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NAACP Mourns the Loss of Willis Edwards

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(Baltimore, MD) - The NAACP mourns the passing of civil rights icon and long-time NAACP leader Willis Edwards. He was 66 years old.

"Our dear friend and colleague Willis Edwards embodied the spirit of the NAACP," stated NAACP Chairman Roslyn M. Brock. "Willis attended his duties with great humility and greater passion. His accomplishments in the civil rights arena speak to a career that defies narrow definition. Willis promoted and protected the image of African Americans in the arts; he shaped and expanded the vision of the NAACP National Board of Directors; and he tore down barriers to honest conversation about HIV/AIDS in communities of color. He will be greatly missed."

"Willis Edwards was a towering figure in the NAACP and his legacy will be remembered for generations to come," stated NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. "As a civil rights crusader, he continued in the tradition of those who came before him but also created new avenues to pursue justice in a changing world. His ingenuity made him a strong leader and a trusted advisor to so many freedom fighters across the country.”

In 1982, Edwards was elected President of the NAACP Beverly Hills/Hollywood Branch. More recently, he served as First Vice President of the Beverly Hills/Hollywood branch. Edwards is credited with by many helping to build the coalition of producers and funders that led to the first NAACP Image Awards live on national television in 1986.

He also served on the National Board of the NAACP for 12 years in many different capacities. His roles included Vice Chair of the Image Awards, member of the NAACP Crisis Magazine Committee; member of the Executive Committee and the Budget and Finance Committee; member of the National Health Committee and chair of the sub-committee on HIV/AIDS. He recently stepped down from the Board of Directors and joined the NAACP Board of Trustees.

"Willis understood more than most, the nexus among race, culture and the arts," stated NAACP Board of Trustees Chairman Eugene Duffy. "He comprehended that how we are portrayed on the stage and screen, what is written by and about the people of the African Diaspora, defines not only how we see the world but how the world sees us. His legacy with the NAACP, particularly the Image Awards, will continue to serve as a source of inspiration for generations to come. The curtain has closed for Willis in this life but I certain he is center stage in heaven."

Diagnosed with HIV/AIDS late in life, Edwards developed a reputation as a strident spokesman for HIV/AIDS education and advocacy. He was instrumental in guiding the NAACP's work with HIV/AIDS. He also worked with the Minority AIDS Project. His final project was the development of the NAACP manual "The Black Church and HIV: The Social Justice Imperative," a handbook to help congregations stem the spread of the virus. NAACP Mourns the Loss of Willis Edwards

(Baltimore, MD) - The NAACP mourns the passing of civil rights icon and long-time NAACP leader Willis Edwards. He was 66 years old.

"Our dear friend and colleague Willis Edwards embodied the spirit of the NAACP," stated NAACP Chairman Roslyn M. Brock. "Willis attended his duties with great humility and greater passion. His accomplishments in the civil rights arena speak to a career that defies narrow definition. Willis promoted and protected the image of African Americans in the arts; he shaped and expanded the vision of the NAACP National Board of Directors; and he tore down barriers to honest conversation about HIV/AIDS in communities of color. He will be greatly missed."

"Willis Edwards was a towering figure in the NAACP and his legacy will be remembered for generations to come," stated NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. "As a civil rights crusader, he continued in the tradition of those who came before him but also created new avenues to pursue justice in a changing world. His ingenuity made him a strong leader and a trusted advisor to so many freedom fighters across the country.”

In 1982, Edwards was elected President of the NAACP Beverly Hills/Hollywood Branch. More recently, he served as First Vice President of the Beverly Hills/Hollywood branch. Edwards is credited with by many helping to build the coalition of producers and funders that led to the first NAACP Image Awards live on national television in 1986.

He also served on the National Board of the NAACP for 12 years in many different capacities. His roles included Vice Chair of the Image Awards, member of the NAACP Crisis Magazine Committee; member of the Executive Committee and the Budget and Finance Committee; member of the National Health Committee and chair of the sub-committee on HIV/AIDS. He recently stepped down from the Board of Directors and joined the NAACP Board of Trustees.

"Willis understood more than most, the nexus among race, culture and the arts," stated NAACP Board of Trustees Chairman Eugene Duffy. "He comprehended that how we are portrayed on the stage and screen, what is written by and about the people of the African Diaspora, defines not only how we see the world but how the world sees us. His legacy with the NAACP, particularly the Image Awards, will continue to serve as a source of inspiration for generations to come. The curtain has closed for Willis in this life but I certain he is center stage in heaven."

