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Opinion – COVID-19 and the African American Community

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The COVID-19 pandemic is hitting the African American community especially hard due to stark health disparities that were widespread well before this pandemic.

Our Black community here in Oakland and Alameda County is now, once again, particularly at-risk for a dangerous health problem. While Alameda County’s Latino and Pacific Islander communities are also experiencing disproportionately high rates of COVID-19, African Americans are dying at the highest rates. This is a very stressful and frightening reality.

Governments at all levels must stay focused on this disparity to avoid the worst outcomes of this epidemic and protect our community, especially our beloved seniors. The way that this virus appears to cause higher rates of fatalities among African Americans needs to be central to the way we tackle this problem.

During the last few months there have been unprecedented organizational challenges caused by COVID-19, including a nationwide shortage of tests; an uphill battle to acquire enough personal protection equipment (PPE) for health workers and the community; medical staffing shortages due to the scale of this pandemic and the urgency of getting care and housing to people who are homeless.

Throughout this turmoil we remain focused on the ways that the outbreak is hitting some communities so much harder. Why? Because while this disease does not discriminate, it does not erase racism against the African American community.

In response, the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency’s Public Health Department (ACPHD) is working to reduce disparities and promote health equity.

For the COVID-19 response, ACPHD is using a multi-pronged strategy: increasing access to testing, facilitating isolation and quarantine through health and social supports, providing community-specific health education, and improving the quality and integrity of race/ethnicity data.

We can and must mitigate the long-term health and socioeconomic impacts of this pandemic on communities of color.

Here are a few of the ways that our County has been responding to COVID-19:

The County’s Office of Emergency Services (OES) is acting as a central hub for distribution of PPE, like masks and gowns, for local organizations. The OES purchases supplies and also receives PPE from state and federal sources, and directs it to the appropriate healthcare facilities and community organizations in the County. While PPE remains in tight supply nationwide, OES has fulfilled over 90% of the requests received.

ACPHD has launched a testing team, focused on increasing access to COVID-19 testing through partnerships with cities, community clinics, and faith-based organizations. Any testing sites that come online in the county must comply with ACPHD guidelines, including access for low-income and homeless individuals as needed. I’m proud to say that Roots Community Clinic is leading the way with their walk-up test site in East Oakland, which serves all.

• Due to decades of discrimination, the Black community makes up a significantly disproportionate share of the county’s homeless population. We have quickly expanded the availability of shelter and testing by working with the state of California to acquire hotel space throughout the county for unsheltered individuals who are COVID-19 positive or at high risk for complications from the disease. The program continues to expand with more hotels currently being added throughout the county.

• Although the emerging data in Alameda County and California shows that the racial disparity is not as extreme here as it is in some cities, any disparity is unacceptable. To keep our communities informed of this issue, the county has been updating a COVID-19 data dashboard with information on the spread of the disease, including by zip code and racial group. View the dashboard at acphd.org/2019-ncov.

We have much more work to do. We need to continue to increase testing and expand contact tracing to help us identify new cases early and understand how the COVID-19 is spreading in our communities.

We need culturally competent teams to do this work. We need to overcome a history of discriminatory policies and outcomes that brought us here. We need to continue to support families, workers, small businesses and communities struggling with the economic consequences of this pandemic.

We cannot accept as fact that the Black community will get sick and die at inequitable rates. As we keep fighting COVID-19, we must do so in a manner that substantively addresses the historical racial health inequities of Alameda County.

Supervisor  Nate Miley represents Alameda County District 4, which includes Pleasanton, Oakland and Castro Valley.

Activism

San Francisco Proposes Art Installation to Honor Black Lives, History of African Americans

The sculptural figures created in all-black steel with vinyl tubing, each standing four feet high, would surround the empty pedestal where a statue of Francis Scott Key once stood. Key, who wrote the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” was a slave owner and abolition opponent.

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Dana King/ Wikimedia Commons

San Francisco, CA. – Mayor London N. Breed today announced the City of San Francisco is planning a new public art installation to honor Black lives and the history of African Americans. The installation is planned to be located in Golden Gate Park’s Music Concourse next month, in time for Juneteenth.

