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Education

Kamala D. Harris and Legislators Unveil Truancy Law

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Attorney General Kamala D. Harris this week announced a package of legislation to help local school districts and communities address California’s elementary school truancy crisis.

Each year, an estimated one million elementary school students are truant, and 250,000 elementary school students miss 18 or more school days at a cost of $1.4 billion in lost funds to California school districts.

< p>Joined by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, State Senator Bill Monning and Assemblymembers Raul Bocanegra, Rob Bonta, Joan Buchanan, Isadore Hall and Chris Holden, Harris announced her sponsorship of five bills that will help schools, parents and government effectively intervene when children are chronically absent and improve local school districts’ and counties’ ability to track attendance patterns.

“California’s Constitution guarantees our children the right to an education, yet our elementary schools face a truancy crisis,” Harris said. “When children in kindergarten through sixth grade miss school, they fall behind and too many never catch up. These bills modernize attendance monitoring and build the support schools, parents and communities need to get California’s children to class.”

The legislation will:

Assist schools and counties as they work with parents to address the core reasons behind truancy and chronic absence.

Provide local school districts and counties tools to comply with attendance tracking requirements in the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), state truancy mandates and state and federal reporting requirements.

Modernize state and local systems to track and prevent truancy and chronic absence.

Ensure that schools, districts, counties and the state can evaluate the success of interventions to combat truancy and chronic absence.

“Putting our children on the right path starts with making sure they are in school, and requires that we all work together to ensure that happens. That means developing the lines of communication between schools, parents and law enforcement to address the issue—which is what AB 2141 does,” Assemblymember Bonta said.

Bay Area

SoCal Group Holds Black-Themed Commencement, Presents Scholarships for Local High School Grads

The Buffongs say 694 students signed up for the Black graduation event their company held in conjunction with the Cooperative Economic Empowerment Movement (CEEM) and a myriad of other sponsors. In addition to celebrating the students’ achievements, the Buffongs say the event held at the Los Angeles County Fair Grounds in Pomona introduced members of the class of 2022 to culturally significant career, social and civic opportunities.

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More than 670 Black graduates from various high schools come to a special graduation at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona on May 13, 2022.
More than 670 Black graduates from various high schools come to a special graduation at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona on May 13, 2022.

SoCal Group Holds Black-Themed Commencement, Presents Scholarships for Local High School Grads

By Aldon Thomas Stiles, California Black Media

This past weekend in the Inland Empire, a San Bernardino couple welcomed hundreds of African American high school graduates from the region for a joyous multi high school, Black-themed graduation celebration.

“Sometimes we have students doing magnificent things and nobody sees them,” said Keynasia Buffong, co-founder of Buffong Consultation Solutions, the company that organized the celebration honoring graduates from various high schools in the area.

Keynasia Buffong co-owns the firm with her husband Jonathan Buffong. The couple wants to expand the mass graduation event to all regions in the state.

“When you come into your community, we see you. We recognize you,” Kaynasia Buffong continued.

The Buffongs say 694 students signed up for the Black graduation event their company held in conjunction with the Cooperative Economic Empowerment Movement (CEEM) and a myriad of other sponsors.

In addition to celebrating the students’ achievements, the Buffongs say the event held at the Los Angeles County Fair Grounds in Pomona introduced members of the class of 2022 to culturally significant career, social and civic opportunities.

Black Greek organizations attended the weekend-long event as well as the first Black valedictorian of Beaumont High School where African American students make up a little under 7% of the student population.

“We got a chance to give away $27,000 in scholarships,” said Keynasia.

Both Buffongs are educators and student advocates in California. They have been hosting the graduation event appreciating Black students for over 11 years.

But the Buffongs say celebrating success always comes with a reminder of the challenges Black students face.

According to the California Department of Education, at 72.5%, Black students had the lowest high school graduation rate among all other racial or ethnic groups at the end of the 2020 to 2021 academic year.

Jonathan said one of their goals is to help graduates transition into the next stage of their academic life, whether that be a four-year university, community college, trade school, or employment.

“Sometimes they don’t know where to go or what to do,” said Keynasia. “There’s mentorship and sponsorship and we aim to have both.”

For the scholarship awards, the Buffongs are not just looking at grades but the full context of the graduates’ lives.

“Whether it’s COVID, deaths, family or health issues, disabilities, we’re looking for things to support them on so we can get them to the next level,” said Jonathan.

Outside of academic and career success, the Buffongs spoke about the importance of Black cultural exposure through education and traditional practices such as the Black national anthem and a libation ceremony.

The libation ceremony is performed by an elder in the community as a way to honor one’s ancestors. It is significant in various African cultures as well as other cultures around the globe.

The Buffongs say their next step is to look into more internship opportunities and figure out how to help curb the high numbers of Black high school graduates who leave the state to pursue opportunities elsewhere.

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Activism

Biden Administration Invests $145 Million in Re-Entry Programs for Formerly Incarcerated

According to a 2021 Stanford University Study, reentry programs in California have contributed to a 37% decrease in the average re-arrest rate over the period of a year.

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By Aldon Thomas Stiles, California Black Media

After serving a 22-year sentence in a California prison, James Morgan, 51, found himself facing a world of opportunities that he did not imagine he would have as an ex-convict once sentenced to life for attempted murder.

Morgan, a Carson native, says he is grateful for a second chance at life, and he has taken full advantage of opportunities presented him through California state reentry and rehabilitation programs.

After completing mental health care for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Morgan was released from prison and granted parole in 2018.

“I did not expect what I found when I got out,” Morgan told California Black Media (CBM), explaining that he was fortunate to participate in a program for the formerly incarcerated in San Francisco.

