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Opinion: Pray and Vote

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Rev. Amos
Brown

America faces two existential dangers today. One of them infects the human body. The other infects the body politic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had profound consequences for the entire nation. The infection threatens millions of lives. Every day, we watch the news and see and hear those who fancy themselves as leaders call for prayer for God to cure the virus.

Prayer is appropriate. Prayer is powerful. But prayer alone will not solve the public health crisis we face. Only action by a united nation will.

The administration in Washington also has had profound consequences for the entire nation. The political disaster that has befallen us threatens millions of Americans, especially people of color and the marginalized.

Every day, we see and hear young people yearn for a radical change in November, hoping that it will cure the nation of the failure of leadership and character in the White HouseHope is needed. Hope is powerful. But hope alone will not solve the political disaster that has befallen our nation. Only action by a united electorate will.

Yet I fear we are in danger of losing both battles because of pervasive apathy and cynicism.

Our country is in the grips of nationalism driven by a president who has led an assault on the poor and on the Black and Brown people of this country. The past few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic have demonstrated that in the starkest terms. It is only the latest example of how our nation is regressing toward a time that we cannot and must not relive.

That will happen without the change in leadership that young people hope for — yet I am gravely concerned that too many of them will sit on the sidelines this fall rather than unite behind a candidate that can succeed at the polls and defeat this racist regime.

I came of age as a Black man in Mississippi in an era of legalized segregation and lynchings. In 1955, I was 14 years old — the same age as Emmett Till, a Black teenager who was beaten, mutilated, shot, and dumped in the Tallahatchie River by two white men who were promptly acquitted. Just a few weeks before Till’s murder, on May 7, Rev. George Washington Lee was killed by three shotgun blasts because he dared, as a Black man, to register to vote in Belzoni.

When Black leaders like Rev. Lee were sacrificing their lives to secure their right to vote, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. observed that many Blacks who could vote safely were not going to the polls. He warned them that “In the past, apathy was a moral failure. Today, it is a form of moral and political suicide.”

His words ring true today.

Young people born during the past three decades have enjoyed a great privilege. They have grown up in an era with strong civil rights protections enshrined in the law. They have no memories of the decades of struggle that preceded the first civil rights laws, of the long fights in the courts and in society in the years that followed. They have not seen and cannot truly imagine what we once were, and could become again.

Some may believe their vote doesn’t matter. Others insist that it must be their candidate who wins the Democratic nomination or they will refuse to unite with the rest of the party to defeat Trump.

Either path is as fatal as the virus we are now fighting.

Four more years of the present administration will not cure the country’s ills, or clear the path for a radical change in the nation’s direction. On the contrary, we would see the nationalism and racism of today entrenched, along with a reactionary Supreme Court and a conservative federal judiciary that would remain in place for two generations. We would continue our decline back toward the kind of nation where I grew up, and where no one should ever again have to live.

We cannot pray to be saved from that fate or hope that things will change. We all must unite at the voting booth in November — every age, color and faith — to cure our nation before the infection of the body politic becomes fatal.

The Rev. Amos Brown is President of the San Francisco NAACP and Pastor of the Third Baptist Church in the city’s Fillmore District at      1290 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94115, Suite 109; (415) 922-0650,  Fax: (415) 922-0856.

Arts and Culture

Voices & Visions of Change ™ Scholarship Fundraiser Online Art Sale for AAMLO

The Friends-Stewards of the African American Museum and Library at Oakland (Friends-Stewards of AAMLO), a 501(c)(3) organization, is excited to host Voices & Visions of Change ™ Scholarship Fundraiser Online Art Sale from October 1–16, 2021.

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Friends-Stewards of the African American Museum and Library at Oakland/Facebook

The Friends-Stewards of the African American Museum and Library at Oakland (Friends-Stewards of AAMLO), a 501(c)(3) organization, is excited to host Voices & Visions of Change ™ Scholarship Fundraiser Online Art Sale from October 1–16, 2021.

East Bay award winning painter and sculptor Lawrence H. Buford will present individual Giclee (18” x 24”), Limited Edition, S/N-25, prints of the Honorable Shirley A. Chisholm, U.S. House of Representatives, rendered in graphite and the Honorable John Lewis, U.S. House of Representatives, rendered in watercolor. 

Each beautiful portrait is unframed, printed on conservation grade paper, and accompanied with a Certificate of Authenticity.

