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Toks Omishakin, Transportation Secretary Nominee, Moves Up to Cabinet Level

Omishakin, 44, makes history as the first African American to serve in that Cabinet-level position responsible for overseeing all state agencies that regulate and support transportation and administer services related to the sector.

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Toks Omishakin being sworn in by Gov. Gavin Newsom Feb 28, 2022 (Facebook) 
Toks Omishakin being sworn in by Gov. Gavin Newsom Feb 28, 2022 (Facebook) 

By Antonio Ray Harvey, California Black Media

In February, Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Adetokunbo “Toks” Omishakin Secretary of the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA).

Omishakin, 44, makes history as the first African American to serve in that Cabinet-level position responsible for overseeing all state agencies that regulate and support transportation and administer services related to the sector.

“@CAgovernor want to express gratitude for new appt to Cabinet Secretary @CA_Trans_Agency,” tweeted Omishaken after his nomination was announced in February.

“Looking fwd to continued #partnership and realizing shared vision to implement initiatives with #Equity #Climate #Safety focus, for CA’s transportation system, now and in future. #CAForAll,” Omishakin’s tweet continued.

In California state government’s chain of command, Omishakin’s role as secretary is a step up from his last role: director of California Department of Transportation (CalTrans).

Newsom appointed him to lead CalTrans in September 2019.

Earlier this month, Omishakin’s wife and two children joined him as he took the oath of office in Sacramento to begin serving in the governor’s Cabinet.

At the swearing-in ceremony Newsom said Omishakin brings experience and vision to the role.

“As head of the largest and most complex transportation system in the nation, I’m confident that he’ll continue to bring his forward-thinking leadership and dedication to serving the people of California,” Newsom stated. “(Omishakin will) advance our ongoing work to build safer, healthier, and more sustainable communities that serve all Californians.”

The same day Omishakin took the oath of office, Newsom swore in Amy Tong, 48, to succeed his African American Secretary of California Government Operations Agency (GovOps) Yolanda Richardson.

Richardson resigned from the role in February, citing personal reasons. That same week California’s first African American Surgeon General Nadine Burke-Harris also resigned “to focus on her family.”

Tong previously served as director of the California Office of Digital Innovation. Before that, she was director of the California Department of Technology.

“A veteran of state service, Director Tong’s deep experience in the public sector and leadership in the technology field have helped guide key efforts to make government more efficient and effective, including our work to bridge the digital divide and help state agencies navigate complex challenges during the pandemic,” Newsom said, pointing out Tong’s past accomplishments.

In his role as CalSTA Secretary, Omishakin will oversee Caltrans, the Department of Motor Vehicles, the California Highway Patrol, the High-Speed Rail Authority, among other agencies and transportation-focused committees.

He is assuming the position after President Joe Biden signed a $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill into law last year. The legislation will direct billions of dollars into the state for wildfire preparation, public transit projects, bridge and road repair, and broadband internet.

California will receive $25 billion from the federal government for highways under the Reconnecting Communities Initiative. The program was created to undo some of the effects of the economic and social disruption caused by highway construction through a number of majority Black communities under the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956.

The U.S. Transportation Department estimates that, between 1957 and 1977, nearly 480,000 households across the country were forced out of their homes to accommodate the highway construction, which started under President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration. Some of those highway projects entrenched segregation by isolating some of those majority-Black communities and cutting off their access to resources.

In an April 2021 interview with California Black Media, Omishakin said CalTrans needs to “engage more” with Black and Brown communities.

“We need to reach out more to people and businesses to let them know what opportunities exist,” he said.

The position of Secretary of the California State Transportation requires Senate confirmation, and the compensation is $227,178 annually.

Omishakin, born in Knoxville, Tenn., is registered without a political party preference. He earned a Master of Arts degree in Urban and Regional Planning from Jackson State University, an HBCU in Mississippi. He is completing a doctorate degree in Engineering Management at the University of Tennessee.

From 2011 to 2019, Omishakin was deputy commissioner for Environment and Planning at the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

In August 2020, Omishakin opened the CalTrans Office of Race and Equity (CORE), which works closely with the Office of Civil Rights to combine equity initiatives. The office hosts a virtual business summit to support small business owners.

“Omishakin has implemented innovative strategies to create a more equitable, world-class transportation network for all users while improving the safety and livability of neighborhoods across the state.

