Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Month: March 2017

“Meet the Women You Don’t Know”

“Meet the Women You Don’t Know.”  With those words, most of us were introduced to the Black women who worked on NASA’s mission to send an American into orbit in space.  Thanks to Margot Lee Shetterly‘s research and writing, this year we learned the story of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson.

Not just the three women profiled in the movie Hidden Figures, but dozens of Black women who defied sexism, racism and segregation to work at NASA in Hampton, Virginia. “Human computers” with extraordinary mental capacities.  Who Knew?

“We are the ones we have been waiting for”

The story of Black women standing up for freedom in America is filled with “hidden figures.” As I write the story of so many courageous women, I am reminded of June Jordan‘s iconic poem “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

Susie King Taylor (1848-1912)

Susie King Taylor (1848-1912) was born a slave in Liberty County, Georgia. She learned how to read at secret schools taught by Black women. She escaped from slavery in 1862. Within days, Taylor began a lifetime of teaching other Blacks to read and write.

Between 1862 and 1866, Taylor served as a nurse with the 33rd United States Colored Infantry Regiment. She traveled the South with the regiment, teaching many Black soldiers to read and write. As a Black woman in the South during the Civil War, she was always in an incredibly dangerous position. Taylor was one of thousands of brave Black women who served in the Colored Infantry. She wrote a book about her experiences entitled “Reminiscences of My Life In Camp.”

After the Civil War, Taylor established independent schools throughout the South for former slaves and soldiers. In 1874, she relocated to Boston where she dedicated her later life to the Women’s Relief Corps, a national organization for female Civil War veterans. Taylor was a tireless advocate for all of the veterans of the Civil War.

Patricia Stephens Due (1939-2012)

Patricia Stephens Due (1939-2012) began fighting segregation at age 13 when she insisted on being served at the “white only” window of the local Dairy Queen, instead of the “colored” window in Quincy, Florida. She became a lifelong civil rights activist.

Due was a college student at Florida A&M University (FAMU) when she joined the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in 1959. She served in leadership roles in CORE and the NAACP fighting against segregation. She was also a union activist who helped organize healthcare workers.

In 1960, Due, her sister Priscilla Stephens and six other FAMU students spent 49 days in the nation’s first “jail-in.” They refused to pay a fine for sitting in a Woolworth’s “Whites Only” lunch counter in Tallahassee, Florida. The tear gas used against the protestors damaged Due’s eyes and she wore dark glasses for the rest of her life.

Due led one of the most dangerous voter registration efforts in the country in northern Florida in the 1960s. After the “jail-in,” she and other students who participated traveled the country in speaking tours to publicize the civil rights movement. In 1963, she married civil rights attorney John D. Due, Jr. They worked together for many decades to challenge injustices in Florida. Her FBI file was reportedly more than 400 pages. It was Patricia Due’s belief that “ordinary people can do extraordinary things.”

Thelma McWilliams Glass (1916-2012)

Thelma McWilliams Glass (1916-2012) was one of the early organizers of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. Glass, a graduate of Alabama State University and Columbia University, was the Secretary of the Women’s Political Council. Black women formed the Women’s Political Council at Alabama State College in Montgomery in 1946. It included teachers, social workers, nurses and the wives of Black professionals in Montgomery. Its focus was to end the humiliation inflicted on Blacks who rode public buses.

Following the victory in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, the Women’s Political Council called for a boycott of the Montgomery bus system. Thelma Glass passed out fliers, spread the word in the community, drove and organized car-pools for people to get to work. That boycott became the modern “shot heard around the world.” Thousands participated and it inspired millions. Several Black women, inspired by the Women’s Political Council, refused to give up their seats to whites on buses in 1955 and got arrested. The NAACP chose to highlight the arrest of Rosa Parks, an NAACP secretary and activist for many years. The Montgomery bus boycott triggered the end of segregation in public accommodations and launched the public career of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

In 2005, Thelma Glass remarked that “we didn’t have time to sit still and be scared.”