“I was mandated by the courts to spend a year in transitional housing,” said Morgan. “Those guys walked us through everything. They made it really easy. It was all people I could relate to, and they knew how to talk to me because they used to be in the prison population —and they were from where we were from.”

Morgan says he also took lessons on anger management and time management.

Now, he is currently an apprentice in Local 300 Laborers Union, specializing in construction, after he participated in a pre-apprenticeship program through ARC (the Anti-Recidivism Coalition).

“Right now, I’m supporting my family,” Morgan said. “I’d say I’m doing pretty good because I hooked up with the right people.”

Supporters of criminal justice reform say Morgan’s success story in California is particularly encouraging.

Black men in the Golden State are imprisoned nearly 10 times the rate of their white counterparts, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. And just a little over a decade ago in 2011, the Supreme Court of the United States ordered California to reduce the number of inmates in its overcrowded prison system by 33,000. Of that population, nearly 30% were Black men even though they account for about 5% of the state’s population.

To help more formerly incarcerated people like Morgan get back on their feet after paying their debt to society, last month the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Labor announced that the federal government is investing $145 million over the course of the next fiscal year to support reentry programs across the country.

The Biden-Harris Administration also announced plans to expand federal job opportunities and loan programs, expand access to health care and housing, and develop and amplify educational opportunities for the formerly and currently incarcerated.

“It’s not enough to just send someone home, it’s not enough to only help them with a job. There’s got to be a holistic approach,” said Chiraag Bains, deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council on Racial Justice and Equity.

Bains told CBM that that reentry programs help establish an “incarceration-to-employment pipeline.”

The White House announced the programs late last month as President Joe Biden commuted the sentences of 75 people and granted pardons to another three, including Abraham Bolden, the first Black Secret Service agent on White House detail.

Bolden had been sentenced to 39 months in prison in 1964 for allegedly attempting to sell classified Secret Service documents. He has always maintained his innocence.

“Today, I granted pardons to three people and commuted the sentences of 75 people. America is a nation of laws, but we are also a nation of second chances, redemption, and rehabilitation,” Biden tweeted April 26.

According to Bains, about half of the people the President pardoned are Black or Brown.

“The president has spoken repeatedly about the fact that we have too many people serving time in prison for nonviolent drug offenses and too many of those people are Black and Brown,” said Bains. “This is a racial equity issue.”

Both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have faced sharp criticisms in the past for supporting tough-on-crime policies that, as U.S. Senator and California Attorney General respectively, have had disproportionately targeted Blacks and other minorities.

According to a 2021 Stanford University Study, reentry programs in California have contributed to a 37% decrease in the average re-arrest rate over the period of a year.

Over the last decade, California has funded a number of initiatives supporting reentry and rehabilitation. In 2015, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation launched the Male Community Re-Entry Program (MCRP) that provides community-based rehabilitative services in Butte, Kern, Los Angeles and San Diego Counties. The Butte program services Tehama, Nevada, Colusa, Glenn, Sutter, Placer and Yuba counties.

A year later, Gov. Newsom’s office introduced the California Community Reinvestment Grant Program. The initiative funds community groups providing services like job placement, mental health treatment, housing and more to people, including the formerly incarcerated, who were impacted by the War on the Drugs.

Morgan spoke highly of programs that helped him reintegrate into society — both in prison and after he was released.

“In hindsight, I look back at it and I’m blown away by all of the ways that they’ve helped me,” Morgan said.

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Barbara Lee

Congresswoman Barbara Lee Issues Statement on Biden High-Speed Internet Deal

“Here in the East Bay, access to high-speed internet is a matter of racial justice and equity,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13). “This became especially clear during the pandemic, when many Oakland kids were not able to participate in remote learning simply because they did not have internet access at home.

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Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) (Photo: Barbara Lee speaking at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention in San Francisco, California. / George Skidmore / Wikipedia Commons)
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) (Photo: Barbara Lee speaking at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention in San Francisco, California. / George Skidmore / Wikipedia Commons)

By Alex Katz

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) issued the following statement on May 10 celebrating the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), the Biden Administration’s effort to make high-speed internet cheaper, faster, and more widely available.

“Here in the East Bay, access to high-speed internet is a matter of racial justice and equity,” Lee said. “This became especially clear during the pandemic, when many Oakland kids were not able to participate in remote learning simply because they did not have internet access at home.

“The Oakland Unified School District connected 98% of its students to high-speed internet during the pandemic, giving out 36,000 laptops and 11,500 hotspots. That effort is commendable, and it needs to be repeated across our country. It is critical that we help close the economic and educational gap created by lack of affordable internet service. The ACP is a step in the right direction towards equitable internet access for all.”

On Monday, President Biden and Vice President Harris announced that they have secured private sector commitments that will lower high-speed internet costs for millions of families.

As part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Congress and the White House worked to create the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which allows tens of millions of American households to reduce their internet service costs by up to $30/month (or $75/month on Tribal lands).

To ensure the most efficient use of those public dollars and to deliver maximum cost savings to families, the Biden-Harris Administration has secured commitments from 20 leading internet providers — covering more than 80% of the U.S. population across urban, suburban, and rural areas — to either increase speeds or cut prices, making sure they all offer ACP-eligible households high-speed, high-quality internet plans for no more than $30/month.

From large providers like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon serving dozens of states, to smaller providers serving rural areas like Jackson Energy Authority in Tennessee and Comporium in North Carolina, the commitments will allow tens of millions of ACP-eligible households to receive high-speed internet at no cost.

For details on how you can sign up for ACP and find participating internet providers in their area, go to: GetInternet.gov

Alex Katz works in Rep. Barbara Lee’s communications office.

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