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Spirit of King plaque rededicated, with tree planting

NEW PITTSBURGH COURIER — With storm clouds threatening as participants from the Kingsley Association, the Port Authority of Allegheny County, and friends and family of past honorees assembled in the plaza above the East Busway in East Liberty to dedicate a new Spirit of King plaque, Kingsley Executive Director Malik Bankston assured the audience that all was well.

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By Christian Morrow

With storm clouds threatening as participants from the Kingsley Association, the Port Authority of Allegheny County, and friends and family of past honorees assembled in the plaza above the East Busway in East Liberty to dedicate a new Spirit of King plaque, Kingsley Executive Director Malik Bankston assured the audience that all was well.

“Jimmy—I call him Jimmy because I’ve known him since long before he was a pastor—but Rev. James Harris has assured me that he has the weather on lock,” he said.

And he did—after Rev. Harris gave the invocation, the ceremony went off without a hitch, and without a drop of rain.

Bankston—whose Kingsley Center hosts the annual Spirit of King ceremony, honoring those who best personify the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and who have impacted the region in the areas of civil rights, leadership, culture and education—explained that the award was spearheaded by then-Port Authority Equal Opportunity Manager Katie Everette-Johnson, who received the posthumous Spirit of King award in 2018. The former plaque, which was mounted at the bus stop at Penn and Shady avenues, was taken down when the Port Authority redeveloped the entire area into a plaza connected to the busway below.

The new, larger plaque, made of brushed bonze and brass, and set in stone amid the plaza’s greenery, contains the names of all the honorees from 1989 to 2019 and has room for twice that many more.

More than one of the speakers commented on the symbolism of placing the plaque above the busway—because its full name is the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway.

“Where we’re standing is a bridge,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “It’s a bridge of opportunity because a busway connects people to education, to jobs and other opportunities—just like the honorees on that plaque were bridge-builders. I want to introduce another bridge-builder, Port Authority CEO Katherine Kelleman.”

Kelleman noted that the first event she attended after coming to Pittsburgh—before she’d even officially started, was the Spirit of King ceremony.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it—transportation is a civil right, it’s a human right,” she said. “From Selma to the Freedom Riders to that bus right over there, opportunities don’t matter if you can’t get to them. We want to make sure everyone can. That’s our mission.”

Spirit of King planning committee member and New Pittsburgh Courier Advertising Coordinator Ashley Johnson then gave some historical context prior to the unveiling of the new plaque, noting that three years before the annual ceremony began, a tree was planted, and a parklet was dedicated at the former East Liberty bus station to Wilhelmina Byrd Brown—the first Spirit of King honoree.

“Through the desire to continue this historical tribute…something much greater has been created. It is something that will withstand time; and serve as a constant remembrance, to all who visit or pass through, of the legacies that positively impacted and shaped the City of Pittsburgh and its surrounding communities,” Johnson said. “This area will also function as a reminder that each one of us should be dedicated to fighting for equality for all, so that this city will truly be the most livable city for all, and not some.”

Following the plaque unveiling, a symbolic, newly-planted tree was dedicated at the site.

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This article originally appeared in the New Pittsburgh Courier

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Activism

Reparations Task Force: What to Expect in the Committee’s First Report

California’s AB 3121, signed into law in 2020, created the nine-member task force to investigate the history and costs of slavery in California and around the United States. AB 3121 charges the Reparations Task Force with studying the institution of slavery and its lingering negative effects on Black Californians who are descendants of persons enslaved in the United States.

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Six of the nine members of the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans. From left to right are Don Tamaki, Jovan Scott Lewis, chair Kamilah Moore, vice-chair Dr. Rev. Amos Brown, Dr. Cheryl Grills, and California State Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena). CBM photo by Antonio Ray Harvey.
Six of the nine members of the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans. From left to right are Don Tamaki, Jovan Scott Lewis, chair Kamilah Moore, vice-chair Dr. Rev. Amos Brown, Dr. Cheryl Grills, and California State Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena). CBM photo by Antonio Ray Harvey.

By Antonio Ray Harvey, California Black Media

The California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans will submit its first report to the California Legislature in June.

The 13-chapter document will detail the committee’s findings so far and include recommendations related to them.

Task force member Donald K. Tamaki said the “comprehensive report connects the dots between past racism and its current consequences.” He also inferred that the report presents a “landmark opportunity” to shape the national conversation around reparations.

“I think the report will not only attract California publicity but will also be looked upon nationally,” Tamaki said before the task force approved the report. “With the report, we can go out to the people to develop an allyship and (generate) support for it.”

As prescribed in Assembly Bill (AB) 3121, the report will establish how California laws and policies have disproportionately and negatively affected African Americans. The report will be available to the public.

The California Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights Enforcement Section formulated the document based on hearings, expert testimonies, and evidence accumulated since the panel first convened on June 1, 2021.

One of the DOJ’s duties is to facilitate task force consultation with various experts on California history and reparations. The department also provides administrative, technical, and legal assistance to the panel.

The preliminary report opens with an introduction that leads to chapters focused on enslavement, racial terror and political disenfranchisement, among others. It also covers a range of topics documenting historical injustices Black Americans have endured, including housing segregation, separate and unequal education, environmental racism, and others.

