Justin Chapman is writing, producing, and hosting a monthly show on Pasadena Media's TV channel, "NewsRap Local with Justin Chapman." The third episode aired today, Friday, June 18, 2021. The guest was Ryan Bell, Southern California regional coordinator for Tenants Together. He spoke about the new rent control and just cause evictions charter amendment petition effort to get the measure on Pasadena's June 2022 ballot. Watch the full episode below:

Read the June 2021 issue of Justin Chapman’s Newsletter, featuring an episode of his show “Well Read” with an interview with Rare Bird Books publisher Tyson Cornell, an episode of his show “NewsRap Local” with an interview with police brutality documentary filmmakers Dennis Haywood and James Farr, his Pasadena Now articles about an Altadena anthropologist’s research on HIV in Africa and a high school student who won the $7,500 Anthony McClain Social Justice college scholarship and journalists at the Pasadena Star-News and other newspapers who voted to unionize, his Culture Honey Magazine article about Slab City, some great reads recommendations, updates on international, national, California, and local news, and much more! Check it out and subscribe. It's free and monthly.


Journalists at the Pasadena Star-News and Other Newspapers Vote to Unionize

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Now, 6/14/2021

Journalists at 11 daily newspapers in Southern California, including the Pasadena Star-News, owned by Alden Global Capital, known as the Southern California News Group (SCNG), voted overwhelmingly to form a union on Friday. The final tally was 64-19.

The new union, called the SCNG Guild, represents 140 reporters and other newsroom positions at  the Orange County Register, the Los Angeles Daily News, the Riverside Press-Enterprise, the Long Beach Press-Telegram, the Torrance Daily Breeze, the San Bernardino Sun, the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the Whittier Daily News and the Redlands Daily Facts.

According to Poynter.org, the hedge fund that owns about 70 papers nationwide through its MediaNews Group, is known for purchasing papers and then slashing budgets and staff. 

Last month, Alden bought Tribune Publishing for $633 million. In the weeks leading up to the deal, Tribune journalists pleaded for someone with deep pockets to purchase the company instead, fearing deep cuts once Alden took the reins. A hotelier allegedly nearly derailed the deal but backed out after his billionaire partner pulled out after reviewing one of the newspaper’s dire financial situations.

According to an article on the Chicago Tribune website, two days after the purchase was completed the hedge fund began offering buyouts to nonunion newsroom employees. 

Buyouts are typically the last option for an employee to leave a company voluntarily and receive a severance payment, followed by the likely risk of being laid off without a severance if they don’t agree to the buyout.

“MediaNews Group and Alden Global Capital have cut our newsrooms to the bone,” the SCNG Guild wrote in a Feb. 24 statement about why they decided to unionize. “Layoffs and turnover have devastated our workforce. We face historic staffing shortages, and the exodus of journalists with decades of experience has hollowed out our newspapers. These cuts leave us less able to provide the quality product we owe our readers. We want to stave off further losses while allowing our newspapers to thrive. We want to build newsrooms with diverse voices reflecting the communities we cover.”

The new union is a unit of Media Guild of the West, a local of The NewsGuild-CWA, which represents hundreds of journalists and media workers in Southern California, Arizona and Texas, including at the Los Angeles Times, the Arizona Republic and other papers.

“This is history, folks!” the union wrote on its Twitter account in announcing the result of the vote. “SCNG Guild will now bargain for better pay, benefits and working conditions for all. Wages have remained stagnant for most working at these papers. Many have gone without true raises to their pay in years, even as the cost of living in the LA area has risen. We have to fight!”

The union said they announced their intention to unionize back in February, but that “management [at SCNG] refused to voluntarily recognize us, then delayed the vote by arguing our unit should be split in two.”

According to Poynter, SCNG “argued that certain positions — copy editors, graphic artists, page designers, and social media and digital producers — should not be allowed to join the union. Those positions comprise approximately 44 people. In response, the union launched a #1Newsroom1Union campaign on social media, arguing that people in the disputed positions are also journalists and should be allowed to unionize with their colleagues who are reporters, photographers and clerks. The two sides appeared in front of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in March for a hearing, and the board ruled in the union’s favor.”

According to the SCNG Guild, this is the first time many of these papers have ever voted to unionize. However, this is not the first attempt at a union.

In the early 1990s, former Pasadena Weekly Editor and Pasadena Now Chief Copyeditor Kevin Uhrich was part of a unionization effort at the Pasadena Star-News when he was a reporter there on the city hall beat. He said he became unhappy with the management team installed by the then-new owner Toronto-based Thomson Corp.