The installation, ‘Monumental Reckoning,’ by Bay Area sculptor Dana King, honors the first Africans stolen from their homeland and sold into chattel slavery in the New World. The installation consists of 350 sculptures representing the number of Africans initially forced onto the slave ship San Juan Bautista for a journey of death and suffering across the Atlantic in 1619. A handful of these original 350 ancestors became America’s first enslaved people.

The sculptural figures created in all-black steel with vinyl tubing, each standing four feet high, would surround the empty pedestal where a statue of Francis Scott Key once stood. Key, who wrote the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” was a slave owner and abolition opponent. Protestors toppled the statue on Juneteenth 2020.

“The art and monuments that we choose to display in our city and the civic art that fills our public spaces must reflect the diversity of our community, and honor our history,” said Breed. “This powerful public art installation in Golden Gate Park will help us not only commemorate Juneteenth, but also serve as an example of how we can honor our past, no matter how painful, and reflect on the challenges that are still with us today.”

Monumental Reckoning would allow visitors to commune with the figures. The phrase “Lift Every Voice” would shine from atop the nearby Spreckels Temple of Music through a second, connected piece by Illuminate the Arts. These are the first three words of “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, a song written by civil rights champion James Weldon Johnson which was first performed in 1900—the same year the Spreckels Temple of Music opened. 

For more than a century, Johnson’s song of unity has been sung as the Black national anthem. U.S. Representative James Clyburn is currently leading an effort to have the song named America’s national hymn.

“I’m excited to see the new monument go up in Golden Gate Park to honor Black lives and the rich history of African Americans,” said Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton. “I think this is a perfect example of trying to right a wrong. Rather than uplifting individuals with oppressive histories, this is an opportunity to honor diversity and our community through public art.”

The installation was approved by both the San Francisco Arts Commission and the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission’s Operations Committee this week. It is currently under review by the Planning Commission. “Lift Every Voice” will also need to be approved by the City’s Historical Preservation Committee before it can be installed. If approved, Monumental Reckoning would open to the public on June 19, or Juneteenth 2021, which commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. The art piece would remain in place through June 20, 2023.

“The memory of African descendants deserves to be told truthfully and publicly,” said King, Monumental Reckoning’s creator. “Monumental Reckoning fulfills both objectives with the installation of 350 ‘ancestors’ who will encircle the Francis Scott Key plinth in Golden Gate Park. The ancestors stand in judgement, holding history accountable to the terror inflicted on the first group of enslaved people brought here in 1619 to the last person sold to another, all victims of chattel slavery. Even though the business of enslavement ended long ago, it still resonates generationally for African Americans and forms the bedrock from which systems of oppression proliferate today.”

Fundraising, community outreach, and ongoing support for the installation is being provided by the Museum of the African Diaspora. Creative and programming support would be provided by The Black Woman is God, which is an annual group exhibition of Black women artists curated by Karen Seneferu and Melorra Green. The project celebrates Black women as essential to building a more just society and sustainable future and reclaims space historically denied to Black women artists.

“What Dana King’s powerful installation communicates and commemorates is a sober cultural gut-punch long overdue, and I hope it’s the beginning of many such visual testaments in the public realm that venerate the origin stories of our most marginalized and disenfranchised populations,” said Ralph Remington, San Francisco’s Director of Cultural Affairs. “We almost never see images of Black people represented in our public monuments, or in the American telling of history. So, it’s no surprise that in a society rooted in white supremacy, people of color remain invisible and undervalued in our mythology, symbols, architecture and national narrative. While the City examines the historic works in our Civic Art Collection and the future of monuments in San Francisco, this installation will help build and advance a discourse about who and what we venerate in our open spaces.”

 “We are incredibly proud to host this powerful piece,” said San Francisco Recreation and Park Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg. “Monumental Reckoning prompts frank discussion about the legacy of slavery, while charting a course between past, present and future. We are grateful to have these crucial conversations in Golden Gate Park—a beloved public space that belongs to everyone.”

This story was produced by the San Francisco Mayor’s office.

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Bay Area

Coming Out of the Darkness Into the Light

Through collaborations with volunteers, non-profit organizations, churches, the City of Oakland, and businesses we are determined to reach out and just serve the needs of those who desperately need help.

