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Make Mental Wellness Part of Total Health for Black Communities

The pandemic has propelled health inequity and racism into news headlines and helped spark national conversations about the health disparities that face the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. The impact of decisions about the treatment we receive or deserve are often driven by racism and the resulting implicit bias that individuals who have sworn to take care of their patients often harbor. And this affects our physical, mental, and emotional health and ultimately health outcomes.

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These conversations have provided a platform for discussion and opportunities to educate, dispel misinformation and break stigmas. Rhonda Smith, executive director of California Black Health Network.
These conversations have provided a platform for discussion and opportunities to educate, dispel misinformation and break stigmas. Rhonda Smith, executive director of California Black Health Network.

By Rhonda Smith

The next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in California has arrived. As the state begins to implement its SMARTER Plan, protecting ourselves and our communities from COVID-19 and its fast-spreading variants through vaccination can ensure better outcomes for us all.

Despite mask mandates ending, we must continue to spotlight the importance of keeping Black and African Americans healthy and encourage our community to think about being more proactive about our overall health and well-being. We can start by focusing on our whole selves—our physical, mental, and emotional health.

The pandemic has propelled health inequity and racism into news headlines and helped spark national conversations about the health disparities that face the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. The impact of decisions about the treatment we receive or deserve are often driven by racism and the resulting implicit bias that individuals who have sworn to take care of their patients often harbor. And this affects our physical, mental, and emotional health and ultimately health outcomes.

A reflection on our historical relationship with the medical community has certainly warranted the level of distrust of the healthcare system, and the many stories of outright racism and discrimination experienced in the past.

One example is Dr. James Marian Sims, who performed surgeries and experiments on Black women without their permission or anesthesia. Another example, which many of us are familiar with, is the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, which was administered by the U.S. Public Health Service from 1932 to 1972 to better understand syphilis.

During the four decades, hundreds of Black men in Tuskegee, Alabama, were injected with the disease without giving their consent; and even once penicillin became a common syphilis treatment, they were left untreated.

Our distrust of the healthcare system has been further shaped by present-day experiences, with many Blacks and African Americans saying they have experienced racism during a medical visit or that their physical pain or discomfort is frequently ignored.

Unfortunately, our healthcare system has often disregarded BIPOC patient needs, and systemic racism has morphed into a true public health crisis. Despite this, as Blacks and African Americans, we have persisted. Our individual and cultural resilience equips us to persevere and survive in a system built on a foundation of discriminatory design.

As part of our culture and heritage, we have relied on an oral tradition that passes on stories about how we should care for ourselves and remedies that heal our ailments. I hear many of these stories through our network and I heard them in my own family. We have relied on our own learnings; and in some instances, we have relied on our faith. And through it all, we have found ways to maintain our health and wellness.

However, we are weathered, and enduring resiliency is hard. If we are not whole, we are not healthy. If we are not healthy, we cannot be resilient.

Resilience is an element of mental health, and our whole health comprises elements of physical, mental, and emotional wellness. This means our whole health needs to be a priority, not only one dimension or another. We must invest in our individual health and wellbeing and make it a priority so that our families, community, and all of us will be healthier and live longer.

We must look to the past to inspire a better future so that we can rewrite our heath history here in California. I appreciate the state’s COVID-19 awareness campaign which has sought to address mental health concerns and other issues that impact us by partnering with African American and Black medical experts and advocates for community conversations.

These conversations have provided a platform for discussion and opportunities to educate, dispel misinformation and break stigmas.

We are not strangers to race-based adversity, and its impact on our health and wellbeing. Racism, health inequities inequity, police brutality, and residential redlining each affect public health in its own unique way. Yet we continue to persevere.

Black History Month was a time to remember our past, honor our heroes, celebrate our great legacy of achievement. The theme for the month this year was “Black Health and Wellness”, and it was meant for us to prioritize total wellness and build a healthier history for us now and for generations to come.

For more about COVID-19, including guidance on masking and testing, visit covid19.ca.gov. You should also visit covid19.ca.gov or the CDC.gov more timely, accurate information about the pandemic. To schedule an appointment for a vaccination or a booster, visit MyTurn.ca.gov, or call 1-833-422-4255.

Rhonda Smith, executive director of California Black Health Network

Activism

Grocery Inflation Causes Food Banks to be the Default for Families in Oakland

Steve Morris, Director of Natural Resources and Environment at GAO, explained that while the pandemic certainly had an effect on food increases, there is not one single factor for a rise in food prices. He said events like the Ukraine-Russian war, the avian influenza epidemic that raised the price of eggs, and climate change are also key factors.

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Photo: iStock image.
Photo: iStock image.

By Magaly Muñoz

During the past three years, the US has seen the largest increase in food prices since the 1980s. In response to this crisis, community food banks have emerged to provide much-needed assistance to families in need.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that national food prices have increased 11% from 2021 to 2022, when the average yearly increase was previously 2%. The San Francisco Bay Area saw a 12% increase from 2021 to 2022.

Steve Morris, Director of Natural Resources and Environment at GAO, explained that while the pandemic certainly had an effect on food increases, there is not one single factor for a rise in food prices. He said events like the Ukraine-Russian war, the avian influenza epidemic that raised the price of eggs, and climate change are also key factors.

While still maintaining that elevated prices will persist for the foreseeable future, Morris anticipates a decrease of 8% in food price increases.

He also stated that while the average person may spend 10% of their income on groceries, a low-income family may spend 30%, making the inflation in food prices that much harsher.

“Higher food prices can put people in a position where they have to make some tough choices between ‘can they go to the grocery store and buy food’ or ‘do they have to spend it on other necessities like home or health care or other things,’” Morris said.

