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OP-ED: If Kamala Harris Is Black Enough for the Black Caucus, So Is Adriano Espaillat

NNPA NEWSWIRE — We recently celebrated the birthdays of two visionary Black leaders, Martin Luther King Jr. and Arturo Alfonso Schomburg. Yet, this February, as we honor the birthday of the pioneer Rosa Parks and celebrate Black History Month, it is a perfect time for the CBC to address our request and petition for an inclusive Black agenda and membership.

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Dear Congressional Black Caucus Chair, Congresswoman Karen Bass,

Congratulations on your recent election as Chair of the illustrious Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), which is rightly dubbed the conscience of the United States Congress. And double congrats on your appointment as Chair of the Africa Sub-Committee in the House of Representatives.

This moment is particularly special for the Cameroon American Council (CAC), because we were there when you announced your Cameroonian ancestry and when the Cameroonian Ambassador to the U.S. warmly re-introduced you to us, your Cameroonian cousins. As America’s leading African immigrant advocacy organization, the CAC applauds your dedication to immigration issues by virtue of your personal convictions highlighted in the LA Times about immigration being a Black issue.

This open letter is to strengthen and expand upon the Cameroon American Council’s petition, which successfully culminated with the CBC establishing its first-ever Immigration Task Force in 2013. We also want to reintroduce our 2017 request that the CBC prioritizes Black Undocumented Immigrants on its agenda and within the CBC member ranks.

Specifically, we are asking that you accept the request of membership of all Blacks in Congress, including Congressman Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), a former undocumented individual who, like you and I, is of African descent.

We recently celebrated the birthdays of two visionary Black leaders, Martin Luther King Jr. and Arturo Alfonso Schomburg. Yet, this February, as we honor the birthday of the pioneer Rosa Parks and celebrate Black History Month, it is a perfect time for the CBC to address our request and petition for an inclusive Black agenda and membership.

And like Rosa Parks or Queen Esther in the Bible, it will take a woman to lead an inclusive CBC, for such a time as this…

Such a time like this, when 2019 marks 400 years of our shared African ancestors being sold in Virginia.

Such a time like this, when the United Nations resolution 68/237 declared 2019 as part of The International Decade for People of African Descent.

Such a time like this when the Black community in USA is no longer monolithic. And the diversity and inclusion of ALL African descent is especially needed. For instance, Espaillat’s congressional district of Harlem and Bronx in New York includes a significant African immigrant community (Little Senegal), greater Black immigrant community (Spanish Harlem) and the quintessential Black in America narrative (Harlem Renaissance).

Such a time like this, when Census 2020 is upon us and the rest of America looks to the CBC as microcosm of who will be counted as Black in America.

Your predecessors at the CBC and other CBC members officially voiced two main objections to Espaillat’s membership into the CBC: First, CBC members cannot be a part of two of the three minority/ethnic Caucuses and Espaillat’s membership in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), excludes him from CBC. Secondly, the CBC only allows Congress members of African descent, and Espaillat may not be Black or Black enough or self-identify as an African descendant.

To debunk these objections, you would agree that it is indeed FALSE that one can’t be a member of the CBC and simultaneously be part of another ethnic/minority caucus.

About a dozen African-American members are currently in two of the three ethnic/minority caucuses. The CBC members in the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) include: Kamala Harris, Bobby Scott, Al Green, Barbara Lee, Gregory Meeks, Hakeem Jeffries, Marcia Fudge, Maxine Waters, Bonnie Watson Coleman, and of course, you, Madam CBC Chair.

On the issue of Blackness, for centuries there have been debates regarding who is Black and who is considered of African descent based upon appearance alone, even in the halls of Congress. Rumors have swelled about Congressman G.K. Butterfield, who some say appears to be white and was chair of Congressional Black Caucus; or Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez who some say appears Black, yet says she is Hispanic and she was chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC). With both of these members of Congress, the Congressional tri-caucus relied on their self-identities and inducted them to CBC and CHC respectively, regardless of their appearance.

