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Stacey Abrams brings wisdom and inspiration to Vanderbilt

NASHVILLE PRIDE — Stacey Abrams, minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives (2011-2017) and Democratic nominee for 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election visited Nashville’s Vanderbilt University this week. On Tuesday, March 19, she sat down with Vanderbilt Chancellor Nick Zeppos in Langford Auditorium for a sold-out Chancellor’s Lecture event. Abrams’ visited the campus for a full day of activities, culminating in the one-on-one discussion with Chancellor Zeppos, followed by a book signing for her intriguing new book, now in paperback with a new Foreword, entitled Lead from the Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change.

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By Cass Teague

Stacey Abrams, minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives (2011-2017) and Democratic nominee for 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election visited Nashville’s Vanderbilt University this week. On Tuesday, March 19, she sat down with Vanderbilt Chancellor Nick Zeppos in Langford Auditorium for a sold-out Chancellor’s Lecture event. Abrams’ visited the campus for a full day of activities, culminating in the one-on-one discussion with Chancellor Zeppos, followed by a book signing for her intriguing new book, now in paperback with a new Foreword, entitled Lead from the Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change.

Abrams made headlines last year by becoming the first black female gubernatorial nominee of a major U.S. political party. Earlier this year, Abrams delivered the nationally televised Democratic response to the State of the Union address. Considered by many as a rising star in the Democratic party, Abrams shared about her experiences on the campaign trail and her current grassroots efforts around voting rights in America, but not her Presidential candidacy.

“Stacey Abrams delivered an inspiring message on how to ensure that our democracy embraces everyone,” said Tennessee State Representative the Rev. Dr. Harold M. Love, Jr. after the event. “Her commitment to changing the way we do politics is what the country needs now if we are going to ensure that everyone is valued. When we speak about eradicating voter suppression and disenfranchisement there is much work to do but with leaders like Stacey Abrams there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Abrams opened with a 10 minute keynote. “I don’t concede that I lost,” she said. “I do acknowledge that I am not the governor of Georgia.” She went on to talk about resilience, referencing her November 16 ‘non-concession speech.’ Abrams said that she fights “for the millions who stood with me. The outside is where the folks are.”

The chancellor rejoined her onstage for a little over an hour of moderated discussion. Zeppos would bring up an issue, and pose a question about it to Abrams, who deftly and engagingly took the audience on a journey through her thoughtful and informative replies. They touched on the campaign, the ten days of struggle to get a fair count after the November 6 election day, and the meaning she was able to attribute to the process and the events.

“I did spend that ten days plotting,” she said playfully. “Revenge is very cathartic… I am still sad, I’m still angry, but I’m less bitter,” and she noted that the best outcome comes from channeling the anger into action. Abrams described three issues she prioritized: Education (“gets you out of places and shows you places”); Economic Security ( especially small businesses); and Health Care (“It’s hard to be successful if you’re sick, and it’s expensive to be ill”).

Answering critics who think she wishes the current administration to fare poorly, she said, “I do not want the President to fail — America.” She made it known that she doesn’t want America or Americans to suffer because of who currently inhabits the White House.

Abrams’ address was very well-received, and she had definitely earned her standing ovation at the end. It was richly heart-warming when she came out for the book signing at the end of the program, and was greeted by dozens of her fellow Spellman alumnae. Abrams attended Spelman College, graduating magna cum laude with a bachelors degree in interdisciplinary studies (political science, economics and sociology) and was named a Harry S. Truman Scholar. After Spelman, she received a masters degree from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and a J.D. from Yale Law School.

Mark your calendars now, and sign up when you can for the Tuesday, April 30 VU Chancellor’s Lecture ‘Science advocacy and innovation’ event, the final lecture of the season, featuring Mae Jemison, scientist, educator and first African-American woman in space, with The Honorable Rush Holt, physicist and former U.S. Congressman (NJ-12, 1999-2015) as they discuss the new frontiers of scientific thought and the importance of the STEM fields for America’s progress. It is also at 6:30 p.m. in Vanderbilt’s Langford Auditorium.

This article originally appeared in the Nashville Pride

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Community

Building Bridges Beyond Bias in Marin

Registration is required. Sign-ups are available on the MCFL website. For more information and to register to this event, go to marinlibrary.org/blogs/post/building-bridges-beyond-bias/

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From left: Tahirah Dean, Jason Lau, Ph.D., Laura Eberly, Alejandro Lara

The Marin County Free Library (MCFL) and Age Forward Marin is presenting a four-part, on-line series “Building Bridges Beyond Bias” which is designed for Marin County residents from all backgrounds to gain understanding and foster awareness about each other through conversation and connection, and to confront and explore beyond our biases.