For your viewing pleasure, the portraits will be on exhibit starting October 1-16, 2021, at the African American Museum and Library at Oakland (AAMLO), 659 14th St., Oakland, CA 94612, during the hours of operation Mon. – Thurs. 10:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.; Fri. Noon – 5:30 p.m. and Sat. 10:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Buford’s art work was recently displayed in the exhibition titled “Men of Valor” held at the African American Museum and Library at Oakland (AAMLO), January 2019 through September 2019.

This Online Scholarship Fundraiser will help to protect and preserve our cultural and artistic treasures and the stories of our shared history. Your support will enable us to establish pathways to lifelong learning, to inspire, uplift, and educate our community about African American History & Culture for present and future generations.

To support our scholarship fundraiser, please visit https://www.artbylawrence.com/scholarship-fundraiser/ for more information about the portraits available for purchase.

To DONATE or to become a member of the Friends-Stewards of African American Museum and Library at Oakland (Friends-Stewards of AAMLO), please visit our website at www.friendsstewardsofaamlo.org

Please join us to make this event a success!

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Bay Area

Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church Celebrates Centennial Oct. 24

Our speaker will be Pastor Anthony Jenkins, Sr. The worship service can be accessed by logging on Taylor’s website at www.taylorumc.org. We hope that you can join us in celebrating our 100 years of serving God and the community of Oakland.

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Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church, Photo courtesy of their website

On Oct. 24, 2021, Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church will celebrate 100 years of Christian service in the City of Oakland, California. Our church is located at 1188 12th Street, Oakland, CA 94607.

Taylor Memorial Episcopal Church was the first African American church of its denomination in Northern California.  The Charter was granted on Oct. 29, 1921, and was the direct result of years of prayer, sacrifice, and determination by our 22 founders. In 1968, the church became a United Methodist Church by a denominational merger.

Pastor, Anthony Jenkins, Sr., Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church By Troy Belton

The church was founded by a group of Christian Warriors with a thirst for spreading the word of God and providing inspiration and love for all who wished to join their mission to serve, educate, demonstrate and promote the teachings of God.

We are unable to celebrate this momentous milestone as we have in the past. However, we will use the technology available and rely on God’s help in making our celebration a success. Our deepest sympathy to those families who lost loved ones to the COVID-19 virus. Let’s continue to pray for those families whose lives have been impacted and changed forever.

Taylor Church has been a beacon of hope, inspiration, outreach, and spiritual leadership in Oakland and the Bay Area. Over the years our membership has grown and included dedicated members from all races including a former Mayor of the City of Oakland, city council members, professional athletes, entertainers, and many other celebrities.

Founders’ Day and the 100th Anniversary Celebration will be held on Sunday, October 24, 2021, at 10:00 a.m. via YouTube. The theme is “Serving Others – Doing God’s Will.”

Our speaker will be Pastor Anthony Jenkins, Sr. The worship service can be accessed by logging on Taylor’s website at www.taylorumc.org. We hope that you can join us in celebrating our 100 years of serving God and the community of Oakland.

Our service will include Broadway songwriter Rahn Coleman on music, Beth Eden’s praise dancers, special greetings, and inspirational preaching. For further information please call 510-444-6162.

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Bay Area

Study: Racism Plays Role in Premature Birth Among Black Americans 

That statistic bears alarming and costly health consequences, as infants born prematurely are at higher risk for breathing, heart and brain abnormalities, among other complications.

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September 15, 2020 Redwood City / CA / USA - Kaiser Permanente Hospital in San Francisco Bay Area; Kaiser Permanente is an American integrated managed care consortium, based in Oakland/ iStock

The tipping point for Dr. Paula Braveman came when a longtime patient of hers at a community clinic in San Francisco’s Mission District slipped past the front desk and knocked on her office door to say goodbye. He wouldn’t be coming to the clinic anymore, he told her, because he could no longer afford it.  

It was a decisive moment for Braveman, who decided she wanted not only to heal ailing patients but also to advocate for policies that would help them be healthier when they arrived at her clinic. In the nearly four decades since, Braveman has dedicated herself to studying the “social determinants of health” — how the spaces where we live, work, play and learn, and the relationships we have in those places, influence how healthy we are.

As director of the Center on Social Disparities in Health at the University of California-San Francisco, Braveman has studied the link between neighborhood wealth and children’s health, and how access to insurance influences prenatal care.

A longtime advocate of translating research into policy, she has collaborated on major health initiatives with the health department in San Francisco, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

Braveman has a particular interest in maternal and infant health. Her latest research reviews what’s known about the persistent gap in pre-term birth rates between Black and white women in the United States. Black women are about 1.6 times as likely as whites to give birth more than three weeks before the due date.

