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Oakland Educator Sylverine Brooks, 75

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Sylverine Brooks, an Oakland educator, passed away on August 27,  2019.  She was 75.

Born in Nov. 27, 1943 in Hennings, Tenn., she was the daughter of Mary Ella and Johnnie Mac Bradford.

Sylverine received a BS degree from Tennessee State University and a MA from Pepperdine University School of Education. She moved to Oakland in 1965.

She taught math at Castlemont High School for 37 years and retired in 2003. She was a longtime member of Allen Temple Baptist Church where she worshipped for 50 years.

She was married to Donald Brooks and they shared a beautiful life together for 52 years.

“Brooks was a dear, loving, true sister friend- compassionate, kind, giving and caring,” said friend Berta Bryant.

“She was an outstanding educator, competent, skilled and talented math teacher. A wonderful cooperative hard working colleague who loved working and teaching at the Castle. She was the cornerstone of dedication, determination, cooperation and excellence.

“I will always cherish our longtime friendship and the many years of beautiful shared memories,” Bryant said.

Brooks is survived by her husband, Donald; sons Kelvin and Eric; four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

The viewing will be on Wed., Sept. 11, 2019,. at  CP Bannon Mortuary, 6800 International Blvd. in Oakland from 1:00 p.m. to  6:00 p.m.

Funeral services will be held on Thurs., Sept. 12, 2019, at 11:00 a.m. at Allen Temple Baptist Church, 8501 International Blvd., Oakland.

The interment will be at Dixon National Cemetery, Dixon California.

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Activism

Alameda County Grand Jury Report Cites Probate Conservatorship Cries Out for Reform

Alameda County needs a radical transformation in the way legal defense services are provided, said Venus Gist, a ‘Shout Out Justice’ advocate. “As things now stand, these services almost always result in a conservatorship being granted. There are no trials. No appeals. Less restrictive alternatives are not seriously explored,” she went on.

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Probate Advocate Venus Gist says, “Alameda County needs a radical transformation in the way legal defense services are provided.”
Probate Advocate Venus Gist says, “Alameda County needs a radical transformation in the way legal defense services are provided.”

By Tanya Dennis

Last week, the Alameda County Grand Jury released its final report on the Alameda County Probate Court and found numerous deficiencies that have been criticized by probate reform groups for decades.

The Grand Jury found that:

  • Probate Court staff is severely overworked and understaffed;
  • The Public Defender’s office has no monitoring system to ascertain the service it renders to beneficiaries to assure their needs are addressed;
  • Guardians are not provided formal training;
  • There is no formal grievance process;
  • Beneficiaries who are poor do not get the same level of service as those with means
  • Involuntary conservatorship can drain estates quickly because of lack of oversight.

The Grand Jury report has given hope to probate reform advocates, who have been protesting these deficiencies for years with little or no success.

Spectrum Institute has been calling for Probate Court reform for eight years, especially in regard to beneficiaries with disabilities.

“The report of the Grand Jury sends a signal to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors that the status quo of unnecessary and overreaching conservatorships must end,” said Spectrum Institute Director Tom Coleman. “In terms of the responsibility to stop conservatorship abuses, the buck stops with the Board of Supervisors.’

Coleman suggested that the board should look to Nevada for solutions. “It should adopt a new system for providing legal defense services to seniors and people with disabilities who are targeted by these proceedings,” he said.

Recommendations from the Grand Jury are that the Alameda County Defender’s office transfer the responsibility of conservatorship to a separate agency with a contract specifying standards be met in order to receive funding from the County.

The Grand Jury is also advocating for a “Zealous Advocate,” a legal representative who assures that the desires of the conservatee are addressed.

Conserved involuntarily, Katherine Carter had to be ‘kidnapped’ from a long-term care facility by her daughter, Venus Gist, a ‘Shout Out Justice’ advocate.

Carter had been neglected to the degree that the facility had arranged hospice care. Risking arrest and prosecution, Gist “illegally” removed her mother from the facility. Katherine Carter lived an additional four years after being given 3 to 6 months to live.

“As both an advocate and a victim of the probate court, I think it’s exceptional that the Grand Jury of Alameda County has finally filed a report addressing the issues of conservatorship within the Public Guardian’s Office,” Gist said. “Abusive conservatorships are occurring nationwide and seldom are public servants such as judges, attorneys, conservators, fiduciaries, etc. held accountable and convicted of criminal acts committed towards their clients.…. it’s rarely talked about, and families and caregivers are mostly blamed.”

Alameda County needs a radical transformation in the way legal defense services are provided., Gist said. “As things now stand, these services almost always result in a conservatorship being granted. There are no trials. No appeals. Less restrictive alternatives are not seriously explored,” she went on.

