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Clemons: “Charter Not The Problem”

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So says former San Bernardino Charter Review Committee member

Chris Levister

Carl Clemons, who served as a longtime member of the San Bernardino Charter Review Committee under Mayor Judith Valles (1997-2006) says ongoing efforts to repeal or radically change the city charter are more about assessing blame for the city’s bankruptcy than focusing on real financial solutions.

“It’s the finances. We’re broke. The ship is sinking,” says Clemons. He says to dedicate hours of partisan debate to the charter as the city faces a fiscal cliff is irresponsible and sends a troubling message to the citizens that their elected leaders are out of touch with the serious reality of bankruptcy.

Proponents of the change to a general-law city say the city’s bankruptcy filing highlights an “outdated” “antiquated” charter that can only be changed by a citywide vote. Clemons argues some in the administration have convinced many in the city of an upside-down account of what the authors of the charter were doing – “and timid members of the City Council have let these false impressions harden into conventional wisdom.”

“The charter is one of many city documents that beg review if not change”, he said. “But not in the midst of a financial and public relations maelstrom.” Clemons said the past 25 years have brought unforeseen, astounding and alarming changes in the city. “We have a city “unraveling” with its more than 210 thousand people in various stages of polarized engagement or numbed complacency.”

He said the swirling vortex has stained San Bernardino’s once enviable reputation and sent employees and businesses fleeing the city in droves. We’re scrambling to protect our assets from creditors, struggling with persistent high unemployment, dwindling housing stock, cuts to schools, potholes, darkened streets and rising crime. “What are the priorities? Where is the accountability?” said Clemons. “Shouldn’t we be more concerned about righting the ship than repealing the charter?”

But the message isn’t resonating with Mayor Patrick Morris and others at City Hall. “This is a government in habitual chaos - the word `ungovernable' comes to mind,” Mayor Morris said, blaming the charter for much of that chaos but saying it might be best if residents led the charge.

Sixth Ward Councilman Rikke Van Johnson and others members of the council claim repealing the charter would ultimately save money by allowing streamlined services, consolidated elections and other benefits.

“All of your rules are made in Sacramento. You can't make your own rules,” countered City Attorney James F. Penman, who wants San Bernardino to maintain its status as a charter city and whose position has been at the center of the city's recent charter debates. Penman claims San Bernardino's charter could be improved, but said City Hall needs to work its way through bankruptcy before attempting charter reforms. Ironically Penman has been at the center of past efforts to change the charter says Clemons. In 2004 he authored a proposed charter change that roiled the city’s black community. Clemons then chairman of the Social Action Committee of St. Paul AME Church recalls the dust up over voting disenfranchisement issues of Blacks and Latinos. The unsuccessful effort sought to reduce the authority of the Mayor’s position and change the ward system of electing council members.

“This was the issue that started the uproar in the Black community and led to protests and forced the NAACP to threaten a lawsuit if the proposal pushed forward,” said Clemons in a July 2004 interview.

Three citywide elections have been held since 2000 to change parts of the charter. Voters rejected two, both of which would have made the city attorney post appointed rather than elected. Referring to the City Council’s 4-3 vote Monday not to put the charter measure on the November ballot Clemons says the citizens are better served if the council re-establishes the Charter Review Committee.

He admits given the political vitriol of the last several years, it too will probably be marked with heated discord of division and partisanship. “I’m all for reviewing the charter. But to simply hand the question of repeal directly to a mostly un-informed electorate based on superficial exposure, sketchy beliefs, myths and assumptions, demonstrates the kind of poor leadership that got us into this bankruptcy mess in the first place.”

Clemons, 88 who became the first African American chairman of the city’s Planning Commission and currently serves as a contributor to the San Bernardino Oral History Project says he has tried to stay away from the finger pointing that shackles City Hall. Instead he says he wants to shine a historical light on a time when the 46-page charter was treated as a remarkable working document much like the U.S. Constitution.

Like the Constitution the city charter has evolved with time, he said. “Take the case of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The three amendments made slavery illegal and freed Americans who had been held as slaves. The amendments taken together were intended to eliminate racial discrimination in the United States.” Similarly when African American residents in San Bernardino leveled charges of unequal employment opportunities in 2001, committee members collectively reviewed the charter in a decent and orderly fashion.

