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Black History

SHAPE Community Center turns 50

DEFENDER NEWS NETWORK — SHAPE Community Center has reason to celebrate. Since its founding on June 1, 1969, the Third Ward institution has made an impact on Houston and beyond for 50 years. SHAPE – which stands for Self-Help for African People through Education – has a history of providing programs and activities to strengthen families and communities.

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By Marilyn Marshall

SHAPE Community Center has reason to celebrate. Since its founding on June 1, 1969, the Third Ward institution has made an impact on Houston and beyond for 50 years. SHAPE – which stands for Self-Help for African People through Education – has a history of providing programs and activities to strengthen families and communities.

Anniversary activities include the center’s 40th annual Pan-African Cultural Festival on Saturday, May 25 and a Founder’s Day Celebration on Saturday, June 1. Another major event is planned for November.

Deloyd Parker, SHAPE’s co-founder and executive director, has been at the helm since the beginning. He stresses that SHAPE is a team comprised of committed supporters of all ages and backgrounds who have made the organization what it is today.

“SHAPE is not about one individual,” Parker said. “We want to make sure it is around many, many years after I have left this planet.”

In an interview with the Defender, Parker discussed the past, present and future.

Defender: What is the key to SHAPE’s 50-year history of serving the community?

Parker: In order for an organization to continue and evolve and sustain itself, those who come through have to come back and give back. We depend on the community to keep SHAPE alive, not just financially but by volunteering. Time equals money and the fact that people give back and volunteer their services shows that there’s no power like the power of the people.

We deal with three generations at SHAPE – the children, their parents and the elders. Children represent our future, parents help us develop and cultivate that future, and our elders represent the wisdom we need to make sure we’re going in the right direction.

Defender: What is the biggest challenge facing SHAPE right now?

Parker: Sustainability and making sure that the community recognizes our value. That’s not to suggest that many do not. We’re looking for 50 people right now to invest $500 for a total of $25,000 to continue our programs. For those who don’t have $500, we are asking for $50. Obviously, finances and economics is a continuing problem. For those who contribute we don’t call it a donation. We call it an investment.

Defender: What do you think is the greatest challenge facing the Black community overall?

Parker: Getting us to recognize the seven major principles [of African culture called the Nguzo Saba – unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith]. Unity extends from the family to the community. Self-determination is being able to speak for ourselves, define ourselves, name ourselves. Collective work and responsibility involve developing our community together. Cooperative economics is being able recognize the importance of pooling our economic resources to build and sustain institutions in our community. We have to have a team effort.

Then we have to have a purpose. We have to know what our purpose is and focus in on it. We have to have creativity; we can’t do it the straight and narrow way. We have to go this way, that way, up, down. As Black people, we have faith, but we have to strengthen our faith.

The challenge is embracing those seven principles. The blueprint is already there. You just have to follow that blueprint and be able to read it and empower it.

Defender: What will the Founder’s Day celebration entail?

Parker: People will be coming from everywhere to join us – children who grew up at SHAPE and are now doctors, lawyers, teachers. We will celebrate and pay homage to those who are no longer with us, from Elder Jean Dember to Esther King, and many more who are gone now. If it hadn’t been for them, there would be no SHAPE Center.

Rev. Bill Lawson, pastor emeritus of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, will receive our first Honorable Chief Chairman Award. Rev. Lawson was instrumental in helping start SHAPE Center. He is the one who called on me to start the program and I answered his call.

50th anniversary events

  • Pan-African Cultural Festival, Saturday, May 25, 10 a.m., SHAPE, 3815 Live Oak
  • Founder’s Day Celebration, Saturday, June 1, 6:30 p.m., Emancipation Cultural Center, 3018 Emancipation Ave. “Royal cultural” attire. RSVP at Shape50th.eventbrite.com

Visit www.shape.org

This article originally appeared in the Defender News Network

Black History

Wadie Jean Johnson Amar, 87

We will remember her forever, as she is lifted in God’s gentle embrace into the silent land, and we, her children, family, and friends will never cease to feel her holding our hands throughout the rest of our lives.

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Wadie Jean Johnson

  Wadie Jean Johnson Amar, the daughter of the late Wade and Maggie Johnson, was born on Jan. 1, 1934, in Wichita, Kansas. After Wadie’s parents relocated to Oakland, she attended Cole Grammar School and later graduated from Oakland High School. 

     She was blessed with four lovely children: Wade, Rene, Jalna and Gary. Wadie Amar professed her faith in Jesus Christ and joined Cooper Zion AME Church, where she was recognized by many for her musical talents. From that day forward, she was a song leader and soloist in the choir.

   Wadie never had a problem finding employment. She was a clothing salesperson for Hirsch and Company, a skip tracer (bill collector) for Mel Benning and Associates, a public relations specialist with Chicago Title Company, and later she became the office manager for a law firm.

    Wadie provided for all of her children in grand style, as she loved them all. She was preceded in death by her parents Maggie Nola Johnson and Wade Hamilton Johnson; sister, Vera Leola Pitts and grandson Pascal Sarouté Amar.

