Sunday, February 26, 2023

"Godspeed, President Carter," by Steve Schmidt

It's worth either reading or listening to Jimmy Carter's speech delivered around 44 years ago. It led to him getting "primaried," resulting in a one-term presidency. Why? Because he spoke the truth about our political leaders' unwillingness to deal with complex issues. Clearly, matters have only gotten worse and as Schmidt notes, "can be applied to immigration, guns, debt, or a hundred other pressing problems that remain unsolved and unaddressed in a way that saps faith and belief in the system."

Yes, Godspeed, Jimmy Carter, for your words of truth and wisdom and for a life abundantly lived, a true icon and humanitarian.

My husband and I so wanted to make it to your Sunday School in Plains, Georgia. It just never materialized.  At least you got to sign my book that you authored titled, Living Faith. It was such a beautiful book that gifted me with peace at a crucial moment in my life and career. 

I so regret us not going. We so admire you and have you and your family—and the millions whose lives you touched—in our thoughts and prayers.

Peace / paz,

-Angela Valenzuela

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Bishop David O' Connell (August 16, 1953 – February 18, 2023)—May he Rest in Peace

Such a beautiful human being, Bishop David O' Connell. Read here about his tragic, violent death. This is so terribly sad. My heart cries. So many thoughts. And I am only now learning of him and I love what his life represented. 

And I think we should all want the same. 

Greater openness, trust, mercy, forgiveness, gratitude, and lovingkindness—all that beautiful color-rich, energy that comes out of every person's heart center—is a good life. 

And yet, this reality of a senseless, horrific death. This press conference expands on what happened. His housekeeper's husband is the person who apparently took his life.

Peace to his family and to the many whose lives he touched. I can only imagine just how shocked and saddened his community felt when they received the news.

His life was so admirable. Such a tragic loss. May Bishop David O'Connell rest in peace.

-Angela Valenzuela

Bishop David O'Connell

It is with great sadness that we inform you of the sudden and tragic passing of Bishop David O’Connell.  He was a beloved bishop, an extraordinary pastor, and a close friend of our network.  Bishop Dave (as he was known) was a true shepherd to his flock -- embedded in the lives of his parishioners and teaching thousands of One LA-IAF leaders to love their neighbor and fight against injustice. 

Bishop Dave had a long career as a leader in Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) organizations through his decades of service in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.  In the 1980s and 1990s, while he was an active leader in the South Central Organizing Committee (SCOC), his ministry and organizing work addressed gun violence, systemic disinvestment in what was then known as South Central LA, poverty, and the plight of undocumented immigrants. The organizing work of Bishop Dave and SCOC led to the passage of California’s assault weapons ban in 1989, helped thousands of immigrants become citizens after Reagan Administration immigration reform in 1986, and shut down liquor stores in the wake of unrest following the beating of Rodney King. 

He continued his efforts with IAF as the pastor of St. Michael’s parish and was one of the founding leaders of One LA-IAF when SCOC and three other local organizations merged into a county-wide organizing effort in 2004. As a leader with One LA-IAF, Bishop Dave led efforts to secure health care coverage for undocumented immigrants, expand community-based policing, assist homeowners facing foreclosure during the Great Recession, and help former prisoners obtain employment and rebuild their lives.

We will remember him for his attention to the development of parish leaders and for the love that he infused in everything that he did. Most recently, Bishop Dave played an instrumental role in the IAF’s 'Recognizing the Stranger' training initiative, sponsored by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. 'Recognizing the Stranger' has prepared over 4,000 parish leaders across the Southwest to tap into the skills of broad-based organizing to rebuild their parishes through a culture of encounter and active engagement with people from diverse backgrounds. These themes echoed throughout his life as a pastor who was known for his presence and ministry on-the-ground, among the people.  We miss him dearly and will continue to be inspired and transformed by his life and legacy.

[Photo Credits: Rafael Paz Parra (first and third), (second and last) One LA-IAF]

West / Southwest IAF · 704 E Wonsley Dr, 200, Austin, TX 78753, United States 
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How Democracy Can Win: The Right Way to Counter Autocracy by Samantha Power

The gist of this piece by Samantha Power in Foreign Affairs is in this quote: "We must break down the wall that separates democratic advocacy from economic development." Short of this, the rise of autocratic leaders and governments will stand in the policy gap. Such governments may improve living standards albeit at the expense of civil liberties and freedom, particularly "digital authoritarianism" comprised of surveillance and oppressive control over the populace, including what should be a free press and voting rights.

Power recommends forming coalitions that expand beyond the usual cast of characters and policy makers advocating for democracy while also showing through civil society that democracy delivers. 

Thoughtful piece by Powers. Democracy is indeed fragile, but winnable.

-Angela Valenzuela 

How Democracy Can Win

The Right Way to Counter Autocracy

Backlash in Texas as diversity initiatives put on hold in vast university system

I am so glad that Suzanne Gamboa's article on mentions our newly-formed organization, Black Brown Dialogues on Policy (BBDP). Thanks, Suzanne, we'll be building up the website and getting the word out on all these bad bills and what we're doing to challenge them.

Check out our website and sign the  sign the pledge we've posted on our BBDP landing page to "Stand and Fight for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in Higher Education." That'll allow you to continue getting emails from us on activities we're pursuing at the moment. 

We'll soon have a "BBDP College Student Council" that will pursue their own agenda in support of diversity initiatives while opposing harmful higher education bills in the context of the current Texas Legislative Session.

