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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.

 

Activism

California Awards Ceremony Celebrates the Best of Ethnic Journalism

“Ethnic media has quickly become an increasingly indispensable bridge for communicating with diverse populations within our state,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said at the opening ceremony.

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AbsolutVision; Business Paper

Some 30 ethnic media journalists were honored for their coverage of the epic events of 2020 at a virtual California Ethnic Media Awards ceremony, which took place June 3.

Selected from 235 submissions from reporters working in print, digital, TV and radio (in eight languages), the winners were chosen by judges with language and cultural fluency who know the challenges of working in the sector.

“Ethnic media has quickly become an increasingly indispensable bridge for communicating with diverse populations within our state,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said at the opening ceremony.

“You have worked against enormous odds to make sure our communities were informed about historic news events of the year. You are key to sustaining an inclusive communications infrastructure that knits our communities together when so many forces, as you know well, threaten to drive us apart,” the governor added.

The multilingual awards were sponsored by Ethnic Media Services and California Black Media. Each winner received $1,000 in cash. Entries were submitted in nine categories:

  • The 2020 census,
  • The COVID-19 pandemic and its disproportionate impact on ethnic communities,
  • The economic crisis that exacerbated racial and economic fault lines in California, the rights of immigrants,
  • The movement for racial justice sparked by the murder of George Floyd, exceptional reporting on the impact of climate change, the 2020 elections, commentary that serves as a call to action for ethnic audiences, and community media innovation and resilience to survive the pandemic.

“Thank you to all the journalists, reporters, editors, photographers and publishers who work long hours without recognition every day. You are committed to telling stories and covering underreported stories that we would otherwise never hear,” said Regina Brown Wilson, Executive Director of California Black Media.

In their acceptance speeches, the awardees recognized the support of their editors, publishers and families, as well as the challenges of covering ethnic communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, racist policies, and hate crimes.

“Words can be deadly, or they can be life affirming. While the idle intellectual elite strive to cancel culture, we are tasked with removing the knee out of the throat of truth and reaffirming and defining journalism in our own image,” said Rose Davis of Indian Voices, awarded for her landmark essay: “The Census and the Fourth Estate,” which advocates for the participation of Native Americans in the census despite centuries of being excluded.

Danny Morrison, winner in the category of English language broadcast TV for his analysis of the Black Lives Matter movement in Bakersfield said that “as an African American man in central California, I’ve always known that we have a lot of work to do regarding the inequities within our ethnicity. That is the reason why my team and I went to prisons, schools, churches, youth groups and more to speak to the underserved and the forgotten because we understand the struggle that in most cases we have lived through.”

Jorge Macias, awarded for his digital coverage of climate change for Univision, recalled how in the last four years, “we all suffered from the denial of climate change, and even in moments of terror in California with these devastating fires, the former president (Donald) Trump said that science didn’t know. This prize means a lot because as human beings we have to battle with that absurd view denying climate change.”

Hosts for the evening were Odette Alcazaren-Keeley and Pilar Marrero, both distinguished veterans of the ethnic media industry. Some 20 elected officials, community leaders, scholars and writers paid tribute to the sector in videotaped remarks.

Sandip Roy, once a software engineer in Silicon Valley, now an award-winning author and journalist in India, said if it weren’t for ethnic media giving him a platform, he wouldn’t be a writer today.

After presenting awards to Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese reporters for stories on issues impacting Black and Latinx communities, Alcazaren-Keeley announced a special judge’s award for cross-cultural reporting.  The winner, Jeanne Ferris of News from Native California, documented how the destinies of two groups of people converged when Japanese Americans were incarcerated in World War II on reservation lands.

At the closing of the ceremony, Sandy Close, executive director of Ethnic Media Services, said the coming together of reporters from so many racial and ethnic groups to celebrate not just their own but each other’s work was the real takeaway for the night.  “Ethnic media are like fingers on a hand,” she said, quoting Chauncey Bailey, a veteran of Black media killed in 2007 for investigating wrongdoing in his own community. “When we work together, we’re a fist.”

