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To Boot Out Prop 209: Black Lawmakers Make Case for Affirmative Action in California



Does California have a “legacy of unequal treatment” of minorities and women? That’s language from Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5 (ACA-5) introduced by Assemblymember Dr. Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) and Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D-Carson). Members of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) want their colleagues in the legislature to consider that question and examine whether affirmative action is the right response for redressing that history of inequality. 

The Opportunity for All Coalition is a group that has formed in support of ACA-5, which would repeal Proposition 209. 

In 1996 voters passed the controversial amendment to the state constitution. It banned discrimination or preferential treatment based on race or gender in public education, employment, and contracting. 

“It’s been 24 years — 24 long years — since Prop. 209 was promoted as a civil rights initiative,” said Weber. 

On May 1, the Opportunity for All Coalition held a virtual seminar. More than 100 people logged on to take part in a discussion about the ethnic disparities of the COVID-19 crisis. Coalition member and the Chair of the California State Board of Equalization, Malia Cohen, said data revealing that communities of color are disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus crisis highlights inequities in society and the need for affirmative action. A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report confirmed that death rates for African Americans and Latinos, “were substantially higher than that of white” people. 

Coalition member Vincent Pan is the Co-Executive Director of Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA). During the discussion he referenced recently-released California Department of Public Health (CDPH) data that showed Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians are also dying at a higher rate than their representation in the population. CDPH numbers show, as of April 30, 2,073 people have died in California from COVID-19. 

Coalition members said Proposition 209 exacerbated disparities. While people from communities of color are more likely to be hospitalized for the virus, they’re less likely to have healthcare coverage and more likely to work essential service jobs. ACA-5 supporters also said this population is less likely to have access to public job opportunities, and women and small business owners who are Black or from other minority groups are less likely to earn government contracts. “Proposition 209 cost women- and minority-owned businesses $1.1 billion each year,” Weber said in a written statement. 

Prop. 209’s impact on admission at California’s most competitive public universities has remained a flashpoint in public debate about the policy. Ethnic minority groups have mobilized on both sides “… with the intent to divide the various ethnic communities to fight over the scraps at the University of California,” said Weber at the March 10 press conference announcing ACA-5. 

The movement against reestablishing affirmative action in the state is also virtual. “No On ACA-5″ is the name of a petition being circulated by a Silicon Valley-based Asian American group that campaigned to block past repeal efforts in 2014. As of May 2, more than 22,000 people have signed the petition. One supporter wrote that “race-based” policies are “unconstitutional” and are not fair to Asians.

The Asian American Coalition for Education (AACE) used similar language in a press release encouraging Californians to join the fight. The national organization known for accusing Harvard University of discriminating against Asians wrote: “ACA-5 will surely result in racial discrimination against Asian Americans in California.” 

Groups opposed to ACA-5 argue that race-conscious policies favoring other groups take opportunities away from qualified Asian American students. In a written statement, the Opportunity for All Coalition said the state’s ban on affirmative action hurts everyone, citing a decrease in college-educated workers and lost wages. 

“We can’t have shared success without shared opportunities to get ahead,” The Opportunity for All statement read. “We refuse to let the rich and powerful use race and lies to divide us when so much is at stake. We’re not going to rebuild a stronger California unless we come together to end discrimination and ensure real equal opportunity for all.” 

The number of Asian students enrolled in the University of California (UC) system increased in the absence of affirmative action. While post Prop 209, Black, Latino, and Native American enrollment at UCLA and UC Berkeley dropped by 60 percent. The same UC Institutional Research and Academic Planning report found an overall decline in diversity. 

Race-neutral programs targeting students from disadvantaged communities have helped to increase enrollment for some minority groups. The number of Latino students also increased as the population grew statewide. Still, African American enrollment at the UCs hasn’t rebounded. In the fall of 2019, Black students made up 3.8% of the student body system wide. Asian students made up 36% while accounting for about 15% of the state population. 

UC research also finds a denial letter can derail a student’s life trajectory. Applicants shut out of UCs are less likely to earn a degree or high wages. This might help to explain some of the emotion driving the dispute that has gone before the nation’s highest court. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the use of affirmative action in college admissions only to achieve diversity. The Court also ruled that race cannot be the deciding factor in admission. California is one of eight states that has barred affirmative action altogether. 

Opponents of the ban argue affirmative action is not preferential treatment. Instead, they say, it removes barriers. Supporters of ACA-5 say, in the absence of affirmative action, historically excluded groups are denied opportunities for upward mobility. They argue public organizations should reflect the communities they serve — and point to data that shows that diverse environments foster understanding and respect for others. 

Though less often discussed, Prop. 209 has impacted public contracts and hiring for nearly a quarter of a century. “This law served as an impediment to state contracting, hiring and legislative policies addressing economic and social disparities experienced by women and people of color,” said Weber. One example is the state’s efforts to increase the number of Black and Latino teachers to address the achievement gap between Black and Latino students and their white and Asian peers. 