“Under his leadership, Caltrans has worked to accelerate more than 100 roadway projects during the pandemic, adjusted operations to help keep goods moving amid supply chain challenges and spearheaded the transformative Clean California program that is revitalizing public spaces across California,” said Newsom.

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Antonio‌ ‌Ray‌ ‌Harvey‌

Shirley Weber Sworn in as California’s First Elected Black Secretary of State

The Secretary of State is the chief elections officer of the state, responsible for overseeing and certifying elections, as well as testing and certifying voting equipment for use in California. Weber’s duties also include overseeing the state’s archives division and registry of businesses.

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As her grandchildren Kadir and Jalil Gakunga looked on California Secretary of State Shirley Weber was sworn in to her first term in the position by Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego). CBM photo.
As her grandchildren Kadir and Jalil Gakunga looked on California Secretary of State Shirley Weber was sworn in to her first term in the position by Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego). CBM photo.

By Antonio‌ ‌Ray‌ ‌Harvey‌, California‌ ‌Black‌ ‌Media‌

On Jan. 9, with the sound of African drumming in the background, Shirley Weber was sworn in as the first elected Black Secretary of State (SOS) of California and the 32nd person to hold the position.

The ceremony was conducted at the SOS’ auditorium in downtown Sacramento, one block south of the State Capitol.

Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego) administered the oath of office in front of Weber’s grandsons Kadir and Jalil Gakunga.

“I want to thank all of those who work so hard to make this position, the Secretary of State — and all of those wonderful things that come with it — possible, and for being in my life,” Weber said. “I have been blessed beyond imagination with all of the good things California has to give.”

The daughter of a sharecropper from Hope, Arkansas, Weber said she is “not supposed to be here” as the state’s chief clerk, overseeing a department of 500-plus employees.

Weber grew up in a two-room, “clapboard house” in Arkansas with her parents and five other siblings before the family relocated to Los Angeles where they lived in Pueblo Del Rio, a housing project known as the “pueblos.”

Weber said the “data” projected that she would not have a bright future. Still, she went on to graduate from UCLA with a PhD, serve on the San Diego Board of Education, teach African American studies at San Diego State University, and successfully run for California State Assembly in November 2012.

“My father came from Hope, Arkansas, because there was no hope in Hope,” Weber said. “He came to California because he wanted his children to have a better chance and a better life.”

When Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Alex Padilla the state’s junior U.S. Senator in January 2021, he nominated Weber as SOS. Padilla filled in for Sen. Kamala Harris, who had been elected U.S Vice President. Weber was officially installed as SOS in April 2021.

Weber’s plan after serving in the Legislature was to move to Ghana, Africa, and “build a house up in the hills.” But that all changed when Newsom called.

“It was hard for me to think about becoming Secretary of State because I was so content in the Assembly,” Weber said. “When I was asked to be Secretary of State, I thought hard and long about it. I realized that everything about the Secretary of State was central to my life. I thought to myself that I am always the one taking the hard challenges. I said who better than a kid of sharecropper, who never had a chance to vote, who could fight for the rights of voters.”

The Secretary of State is the chief elections officer of the state, responsible for overseeing and certifying elections, as well as testing and certifying voting equipment for use in California. Weber’s duties also include overseeing the state’s archives division and registry of businesses.

In her remarks, Atkins praised Weber’s “leadership” and “morality” and called her “a tireless champion of democracy,” adding that those characteristics are integral to performing the duties of Secretary of State.

Atkins told guests that she first met Weber when she was 24 years old and that Weber helped her run for state Assembly.

For the first time in its history, California has three Black constitutional officers. The others are Controller Malia M. Cohen and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.

“You know, our constitutional officers are unique, and I give credit to our Governor (Gavin Newsom) and the people of California.”

“There is no other list of constitutional officers like this? Where do you have a list of constitutional officers where it only has one white male in it? That is unheard of. The diversity (and) the fact that women are constitutional officers in California is historic.”

Weber’s daughter, Assemblymember Akilah Weber (D-San Diego) was the ceremony’s emcee while Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) provided the invocation. David Bauman’s African drumming and musical selections by Dr. Tecoy Porter, pastor of Genesis Church Sacramento and president of the National Action Network Sacramento Chapter and his Genesis Church choir provided the entertainment. Weber’s son Akil Weber provided the closing statements.

“Words cannot express how truly proud I am of what my mother has done, what she will continue to do, the door she has opened, the legacy she is creating,” Assemblymember Akilah Weber said of her mother.

