by Wanda Sabir
Happy Women’s History Month!
At the Women’s March on Washington, Sen. Kamala Harris told constituents, she “had our backs,” and since she has been in office Sen. Harris has certainly been a vocal and active participant in standing up for the constitutional rights for her constituents in California against presidential legislation which undermines core human rights and values. Her track record in providing a safety net for the most vulnerable in our community, exploited children, especially sexually trafficked minors, is unparalleled as are her views on capital punishment, police accountability and the rights of the undocumented.
The daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, Sen. Harris is the first Indian American woman and second Black woman in the U.S. Senate. She was born in Oakland and graduated from Howard University and Hastings College of Law.
Wanda Sabir: Reflect first on the 91st anniversary of Carter G. Woodson’s Negro History Week, now Black History Month, and your position as senator. You have moved through the ranks, steadily increasing the control you have over the menu at the table. What were your goals and objectives when you decided to take that responsibility on?
Sen. Kamala Harris: (She laughs at the “table” reference.) Listen, I stand on the shoulders of great people, some names you would recognize and some names you would not recognize. I was raised in an environment with a sense of responsibility to serve and to be a voice for those things that needed to be spoken and heard. That is what led me to run for DA of San Francisco (2003). That is what led me to run for attorney general of California (2010), and now to be in the United States Senate (2016).
When I look at where we are in the year 2017, I know, as we all do, that the challenges are still great. There is still a real need to fight and speak very loudly about the issues we care about. That’s what propelled me to run for senate and is certainly my reason for being here – from my participation in the Women’s March on Washington, D.C., one day after this president was inaugurated to being a part of a protest in front of the White House against the Muslim Ban, to just speaking against two of the presidential nominees to the cabinet, Sen. Sessions for attorney general and Betsy DeVos for education secretary.
When I look at where we are in the year 2017, I know, as we all do, that the challenges are still great. There is still a real need to fight and speak very loudly about the issues we care about.
It is the reason I have been working on why law enforcement needs to be trained on implicit bias. It is all that. Now that we have Black History Month, as far as I am concerned it is all year round, we rededicate ourselves and remember where we come from, our reason for being and responsibilities we have going forward.”
WS: I was reading about your committee assignments; you have a lot to do – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs; U.S. Select Committee on Intelligence; U.S. Senate Committee on Environmental and Public Works; U.S. Senate Committee on the Budget – five committees. Is there anything happening now we can support you on?
Sen. Harris: Thanks for asking. Certainly, when we look at the marches that have been happening, it is important for people to speak out, show up, not just in Washington but all over the country. I encourage people to stay involved and support folks like Rep. Barbara Lee and others in the Bay Area.
It is important to talk with all our friends and relatives and encourage them to pay attention to what is going on. Pay attention when we are talking about Russian hacking of our country’s electoral system. Pay attention when the president of the United States says we are going to shut our borders to people because of their faith.
It is important to talk with all our friends and relatives and encourage them to pay attention to what is going on.
What I need people to do to help me is to educate themselves and each other about what’s going on and to know we have to fight for our country and fight for our ideals. These things that are happening right now are contrary to our ideal.
WS: As the second Black woman senator historically and one of only 10 Black senators ever, how do you do the work in the face of such hostility?
Sen. Harris: It is about working with the Latina U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto from Nevada on issues like immigration [and] fighting the Muslim ban. [It is about] working with Corey Booker (D-N.J.) on criminal justice reform. It is definitely working across the aisle where we can but building bridges among people who have more in common with us than differences – people like Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on immigration reform. It is about working with a lot of folks around our collective need to focus on the economy, so people have jobs, a place to live.
Another big issue, which is a coalition building piece, is to work with all sorts of people around the need to maintain the Affordable Care Act, known as Obama Care, and not get rid of it, to protect it. Another thing people can do is reach out to their representatives to make sure they fight to keep the Affordable Care Act from being repealed.
We closed with the senator speaking about the Muslim ban and the potential deportation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA kids. She said, “That is a big issue because it’s happening in real time now in addition to everything else.”
She said she is also, “active on the Intelligence Committee, but I couldn’t talk about the confidential work, except to reiterate that they are looking at Russian hacking.”
We concluded the short interview with a promise to do this again when her schedule opens up. This interview was unsolicited, a first for me, and frankly I am pleased that our representative is conscious of the pivotal and important role the Black press has in setting policy and disseminating news not covered in the same way by the corporate press.
Sen. Harris: Thank you very much and give everyone my best.
