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Progressives Win in School Board Elections – Oakland and Richmond




Jemela Smith-Folds

The Oakland Unified School District recently grabbed  headlines when progressives won three out of four open seats on the school board, for the first time in years giving a major voice on the board to public school advocates who say teachers and families deserve to have a say whether their schools are allowed to stay open and how the schools are run.

In Oakland it was grassroots teachers who worked through their union, parents and families and community members who helped elect the new school board members in Districts 1, 3 and 5,

They faced down campaigns fueled with hundreds of thousands of dollars in corporate and billionaire donations that flooded into the races.

Occurring at the same time but with not so much publicity, progressive candidates made an astonishing clean sweep on Nov. 3 in West Contra Costa school board elections., defeating candidates who had more money  and were supported by real estate interests and others.

Winners in the West Contra Costa County Unified School District (WCCUSD), which includes Richmond, El Cerrito, Pinole and Hercules were  Jamela Smith-Folds (Area 1); Otheree Christian (Area 2); Demetrio Gonzalez-Hoy(Area 4); Lelie Reekler (Area 5); and Consuelo Lara, who won the Area 1 seat on the county board.

In an interview recently with radio station KPFA host Kitty Kelly Epstein were two of the spokespersons of this movement: United Teachers of Richmond (UTR) union and political action leader Francisco Ortiz and newly elected county board member Lara, who discussed strategies and hard work that yielded such a major victory.

In previous elections, those with big money had frequently won in Richmond, utilizing tactics that allowed them to win all of the seats, said Ortiz. but this time, big money did not call the shots.

Fundamental to winning victory were the solid community backing for the candidates and strong solidarity of the teachers’ union and community organizations.

The approaches they used:

  • “We started early.” Trying to organize against those who outspend you requires more organization and more time to build unity, he said.
  • “We raised money from the community,” he said . Grassroots fundraising takes time since money is not coming from those who are used to bankrolling campaigns.
  • “We did a thorough endorsement process,” to find candidates with a strong base and track record in the community, according to Ortiz.
  • “Once we picked the candidate, we elevated them through social media and interviews,” he said. “They showed they were really working as a team and were going to work collaboratively.”

The five winning candidates had the kind of community support individually that lent strength to their coalition:

  • Smith-Folds was formerly a teacher in the district. She is an active community leader and parent advocate throughout the Hercules community.
  • Christian is a youth minister. He is past president of the Iron Triangle Neighborhood Council and past president of the Richmond chapter of the NAACP.
  • Gonzalez-Hoy is a former educator and past president of United Teachers of Richmond.
  • Reckler is an active parent and past president of the PTSA and worked on bond programs to help rebuild the schools.
  • Lara, who served a term on the school board and is now moving to the county school board, is a retired teacher and was encouraged by community leaders to run for the position.

Lara said she was interested in working at the county level to increase the numbers of Black and Brown teachers and implement distance learning without the digital divide.

“These are issues not just in Richmond” but all the 18 districts in Contra Costa County, she said.

“All of advocacy is about building relationships,” said Lara. “Many of those who make up the county board are potential friends and allies,” she said.

Summarizing the lessons of the winning campaign, Ortiz said, “We followed the money and revealed to the public what we found.”

“We did not want school board seats to be bought by corporations,” he continued. “They may had the money but the individuals we chose were experienced in public education.”

“Our candidate had community accomplishments, and we had great endorsements and there was a clear message. This was a movement that won over voters.”

Bay Area


Parks Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, located at 476 34th Street Oakland, California is excited to announce that Rev. Dr. Rosalynn Brookins, senior pastor was awarded the auspicious Jarena Lee Award.




Historic rendition of Jarena Lee, the first female preacher in the A.M.E. church

  Dr. Rosalyn Brookins. Courtesy of Parks Chapel A.M.E. Church.

Parks Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, located at 476 34th Street Oakland, California is excited to announce that Rev. Dr. Rosalynn Brookins, senior pastor was awarded the auspicious Jarena Lee Award.

Jarena Lee (February 11, 1783 – February 3, 1864) was the first female authorized to preach in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. History shows she was born into a free, Black family. Lee saw the immorality of slavery.  At a time period of segregation and inequity, A.M.E. Church founder Richard Allen gave her the opportunity for her voice to be heard despite the fact that there were no provisions for a female to preach. Rev. Lee showed determination to let her voice be heard and to share the holy word, despite racial and gender issues.  Further, Lee was the first African American woman to have an autobiography published in the United States.

During the 5th Episcopal District A.M.E. Founder’s Day Service, the Award was presented to Brookins by Rev. Carieta Grizzell, president of Women in Ministry and pastor of Murph-Emmanuel Church in Sacramento, Ca.  This esteemed award is the highest commendation that a female minister can receive in the A.M.E. Church.

There are many parallels between  Lee and  Brookins.  They both blazed a path forward through adverse circumstances and applied the lessons they learned to their spirituality.  Their similar experiences as female ministers reinforce their relationship with God.  They maintained a steadfast hope in and a strong love for his divine majesty.  