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Antonio‌ ‌Ray‌ ‌Harvey‌

California’s First African American Controller Malia Cohen Takes Office

“I am proud and honored to serve as California’s state controller,” said Malia M. Cohen. “The work to create a more equitable California has already begun. I look forward to ensuring fiscal accountability, with an eye toward transparency and innovation.

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Malia Cohen was sworn in by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Jan. 3. Photo by Robert Maryland, California Black Media.
Malia Cohen was sworn in by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Jan. 3. Photo by Robert Maryland, California Black Media.

By Antonio‌ ‌Ray‌ ‌Harvey‌, ‌California‌ ‌Black‌ ‌Media‌

Last week, Malia M. Cohen was sworn in as the first Black woman — and first African American — to serve as California’s state controller.

On Monday, Jan. 2, the oath of office was administered by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“I am proud and honored to serve as California’s state controller,” said Cohen. “The work to create a more equitable California has already begun. I look forward to ensuring fiscal accountability, with an eye toward transparency and innovation.”

On Jan. 6, Cohen was given the oath of office by San Francisco Mayor London Breed with her husband Warren Pulley by her side.

The community event was held at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Sacramento.

California now has three Black politicians holding Constitutional offices including Cohen. Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond are the others.

“Congratulations @MaliaCohen. As California’s first Black state controller, Malia has made history and continues to break barriers while helping build long-term equity throughout our communities. I’m confident she will continue fighting for the rights of all Californians,” Breed stated in a Jan. 6 post on her Twitter page.

“I am excited to get to work on creating a more equitable California as your next Controller,” Cohen tweeted on Jan. 6.

Cohen was elected to the California Board of Equalization (BOE) in November 2018 and was named chairperson in 2019 and 2022. As Controller, Cohen continues to serve BOE as its fifth voting member.

Prior to being elected to BOE, Cohen was president of the Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco. As a member of that body, she also served as the chair of the Budget and Finance Committee and president of the San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System (SFERS).

Cohen was born and raised in San Francisco. Her political journey, she says lightheartedly, began when she was elected class president of San Francisco’s Lowell High School, the oldest public high school on the West Coast.

She has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Fisk University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), and a master’s degree in public policy and management from Carnegie Mellon University.

She and her husband reside in San Francisco along with their daughter.

As the chief fiscal officer of California, Cohen is responsible for accountability and disbursement of the state’s financial resources. The controller also has independent auditing authority over government agencies that spend state funds.

Cohen’s duties include being a member of numerous financing authorities, and fiscal and financial oversight entities including the Franchise Tax Board. She also serves on the boards for the nation’s two largest public pension funds.

At the St. Paul Baptist Missionary Baptist Church swearing-in, Kenneth Reece, the senior pastor, gave the opening prayer.

Held at the church six miles from the State Capitol, Cohen’s swearing-in ceremony included prayers offered by Imam Yasir Kahn, the chaplain of the California State Assembly, and Rabbi Mona Alfi, the senior rabbi of Congregation B’Nai Israel.

Among the guests were Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), Director of Bay Area Rapid Transit Bevan Duffy, California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Lorena Gonzalez, the singer Aloe Blacc and Jaqueline Thompson, pastor of Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland.

Cohen’s swearing-in was held on the second anniversary of the attack on the U.S. Capitol. The day was packed with political activities in Sacramento and overshadowed by references to the infamous Capitol insurrection in Washington that shocked people across the country and around the world.

That day, Newsom was sworn in to a second term. Rob Bonta was also sworn-in for the first time as the state’s attorney general. He was appointed to the position by Newsom in March 2021.

Before Newsom’s outdoor ceremony, the governor, his wife, and four children led a march from West Sacramento, across the Tower Bridge, to the Capitol. During the governor’s address on the steps of the Capitol, he shared his feelings about the attack on the U.S. Capitol two years ago while addressing some of the state’s most pressing issues.

“Our politics doesn’t always reward taking on the hardest problems. The results of our work may not be evident for a long time. But that cannot be our concern,” Newsom said. “We will prepare for uncertain times ahead. We will be prudent stewards of taxpayer dollars, pay down debt, and meet our future obligations. And we will build and safeguard the largest fiscal reserve of any state in American history.”

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State Task Force Getting Closer to Identifying What Reparations Look Like

The five-member expert panel, appointed by the task force, is quantifying past economic injustices African Americans faced in the state and elsewhere, and determining what or how much compensation should be made to Black people living in California.