She agrees with Coleman that the board should hire an outside firm to audit the public defender and “look seriously at adopting the Nevada model for legal defense services in Alameda County.”

To prevent abuses such as the Carter family encountered, the Grand Jury recommends that a neutral third-party entity be selected to conduct annual reviews of conservatorships to assess attorney compliance and determine compliance with probate rules.

The Grand Jury also recommended that attorneys take ongoing educational training in probate conservatorship and establish annual performance evaluations. They also recommend that a licensed health professional evaluate each client.

Although encouraged by the Grand Jury report, Gist feels it did not go far enough and wishes they had interviewed citizens who have been violated. Gist says, “If they are investigating, conduct it thoroughly, it requires the whole truth.”

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Barbara Lee

IN MEMORIAM: Tribute to the Late Rev. Dr. Gillette O. James, Emeritus

Rev. Dr. Gillette O. James’ patience and foresight helped individuals to discern their calling to the ministry. Some became pastors because they were properly trained, tutored and mentored in the meaning of godly service to others.

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Rev. Dr. Gillette O. James, pastor emeritus, Beth Eden Baptist Church
Rev. Dr. Gillette O. James, pastor emeritus, Beth Eden Baptist Church

By Rev. Dr. Martha C. Taylor

Maya Angelou’s iconic poem “When Great Trees Fall” is a reminder of the impact that a person has on the lives of others during their lifetime.

Rev. Dr. Gillette O. James, pastor emeritus, Beth Eden Baptist Church was called from labor to reward on April 20, 2022, leaving a huge void in the Bay Area after serving for 46 years as senior pastor. He was an honored senior statesman and distinguished iconic figure.

Pastor James joined the Beth Eden community in 1970 as an assistant pastor. A year later, he accepted the call to lead the congregation after the retirement of Pastor A.C. Dones. Dr. James became the 12th pastor of Beth Eden, also known as the “Mother Church” because it was the first Black Baptist church in Oakland and also a historic flagship church in Alameda County.

Dr. James was born in Dominica, West Indies. He immigrated to the United States in 1955, and later met his beautiful wife, the late Dr. Rosa V. Ferguson, in Ohio. She was a renowned educator in the Bay Area and formerly with the Progressive National Baptist Convention as noted by Dr. Vinchael Booth.

They remained married for 55 years until her death in 2017. They have one daughter, Jennifer Muhammad. Dr. James was a great soul. He was not only a pastor, he was an educator, author, community leader, justice warrior, humanitarian champion, voice for the voiceless, and a moving force for civil rights in the Bay Area.

Pastor James was a strong advocate for the role of women in church leadership positions. At one point, he was ousted from the California State Baptist Convention for his strong stance on women’s involvement in the ministry. He was later restored and continued to license and ordain numerous women in the clergy ministry.

Bay Area pastors looked up to Dr. James as a ‘pastor’s pastor’ and mentor. For him, life had endless possibilities. Dr. James had a reputation for keeping churches united. Under his leadership, Beth Eden maintained strong relationships with other churches and denominations including Taylor United Methodist, Bethlehem Lutheran and Antioch Missionary Baptist churches during the Thanksgiving season.

Dr. James was one of the rare persons who reached the summit of life because he believed in God’s word: “Thou Will be Done on Earth.” Doing God’s will on earth was about helping others along the way.

With the help of able-bodied members, Beth Eden built 54 senior housing units, purchased single-family housing and a triplex near the church for low-income families, fed the hungry, distributed groceries in the community.

Under his visionary leadership, a new family life center, with gymnasium and a daycare facility started construction and has been completed under the leadership of Dr. Dwight Webster, current pastor.

Dr. James showed a great appreciation for Black History, both from a religious as well as a cultural perspective. Beth Eden provided free office space to the first Black Adoption Agency in the Bay Area in its early days.

At one point, Beth Eden was named Oakland’s Teaching Church of the Year by the Berkeley School of Theology, formerly known as American Baptist Seminary of the West. Dr. James served on the seminary’s trustee board, was an adjunct professor at the seminary, bringing new ways of bridging theological training to the everyday lives of people.

Dr. James’ patience and foresight helped individuals to discern their calling to the ministry. Some became pastors because they were properly trained, tutored and mentored in the meaning of godly service to others. Dr. James authored “Through Toils and Snares-A Preacher Testifies.”

In this book, we get a glimpse of Dr. James’ life prior to his call to ministry at Beth Eden. Dr. James served two years in the military as Chaplain Assistant with numerous military attire photos. He was ordained in San Francisco at the Greater New St. John Missionary Baptist Church; one month later he and his wife were the key organizers of Grace Baptist Church, San Francisco. Drs. Gillette and Rosa James purchased a beautiful home on Havenscourt Boulevard, a tree-lined street in East Oakland where they loved entertaining the deacon and deaconess boards, often having them over for dinner and fellowship.

