By Chanelle Bell
Peggy A. Cohen-Thompson is known for being involved with many organizations and always seeking to improve Vallejo and Solano.
She’s the President of the Solano County Black Chamber of Commerce and the Solano College Business and Education Alliance. Peggy is also the host of a monthly TV program that profiles local African American businesses called, “Solano County Black Chamber of Commerce Business Spotlight”, which can be seen on Vallejo’s local access channel, Comcast, and AT&T.
She is not only considered a voice of Vallejo, but also a Vallejo visionary. She said, “I have passion for Vallejo and I know that Solano has great opportunities and it is just a matter of the African American community having access to the information that can better their lives”. Peggy believes that “communication is power”, and works tirelessly to spread that message throughout the Vallejo community.
The release of the latest U.S. Census figures sparked a lot of buzz about the sharp decline of African-Americans in the City of Oakland.
Missing from the discussion-but in some ways just as important-is the withering away of African-Americans from Oakland’s past. In the officially recognized version of Oakland’s past, at least.
Buried deep and difficult to find in the website of the Oakland Convention & Visitors Bureau, the official city guide, is a single reference to an African-American-specific attraction in the city. It is a listing for the Black Panther Legacy Tour, which takes you to a website organized by former members of the 1970’s era Black revolutionary organization.
The Panther Party played an important role in both Oakland and American history in the last half of the 20th century, but it wasn’t the only player. And while Oakland has a handful of other African-American-based attractions, among them an African-American Museum & Library run by the Oakland Library, for a city with one of the richest African-American histories on the West Coast, which once had a majority-Black population, both a majority-Black City Council and School Board, and where three of the last four mayors have been African-American, and which was once a national leader in advancing African-American issues, the official references to the city’s African-American heritage are pointedly thin. The Convention & Visitors Bureau lapse is not the entire problem, but it is symptomatic of the problem.
Most notable in its absence from mainstream and popular Oakland history is a recognition of how and why African-Americans came to Oakland in the first place. That happened somewhat by geographic accident, because of the terminating of the cross-country railroad line at Central Station in West Oakland instead of in San Francisco. Pullman Porters and waiters working the railroad lines began settling in the area near the old Central Station in the late 19th century, forming the hub of a stable Black West Oakland community that was attractive to San Francisco African-Americans fleeing that city following the 1906 earthquake.
Those Oakland railroad porters and waiters helped form the Brotherhood Of Sleeping Car Porters, the first and only national African-American union. They also formed the early core of Oakland’s rising Black working and middle class.
When the World War II shipbuilding boom opened up the wartime jobs to thousands of African-American immigrants from the South, West Oakland became their entertainment and cultural center, with Black businesses booming along the neighborhood’s world-famous 7th Street. Oakland’s 7th Street, in fact, became one of the major stopping-points for African-American singers and musicians in the middle of the 20th century.
You can find that history tucked away at the African-American Museum & Library and in other locations, but it’s a history not widely celebrated, acknowledged, or even known by most of Oakland.
The old Central Station still stands at 16th and Wood Streets, and a coalition of West Oakland residents have been fighting a battle of several years to preserve it as a historical site, with a strong emphasis on its African-American component. But another West Oakland site important to the African-American historical presence in the city is in significant danger of extinction-Bea’s Hotel across the street from the old train station, where many Pullman Porters lived before establishing permanent residence in West Oakland. A developer of a proposed housing project to surround the Bea’s location has said he has been trying to buy the old hotel from the present owner. If he is able to make the purchase, he plans to demolish the historic structure. That would be a sad and enormous loss to the history of Black People in Oakland.
Injecting drugs is the second leading cause of HIV infection for both black women and men. Sharing syringes and other equipment for drug injection is a well known route of HIV transmission, but HIV is not only fueled from injection drug use, the use/abuse of alcohol and other drugs such as crack have been playing a continuing role in HIV transmissions, and have since the onset of the HIV epidemic.
