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State Seeks to Boost Mental Health Counseling

OAKLAND POST — It’s 1 p.m. on a balmy Oak­land afternoon as residents of Great Expectations Residen­tial Care, a home for people with mental illness, gather in an activity room for a game of bingo. Lee Frierson, an unpaid vol­unteer, introduces himself as he and his team leader, Charlie Jones, unpack chips, soda, bat­teries and shampoo that they will hand out as prizes.

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Reach Out Program Manager Charlie Jones, right, and volunteer Lee Frierson, take a short break after leading a game of bingo with mental health patients at an Oakland, California, board-and-care home. (Photo by: Rob Waters)
By Rob Waters

It’s 1 p.m. on a balmy Oak­land afternoon as residents of Great Expectations Residen­tial Care, a home for people with mental illness, gather in an activity room for a game of bingo.

Lee Frierson, an unpaid vol­unteer, introduces himself as he and his team leader, Charlie Jones, unpack chips, soda, bat­teries and shampoo that they will hand out as prizes.

“I’m Lee with Reach Out,” Frierson says. “I’m a peer. I suffer from depression. It helps me to help you guys.”

“And I’m Charlie the angel,” Jones says. “We go to board-and-cares and psychiatric and wellness facilities to inspire hope and model recovery.”

A few rounds into the game, Frierson calls B-5, and a dark-haired man shouts, “Bingo!”

“Winner, winner, chicken dinner!” Frierson calls back, prompting chuckles.

What unfolds in this room is not exactly therapy, but it is something that mental health advocates and research suggest can be healing in its own right: people who have struggled with mental illness helping others who are experiencing similar struggles. Frierson and Jones are former mental health patients who now work with the Reach Out program, part of the nonprofit Alameda County Network of Mental Health Cli­ents, which provides what is called peer support.

The value of peer support is recognized by Medicaid, the health insurance program for people with low incomes, and it funds such services. That money is available for certified peer-support workers in states that have a formal certification process.

California does not, and that means it is “leaving money on the table,” said Keris Myrick, chief of peer services at the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. South Da­kota is the only other state with no peer certification program.

But a bill pending in Sac­ramento, SB-10, would direct the State Department of Health Care Services to create a pro­cess for certifying peer sup­port workers and establish a set of core aptitudes and ethics guidelines for the job. The leg­islation passed the state Senate unanimously in May and will move to the Assembly Health Committee on Tuesday.

More than 6,000 peer sup­port specialists already work in wellness programs, hospitals and clinics across California, according to SB-10’s sponsor, Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose). They help mental health pa­tients navigate bureaucracies, find housing or locate services.

“They’re sharing their expe­riences: ‘Been there, done that, now I’m going to help another person,’” said Myrick, who has been diagnosed with schizoaf­fective disorder, was hospitalized several times and spent 10 years running a peer support program in Los Angeles.

Last year, the legislature unanimously passed a bill to certify peer support workers, but then-Gov. Jerry Brown ve­toed it, saying it was costly and unnecessary.

Legislative analysts esti­mate the state would spend hundreds of thousands of dol­lars to set up a certification pro­cess and millions more a year to implement it. Advocates say the new federal money would help offset those costs. And, they say, the legislation would cement the bona fides of peer mentoring as an occupation.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has not declared his position on the current bill, but he has said that addressing the state’s mental health crisis is a top priority for his administration. During his campaign for governor, he endorsed “expanded roles for nurse practitioners and peer providers.”

Dr. Thomas Insel, a former director of the National Insti­tute of Mental Health whom Newsom named in May as a key mental health adviser, told California Healthline he sup­ports the peer certification bill.

“For many people, hav­ing a connection to someone else who’s had this experi­ence proves vital,” Insel said. “There may be nothing more healing than giving people an opportunity to help others.”

Peer programs grew out of a movement in the 1970s op­posing coercive psychiatric treatment, led by people who’d been treated against their will and felt they would receive better care from those who personally identified with their experiences.