Titles such as “Pathologizing the Black Family;” “Control over Spiritual, Creative and Cultural life;” “Stolen Labor and Hindered Opportunity;” and “An Unjust Legal System,” among others, frame the testimonies and historical accounts recorded during the task force meetings.

Task Force Chair Kamilah Moore wrote the foreword. Her introduction is an overview of the task force’s activities over the last year.

“This interim report will catalog all those harms we’ve discussed throughout those two-day virtual meetings since June of last year,” Moore said in an online Blk TLK Platform discussion in April. “It will also have some preliminary recommendations for the legislation to adopt.”

The first report was supervised by Michael Newman, the California Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Senior Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Enforcement Section (DOJCRE).

The task force voted to describe the first presentation, the “Interim Report.”

Tamaki said about 10 DOJCRE attorneys — including Deputy Attorney General Xiyun Yang, DOJCRE Legal Assistant Francisco Balderrama and additional DOJ staff members created the report.

In a collaborative effort, the diverse DOJCRE team, Newman added, consulted with the task force to determine edits, make clarifications in terminology, modify corrections, and implement recommendations.

“It was a labor of love for everyone who worked on it,” Newman said during the task force meeting held in San Francisco on April 14. “I also want to thank all of the (task force) members and the community’s input in producing an incredible record.”

California’s AB 3121, signed into law in 2020, created the nine-member task force to investigate the history and costs of slavery in California and around the United States. AB 3121 charges the Reparations Task Force with studying the institution of slavery and its lingering negative effects on Black Californians who are descendants of persons enslaved in the United States.

The group is tasked with studying and developing reparation proposals for African Americans and recommending appropriate ways to educate Californians about the task force’s findings.

After the task force decided on March 30 that lineage will determine who will be eligible for compensation, the panel approved a framework for calculating how much should be paid — and for which offenses — to individuals who are Black descendants of enslaved people in the United States.

An expert team of economists identified 13 categories that would be the basis of the method used to calculate damages and determine what constitutes harms and atrocities. A second report is due by July 2023 when the task force two-year charge is expected to end.

Members of the task force include Moore, a Los Angeles-based attorney, reparations scholar and activist; vice-chair Dr. Amos Brown, a civil rights leader and respected Bay Area pastor whose journey to leadership started under the tutelage of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s; Cheryl Grills, a professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles; and Lisa Holder, a nationally recognized trial attorney.

Rounding out the panel are Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena); Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles); San Diego Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe; Dr. Jovan Scott Lewis, chair of the Department of Geography at the University of California Berkeley; and Donald Tamaki, Esq. is an attorney best known for his role in the reopening of the Supreme Court case Korematsu v. the United States, which led to the conviction being overturned of Fred Korematsu who refused to be taken into custody during the imprisonment of Japanese Americans in World War II.

For more information, visit https://oag.ca.gov/ab3121#

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Activism

Make Mental Wellness Part of Total Health for Black Communities

The pandemic has propelled health inequity and racism into news headlines and helped spark national conversations about the health disparities that face the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. The impact of decisions about the treatment we receive or deserve are often driven by racism and the resulting implicit bias that individuals who have sworn to take care of their patients often harbor. And this affects our physical, mental, and emotional health and ultimately health outcomes.

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These conversations have provided a platform for discussion and opportunities to educate, dispel misinformation and break stigmas. Rhonda Smith, executive director of California Black Health Network.
These conversations have provided a platform for discussion and opportunities to educate, dispel misinformation and break stigmas. Rhonda Smith, executive director of California Black Health Network.

By Rhonda Smith

The next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in California has arrived. As the state begins to implement its SMARTER Plan, protecting ourselves and our communities from COVID-19 and its fast-spreading variants through vaccination can ensure better outcomes for us all.

Despite mask mandates ending, we must continue to spotlight the importance of keeping Black and African Americans healthy and encourage our community to think about being more proactive about our overall health and well-being. We can start by focusing on our whole selves—our physical, mental, and emotional health.

The pandemic has propelled health inequity and racism into news headlines and helped spark national conversations about the health disparities that face the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. The impact of decisions about the treatment we receive or deserve are often driven by racism and the resulting implicit bias that individuals who have sworn to take care of their patients often harbor. And this affects our physical, mental, and emotional health and ultimately health outcomes.

A reflection on our historical relationship with the medical community has certainly warranted the level of distrust of the healthcare system, and the many stories of outright racism and discrimination experienced in the past.

One example is Dr. James Marian Sims, who performed surgeries and experiments on Black women without their permission or anesthesia. Another example, which many of us are familiar with, is the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, which was administered by the U.S. Public Health Service from 1932 to 1972 to better understand syphilis.

During the four decades, hundreds of Black men in Tuskegee, Alabama, were injected with the disease without giving their consent; and even once penicillin became a common syphilis treatment, they were left untreated.

Our distrust of the healthcare system has been further shaped by present-day experiences, with many Blacks and African Americans saying they have experienced racism during a medical visit or that their physical pain or discomfort is frequently ignored.

