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Tahara Lawson, a 10-year-od Champion Fighting HIV Stigma

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Fighting HIV stigma can seem daunting for people living with HIV, especially when having to confront deeply ingrained fears and taboos. But imagine what it is like for a child who is born with HIV who has to deal with that pernicious ignorance as she grows up.

 

 

At present, there are about 2 million children around the world living with HIV. Here in the United States new infections in children are rare due to anti-retro viral medications (ARVs) interventions in prenatal care.

 

Since 2007 there has not been a child born who is HIV positive in Alameda or Contra Costa County due to 1996 guidelines for testing every woman for HIV when pregnant, offering them treatment for their own care.

 

This prevents transmission to the child. This has changed everything.

 

Yet for Tahara Lawson, the change came too late. In 2004 before those guidelines were in place, Tahara was born with HIV, which she contracting from her mother who was unaware of her status.

 

The child is one of 50 children who are currently being seen and treated at Children Hospital HIV/AIDS clinic in Oakland. The hospital saw its first HIV baby in 1983 and established the clinic in 1986, offering counseling to the whole family on living with HIV and the stigma that it carries.

 

“All children at some point need to know why they are coming to the doctor and what they are being treated for,” said Teresa Courville, RN, MN, who works in the clinic.

 

“Disclosure occurs at different times depending on the child’s maturity and chronological age,” she said. “We talk about privacy issues and warn that many people still lack the education, and there’s still a lot of fear and stigma.”

 

The hospital doe not promote or discourage disclosure but tries to make sure the families know the pros and cons.

 

Tahara, now 10 years old, is fast becoming a powerful advocate fighting stigma and discrimination in her own way.

 

She wrote a book for children telling them how she feels, “Just Like You,” in which she talks about her experience of living with HIV and the stigma that she and her family has had to endure.

 

“Please look at me and see that I have hopes and dreams just like you,” she wrote in her new book, which will be a tool for an online pen pal club where HIV positive children from all over the world can write to each other.

 

Tahara was six when her guardian, her biological grandmother Marilyn Lawson, started having discussions with her about HIV and why some people treated her differently. Not only did Lawson educate Tahara, she involved the whole family, and they started The Tahara Lawson Foundation, which holds a health event each year.

 

“There are too many kids who are afraid. By letting her speak out, and with me by her side, I believe that it will change things,” said Lawson.

 

“Tahara is already touching the community. There are 20 children living in the complex where t (we) live that are HIV positive and won’t tell anyone, but they talk to Tahara,” said Lawson.

 

For information go to: http://taharalawsonfoundation.org/

Coronavirus

“Cease and Desist:” Cal Workers’ Union Pushes Back on New State Vaccine Requirement

The governor announced the policy during a press conference on July 26. He said all state employees and health care workers will either have to test regularly for COVID-19 or provide evidence that they’ve been vaccinated by August 2, 2021.

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Doctor Administering a Shot to a Patient; Photo courtesy of California Black Media

The California Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1000 has delivered a cease-and-desist letter to the California Department of Human Resources (CalHR) opposing Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new vaccine requirement for state employees.

The letter addressed to Paul Starkey, deputy director of Human Resources for CalHR, reads:

“This letter serves as a demand to meet and confer and as a formal objection to the implementation deadline until the meet and confer process is completed.”

SEIU 1000 is the largest SEIU 1000 in the state with nearly 100,000 members and one of the largest in the country, according to the organization’s website.

The governor announced the policy during a press conference on July 26. He said all state employees and health care workers will either have to test regularly for COVID-19 or provide evidence that they’ve been vaccinated by August 2, 2021.

Newsom says that the new requirement is a way to bolster efforts to vaccinate more Californians.

“We are now dealing with a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and it’s going to take renewed efforts to protect Californians from the dangerous Delta variant,” Newsom said.

“As the state’s largest employer, we are leading by example and requiring all state and health care workers to show proof of vaccination or be tested regularly, and we are encouraging local governments and businesses to do the same,” he continued.

Following the governor’s announcement, Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said the COVID-19 Delta variant as well as vaccine disinformation are justifications for the measure.

“California has administered more vaccines than any other state, with 75% of those eligible having gotten at least one dose, and we were weeks ahead of meeting President Biden’s 70% goal. But we must do more to fight disinformation and encourage vaccine-hesitant communities and individuals,” Ghaly said.

“The Delta variant is up to 60 % more infectious than the Alpha strain but many times more infectious than the original COVID-19 strain. If you have been waiting to get vaccinated, now is the time,” Ghaly continued.

Newsom reassured Californians that vaccines are not dangerous and are the way forward for the state.

“Vaccines are safe – they protect our family, those who truly can’t get vaccinated, our children and our economy. Vaccines are the way we end this pandemic,” Newsom said.

However, the safety of the vaccine is not the union’s chief concern, according to the letter.

The letter claims that the lack of communication between the state and SEIU prior to the implementation of the mandate is the reason for their complaint.

The letter also alleges that the governor’s office embarked on this decision without consulting SEIU, breaking a pattern of continued communication about changes in policy regarding COVID-19.

