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Silicon Valley congressman tackles Black maternal mortalities

The legislative package consists of a dozen bills aiming to prevent maternal mortalities. It would provide funding for further research, increase telehealth services for those in underserved communities and establish grants to help diversify the perinatal workforce, including doulas and midwives. It would also invest in community-based health organizations that work to promote equity and improve maternal health outcomes.

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Kira Johnson is pictured in this file photo. Photo courtesy of Johnson family.

Washington, D.C.—Charles Johnson said he quickly notified hospital staff when his wife’s catheter turned pink with blood. His wife, Kira Johnson, had just given birth to their second son during a scheduled cesarean section at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Staff examined his wife and ordered a CT scan, he said, but hours passed and no one performed the procedure.

“My wife was shivering uncontrollably because she was losing so much blood,” said Johnson, who was speaking during a recent congressional hearing examining the high rate of maternal mortality among Black women. “… I was begging and pleading, please do something, help her.”

But Johnson told legislators his wife didn’t receive proper medical attention for 10 hours—and by then it was too late. Kira, a Black woman, died from massive internal bleeding.

“It was not my wife’s race that was a risk factor; she did everything right,” said Johnson. “It was racism that was the risk factor.”

Black mothers in the U.S. are about three times more likely than white mothers to die from childbirth-related causes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They further experience higher rates of miscarriage and infant loss. Native Americans are also more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women.

Several medical experts testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform last week and urged lawmakers to address this growing crisis. Other witnesses, like Johnson and Rep. Cori Bush (D-Missouri), shared their personal experiences.

In an interview with San José Spotlight, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Fremont) said all the testimonies were deeply moving.

“I knew about the issue from a statistics perspective and a theoretical perspective, but the hearing brought home to me how much this impacts black women’s lives,” he said. “It’s not even a class issue. It affects people who are members of Congress.”

The congressman, who co-sponsored the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021, said its passage is crucial.

The legislative package consists of a dozen bills aiming to prevent maternal mortalities. It would provide funding for further research, increase telehealth services for those in underserved communities and establish grants to help diversify the perinatal workforce, including doulas and midwives. It would also invest in community-based health organizations that work to promote equity and improve maternal health outcomes.

“It’s something that I’m passionate about,” said Khanna, who sits on the committee. “I have been a lead sponsor on the bill and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure we get this into law.”

More than 200 organizations have endorsed the bill, including the NAACP, Johnson & Johnson and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

Dr. Tamika Auguste, who submitted a written testimony to the committee on behalf of the ACOG, told legislators many health disparities are linked to systemic inequities in income, housing or education. But she explained that wasn’t the full story.

“Although some inequities diminish after taking these factors into account, many remain because of factors at the patient, health care system and practitioner level,” she wrote. “Racism and implicit bias on the part of health care professionals contributes to racial and ethnic disparities in health outcomes.”

When it comes to maternal health, the U.S. lags behind other similarly developed nations. The CDC found approximately 700 women die each year as a result ofpregnancy or delivery.

Although the national maternal mortality rate has risen in recent decades, California has worked to reverse that trend. The state saw maternal mortality decline by 55% between 2006 to 2013, according to the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative.

Rev. Jeff Moore, the president of the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP, said a push to improve maternal health care is long overdue. The death rate of Black women during pregnancy is striking, he said, and far more work needs to be done to protect mothers and babies.

“We need to have more black and brown doctors, more doctors who look like them and specialize in this type of treatment,” he said. “More of an effort needs to be made to teach and train black physicians to be in these communities.”

Czarina Bowers would also love to see more diversity among the doulas and midwives in the South Bay area. Bowers, the co-founder of Silicon Valley Doulas, is a certified doula and lactation counselor.

“That would be fantastic for the diverse community that we live in,” she said.

Bowers added she has seen racial biases “in action” while working as a doula.

“We have had clients who told providers they were in pain and they were not believed,” she said. “As a doula, I had to step in and say, ‘Hey, there’s something wrong here and this needs attention.’”

Although it’s important to examine data while working to find solutions, Johnson reminded legislators last week that there are people and families behind those numbers.