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 It has been quite a while since I have written columns for the Post News Group.  I am especially glad to be back and to write from a different location.
    This is my first column since I was released from San Quentin because of the COVID-19 epidemic that ravished and destroyed so many lives since March of 2020.
    Since my release from prison, I’ve come to understand more clearly how life has changed so drastically for so many, even before the detrimental impact of COVID.  I see first-hand how so many lives have literally been turned upside down, living on the streets and battling a new reality that sucks the life out of so many struggling to survive.
      By observing from afar the impact of homelessness, despair, hopelessness, and utter desperation, I see how the less fortunate are forced to deal with collective and prolonged adversity on an unheard-of scale.
    And, now coming out of prison, and seeking a new life in the midst of these trying times, I have chosen a personal mission to give back to those in need in the community.  I am doing this as my pledge to help correct the wrong that I participated in.  I want to make things right.
    I also hope to be of service to those I have ignored, disgraced, or harmed directly and indirectly.
    To begin to accomplish my mission I will be participating in an event that we have titled “Reparations for those Deserving.”  This project will initially focus on massive food distribution.  We hope to provide free food for as many as possible to those who show up at our distribution sites.
    With the help of the Oakland Post print and online editions (www.postnewsgroup.com), I will be announcing the dates, times, and locations of this massive food giveaway. project.  

    Through collaborations with volunteers, non-profit organizations, churches, the City of Oakland, and businesses we are determined to reach out and just serve the needs of those who desperately need help.  

    I am encouraged by the churches and many of the pastors in Oakland that have already stepped up to be a part of our “Just Serve those that are deserving” effort.
    What makes me proud as I now walk in freedom from prison is to see how many others who are part of the “formerly incarcerated” population who were previously written off as being worthless scourges, are now stepping up to the plate to redeem themselves from their past indiscretions by giving back to those in need.  

     Having served many years behind bars, and many more in solitary confinement, I know that these volunteers are sincere in stepping forward to do the right thing to rectify the wrongs they had previously done.
    I believe that a change from being negative to being positive can happen all at once or in spurts.  I am hopeful that by working together we can and will make a change, at once or in spurts.

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Bay Area

West Oakland Black Woman Owned Food Collective, “The Black Culinary Collective (BCC)”

“We are doing our part to change the narrative of excellence being categorized as an exception for black makers.

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   A group of Black women who own food businesses are rising from the devastation of the pandemic by sharing a commercial kitchen in West Oakland.

     The Black Culinary Collective (BCC) is led by Chef Reign Free, owner of Red Door Catering, which opened in 2006. 

    Red Door Catering has a 5,000-square-foot kitchen space.  During the pandemic Free’s catering business fell and her business was damaged during the protests.  

     Free also knew other Black chefs who didn’t have the money to rent commercial kitchen space during the pandemic.  

      And so, she applied to and received $50,000 from the Oakland Black Business Fund, which, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, is “an organization that aims to address Black entrepreneurs’ historical lack of access to capital, to help members join the collective rent-free.”

     The collective currently has four members (Teas With Meaning, Baby Bean Pie, Pound Business, and Final Sauce) and is looking for six more.  The members will share the kitchen, sell their goods to the public on-site, and collaborate on projects.  Members will also receive consultations, mentoring and advice on their food businesses.

     BCC hopes to open in August and will be located at 2925 Adeline St. Free continues to raise funds to help collective members have up to a year in the collective rent-free. 

     “It’s important for the people who work in the food and beverage industry to not only know how to cook, but to understand the history and the cultural significance of those that came before us,” Free told the Oakland Post. “We are doing our part to change the narrative of excellence being categorized as an exception for black makers. 

     “The companies that are a part of the collective have established the discipline that allows them to see their vision with clarity and purpose; having a beautiful space that supports learning, collaboration, and service allows us to continue to scale in ways that will positively affect the next generation. The more we share our gifts and talents within our community, the more our communities will thrive.”

 

     For more information, go to BlackCulinaryCollective.com

The San Francisco Chronicle, Mercury News, and Oaklandside.org were sources for this report.

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