Monthly Archives: May 2015

Attending the ACLU-MA 2015 Bill of Rights Dinner

Yesterday, Community Works coordinator Amanda had the opportunity to attend the ACLU of Massachusetts 2015 Bill of Rights Dinner honoring actor and activist George Takei. Read about the evening below: George Takei is a personal hero of mine and hearing him speak last night was a truly moving and inspiring experience. As a young, bisexual Asian American social justice advocate, it gives me courage to see a leader such as Takei speak out against injustice. If you don’t know a lot about him, I highly recommend watching his quirky documentary To Be Takei. He discusses his experience as a child in the Japanese American internment camps during WWII, hiding his sexuality for years, even after gaining popularity and fame on Star Trek, and becoming a social media activist and humorist. He brought these experiences to the room yesterday and discussed his appreciation for the ACLU’s involvement at the legal intersection of each event. Takei proudly spoke about his lifelong membership with the ACLU, even when their actions have sometimes been difficult to reconcile. He mentioned his struggle to understand why the ACLU would defend a neo-Nazi group marching through Skokie, Illinois, the home to a cluster of Holocaust survivors, and finally recognizing that fighting for the free speech of all people doesn’t end when you disagree with the person exercising this right. Overall, hearing such an impactful voice for equal rights share his experiences and critical thoughts was an experience I won’t forget. It would be difficult to find a better social justice activist to receive the ACLU of Massachusetts’ 2015 Roger Baldwin Award.

IMG_1921In addition, there were several other inspiring speakers at the dinner and I want to mention a couple of them here. ACLU-MA Staff Attorney Carl Williams and his clients, Addis and Edward Summerhill, spoke about their involvement in the Black Lives Matter movement. The Summerhills were arrested at a protest in Boston in response to acts of police brutality against black people across the country. They refused to accept a deal or reduction in charges and were eventually found “not responsible”. They knew they had done nothing wrong and chose to stand up for what was right. It was incredible to hear about their experience. One other speaker I want to mention is 11-year-old Leetka Katzenblackstein, who worked with Sarah Wunsch, ACLU-MA Deputy Legal Director, to fight for her right to organize a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Westford, MA without paying a fee for police detail and won. She stood up on the podium and, without hesitation, exclaimed, “We need to wake up and talk about racism and the war on drugs”. And I could only cheer and agree with this insightful young person. It was a moving night and I am so thankful to have heard from so many fierce advocates for justice, locally and around the world.

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Analyzing the Senate Ways and Means Budget for FY2016

On Wednesday, Community Works member MassBudget released its analysis of the Senate Ways and Means Committee budget proposal for FY2016.

From the report:

The Senate Ways and Means (SWM) budget recommends modest increases to education programs above levels proposed by the Governor and the House. These increases support early education, K-12 education overall (although the SWM budget eliminates most of the Kindergarten Expansion Grant funding provided by the House), higher education, and workforce training. The Governor’s, House, and SWM proposals are similar in that they increase funding to fight substance abuse and increase local aid. To help pay for these initiatives, the budget provides new funding to the Department of Revenue that will strengthen its capacity to ensure that companies pursuing complex tax evasion strategies pay their fair share.

Like proposals by the Governor and the House, the SWM budget relies heavily on temporary strategies to balance the budget. All spend $300 million in capital gains tax revenue that would have gone into the Rainy Day Fund under current law. They also all count on $100 million from a tax amnesty and $116 million from putting off paying some of our FY 2016 MassHealth bills into FY 2017.

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The budget proposals by the Governor, the House, and the Senate are all shaped by fiscal challenges that date back to the late 1990s: after cutting the income tax by over $3 billion dollars between 1998 and 2002 we have experienced deep cuts in areas like higher education, local aid, and public health. Meanwhile, the highest income residents in the Commonwealth pay a substantially smaller share of their income in state and local taxes than do the other 99%. If the tax system were reformed so that the highest income 1% of taxpayers paid roughly the same share of their income in taxes as everyone else, that would raise about $2 billion that could be invested in our people, our communities and our economy.

To read more of this analysis, click here.

Congratulations, Kathe McKenna!

Haley House co-founder Kathe McKenna will be awarded the Albert Schweitzer Leadership Award from the Boston Chapter of the Schweitzer Fellowship Program today.

The award “recognizes the achievements of an individual who has worked to significantly mitigate the social determinants of health in Greater Boston or Central Massachusetts, and whose commitment to service has influenced and inspired others.”

From the press release:

McKenna cofounded Haley House with her husband John, and ran it for 43 before transitioning to a new role in 2013 as Director of Special Projects. Haley House started as a soup kitchen and food pantry and has grown to provide additional services, including affordable housing, urban agriculture, and opportunities for economic independence and education for underserved youth and those with limited employment opportunities.

“For the entirety of her professional life, Kathe McKenna has served others by providing hope, opportunity, and dignity to people struggling with homelessness or facing economic barriers, such as transitioning out of incarceration,” said Sylvia Stevens-Edouard, executive director of The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship. “Our award to Kathe comes during the 75th anniversary year of the founding of The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, whose mission focuses on improving the health of communities by preparing the next generation of health and human service professionals to serve and empower vulnerable people to live healthier lives. There is no question that Kathe’s life example is aligned with Dr. Schweitzer’s legacy of service to others.”

McKenna and her husband began working with people experiencing homeless in 1966 by inviting them to sleep in their basement apartment. The following year, they purchased property in the South End and turned it into a soup kitchen and homeless shelter. Over the years, the program expanded to include 100 units of affordable housing, and a bakery operated by men from the soup kitchen. In 2005, Haley House opened a café in Dudley Square where it now includes a transitional employment program for ex-offenders and functions as an important community gathering space. Additionally, Haley House has served as a community partner site for numerous projects implemented by Boston Schweitzer Fellows.