On March 13, 2017, Congresswoman Barbara Lee honored Dr. James in the House of Representatives on the occasion of his retirement as Pastor of Beth Eden. Dr. James legacy will never die. The current pastor, Rev. Dwight Webster, PhD, is a former son of Beth Eden, who was mentored by Dr. James.

The Homegoing celebration for Dr. James will be held Monday, May 16, 2022, at Beth Eden Baptist Church at 1183 Tenth St. in Oakland at 11 a.m.

COVID protocols will be observed and everyone must wear a mask.

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Black History

IN MEMORIAM: A Passion-Driven Life — Remembering Educator Brenda Harris (Dec. 1951 – March 2022)

“I had the honor of knowing Brenda for over 35 years, dating back to when she was a senior advisor at the California Department of Education. She was an extraordinary individual, an expert policymaker in the field of education and a fearless civil rights advocate,” said Dotson Wilson, former chief clerk and parliamentarian of the California Assembly.

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Brenda Harris. Image courtesy of Leo T. McCarthy Center.
Brenda Harris. Image courtesy of Leo T. McCarthy Center.

By Tanu Henry, California Black Media

Like her devotion to her Catholic faith, Brenda Harris’ willingness to help others, especially disadvantaged people, was consistent and rare, authentic in a way that drew everyone to her, friends and loved ones say.

On March 5, Harris, an outspoken advocate and civil servant who influenced state education policy, died after a brief illness. She was 71.

“I had the honor of knowing Brenda for over 35 years, dating back to when she was a senior advisor at the California Department of Education. She was an extraordinary individual, an expert policymaker in the field of education and a fearless civil rights advocate,” said Dotson Wilson, former chief clerk and parliamentarian of the California Assembly.

“Whether she was speaking to aspiring young students, academicians or elected officials, Brenda remained steadfast in her goal to implement sound education policy,” Wilson continued. “I consider it an honor to have known her as a colleague and friend.”

Wilson, who was the longest-serving African American in the State Assembly, retired in 2019 after 26 years.

Before becoming an Education Program Consultant at the California Department of Education, an advisor to the California State Board of Education and a professor at Sacramento State University, Harris was an elementary, middle and high school teacher in San Francisco.

Harris, who was a resident of Sacramento when she passed away, tutored students and taught classes at several after-school programs and community learning centers in Sacramento and the Bay Area.

When Harris was a teenager, her family moved to Marysville, a Yuba County town about 50 miles north of San Francisco. After graduating from high school in 1969, she attended Gonzaga University in the state of Washington. Later, she transferred to the University of San Francisco (USF) in 1971, where she majored in Communications and Sociology.

“She looked up to her parents as role models, both of whom were active participants in the Civil Rights Movement and had participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the mid-1950s,” said Jack Weinrieb and Meghan Grant, two San Francisco educators who wrote a biography of Harris.

“Harris would listen to her parents discuss the inhumanity of racism, injustice, and discrimination and quickly learned about the importance of doing her part in social movements,” Weinreib and Grant continued. “Harris recalls that her mother instilled an understanding that underprivileged populations have similar struggles, no matter their race.”

While she was a student at USF, Harris became close to other Black students and participated in several social and political activities on campus and in nearby neighborhoods.

She worked in USF’s financial aid office and with the school’s Drama department. And she volunteered, lending her time to community organizations serving several disadvantaged city districts with large Black populations, including the Western Addition, Bayview–Hunters Point, Haight-Ashbury and the Fillmore.

Daniel Hahn, Sacramento’s first Black chief of police — who served from 2017 until the end of last year — said he was always impressed by how many people Harris knew and how committed she was to helping others.

“She was extremely engaged in making tomorrow better for all people,” he said. “She was constantly introducing me to people in the city and she was always encouraging me to carry out the things I believed in. She wasn’t just talk. She always followed through with her actions.”

Harris attended St. Ignatius Loyola Church in Sacramento and taught classes at the church’s Center for Ignatian Spirituality.

“Gratitude is at the core of my existence. Ignatian Spirituality made me a global citizen. Living at this moment in world history, I am to share Ignatian Spirituality with a diverse ecumenical group globally,” Harris said in a statement on the center’s website.

Regina Wilson, executive director of California Black Media, said Harris loved the Black press.

“She always wanted to know what was happening in Black communities,” Wilson said. “She was a faithful supporter of Black-owned news outlets across the state.”

“For her, it was more than just representation. It was about informing people, educating people and improving lives,” Wilson said.

A memorial Mass for Harris will be held at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Sacramento at 10 a.m. on April l8, 2022.

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