“I became upset seeing my friends, mostly women reporters, being taken into the editor’s office after work and being berated by these overpaid pirates, some to the point of tears,” Uhrich said. “So I went to a super-secret union meeting, got involved and became one of a number of union committee leaders among Thomson’s three papers: the Pasadena Star-News, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune and the Whittier Daily News.”

Uhrich ended up taking his case to the NLRB on 10 counts, including harassment, wiretapping employees’ phones and reading their in-house email messages on a system called Coyote. He won on all counts on behalf of all employees.

“No money was involved, mainly because I never took any time off,” he said. “I was totally into it, so there was no time lost. And I did not get sick, as one after another of my fellow leaders did.”

Uhrich said others had started dropping out, and soon he was one of only two people left pushing for the union. The company was ordered to admit its guilt and post notices about the ruling in prominent places at all three papers, which they did. 

“Unfortunately, they also did as we knew they would and came back with something the union feared but many sick of the office drama had hoped for: buyouts.”

Uhrich explained that this union effort included all employees in every department, many of them of retirement age and some having nothing to do with editorial. He strongly objected to this arrangement and lobbied with the local Guild Board to sever editorial staff from the others and act as a separate unit, but the union “never filed the required paperwork with the boys in Silver Spring, Maryland, home of the Guild, and our 70-30 approval rate flip-flopped overnight,” he said.

“What that meant was I was sunk,” he added. “Without a union, they could fire me, and I have no doubt they planned to do just that at the earliest possible moment. Also, at this particular time, the buyout deadline was drawing near. I had a good chunk on the line, so, waiting until 4 p.m. that Friday, the final hour of the final day, I took the buyout.”

Uhrich added that no media outlet reported on their unionization campaign or the NLRB victory, including the Pasadena Weekly. After leaving the Star-News, he went on to the San Gabriel Valley Edition of the L.A. Times. He also wrote news for the L.A. Reader, the L.A. Weekly and the Pasadena Weekly. He served as editor of the Pasadena Weekly from 1999, which then was owned by Times Community News, TCN, a division of the L.A. Times, to 2020.

“I’m happy for [the new union], of course,” Uhrich said. “Then again, I can’t help wondering how different things might be now had we won back then.”

In season two of "Well Read," host and journalist Justin Chapman provides analysis on news, politics, arts, and culture and interviews special guests. Featuring segments by Senior Influencer Correspondent, @BradtheInfluencer, and Senior Toddler Correspondent, Sienna. Justin also provides recommendations for good reads in each episode.

In Episode Fourteen, Justin interviews Tyson Cornell, founder, owner, and publisher of Rare Bird Books/Lit.

You can watch "Well Read" below, on YouTube, or on PasadenaMedia.org. Check that website for showtimes, or watch anytime on their streaming app.

Learn more at justindouglaschapman.com and sign up for my email newsletter at justinchapman.substack.com/subscribe. 

Noah Griffin of Muir High School and his mother, Dara, at the award ceremony.

Video Producers Award $7,500 College Scholarship to Local Student

Noah Griffin of Muir High School received $7,500 as part of the Anthony McClain Social Justice Scholarship, recently created by Dennis Haywood, director of “Thorns on the Rose: Black Abuse, Corruption & the Pasadena Police”

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Now, 6/8/2021

Funds raised from donations and the proceeds of a film about tensions between Pasadena police and Pasadena’s African American community were awarded as a scholarship to a local student.

Noah Griffin of Muir High School received $7,500 as part of the Anthony McClain Social Justice Scholarship, recently created by Dennis Haywood, director of “Thorns on the Rose: Black Abuse, Corruption & the Pasadena Police.”

In August, 32-year-old McClain was shot in the back and killed by Pasadena Police Officer Edwin Dumaguindin following a traffic stop. Police claim McClain pulled a gun as he ran away, though his family and members of the community say video of the incident does not show that. McClain’s family is represented by civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who also represents George Floyd’s family in Minneapolis, among others.

“Thorns on the Rose” was produced by James Farr and Rochele Jones and released on Vimeo on April 8. The 63-minute documentary examines the last 40 years of Pasadena’s police-community relationship with a particular focus on the police killings of Black men, including Kendrec McDade, Reginald Thomas, Jr., McClain and others.

Applicants for the scholarship had to be an African American graduating from Pasadena, Muir, Marshall, Blair or Rose City high schools in 2021, and they had to write a 500-word essay about how they felt about “Thorns on the Rose” and what steps they would take to make police and community relationships better.