This article originally appeared in the Oakland Post
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  1. Archie Turner

    Archie Turner

    July 23, 2019 at 12:59 pm

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Birmingham Promise Education program exceeded expectations, city officials say

BIRMINGHAM TIMES — The Birmingham Promise Initiative, launched this summer to build pathways into quality jobs for Birmingham City School (BCS) students, came to a successful conclusion last week, said city officials. Last week, 23 BCS students finished their apprenticeships at companies across the metro area and the program had an impact, said Mayor Randall Woodfin and Councilors on Tuesday.

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Birmingham City Council (Photo by: birminghamtimes.com)
Birmingham City Council (Photo by: birminghamtimes.com)

By Erica Wight

The Birmingham Promise Initiative, launched this summer to build pathways into quality jobs for Birmingham City School (BCS) students, came to a successful conclusion last week, said city officials.

Last week, 23 BCS students finished their apprenticeships at companies across the metro area and the program had an impact, said Mayor Randall Woodfin and Councilors on Tuesday.

“There’s now more work to do to make sure that many more high school students can participate in this program, so I’m proud of the success of the pilot but . . . I’m looking forward to engaging parents directly, students directly and employers about these opportunities and so to employers,” Woodfin said.

“Our economy is changing and you all talk about your gaps in workforce, here’s an opportunity to close that workforce gap . . . our parents need to know these options exist before their children walk across the stage and to our children who have the passion, as a city we’re here to support your dreams and make them come true before you walk across the stage.”

Councilor John Hilliard said during Tuesday’s council meeting, “We must change our direction of how we deal with education . . . we have to meet the demand the corporate community is asking. A four-year education is important but it’s not the only way to go . . . I think it’s important we instill in our young people a different type of work ethic and give them the opportunity on the front end rather than the back end to make things happen.”

The seven-week summer pilot is part of the larger Birmingham Promise Initiative, which will offer multiple pathways for Birmingham students to “earn and learn” as they develop skills to prepare for jobs in industries that are growing in the regional economy.

The inaugural apprenticeships involved a vocational education component and work-based learning opportunities that were guided by a mentor. The pilot was complemented by the City of Birmingham’s partnership with Southern New Hampshire University, a national leader in delivering digital education to youth, the Jefferson County Commission on Economic Opportunity (JCCEO) and the city’s Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity.

Councilor Wardine Alexander said the Birmingham Promise prepares students to be college and career ready.

“When I served on the Board of Education, I had the pleasure to shake the hands of every student who graduated from the City of Birmingham… I think the mayor will remember we had one board member who would always ask the students as they were going through the line, ‘what’s your next goal’ and often students were not able to tell us what their goal was or what they were going to do,” said Alexander.

Birmingham Promise gave students the opportunity to work with Fortune 500 companies, earn a salary and have an idea of what they were going to do, Alexander said.

Council President Valerie Abbott, who attended graduation ceremony for the students along with Mayor Randall Woodfin, Alexander and Hilliard, said she was inspired by the students.

“Just to see those young people, they were full grown adults and doing those jobs, it was very impressive,” said Abbott. “We do need more people in the corporate community, but businesses of any kind can use an intern. It doesn’t have to be a corporation… we have so many students to benefit from that opportunity and only a handful got to participate in this pilot. We need hundreds of businesses to take on these young people so they can learn. I was just inspired by the quality of the young people and how inspired they were and their level of enthusiasm was just wonderful. I think we all need to encourage as many businesses as we can to participate.”

The following employers participated in the Birmingham Promise pilot program this summer:

  • Alabama Futures Fund
  • Alabama Power Company
  • Altec
  • Baptist Princeton
  • BIG Communications
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield
  • Brasfield & Gorrie
  • Encompass Health
  • HOAR Construction
  • Mayer
  • Pack Health
  • Protective
  • Renasant Bank
  • Regions
  • Shipt
  • Spire
  • Vincent’s
  • Theranest
  • UAB
  • Vulcan Materials

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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Committee Chairs Request Information from Consumer Bureau on Efforts to Protect Student Loan Borrowers

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Former Student Loan Ombudsman Seth Frotman asserted in his August 2018 resignation letter that CFPB leadership “has abandoned the very consumers it is tasked by Congress with protecting.” The position of Student Loan Ombudsman has been vacant since Frotman resigned in August 2018.

