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Legislative Black Caucus Celebrates Juneteenth

Much like the story of Juneteenth, the California Black miners’ experience is largely excluded from texts and research. But one of those stories of servitude was told by the event’s keynote speaker Jonathan Burgess from the California African American Gold Rush Historical Association.

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CA Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber and Senator Steven Bradford (D-LA), chair of the Legislative Black Caucus.

The California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) continued last week’s celebration of Juneteenth, America’s newest federal holiday, with the group’s first in-person event since the state reopened on June 15 — and since the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order took effect in March 2020.

Billed as “CLBC Juneteenth Black Family History Event,” the commemoration focused on Black miners and the integral role they played during the California Gold Rush era of the 1850s. Family members of the miners, serving as historical experts, assisted CLBC members and research staff with information for the celebration.

The event was held at the Constitution Wall Courtyard in the Secretary of State’s office in Sacramento where California’s first Black Secretary of State Shirley Weber made her first public appearance at the facility since she was sworn in to serve in that role.
Weber, whose parents were sharecroppers in Hope, Ark., shared that there is “another side of California” that should be historically told in full context.

“We think of California as a free state yet there are many examples that took place where people were brought to California as slaves and were made to stay in California as slaves,” Weber said. “And then, when there was opportunity for them to stay in California, they wanted to remain. But the government and others decided that they would pass the Fugitive Slave Act. So, if you came here (as an enslaved person) you were sent back to Mississippi or Alabama. So, it becomes important when we talk about reparations that we have a full picture of California and what took place here.”

Much like the story of Juneteenth, the California Black miners’ experience is largely excluded from texts and research. But one of those stories of servitude was told by the event’s keynote speaker Jonathan Burgess from the California African American Gold Rush Historical Association.

He talked about how his Black family’s land was taken from them. He also said that the “true history” of California has not been fully explained and, to him, it is a “miscarriage of justice to teach our kids incorrect history.”

“My goal is to educate and enlighten those who are not informed and believed that slavery did not exist in California,” said Burgess last week as he celebrated Juneteenth as a federal holiday for the first time in its 156-year history.

“I also want to share some of the tactics that were used to take land. This has been occurring since individuals came to what supposedly was a free state but hasn’t been completely free,” Burgess said.

Like Burgess, many Black leaders, celebrities, and activists here in California — and around the country — registered their approval of Juneteenth becoming America’s 12th nationally recognized holiday. But they cautioned Americans of all backgrounds to resist the impulse to reduce, arguably, the most significant historic moment in Black American history to an annual marketing event.
Last week, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law after most of the U.S. House and every member of the U.S. Senate who voted on the bill approved it.

Juneteenth, or June 19, marks the day in 1865 when Major General Gordon Granger of the anti-slavery Union Army traveled to Galveston, Texas, to let enslaved Black people there know that two and-and-a-half years before President Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in the United States – on paper.

“Great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments. They embrace them,” the president said, celebrating the bill’s passage and marking the end of slavery and honoring African American history.

State Senator Brian Dahle said, “We should not be afraid of learning about our history. The more truth we bring to light, the better we are at making decisions as we take on the challenges of our time. Events like this are a positive way to move forward together”.

Genealogists and members of the Sacramento African American Genealogical Society welcomed Black legislators and staff and set up laptop computers to help guests find the path to their ancestors. Black history resources were provided by FamilySearch International, a nonprofit organization sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Millions of formerly hidden records have been made available for free by the Church as a tool to help the world understand that all people are connected as brothers and sisters of God.

Mixed Reactions to Juneteenth Holiday

Other Black leaders took to social media, group chats and in-person discussions to both celebrate and “crack” on the Biden’s decision to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Some complained that while the symbolism of the holiday is important, substantial current issues such as voting rights, police violence, adding Black History to the educational curriculum, and reparations needed to be included in the legislation.

A number of postings centered their skepticism and criticism on the possible commercialization of the holiday.

“I better not see a single Juneteenth mattress sale, y’all hear me?! We didn’t stop picking cotton for it to be sold to us for a profit. Give us reparations, not capitalistic BS,” Comedian Jackée Harry posted on Twitter June 17.