Diagnosed with HIV/AIDS late in life, Edwards developed a reputation as a strident spokesman for HIV/AIDS education and advocacy. He was instrumental in guiding the NAACP's work with HIV/AIDS. He also worked with the Minority AIDS Project. His final project was the development of the NAACP manual "The Black Church and HIV: The Social Justice Imperative," a handbook to help congregations stem the spread of the virus.

Edwards began his life in activism as a staffer on the Robert F. Kennedy presidential campaign and earned a Bronze Star in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. He has worked with Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks, arranging for Mrs. Parks to sit with First Lady Hilary Rodham Clinton at the 1999 State of the Union Address. He served as Vice President of Development and Planning for the Rosa Parks Museum and Library in Montgomery, Alabama.

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.

Edwards began his life in activism as a staffer on the Robert F. Kennedy presidential campaign and earned a Bronze Star in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. He has worked with Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks, arranging for Mrs. Parks to sit with First Lady Hilary Rodham Clinton at the 1999 State of the Union Address. He served as Vice President of Development and Planning for the Rosa Parks Museum and Library in Montgomery, Alabama. Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.

Kommah Seray Inflammatory Breast Cancer Foundation Open House

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By John Coleman

Seven years ago when I met Koko (Kommah McDowell) she was a survivor of a recently diagnosed rare form of breast cancer. So rare was this form of cancer that her doctor originally misdiagnosed her condition. She changed her doctor and hospital, underwent serious surgery and chemotherapy and went through a long period of recovery. Young, very bright, and outgoing, she was unable to do things she usually could do for herself. She asked for help but found few agencies capable to offer the help she needed. She then asked people in her family, friends, and church, and they responded. They organized to take her back and forth to treatments, grocery shop, cook, clean and to complete planning for her upcoming wedding.

Through this trial, McDowell realized there was a need. In addition to rebuilding her health, she spent the next two years planning and preparing to provide the kind of organization and service program she desperately looked for.

In 2008, McDowell opened the Kommah Seray Inflammatory Breast Cancer Foundation (KSIBCF) in Covina partnering with the highly regarded City of Hope National Medical Center. KSIBCF operates a full calendar of programs and frequently is contacted by individuals and organizations offering fund-raising events and sponsorships. With the current climate of budget cuts, KSIBCF continues to accept clients who meet qualifying (medical) criteria and report their lists of "top three unmet needs" for a grant of up to $500.00 for a period of three months. These grants might cover grocery costs, utility bills, co-payments, in-home health services, and other needed services. The KSIBCF Survivor Assistance Service provides prosthetics like lymphadema sleeves or mastectomy bras and help for the tastes, smells, food avoidance and other side effects of chemotherapy. The Foundation recently held its open house at its new location 536 South Second St., Covina, Ca 91723. For more information on the foundation, contact 626.966.2900 or e-mail: Kommah-ksibcf@verizon.net.

“We Ain’t Crazy!” Eliminating Disparities in Mental Health Study documents lack of access in Black population

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By Chris Levister

“It is unpleasant to admit, but many African Americans do not receive appropriate mental health services, even when they go to places that are suppose to help them. Why is that?”

It’s a question Dr. V. Diane Woods, Dr.P.H. has been asking for more than a decade. At the national Black Mental Health Workers Conference in Los Angeles Tuesday Dr. Woods, president of the African American Health Institute of San Bernardino County (AAHI-SBC) rolled out a 300 plus page report that paints a damning picture of how more than half of African American mental health sufferers receive little or no treatment…but account for a high rate of involuntary commitments.

One third of families have a member who is currently suffering from a mental illness, they say. It accounts for nearly half of absenteeism at work and mental illness accounts for nearly half of people on incapacity benefits. Why are some people not understood? California’s African American residents were interviewed and given the opportunity to share their real experiences with getting help with mental issues,” said Dr. Woods.

“We Ain’t Crazy! Just Coping with a Crazy System: Pathways to Eliminating Mental Health Disparities in the Black Population,” is the comprehensive report of this 2-year long African American study that sought to answer one major question: What are community practices Black people believe would help them have good mental health? As well as, how are mental issues prevented from occurring in Black people?” Respondents say the stigma associated with mental issues, according to respondents, produced shame and embarrassment, which often determined if individuals sought help. "The thought of being labeled `crazy' and not normal rendered many black people psychologically paralyzed," the report said.