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Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee
Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), is the Chairwoman of the House Committee of Financial Services

Chairs Also Request Documents from Education Department, Loan Servicers

WASHINGTON – Today, Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA), and Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD), sent a letter to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Kathleen Kraninger requesting information and records concerning the CFPB’s efforts to protect consumers from unlawful student loan servicing practices.

In the letter, the Chairs raise concerns that “…the Consumer Bureau has taken actions that weaken its ability to fulfill its mission to protect student loan borrowers,” and that the agency is “…providing potentially harmful and conflicting advice to student loan borrowers.”  The Chairs request records from the Consumer Bureau by no later than September 9, 2019.

Former Student Loan Ombudsman Seth Frotman asserted in his August 2018 resignation letter that CFPB leadership “has abandoned the very consumers it is tasked by Congress with protecting.” The position of Student Loan Ombudsman has been vacant since Frotman resigned in August 2018.

The Chairs also sent a letter to Betsy DeVos expressing deep concern over the Education Department’s failure to protect students and families from student loan companies. The letter addresses recent reports that the Department is shielding student loan servicing companies from state law enforcement and undermining the CFPB’s oversight of these companies. In March 2019, an independent watchdog found that the Department failed to establish policies to properly conduct oversight of student loan servicing companies.

“As Chairs of Committees with oversight responsibilities over the student loan industry, we are very concerned by reports that under your leadership, the Department of Education has failed to adequately oversee student loan servicers,” the Chairs wrote. “Reports indicate that improper practices by these servicers—including inaccurate determination of monthly payments, forbearance steering, and other practices—directly impact millions of Americans and have ripple effects on their families, communities, and the economy as a whole.”

In addition, the Chairs sent letters today to federally contracted loan servicers seeking information about their operations, including any strategies or policies that push students into more expensive repayment options.

The full text of the letter to the CFPB is available here.

The full text of the letter to the Education Department is available here.

The full text of the letter to Navient is available here.

The full text of the letter to Nelnet is available here.

The full text of the letter to Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency is available here.

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Ohio State Sen. Cecil Thomas: Tracie Hunter’s Conviction is Unlawful

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “No one is above the law, including judges and prosecutors,” Thomas said. However, in an Aug. 13 letter to Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, Thomas said Hunter’s prosecution and subsequent conviction violated the law.

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“The judge refused a motion for a retrial after he refused to poll the jury, in clear violation of the law and at the request of my attorney,” Tracie Hunter told NNPA Newswire during the annual National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) annual convention in Cincinnati.
“The judge refused a motion for a retrial after he refused to poll the jury, in clear violation of the law and at the request of my attorney,” Tracie Hunter told NNPA Newswire during the annual National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) annual convention in Cincinnati.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

Former Judge Tracie Hunter, who became Hamilton County Ohio’s first black juvenile court judge, is receiving support from Ohio State Senator Cecil Thomas, who argues that her conviction should be overturned.

Thomas said Hunter didn’t receive a fair trial and that she appears to have been the victim of corruption.

After being convicted of providing confidential documents to her brother in an attempt to help save his job as a corrections officer and exhausting her appeals, Hunter was literally dragged off to jail last month.

“No one is above the law, including judges and prosecutors,” said Thomas. However, in an Aug. 13 letter to Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, Thomas said Hunter’s prosecution and subsequent conviction violated the law.

On Sept. 17, 2013, Prosecutor Joe Deters filed a motion requesting special prosecutors for the case against Hunter.

On that same day, Judge Beth Myers filed an entry with the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts appointing special prosecutors, to fully investigate Hunter.

“By filing the motion without due diligence, Judge Myers subsequently appointed Prosecutor Joe Deters’ lawyers and friends who have represented [Deters] in personal litigation,” said Thomas.