“Throughout the past 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, State workers have been both on the front lines and forced to adjust to teleworking,” the letter reads.

“During this time, the State has issued hundreds of COVID-related notices to the Union and offered to meet and confer over many changes or other matters within the scope of bargaining specifically pertaining to changes in procedures or policies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter continues.

The letter claims that the labor union found out about the vaccine requirement during the press conference where the policy was made public.

“On July 26, 2021, the governor abruptly turned away from the legal requirements of notice and bargaining and instead held a press conference and issued a press release, followed shortly by your Notice,””the letter states.

“Rather than giving this Union the legal right to meet and confer over this important policy change, CalHR dodged its legal obligations concerning vaccination confirmation,” the letter concludes.

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

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City Government

Sec. of State Shirley Weber Urges All Californians to Vote in Upcoming Recall Election

Weber is California’s first African American Secretary of State and the fifth Black person to serve as a constitutional officer in the state’s 170-year history. She said working as president of the San Diego Board of Education and serving four terms in the state Assembly after that showed her how elected officials can dismiss communities when they know that they don’t vote.

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Election Mail in Ballot at an Official Ballot Drop Box; Photo Courtesy of California Black Media

California Secretary of State Shirley Weber says all registered Californians should vote in the special election to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom. It is scheduled for September 14.

“This is an extremely important election,” said Weber, who said she comes from a family of Arkansas sharecroppers who migrated to California when she was three years old.

“My grandparents on my father’s side never had a chance to vote because they died before 1965 when the Voting Rights Act was passed,” she said. “We understand why it’s important to vote but we also understand what happens to communities when they don’t vote. We have to understand the positives of voting and also the negative impacts of not voting.”

Weber is California’s first African American Secretary of State and the fifth Black person to serve as a constitutional officer in the state’s 170-year history. She said working as president of the San Diego Board of Education and serving four terms in the state Assembly after that showed her how elected officials can dismiss communities when they know that they don’t vote.

Weber was speaking at a news briefing organized by Ethnic Media Services last week. During the virtual news conference, Weber shared details of how her office has been planning for the special elections, including making sure that every Californian will be mailed a ballot. Counties across the state will start sending them out in mid-August.

On the day of the special election, Weber said, polls will open at 7:00 a.m. and close at 8:00 p.m.

Voters will also be able to track their ballots via email or text messages by registering at wheresmyballot.sos.cagov.

Weber said the recall election ballot will ask two questions: Do the voters want to recall Newsom, and if so, who do they want to replace the governor. If 50% or more of voters cast no votes on the first question, Newsom stays on as governor. If 50% or more say yes, then he will be recalled and replaced by one of 46 candidates on the ballot who has the most votes.

Weber said planning the special election has been challenging, but her team has been effective and thorough.

“What I inherited in the Secretary of State’s office is a group of people who really know elections,” Weber told California Black Media.

“I’ve just been in awe of what they do. They have a system and they have it down pat. The last election was a good training ground for them to deal with absentee ballots, ballot boxes, and things that we’ve known would work but could never implement because people were hesitant about it. That is one thing that I know for sure that takes place in the Secretary of State Office: We know elections.”

Along with its elections duties and to safeguard the state’s official documents, including the Constitution and Great Seal, and the state archives, the Secretary of State office also registers businesses, commissions notaries public, and manages state ballot initiatives.

Each of California’s 58 counties oversees its own elections but Weber’s office sets the stage and regulations to ensure the counties have the tools to function properly and efficiently.

Weber meets with each county Voter Registration and Elections office each month. She learned when she took office in January that local election officials have been ahead of the process. Weber said, “this whole reality of elections is their life” and not something that is done one time each year.

“They were prepared for the recall before the recall was called,” Weber said during the virtual news conference.

“They are not the type to sit around and wait until July 1 and jump up and say we have to have an election. They have been preparing all along in terms of staffing, what they would do, and their plans to implement the election,” she added. “They are in the process of setting up voting centers, polls and mailing out the ballots. They know ( the recall election) is coming fast and that it has been an extremely unusual year of election after election.

Weber also provided details to media outlets needed to inform voters: from when to expect mail-in ballots, to the number of candidates, to when the polls will open and close, and the impact of voter turnout.

The budget for the Office of Secretary of State in the 2020-2021 fiscal year was $ 252,722,000. But the recall election has a hefty price tag.

“We are not really sure the total amount,” Weber said. “In the end, it could be close to $400 million and some people say $500 million. Yes, it is an expensive enterprise. It’s a serious one not only in terms of financing.”

Whatever the recall election outcome is in September, Weber said that Californians will have a chance to elect another governor in two years.

“No question. The regular elections move on,” Weber said. “We’ll have the primary election in June (2022) and the general election in November (2022).”

For more voter information about polling places, language preference for election materials and status about mail-in ballots, California voters should visit voterstatus.sos.ca.gov.

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Coronavirus

As the Pandemic Drags on, Cal Lawmakers Push Bills to Keep Public Meetings Virtual

Executive Order No. N-29-20 relaxed provisions in California’s Bagley-Keene and Ralph Brown acts, allowing state, county and city government institutions to take their public meetings online. 

