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S.F. Mayor London Breed Urges Religious Congregations to Do Their Part to Deter COVID-19

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At her Wednesday press conference updating the public on COVID-19, San Francisco Mayor London Breed took a moment to wistfully recall the Easter Sundays of her childhood: the new church outfits, the egg hunts, good food and family gatherings.

But the first mayor in the U.S. to issue shelter-in-place orders for a metropolis of  nearly 900,000 people, an action that is credited for the city’s comparatively low infection rate and resulting illness and death rates, emphasized that now was not time to be complacent and this included staying home from Easter services, Passover observances and later in the month, Ramadan.

Addressing churches and their members, Breed said “I know how hard it’s going to be to stay home and not go to church.”

“There are other ways to celebrate,” she said, such as online services. “Pastors and priests can also reach out to members by telephone” and instruct lay people to connect with the isolated, needy and vulnerable.

Mayor Breed went on to reference a church in Mt. Vernon, Wash., where a choir practiced on March 10, 2020. Even though they practiced safe distancing, at least 28 of the 45  members became sick with COVID-19 and two died.

“I am asking leaders of the religious community to impress on your members to stay at home,” she said.

Compared to national hot spots like New York and New Orleans, San Francisco’s statistics are encouraging: As of Wednesday, 5,994 people had been tested and of those, 676 had the virus and 10 people have died.

After the mayor cleaned the lectern with a sanitary wipe, San Francisco Interfaith Council President Michael Pappas came to the podium and confessed that he had feared resistance at first but as far as he knew all of the city’s “800 congregations of faith” were complying with the order and praised Breed’s leadership. The S.F.I.C. has been reaching out by telephone to congregants who are the most vulnerable and providing links to services on their web site. 

San Francisco’s Third Baptist Church, under the leadership of Rev. Amos Brown, is complying with the order.

Brown thinks that Third Baptist is only doing what it has done since its founding in 1852, which is to provide help for African Americans who suffered and continue to suffer under white supremacy. H.E.L.P., Brown said is simple, practical and aspirational. ‘H’ stands for hope as opposed to fear and damnation, ‘E’ for enlightenment, including the value of science and history, especially the history of previous plagues and pandemics. ‘L’ is for love, which commands “us to love God, and love our neighbor as ourselves,” which, in practical terms, exhorts us to ‘P’ act with the power to change a situation, in this case to behave responsibly in preventing the spread of the virus based on fact.

Third Baptist had already had remote viewing for church services available before the order, and now all of them are online. Technology allows members to continue their tithes and contributions via credit card.

A contemporary of Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Brown was one of the 3% of churches that supported the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. at the time and promoted service to the community. Many other churches, he said, are on the fire-and-brimstone tip, encouraging salvation for the individual.

Brown would not have members needlessly sacrifice themselves to come to worship, though volunteers continue to provide food for their vulnerable seniors.

But he is worried about the people he sees flouting the shelter-in-place order sharing bottles outside nearby liquor stores and young people who don’t seem to understand that they can pass the disease on to their elders  without even being aware they are infected.

Across the bay in East Oakland, the renowned Allen Temple Baptist Church, where U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee is a member, immediately complied with Alameda County’s shutdown order on March 17, 2020, closing their East Oakland campus but continuing to provide online Sunday worship, Bible study and Sunday school.

The church is also a veritable one-stop shop with a web page providing advice for young people, sources for food and directions for financial and psychological help.

And if that weren’t enough, one of the members is selling face coverings to comply with the recent Centers for Disease Control directive to cover one’s face when out and about. 

But in the Bible Belt across the South where many states either don’t have or were slow to implement shelter-in-place orders, many Christians, especially Black Christians, may be more inclined to trust God and Jesus than other authorities like the government or scientists. 

And they have good reason: Still in the living memory of Black Southerners is the Tuskegee experiment where Black men were infected with syphilis instead of the health injection they believed they were receiving.  And, even now, government is failing the Black residents of Wisconsin, largely Democratic, who, despite a shelter-in-place order were denied a delay in the election date or absentee ballots and forced by the U.S. Supreme Court to go to polling places to vote on April 7, 2020, potentially endangering their health and spreading the virus.

Resistance to the order is not even so far from home. In Lodi, near California’s state capital, Pastor Jon Duncan of Cross Culture Christian Center continued to hold services despite Gov. Gavin Newsom’s directive. “First amendment rights are not suspended by the virus,” he said. 

But his landlord, Bethel Open Bible Church, changed the locks and prevented Duncan from holding Palm Sunday services there.