“In addition, having a mental issue is embarrassing. Most people do not recognize when they need help, and when they do, most people do not feel comfortable in asking for help with a mental issue,” said Woods.

Dr. Woods is the principal investigator, for a statewide team of Black strategic planning workgroup members tasked to develop a major statewide policy initiative to improve access and quality of care, as well as increase positive outcomes for historically underserved communities and ethnic and cultural population groups. “There were 1,195 individuals who participated in the African American study. Community-based participatory research methods were used that included 15 key informant interviews, 35 focus group meetings, 43 one-on-one interviews, 635 surveys, 5 case studies, 6 small group meetings and 10 public meetings. Individuals participated from over 30 California counties.

The research was contracted to AAHI-SBC through The California Department of Mental Health (DMH), in partnership with the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission (MHSOAC) and funded by the Mental Health Service Act, Prop 63.

AAHI-SBC is a non-profit 501 (c) 3 grassroots community-based organization. It was awarded the $411,052 contract to conduct the California Reducing Disparities Project (CRDP) for the African American population. Funds were made possible by the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) of 2004.

The statewide initiative was called the California Reducing Disparities Project (CRDP), and focused on five populations that have the largest number of underserved individuals. The report provided important recommendations to address these shortcomings and to make quality mental health treatment a reality for all Americans. This report gave voice to thousands of African Americans who faced this grim reality. It also created an opportunity for people around the region to advocate for real change.

Mental health charities and specialists welcomed the report. Riverside psychiatrist Richard T. Kotomori Jr. M.D. specializes in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

“We are at an all-time low in the response of mental health services to people with severely disabling mental illness. While the Government has put money into psychological therapies, on the other hand resources are being drained from the fundamental care and treatment of people in crisis, those in need of in-patient care such as the suicidal, and those in the community where the cuts are depriving them of the few things that make their lives more tolerable, such as day centers, clubs, activities and occupation,” said Kotomori.

California psychologist Gloria Morrow contends that the distrust and stigma that blacks feel about mental-health treatment stem in part from difficulty in finding a therapist to whom they can comfortably relate. African Americans comprise less than 2% of licensed psychiatrists in California and less than 4% of mental-health providers nationally. Mental-health practitioners "don't 'get it' when they are working with people who don't look like them," she insists.

One effect is to shift sufferers into care settings not designed for recurring disorders such as depression. "We know that people are going to emergency rooms because of the stigma of going to a counselor," she explains.

They also experience difficulty in talking about their problems, especially to non-blacks. There is often a gulf of mistrust that is fed by both sides. A lack of knowledge has had a particularly negative impact on diagnosis and treatment. Blacks are more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than with depression, and this is especially the case if they have manic depression. In the past, blacks have been offered antidepressant medication far less frequently than whites.

And despite evidence suggesting that blacks may metabolize psychiatric medications more slowly than whites, thus requiring lower dosages, they are often given higher dosages; as a result they experience more severe side effects than do whites, frequently prompting them to stop treatment altogether.

In 2001 former Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher released Culture, Race and Ethnicity.

A Supplement to Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. This landmark report documented the lack of access and the poor quality of mental health care that people of color had been receiving when dealing with mental illness.

“Unfortunately, there has been little progress in overcoming barriers to treatment and in improving access and quality of care for communities of color,” said Woods. “Much still needs to be done to make access and recovery from mental illness a reality for all Americans.”

San Bernardino declares state of fiscal emergency

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Road back to solvency will likely be a bumpy one

By Chris Levister

The San Bernardino City Council on Wednesday voted 5-2 in favor of moving forward with declaring bankruptcy after finding that a cash flow situation is so dire that a fiscal emergency exists.

The declaration comes after the city announced last week that it would seek Chapter 9 protection, making it the third California city in recent weeks to make the rare move. The city's next step will be to create a short-term budget to allow it to continue operations until they come up with a long-term solution. That budget is expected to be presented to the City Council at a special session scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday. The vote was followed by another authorizing the city attorney to file for bankruptcy, which could come in the next 30 days.

Councilmen Chas Kelley and John Valdivia dissented on both votes. Councilman Fred Shorett, who voted against bankruptcy last week, reversed his position Wednesday night and approved both moves.

