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Photos by Rochelle Porter
On Friday, May 13th, many gathered at the Fourth District Seniors Resource Center at the George L. Stevens Senior Center to celebrate Older Americans Month. Established in 1963, at a time when only 17 million living Americans had reached the youthful age of 65, with a third of them living in poverty, President John F. Kennedy along with members of the National Council of Senior Citizens saw fit to designate May as a month for our country’s seasoned citizens.
At the resource center under the direction of Ms. Rosemary White-Pope, its Executive Director, community members and seniors who frequent the center, celebrated the month under the theme of “Blaze a Trail.” Ms. Pope opened the event sharing “Today, we are acknowledging our perennial adults, our seasoned seniors that are aged to perfection.” Friday was a hats off salute to the seniors and the center’s partners who keep the facility’s doors open. “We’re having a hats off salute to our community partners, and saying thank you,” shared Ms. Pope. Many community supporters greeted the seniors with a welcome at the podium, sharing how important their lives and the center is to the community. Fourth District Councilwoman, Myrtle Cole shared “It’s always emotional and hard to be here, because I always remember Charles Lewis,” who once represented the 4th District as a Councilman before his sudden passing. “You’re always so beautiful and decked out,” Cole added, sharing that the seasoned seniors remind her of her mother.
Additional greetings came from Ignacio Del La Torre of AT&T, Wendell French of Wells Fargo, Darnisha Hunter and Stacey LoMedico of Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s Office, Ellen Schmeding of Aging and Independence at the County of San Diego, Humana, and countless others.
Attendees were able to enjoy food from the delicious menu that is served to the center’s seniors daily, which for Friday’s event, consisted of catfish, potato salad, steamed vegetables and tasty desserts, including peach and cherry cobbler.
The event culminated with a hat fashion show, in which participating seniors were able to parade in front of the community judges, donning their most stylish hats, keeping in the vein of “hats off.”
Established in 2002, the Fourth District Seniors Resource Center has worked to enhance and embrace the quality of life for San Diego’s elderly by offering them a safe and wholesome environment, in which they can continue to thrive and flourish. For more information on the center, contact (619) 266-2066.
By Ben Kelso – Contributing Writer
On May 5 history was made at the University of San Diego in Linda Vista when Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. – Omicron Iota Sigma Chapter brought in its first installation of new members at the University.
The University of San Diego, founded in 1949, has 18 fraternities and sororities within its Greek community comprising approximately 34% of USD’s student body, according to sandiego.edu. No historically Black Greek Letter Organizations have ever been officially recognized as members of the university’s Interfraternity or Panhellenic Councils. During the school’s history in San Diego, several other historically Black Greek Letter Organizations have had respective members on campus as students, yet the organizations themselves did not enjoy official membership on campus. In the fall of 2015, university officials met with officials from Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Incorporated to develop a plan to bring the school’s very first sanctioned NPHC (historically black) fraternity into existence.
The planning took place at the Phi Beta Sigma International Headquarters level, Regional, and local levels with members of several greater San Diego chapters participating in laying the framework to bring Phi Beta Sigma at USD to life. The USD Sigmas, as they are informally known, completed the membership intake process for Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity on the university’s campus under the direction of members from the Omicron Iota Sigma Alumni Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma. The OIS Chapter will serve as the Fraternity’s Collegiate Advisory Alumni Chapter once the new USD Sigma chapter meets the appropriate university charter membership guideline. Until then, the new USD Sigmas will grow their membership and acclimate themselves to their new status on campus.
This past week the Office of Greek Life assigned graduate student, Zulairam Ruiz-Agosto as the Chapter Development Advisor on campus. Ruiz-Agosto also advises Alpha Delta Pi Sorority, and Sigma Theta Psi Multicultural Sorority. Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Incorporated will be the first and only member organization of the National Panhellenic Council (NPHC) or historically black Greek fraternity officially established and recognized on campus.
Other NPHC organizations, including Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., and Phi Beta Sigma have enjoyed representation via individual student members or faculty members on USD’s campus. The organizations at that time were unable to operate with chapter inclusion in the university’s Greek life because those respective students were part of metro or citywide chapters within their respective organizations, which were not under the university’s direction.