“Having the opportunity to apply for this scholarship represents a responsibility to move forward and realize dreams that Anthony McClain may have had that he cannot achieve now,” Griffin wrote in his essay. “That was taken away from him. In a blink of an eye, many of us can be in his shoes.”

Griffin wrote that being a young, Black male in Pasadena, the film “hit home” and “ultimately grounded” him.

“I also know I represent the hopes and dreams of my community,” he wrote. “Watching the film was a very traumatic and troubling experience. Seeing people in the film who I have interacted with and see around Pasadena on a daily basis really struck a chord. Hearing the pain and frustration in their voices while they spoke was very difficult to watch. I was so bothered by the film it inhibited physical responses from me.”

This fall, Griffin will attend Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

The award was presented to Griffin on June 3 outside of La Pintoresca Library. In attendance was Pasadena City Council member Tyron Hampton, Pasadena Unified School District Board member Michelle Richardson Bailey, Muir Principal Dr. Lawton Gray and Farr, who presented and made remarks on behalf of the film. Also in attendance were My Tribe Rise co-founders Heavenly Hughes and Victor Hodgson, and District 1 Civilian Police Oversight Commission nominee Loren Esprit Jones, as well as several residents of the local neighborhood association.

“Thorns on the Rose” includes footage and analysis of fatal encounters between police and Black men in Pasadena, such as Michael Bryant, LaMont Robinson, Kendrec McDade, Reginald Thomas, Jr., Anthony McClain and others.

Griffin wrote that the film reminded him of “why I started doing grass root social justice work with the Ignite Youth Rights & Responsibilities program in the first place; which is based here in Pasadena and geared towards youth in Pasadena. The lost lives of beloved and respected black people like Michael Bryant, Kendrec McDade, Reginald Thomas, and Anthony McClain should not be regarded as stories of the past, but as souls propelling the fight for justice.”

Griffin is a co-designer of the Ignite Youth program, which aims to prevent violence in the community and is sponsored by the Pasadena/Altadena Coalition of Transformative Leaders. The program teaches conflict resolution skills to local youth.

“In Ignite Youth one of our main goals is to inform youth of their rights so they are able to effectively communicate with the police,” Griffin wrote. “Through teaching youth their rights we empower them with knowledge that puts the police on a more level playing field. Two important rights are the right to remain silent and the ability to not consent to searches. We also work on effective communication, and mindfulness of our demeanors in police interactions in hopes of better outcomes.”

Griffin said he plans to start a chapter of Ignite Youth in college in addition to continuing to represent the Pasadena community “wherever I end up.”

Before Farr presented Griffin with the cash award, he regaled the scholar with a quote from Pasadena’s own Octavia Butler: “All that you touch, you change. All that you change, changes you. The only lasting truth is change. God is change.” 

Farr closed by inviting Griffin to “come back to Pasadena and be great.”

Altadena Anthropologist Presents Latest Research on HIV in Africa as Part of Sister Cities Speaker Series

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Now, 6/8/2021

The Pasadena Sister Cities Committee’s Senegal Subcommittee’s virtual speaker series continues at 6 p.m. on Thursday with a talk about reproductive justice for people living with HIV and lessons learned from research in Africa.

Dr. Deborah Mindry, a research anthropologist who was born in South Africa and lives in Altadena, will speak about her ethnographic research on HIV, gender dynamics and reproductive health in South Africa, Malawi, Uganda and Southern California.

The Senegal Subcommittee facilitates the diplomatic relationship between Pasadena and Dakar-Plateau, Senegal, Pasadena’s first sister city in an African country. Mindry’s research focuses in particular on reproductive health for couples living with HIV. She is a research anthropologist at the UC Global Health Institute’s Center for Women’s Health, Gender and Empowerment, a University of California-wide initiative that stimulates, nurtures and promotes global health research, education and collaboration.

“Globally, what we’ve done a really good job of is ensuring that an HIV-positive mother doesn’t infect her infant,” Mindry said, referring to Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT). “But what we have not done systematically anywhere in the world is help couples with HIV, particularly where they’re what we call serodiscordant, where one is positive and one is negative, and trying to ensure that the HIV-negative partner doesn’t get infected when they try to conceive a child.”

The Pasadena Sister Cities Committee’s Dakar-Plateau Subcommittee had a number of in-person events and cultural exchanges in mind before the COVID-19 pandemic intervened. To help bridge that gap, they’ve launched a virtual speaker series as a way to educate the public and keep that relationship connected, said Boualem Bousseloub, chair of the subcommittee.