"The horse is out of the barn – the whole world knows we're insolvent," Shorett said, according to the San Bernardino Sun. "I will be supporting going forward with Chapter 9 and fiscal emergency." Declining tax revenue, growing worker costs, accounting discrepancies, political infighting and an almost 12 percent unemployment rate in the San Bernardino area helped drive the insolvency. Sixth Ward Councilman Rikke Van Johnson called the formal vote “sad but necessary.” He joined the majority in authorizing the court filing, which councilmen Chas Kelley and John Valdivia voted against.

The city will be looking to slash non-essential services to shore up its $45 million deficit. Public library services may be on the chopping block, even as residents have been using the library's resources to file for unemployment and look for jobs online more than ever, according to library employees.

"We've been cut every year so far since 2008," said library circulation manager Debra Bemben. "I believe we use to have 36 full-time people to run the four branches, now we have 11." The city's dire financial outlook also has residents worried about other services from street repairs to regular trash pickup.

The city says it is still paying all its vendors, but in cash since its credit is no longer accepted. That has added pressure to the city's cash flow problem.

For now, there is no disruption of city services, but employees say they will be on pins and needles until they know more about their future.

San Bernardino confronts a deficit that has reached $45.8 million on a general fund of $129.4 million and would probably run out of money before the end of the state-required 60-day negotiation period, Andrea Travis-Miller, the interim city manager, said July 16. The emergency declaration lets the city skip mediation under California law.

The city has depleted its general-fund reserves, lost access to capital markets, has had its credit lines frozen by Wells Fargo & Co. and must pay cash for goods and services, according to Morris and Travis-Miller. Also, the city faces a $3.4 million payment for employee pensions on July 20.

San Bernardino is set to become the third municipality in California to seek protection from its creditors since late June. Stockton and the ski resort city of Mammoth Lakes have already filed in bankruptcy court.

A fourth city, Compton on the outskirts of Los Angeles, could be the next city to turn to bankruptcy protection.

Compton will run out of cash to make its payroll on September 1, a city official said.

Remembering Herman Carpenter, Sr.

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The life of Herman W. Carpenter, Sr., was recently celebrated at his home church, Park Avenue Missionary Baptist Church, with family and friends fondly remembering this great man. Carpenter was born in Camden, New Jersey. He was an only child, raised by his mother Lena, grandmother Irene and great-grandfather. He attended Hosanna African Methodist Episcopal Church in Camden and accepted Christ at a young age.

Carpenter excelled academically as well as in track and football. He was awarded the MVP award during his senior year in high school. He was awarded a full scholarship to Maryland State College and earned his B.A. from Chapman College. On June 2, 1954, he married Beatrice (Bea) Thornton in Glassboro, New Jersey. After the wedding, the couple moved to Riverside, where Carpenter was stationed at March AFB. In the following years, Carpenter took in seven of Bea’s eight siblings as they slowly migrated from New Jersey to California.

After serving six years in the Air Force, Carpenter was honorably discharged in 1960. That year, he joined the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, becoming the 2nd African American to be hired as a sworn Deputy Sheriff in Riverside and the 1st African American to be promoted to Investigator. He worked many assignments, including Commander of the Crime Lab. After a 20-year career with the Sheriff’s Department, Carpenter retired at the rank of Lieutenant. He then worked as a supervisor for the San Bernardino County Probation Department, Juvenile Hall, where he also served on the Spiritual Concerns Committee. After 13-years, Carpenter retired from Probation and became a licensed realtor, working for Devonne Armstrong Realty, Coldwell Banker and Prudential.

Carpenter was an active member of Park Avenue Missionary Baptist Church in Riverside, serving on the Layman Committee and establishing many lifelong friends. He was a member of the Martin Luther King Senior’s Club and the Riverside African American Historical Society. In prior years, Carpenter served as a community volunteer in various capacities including Boy Scouts Commissioner and coach for the little league and junior tackle. He was very active in sports and played semi-pro baseball. Carpenter’s greatest joy came from spending time with his family, cooking, traveling and watching sports. He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Beatrice; three sons, Herman Jer., Harold and Michael; daughter Michelle; granddaughter Ashleigh Merchant; great-grandson Jaedyn; six sisters-in-law, two brothers-in-law, and a host of cousins, nieces, nephews and friends. His mother, Lena Collins preceded him in death.

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