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Mississippi, West Virginia Toughest on School Immunizations

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Pediatric residents from the Batson Children's Hospital at the University of Mississippi Medical Center wear stickers calling for the lawmakers to support immunizations during a visit to the Capitol, Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015, in Jackson, Miss. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mississippi has the highest measles immunization rate in the country for children entering kindergarten. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Pediatric residents from the Batson Children’s Hospital at the University of Mississippi Medical Center wear stickers calling for the lawmakers to support immunizations during a visit to the Capitol, Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015, in Jackson, Miss. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mississippi has the highest measles immunization rate in the country for children entering kindergarten. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JOHN RABY, Associated Press
EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS, Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — With rampant diabetes and obesity, Mississippi and West Virginia have struggled with health crises. Yet when it comes to getting children vaccinated, these states don’t mess around.

The states, among the poorest in the country, are the only ones that refuse to exempt school children from mandatory vaccinations based on their parents’ personal or religious beliefs. Separate efforts to significantly loosen those rules died in both states’ legislatures last week.

Mississippi has the highest immunization rate in the country for children entering kindergarten at 99.7 percent, while West Virginia is at roughly 96 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The figures cover vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella; diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis; and varicella, or chickenpox.

Public health officials say a 90 percent immunization rate is critical to minimizing the potential for a disease outbreak.

“Mississippi is not traditionally viewed as a leader on health issues. But in this area, they should be proud of the fact that they have not changed this law. Mississippi and West Virginia could be role models for other states,” said Dr. Mark Schleiss, a pediatrician and vaccine researcher at the University of Minnesota.

A recent measles outbreak that has sickened more than 100 people has brought attention to policies in 48 states that allow parents to opt out of vaccinating their children because of their religious beliefs or personal beliefs, or both.

But in West Virginia and Mississippi the rules are firm: Barring a significant medical reason, kids who haven’t been vaccinated can’t attend school — public or private.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, West Virginia’s state health officer, said the limit on exemptions is the reason his state has been spared from any measles outbreaks for decades. And the policy has been relatively uncontroversial.

“The overwhelming majority of the public … support having more of their children protected through vaccinations than less,” he said.

Some parents in West Virginia are perplexed that people wouldn’t vaccinate their kids.

“I don’t think it’s a big deal,” said Paula Beasley, whose daughter attends fifth grade in Cross Lanes, West Virginia. “Everyone needs to. It’s all for the greater good.”

Mississippi lawmakers are considering a proposal to let doctors grant medical exemptions that would allow children to skip or delay a vaccination. Currently, only the state Department of Health can grant an exemption. Though all 135 requested exemptions were granted for this school year, a group called Mississippi Parents for Vaccine Rights said the department has ignored its concerns that the state requires too many immunizations too early in life. The activists’ demand for a philosophical exemption was stripped from the bill last week.

Tracey Liles of Grenada, Mississippi, who has a 13-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son, is among those pushing for the change because she thinks the health department has been too stingy in granting medical exemptions. Liles said her daughter is fully vaccinated but ran a high fever and slept for two days after a round of vaccinations about 10 years ago. Her daughter, who is now in eighth grade, had to get a state-mandated booster shot for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis before entering seventh grade.

“Obviously, I wasn’t going to pull her out of school, being a cheerleader and everything. So, we did it,” Liles said. “Basically, I feel like I was forced to do it, but I didn’t have a choice.”

Dr. Mary Currier, the state health officer in Mississippi, has urged legislators not to weaken the immunization requirements, particularly with measles spreading in other states.

Mississippi enacted a strong vaccination law in the 1970s. In 1979, the Mississippi Supreme Court blocked a father’s request not to vaccinate his son because of religious beliefs.

The protection of students “against the horrors of crippling and death resulting from poliomyelitis or smallpox or from one of the other diseases against which means of immunization are known and have long been practiced successfully, demand that children who have not been immunized should be excluded from the school community until immunization has been accomplished,” the court wrote.

Republican Dean Kirby, chairman of the Mississippi Senate Public Health Committee, said that when proposals to create a philosophical exemption arose in recent years, he received calls mostly from one side — those wanting the change. With the measles outbreak this year, Kirby said he’s hearing from parents who want to keep the law as it is.