Three young men, Greg Spruell, Myles Ginyard, and Jordan Harrison are the first African-Americans to join a historically Black fraternity exclusively recognized and sanctioned at USD in the schools 66-year history. Spruell (24) is in the United States Navy assigned to the U.S.S. America. Ginyard (20) from Washington D.C. is a business finance major, and Harrison (21) from Bakersfield is a behavioral neuroscience pre-med major. Both are juniors at USD and they will shoulder the responsibility of growing the new chapter on campus over next fall with the help of the OIS Alumni Chapter. They will have a busy summer attending fraternity functions, and training, including attending workshops at the Serious Sigma Summit in Orlando, Florida from July 7-10, 2016.
For more information about the USD Sigmas go to www.sandiegosigmas.org.
Councilmembers Gloria and Cole Advocate for up to $100 million for Service
SAN DIEGO, CA – The San Diego City Council this week approved a resolution asking the State of California to increase funding for anti-recidivism programs funded through Proposition 47 savings in the 2016-2017 State Budget. The governor’s budget proposal, released in January, estimated a deposit of $29.3 million to the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund (SNSF). City Councilmembers Todd Gloria and Myrtle Cole brought the item forward, which could make $100 million more available statewide for local programs addressing mental illness and substance abuse, truancy and dropout prevention, and victim services.
“When Proposition 47 was passed by the voters two years ago, the expectation and promise was that California was moving from a strategy that was overcrowding our jails, towards diverting low-level offenders out of prisons and using those savings to better address longstanding societal challenges,” said Councilmember Gloria, Chair of the Budget and Government Efficiency Committee. “San Diego is advocating to maximize funding that will help address issues that are among my constituents’ top priorities, including public safety, homelessness, mental illness, and substance use disorders.”
Passed by 61% of California voters in 2014, Proposition 47 reclassified six low-level offenses as misdemeanors, including drug possession and theft under $950, and mandated that savings from not incarcerating these offenders was to be diverted to programs targeting at-risk populations for recidivism. The law required savings be deposited into the SNSF and early fiscal analysis estimated annual deposits of $100 to $200 million.
“Voters sent a strong message when they passed Proposition 47 back in November 2014. Voters believed that, with the passage of Proposition 47, an annual allotment of over $100 million would be available for local mental health and substance abuse services instead of incarceration,” said Councilmember Myrtle Cole, Chair of the Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relations Committee. “I thank my Council colleagues for their support in passing this resolution. The City can now petition the Governor of California to allocate more money to the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund instead of the $29.3 million figure he proposed in the first draft of his budget.”
The Council’s action was informed by a report released in February by the State’s Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) which claimed the deposit to the SNSF could be far greater than currently proposed by recalculating savings from housing prisoners in private prisons as well as reduced court costs. Several community organizations spoke in support of today’s action, including representatives from Alliance San Diego and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
“We applaud the action taken today by the San Diego City Council to call on Sacramento to reinvest all Proposition 47 savings, not just some savings, into the kinds of services and supports that will keep California communities healthy and safe,” said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, ACLU of California Director of Criminal Justice and Drug Policy. “Voters supported Proposition 47, not just to reduce unnecessary incarceration for low-level offenses, but to invest that savings into more efficient and cost-effective prevention and treatment programs. The San Diego City Council stood up for voters today. Now it’s up to the State to faithfully implement the will of the voters by returning all Prop 47 savings to California’s neighborhoods.”
“We fully endorse the action taken by the City Council to support the successful implementation of Proposition 47. That success is dependent on funding treatment and prevention services in impacted communities like ours. Governor Brown should make the LAO’s recommended changes to the funding formula, which have the potential to reverse decades of wasteful spending,” said Chris Wilson, Associate Director for Alliance San Diego.
The resolution adopted by the Council today will be sent to the Governor, Speaker of the Assembly, Senate President Pro Tem, members of the Assembly Committee on Budget, and members of the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee to be considered as they finalize the 2016-2017 State Budget.
