California Black News Brief: Stories to Watch – Week Beginning 2/9/2020

“The dollars that we deserve that we have over generations been denied, we have an opportunity every ten years to claim that,” said Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles).

The Children Are Our Future: National Action Network’s First West Coast Conference Shouts Education

Governor Newsom speaks at the National Action Network, western regional conference, Margaret Fortune,  president and CEO Fortune School, Rev. Al Sharpton, and Rev. Tecoy Porter, Sacramento NAN. Photo credit CBM Staff

Governor Newsom speaks at the National Action Network, western regional conference, Margaret Fortune, president and CEO Fortune School, Rev. Al Sharpton, and Rev. Tecoy Porter, Sacramento NAN. Photo credit CBM Staff

Education may not have been the official theme of the National Action Network’s first Western Regional Conference.

But it was clearly the primary focus of the gathering.

The civil rights organization convened the meeting Feb. 5 through Feb. 7, at the Genesis Church in South Sacramento, where the Rev. Tecoy Porter – he also serves as president of the Sacramento chapter of NAN – is the  pastor.

“A special word of welcome must go to all our friends, family and generous guests who have traveled far and wide to be here with us,” said the Rev. Jonathan Moseley, Western Regional Director of NAN, in his welcome statement to guests.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us in this most important year of elections,” Moseley continued.

NAN kicked off the conference with a rally for education on the steps of the California state Capitol followed by a “Minister’s Luncheon” and awards ceremony at Genesis Church.

Assemblymember Shirley N. Weber (D-San Diego), chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus, welcomed NAN to the state Capitol. She  thanked the organization for drawing public attention to the under-achievement of African-American children in California, whose academic performance, she said, is on the “very bottom” among their peers of other racial sub-groups.

“It is heartbreaking. It is alarming. And we should be outraged,” said Weber, who told people at the rally that, in the 1920s, African Americans were the most educated racial group in most major American cities in the South and along the east coast.

Members of NAN; students staff and students from the predominantly African-American Fortune Charter School; as well as Black legislators and others gathered on the lawn of the California State Capitol to participate in the rally themed “Black Kids Deserve Good Schools, Too.”

“We went down to the state Capitol today to talk about education,” the Rev. Al Sharpton, president and CEO of the National Action Network told conference attendees. “Somebody has to start educating these babies at the early ages.”

“You can’t get equality at the end, if you start unequal at the beginning,” Sharpton told conference attendees.

The civil rights leader attended the event with his two daughters: Ashley Sharpton and Dominique Sharpton-Bright.

Another education-focused highlight of the conference was the groundbreaking for a new Fortune charter school campus currently under construction on the property of Genesis Church. The playground at the school will be named after Stephon Clark, the former Sacramento High football player who police officers shot and killed in the yard of his grandparents home in 2018.

Fortune School is a network of taxpayer-funded public charter schools in California committed to closing the Black achievement gap.

The NAN conference brought together hundreds of guests from Sacramento, around California, and neighboring states, including Washington, Nevada and Arizona.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom attended the conference’s opening session. He said, like the United States, California is the only state in the nation that promises a “dream.”

But that California dream, he said, “is predicated on social mobility. It is predicated on the recognition that we are all in this together. And, it goes without out saying: that dream is not a reality for so many.”

“Good enough never is,” said the Governor, who promised the audience that the state is willing to do more with partners like NAN to address systemic issues that unite Californians like reforming the criminal justice system. He said he wants to reduce the probation term for ex-felons from five to three years.

Staying with the conference’s education motif, NAN held a formal gala dinner Feb. 6, where the organization honored principals, other leaders and teachers from the top-performing predominantly African-American charter and traditional public schools across California.

“There are 90 public schools in California that are predominantly African American. Seventy percent of them are in the bottom 25 percent,” said Margaret Fortune, president and CEO of Fortune School. “Today we look to the top for the example than can be emulated at all schools that are so challenged in serving African-American students at a level of excellence.”

“We know if you want to solve a problem, you go to the source,” Fortune continued. “You don’t go adjacent to the source. You go to the very people who know how to do the work.

 It is Now Illegal to Call Children “At Risk” in California

 A new law took effect Jan. 1, that now makes it illegal to label children “at risk” in California.

Assemblymember Reginald B. Jones-Sawyer (D-South Los Angeles) authored AB 413, or the “At Promise” bill. It calls for the deletion of the term “at risk” from sections of the state’s Penal and Education codes.