“There is no statistic that can quantify what it is like to tell an 18-month old that his mommy is never coming home,” he said.

Kira, who died in 2016, was an entrepreneur who ran marathons and spoke five languages. Her husband said she had a sunny personality and was thrilled to learn she was expecting a second child. Johnson said their kids would grow up without a mother because his wife gave birth in a country that didn’t value her.

“We must and we can do better,” he said.

Contact Katie King at KatieKingSJS@gmail.com or follow @KatieKingCST on Twitter.

 

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COMMENTARY: San Jose Congressman Norman Mineta: The Reparations Hero for Asian Americans

Congressman Norman Y. Mineta will forever be known as the man who got justice for the people incarcerated by the Japanese internment during World War II. He got reparations passed in a Republican administration.

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On Thursday May 29th, 2014 the Federal Triangle Partnership celebrated Asian Pacific Heritage Month with a program that featured the keynote speaker Norman Mineta, former Secretary of both the Department of Transportation and the Commerce Department. Additionally, he was a member of the U.S. Congress for twenty years. photo by James Tourtellotte
On Thursday May 29th, 2014 the Federal Triangle Partnership celebrated Asian Pacific Heritage Month with a program that featured the keynote speaker Norman Mineta, former Secretary of both the Department of Transportation and the Commerce Department. Additionally, he was a member of the U.S. Congress for twenty years. photo by James Tourtellotte

By Emil Guillermo

When the Democratic candidates began the 2020 presidential campaign, there was a buzz about reparations for African Americans.

And then, the buzz died.

I mention that because last week, former San Jose Mayor and 13th District Congressman Norman Y. Mineta passed away at age 90.

Mineta will forever be known as the man who got justice for the people incarcerated by the Japanese internment during World War II.

He got reparations passed in a Republican administration.

Think about that. Reparations, the BIPOC holy grail. After Mineta got it done in 1988 under Reagan, it’s never been replicated.

Looking back, it seems like a magic trick. But it wasn’t. It was just hard work and politicking.

That’s why we all should revere the man who died somewhat appropriately in the first week of May, the month now known as Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Mineta was one of the first Congressional boosters to stretch what was originally a week, and then coined it Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

His passing on May 3, 2022, is an important marker on the significance of diversity and representation at the highest levels of government, politics, and elected office.

Born in San Jose to Japanese immigrants, Mineta lived through every major moment in modern Asian American history.

For the barriers he broke, and the policies he established, he was simply the community’s father figure.

He was Mr. Asian America.

For a short-time, I got to be close to him.

In the 103rd Congress in 1993, I was Mineta’s press secretary and speechwriter.

I had been at NPR where I hosted “All Things Considered.” When I left that position, I thought as a Californian in Washington, I should at least get to know how democracy gets done from the inside. Ideally, I figured you can cross the line into the netherworld of politics once. You can even cross back from whence you came. Once. But Norm was no ordinary politician.

He was the embodiment of Asian America in public life.

He was our hopes and dreams. Our cries and sorrows. From the time he was a Cub Scout incarcerated with other Japanese Americans during World War II to the time he served in government, Norm was there for all of us.

He was our fighter and our redeemer when he co-sponsored the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, that got justice for internees. More than $1.6 billion was paid out to 82,200 Japanese Americans, according to the New York Times.

That was always the difference maker. Norm was in the fight to rectify the historical transgression that gives Asian Americans our moral authority to this day.

There were other Asian American politicians, of course. But few had the career arc of Mineta, who first served locally in 1971 as mayor of San Jose. He was the first Asian American mayor of a major U.S. city.

In 1974, he was first elected to Congress, leaving in 1995, when the divided government began to shape up with an aggressive GOP led by Newt Gingrich.

But Norm re-emerged in government with more Asian American firsts, as Commerce Secretary in the Clinton Cabinet, and then Transportation Secretary under G.W. Bush. Two administrations. Two different parties.

The Norm I knew was the 1993 Norm. The people’s Norm.

The Norm who drove a modest white Dodge Colt because he wanted an American car. I knew the guy who worked all day, then carried a huge bag of homework to read through for the next day. I knew the guy who was in the post-flow triumph of the Civil Liberties Act, always diligent, persistent, and searching for a way to make things better.