“They don’t want their children going to school with people who have not had the shots,” Kirby said.

West Virginia’s school vaccination law has its roots in the 1880s and has been repeatedly changed. But the trend toward expanding exemptions never gained traction.

Last week, a proposed religious exemption was removed from consideration without debate in the legislature.

Dr. Ron Stollings, a state senator, said lawmakers may tweak which state officials can grant medical exemptions, but public safety demands exemptions be kept to a minimum.

“Without this mandate, we’d be in the 60 to 70 percent vaccinate rate and not 90 percent,” he said.

___

Emily Wagster Pettus reported from Jackson, Mississippi. Associated Press writer Jonathan Mattise contributed from Charleston.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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

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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Activism

Black Mental Health Part 9 – The Anti Police-Terror Project

APTP saw their desire for change come to fruition when Oakland adopted the MACRO program. The Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland (MACRO) program handles non-emergency and non-violent 911 calls. APTP trains MACRO participants and pushed to establish a community advisory board. They work with Elliott Jones, director of MACRO, to replace services the police once provided. The MACRO model is grounded in empathetic service to the community while reducing responses by police.

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Cat Brooks seen at a recent rally.
Cat Brooks seen at a recent rally.

By Tanya Dennis

The Anti Police-Terror Project was formed by a hodge-podge of organizations led by community activist Tur-Ha Ak; nurse, Asantewaa Boykin; poet, Michael Walker, Tha Ghetto Prophet; and performer, organizer and activist Cat Brooks.

They were in the streets between Los Angeles and Oakland in 2010 training organizers on how to respond to police-resident encounters to ensure that the killing people of color ceased. Instead, they witnessed an increase.

According to Brooks, “We questioned what communities would look like if we did not call the police, and what we learned in the data was the only way to decrease the number of killings was to decrease police presence in our communities.”

Brooks said that the community’s demand for change stemmed from numerous atrocities perpetrated by the Oakland Police Department (OPD) where 11 Black men were killed in one year, and Celeste Guap reported in 2016 that she had been raped and trafficked by 14 law enforcement officers including OPD.

Brooks added, “. . .and there was a definite shift against the police after they gunned down Yuvette Henderson in 2015 for shoplifting. I believe that was part of what gave birth to the ‘Say Her Name’ movement.”

APTP, recognizing the need to create alternative responses, birthed their “Defund the Police” movement. “Even though our Defund the Police campaign drew a lot of negative responses, it was important for people to get together and say their names, to express their rage and talk about, not just the physical impact these killings were having on our emotional health, but the impact of them killing us one after another, and our lack of power to do anything about it.”

Redefining what public safety looked like, APTP engaged Oakland and Sacramento communities with de-escalation training, developing a mental health model that did not involve the police.

“We developed Mental Health First, a First Responders Program, Rapid Response Program, and a Jail Support Program. Our Mental Health First program is an assembly of doctors, nurses and people affected. As people learned about our services our phone began ringing off the hook, from people grateful to have a number to call other than 911.

“The problem is that there’s no place a Black person can go to get long-term care for mental issues. We’re building a clinic where we can hold people for longer than 24 hours. Sometimes a person just needs a warm blanket, some food and to be heard.”

About 40% of the City of Oakland’s general funds go to the police. APTP proposes that the police budget be cut in half and funds instead go to the community and provide 24/7 mental health services in Oakland.

APTP saw their desire for change come to fruition when Oakland adopted the MACRO program. The Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland (MACRO) program handles non-emergency and non-violent 911 calls.

APTP trains MACRO participants and pushed to establish a community advisory board. They work with Elliott Jones, director of MACRO, to replace services the police once provided. The MACRO model is grounded in empathetic service to the community while reducing responses by police.

APTP is continuing to build infrastructure and is looking to hire a statewide advocate to create policy to decriminalize people with mental health disabilities. APTP accepts no government money and is supported by the Akonodi and Rosenberg Foundations, California Endowment, and Lateefah Simon, a BART Board Director, among others.

The MH First hotline number in Oakland, 510-999-9MH1, is operational between 8:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

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