Unsung Hero: Bob Moses
In a recent visit to Oakland, to speak at the Barbara Lee and Elihu Harris Lecture Series, his presentation titled, “It is now what it was then: Organize!” Robert Parris Moses, president and founder of the Algebra Project, addressed the three eras and the preamble of the Constitution, especially the phrase “We the people.” Who are the “constitutional people,” he asked, and how is this designation connected to citizenship claims in the 14th Amendment?
The scholar then opened the floor for a conversation about the work in front of us – how to make sure that all children are given 21st century tools. The son of a sharecropper – figuratively speaking, his dad was maintenance man at the 369 Armory in Harlem – Moses’s life could have paralleled so many others except his parents had a vision for their children which involved higher education. Moses’s father wanted to attend college, but when his father became ill, his parents and siblings’ welfare fell on his shoulders. They were able to attend university; however, their brother was not.
Moses, civil rights movement maverick, is a hero to many. However, few people clearly understand the personal risks involved while he was stationed in Mississippi with sharecroppers like Sister Fannie Lou Hamer under the tutelage of NAACP President Amzie Moore (1911-1982), architect of the Mississippi Freedom Summer.
Born in Harlem, Moses was able to translate his parents’ and grandparents’ legacies into a 20th century demand for justice and freedom for Black people. Well-educated, Moses, 25, volunteered for a movement inspired by Martin King, linked to the invisible populations still enslaved in the South – Black sharecroppers who were both uneducated and disenfranchised.
Through a strategic and well-implemented platform and program initiated by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Moses, prepared by Moore, the Regional Council of Negro Leadership in Cleveland, Mississippi, and Ella Baker, movement mother and SCLC lead organizer, began to meet with the Blacks in the fields to articulate the problem, so that together with other volunteers, the objective – full citizenship rights – would be met, beginning with the right to vote.
“Gregory Moses’s Armory post was considered a worthy job, [but] he derived little satisfaction from it; his main activities consisted of operating switchboards and shoveling snow. Fifty percent of Harlem Blacks worked in the service sector, but those were generally jobs without further career prospect,” biographer Laura Visser-Maessen states in her new book, “Robert Parris Moses: A Life in Civil Rights and Leadership at the Grassroots.” Moses Sr. did not allow his position to determine his participation in society. He claimed his inheritance outlined in the “preamble” and demonstrated to his son that a high school graduate could be politically savvy.
After parent-teacher meetings and other such public debates, Moses Sr. “would teach his son how to ‘read’ people to figure out what was ‘real’ about them.” Moses says his father “was always willing to look for and respond to the human qualities of the person in front of him [so he was not disposed to put that person down]. This played a part in [his son’s] lifelong identification with the common man,” writes biographer Visser-Maessen.
From his work in the ‘60s when Moses left Harlem at Bayard Rustin’s urging to join the “sit-in” movement, then was assigned to survey the Southern states, which led to his work in voter rights in Mississippi and to his present work at The Algebra Project, where a current initiative is to make quality education a civil right, his views on organizing remain true: ‘‘Leadership is there in the people. You don’t have to worry about where your leaders are, how you are going to get some leaders. The leadership is there. If you go out and work with your people, then the leadership will emerge’’ (Carson 303).
Moses stated that to move ahead in society Black kids need the kind of literacies necessary to navigate the economic terrain – Algebra is such a language. It is a tool, similar to the ballot’s pivotal role earlier.
At a time when colonies were throwing off their chains and demanding freedom, the internally colonialized peoples in the United States also “got a measure of political voice,” Moses states. Voter registration and concurrent literacy workshops taught in Freedom Schools dismantled the “cotton curtain.” Mississippi sharecroppers excluded from the conversation were calling the meetings and staging critical actions which merited local, national and international attention. These new literacies shifted the power and redistributed political wealth.
Investment in Black community development is of national urgency. Moses recognized this once again when he was in the classroom when he returned from Tanzania where he’d taught math in a village school, his wife, English. Bob Moses, Ph.D., and his wife, Janet Jemmott Moses, M.D., founded The Algebra Project to prepare children for the shift in industry from labor to information technologies. Algebra is the basis for mathematical literacy. It is also a gateway medium to other disciplines like chemistry, dentistry, psychology, food and computer sciences. It is similar to Latin when learning English. Nearly 60 percent of English words come from Latin.