As I celebrate Women’s History Month 2017, inspired by these courageous sisters, I want us all to know that this is our history and “we are the ones we have been waiting for!

Losing Our Fire Chief

Losing Our Fire Chief

I can feel my temper rising as I read the headline “Oakland fire chief to retire.” The SF Chronicle labels Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed as “embattled.” The Chronicle says the Ghost Ship warehouse fire “raised questions about “management and inspection procedures in the Fire Department.” Did these “questions” lead to Chief Reed’s resignation? I doubt it. I think it’s more likely that the people doing the questioning were the ones who propelled her retirement.

Credit: Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group

Chief Reed came to Oakland as our Fire Chief in 2012. Her hiring made history. Reed began her career in 1986 in San Jose as a firefighter. She rose through the ranks there, serving as a Captain, Battalion Chief, Deputy Chief and Assistant Chief. Chief Reed served in San Jose for 23 years before she came to Oakland as our Chief. I met her in 2014 when she was honored as one of the Powerful Women of the Bay.

 

Chief Reed is one of the field’s pioneers. She is applauded as a change agent in a traditionally chauvinist and racist profession. Black women just began to break through the doors of the fire service in the 1980s. Toni McIntosh is reportedly the first Black woman to become a full-time firefighter in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1976. The first known Black woman to become a Fire Chief is Rosemary R. Cloud who became a Fire Chief in East Point, Georgia in 2002.

Questions In Oakland

It is no secret that the local firefighters union is opposed to Chief Reed’s leadership and wants her out. The “questions” that arose after the tragic Ghost Ship fire merely added fuel to an already challenging situation. Some think Chief Reed’s desire to crack the “old boys network” inside the department’s leadership was too timidly executed. Others believe the union should have been more supportive of her efforts to change the culture and priorities of the department. Many question if Chief Reed is unfairly blamed for management problems she inherited from previous administrations. Rumors even say that after the Ghost Ship fire, the Mayor ordered Chief Reed not to speak to the media.

While the Fire Department was hit with the heaviest cuts in 2009 – before Chief Reed arrived -— the mayor and city council have n0t attempted to rebuild it with the same zeal with which they’ve approached the police and other city agencies. For example, the Fire Prevention Bureau needs an assistant fire marshal to oversees its inspectors. The City Council froze funding for this position in October 2008. The Council did not restore funding for the position until 2014, according to budget records. The funding for a designated Fire Marshall was not approved until 2014.

Oakland Post editor, Paul Cobb, sounded the alarm last year that Chief Reed is being hung out to dry. “There are indications that Mayor Libby Schaaf and the city administration may be trying to set up the Fire Department and the fire chief” to take the blame for the Ghost Ship disaster, the Post said in its Dec. 8 edition. Her resignation leaves a big obvious hole in the leadership of our City. Chief Reed is the only Black woman to head up a major City department.

Women in Fire Service

I have a bit of experience dealing with the challenges faced by women in the fire service. My client, Donna Rayon-Terrell is the first female firefighter in the Contra Costa County Fire Department. As a Black woman starting in the fire service in 1989, she faced the challenges of sex and race. A native of Richmond, Donna is part of a powerhouse fire family. She and her brother, Marcus Rayon, attended the same fire academy in 1989. Her daughter Mandisa Banjoko followed in her footsteps and joined Contra Costa Fire. Donna and Mandisa are probably the only mother-daughter team to serve in a major fire department at the same time.

As a “pioneer” in Contra Costa, Donna was repeatedly subjected to mistreatment and intentional acts of harassment by her male co-workers. Numerous male firefighters did not want to work with her because she was a woman. Male co-workers and supervisors often subjected her to belittling comments. Her coworkers isolated her, preventing her from forming critical bonds with members of her firefighting team. This endangered her safety and theirs.  But Donna persisted as they tried to undermine her ability to be a successful firefighter. She overcame the racist and sexist culture to advance in her career. She held the rank of Captain when she retired in 2004.