One of the attorneys is a partner in the law firm that represented Deters in his divorce, the senator noted, adding, “There are numerous examples that will show just how close these attorneys are to Deters.”

When publicly questioned regarding the appointments, Myers said she “dealt with things as they were presented to me. I will continue to do that,” according to Thomas.

Deters has maintained that he didn’t recommend the appointments and that they were done strictly by the Common Pleas Court. However, Thomas said the appointed lawyers have twice referenced Deters’ role in the appointments.

“Joe Deters requested a special prosecutor because he had a conflict. As such, by law, his only participation is to make the request and provide reasoning,” Thomas said.

“Judge Myers’ role is to decide whether to honor the request and if so, to appoint with the assurance that there are no conflicts,” he said.

“It appears neither Deters nor Myers followed the law to assure Judge Hunter received a fair trial, free of any biases and [Myers] appears to have played a role in unlawfully securing a public contract,” Thomas said.

By appointing Deters’ lawyers, any reasonable person can conclude there are inherent conflicts, Thomas continued.

“First, the mere personal relationship speaks for itself. Second, by honoring his recommendation to hire his personal lawyers, in essence, [Myers] played a role in using her public office to secure a public contract of approximately $700,000 for the personal lawyers of another public official,” Thomas said.

A spokeswoman for the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office said they hadn’t seen the complaint.

Yost’s office declined to comment.

As Thomas submitted his letter, attorneys for Hunter formally asked that she be released.

The judge who carried out her sentence is reportedly waiting for the special prosecutor in the case to respond before deciding.

Hunter, who’s also a church pastor in Cincinnati, has had the support of so many including The Coalition for a Just Hamilton County which is composed of members from the Interdenominational Ministry Alliance; the Cincinnati Chapter of the NAACP; the local chapter of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network; the Black United Front; the Southern Christian Leadership Council; the Nation of Islam and others.

“They’ve tried to stop me from telling my truth and all I have is my truth,” she told NNPA Newswire in June.

She said she had mostly refrained from giving interviews because the local media has only used sound bites to try and embarrass her.

“I’ve lost hope in the justice system which is why I became a judge in the first place,” Hunter said. “I’ve not lost faith in God even though they’ve tried to drive me out of this city.”

Stacy M. Brown

A Little About Me: I'm the co-author of Blind Faith: The Miraculous Journey of Lula Hardaway and her son, Stevie Wonder (Simon & Schuster) and Michael Jackson: The Man Behind The Mask, An Insider's Account of the King of Pop (Select Books Publishing, Inc.)

My work can often be found in the Washington Informer, Baltimore Times, Philadelphia Tribune, Pocono Record, the New York Post, and Black Press USA.
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Congressman John Lewis to Receive Thurgood Marshall Award From American Bar Association

OAKLAND POST — The American Bar Association will present Congressman John Lewis with the Thurgood Marshall Award at its annual meeting in San Francisco, Sat., August 10.

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Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) (Freddie Allen/AMG/NNPA)
https://blackpressusa.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/John-Lewis.jpg

By Conway Jones

The American Bar Association will present Congressman John Lewis with the Thurgood Marshall Award at its annual meeting in San Francisco, Sat., August 10.

The Thurgood Marshall Award honors U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who epitomized individual commitment, in word and action, to the cause of civil rights in this country.

Congressman Lewis is one of the original 13 Freedom Riders, a founding member and chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the only one of the “Big Six” civil rights leaders who organized the 1964 March on Washington still living, He is a 17 term congressional leader, and one of only two Lifetime Achievement recipients of the John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award.

“Congressman John Lewis is one of our most revered elder statesmen. His sacrifices for civil rights, justice and equality are unparalleled,” said Robert L. Harris, Esq., former president of the National Bar Association.

This article originally appeared in the Oakland Post

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Stacey Abrams Says She’d Serve as Vice President

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “I’ve just come to the decision that my best value add, the strongest contribution I can give to this primary, would be to make sure our nominee is coming into an environment where there are strong voter protections in place,” Abrams told the New York Times.