Algebra literacy also increases brain function and literally lights up the visual cortex. “People born without sight appear to solve math problems using visual areas of the brain,” reports NPR on All Things Considered. “’A functional MRI study of 17 people blind since birth found that areas of visual cortex became active when the participants were asked to solve algebra problems. … And as the equations get harder and harder, activity in these areas goes up in a blind person,” says Marina Bedny, an author of the study and an assistant professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University.”
In a recent interview, Moses points to a report, “Rising above the Gathering Storm,” which lists the 10 most important things this nation needs to do to educate its citizenry for the shift in economic policies. The researchers state: “Having reviewed trends in the United States and abroad, the committee is deeply concerned that the scientific and technological building blocks critical to our economic leadership are eroding at a time when many other nations are gathering strength. The team recommends this nation “Annually recruit 10,000 science and mathematics teachers by awarding four-year scholarships and thereby educating 10 million minds.” This first of 10 recommendations was not addressed by Bush in 2005 or Obama in 2010.
Black people’s needs have never been central to this government, Moses said at the recent Lee-Harris talk in Oakland. “We didn’t get what we needed from previous administrations, [so] the current administration is a distraction,” he stated. This comes from a man who was key in the development of the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party (1964) in opposition to the racially biased Democratic Party.
An innovator to the core, Moses said we need to articulate the problem, figure out what we want to happen and develop steps to get there. In addition to the ongoing problem of math and science literacy in academically underserved communities, Moses said we need to stay abreast of what is happening to the undocumented. “We need to develop an underground railroad.”
‘Levinsky Park’ about African refugees in Tel Aviv
Filmmaker Beth Toni Kruvant (“Heart of Stone,” 2009) returns to Cinequest with her new compelling documentary feature film, “Levinsky Park,” a fascinating portrait of the myriad complexities and repercussions of one of the defining global controversies of our time, refugee migration, through the lens of African refugees who live in Tel Aviv. Its world premiere is Thursday, March 2, at 7 p.m.
This film couldn’t be more timely. After Trump’s executive order banning citizens of seven Muslim countries from entering the US went into effect, Kruvant set up a “temporary office” at Newark Airport, lending her own attorney skills to families in need.
‘Without Mercy,’ a play on a murder victim’s family’s dispute over the death penalty
Patricia Milton’s “Without Mercy,” directed by Richard D. Harder, at the Phoenix Theatre in San Francisco. Joanna is devastated to learn her daughter, Mercy, who disappeared six years before, was murdered. Returning home from alcohol rehab, Joanna finds her surviving daughter, Bethany, bent on a personal agenda: Bethany has hired a legal advocate and insists on supporting a plea bargain for Mercy’s killer. Their clash of deep-seated beliefs pits Joanna and Bethany against each other, and long-held resentments erupt around the family’s tragedy. Their advocate, Sam, swears he’s neutral, but his actions contradict his claim. Piece by piece, the truth unfolds as the past collides with the present. Challenged by a terrible trade-off, the three struggle to reach a resolution.
“Without Mercy” runs Feb. 24-March 25, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., plus a Sunday matinee March 12 at 3 p.m., at the The Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason St., Sixth Floor, San Francisco, between Geary and Post). Tickets are $40 general admission, and senior, student and group discounts are available by contacting 800-838-3006 or www.offbroadwaywest.org. For information, contact 510-835-4205 or email@example.com.
On the fly
African Film Festival is March 9-April 28 at Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, 2155 Center St., Berkeley. The 2017 Poetic Address to the Nation is Saturday, March 11, 5-6:30 p.m., Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theatre, 700 Howard St., San Francisco, $10 in advance, $15 at the door. SJDANCE presents “ChoreoProject Awards” March 17 and 18 in the Spartan Complex building on the San Jose State University campus, near Fourth Street and San Carlos; tickets are $18-$30 at the box office, 408-520-9854, or sjDANCEco.org.
“Now is the Time: Healthcare for Everybody” film screens Sunday, March 5, 12:30-2:30 p.m., at The New Parkway, 474 24th St., Oakland, $10-$20. Playwrights Foundation Rough Reading Series continues Monday, March 13, at Roble Hall, 374 Santa Teresa St., Stanford University, and Tuesday, March 14, at Custom Made, 533 Sutter St., San Francisco.
Theater of Others presents Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” March 16-April 2, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays 8 p.m., Sundays 2 p.m. at the Kelly Cullen Community Auditorium, 220 Golden Gate Ave., San Francisco. Tickets are pay-what-you-will. For reservations, click on http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2706436.
Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 7 a.m. and Fridays at 8 a.m., can be heard by phone at 347-237-4610 and are archived at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.