Tahirah Dean will be speaking on Wednesday, October 20, and Jason Lau, Ph.D. will be speaking on Wednesday, November 3, for the two remaining programs. The programs will be online via Zoom from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Dean is an Afro-Latina Muslim woman and a staff attorney at Legal Aid of Marin, pursuing her passion for housing justice, and has worked as an immigration attorney assisting asylum seekers and those seeking work visas. She holds a B.A. in English and Political Science from the University of North Texas, and a J.D. from Boston College Law School.

Lau traveled to the U.S. from Hong Kong in 1997 to further his education. Today, he is the interim associate dean and senior business officer for the School of Extended and International Education for Sonoma State University and chairs the Marin County Child Care Commission and the Marin YMCA Volunteer Board of Managers.

The speakers for two previous programs in the series were Laura Eberly, who spoke on September 22 and Alejandro Lara, who spoke on October 6.

Eberly is the founding director of Mountaintop Coaching & Consulting, which provides diversity, equity, and inclusion services. She holds a B.A. and M.S.W. from the University of Chicago and is ordained as a deacon in the Episcopal Church. She is a proud alum of Catalyst Project’s Anne Braden Anti-Racist Organizing Training Program.

Lara is a first-generation Latino college graduate from UC Davis, and currently works as the communications coordinator for the Canal Alliance in San Rafael.

MCFL has supported equity measures in the county, offered enlightening educational programming, and has enthusiastically endorsed the Marin County Board of Supervisors’ prioritization of social equity and the creation of the County’s Office of Equity. County departments are working to dismantle inequities and transform systems inherited through centuries of racial, social, and political injustices.

The Marin County Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) spearheaded the Age Forward Marin. It is a collective effort between County departments and local government, community leaders, and residents including in Marin’s unincorporated areas.

Gloria Dunn-Violin, a resident of Novato, approached HHS Director Benita McLarin with a concept that evolved into the special speaker series. Dunn-Violin teamed with the Corte Madera Library and the Age Forward initiative to design the Beyond Bias program’s purpose and format, to assist in finding speakers, and to share the event with community partners focused on diversity and inclusion.

Registration is required. Sign-ups are available on the MCFL website. For more information and to register to this event, go to marinlibrary.org/blogs/post/building-bridges-beyond-bias/

The Marin Post’s coverage of local news in Marin County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California

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City Government

Policy Pathways Honors Former Mayor Elihu Harris and Six Youth Leaders

The recipients of the 2021 Youth Public Service Award are students from Virginia high schools.

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Policy Pathways Logo courtesy of Organization's Facebook

Policy Pathways has announced former Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris as its 2021 Policy Leadership Award recipient, along with six youth who will receive 2021 Youth Public Service Awards.

The award winners will be recognized Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, at the Policy Pathways Third Annual Fall Celebration from 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. The event will take place online and is open to the public.

Elihu Harris

Kayla Patrick

The keynote speaker will be Kayla Patrick, senior data  and policy analyst at the Education Trust. She has conducted several major reports on policy and data analysis on the education of girls, particularly those of color. She has been featured in The New York Times, MSNBC, and 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s education platform.

She will be receiving the Excellence in Public Policy and Administration Award.

Elihu Harris’s career in public service has spanned five decades. He is a former California assemblyman, executive director of the National Bar Association, mayor of Oakland, and chancellor of Peralta Community College District. Today, he is a private attorney and owner of the Harris Funeral Home in Berkeley.

Dr. Lenneal Henderson, visiting instructor at the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA, and board member and fellow of numerous humanitarian and cultural institutions, will introduce Harris.

The recipients of the 2021 Youth Public Service Award are students from Virginia high schools.

University students being honored include Virginia students who have proven themselves to be leaders in public service in academics, community involvement and vision of the future.

“During our Third Annual Fall Celebration, we celebrate the accomplishments of policy leaders and public servants who have inspired us through their work, courage, dedication, and sheer will to overcome the barriers they faced that could have easily derailed their dreams,” said Policy Pathways President and CEO, Dr. D. Pulane Lucas.

The Fall Celebration supports the operations and programs of Policy Pathways. To purchase tickets and sponsorships, go to https://policypathways.org/event/fall-celebration/. Contributions are tax-deductible. For more information about the event, contact info@policypathways.org or call (866)-465-6671.

Policy Pathways, Inc. is a nonprofit organization based in Richmond, Va., providing education, training, and leadership development to high school students, recent high school graduates, and community college and undergraduates students who desire to become leaders in the fields of public policy, public administration, and public service.