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The five-member expert panel, appointed by the task force, is quantifying past economic injustices African Americans faced in the state and elsewhere, and determining what or how much compensation should be made to Black people living in California.
Economic experts for the California Reparations Task Force Dr. Kaycea Campbell, right, and Williams Spriggs, left, explain to the 9-member panel in Los Angeles that the group has “rough estimations” for five harms that could be used to determine compensation. 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 be conducting its last meeting of 2022 on Wednesday, Dec. 14, and Thursday, Dec. 15, at Oakland City Hall Chambers located at 1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza adjacent to 14th Street.

The start time is 9 a.m. for both days beginning with one hour of public comment. The meetings will be live streamed via the official Task Force website or ETM Media on YouTube.

Task Force Chairperson Kamilah Moore says that the next meeting is of high importance “for a few reasons,” and will include an in-depth conversation about redress and repair.

“No. 1, we will begin to refine community eligibility standards (including residency requirements); No. 2, we’re inviting leaders from local/municipal reparations efforts from across the state to share their incredible work (i.e., Oakland, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Russell City, Palms Springs etc.),” Moore said in a written statement on Dec. 1. “No. 3, it will be the first-time task force members will collectively discuss and begin to determine what types of reparation proposals will be in the final report that will be released in June 2023.”

The task force’s two-year charge is scheduled to end in June 2023.

California’s AB 3121, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom 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.

The law 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.

From the information they collect, the task force will develop reparation proposals for African Americans and recommend appropriate ways to educate Californians about the task force’s findings.

After the task force decided who would be eligible for compensation in March, 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 panel reported to the task force in March that a “conservative estimate” of 2 million African Americans in California have ancestors who were enslaved in the United States. According to the U.S. 2020 Census, there are about 2.6 million Black Californians out of a total state population of nearly 40 million residents.

The five-member expert panel, appointed by the task force, is quantifying past economic injustices African Americans faced in the state and elsewhere, and determining what or how much compensation should be made to Black people living in California.

The expert panel includes William Spriggs, chief economist for the AFL-CIO and former chair of the Department of Economics at Howard University; Thomas Craemer, Public Policy professor at the University of Connecticut; Dr. Kaycea Campbell, CEO for Ventana Capital Advisors and Los Angeles Pierce College associate professor of Economics; Dr. William A. “Sandy” Darity Jr., director of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University; and Kirsten Mullen, a writer, and lecturer whose work focuses on race, art, history, and politics.

All five experts participated on the first day of the two-day meeting held at the California Science Center in Los Angeles two months ago. Spriggs and Campbell attended the event in person, while the other three experts appeared virtually.

Campbell and her colleagues discussed with the task force the “models” to provide a “road map” that would determine how reparations would be “paid and measured.”

Milagro Jones, a participant at the Reparation Task Force meeting in Los Angeles, holds up a 500-page interim report that was submitted to the California Legislature in June 2022. CBM photo by Antonio Ray Harvey, Sept. 23, 2022.

Milagro Jones, a participant at the Reparation Task Force meeting in Los Angeles, holds up a 500-page interim report that was submitted to the California Legislature in June 2022. CBM photo by Antonio Ray Harvey, Sept. 23, 2022.

The experts presented “five harms or atrocities,” down from the 13 they originally proposed, that could be used to determine compensations.

Campbell said the five categories under review will not be “exhausted” until they have received enough data to complete the process.

“This is not to say that other harms and atrocities are not important. As soon as, or if we get better data or more recent data, then we can, in fact, go through the process of what these look like,” Campbell said.

The experts made “rough estimates,” of property unjustly taken by eminent domain, devaluation of Black businesses, housing discrimination, the disproportion of mass incarceration and over-policing, and health inequities as the major harms.

Task Force Member Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Inglewood) released the following statement as clarification that the task force has not proposed that California compensate descendants of slaves with direct compensation for historical housing discrimination.

Bradford said, “Since its formation, a lot of misinformation and willful misrepresentation of the work from the Task Force has been released. The fact is that the Task Force has not completed its work and has made no formal recommendations to the Legislature. It’s important that we be deliberative and get this right because the nation is watching and it’s more than likely ours will be the model for all to follow.”

Members of the community and media are encouraged to visit the Reparations Task Force website and subscribe to the task force’s mailing list for updates at: https://oag.ca.gov/subscribe or call (213) 519-0504.

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