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“I would not have publicly raised the possibility if it was not a legitimate thought,” Abrams said.
“I would not have publicly raised the possibility if it was not a legitimate thought,” Abrams said.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

The overcrowded Democratic presidential field has a record six women seeking the nomination.

But one prominent individual who isn’t running for the top job has thrown her hat into the ring for vice president.

Former Georgia Gubernatorial Candidate Stacey Abrams said she would be delighted to serve under one of the 22 candidates.

“I would be honored to be considered by any nominee,” Abrams told The New York Timeson Wednesday, Aug. 14.

“I’ve just come to the decision that my best value add, the strongest contribution I can give to this primary, would be to make sure our nominee is coming into an environment where there are strong voter protections in place,” Abrams told the Times.

“I would not have publicly raised the possibility if it was not a legitimate thought,” Abrams said.

She said the current field, which includes former Vice President Joe Biden; Calif. Sen. Kamala Harris; New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker; and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, is talented.

Earlier this year when Biden entered the race, he was reportedly considering Abrams as a running mate.

YAHOO! Newsreported that Abrams dismissed those rumors, noting that at the time, Abrams was considering a run for president.

Earlier this year, Booker said he believed that a woman should be on the ticket.

Another candidate, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, said he would find it “very difficult not to select a woman” as his running mate.

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“Save Energy, Save Dollars” plan asks City Council to pay for energy upgrades for poor

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Your home isn’t as energy efficient as you think it is. And if the City of Memphis and MLGW seriously want to ease the energy burden on low-income families, they should start with fixing leaky faucets, sealing drafty windows and other optimizations outlined in a bold new plan recently unveiled by Friends of The Earth (FOE).

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At a Friends of The Earth event at the Bickford Senior Center, activists paused to explain the “Memphis Save Energy Save Dollars” proposal. (Photo: Lee Eric Smith)

Proposal estimates $247 million to optimize homes while creating 330 jobs over five years.

By Lee Eric Smith, lesmith@tsdmemphis.com

“If Memphis Light Gas & Water’s utility rates are among the lowest in the country, why is my bill so darn high?”

Whether you’ve asked yourself that question after opening your latest MLGW bill or gone a step further to complain to MLGW and/or city officials, it’s a question that seemingly defies logic. Either somebody is lying or . . .

Your home isn’t as energy efficient as you think it is. And if the City of Memphis and MLGW seriously want to ease the energy burden on low-income families, they should start with fixing leaky faucets, sealing drafty windows and other optimizations outlined in a bold new plan recently unveiled by Friends of The Earth (FOE).

“When you talk about the energy burden, you’re talking about poor people who are making decisions between groceries, medicine and for some, even being able to get to work,” said Herman Morris, a former MLGW executive now championing the effort. “And that’s a burden not because of (the utility rate) necessarily, but because their home is energy inefficient.

“They’ve got cracks and leaks that really result in them (cooling outdoors in the summer and heating outdoors in the winter),” Morris added. “All of the energy they buy goes out the door through those cracks.”

The plan, called “Save Energy, Save Dollars,” calls upon the Memphis City Council to fund a program that would provide energy optimizations and upgrades to up to more than 70,000 lower income homes over five years. The plan estimates that the average participant could save as much as $44 per month – all while enjoying a more comfortable home to boot.

‘Recipes’ for success

The full 36-page plan, available as a downloadable PDF, provides two main “recipes” for achieving those savings.

During the “direct install” phase, trained experts would evaluate and install upgrades like low-flow showerheads, LED lights, duct sealing and insulation for pipes and water heaters. Smart thermostats are also included because they can communicate with MLGW’s smart meters to restrict usage at MLGW’s most expensive times.

Some direct install homes will also be eligible for weatherization – more costly measures like replacing inefficient refrigerators and air conditioners, upgrading insulation and even replacing windows and doors.

All other low-income households would receive a seven percent reduction in their utility bills, according to the plan.