In a statement appealing to Asian American business owners, CAA wrote, “repealing Proposition 209 would unlock billions of dollars in economic opportunities for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) small business owners. In cities where affirmative action is legal, like Chicago or Atlanta, AAPI-owned businesses earn much more in public contracts than in San Francisco or Los Angeles.” 

In addition to virtual meetings, the Opportunity for All Coalition is encouraging supporters to tweet Assemblymembers Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova), Freddie Rodriguez (D-Pomona) and Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach) to encourage the Democratic lawmakers to vote for ACA-5. It would take a two-thirds majority vote to repeal Proposition 209. 

Opponents are working to stop the bill in its tracks. The campaign against affirmative action includes drumming up support mostly online and encouraging people to contact their state representatives. 

Organizers on both sides say they’re fighting for equality. ACA-5 is set to be discussed Tuesday May 5 in committee when the state Assembly reopens for sessions this week. If the constitution amendment passes and meets all requirements by June 25, voters could once again have a chance to weigh in on a ballot measure in November that decides whether affirmative action is the right answer for California.

Due to the statewide stay-at-home order and guidance on physical distancing, seating for this hearing will be very limited for press and for the public.  All are encouraged to watch the hearing from its live stream on the Assembly’s website at 10:00 a.m.

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Dream Fund: Entrepreneurs Can Apply for $10,000 Grants Through $35M State Program

Although a number of reports suggest that the outlook has begun to be more positive as the U.S. economy continues to bounce back defying the odds, and many Black businessowners have also become more optimistic, access to credit and technical support remain a challenge for many who had to dip into their own finances to keep their lights on.



Everett Sands, CEO Lendistry. Lendistry photo. 
Everett Sands, CEO Lendistry. Lendistry photo. 

By Tanu Henry, California Black Media

Since 2017, there has been a 9.8% increase of new small businesses — firms with less than 500 employees — in the United States. Over the past two years alone, over 10 million applications were submitted to start new small businesses across the country, according to the Small Business Administration.

That growth trend is true for California, too, where there are about 4.1 million small businesses, the most in the country. Those companies make up 99.8% of all business in California and employ about 7.2 million people.

But for Black-owned and other minority owned small businesses across the country, there was a steep decline in numbers, almost 41%, due to the pandemic, a Census Population Survey found in 2020. During that same time, nearly 44% of minority-owned small businesses were at risk of shutting down, a Small Business Majority report found.

Although a number of reports suggest that the outlook has begun to be more positive as the U.S. economy continues to bounce back defying the odds, and many Black businessowners have also become more optimistic, access to credit and technical support remain a challenge for many who had to dip into their own finances to keep their lights on.

Recognizing the outsized contribution small businesses make to the health of the California economy and the hit many of the smallest of small business have taken during the pandemic, the California Office of the Small Business Advocate (CalOSBA) has been making grants of up to $25,000 to small business in the state.

In its latest round of funding called the Dream Fund, which is now accepting applications on a rolling basis, CalOSBA has partnered with Lendistry, a Los Angeles-based, minority-led small business and commercial real estate lender to administer the $35 million grant portion of its program. The fund provides $10,000 to each small business that qualifies.

To become eligible, California-based small business owners will have to complete training at one of the centers run by the state’s Technical Assistance Expansion Program (TAEP) and receive a certificate.

“For the millions of Californians that have dreams of owning their own business, this grant coupled with one-on-one counseling and business expertise from hundreds of counselors at our eighty-seven Technical Assistance Centers, has the power to jumpstart their dreams,” says Tara Lynn Gray, director of CalOSBA.

Jay King, president and CEO of the Sacramento-based California Black Chamber of Commerce, says he applauds Gov. Gavin Newsom for understanding the historic systemic challenges minority businesses face and for “doing something about it.”

But giving Black businesses grants are not a “cure-all,” he says.

“It is like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound if we don’t do more to really fix the problems small businesses face,” King explains. “Ninety-six percent of Black businesses are mini- or micro- that means they make less than $100,000 or less than $35,000 a year, respectively,” King continued. “Only 4% of our businesses earn more than $100,000 annually. We have to put more resources and technical support around these businesses.”

King says informing Black business owners about opportunities like the Dream Fund and making sure they know how to apply for or access the funding is critical to making sure the people who need the help gets it.

“You have to get down into our communities,” he said. “You have to reach people through groups that are plugged into our communities to get the word out. We do not hear about these kinds of programs enough. We definitely don’t benefit from them enough.”

Everett K. Sands, the CEO of Lendistry, says he is excited to help California’s new businesses access the capital they need to “begin on their journeys.

“Over the past two years, almost 10 million new businesses have been created in the U.S.,” he says. “With record numbers of new small businesses entering the marketplace, many of which are owned by women and minorities, programs like California Dream Fund pave the way for a more robust and equitable economy as these new businesses make the leap from employing just their founders to employing their communities.”

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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.



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. 



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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