That being said, Espaillat, along with (some) Dominican-Americans, self-identify as Black and Latino. In 2002, he was elected as Chair of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus. More recently, the Congressional Research Service and Pew Research note that in 2017, out of more than 500 legislators, only two Members of Congress officially indicated dual racial/ethnic identities, Senator Kamala Harris (Black and Asian) and Congressman Espaillat.

If Kamala Harris is Black enough to be in the Black Caucus, so is Adriano Espaillat.

Unless of course, the CBC is looking at Blackness based on country of origin or immigration status. Congressman Espaillat, born in Dominican Republic, was a former undocumented Black Latino. Not only should he be included in the CBC, but so should the priorities of Black Undocumented Immigrants, such as the recent immigration arrest of Atlanta’s rapper, 21 Savage, an undocumented Black man, by ICE agents.

It will take a woman to push for such a critical inclusion. That woman is you, Chairwoman Bass. You understand the intersectionality of Blacks, immigrants and the undocumented.

From one Cameroonian descendant to another, please expand CBC rules to include ALL descendants of Mama Africa.

Kindest Regards,

Sylvie Qwasinwi Ngassa Bello,
Cameroon American Council
@CamAmerCouncil

Cameroon.American.Council@gmail.com #MyAfricanIsAfricanEnough

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of BlackPressUSA.com or the National Newspaper Publishers Association.

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Antonio‌ ‌Ray‌ ‌Harvey‌

California Will Be First State to Break Down Black Employee Data by Ethnic Origin

Recently, disaggregation of Black data has been a top priority for some Black lawmakers and advocates supporting reparations for Black descendants of American slavery in California. In January, Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), introduced AB 1604, the Upward Mobility Act of 2022, legislation that will require the state to breakdown the data of state employees by ethnic origin.

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Disaggregated data refers to the separation of compiled information into smaller units to clarify underlying trends and patterns.
Disaggregated data refers to the separation of compiled information into smaller units to clarify underlying trends and patterns.

By Antonio Ray Harvey, California Black Media

When Gov. Gavin Newsom presented the annual May revision of his budget proposal for the next fiscal year, he announced that California will establish new demographic categories when collecting data pertaining to the ethnic origin of Black state employees.

Kamilah A. Moore, the chairperson of the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans, said the breakdown of data is “amazing news.”

“California will become the first state in the nation to disaggregate data for its Black population by ancestry/lineage,” Moore posted on her Twitter page on May 13. “This will assist the task force in our efforts to develop comprehensive reparations proposals for descendants.”

Disaggregated data refers to the separation of compiled information into smaller units to clarify underlying trends and patterns. Newsom’s actions are similar to a bill authored by then-Assemblyman Rob Bonta.

In September 2016, former Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill (AB) 1726 into law that required the state Department of Public Health to separate demographic data it collects by ethnicity or ancestry for Native Hawaiian, Asian, and Pacific Islander groups.

Recently, disaggregation of Black data has been a top priority for some Black lawmakers and advocates supporting reparations for Black descendants of American slavery in California. In January, Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), introduced AB 1604, the Upward Mobility Act of 2022, legislation that will require the state to breakdown the data of state employees by ethnic origin.

The Assembly Committee on Appropriations is currently reviewing the bill.

AB 1604 promotes mobility for people of color in California’s civil services system and requires diversity on state boards and commissions. Newsom vetoed AB 105 last year, the legislative forerunner to AB 1604, which Holden also introduced.

Shortly after he was appointed chair of the Assembly Committee on Appropriations in January, Holden reintroduced the legislation as AB 1604.

Holden, a member of the California Legislative Black Caucus, said AB 1604 will give the Reparations Task Force more accurate data to utilize in its study and deliberations. The bill was passed by the Assembly Committee on Public Employment and Retirement on March 14.

In a written statement released in October last year, Newsom said he vetoed AB 105 because “the bill conflicts with existing constitutional requirements, labor, agreements, and current data collections efforts” but found disaggregation useful for dissecting data about California’s workforce.