“Our first order of business was to leave politics at the door. We listened to the opposing sides. Then we gathered the facts before recommending solutions that served the city and all of its citizens, not just a chosen few,” said Clemons. “We insisted on accountability.” Clemons said given the current acrimonious political landscape, it is crucial that citizens be better informed about the city’s charter — and not only about our founding documents but about San Bernardino history. “But to meet that desirable goal, we must do the required homework.” “In these times of fiscal emergency and uncertainty as citizens, our hope is that we can all put our differences aside and move forward together,” he said. “The sidebar debates that continue to divide us ignore the 900 pound gorilla in the room and ultimately tip the tide toward even greater financial instability.”

Beauty Salon to Host Fundraiser for the Needy

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Genesis Beauty Studio, located in Rialto CA will be hosting a fundraiser to help raise funds supporting homeless women and children on August 4, 2012 at 224 S. Palm Avenue, Rialto, CA 92376 from 10:00am to 4:00pm. Brenda Carr, owner of Genesis Hair Studio, along with her son, Henry Robinson, will be giving back-to-school haircuts for children, and regular haircuts for men, and women.

Gift baskets will be sold, and silent auction items will be raffled off in support of Time for Change Foundation, a San Bernardino City nonprofit organization providing housing and leadership development to homeless women and children. All donated proceeds will go towards supporting Time for Change Foundation's transitional living homes, "Sweet Dreams" and "Mt. View" which annually house over 70 families a year. According to her business's mission statement, Brenda first opened Genesis hair studio in 2001 with the goal of "using her cosmetology skills to restore purpose, vision and self confidence back into the lives of the women that need and want to reestablish themselves in the community." When asked about her relationship with Genesis Beauty Studio, long-time client, Gail Randall said, "Brenda has always had a dream to help others and has fulfilled all of her goals.

Not only is she remarkable as a stylist and entrepreneur, but she has a strong passion for helping the homeless." "Genesis Beauty Studio started as a dream for me, and then it became a goal and eventually developed into a reality. I know and understand the importance of maintaining your image when you are in the community and seeking employment," said Carr.

Carr has worked in the past with Time for Change Foundation. In May of 2012, she provided three of the Foundation's clients with beauty makeovers. Genesis Beauty Studio is currently looking for volunteers who would like to assist the studio for the day of the event. You can reach Brenda Carr, at (951) 536-7309.

Bankruptcy Spurs Public Anger, Mistrust, Civic Engagement San Bernardino coalitions call for charter reform

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By Chris Levister

They’ve flooded San Bernardino City Hall with tough questions, demanded audits and release of public records. They’ve taken to Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Blue Tooth, spouting everything from frustration to damnation. In bars, coffee houses, grocery aisles and in their own living rooms, they’ve watched in amazement as their city’s meltdown marched across the world stage. They’ve Tweeted, blogged, texted and railed against a city administration some called “toothless”. They’ve formed action groups and packed town hall meetings. Some have gone as far as accusing city officials of handing the city a “death sentence”. Others have insisted on “cleaning house”. In the weeks since the City Council voted to declare bankruptcy, San Bernardino has experienced a stiff jolt of civic engagement.

It's an anger-fueled form of participatory democracy that's relatively new for this working class city of 213,012 not known for being good governance watchdogs. “San Bernardino is like a bucket with a big hole in it,” says activist Rev. Bronica Martindale, president of the California Neighborhood Cluster Association. “On July 10 Martindale sat in a packed City Council chamber hoping that bucket didn’t contain the ‘B’ word.

“When I sat there and watched our elected officials cast that vote to declare bankruptcy my heart sank. My first reaction was: ‘Lord, the chickens have finally come home to roost’.” “The morning after that vote, I think we all woke up to the realization that we’re on a sinking ship – without a life raft,” said Westside resident Julius Fields. At a heated July 12 town hall hosted by Sixth Ward City Councilman Rikke Van Johnson, residents unleashed a wave of withering criticism.

