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Opinion: Voting is the Centerpiece of Our Democracy

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August 6 is the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. If the constitutional amendments passed after the Civil War — the 13, 14 and 15th Amendments — were the “second founding” of democracy in America, the Voting Rights Act, which after nearly a century of segregation gave legal effect to the 15th Amendment that outlawed discrimination in the right to vote, should be considered the “third founding.”

Selma was its Philadelphia. John Lewis, Martin Luther King Jr., and Lyndon Johnson were its founding fathers. Over the last decade, the Act and the right to vote have come under unrelenting attack, an attack that is now escalating dramatically.

The Voting Rights Act outlawed the various tricks and traps that states in the South used to deprive Blacks of the right to vote. It outlawed discrimination against racial and language minorities, providing Hispanics with protection, among others. It identified states with an egregious history of discrimination and required pre-clearance of any changes in their election laws by the Justice Department.

The results were immediate. African American, Hispanic American and Asian American registration increased dramatically.

In the former confederate states, African Americans elected to the state legislators increased from three to 176 in 20 years. Local elected officials went from less than 1,500 to 10,500. In 1964, there were five African American representatives in Congress and no senators. Now, there are 51 representatives, three senators and two non-voting delegates. The stunning increase in political participation by people of color culminated in the election of Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008.

The reaction to the law began almost immediately. Republicans under President Nixon sculpted their infamous “Southern Strategy” to capture white voters in the South. In 2013, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, in a shameless act of legislating from the bench, marshaled the right-wing majority of the Court in Shelby v. Holder to decide that the geographical focus of the act was “out of date,” despite the fact that it had just been renewed by overwhelming bipartisan majorities of both houses of Congress after extended investigation.

Roberts’ assertion that discrimination was behind us was immediately belied by a flood of actions aimed at making it harder for Blacks and other minorities to vote. Without prior review, Republican-led states, particularly those in the South, enacted partisan gerrymandering, dual primaries, and voting roll purges; and closed voting sites, limited early voting, required specific forms of voter ID and more.

Today, this reaction has moved to new extremes. Donald Trump — aided and abetted by Republican senators and governors — has sought to discredit voting by mail, blocking funds for the U.S. Postal Service and the states to gear up for mass voting by mail, the sensible, safe way to vote in the midst of the pandemic.

Trump has even argued that only those votes counted on Election Day should determine the election, knowing that a full count for massive voting by mail will necessarily take several days. Not surprisingly, polls show a higher percentage of Democrats plan to vote by mail, while most Republicans plan to vote in person.

Once more, our elections are endangered by partisan, racially-biased efforts to constrict the right to vote. Once more, it is time for a renewed drive to protect the vote, the centerpiece of democracy. A sensible reform agenda, summarized by President Barack Obama in his address at the memorial for John Lewis, includes making voting day a national holiday, extending early voting, having efficient and widespread vote by mail, automatic and same-day voter registration, and strengthening of the Voting Rights Act.

Importantly, senators Elizabeth Warren and Dick Durbin have taken up the cause of amending the Constitution to guarantee the right to vote, a guarantee that shockingly does not now exist.

Enforcing the right to vote should not be controversial. It should enjoy support across the political spectrum. However, there are always those who want to limit that right for their own political purposes. Reform is invariably met with reaction.

The right to vote won’t be inherited; each generation must fight to preserve and to extend it. Now more than ever, those who care about our democracy must rally to protect that right once more.

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Activism

OCCUR & the San Francisco Foundation FAITHS Program Present: A Model Built on Faith 2022 Leadership Series

Presenter, Karl Mill, Esq., is founder of Mill Law Center, a firm providing legal support to the nonprofit and social enterprise sectors. A long-time champion of underserved communities, Mill is dedicated to promoting justice under the law. “Our firm is in the nonprofit sector because we want to devote our lives to activities that relieve suffering and promote justice” says Mill.