As stated in his 2022-2023 May revision of the state budget, under the section titled “State Workforce Demographic Data Collection,” Newsom proposed the separation of Black employee data beginning with the state’s 2.5 million-plus employees.

The Department of Human Resources (CalHR) will work with the State Controller to establish new demographic categories for the collection of data pertaining to the ancestry or ethnic origin of African American employees.

The collection of this data, the document states, “continues CalHR’s duties to maintain statistical information necessary for the evaluation of equal employment opportunity and upward mobility within state civil service.”

In March, the nine-member Task Force to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans decided with a 5-4 vote that lineage will determine who will be eligible for reparations.

The May revision also includes $1.5 million in funding for the Department of Justice to continue supporting the work of the Task Force to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans

Supporters of disaggregation say it will serve as a key tool for the task force as it enters its second year of studying slavery and its lingering effects on African Americans.

The state’s reparations task force will recommend what compensation should be and how it should be paid by July 2023.

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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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Amtrak to Run Special Trains to Allensworth Historic Park Juneteenth Festival, June 11

Visitors attending the Juneteenth Festival will be able to take Amtrak San Joaquins trains to the Allensworth station. From there, riders will be met by a free shuttle for the short ride to the main property. The Allensworth station is normally a whistle stop on the San Joaquins available to be booked by groups desiring to visit the park.

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Allensworth State Park entry. Photo courtesy of CalParks.org. Trains will bring visitors to celebrate Juneteenth at site unique to California’s African American history
Allensworth State Park entry. Photo courtesy of CalParks.org. Trains will bring visitors to celebrate Juneteenth at site unique to California’s African American history

By David Lapari

Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park is holding a celebratory Juneteenth event on Saturday, June 11 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. In partnership, Amtrak San Joaquins has scheduled special trains, bookable at a 50% discount rate to bring travelers to a place of historical significance to Blacks in California.

The town of Allensworth was established in 1908 by Colonel Allen Allensworth and at one point was home to more than 300 families. The park is a California state treasure because it was the first town in California to be founded, financed, and governed by African Americans. Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park became a historical landmark in 1974.

The Juneteenth Festival is one of four major annual events hosted by Friends of Allensworth (FOA), a 501(c)(3) charitable organization whose mission is to support, promote, and advance the educational and interpretive activities at Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park.

According to FOA, “Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration of the ending of slavery. It was on June 19th, that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that all slaves were now free.”

Event activities will include square dancing, self-guided tours of historic buildings, historic games with prizes, storytelling, and arts and crafts. Food and refreshment vendors will also be present. Travelers can also bring their bikes and chairs aboard Amtrak trains and Thruway buses.

“Amtrak San Joaquins has been a long-time partner to the FOA in connecting the people of California with the historic town of Allensworth” said FOA President Sasha Biscoe. “We encourage any individual that is interested in immersing themselves in the rich, ethnically diverse history of our state to consider taking advantage of the affordable, convenient, and fun transportation option provided by Amtrak San Joaquins and join us on June 11th to celebrate Juneteenth.”

The southbound trains that will be running for the event include trains 702, 710, 712, 714. Northbound trains include trains 713, 715, 717 and 719. When purchasing train tickets, a 50% discount will automatically be applied to the ticket purchase and on up to five companion tickets. Additional discount programs regularly available to riders include:

  • Infants under 2 years of age ride for free
  • Children 2-12 years old ride half-price every day
  • Seniors (62+ years of age) receive 15% off
  • Veterans & active military members receive 15% off
  • Disabled riders save 10% off

Visitors attending the Juneteenth Festival will be able to take Amtrak San Joaquins trains to the Allensworth station. From there, riders will be met by a free shuttle for the short ride to the main property. The Allensworth station is normally a whistle stop on the San Joaquins available to be booked by groups desiring to visit the park.

Train tickets to Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park can be booked online at amtraksanjoaquins.com. For more information on how to book a group trip to Allensworth, please contact Carmen Setness, community outreach coordinator for San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission (SJRRC), at Carmen@sjjpa.com.

David Lapari works for the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority, which is responsible for the management and administration of Amtrak San Joaquins.

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