The African American Community is in a fight to save as many lives as possible. Delivered like a one two punch, first the HIV epidemic in 1981, and then the Crack epidemic in 1984, we seem to be down for the count. The crisis of HIV in our communities cannot be separated from the crises of poverty, racism, and drugs.
While HIV disease and substance abuse are distinct illnesses, each is affected by the other and each can contribute to the progression of the other. People who use other drugs are more likely to take risks, such as unprotected sex when they are under the influence. Substance abuse treatment is crucial for staying in HIV care and adhering to a treatment regimen. Drug use affects treatment for those with HIV, causing them to not take medicine when they need to. Many studies have shown that people who do crack or cocaine are usually very bad at taking their medicines on a regular basis, especially when they are using a lot of the drug or are on a “binge.”
When people are irregular with their HIV medicine regimens it could lead to the virus becoming resistant to the medicines and thus making it harder to treat the HIV. Other studies have shown that people who use crack or cocaine progress to or develop AIDS faster. Today doctors see many die because they cannot curb their drug use, even though there are now drugs that can save their lives.
Use of crack cocaine was first recognized as a major public health problem in the United States two decades ago. It was quickly identified as a risk factor for HIV infection in association with high-risk sexual practices when considered from the disease perspective, substance abuse shares much in common with HIV. Both are chronic, acute and life-threatening diseases with remissions and exacerbations. They often coexist in the same individual and can remain unrecognized for many years. Moreover, a clinical diagnosis for one may predispose the individual to another.
The spread of crack cocaine took on epidemic proportions between 1984 and 1990, when the drugs’ popularity spread throughout major cities in the United States.
Jim Taylor, who is a community health outreach worker (CHOW) at Alameda County Medical Center, says in the African American community crack has become endemic and when it is co-factored with HIV, creates barriers to care. He recently had a HIV client who almost died from the crack addiction.
“There should be better interventions to help people learn to resist the temptations crack can bring”, he says.
Shelley L. Stinson’s single-minded dedication to HIV prevention, education, and helping others find the help they need while living with HIV. “It’s not just a job, it’s a calling that extends to every aspect of her life,” she said.
By Jesse Brooks
Like so many social problems, the AIDS epidemic is most destructive to those members of society, who are most vulnerable because of its pattern of poverty and social neglect. Initially, in 1981, the media portrayed AIDS as a white gay disease. In 1993, the U.S. CDC expanded its case definition of AIDS to reflect fuller spectrum of the disease, including adding a condition specific to women and those more prevalent among injection drug users. The same year the U.S. FDA approved female condom for sale in U.S.
Women of color, particularly Black women, have been especially hard hit and represent the majority of the new HIV infections and AIDS cases among women. Stopping the epidemic will increasingly depend on how and what extent its affect on women and girls are addressed.
Perceptions of “I’m not at risk” continue to fuel the transmissions. Shelley L. Stinson who has been an HIV Prevention coordinator with Alameda County Office of AIDS Administration, for over 10 years, remembers as a young African American woman in college in 1993, having no clue as to the extent of her risk. Stinson an Oakland native attended Stillman College located in West Tuscaloosa Alabama. She says on campus, she had a circle of friends that included a majority of gay men and some started getting sick and some died.
After graduating with a degree in Business Administration she returned to home and in 1995 began working in HIV. Her first position was at The African American Advocacy, Support-Services & Survival Institute (AMASSI), a organization that was the first to recognize that African Americans needed cultural emphasis on their messages and education.
In those days Stinson saw no women at all as clients. She remembers from appearance, it was still a gay men’s disease, but now include large numbers of Black gay men that attended the center for services. She reflects on those days, saying, “The majority of the clients that came in were scared and dying and it seemed they were just living for the day. There were a lot of substance abuse issues after they receiving a positive diagnosis”. She remembers that although their budget was small, the center offered weekly Narcotics Anonymous meetings and support groups, such as Black Men Xchange (BMX) that was well attended. Read more