“You chose to engage in toxic politics over good governance. You mismanaged our tax dollars and now you want us to bail you out,” charged Lionel Brown, an elderly resident of the city’s Westside. News that the city was on the brink of insolvency came as a surprise to many in this community. But accountant and activist Kim Carter, president of the Time For Change Foundation, said it was impossible not to know how bad the situation had become. It’s been presented to council over and over again that our city was on the brink of collapse,” said Carter directing her frustration at Johnson.

“For years you guys were warned; you’ve got to take action, you need to fix the finances instead you (City Council) just stood around looking like deer in the headlights,” said Carter. An empathic Johnson responded “you’re right; we lacked the political will to act.” But just as quickly Johnson roared back with a stinging lesson on blame: “If you're the owner of five fingers, point your pointer finger and see what happens to the bottom three fingers. That's right. They're pointing straight back at you,” he said. “For years many of you put on blinders because you found it easier to ignore what was happening around you than to do something about it.”

“Most of us shy away from civic engagement because we don’t like the toxic politics,” responded Martindale. “But it’s very crucial for you to become educated on what your leaders have been doing with our tax dollars and how they’ve been using existing laws in a political way to protect their mismanagement.”

“We demand accountability from our leaders, but we can’t stand on the sidelines and expect things to magically change,” said Carlos Teran, President of the Mt. Vernon Neighborhood Cluster Association. “Rather than doing something, most people look away believing the trash will always get picked up,” said Teran, a city employee in the Refuse and Recycling Division. At a July 21 meeting of the newly formed Concerned Citizens Coalition of San Bernardino City Council Members Virginia Marquez and John Valdivia listened intently as a packed house lamented that potholes are going unfilled, burned-out streetlights are left untouched and ball fields are languishing unmowed.

“You slashed the workforce and extracted concessions from city employees, but you protected the 900 pound gorilla: public safety,” charged Ruben Martinez. Concepcion Powell, a Grand Terrace resident, started the coalition the week of the bankruptcy move.

“Our goal is to harness the power of the five sectors: private, educational, church, nonprofit and government,” said Powell. “We have to smack City Hall on the head. There's been no leadership, that’s got to change.” “When you’ve got police and fire costs taking up 75 percent of our budget, there’s little money left for parks and crime prevention,” said Roxanne Williams, vice-chair of a group called Save Our San Bernardino (SOS) which formed four months ago.

“I've always been concerned about the lack of vision of San Bernardino, so our concern actually predated the fiscal bankruptcy,” said Williams. Growing Momentum to Change City’s Charter Teran, Martindale and Jim Smith, a member of SOS, are part of a growing momentum to reform the city’s “fifth rail” – its charter.

They say the city’s economic woes are made worse by Charter Section 186, which sets police and firefighter salaries as the average of 10 similarly sized California cities. “Apple and oranges – we don’t have the same revenue sources as say Fontana. We can’t continue to pretend to be something we aren’t,” said Smith. Kim Carter insists the city’s “antiquated” charter is merely the tip of the iceberg. “Sadly, this behavior over the years has brought the city to a place where they have lost sight of their responsibility: safeguarding taxpayer's dollars. The Titanic is going down. We want to know, where is the money?” said Carter.

“In one way or another, I believe that San Bernardino County and City has been the target of every crook, corrupt politician, backward investor and anyone else that had the opportunity to come rob, steal and destroy. So far, these folks seem to have been welcomed with open arms.”

EMMA SHAW Celebrates 100th BIRTHDAY

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On Saturday, August 11, 2012 the Shaw Family will assemble in San Bernardino to celebrate the 100th Birthday of the matriarch of the family, Emma Shaw. The celebration banquet will take place at the Inghram Community Center. Emma was born to James Armstrong and Gertrude Bohanan, who lived to be 104, on August 9, 1912 in Tallulah, Louisiana where she grew up and attended Madison Parish Training School. While she attended school Emma met her future husband, George Shaw. Emma and George were married on February 6, 1933 and to this union God blessed them with six sons and five daughters – Cleveland, Luretha, Johnny B, Joyce, Wiley, Mary, the twins – Donell and Ronell, Barbara, Vernon and Valerie.

George worked in construction until he retired. He was also the only Black barber in San Bernardino for many years. Emma worked as a housekeeper. Emma has always belonged to a church and made sure that her children went every Sunday. She is affectionately known to many as Mother Shaw at Greater New Jerusalem Church of God in Christ and throughout the community.