By Chida Warren-Darby – Co-Publisher
Cassandra Harris is a 27 year old former foster youth from San Diego, who entered the system at just six years old. Upon completion of high school, Harris emancipated and pursued a life of service to helping those in need. As a foster youth advocate through California Youth Connection for over the last 10 years, Harris has spoken at over 200 events on behalf of youth struggling to overcome the odds in care and life. But in spite of the fact that she lends her voice to speak for those who have suffered trauma in the system, Harris found herself voiceless in November 2014, when she and her friend were attempting to break up a fight between a mutual friend and two other young women. “The police arrived on the scene to find the assailants with weapons in their hands, as well as my best friend and I,” Harris recalls. “Words were exchanged between the assailants and the police, and then the assailants were allowed to leave the scene.” Harris stated that she and her friend stood by continuing to watch as an officer went to speak to the victim, then returning to them. When the officer approached Harris she said “No scratches on my face or nothing,” in an attempt to rule herself out as a suspect. The officer then order Harris to sit on the curb, in which she responded “No.” “He immediately grabbed me and proceeded to handcuff me,” she shared. “I wrapped my arms around the police car door and put my head down while repeating over and over ‘I want a female officer. Am I being detained?’” She was told simply that she was being arrested for resisting arrest. “I continued to try to release my wrists from his hold,” she recalled, but was unsuccessful. The police report stated that Harris “grabbed his groin,” but she says “not once did I strike, push, or harm him in any way.”
According to Harris, she and her friend were placed in two separate vehicles. “After they attempted to question her, and she refused to answer, the officer dealing with her released her after stating that she was not complying.” Then a female officer arrived on the scene. “She approached the window of the car I was in, and asked me what was going on?” Harris explained to her that she didn’t understand why she was being arrested. “She said she didn’t believe I was under arrest, but simply being detained.” Harris said the female officer called over the arresting officer, asking him what was going on, in which he responded quietly “She wasn’t part of the fight, but you know…” At this point, Harris said she grew concerned for her wellbeing. “The female officer responded as if she understood what he meant to say.”
Frustrated and confused, Harris said she lost all sense of self, while riding away from the scene in the back of the police car. She began to bang her head inside of the vehicle, which prompted officers to pull over, remove her from the car, pepper spray and hog tie her, place a spit bag over her head and place her back in the police car. Harris repeatedly told the officers that she couldn’t breathe, in which the female office replied that if Harris answered her questions she would give her air. “Once we were at the station I tried to explain to them that I have PTSD, due to an assault by a group home staff member while in foster care, and that they were not trauma informed.” Harris stated that they “laughed her off and left her in the police car until shift change was complete.” Even her requests to use the restroom were denied.
Harris was then transported to jail, but unable to be admitted due to her physical injuries. At Grossmont Hospital, her injuries were assessed. “From hours of being handcuffed, the skin on my wrists began to swell over the handcuffs, causing my skin to split and bleed to the point where emergency room doctors asked the officer to remove the handcuffs.” Harris said she was then sent back to jail, and left overnight, undocumented. The following day she received a bail call, in which the bondsman informed her that the officers had “forgotten about” her. “I don’t understand how I was forgotten about,” she said, “considering I was on suicide watch, with an officer coming by every 15 minutes to check my name off a list and state that I was alright.” Harris was able to bail herself out that day.
Harris says her job was almost lost due to the incident, and she is now being held responsible for the hospital visit, which totaled roughly $5000. “I was charged with battery on an officer, three counts of resisting arrest, and vandalism of a police car.” Because of the excessive force used against her, Harris suffers from nerve damage in her wrists, and has severe pain which has led to more medical expenses. She also suffers from psychological trauma, which has made it difficult for her to focus and function daily. “This is not the first time that [they] have misused their authority against me.” Harris still continues to be pulled over in her neighborhood for unsolicited reasons. “It is disheartening to realize that the same county that I was raised by and have fought to improve through legislative work for the last 10 years has once again inflicted such pain on me…unfortunately I am just one of many.” Harris has served as a Case Manager for adult homeless women in downtown, since 2011, assisting women who suffer from co-occurring disorders; by helping them on their journey to self-sufficiency. Despite being homeless, abused and neglected, Harris has dedicated her life to working toward a better tomorrow for the youth to come. She was enrolled in college but has been unable to return due to the many hardships she’s faced in recent years. “I am currently working on returning to college for audio production,” she shared. “I rap and have recently started incorporating singing into my work.” Harris is using her music to help all relate to one another’s pain, in order to heal and move forward in life.