Anthony Samad, the executive director of the Mervyn Dymally African American Political and Economic Institute at California State University Dominguez Hills took to Facebook.

“What do we need another GOTDAMNED holiday for, anyway? Another day to fuel capitalism by spending money Black people don’t have?” Samad fired off. “This is a distraction away from the racial hostility we’re experiencing today, and away from the reparations discussion,” said Samad, who is also an educator, columnist and author of several books.

Samad warned that the commercialization of Juneteenth could take a lot of distasteful turns.

“Juneteenth celebrated the day federal troops arrived in Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation, which only freed slaves in states in rebellion against the Union,” Samad stated. “Texas ignored that the Confederacy had lost the war and the emancipation until Union troops showed up to enforce it. It’s already being appropriated with a false and distorted narrative.

On Roland Martin’s digital daily show, guest Carl Mack, a former president of the Seattle Washington-King County Branch of the NAACP, said hundreds of thousands of African Americans remained enslaved after June 19, 1865. Mack said while he supports the efforts, knowing the true breadth and depth of the history of Juneteenth is something all Americans have to come to grips with, he said.
Regardless of difference of opinions, lawmakers in the state of California believe that a Juneteenth holiday will heighten knowledge that was obscured beyond the Black community.

“This is a timely and appropriate step in the right direction as conversations continue around slavery and reparations to descendants of these atrocities,” said State Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), chairperson of the CLBC “Today is an opportunity for fellowship, celebration, and recommitting ourselves to addressing the lasting impacts of slavery that continue to affect Black life’s conditions in America. If we fail to learn from this history, we are doomed to repeat it.”

State Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles) also added that Juneteenth was celebrated last week on the Senate floor as “Freedom Day” and many of lawmakers, as well as many Black people, were also unaware of its existence.

“It is a shame that we are not talking about this in our schools, (kindergarten) through 12th grade, secondary schools and beyond,” Kamlager said. “It is really important that we know our history and for us to know who we are.”

Activism

Over 500 Attend Police-Free Event to Reimagine Safety in Oakland

Night Out for Safety and Liberation started in 2013 by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch captain and is held as an alternative to the police-centric National Night Out. Since 2013, the event has spread across the country with over 50 events scheduled this year where communities make the night about the power of community, not cops.

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Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson
Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Night Out for Safety and Liberation Events Held in More Than 50 Communities Across the Country

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

OAKLAND, CA — Over 500 people and families filled Josie de la Cruz Park in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood on Aug. 2 to enjoy performances, kids activities, and mutual aid to celebrate Night Out for Safety and Liberation (NOSL), an annual national event that redefines what safety and joy is without policing. The free community event included free diapers and books for all ages, food, bike giveaways, air purifiers, self defense training, a drag show, and performances from poets and artists such as Lauren Adams, TJ Sykes and Voces Mexicanas.

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Night Out for Safety and Liberation started in 2013 by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch captain and is held as an alternative to the police-centric National Night Out. Since 2013, the event has spread across the country with over 50 events scheduled this year where communities make the night about the power of community, not cops.

“We have been reimagining what safety means beyond police for our communities for over 25 years at the Ella Baker Center. When we create safe spaces for our community to come together and support each other, when we provide living-wage jobs so people are able to put food on their table, when we empower our children and provide opportunities for them to thrive, when we invest in healthcare and mental health resources, this is how we create real safety,” said Marlene Sanchez, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center.

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Through Night Out for Safety and Liberation, communities are creating safety not through policing but through healing and restorative justice, through creating gender affirming spaces and protecting trans and LGBTQIA communities, through reinvesting funding into community-based alternatives and solutions that truly keep communities safe.

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

“We don’t need more police in our streets. We don’t need more surveillance. What we need is resources!” said Jose Bernal, Organizing Director with the Ella Baker Center. “What we need is housing, diapers, legal resources, jobs. This [Night Out for Safety and Liberation] is what keeps us safe. This is resilience.”

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

The event was emceed by Nifa Akosua, Senior Organizer and Advocate with the Ella Baker Center, and TJ Sykes, author and community activist–both natives of Richmond, California. The show included entertaining performances from Oakland Originalz break dancers, Voces Mexicanas mariachi band, singer Lauren Adams and a drag show from Afrika America.