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Community

Former High School Administrator Files Federal “Whistleblower” Lawsuit Against OUSD

Cleveland McKinney alleges he lost his job for complaining about “unsafe and discriminatory conditions” at McClymonds High

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Cleveland McKinney

Cleveland McKinney, a former assistant principal at McClymonds High School in West Oakland, has filed a lawsuit against the Oakland Unified School District, alleging that he was demoted and terminated for exercising his freedom of speech to complain about “unsafe and discriminatory school conditions, including tainted water, disproportionate suspensions of Black children, staff assaulting students, misappropriation of funds (and) sexual harassment of female students.”

“I’m a whistleblower,” said McKinney in an interview with the Oakland Post. “They forced me out once I began to speak up about a lot of the injustices that were going on and how they mistreated the Black community (in West Oakland) in the same way.” 

Reached by the Post, the district said it does not comment on pending litigation. 

During the time he was facing threats of demotion and loss of his position, several hundred members of the McClymonds community attended a school board meeting to protest the retaliation against him.

McKinney’s complaint was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in December 2020 by Sonya Z. Mehta of Oakland civil rights law firm Siegel, Yee, Brunner and Mehta. The lawsuit asks for an unspecified amount of money including damages for lost wages, emotional distress and pain and suffering. 

Depositions began in the past few weeks for the case, which is scheduled to go to trial in August 2022. In addition to the district, the complaint names McKinney’s former bosses, OUSD Executive Director of High School Instruction Vanessa Sifuentes and former McClymonds Principal Jarod Scott as defendants.

Prior to facing retaliation and being terminated by OUSD, McKinney had a spotless record as a teacher and school administrator since about 1996, according to the lawsuit.

McKinney was originally hired by OUSD in 2014 to help implement a 2012 Office of Civil Rights complaint against the district for “discriminatory discipline, including unwarranted suspensions, against African American students.”

State statistics indicate that in 2020-2021 McClymonds had 357 students, of whom 78% were Black. 

In his position at OUSD, McKinney worked with the Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Education to help create new discipline policies and train teachers how to discipline students. 

“McClymonds appointed McKinney the on-site administrator with school-wide responsibility for discipline as per the requirements of the 2012 agreement,” according to the lawsuit. 

The relationship between McKinney and his bosses began to deteriorate by Aug. 22, 2016, when he reported that water in McClymonds locker room looked “dirty and orange.”

“(He) requested the water be tested because of his reasonable belief that the water was dangerous and injurious to students,” the lawsuit said.

McKinney and others, including former McClymonds basketball coach Ben Tapscott, pushed for the district to conduct testing of all parts of the school, while students and teachers still used the water.

Officials told school staff there was nothing wrong with the water. “They advised letting the water run for five minutes, even for the cooking water in the kitchen,” though the water was still dirty after letting it run, the complaint said. 

An official stated she would not spend $100,000 to fix corroded pipes and that filters would be sufficient, the complaint said.

McKinney also met regularly with his bosses about disproportionate discipline in violation of the 2012 Office of Civil Rights agreement.

“He complained about teachers who were suspending Black students for not having pencils, asking to use the bathroom, talking, or chewing gum – and teachers who needlessly berated Black students.”

He also complained about a staff member who hit students, including punching “a girl in the throat in a meeting with many witnesses.” The administration said there was no merit to the complaint. 

McKinney also complained about mismanagement of a $50,000 donation for student activities that was redirected to administrator salaries, a Spanish teacher who knew no Spanish, an extreme mice infestation and an afterschool program that falsely claimed it was providing services to students. 

He pushed administrators to refurbish the locker room. The school’s entire football team, which was African American, “had to strip down and change on the football field and leave their equipment on the field due to the abysmal condition of the locker room. Students were forced to strip in front of adults,” the complaint said. 

In February 2018, Executive Director Sifuentes told McKinney, “Why are you so concerned about helping these people and everyone? Why don’t you just go along with what we are doing? What do you gain from this?”

In July 2018, McKinney’s bosses at the school moved his office to a space in the basement that was “moldy with a stale stench, (and) the carpet was filthy,” the complaint said.

In that room, he immediately began coughing and wheezing from allergies and asthma. 

McKinney met with OUSD Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell in September 2018 and December 2018 about his complaints, but she took no action, according to the lawsuit.

In August 2019, McKinney was demoted, removing him from his certificated position as an assistant principal and reclassified to a classified position as a program manager. On March 17, 2020, he was told that he did not have a job for the coming year and that he was terminated due to budget cuts. 

“I didn’t have any due process,” McKinney said. “When you speak up for the students and the community, it puts a target on your back, and they come after you.”

 

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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