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Workshop 3: Building Your Legal Guardrails

May 26, 2022

As organizations and communities emerge from years of changes and transformations due to the Covid pandemic, the broader landscapes in which they function have also changed. What current and possible new legal guardrails must be in place to move forward into the new normal? OCCUR and the San Francisco Foundation FAITHS program present Building Your Legal Guardrails. This capacity training will provide nonprofit and faith-based leaders with an overview of legal topics key to understanding and exploring the rapidly changing legal landscape.

Presenter, Karl Mill, Esq., is founder of Mill Law Center, a firm providing legal support to the nonprofit and social enterprise sectors. A long-time champion of underserved communities, Mill is dedicated to promoting justice under the law. “Our firm is in the nonprofit sector because we want to devote our lives to activities that relieve suffering and promote justice” says Mill. “We focus on priority areas such as racial justice, combatting economic and educational inequality, supporting immigrants’ rights, and dismantling mass incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline. Understanding key elements of the law is critical to advancing the work of all those who work in the nonprofit arena.”

Please join us for this informative workshop!

Date/Time:
May 26, 2022, 9 a.m.-11a.m.
Location: Zoom
How to Attend: Please RSVP on our website, amodelbuiltonfaith.org
Questions: Email info@occurnow.org, or call (510) 839-2440

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Activism

COMMENTARY: “COVID-19 and White Supremacy, Creating Our New Normal”

We must rescue and refine the best of Black ways. Look at our historical grandeur. We once imagined the great Step Pyramid before there was a pyramid. How did we do that? Black people lived through over four hundred years of rabid, hostile, savage, dehumanization yet never became rabid, hostile, savage dehumanizing people. Our way, our worldview, our narrative, our normativity is what allowed us to do this. This is what we need to revisit.

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Dr. Wade Nobles
Dr. Wade Nobles

Black Mental Health pt. 2

By Tanya Dennis

With the global COVID-19 pandemic, we knew the world would never be the same. For some, COVID-19 has provided an opportunity to correct a society filled with bias, inequality, and meanness.

For Dr. Wade Nobles, long-time scholar/activist, and co-founder of the Association of Black Psychologists, “This is our time of reckoning. It is a time to redo what we have always done, sometimes under the radar, always in opposition to white supremacy. This is the time for Black people to interlock, reconnect and heal our community without European influence.”

Dr. Nobles, the Bay Area Chapter of the Association of Black Psychologists, and Oakland Frontline Healers are bringing together the best minds and calling on every sector to join them in the development of African American Wellness Hubs and an African American Healing Center in Oakland.

“Restoring wellness is to make the whole well. It is to connect everything and everyone in life affirming ways throughout the entire African world. Our way of being well and whole were well established in our past. In the past we gathered and found solutions collectively. Remember rent parties, Sunday church special offerings to send a child off to college or visiting the sick and shut in? These are our examples. In our way, personhood, familyhood, neighborhood, peoplehood, all the “hoods” are of equal importance. We can’t have a sick community and think our people will be well.”

Nobles and colleagues, after surveying and talking with Black people in Black communities across the nation, designed a detailed written plan for an African American Wellness Hub Complex. They envision a hub that is linked spiritually and psychologically, as a place where wellness and wholeness is real and ethnically authentic. Nobles said, “In many places our children are failing in school, many of our children are feeling they have no value, are being demeaned and assaulted. We need to take charge of these places. If teachers don’t love our children, they cannot ignite in them a desire to know and a passion for learning. If law enforcement doesn’t have high regard and deep respect for Black people, they will never understand that to ‘serve and protect’ means to be life affirming in what they do.”

“A big part of our new normal is to have in our thought, beliefs, and behavior the best of our wisdom, traditions and restorative practice available. This means to have in place living learning laboratories that are unapologetically devoted to our wellness, e.g., a wellness hub complex with healing centers. To have an exceptional and extraordinary place to bring people together and take them from hostile angry dis-at-ease producing places to places where we can work in harmony, create in dignity, and live to inspire life and ways of being that is affirming.”

Alameda County has stepped forward and is committed to establishing a Black Mental Health facility in partnership with the Association of Black Psychologists. The Association is grateful to Alameda County but notes four or five locations are necessary considering the amount of damage and illness that needs to be undone in the Black community.