Mother Shaw always sees some good in everyone, no matter who they are. She always has a smile and good advice for anyone who would partake of her wisdom. She can be heard saying: “I’m telling you now, you need to get right with God and live a saved life, because time is winding up and soon, cause this world is coming to an end,” or “It’s an individual affair, everyone must seek Jesus for himself,” or “Get ready cause He’s comin’ back...early one Saturday morning I heard a loud voice sayin’, I’m on my way back…”

Emma has received acknowledgements for her 100th Birthday Celebration from President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama; U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer; Governor Jerry Brown; Assembly Member Wilmer Amina Carter; Supervisor Josie Gonzales; Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren; and San Bernardino Mayor Patrick Morris and the Common Council.

Emma has 8 living children, 55 grandchildren, 123 great grandchildren and 30 great-great grandchildren. – 30 – Rikke Van Johnson (909) 725-1053

“Still Pleading Our Own Cause”: The Black Voice News Forty Years Later

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A ‘Voice for the Voiceless’ advocates as it celebrates

By Chris Levister

When Ardess E. Lilly, Jr. then president of UC Riverside's Black Student Union, grabbed a handful of flyers, Malcolm X speeches, main stream newspapers and other publications during a 1970’s Pan-African conference in Santa Barbara, little did he know he was about to spark a revolution and birth the venerable “Voice for the Voiceless”: The Black Voice News. The Black Voice News founded at UCR in 1972 by Lilly and a handful of Black classmates has a storied history and an evolving future that is just as bright as it’s past. The Riverside-based newspaper is one of the oldest remaining family-owned newspapers in the U.S. “185 years after editors of Freedom’s Journal proclaimed in the first issue “we wish to plead our own cause,” the Black Press is alive and more relevant than ever,” says Lilly.

Reached in Mississippi, where he is overseeing an international project on alternative fuels, Lilly, talked about the unique role the Black press has played since Reverend Samuel E. Cornish, pastor of the first Negro Presbyterian Church in New York and John Russwurm, one of the first African Americans to graduate from an American college, launched Freedom’s Journal the first independent newspaper for African Americans.

Lilly, now executive director of the non-profit foundation Inland Empire Conversation Corps., notes that the odyssey of the Black press began in 1827 when Cornish and Russwurm published Freedom’s Journal in New York City after a white publisher refused to publish African American responses to a series of articles that falsely scandalized the city’s population. Lilly explains the Black press functioned as the conduit through which Black news moved at a time when white America virtually ignored everything of real concern to Blacks. “Although Black citizens utilized the church, social and fraternal organizations as a means of collective expression and dialogue, the usual channels of public media — particularly newspapers — were denied to them. Exacerbating the problem was the fact that elements of the established press routinely denigrated African Americans in print, even to the extent of questioning both the integrity and morality of the entire race.”

Lilly who grew up in West Virginia reading trailblazing Black newspapers like the Pittsburgh Courier and the New York Amsterdam News, with three BSU students took his ambitious if not naive proposal to the editor of The Highlander, UCR's student newspaper. “I would get asked time and time again: “Do we really need black newspapers?” That question would often come from well-meaning individuals who were of the view that having a separate paper for the black community simply bred division. Couldn't we all just get along? They’d ask,” recalls Lilly. “What I would try to explain was that with mainstream newspapers paying scant attention to stories affecting the black community – and with so few ethnic minority reporters working on those papers – then, yes, we absolutely needed a black newspaper. Naive as that may sound I believed we had the right to plead our own cause.”

This was at the height of Black student activism. Lilly says he wanted a platform for social justice and Black pride. “We asked the Highlander to give us a page - a Black page. What Lilly and his classmates got was a polite no thanks and $1,000. Eventually Latinos, Asians, gays and lesbian students would have a page.”

“They didn't want a Black page in the Highlander. They didn't have Black people writing for them. They weren't interested in reporting about our community. Essentially they said here's a thousand dollars - go create your own newspaper.” Lilly and his BSU members did just that but with a lot of help from road tested local activists like Black publisher Sam Martin, M. Jackie Simpson, Gwen Streeter, Luther Gooden field rep for the late Congressman George Brown, and Riverside's first Black publisher Reggie Strickland among others.