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Microphone Angle From Podium Stock Photo; Photo courtesy of California Black Media

The threat of the COVID-19 Delta variant has become more apparent. And what was once the looming possibility of  reinstating pandemic public safety guidelines is becoming  reality.  As this is happening, California lawmakers are pushing a number of bills to expand the use of various telecommunication options for public meetings.

On July 2, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the extension of Executive Order No. N-29-20, through September 30. The goal of the order, which he issued last year, was to make sure Californians continued to have uninterrupted access to government meetings as the global COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the state’s day-to-day operations. It was set to expire June 15.

Executive Order No. N-29-20 relaxed provisions in California’s Bagley-Keene and Ralph Brown acts, allowing state, county and city government institutions to take their public meetings online.

“A local legislative body or state body is authorized to hold public meetings via teleconferencing and to make public meetings accessible telephonically or otherwise electronically to all members of the public seeking to observe and to address the local legislative body or state body,” Newsom’s order read.

California’s Brown Act of 1953 ensures in-person public participation in county and local government meetings. The Bagley-Keene Act guarantees the same for meetings held by state boards, state commissions, and state agencies.

Citing inadequate staff or equipment, some California governments — Lemon Grove, San Diego County and the Carlsbad City Council – have already reduced or removed the option to attend public meetings over Zoom or by phone after returning to in-person meetings earlier this summer.

But activists insist the onus is on government to make it easier for people to participate in the policy discussions that impact their lives.

Last week, the San Diego Democratic Party endorsed a policy initiative called “Boost Democracy” that is the brainchild of the Rev. Shane Harris, a local activist and founder of the People’s Alliance for Justice.

It proposes that four of the county’s largest agencies – the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD), San Diego County Board of Supervisors, San Diego County Office of Education, and San Diego City Council – adopt a text message notification system to public meetings that alerts the public when their agenda item is up for discussion.

“The party backs my proposal because they know that it’s right and it will make lives easier for everyday people,” Harris said. So far, only SDUSD has endorsed the Harris’s idea.

The bills, the California lawmakers are moving through the Legislature, are Assembly Bills 703, 361 and 339.

Assembly Bill (AB) 703, introduced by Assemblymember Blanca Rubio (D-Baldwin Park) would do away with many of the Brown Act restrictions on teleconferencing from various locations, allowing for broader virtual access.

“This bill would remove the notice requirements particular to teleconferencing and would revise the requirements of the act to allow for teleconferencing subject to existing provisions regarding the posting of notice of an agenda, provided that the public is allowed to observe the meeting and address the legislative body directly both in person and remotely via a call-in option or internet-based service option, and that a quorum of members participate in person from a singular physical location clearly identified on the agenda that is open to the public and situated within the jurisdiction,” the text of the bill reads.

AB 703 would remove the current Brown Act requirements that each virtual or telephone location be identified and made public.

The bill also includes a requirement to streamline the process of reviewing and resolving Americans with Disabilities Act requests for virtual meetings.

AB 703 has now been referred to the Assembly Committee on Local Government and is awaiting further action.

AB 361, introduced by Assemblymember Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) would allow local agencies to hold remote meetings during a declared state of emergency.

This bill, until January 1, 2024, would authorize a local agency to use teleconferencing without complying with the teleconferencing requirements imposed by the Ralph M. Brown Act when a legislative body of a local agency holds a meeting during a declared state of emergency,” the bill’s text reads.

AB 361 passed in the Assembly Committee on Local Government and is currently being reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Finally, AB 339 — introduced by assemblymembers Rivas, Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno), Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova) and Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin) — would require county supervisors and city councils to allow the public to have access to meetings through a two-way phone option or a two-way internet interfacing option along with video streaming and in-person comments or questions.

“This bill would, until Dec. 31, 2023, require all open and public meetings of a city council or a county board of supervisors that governs a jurisdiction containing at least 250,000 people to include an opportunity for members of the public to attend via a two-way telephonic option or a two-way internet-based service option, as specified, and would require a city council or county board of supervisors that has, as of June 15, 2021, provided video streaming, as defined, of at least one of its meetings to continue to provide that video streaming,” the bill’s text reads.

AB 339 would also require public agencies to provide real time translators for their virtual meetings.

AB 339 has been referred to the Committee on Appropriations in the Assembly.

Supporters of virtual meetings say, for parents, disabled citizens, people without access to reliable transportation, seniors and other Californians who have trouble attending public meetings, teleconferencing has provided an avenue for Californians to be more involved in the legislative process than had been possible before.

“If there is one silver lining from the pandemic, it’s that public access to local government meetings expanded beyond physical attendance, to telephonic and even video attendance,” said David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, a non-profit organization that focuses on supporting freedom of speech and accountability in government.  “This made local democracy accessible for many who would otherwise not be able to attend–and public agencies should maintain, not constrict, this access as California returns, however slowly, to normal.”

These bills, if passed, could set the ground for extending public access far beyond COVID-19.

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