He first introduced the bill in February, 2019. The Senate approved an amended version of it last August and Gov. Newsom signed legislation into law two months later in October.

“You know how words matter. You know how we call our young kids — especially African American and Latino kids? We call them ‘at risk,’” Jones-Sawyer told California Black Media. “We automatically put them in the school-to-prison pipeline. Many of them, when labeled that, are not able to exceed above that.”

Jones-Sawyer continued, “We need to uplift our children.

“At risk” will be replaced with the description “at promise” on all official state documents.

“If you see any magazine, educational document, or document from our criminal justice system that says ‘at risk,’ it is illegal,” Jones-Sawyer pointed out.

 

Legislative Republicans Tapping Into Freelancer Frustration

Two weeks ago, Assemblymember Kevin Kiley (R-Roseville) delivered a binder of articles titled “AB 5 Stories” to every lawmaker in the legislature at the state Capitol in Sacramento.

It contained PDFs of testimonials written by about 200 gig economy workers affected by new restrictions imposed by AB 5, also known as the “Dynamex Law,” which took effect in California Jan. 1, 2020. Freelancers like writers, musicians, dancers, screenwriters, composers and court translators contributed to the narratives that detailed how the law is impacting their lives.

“Governor Newsom: we are here today to tell you that your vision cannot be reality as long as AB 5 is on the books,” Kiley said, speaking at a rally to organized to repeal AB 5 and referring to the governor’s guiding governing principle “California for All,” which aims to build a state where there is shared prosperity.

 Hundreds of freelancers from across the state attended the rally.

“Governor, your own former deputy chief of staff called AB 5 ‘one of the most destructive pieces of legislation in the last 20 years,” Kiley told the cheering crowd.

The law, authored by Assemblymember Lorena Gonazalez (D-San Diego), rewrites California’s labor law, requiring employers based in California to reclassify their contractors to W-2 employees to comply with a 2018 California Supreme Court ruling. Under the new rules, employers will have to offer the standard minimum wage, sick leave and other employee benefits required by state law.

“This is an effort to right a ship that’s gone wrong,” Gonzalez recently told the Los Angeles Times, referring to of AB 5. “And I believe so fully in it that I’m willing to continue to take on what is a lot of piling on. You’ve got to get it right.”

But now Senate Republican leaders, responding to the fallout AB 5 is causing in the so-called “gig economy,” are finding common ground with workers across party affiliations in a state where registered Democratic voters outnumber registered Republican voters by nearly 20 percentage points.

“A bad law has put our hard of hearing and deaf communities at risk of not having access to important services,” said Senate Republican Leader Shanon Grove (R-Bakersfield), referring to freelancers who provide services for disabled Californians.

“Republicans are offering a solution so independent contractors can once again provide services as interpreters, live closed captioners, or court reporters in settings such as medical facilities, courtrooms, or live television. Republicans will continue our efforts to fight for freelancers in the Capitol,” Grove said.

Grove and Senator Brian Jones (R-El Cajon) introduced SB 875.  The bill proposes exemptions to AB 5 for interpreters ad translators. Senator Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) introduced SB 867 and SB 868. Her bills call for carve-outs in the law for freelance journalists, newspapers carriers, and distributors. Senator Jones also introduced SB 881which would provide exemptions for musicians and contractors who provide freelance services in the music industry.

“AB 5 has decimated a lot of freelance interpreters and translators who work in a profession that requires them to be on the road often,” said Jones.  “These folks thrive in their profession, working with a wide variety of clients and unpredictable schedules. Now, AB 5 forces them into an ‘employee’ category which is wrong and this legislation is the first step in correcting it.”

“Rising Tide”:Homelessness Is Focus of California Assembly’s Economic Summit

Pastor John Heath, Turo, government relations manager  talks at the Rising Tides summit. Heath spoke about his experience of being homeless with a family and how someone had compassion to help him get back on his feet. He told the audience that people in position to help need more empathy and compassion in working with this population.

Pastor John Heath, Turo, government relations manager talks at the Rising Tides summit. Heath spoke about his experience of being homeless with a family and how someone had compassion to help him get back on his feet. He told the audience that people in position to help need more empathy and compassion in working with this population. 

Last week, the California Assembly held a two-day summit from Feb. 4 through Feb. 5, focused on poverty, homelessness and housing insecurity in the state.  

The first-ever meeting of its kind in state history, the lower house of the state legislature organized the conference.