Nobles says, “We must create a space, place and time that is guided by an African American wellness narrative that is awe-inspiring.” As an example of how important space is, he notes, “We tried to escape the blight and poverty of the inner city and move out to the suburbs, but all we did was go from inner city hostility to outer city hostility in the white enclave. At least in the inner city, our children didn’t lose their point of reference of belonging in the neighborhood or church. Healing spaces and places must be grounded in life affirming worldview and culture.”

“We must rescue and refine the best of Black ways. Look at our historical grandeur. We once imagined the great Step Pyramid before there was a pyramid. How did we do that? Black people lived through over four hundred years of rabid, hostile, savage, dehumanization yet never became rabid, hostile, savage dehumanizing people. Our way, our worldview, our narrative, our normativity is what allowed us to do this. This is what we need to revisit. We need a wellness place in our Black community where people can ‘imagine the better.’ A place where we can dismantle the ill and wrongfulness and recreate a vibrant affirming life spirit.”

Dr. Nobles says, “our new normal is the old African normal, where Black people inspired greatness just by living well and whole. Black people are a people of caring, sharing and daring. Our way was to care for our people, to share what we have, and to dare to be free. Our history records us having sacred places in nature where we would go to recreate our spirit of wellness. We need those places today and that’s why we need an African American Wellness Hub and healing centers.”

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Advice

Inside Queen Hippie Gypsy, Oakland’s First Black Woman-Owned Botanica

Located in Downtown Oakland, Lilly Ayers’ Queen Hippie Gypsy’s ground floor space sells metaphysical tools like crystals, handmade intention candles, incense, books, and herbs that can be used for metaphysical and health-aiding purposes.

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Lilly Ayers, owner of Queen Hippie Gypsy. Photo courtesy of Visit Oakland. 
Lilly Ayers, owner of Queen Hippie Gypsy. Photo courtesy of Visit Oakland. 

By Makiah Hiley

Known as “the hood alchemist,” Lilly Ayers founded and runs Oakland’s first Black woman owned crystal botanica, Queen Hippie Gypsy.

Located in Downtown Oakland, Ayers’ ground floor space sells metaphysical tools like crystals, handmade intention candles, incense, books, and herbs that can be used for metaphysical and health-aiding purposes.

Ayers gives tarot readings and hosts yoga sessions, healing circles and wellness classes in the top floor of the shop. She also has a program for youth getting started in their spiritual journey.

The storefront’s debut was in 2018 before the pandemic struck and is one of the small businesses in Oakland still standing after the mass closings of businesses due to quarantine restrictions. “There were times we were closed for months at a time,” Ayers said.

However, Ayers also described challenges on more than one level. She said that as the business fluctuated, “I realized that the rate I was going wasn’t healthy for me, so I had to re-evaluate,” she said.

She also found herself confronting the ignorance and misconceptions surrounding religion and holistic wellness within the Black community.

“People would come in and steal incense and have these ideas that spirituality is evil. It’s what we are programmed to think,” said Ayers.

Items like intention candles and herbal blends are handmade by Ayers herself, and she includes bible scriptures. She blesses the tools used as well as her store every day.

Ayers explained that certain bible scriptures can be used to bring protection and love among other intentions one would wish to manifest.

Of course, as is the case with other health supplements, it is recommended to consult a healthcare provider before using herbs for healthcare needs.

“Spirituality is what you make it. Everything around us is energy and you can’t have good without the bad,” says Ayers.

Ayers explained that she grew up in the Baptist church, but she always knew she was spiritual in different ways beyond the church.

As a child, she was always playing in her backyard, wanting to be closer to nature. After using spirituality to help her cope with her traumas, she felt called to bring love and healing to the rest of the community, thus creating Queen Hippie Gypsy.

Her advice for anyone getting into alternative forms of spirituality is as follows: listen to your intuition, your heart, and do your own research in order to know what is right for you.

“Only you and God are in control,” Ayers said in a message to the spiritual collective. “Gratitude is the attitude.”

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