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Activism

Advocates to Gov. Newsom: Racial Disparities Are a Public Health Crisis

“The biggest hardship that we’re facing right now is really getting the governor to support investments to community-based organizations to focus on health equity and racial justice interventions within healthcare,” said Ron Coleman, the managing director of policy for the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network (CPEHN).

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california black media; health equity

Some health advocates are calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to treat health inequity in California as a public health crisis – one that is complicated by racism.

Their appeal to the governor comes as California state officials propose a $115 million investment in the state’s budget for the next fiscal year to address health disparities. If approved, some of the money would fund programs administered by community-based organizations.

“The biggest hardship that we’re facing right now is really getting the governor to support investments to community-based organizations to focus on health equity and racial justice interventions within healthcare,” said Ron Coleman, the managing director of policy for the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network (CPEHN).

Coleman said the state needs to make new investments in public health that will remedy the social determinants that worsen health disparities in the healthcare system.

In the revised May budget, Newsom proposed a $115 million annual grant program for health equity and $200 million for local health infrastructure. He also included $15 million in funds to support underprivileged lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people.

Despite the plan to increase spending on leveling the playing field in health care, a dozen community-based organizations want Newsom to do more. In addition to CPENH, other organizations include the Asian Pacific Partners for Empowerment, Advocacy and Leadership (APPEAL), Black Women for Wellness Action Project, California Black Health Network, California Black Women’s Health Project, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, Public Health Advocates, Public Health Institute, Roots Community Health Center, and Roots of Change.

The leaders of these organizations are asking the state to expand support for health programs with funds from California’s budget surplus that are targeted to addressing health disparities that impact vulnerable populations, including low-income Black and Brown families.

In the May budget revisions, “There was absolutely no new investment in the budget for public health, whether it’s the infrastructure, workforce, health equity racial justice, or prevention,” said Coleman.

Coleman specified that the money Newsom is allotting for health equity should go to community-based organizations, particularly for racial justice interventions in the healthcare system.

“We need Governor Newsom to begin treating racism as a public health crisis and make the investments in the community that will help us reduce healthcare disparities and improve health outcomes,” said Coleman.

Newsom said that the state has partnered with multiple community-based organizations for public outreach and vaccine pop-up sites. The state has also collaborated with “influencers” to implement earned and paid media strategies to counter misinformation related to COVID-19.

However, health advocates are wary about the efficacy of the state’s public health messaging campaigns as a means to reduce health disparities in ethnic communities that were the most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coleman said that public health messaging is a promising start. But ethnic communities still need better access to health care.

“It’s great that they’re utilizing trusted messengers to disseminate information, but the state should actually be making an investment to support these organizations in helping to advance the improvements of health outcomes,” said Coleman.

Community-based organizations have been trusted messengers for the government through the pandemic. Although COVID-19 exposed health inequity, health disparities existed in ethnic communities prior to the pandemic.

A public proposal to the governor health advocates from a dozen community-based organizations stated that receiving government funds is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that can dismantle structural racism in California’s healthcare system.

Health advocates stressed that social determinants are major contributors to health disparities that widen the gap of inequality in healthcare. The advocates encouraged the state to prioritize social determinants including, food and housing security, childcare, and environmental justice, as defined by the California Department of Public Health.

According to the recommendations provided by the dozen organizations, the state should implement innovative approaches to achieving health inequity. They include:

  1. Partnerships between cities and community advocates to develop community participatory budgeting processes.
  2. Disaggregation of data on race/ethnicity to better understand variation in health risks and outcomes.
  3. Creating and cultivating racial justice training for government leaders and policy makers so that decisions and program implementation reflect community priorities and advance racial equity.