Across the country in Hartford, Conn., Pastor Derrick C. Holloway, Jr. of First Calvary Church had no problem with the order, which was that no more than 10 people could gather in one place. The doors to the church home for his small flock of 48 were locked on Palm Sunday so they gathered on the doorstep, maintaining the appropriate distance of six feet apart.

They were observed by a reporter, Mark Pazniokas, who happened to ride by on his bicycle. The music and the pastor’s voice was arresting for passers-by on foot and in cars, whose occupants parked at a safe distance to listen. “May I have a palm frond, please” asked a woman in one car who was wearing a surgical mask. One was given to her. 

Their actions showed they accepted the science but at the same time hungered for tradition, a hunger for prayer in a group setting and its assurances. So they did what so many Black people of faith have done in times of trouble, from the slave ship to the brush arbor, to the storefront churches and regal cathedrals, they took the time to pray.

Mark Pazniokas of the Connecticut Times-Mirror contributed to this report.

 

 

 

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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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Bay Area

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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Bay Area

Dream Fund: Entrepreneurs Can Apply for $10,000 Grants Through $35M State Program

Although a number of reports suggest that the outlook has begun to be more positive as the U.S. economy continues to bounce back defying the odds, and many Black businessowners have also become more optimistic, access to credit and technical support remain a challenge for many who had to dip into their own finances to keep their lights on.

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Everett Sands, CEO Lendistry. Lendistry photo. 
Everett Sands, CEO Lendistry. Lendistry photo. 

By Tanu Henry, California Black Media

Since 2017, there has been a 9.8% increase of new small businesses — firms with less than 500 employees — in the United States. Over the past two years alone, over 10 million applications were submitted to start new small businesses across the country, according to the Small Business Administration.

That growth trend is true for California, too, where there are about 4.1 million small businesses, the most in the country. Those companies make up 99.8% of all business in California and employ about 7.2 million people.

But for Black-owned and other minority owned small businesses across the country, there was a steep decline in numbers, almost 41%, due to the pandemic, a Census Population Survey found in 2020. During that same time, nearly 44% of minority-owned small businesses were at risk of shutting down, a Small Business Majority report found.

Although a number of reports suggest that the outlook has begun to be more positive as the U.S. economy continues to bounce back defying the odds, and many Black businessowners have also become more optimistic, access to credit and technical support remain a challenge for many who had to dip into their own finances to keep their lights on.

Recognizing the outsized contribution small businesses make to the health of the California economy and the hit many of the smallest of small business have taken during the pandemic, the California Office of the Small Business Advocate (CalOSBA) has been making grants of up to $25,000 to small business in the state.

In its latest round of funding called the Dream Fund, which is now accepting applications on a rolling basis, CalOSBA has partnered with Lendistry, a Los Angeles-based, minority-led small business and commercial real estate lender to administer the $35 million grant portion of its program. The fund provides $10,000 to each small business that qualifies.

To become eligible, California-based small business owners will have to complete training at one of the centers run by the state’s Technical Assistance Expansion Program (TAEP) and receive a certificate.

“For the millions of Californians that have dreams of owning their own business, this grant coupled with one-on-one counseling and business expertise from hundreds of counselors at our eighty-seven Technical Assistance Centers, has the power to jumpstart their dreams,” says Tara Lynn Gray, director of CalOSBA.

Jay King, president and CEO of the Sacramento-based California Black Chamber of Commerce, says he applauds Gov. Gavin Newsom for understanding the historic systemic challenges minority businesses face and for “doing something about it.”

But giving Black businesses grants are not a “cure-all,” he says.

“It is like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound if we don’t do more to really fix the problems small businesses face,” King explains. “Ninety-six percent of Black businesses are mini- or micro- that means they make less than $100,000 or less than $35,000 a year, respectively,” King continued. “Only 4% of our businesses earn more than $100,000 annually. We have to put more resources and technical support around these businesses.”

King says informing Black business owners about opportunities like the Dream Fund and making sure they know how to apply for or access the funding is critical to making sure the people who need the help gets it.

“You have to get down into our communities,” he said. “You have to reach people through groups that are plugged into our communities to get the word out. We do not hear about these kinds of programs enough. We definitely don’t benefit from them enough.”

Everett K. Sands, the CEO of Lendistry, says he is excited to help California’s new businesses access the capital they need to “begin on their journeys.

“Over the past two years, almost 10 million new businesses have been created in the U.S.,” he says. “With record numbers of new small businesses entering the marketplace, many of which are owned by women and minorities, programs like California Dream Fund pave the way for a more robust and equitable economy as these new businesses make the leap from employing just their founders to employing their communities.”

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