“I know that members have been working on these issues — homelessness, rising housing costs and food insecurity,” Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) said in his welcome statement. “The experts we have gathered here this week are not here to teach us about policy. They are here to give us nonpartisan, creative viewpoints on their issue. I hope we can all be inspired to continue our work.”

“This is not a new conversation,” said Assemblymember Reginald B. Jones-Sawyer (D-South Los Angeles). “But we are seeing a homeless population with changing demographics.”

“Across the U.S., we’re seeing an increase of three percent in homelessness,” said Jones-Sawyer. “In California we’ve seen an increase of 16 percent during that same time.”

The event, held at the state Capitol, featured guest speakers and panelists from around the world, including policymakers, non-profit leaders, social scientists, and more, all offering different perspectives on solving the state’s homelessness and housing affordability crises.

Panelist John A. Heath, a national civic leader who was once homeless along with his family, was one of the speakers at the event.

Heath is African-American and founder of the National Black Professional Lobbyists Association, a group that describes itself as “the first and only national organization focused on diversity and inclusion in the nation’s lobbying corps.”

“What has troubled me for years is that the people who make policy for people in poverty, for the homeless, are people who have never been poor,” Heath said.

Several members of the California Legislative Black Caucus Sen. Steve Bradford ( D-LA) Assemblymember Kevin McCarty ( D-Sacramento) Holly Mitchell ( D-LA) Assemblymember Dr. Shirly Weber ( D-San Diego)  Assemblymember Reggie Jones Swayer (D-LA). Photo credit CBM

Several members of the California Legislative Black Caucus Sen. Steve Bradford ( D-LA) Assemblymember Kevin McCarty ( D-Sacramento) Holly Mitchell ( D-LA) Assemblymember Dr. Shirly Weber ( D-San Diego) Assemblymember Reggie Jones Swayer (D-LA). Photo credit CBM

Other African-American speakers and panelists at the event included Mia Birdsong, a writer, storyteller and public intellectual; La Shelle Dozier, Executive Director of the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency; and Andrea Evans, an attorney who has worked on women’s rights, human rights and public policy.

“In dealing with people who have challenges sometimes we miss the stories, the real lived experiences of those individuals,” said Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus.

Weber made the statement while introducing Birdsong during a session at the summit.

In California, there are approximately 130,000 homeless people, the highest number of any state in the nation. At 72 percent, the state also has the most unsheltered homeless individuals in the country. And although African Americans make up about 6 percent of California’s total population, more than 40 percent of the state’s total homeless population is Black. 

Those numbers stand in stark contrast to the booming economy in California, the fifth largest economy in the world and the richest state in the United States. The state boasts an operating budget surplus of over $21.5 billion. That’s on top of another $21 billion in reserves.  And for 119 months now, California has seen an upward trend in net job growth. 

Gov. Newsom Pardons Unsung Black Civil Rights Hero Bayard Rustin

On Feb. 5, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that his office granted a posthumous pardon to civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, who was an ally to national civil rights icon the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.; an influential strategist during the 1960s civil rights movement; and a key architect of the March on Washington in 1963.

Bayard Rustin | Photo courtesy: National Park Service

Bayard Rustin | Photo courtesy: National Park Service

Ten years before that in 1953, police officers arrested Rustin, who was openly gay, in Pasadena, Calif., on what was then called “a morals charge” for having consensual sex with another man.

Under California’s penal code, the crime was considered a vagrancy misdemeanor offense. 

“In California and across the country, many laws have been used as legal tools of oppression, and to stigmatize and punish LGBTQ people and communities and warn others what harm could await them for living authentically,” said Gov. Newsom. “I thank those who advocated for Bayard Rustin’s pardon, and I want to encourage others in similar situations to seek a pardon to right this egregious wrong.”

That same day last week, the governor announced a broader clemency initiative to pardon people who were prosecuted in California for being gay.

“On behalf of the Black Caucus, I want to thank the Governor for granting this posthumous pardon. The Arc of Justice is long, but it took nearly 70 years for Bayard Rustin to have his legacy in the Civil Rights movement uncompromised by this incident,” said Assemblymember Shirley N. Weber (D-San Diego), chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus.

Rustin was a great American who was both gay and Black at a time when the sheer fact of being either or both could land you in jail,” Weber added.

The Legislative Black Caucus and the LGBTQ Caucus joined forces to urge the governor to pardon Rustin.