Where Do We Go From Here?

How ironic that in Women’s History Month, we face the loss of a pioneering Black woman in Oakland. Black women are supposedly the hardest group to recruit into the fire service. Today, Contra Costa Fire has only 1 Black woman. The Richmond Fire Department has only 1 Black woman. While Oakland has a few more in its ranks, Chief Reed’s departure raises “questions” about what kind of opportunities other Black women will have in the future of this department. In my mind, those “questions” are just as important as any others.

 

Honoring Women In Politics

This week, I am honored to be recognized as the Woman of the Year for Assembly District 18 (AD18)!  AD18 Assemblymember Rob Bonta selected me. As a result, I am joined into a very special “Girl’s Club” of amazing women from all over California. My new Club includes nurses and doctors and teachers and students, unionists and entrepreneurs and many other professions where women are making history. On March 6th, the California Legislative Women’s Caucus held a day-long celebration in Sacramento for all the Women of the Year.

We all stand on the shoulders of powerful sisters who went before us, most notably, the “Shero” of American politics, Shirley Chisholm.

Unbought and Unbossed

Shirley Chisholm was the original “giraffe.”  She was not afraid to stick her neck out. By her courage and commitment to progress, we all advanced. She was the first Black woman ever elected to the U.S. Congress. in 1971, Chisholm was a founding member of both the Congressional Black Caucus as well as the National Women’s Political Caucus. Chisholm is the first black major-party candidate to run for President of the United States, in the 1972 U.S. presidential election.  She is also the first woman ever to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

According to her World Biography, Chisholm became politically active with the Democratic Party in the 1940s.  She quickly developed a reputation as a person who challenged the traditional roles of women, African Americans, and the poor.  After a successful career as a teacher, Chisholm decided to run for the New York State Assembly.  She served in the State Assembly until 1968, when she decided to run for the U.S. Congress.  During the Vietnam War, Chisholm protested the amount of money being spent for the defense budget while social programs suffered.

Chisholm was a strong supporter of women’s rights. Early in her career as a congresswoman, she supported a woman’s right to choose. She spoke out against traditional roles for women professionals (including secretaries, teachers, and librarians).  She argued that women were capable of entering many other professions. Black women especially, she felt, had been pushed into stereotypical roles, or conventional professions, such as maids and nannies.

Shirley Chisholm reported that “When I ran for the Congress, when I ran for president, I met more discrimination as a woman than for being black. Men are men.” In particular, she expressed frustration about the “black matriarch thing,” saying, “They think I am trying to take power from them. The black man must step forward, but that doesn’t mean the black woman must step back.”

Black Women In Politics Today

Black women have always stepped up in the Democratic Party. Donna Brazile, a Black woman from New Orleans just completed her term as the Acting Chair of the DNC.  Moreover, Kimberly Ellis is a Black woman making a serious bid to become the Chair of the California Democratic Party in 2017.

 

 

Former Ohio Senator Nina Turner was one of the most visible and effective surrogates for Senator Bernie Sanders. She is an accomplished advocate for social justice in her own right. After the Democratic Party rejected (and disrespected) Bernie Sanders, there was an effort to draft Sen. Turner to run for Vice-President on the Green Party ticket or for Ohio Governor.

Our own Congresswoman Barbara Lee is one of the most respected and effective representatives this country has ever seen. It has always been my joy and honor to say “Barbara Lee Speaks for Me!”

We’ve Come A Long Way Baby

I am humbled and inspired to represent AD18 on the Democratic Party Central Committee. We now all know that it is an important time to serve in our local Democratic Party.  I feel blessed to have found my way into the middle of the fray!

Many years ago, there was a commercial that tickled my father, David Price. I can still hear him saying “you’ve come a long way baby” with a big grin.  Dad was the father of two daughters and the brother of 5 sisters.  He was proud of the advances made by women in his lifetime.