The recommendations proposed by leaders of the dozen organizations, aim to secure adequate funding for initiatives led by community-based organizations, local clinics, and tribal organizations. The leaders say they plan to use the funds to implement, monitor, and evaluate programs that promote racial justice and health.

California Black Media’s coverage of COVID-19 is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.

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California Reparations Task Force Elects Leadership

The newly elected leaders represent an inter-generational team, bridging the millennial and baby boomer generations, which are known for their often-conflicting worldviews.

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Screen shot from the task force taking the oath of office (Twitter).

The California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans hosted its first public meeting June 1.

The virtual gathering marked the official launch of the first-in-the-nation initiative organized to investigate how a state engaged in and benefitted from slavery, and how it practiced or condoned racial discrimination, excluding African Americans from economic and other opportunities.

During the meeting that lasted over four hours, the nine-member task force elected Kamilah V. Moore, a Los Angeles-based activist and attorney, as its chair. The group also elected Rev. Dr. Amos Brown, pastor of Third Baptist Church in San Francisco and president of the San Francisco NAACP branch, as vice chair.

The newly elected leaders represent an inter-generational team, bridging the millennial and baby boomer generations, which are known for their often-conflicting worldviews.

Moore, who passed the California bar examination in January, intends to use her studies in domestic and international human rights to provide perspective on, “how the recommendations comport with international standards of remedy for wrongful injuries caused by the state, that includes all reparations and special members measures as understood by various international protocols laws and findings,” she said.

In her term as chairperson, Moore says she will provide expertise on, “how the state of California will offer a formal apology on behalf of the people of California for the perpetuation of gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity against Black Americans who descend from chattel slavery in the United States.”

A history buff and student of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights veteran Brown has dedicated more than six decades of his life to fighting for racial justice and equality.

“I’m concerned about our people and making sure that we stay on point in terms of delivering the sons and daughters of Africa what belongs to them,” said Brown.

The task force will be collaborating with the California Department of Justice to conduct research and provide recommendations for compensation based on the requirements of Assembly Bill 3121, the legislation that paved the way to set up the task force.

The reparations task force will work with renowned researchers and scholars to both quantify and qualify the damage slavery had on African Americans in California. The collaborators will conduct extensive research to examine the economic, educational, and social injustices suffered by descendants of enslaved Black people in the United States.

Kirsten Mullen and William A. Darity, Jr., co-authors of the book, “From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the 21st Century,” will provide general guidance for ways the state needs to implement reparations.

History professor Stacy Smith will offer expertise on the impact of slavery specific to California and how racial injustices affected the descendants of enslaved Africans.

Loyola Marymount University African Studies professor Marne Campbell will lead a research team that includes students to compile a report on various federal and state laws, regulations, policies, and practices that discriminate against African Americans.

“We must be aggressive in our efforts, be honest and direct, and figure out what we need to do in California, and be an example to the rest of the nation,” said California Secretary of State Shirley Weber, who authored the bill when she was an assembly member representing the 79th District in the San Diego area.

Weber said that the inaugural meeting is a historic moment that is 400 years overdue for African Americans.

“It’s time for folks to acknowledge the harm that’s been done, the harm that continues to be done,” said Weber.

“We are here today because the racism of slavery birthed an unjust system and a legacy of racial harm and inequality that continues today in every aspect of our lives,” she said.

“We are here today not just to seek an answer to say, ‘Was there harm?’ But your task is to determine the depth of the harm, and the ways in which we are to repair that harm,” Weber said to the task force.

Besides Brown and Moore, other task force members are state Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena); Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Gardena); Cheryl Grills, a clinical psychologist; Lisa Holder, a racial and social justice attorney; Jovan Lewis, a social scientist who focuses on racial and economic disparities; Monica Montgomery Steppe, a San Diego city councilmember; and Donald Tamaki, an attorney who worked on the landmark case that won reparations for Japanese internment camp victims.

The task force is scheduled to host a follow-up public meeting in July to finalize the scope of their study — and how they will move the reparations conversation forward in California.

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