There was and remains a perception that Black folk don't read says Lilly. “Then how does one account for the success of the Black media. It is because we DO read. And when we read articles and essays that are relevant, uplifting and Afro-Centric, we become fortified against the intended derogatory affects of the predominately negative characterizations that are frequently directed towards the African American community by other media.”

"Looking back we were pretty bold but I'm proud to say I had a hand in giving voice to the people" says Mr. Lilly "God is with those who patiently persevere." In 1980 the Black Voice News was purchased by long time Inland activists and community leaders Hardy and Cheryl Brown.

Buying the rights to the newspaper from publisher Sam Martin launched the Brown dynasty, and kicked off a new era of activism and reporting that would propel The Black Voice News from a small Black community publication to a powerful unapologetic voice for the voiceless.

“When we bought the Black Voice we saw a crucial opportunity to transfer influence over to a mostly voiceless Black community at the same time cutting a path to shaping political policy,” recalls Mrs. Brown.

“The Black Voice's mantra – “giving Voice to the Voiceless” is about speaking “truth to power”, she said. “It is just as important to speak truth to the powerless as it is to speak truth to the powerful,” added Mr. Brown. “It is the responsibility of the Black media to serve, support and protect the five fundamental institutions that sustained African-Americans during the horrors of racism, segregation and Jim Crow. These institutions are vital to the survival of our people,” said Mr. Brown: The Black family, The Black church, Black businesses, Black schools and the Black media.”

On any given Sunday, at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in San Bernardino and Black churches across the Inland region the faithful gather to receive spiritual food from the pulpit and intellectual food from the Black press says Connie Lexion.

“It’s a cherished tradition. People line up at the church entrance before or after the worship service to get the Black Voice News, the Precinct Reporter, American News, Westside Story and other publications that tell our story,” said Lexion a Nutrition Family Consumer Science Advisor Emeritus. She retired from the University of California Cooperative Extension after 36 years.

She points to obituaries, health advice, and uniquely Black social functions often ignored by majority publications.

“That information is right here on the front page. When a member of our community passes it affects the village. When a new pastor comes to town or there’s a sorority or fraternity event it affects the village,” she said. “By publishing religious news, community events, nutrition tips, job opportunities, train schedules, and available housing news that relates to us, we become a more informed and empowered population. Ultimately that leads to progress.” Since its inception, the Black Press has been the greatest tool of the African American community in combating racism, promoting self-development, community building and empowerment, says Cheryl Brown.

“By empowering the voiceless, the collective roar of our community can and will become loud enough such that it is heard and acknowledged beyond the “African American World”.

These institutions speak a unique language, says internist and cardiologist Dr. Ernest Levister, a Black Voice News health columnist since 1987.

“Without the Black Press, we would not have a voice and would be forced to accept the definitions created by others.”

Levister says a classic example of spin and disinformation passed on by today’s mostly “talking head” media surrounds the hotly debated issue of health care in America.

“The Affordable Care Act passed by Congress in 2010 has been likened to every ill from so-called “death panels” to a Medicare “death sentence”. Mitt Romney labeled it “Obamacare”, the U.S. Supreme Court called it a “tax”, Rush Limbaugh called it “the largest tax increase in the history of the world”, …Republicans have promised to repeal it,” said Levister.

“Yet day in and day out healthcare professionals laboring in the trenches see the desperation in over-run emergency rooms. We see the pain among the uninsured and under insured, the true disparities of the working class and poor and the need for immediate reform. All the more reason why an alternative perspective on issues that affect Americans in general and communities of color in particular, still matters,” said Levister.

“The Black Voice and the other Black Newspapers are important and relevant because they always have the option of telling our story and pleading our cause. That was and is our vision for the Black Voice and the other local Black newspapers,” said Mrs. Brown. The award winning publication has since broadened its editorial perspective, education and online global reach. This expanded thrust has produced considerable interest and readership from all sectors of the local, national and international communities. Forty years after Ardess Lilly and his UC Riverside classmates sparked a revolution the Black Voice News is still pleading its own cause.

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