That’s what I learned about Norm the most. Remember, this was in the early ’90s. Washington was getting nastier, more divisive, and gridlocked.

But Norm had friends like the late Republican Sen. Alan Simpson. They met as Boy Scouts in Wyoming. One incarcerated at the internment camp, the other free. Later as congressmen, they stood for a kind of bipartisanship that is rare these days.

That was perhaps the most significant political lesson I learned from Mineta. Legislation is one thing, but we’re all still human beings. And the goal is to turn adversaries into friends and to have your friends stay friends. You keep the channels open. You create new alliances, like the ideal public-private partnerships.

The point is, Mineta was always seeking solutions, working together with others to make things better.

He passes as the country is bitterly divided on everything. His life should serve as a playbook on how to keep the fragile nature of our democracy whole.

Remember Norm Mineta. He was the Democrat who got reparations passed in a Republican administration.

Today, that would make him a political Superman.

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. Listen to his talk show on www.amok.com Twitter@emilamok

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Biden Administration Invests $145 Million in Re-Entry Programs for Formerly Incarcerated

According to a 2021 Stanford University Study, reentry programs in California have contributed to a 37% decrease in the average re-arrest rate over the period of a year.

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By Aldon Thomas Stiles, California Black Media

After serving a 22-year sentence in a California prison, James Morgan, 51, found himself facing a world of opportunities that he did not imagine he would have as an ex-convict once sentenced to life for attempted murder.

Morgan, a Carson native, says he is grateful for a second chance at life, and he has taken full advantage of opportunities presented him through California state reentry and rehabilitation programs.

After completing mental health care for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Morgan was released from prison and granted parole in 2018.

“I did not expect what I found when I got out,” Morgan told California Black Media (CBM), explaining that he was fortunate to participate in a program for the formerly incarcerated in San Francisco.

“I was mandated by the courts to spend a year in transitional housing,” said Morgan. “Those guys walked us through everything. They made it really easy. It was all people I could relate to, and they knew how to talk to me because they used to be in the prison population —and they were from where we were from.”

Morgan says he also took lessons on anger management and time management.

Now, he is currently an apprentice in Local 300 Laborers Union, specializing in construction, after he participated in a pre-apprenticeship program through ARC (the Anti-Recidivism Coalition).

“Right now, I’m supporting my family,” Morgan said. “I’d say I’m doing pretty good because I hooked up with the right people.”

Supporters of criminal justice reform say Morgan’s success story in California is particularly encouraging.

Black men in the Golden State are imprisoned nearly 10 times the rate of their white counterparts, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. And just a little over a decade ago in 2011, the Supreme Court of the United States ordered California to reduce the number of inmates in its overcrowded prison system by 33,000. Of that population, nearly 30% were Black men even though they account for about 5% of the state’s population.

To help more formerly incarcerated people like Morgan get back on their feet after paying their debt to society, last month the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Labor announced that the federal government is investing $145 million over the course of the next fiscal year to support reentry programs across the country.

The Biden-Harris Administration also announced plans to expand federal job opportunities and loan programs, expand access to health care and housing, and develop and amplify educational opportunities for the formerly and currently incarcerated.

“It’s not enough to just send someone home, it’s not enough to only help them with a job. There’s got to be a holistic approach,” said Chiraag Bains, deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council on Racial Justice and Equity.

Bains told CBM that that reentry programs help establish an “incarceration-to-employment pipeline.”

The White House announced the programs late last month as President Joe Biden commuted the sentences of 75 people and granted pardons to another three, including Abraham Bolden, the first Black Secret Service agent on White House detail.

Bolden had been sentenced to 39 months in prison in 1964 for allegedly attempting to sell classified Secret Service documents. He has always maintained his innocence.

“Today, I granted pardons to three people and commuted the sentences of 75 people. America is a nation of laws, but we are also a nation of second chances, redemption, and rehabilitation,” Biden tweeted April 26.

According to Bains, about half of the people the President pardoned are Black or Brown.