“Night Out for Safety and Liberation is about neighborhood love and neighborhood safety. It’s about connecting, showing up for each other and staying connected as a community. That’s how we keep each other safe,” said Nifa.

More than 20 organizations and vendors participated in Tuesday’s event, offering community resources, face painting, giving away 500 books for all ages, and free diapers. Those participating included: Help A Mother Out, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, ACLU of Northern California, TGI Justice Project, Urban Peace Movement, Ella Baker’s Readers & Cesar Chavez Public Library, Alliance for Girls, Bay Area Women Against Rape, Centro Legal de la Raza, Common Humanity Collective, Street Level Health Project, Malikah – Self Defense, East Bay Community Law Center, Unity Council, Young Women’s Freedom Center, East Bay Family Defenders, Bay Area Workers Support, L’Artiste A La Carte, Education Super Highway, Cut Fruit Collective, and WIC.

Other Night Out for Safety and Liberation events were held in Oakland, San Francisco, Chicago, Portland, Phoenix, Denver, Minneapolis, Atlanta, St. Louis, Dallas, Houston, Waco, Hampden, Conway, Washington D.C. and other cities. Follow the conversation and see photos from events in other cities using #SafetyIs and #NOSL22.

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Activism

OPINION: Are We About to See the Permanent Exclusion of Most Black People from Construction Jobs in Oakland?

How is that possible in this city that is believed by the world to be very progressive? Most of the work goes to members of the construction unions that have historically and currently excluded Black people through a complex set of membership requirements.

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The City Council established a task force to discuss the racial issues involved in construction and the possibility of a Project Labor Agreement. The task force included some community members, including the publisher of the Oakland Post, and was mandated to address racial discrimination first.
The City Council established a task force to discuss the racial issues involved in construction and the possibility of a Project Labor Agreement. The task force included some community members, including the publisher of the Oakland Post, and was mandated to address racial discrimination first.

By Kitty Epstein

For decades Black people in Oakland have obtained 9% or less of the work hours on publicly funded construction projects. So…for jobs that are paid for by all of our tax dollars, Black residents, who make up 23% of Oakland’s population, get only 9% of the relatively well-paid work doing construction.

How is that possible in this city that is believed by the world to be very progressive? Most of the work goes to members of the construction unions that have historically and currently excluded Black people through a complex set of membership requirements.

Nationally, only 7.2% of the carpenters’ union members are Black; 8.3% of the electricians’ union members and so on. The City of Oakland has done two very thorough reports of these racial equity issues. You can find this important information at the end of this story.

But the leadership of the construction trades now insist that that they should obtain an even larger portion of the construction hours and that this practice should be set in stone by something called a Project Labor Agreement. It is now being inaccurately called a “Community Workforce Agreement,” which is nonsense because it doesn’t help the community.

Why would progressive Oakland consider giving exclusive benefits to organizations that practice well-documented racial discrimination? At least one part of the reason is that the construction unions spend enormous amounts of money on Oakland elections. They were instrumental in former City Councilmember Desley Brooks’ defeat in District 6, for example, because they did not consider her sufficiently compliant with their demands.

The City Council established a task force to discuss the racial issues involved in construction and the possibility of a Project Labor Agreement. The task force included some community members, including the publisher of the Oakland Post, and was mandated to address racial discrimination first.

The community members proposed that the entire task force work collectively throughout the process of making proposals and negotiating solutions. The City rejected this proposal and began meeting with the building trades alone, saying that they would return with a proposed Project Labor Agreement, although there has been no demonstrated change in the racial exclusivity practiced by the construction trades.

This is outrageous on three levels:

  1. These are the tax dollars of Black residents, as well as others.
  2. The community’s interests in racial justice have not been resolved in any policy venue.
  3. The community belongs at the table throughout whatever process takes place.

The usual arguments for labor/employer negotiations do not apply. The construction unions are NOT city workers. If they were city employees, they would have both the rights (negotiations) and the responsibilities (non-discriminatory hiring) of the city. Since they are not held responsible to Include Black people in their organizations, they should not have the right to exclusive negotiations about anything

I am hopeful, of course, that the City will reject the continuation and expansion of racial discrimination policies practiced by the leadership of the trades unions and will insist on the drastic changes necessary for Black people to obtain 23% of the work hours they are due by virtue of their proportion of the population and tax dollars contributed.