The idea of partnering cities grew out of the Twin Town concept in Europe in 1946 following World War II. Ludwigshafen was selected in 1948 by the Pasadena branch of the American Friends Service Committee. America’s involvement came in 1956 following President Dwight Eisenhower’s White House conference on citizen diplomacy, out of which grew Sister Cities International (SCI). Pasadena formally established its Sister Cities chapter in 1960.

Pasadena has six Sister Cities partnerships, with Ludwigshafen, Germany (1948); Mishima, Japan (1957); Järvenpää, Finland (1983); Vanadzor, Armenia (1991); the Xicheng District of Beijing, China (1999); and Dakar-Plateau, Senegal, which was approved by the Pasadena City Council in 2018 after many years of discussion, planning, and research, including an exploratory delegation to the West African city led by Bousseloub and City Councilmember John Kennedy. 

Following approval by both cities, Dakar-Plateau Mayor Alioune Ndoye led a delegation to Pasadena in June 2019 and then-Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek led a delegation to Dakar-Plateau in March 2020 to finalize the partnership. Dakar-Plateau has a population of nearly 37,000 people and is one of 19 districts of Senegal’s capital of greater Dakar, serving as its political, financial and commercial center. 

At the Sister Cities event, Mindry will mainly focus on the lessons that she has learned in African settings, but will also “reflect on what that means here in the United States, particularly for communities of color, African American communities and Latinx communities.”

Mindry said whether in African countries or here in Southern California, low-income people and people of color are always disproportionately affected when it comes to HIV.

“We still have huge issues of stigma, everywhere in the world and in the United States as well, which makes it very difficult to get people to test and to stay on treatment,” she said. “That’s part of the reason why I focus on reproductive health, because part of the stigma in many societies is that people with HIV have been told they can’t have children. Well, they can have children, but we really need to bring them in for counseling and help them understand what they need to do to ensure that they have children safely.”

She added that when people are able to safely have children and families, “it gives them a reason to live. It’s also part of the process of de-stigmatizing having HIV, that you can still have a normal life.”

Mindry is currently working on a book manuscript, “I am HIV: Ordinary People Daring to Live and Make Change in South Africa,” which challenges conceptions of Africans as victims of HIV, arguing instead that it is people on the ground who are figuring out how to live and thrive with an infectious disease.

“The book focuses on the important role that people living with these kinds of diseases play and tries to help others in their families and communities really understand what they need to do to prevent getting HIV,” she said. “I’m making an argument in the book that global health initiatives need to significantly work with people on the ground as part of the initiatives, that working only from a healthcare perspective is insufficient. We need to work with people living with these diseases who can become part of the solution.”

Mindry said the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically increased people’s interest in global health, while at the same time diverting much needed resources away from HIV, malaria and tuberculosis prevention and treatment efforts.

“COVID has made people begin to realize that we really are all globally connected and that when we see an infectious disease in one part of the world, that it’s not isolated,” she said. “It’s made people aware that it’s not just a problem that people over there deal with, that this becomes a problem in other places. But because most of the resources have now been appropriated for COVID, there’s not the same labor force attending to some of these other issues. The other problem is with shutdowns in various parts of the world; people living with those diseases are not getting to the clinics and not getting their treatments and so forth.”

She added that there is concern among public health practitioners that COVID will result in a further setback in trying to achieve the goals of the UNAIDS’s 90-90-90 initiative, which aims to get 90 percent of the people who are estimated to be infected with HIV to get tested and know their status, 90 percent of those who test positive for HIV to get on antiretroviral treatment and 90 percent of those who are on treatment to adhere to their treatment.

“We were supposed to achieve the goals by 2020, which we did not, and we are still a good way away from achieving them,” she said. “But if we’re able to reach those goals, then we will begin to turn the tide on HIV. Currently, the rates of new infections exceed the number of people being enrolled in treatment.”

Mindry pointed out that countries in Africa are far behind COVID vaccine-producing countries such as the United States, but that many have existing public health measures in place which may be one of the reasons why there haven’t been massive rates of infection so far.

“From the get-go, many African countries have already been screening people,” she said. “When I travel to parts of East Africa, for example, to do my work, I’m always screened at the airport. Long before COVID, they required a yellow fever vaccination record before you’re permitted to enter those countries. Just before the pandemic, I was traveling between Rwanda and Uganda, and they make you stop at the border and walk into a chlorine bath to sanitize your shoes. You have to wash your hands, they take your temperature and then you get to cross the border. Because they’ve been dealing with infectious diseases and they don’t have the healthcare infrastructure that we have, they get on top of it right away.”

Register for the June 10 Sister Cities event with Dr. Deborah Mindry at bit.ly/DakarJune10.