“These actions are consistent with the Governor’s deep and longstanding support for the LGBT community,” said Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), Chair of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, after Gov. Newsom made the announcement.

Rustin, who was born in West Chester, Pa., also worked closely with King to organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama.

He attended Wilberforce University in Ohio and Cheyney State Teachers College in Pa., both historically Black colleges.

In 2013, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States.

In 1987, Rustin died in New York City.

California Legislative Black Caucus Hosts “State of Black California” at UCLA

Assemblymember Mike Gibson(D-Los Angeles),  Lanae Norwood, activist and community organizer and David M.Carlisle, president and CEO, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science sharing there thoughts on “building a bench” at the State of Black California February 8. Photo credit CBM

Assemblymember Mike Gibson(D-Los Angeles), Lanae Norwood, activist and community organizer and David M.Carlisle, president and CEO, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science sharing there thoughts on “building a bench” at the State of Black California February 8. Photo credit CBM

On Saturday, Feb. 8, the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) in partnership with the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA hosted a daylong series of panel discussions titled the “State of Black California” in Los Angeles.

African-American members of the California state Assembly and Senate served as moderators of the discussions that covered education, public safety, civic engagement, economic empowerment, political organizing and the upcoming 2020 census.

“We need your support. For us to be successful and do the all the things we do in the state legislature, we need you to back us,” Assemblymember Shirley N. Weber (D-San Diego), who is chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus, told the audience.

About 200 people attended the event held at the Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center on the campus of UCLA.  

Weber thanked the audience for attending the “State of Black California” and encouraged African Americans to get engaged in politics at the close of the conference themed “Building a Bench.”

The CLBC invited panelists from different walks of life in California to talk about the work they are involved in, and how their efforts help to improve the lives of African Americans across the state.

“I long for the day when Black people have the luxury to not engage. Black people need government as our employer, as the educator of our children, as our health care provider, as our houser, as our CalWORKS provider, as our SNAP provider,” said Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), speaking at the conference. Mitchell represents the 54th Assembly District  which includes Culver City, Exposition Park, Ladera Heights and parts of Crenshaw, downtown and Florence.

“We still rely on government, good, bad or different,” Mitchell pointed out.

Guest panelists included Tony Thurmond, State Superintendent of Public Instruction; Malia Cohen, member of the California Board of Equalization; Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter; Patti Colston, Information Officer, California Student Aid Commission; Adonai Mac, Senior Director of Federal Relations, Association of California School Administrators; Margaret Fortune, CEO of the Fortune School, a network of K-12 charter schools in California focused on closing the African-American achievement gap; Lanae Norwood, an activist and community organizer based in Los Angeles; among others.

Every year, the members of the California Legislative Black Caucus provide funding through the state for the Ralph J. Bunche Center. The research institution at UCLA is named for the African-American diplomat who grew up in Los Angeles and was the first person of African descent to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

“I’m always encouraged when I attend the “State of Black California,” said Regina B. Wilson, Executive Director of California Black Media, who spoke on a panel that explored the obstacles and opportunities California faces as it prepares for the 2020 Census, which begins April 1.

“I joined Kevin Cosney, who is strategizing and working in the trenches with the group ‘My Black Counts’ to help increase Black participation in the 2020 Census,” Wilson said.  “We had a chance to inform the audience about some of the ways they can get involved to help prevent a census undercount in our communities.”

In 2018, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Wilson to serve on the California Complete Count Committee for Census 2020.

“The dollars that we deserve that we have over generations been denied, we have an opportunity every ten years to claim that,” said Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles). She  encouraged the audience to mobilize their friends, family members and loved ones to complete census forms this year.

Members of the California Legislative Black Caucus include: Assemblymember Shirley N.Weber (D-San Diego), who serves as chair; Senator Steven Bradford (D-Los Angeles), the group’s vice chair; Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), secretary; Assemblymember Jim Cooper (D-Sacramento), treasurer; Assemblymember Chris R. Holden (D-Pasadena); Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D-Los Angeles); Assemblymember Autumn Burke (D-South Bay, Los Angeles); Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer, Sr. (D- South Los Angeles); Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento); and Senator Holy J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles).

“You meet Black Californians — as well as our friends and allies — from so many different disciplines and from different parts of state. We connect, share ideas, pat each other on the back, and imagine a way forward that continues the legacy of so many that came before us,” said Taisha Brown, chair of the California Democratic Party African American Caucus.  

 

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