These two documents below provide information that is both illuminating and horrifying.

Oakland Equity Indicators: https://www.oaklandca.gov/projects/oakland-equity-indicators

Disparity Study – https://www.postnewsgroup.com/disparity-study-examines-patterns-of-discrimination-seeks-remedies-for-city-practices-of-selecting-contractors-in-construction-goods-and-services/

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Activism

The California Department of Aging: There Is Help for Elder Californians

Part of the statewide plan for addressing the Black elder community is to partner with ethnic media organizations to spread the word about the resources that are available to Californians in the advanced phase of their aging process. DeMarois, much like Nevins, acknowledged that a large portion of the state’s plan to reach Black elders is through local churches.

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Sharon Nevins, director of San Bernardino County’s Department of Aging and Adult Services, Cheryl Brown and CDA Director Susan DeMarois talk to a group of community members. CBM staff photo.
Sharon Nevins, director of San Bernardino County’s Department of Aging and Adult Services, Cheryl Brown and CDA Director Susan DeMarois talk to a group of community members. CBM staff photo.

By Aldon Thomas Stiles California Black Media

The St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church’s Commission on Social Action held a community meeting on aging last Thursday in San Bernardino with representatives from the California Department of Aging (CDA) and the Bernardino County’s Department of Aging and Adult Services.

Held in the sanctuary, the discussion featured state representatives and Social Action Commission members led by former Assemblymember and Commission Chair Cheryl Brown, who represented the 47th Assembly District in San Bernardino County from 2012 to 2016.

Brown spoke with community members and leaders from San Bernardino and Riverside counties about programs and resources available for elderly Californians and the caregivers who look after them.

“The state has set aside millions of dollars to help older Californians have a better quality of life through the Master Plan for Aging. And caregiving is fourth of the five goals established in the state’s Master Plan for Aging,” Brown told California Black Media.

CDA Director Susan DeMarois also attended the meeting.

CDA administers programs that serve older adults, adults with disabilities, family caregivers, and residents in long-term care facilities throughout the state. It has a $450 million budget and according to its Strategic Plan, CDA’s first objective is to advance Gov. Gavin Newsom’s California Master Plan for Aging.

Newsom’s master plan was introduced as an executive order in the summer of 2019. Conceptualized as a five-point plan, its framework encompasses housing, health, equity, caregiving “that works” and affording aging.

According to DeMarois each point of the governor’s master plan has its own budget and will be implemented over the next eight years.

During the meeting — titled “Lunch, Listen and Learn” — community members expressed their concerns and suggestions specifically regarding how to take care of elderly Black people in the Inland Empire. A major theme of the discussion was ensuring familiar (traditional) modes and channels of communications that were being employed to reach Black elders.

Sharon Nevins, director of San Bernardino County Department of Aging and Adult Services, spoke about ways in which the county has been involved in addressing those concerns.

“We have staff out there in the community, putting information in hands,” said Nevins.

Nevins emphasized the significance of Black churches and their unique influence on Black elders in California.

“We definitely reach out to the churches. We’ve always done that,” Nevins said.

DeMarois hailed San Bernardino as a model for the rest of the state because the city has been “meeting the needs of the whole person.”

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), California was tied with Hawaii in 2019 for the states with the nation’s highest life expectancy at an average of about 81 years.

Riverside County has a life expectancy of 80.3 years and San Bernardino County has a lower expectancy at 78.8 years.

Part of the statewide plan for addressing the Black elder community is to partner with ethnic media organizations to spread the word about the resources that are available to Californians in the advanced phase of their aging process.

DeMarois, much like Nevins, acknowledged that a large portion of the state’s plan to reach Black elders is through local churches.

“It’s multi-pronged,” said DeMarois. “We know in the Black community faith is a proven path.”

One of the organizations mentioned during the community meeting – an organization that DeMarois claims she took note of – is the Inland Empire Pastor’s Association.

DeMarois expressed the need for the state and local agencies to implement “coordinated strategies” to approach challenges facing the state’s aging population.

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Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson
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