To maximize impact, the plan takes a neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach, focusing on areas of Memphis like Frayser, Orange Mound, Whitehaven, Berclair and North Memphis. A countywide campaign would allow low-income households anywhere in the county to participate by appointment. The plan also has incentives for landlords to make the upgrades in their rental properties.

“The kilowatt hour you save is the cheapest and cleanest kilowatt hour on Earth,” said David Freeman, former chair of the Tennessee Valley Authority. “We can help ourselves in this city by just initiating a major efficiency program.”

At what cost?

Adopted as is, the SESD plan would cost $247 million over five years. They even recommend the city use municipal bonds to fund the effort.

But while Friends of the Earth acknowledge the plan isn’t cheap, they also say that if easing financial stress on the poorest Memphians is a priority, there’s no better way to invest the money.

“There’s been enough talk. People know they’re poor. And they know that their homes are leaking. It’s time that somebody did something about it,” Freeman said. “They borrow money to build a power plant, they can borrow money to invest in the homes of poor people. That will create more energy per dollar than what they’re paying TVA.”

Earlier this year, the Memphis City Council declined an MLGW request to raise rates to pay for needed infrastructure repairs – upgrades that could help prevent power outages during storms.

Morris said that those infrastructure upgrades are absolutely needed, but they don’t have to come at the expense of the proposed SESD plan.

“You’ve got to have an infrastructure that’s capable of delivering the energy to the people,” Morris said. “I also believe that you don’t necessarily need to stop at the door. We’re saying that you take that infrastructure argument into the homes where the energy is going to be consumed, and improve that infrastructure, so that you’re getting a more efficient delivery. You can’t really separate the two.

“(Say) you are a poor person whose lights are off because you couldn’t afford to pay for all the energy that you’re using inefficiently,” Morris continued. “If you’re a poor person in that situation and your lights off, you don’t need to fix the infrastructure. Because it doesn’t matter if the infrastructure works if your lights are off because you couldn’t pay the bill.

“All we’re saying is, let’s be smart. Let’s be responsible,” he added. “Let’s just stop wasting by not having an energy-efficient envelope where that energy is consumed.”

Grassroots approach

Friends of the Earth announced the plan at a community event at Bickford Senior Center, just north of the Pinch District. There were two bounce houses, a deejay and food. The idea is to increase public awareness – not just about the SESD plan, but to promote energy efficiency as a way of life among low-income residents.

“Some of the responsibility is on the customer,” Morris said. “That will require some changing of habits, of personal conduct. But changing habits isn’t going to help until you fix the environment.

“At MLGW, we used to call it ‘conscientious consumption’ – being a better consumer,” he added. “But to get to responsible consumption, you’ve got to make it possible for that to take place. And it cannot take place when half of every kilowatt hour you use goes out the window.”

Several dozen people attended the FOE event. Informational flyers were passed out, and guests were polled on questions like, “Which city has the highest energy burden?” The music stopped to allow event coordinator Sydney Kessler to spread information about the plan.

“We’re trying to build a strong coalition of folks that we believe can really advocate for this,” said Sydney Kessler, who organized the June 29 event. “We’re going to be talking about how it impacts those communities to make sure those communities are represented when we’re advocating for this plan.”

After multiple emails and phone calls, The New Tri-State Defenderwas unable to confirm if MLGW officials or the Mayor’s Office had seen the proposal or reviewed it in detail.  But 10 local civic and religious organizations have already signed onto the effort urging MLGW and the City Council to adopt the plan.

And Sijuwola Crawford, the #UPTheVote901 leader who co-organized the recent “People’s Convention,” was among those at the event supporting the effort.

“We’ve heard that people are spending as much as 25 percent of their money on utilities,” Crawford said. “If we can lower that, then I think we’re doing what we can to protect the people who are the most vulnerable.”

If it sounds like Friends of the Earth wants to make this an issue in the upcoming municipal elections and beyond, it’s because they do.

“This is an (awareness) campaign that’s going to take it straight to these people that are running for election in October and ask them: Are you going to just keep talking about helping the poor people? Or are you going to do something about it? And here’s something that can be done by just the vote of the city council, instructing the utility to implement this program.

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