    She leaves to mourn her passing sons, Wade Gregory Amar and Gary Randall Amar; daughters, René Elisse Amar and Jalna Arlene Amar; grandchildren, Drake Anthony Dawson, Nicole Amar Rutland, and Jaderienne Rachelle Minger; and great-grandchildren, Cheyenne True Amar and Dash Cutler Dawson.

     We will remember her forever, as she is lifted in God’s gentle embrace into the silent land, and we, her children, family, and friends will never cease to feel her holding our hands throughout the rest of our lives.

 

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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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Activism

Democrats in Sacramento Take Steps to Make Voting Easier

Recently, in some states, most notoriously Georgia and Florida, lawmakers have taken steps to restrict voting access and rights for many Americans. But in California, policymakers and legislators are doing the opposite, making proposals to simplify the voting process and expand access to the polls. 

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The electoral process is foundational to the durability of America’s democratic structure.

And as the battle for fairer voting laws rages on, politicians and activists on the political Right claim they are responding to allegations of widespread voter and election fraud. Those on the Left say they are rallying to fight a coordinated political offensive to restrict access to the polls and increasing reports of voter suppression.

Recently, in some states, most notoriously Georgia and Florida, lawmakers have taken steps to restrict voting access and rights for many Americans. 

But in California, policymakers and legislators are doing the opposite, making proposals to simplify the voting process and expand access to the polls. 

Invoking the violent history of voter suppression in the South that her parents endured, which sometimes involved murders — California Secretary of State Shirley Weber says it is a priority of hers to “ensure the right to vote.” 

“I tell people all the time that no number is good unless it’s 100% in terms of voter participation,” Weber told the Public Policy Institute of California. “Why didn’t 5 million go to the polls? We need to figure out where they are and what stopped them from going.”

In the California Legislature, an amendment to Senate Bill (SB) 29, which passed earlier this year, was one bill in a broader legislative effort to secure the right to vote in vulnerable communities.

Before that amendment passed, California law dictated that a ballot would be mailed to all eligible voters for the November 3 statewide general election in 2020 as well as use a Secretary of State vote-by-mail tracking system to ensure votes are counted. 

SB 29, which the governor signed into law in February, extended those requirements to any election “proclaimed or conducted” prior to Jan. 1, 2022.

A record number of voters participated in California elections in 2020. Some political observers attribute that spike to the vote-by-mail system instituted last year.

“To maintain a healthy democracy in California, it is important to encourage eligible voters to vote and to ensure that residents of the state have the tools needed to participate in every election,” the bill reads.

Senate Bill (SB) 583, introduced by California State Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), would require the Secretary of State to register or preregister eligible citizens to vote upon retrieving the necessary paperwork from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Citizens who do not wish to be registered can opt-out of the process altogether.

Newman stressed the importance of access and simplifying the voter registration process. 

“In our state there are an estimated 4.6 million U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote who have not yet registered,” Newman said. “Our obligation as the people’s elected representatives is to make the process simpler and more accessible for them.”

On April 27, the Senate Transportation Committee passed SB 583 with a 13 to 3 vote. The Appropriations Committee has set a hearing for May 10. 

Senate Bill (SB) 503, introduced by Sen. Josh Becker (D-Menlo Park), proposes that if a signature shares enough characteristics with a previous signature from the same voter, then it would be recognized as official on voting paperwork.

Current law dictates that a signature has to match exactly for it to be considered valid.

Disability Rights California (DRC), a non-profit advocacy organization that advances and protects the rights of Californians living with disabilities, has come out in support of SB 503.

“Studies have shown that signature matches disproportionately impact voters with disabilities,” Eric Harris, director of public policy for the DRC wrote in a letter. 

“Voters with disabilities, including seniors, are more likely to vote by mail and would have to sign their name on their ballots,” Harris argued. “A voter’s signature changes over time and for people with disabilities, a signature can change nearly every other time one is written. Some people with disabilities might have conditions that make it difficult to sign your name the same way multiple times.”

For now, the Senate Appropriations Committee has tabled SB 503, placing the bill in what the Legislature calls a “suspense file,” where it awaits further action by lawmakers. 

At the federal level, lawmakers have introduced two bills in the U.S. Congress to expand voting rights, the For The People Act of 2021 and the John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

The For The People Act, or H.R.1, proposes a three-pronged approach to expanding election access: Voting, campaign finance, and ethics.

Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and senior vice president for Advocacy and Policy, compared the current voting rights battle to that of the Civil Rights Movement in a press conference about H.R.1 and the John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

“If you look at some of those 1960s shots of the C.T. Vivians of the world, of the Joe Lowerys and so many others that helped lead Americans to those registration sites, you’ll see them actually literally being beaten to the ground,” Shelton said, referring to well-known Civil Rights Movement activists. 

The John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021, or S.4263, would amend the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to restore the powers it lost after the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby v. Holder.  In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that laws requiring states and local communities to first clear any changes to voting their local laws with the feds, was unlawful.  

“Well, we’ve become more sophisticated in our disenfranchisement,” Shelton continued. “We want to make sure that we stop that disenfranchisement all along the way and that’s why we’re convinced that a bill named for John Lewis and a bill that speaks for the people are bills that need to pass.”

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