Stay tuned to learn about a Virtual Town Hall with the Texas Legislative Black Caucus and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, students, faculty and others, including a panel on "Critical Race Theory and its Critics," with Dr. Francesca Lopez, Christine Sleeter, and Kevin Kumashiro, as well. The event takes place virtually on Saturday, March 11th. It will be simulcast on our BBDP Facebook page and youtube (details forthcoming).

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-Angela Valenzuela

Backlash in Texas as diversity initiatives put on hold in vast university system

Black and Latino educators and advocates are saying diversity, equity and inclusion programs are not illegal, despite the Abbott administration's claim to state agencies.

The University of Texas at Austin is the UT System's flagship university.Eric Gay / AP file

Latino and Black leaders in Texas pushed back on claims that diversity and inclusion hiring programs are illegal as the vast University of Texas System put a hold on such programs at its institutions and campuses.

Kevin Eltife, chairman of the system's board of regents, announced Wednesday that he was delaying new policies on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and launching a review of all of them. The announcement at a board meeting, with no discussion or vote, was reported first by The Austin American-Statesman.

Eltife, a former state senator appointed to the board by Abbott, also a Republican, said that within UT campuses “some DEI efforts have strayed from the original intent to now imposing requirements and actions that rightfully has raised concerns of our policy makers.” 

No examples of DEI programs that have strayed were provided at the meeting or in response to an NBC News request.

Eltife’s stop on new policies follows a declaration by Abbott's chief of staff in a letter dated Feb. 4 to state agencies that DEI "has been manipulated to push policies that expressly favor some demographic groups to the detriment of others." The letter, first reported by The Texas Tribune and posted on Twitter by KHOU in Houston, went on to say that a state agency spending tax dollars to pay for DEI initiatives and resources connected with them is illegal.

That declaration from a higher education system of 13 institutions and more than 244,000 students is drawing pushback from Black and Latino lawmakers and organizations.

Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said DEI programs are set up through legal departments and are conservative in nature so as not to run afoul of federal anti-discrimination laws.

"It is a complete misrepresentation to say that DEI programs are illegal and that they violate the Constitution or any statute, because they don't," said Bledsoe, who also is a founder of the Black and Brown Dialogue on Policy. The multiracial, cultural group seeks to confront what it says is a "growing threat of racism and policies meant to undermine our human dignity and humanity."

Gary Bledsoe speaks at a rally at the state Capitol in Austin, Texas, in 2021.

Gary Bledsoe speaks at a rally at the state capitol in Austin, Texas, in 2021.
Sergio Flores / Getty Images file

Bledsoe said NAACP and others are preparing civil rights complaints "because we think the action the governor has taken is discriminatory and that it leaves in place programs that benefit others but eliminates programs that have lifted Latinos and African Americans and other minorities."

Angela Valenzuela, a co-founder of the Black and Brown Dialogue on Policy, said DEI policies on hiring are guidelines and not all determining, "or we would have a more diverse faculty and we don't."

Universities in Texas, where Hispanics are estimated to be the largest population group, have struggled with hiring diverse faculty and reaching enrollment numbers that reflect the population. Compared to other flagship universities nationally, UT-Austin, the system's flagship, has the second-largest gap between the percentage of Latino students who graduate from the state's high schools (51%) and the percentage of Latinos that it enrolls as freshmen (29%), according to 2020 federal data.

Valenzuela noted that DEI programs are not only focused on race and ethnicity but also ensure the hiring and enrolling of veterans, people with disabilities, people in the LGBTQ community, older applicants and white working class and rural people. Valenzuela is a UT-Austin professor but emphasized she was commenting as a Black and Brown Dialogue on Policy co-founder.

State Rep. Christina Morales, a Democrat from Houston and vice-chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, noted that 18% of Latinos have advanced degrees, compared with 39% of white Texans. In addition, 92% of white Texans have high school degrees, compared with 70% of Latinos, she said.

She said that Latino educational attainment has increased since 1965 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed an executive order to reinforce the requirement that federal contractors not discriminate in employment.

"The effort has to be made that more people are included," Morales said. "Just human nature, we tend to pick people who look like us, have names like us and have a similar backgrounds, so it's important that we consciously choose people with a diverse background and we choose to include other folks when we are hiring and we admitting them to the university."

She said "we're incredibly disappointed" with the UT System decision and Texas A&M University, the flagship of the state's A&M System, for changing its hiring policies. But she also said she recognized that they are in a difficult place because their funding is at risk if they defy the governor.

Luke Macias, a Republican consultant, recently described diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in a newsletter as "the vehicle by which the left is filling our universities and public schools with marxist ideas."

"When we talk about what DEI is, it is a university saying we need to cease recognizing people for the content of their character and not the color of their skin," Macias said, referring to a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. that his daughter, Bernice King, and some scholars say is often misused.

Macias credited Scott Yenor, a Boise State University political science professor whose remarks about the recruitment of women in some fields and other comments have drawn protest and criticism, for having "exposed" DEI policies in Texas as discriminatory.

The governor's actions on DEI hiring comes amid a Republican-led campaign targeting the teaching of racial, ethnic and LGBTQ studies in state schools and universities.

It also comes as potential 2024 Republican presidential candidates have begun to jockey for support from the party's right-wing base. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, considering a White House run, also is targeting DEI in his state.

Macias noted that anti-DEI efforts aren't stopping at hiring policies. He said DEI programs for other purposes in universities are not illegal, but the Texas Legislature is trying to pass laws to prohibit such programs.