On Monday, March 6th, I walked with 79 other amazing women through another door into history. As I walk forward, I know that my Lord has brought me “from a mighty long way.”  As I continue to grow as a leader, I know that “to whom much is given, much is required.”

Why Her? Why Now?

As we enter Women’s History Month 2017, we are in the midst of seeing history made. Delaine Eastin is running for California Governor. She is only the fourth woman in the history of California to run for Governor. Delaine is the only woman in the 2018 Governor’s race.

Delaine is a former California State Assemblymember (1986-1994), State Superintendent of Public Instruction (1995-2003), professor, and businesswoman.

She is the first and to date, the only woman ever elected as the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Education In Crisis

For almost 40 years now, California’s entire education system has been in crisis. It continues to be in crisis. In 2004, a UCLA study of conditions 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education found that California has a HUGEracial opportunity gap” in our primary school system. 50 years after Brown, our schools were deeply segregated. More than 63% of white students attended a majority-white school, while most Black and Latino students attended either a Black-majority school (78%) or a Latino-majority school (81%).

The factors that hinder education most profoundly for Black, brown and low income students are:

  • overcrowded facilities in disrepair
  • inadequate and insufficient textbooks
  • shortage of qualified teachers
  • unstable teaching staff

Education in Transition

In 2004, the Legislature enacted a series of bills to address these problems in response to the Williams v. California lawsuit. Williams was filed on behalf of public school students denied equal educational opportunity based on the 4 factors above. A post-Williams report concluded in 2013 that “Williams is working.” The study found significant progress in most areas with the exception of the physical conditions of the schools.  75% of schools still had an issue that prevented it from being deemed completely clean, safe and functional. Moreover, the State consistently failed to fund the Williams’ Emergency Repair Program for conditions considered urgent threats to health and safety.

In 2014, however, California’s per pupil spending had dropped to 39th in the nation. Asian and white students continue to have much higher graduation rates than Black and Latino students. Our 4th and 8th grade students are in the bottom 10 states both in math and reading. Even with the Local Control Funding Formulas adopted in 2013, the amount of resources dedicated to and actually spent on students falls short of the mark. The racial opportunity gap persists today.  California educates almost 1/8 of American students, so our failure is very much a national failure.

Why Her? Why Now?

Delaine Eastin faces an uphill battle for California Governor. She is the only woman in the race in a State that has never elected a woman Governor. She’s the oldest person in the race and she needs money. A lot of it. Frontrunner Gavin Newsom, the playboy kid of California politics has $11 million in his war chest. Money is “the mother’s milk of politics.”  I call it “the microphone” for the message. You must have a microphone to get your message heard.

Some chide Delaine Eastin because education is her strong suit. I think the fact that education is her “signature issue” makes the case for her election now more compelling than less. Delaine led the successful 2016 campaign to pass Propositions 51, 55 and 58. These measures are critical to funding education in California.

Gavin Newsom’s signature issue appears to be ending gun violence. This is an issue near and dear to my heart. Every time someone is killed with a gun in Oakland, my heart burns, especially for a youngster who never saw it coming. The devastation to our community from gun violence cannot be overstated. But for every kid in California and America, education is a “game-changer.” I know that but for my education, I would not be here today.  Education creates a pathway for anyone who dares to walk on it. With an education, you can get out of a neighborhood where guns rule the day. An education allows you to create economic opportunities to walk away from careers that ultimately depend on violence. An education helps you to open doors for others to follow.

I’m With Her

So, I am helping to raise money for Delaine Eastin.  I agreed to co-host a fundraiser and to raise my voice to support her. If you can attend her event in Oakland on March 8th, International Women’s Day, please rsvp here. If you are not able to attend, please make a financial donation to her campaign. It’s going to be a long and expensive race to win. But there is a vintage joke that I love. It goes like this:

Whatever a woman does, she must do twice as well as a man to be considered half as good.  Luckily, this is not difficult!

It’s a joke! It will be difficult. But I’m also told that every time Delaine Eastin ran for office, most people counted her out. And then she won.