even while they are investigating their own identities and their attraction to the other or their own sex.

Their adolescent brain is not fully developed until about the age 25, and they are still growing in its management of reasoning, decision-making, planning, and impulse control. Their peers become more important, their circle of friends may change, and need to become more independent from their parents.

All teens face a lot of risks. Social media gives a lot of unfiltered information that can be disturbing. Other risk factors include mental health issues, attention deficit disorders, trauma, bullying, family substance and drugs abuse, the family rejection of their same-sex identity and thoughts of suicide.

Teens can still be protected with parental monitoring and involvement, a positive self-image, community and school norms and behavioral expectations, positive coping and self-regulation skills, positive and healthy peer relationships, school and community connections, and a sense of belonging to a healthy group.

Peer pressure and social norms are powerful during the middle school age, and the child’s social relationships can tip the scale toward risk or protection. Parents or caretakers can still meet and know the child’s friends and their parents, and also ask questions concerning the safety of their children. Parents can also spend time with their teens to stretch their minds and find opportunities for their teens to meet and work together with other youths with similar interest in groups and clubs.

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