That statistic bears alarming and costly health consequences, as infants born prematurely are at higher risk for breathing, heart and brain abnormalities, among other complications.

Braveman co-authored the review with a group of experts convened by the March of Dimes that included geneticists, clinicians, epidemiologists, biomedical experts and neurologists. They examined more than two dozen suspected causes of preterm births — including quality of prenatal care, environmental toxics, chronic stress, poverty and obesity — and determined that racism, directly or indirectly, best explained the racial disparities in preterm birth rates.

In the review, the authors make extensive use of the terms “upstream” and “downstream” to describe what determines people’s health. A downstream risk is the condition or factor most directly responsible for a health outcome, while an upstream factor is what causes or fuels the downstream risk — and often what needs to change to prevent someone from becoming sick. 

For example, a person living near drinking water polluted with toxic chemicals might get sick from drinking the water. The downstream fix would be telling individuals to use filters. The upstream solution would be to stop the dumping of toxic chemicals.

Kaiser Health News spoke with Braveman about the study and its findings. The conversation has been edited for length and style.

Q: You have been studying the issue of preterm birth and racial disparities for so long. Were there any findings from this review that surprised you?

The process of systematically going through all of the risk factors that are written about in the literature and then seeing how the story of racism was an upstream determinant for virtually all of them. That was kind of astounding.

The other thing that was very impressive: When we looked at the idea that genetic factors could be the cause of the Black-white disparity in preterm birth. The genetics experts in the group, and there were three or four of them, concluded from the evidence that genetic factors might influence the disparity in pre-term birth, but at most the effect would be very small, very small indeed. This could not account for the greater rate of pre-term birth among Black women compared to white women.

Q: You were looking to identify not just what causes pre-term birth, but also to explain racial differences in rates of pre-term birth. Are there examples of factors that can influence pre-term birth that don’t explain racial disparities?

It does look like there are genetic components to preterm birth, but they don’t explain the Black-white disparity in pre-term birth. Another example is having an early elective C-section. That’s one of the problems contributing to avoidable pre-term birth, but it doesn’t look like that’s really contributing to the Black-white disparity in pre-term birth.

Q: You and your colleagues listed exactly one upstream cause of pre-term birth: racism. How would you characterize the certainty that racism is a decisive upstream cause of higher rates of preterm birth among Black women?

It makes me think of this saying: A randomized, clinical trial wouldn’t be necessary to give certainty about the importance of having a parachute on if you jump from a plane. To me, at this point, it is close to that.

Going through that paper — and we worked on that paper over a three- or four-year period, and so there was a lot of time to think about it — I don’t see how the evidence that we have could be explained otherwise.

Q: What did you learn about how a mother’s broader lifetime experience of racism might affect birth outcomes versus what she experienced within the medical establishment during pregnancy?

There were many ways that experiencing racial discrimination would affect a woman’s pregnancy, but one major way would be through pathways and biological mechanisms involved in stress, and stress physiology. In neuroscience, what’s been clear is that a chronic stressor seems to be more damaging to health than an acute stressor.

So, it doesn’t make much sense to be looking only during pregnancy. But that’s where most of that research has been done: stress during pregnancy and racial discrimination, and its role in birth outcomes. Very few studies have looked at experiences of racial discrimination across the life course.

My colleagues and I have published a paper where we asked African American women about their experiences of racism, and we didn’t even define what we meant. Women did not talk a lot about the experiences of racism during pregnancy from their medical providers; they talked about the lifetime experience, and particularly experiences going back to childhood. And they talked about having to worry, and constant vigilance, so that even if they’re not experiencing an incident, their antennae have to be out to be prepared in case an incident does occur.

Putting all of it together with what we know about stress physiology, I would put my money on the lifetime experiences being so much more important than experiences during pregnancy. There isn’t enough known about pre-term birth, but from what is known, inflammation is involved, immune dysfunction, and that’s what stress leads to. The neuroscientists have shown us that chronic stress produces inflammation and immune system dysfunction.

Q: What policies do you think are most important at this stage for reducing pre-term birth for Black women?

I wish I could just say one policy or two policies, but I think it does get back to the need to dismantle racism in our society. In all of its manifestations. That’s unfortunate, not to be able to say, “Oh, here, I have this magic bullet. And if you just go with that, that will solve the problem.”

If you take the conclusions of this study seriously, you say, well, policies to just go after these downstream factors are not going to work. It’s up to the upstream investment in trying to achieve a more equitable and less racist society. Ultimately, I think that’s the take-home, and it’s a tall, tall order.

This article is provided to California Black Media partners by  KHN (Kaiser Health News). 

KHN is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

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