Brookins is the only Episcopal supervisor of the Women’s Mission Society for the A.M.E. Church to be given a pastoral appointment as senior pastor.

Brookins earned her doctoral degree from Payne Theological Seminary in 2018, making her the first inaugurated female to be conferred with the noted degree.  She was the commencement speaker during the graduation.  Her dissertation was entitled “The Rebirth of the Woman’s Prophetic Voice: Using Liberation Theology to Impact the Local Congregation.” 

In 2018, Brookins presented a pilot program in South Africa and subsequently launched the Global School of the Prophets.  While there are many prophetic schools, this is the only type of school that ministers to both clergy and lay women. Brookins exudes great enthusiasm and passion about teaching and she graciously shares her expertise regarding prophecy.  Her courses provide an overview and structure that encourage individuals to develop, explore and expand their prophetic knowledge and understanding.   

The highly organized and comprehensive curriculum includes coverage of the Introduction and  Origin of the Prophetic; Prophetic Call;  Prophetic Ministry;  Prophetic Terminology; Nine Prophetic Traits, and Prophetic Training and the Church.   Students currently participating in the second cohort of the Global School are from the United States, India, Zimbabwe, Jamaica, Belize and Trinidad. 

Just as Lee showed a drive and commitment to serve,  Brookins has the same qualities.  She is an honorable, steadfast pastor who is obedient to all that God has called her to do.  She is a strong leader, and a visionary who genuinely loves preaching the word of God.  Rev. Brookins’ unconditional love and genuine personality has touched the hearts of many.  Her prophetic ministry, powerful sermons and prayers consistently instill hope and inspiration. 

Lee traveled extensively preaching the word of God.  Rev. Brookins has preached the gospel in multiple pulpits across the country, including Canada, Zambia, India and South Africa. 

Regarding his mother’s receipt of this prestigious award, Sir Wellington Hartford Brookins said “I am extremely proud of the accomplishments of my mother.  She is an example of perseverance and daring determination.  She inspires me to move forward every single day and that’s why this award means so much to her and to me.”

Brookins said she is “humbled that the men and women of God felt I deserved such an award. I am moved that God saw it fitting for me to receive such an honorable award.”

The Jerena Lee Award is an amazing recognition of the contributions of Rev. Brookins to the theological foundations of the church as a whole.

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Bay Area

Rush bowls

The perfect blend of all-natural fruits and veggies topped with delightfully crunchy, organic granola, a drizzle of honey, and your choice of fresh fruits and toppers.




Rush bowls are the perfect blend of all-natural fruits and veggies topped with delightfully crunchy, organic granola, a drizzle of honey, and your choice of fresh fruits and toppers. Packed with nutrients and fully customizable, Rush bowls offer healthy, delicious alternatives to standard fast-casual fare. Rush bowls is open Mondays-Fridays from 10am-6pm at 350 17th Street, Oakland,CA 94619. Available for indoor dining, and delivery through GRUBHUB

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City of Oakland Announces Appointment of New Fire Chief

Prior to the City of Hartford, Freeman served as the fire chief for Lockheed Martin and served as a civilian fire chief in Iraq for the U.S. Department of Defense from 2004-2008.




City Administrator Ed Reiskin announced on Wednesday the selection of Reginald D. Freeman to serve as the next fire chief for the City of Oakland, effective May 17.   

    Freeman most recently has served as the fire chief for the City of Hartford, Conn., since 2016. He will take over for Deputy Fire Chief Melinda Drayton who has held the position in an interim role since April 2020.   

    “Mayor Schaaf and I are excited that Chief Freeman has accepted our offer to become the next fire chief for the Oakland Fire Department at a very dynamic time for both the fire service and the city of Oakland,” said Reiskin. “Recognizing the importance of this position, we undertook an exhaustive recruitment process and we’re extremely confident that Mr. Freeman is the right choice for this moment.

    “He brings a tremendous level of professional experience leading fire departments and emergency management functions, has demonstrated a strong commitment to professional development, and built a successful track record of achieving strategic goals and objectives at every step of his career,” Reiskin said.  

   Prior to the City of Hartford, Freeman served as the fire chief for Lockheed Martin and served as a civilian fire chief in Iraq for the U.S. Department of Defense from 2004-2008. He has worked in several fire service capacities in his career including firefighter/emergency medical technician (EMT), fire captain, fire service instructor, assistant fire chief, and fire chief.  

    “I am sincerely humbled and honored to have the confidence of Mayor Schaaf and Mr. Reiskin to serve the great City of Oakland and the men and women of the Oakland Fire Department as fire chief,” Chief Freeman said. “OFD is a proud organization comprised of consummate professionals.” 

    Freeman has a Bachelor’s degree in leadership, a Master’s degree in executive fire service leadership, and is a Harvard Fellow. He is also a Fellow of the Institution of Fire Engineers USA Branch and a chief fire officer designee and serves on the Board of Directors for National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). He is married to his wife of 17 years and is a proud father to two daughters.  

L. Autumn King is a public information officer in the office of the City Administrator of Oakland.

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