Michael Altfest is the Director of Community Engagement and Marketing for Alameda County (AC) Food Bank, the primary food distributor in the county with over 400 community partners that receive frequent donations.

Altfest shared that from 2019 to 2023, the number of pounds of food distributed to their community partners has doubled. In 2019, the food bank distributed 32.5 million pounds of food, while in 2021 during the height of the pandemic, they distributed 58.1 million pounds. This year they are on pace to distribute almost 60 million pounds of food.

“If we’re on pace this year to provide more than we did in the pandemic, I think that says a lot about what the state of hunger is right now,” Altfest said.

During the height of the pandemic, state and federal government relief programs helped families offset significant expenses like groceries. These programs included the child tax credit increase that put anywhere from $2,000 up to $3,600 back into qualifying families pockets when filing their yearly taxes.

Another program that directly targeted food insecurity, was the increase in funds for SNAP or CalFresh. These government programs provide food-purchasing assistance for low- and no-income people to help them maintain adequate nutrition and health. But earlier this spring, funding was cut from the state program CalFresh and families saw at least a $95 decrease in their assistance.

“Every single person talks about the cost of living in Alameda County, every single person. The cost of rent, the cost of food, those are things that come up every single time without fail,” Altfest shared.

One of AC Food Bank’s community partners is Homies Empowerment, a non-profit in Oakland that was established as a means to support youth and the community through a positive lens.

Selena Duarte, the FREEdom Store Coordinator, said the organization’s initiative to help families with food provision began in May of 2020 when their original store was filled only with books and students told them that while it was nice to have things to read, “they can’t eat books,” showing the team at Homies Empowerment that there were bigger needs in the community that they had to address.

Since then, the organization has expanded its services. They now provide groceries every Tuesday, have established the FREEdom Farm where they grow produce that gets distributed in their make-shift store, offer hot breakfast to 40 students and their families five days a week, and much more.

Duarte said that they serve almost 400 families a week and they are continuing to expand their food services due to the increasing number of people coming to them seeking help to reduce their spending on groceries. She recognized that although people say that the “pandemic is over”, she knows that the stress that families are experiencing is still very real.

“The next phase is really becoming a sustainable community food hub, where literally we can grow, share, cook, and store our food here in the community and for the community,” Duarte said.

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Activism

Oakland Post: Week of July 10 – 16, 2024

The printed Weekly Edition of the Oakland Post: Week of July 10 – 16, 2024

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Activism

“A Time to Reflect and Rejoice”: Black Caucus Members Commemorate Juneteenth on Assembly Floor

On June 17, two days before Juneteenth, members of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) delivered remarks on the Assembly floor commemorating the national holiday and its significance in American history.
ACR 192, introduced by Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), aims to honor, and reflect on the emancipation of African Americans from chattel slavery and honor their contributions throughout America’s history.

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Assemblymember Dr. Akilah Weber (D-La Mesa) speaking on the California Assembly Floor.
Assemblymember Dr. Akilah Weber (D-La Mesa) speaking on the California Assembly Floor.

By California Black Media

On June 17, two days before Juneteenth, members of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) delivered remarks on the Assembly floor commemorating the national holiday and its significance in American history.

ACR 192, introduced by Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), aims to honor, and reflect on the emancipation of African Americans from chattel slavery and honor their contributions throughout America’s history.

Speaking on the Assembly floor, Jones-Sawyer said the resolution is the CLBC’s annual commemoration of Juneteenth as “Freedom Day.”

“Two years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the bell of freedom rang true for over 3 million Black Americans, marking the beginning of the fight to secure the freedom of those still enslaved and provide fair and equal treatment for the formerly enslaved,” Jones-Sawyer said.

“Juneteenth is a time to reflect and rejoice for all the work it took to reach this point, as well as a reminder that true equality is not accomplished overnight,” he added. “While there have been great strides to acknowledge and address the history and plight of Black Americans, society, as a whole, still has a long way to go. Juneteenth is an opportunity to educate all communities that we may not repeat injustices and abuses committed in the past.”

The resolution particularly highlights how Black Americans have helped enrich American civic life through their steadfast commitment to promoting unity and equality.

Assemblymember Dr. Akilah Weber (D-La Mesa), also a member of the CLBC, spoke on behalf of the Women’s Caucus in support of Assembly Concurrent Resolution (ACR) 192, the California Legislature’s resolution acknowledging the federal holiday and celebrating the emancipation of African Americans from slavery.

Weber highlighted that African Americans won their hard-won freedom after providing free labor illegally for two-and-a-half more years in Texas.

Weber shared the story of Opal Lee, known as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth.”  Lee is among numerous civil rights activists and leaders who campaigned for decades for June 19th to be recognized as a federal holiday.

Lee traveled around the country educating people about Juneteenth and led walks each year commemorating Juneteenth before it was federally recognized.

At 89, Lee led a symbolic walk, said Weber, from her hometown of Ft. Worth, Texas, to Washington, D.C., leaving in September of 2016 and arriving in January of 2017.

Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021 and Lee was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2024 for her activism.

“Lee represents the millions of women throughout the history of this country who have worked tirelessly to ensure that our history is not erased, reframed nor ignored,” said Weber.

Other lawmakers who recognized Juneteenth on the Assembly floor included Assemblymember Lori Wilson (D-Suisun City), Chair of the CLBC; Eloise Gomez Reyes (D-Colton), chair of the California Legislative Latino Caucus; Assemblymember Jim Patterson (R-Fresno); Assemblymember James C. Ramos (D-San Bernardino), chair of the California Native American Legislative Caucus; and Assemblymember Corey Jackson (D-Moreno Valley), also a member of CLBC.

“It is a call-to-action for all Californians to interrogate the systems that keeps others in bondage,” said Wilson.

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