Unfortunately, our healthcare system has often disregarded BIPOC patient needs, and systemic racism has morphed into a true public health crisis. Despite this, as Blacks and African Americans, we have persisted. Our individual and cultural resilience equips us to persevere and survive in a system built on a foundation of discriminatory design.

As part of our culture and heritage, we have relied on an oral tradition that passes on stories about how we should care for ourselves and remedies that heal our ailments. I hear many of these stories through our network and I heard them in my own family. We have relied on our own learnings; and in some instances, we have relied on our faith. And through it all, we have found ways to maintain our health and wellness.

However, we are weathered, and enduring resiliency is hard. If we are not whole, we are not healthy. If we are not healthy, we cannot be resilient.

Resilience is an element of mental health, and our whole health comprises elements of physical, mental, and emotional wellness. This means our whole health needs to be a priority, not only one dimension or another. We must invest in our individual health and wellbeing and make it a priority so that our families, community, and all of us will be healthier and live longer.

We must look to the past to inspire a better future so that we can rewrite our heath history here in California. I appreciate the state’s COVID-19 awareness campaign which has sought to address mental health concerns and other issues that impact us by partnering with African American and Black medical experts and advocates for community conversations.

These conversations have provided a platform for discussion and opportunities to educate, dispel misinformation and break stigmas.

We are not strangers to race-based adversity, and its impact on our health and wellbeing. Racism, health inequities inequity, police brutality, and residential redlining each affect public health in its own unique way. Yet we continue to persevere.

Black History Month was a time to remember our past, honor our heroes, celebrate our great legacy of achievement. The theme for the month this year was “Black Health and Wellness”, and it was meant for us to prioritize total wellness and build a healthier history for us now and for generations to come.

For more about COVID-19, including guidance on masking and testing, visit covid19.ca.gov. You should also visit covid19.ca.gov or the CDC.gov more timely, accurate information about the pandemic. To schedule an appointment for a vaccination or a booster, visit MyTurn.ca.gov, or call 1-833-422-4255.

Rhonda Smith, executive director of California Black Health Network

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Black History

Joseph Bologne de Saint-Georges, The Black Mozart

Although the music played by trumpeter John Blanke and other Blacks of his time were fanfares, ballads, and song accompaniments, they still opened doors for those who would later perform concerto and symphonic forms. One would be Joseph Bologne de Saint-Georges (1745–1799).

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Joseph Bologne de Saint-Georges.  Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Joseph Bologne de Saint-Georges.  Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

By Tamara Shiloh

Black classical music artists have been performing publicly for more than 500 years. England’s King Henry VII and King Henry VIII were entertained by trumpeter John Blanke, a Black court musician. According to researcher Earl Ofari Hutchinson, “the list of Africans, African Americans, and Afro European composers, conductors, instrumental performers, and singers is and has always been, rich, varied, and deep.”

But “sadly,” Hutchinson adds, “the recognition of this history has almost always come in relation to the work of a major European or white American composer.”

Although the music played by Blanke and other Blacks of his time were fanfares, ballads, and song accompaniments, they still opened doors for those who would later perform concerto and symphonic forms. One would be Joseph Bologne de Saint-Georges (1745–1799).

Saint-Georges, a classical music conductor, composer, musician, and military officer was born in Guadeloupe, an island in the West Indies. His mother, la belle Nanon, was a slave of African descent and his father, George de Bologne Saint-Georges, a wealthy colony planter from France who owned the plantation that was their home.

The family relocated to France when Joseph was about 10. There he was able to deepen his studies in classical music under tutors Jean-Marie Leclair (violin) and Francois-Joseph Gossecin (composition).

Joseph eventually worked with French fencing master Nicolas Texier de La Boessiere, who trained him to use the sword. A natural athlete, fencing was a skill that would later make Joseph internationally famous. He was also skilled as a swimmer, runner, ice skater, pistol shooter, dancer, and horseman. With one arm tied behind his back, he swam the Seine River during winter.

Paris’ Pre-Revolutionary period, he stood amongst the most important musicians being a composer, violinist, and conductor. He became music director of the private theater of the Marquise de Montesson. The conductor of the Le Concert des Amateurs orchestra chose Saint-Georges as first violin. He made his public debut as a soloist during the 1772–73 concert season, performing his own violin concertos.

It has been argued that Saint-Georges’ work demonstrated the influence of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He was thereby dubbed “The Black Mozart.” However, history shows that Mozart did not come to Paris until 1778 to study at the Paris School of Composition while Saint-Georges was a member.

Saint-Georges produced 14 violin concertos and nine symphonies between 1773 and 1785. He wrote two solo violin compositions, two symphonies, three sonatas for violin and harpsichord, and 18 string quartets divided into three collections of six quartets in each. In 1777, he began to compose several operas for the Comedie-Italienne.

“It is no exaggeration or overstatement to say that classical music does owe a debt to the Black experience in classical music,” says Hutchinson, “And the goal is to show music lovers and readers how that debt continues to be paid in concert halls everywhere.”

Learn more about Saint-Georges and other Black composers of classical music, read “It’s Our Music Too: The Black Experience in Classical Music” by Earl Ofari Hutchinson.

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