“The president has spoken repeatedly about the fact that we have too many people serving time in prison for nonviolent drug offenses and too many of those people are Black and Brown,” said Bains. “This is a racial equity issue.”

Both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have faced sharp criticisms in the past for supporting tough-on-crime policies that, as U.S. Senator and California Attorney General respectively, have had disproportionately targeted Blacks and other minorities.

According to a 2021 Stanford University Study, reentry programs in California have contributed to a 37% decrease in the average re-arrest rate over the period of a year.

Over the last decade, California has funded a number of initiatives supporting reentry and rehabilitation. In 2015, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation launched the Male Community Re-Entry Program (MCRP) that provides community-based rehabilitative services in Butte, Kern, Los Angeles and San Diego Counties. The Butte program services Tehama, Nevada, Colusa, Glenn, Sutter, Placer and Yuba counties.

A year later, Gov. Newsom’s office introduced the California Community Reinvestment Grant Program. The initiative funds community groups providing services like job placement, mental health treatment, housing and more to people, including the formerly incarcerated, who were impacted by the War on the Drugs.

Morgan spoke highly of programs that helped him reintegrate into society — both in prison and after he was released.

“In hindsight, I look back at it and I’m blown away by all of the ways that they’ve helped me,” Morgan said.

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UC Berkeley Students Protest Supreme Court Abortion Decision

Two pro-choice activists, Danielle Roseman and Alisa Steel currently believe the law will be overturned. However, they said, “our voices are our best asset to combat (this) and we will continue to protest.” Both seniors at University of California, Berkeley, they decided to organize a campus protest on Sproul Plaza, which took place May 3. 

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By Sarah Clemens

When it comes to reproductive health, the future looks both unprecedented and regressive.

A Supreme Court draft to overturn Roe v. Wade, the controversial ruling that declared the right to abortion, was leaked on May 2, 2022. In the draft, Justice Alito wrote that “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start.” The very act of leaking a supreme court draft is unprecedented. The last time it occurred was in 1973 with the original Roe v. Wade decision. In a press release the Supreme Court said the leak was authentic, but “it does not represent a decision by the Court or the final position of any member.” Final or not, thousands have already begun to protest.

Two pro-choice activists, Danielle Roseman and Alisa Steel currently believe the law will be overturned. However, they said, “our voices are our best asset to combat (this) and we will continue to protest.” Both seniors at University of California, Berkeley, they decided to organize a campus protest on Sproul Plaza, which took place May 3.

The Daily Cal newspaper estimated that “hundreds” attended. After contacting Roseman on social media, they both co-wrote answers to questions posed by this reporter.

“We knew the only way for our voices to be heard was to create a peaceful protest,” Roseman and Steel said. They weren’t alone.

NPR documented protesters across the country with similar stances on the issue from Washington to New York. Some states have existing laws in place that protect abortion rights. Others do not.

The original Roe v. Wade court case happened when a Texas woman by the name Jane Roe alleged that Texas’ abortion laws were unconstitutional. Almost 50 years later, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott supported a law that bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, with no rape or incest exceptions.

When asked by a reporter, “why force a rape or incest victim to carry a pregnancy to term?” Abbott responded, “It doesn’t require that at all, because, obviously, it provides at least six weeks for a person to be able to get an abortion.”

Despite overwhelming backlash, abortion becoming illegal appears preordained. Yet, throughout history around the world abortion has never stopped despite its illegality. In the 19th century, a doctor named Ann Lohman was called “the wickedest woman in New York” for her practice of giving women abortions.

When California state Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) made a statement on the new bill, she cited this history. “Unlike women before me, I grew up without having to face the choice of a back-alley abortion…If Roe v. Wade is overturned, the Supreme Court will not prevent abortions, instead they will unleash unsafe and often deadly abortions.”

For many years the battle over abortion has been heavily stigmatized. As a result, there is a strong defeatist attitude among many voicing concerns on social media. Roseman and Steel thought otherwise.

“With our voices, we can mobilize, protest, sign petitions, get the word out, and send a shockwave to the politicians who think they have control over our bodies. So get out and get loud!”

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