Lead Story West Edition

Harris addresses truancy, sex trafficking at Holman service

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — California Attorney General Kamala Harris — the state’s so-called “top cop” — stood in the pulpit at Holman United Methodist Church March 13 quoting scriptures like a veteran preacher at the church’s Women’s History Month celebration.

Her message to the congregation on the subject of “Growing in Blessedness” urged members to “remain hungry and thirsty in our fight for righteousness and to protect the meek … as we face the challenges that God and the scriptures give to us.”

But Harris soon connected her talk to mundane struggles involving education and economics, and the crisis in elementary school truancy, high school dropouts, homicide victims and the prison population.

Harris said that past truancy studies and analyses she commissioned show, “California public schools have a lot of chronically truant individuals and particularly, 40 percent of them are elementary school students who miss up to 50, 60, up to 80 days of the … school year. In elementary schools, a truant is four times more likely to be a high school dropout.”

“Ninety-four percent of the homicide victims age 25 years and under were high school dropouts and 82 percent of prisoners in the United States are high school dropouts,” she added.

Harris’ 2015 update of the truancy study “In School + On Track” concludes, “when students are chronically absent from elementary school, they fall behind academically, are less likely to graduate from high school, and are more likely to be unemployed, on public assistance, or victims or perpetrators of crime.”

“We as California taxpayers every year pay $46 billion because of the burden high school dropouts place on our public safety, public health, and social services. … Those are expensive high school dropouts,” Harris said.

“I think as a society we are a little upside down on children issues … so I walk around this state and country and say: ‘you don’t have to care about children to care about children. If you care about why you have three padlocks on your front door or why you’re paying those taxes every year, you need to care about children,’” she added.

Harris, who is serving her first term as attorney general, did not mention her bid to replace U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer who is retiring at the end of the year, but remarked on her experiences as a woman and person of color running for political office.

“When I decided to run for attorney general with the support of this congregation, people said there has never been any one like you that’s been attorney general, there’s never been a woman, there’s never been a person of color. … You’re running for the ‘top cop’ in the biggest state … people are not ready for that.’ But I did not listen, and with a lot of work and a lot of prayer, we were successful.”

If Harris, 51, wins the Senate seat, she will be the second African American woman senator in U.S. history and the first Indian American woman to do the same. Her father is Jamaican-American and her mother is Indian. Harris announced her candidacy for Senate in January 2015.

Harris ended her talk calling for action on behalf of victims of sex trafficking in the United States.

“Seventy-two percent of whom are born right here in the U.S. More than 50 percent of those trafficked for sex in L.A. come from the foster care system.

“We have to continue to do what we do — to have thirst and hunger for righteousness. It is important that we always remember the fight for the meek, for justice, and for civil rights must be fought and won with each generation,” Harris added, paraphrasing the late Coretta Scott King, civil rights leader and widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Harris was joined at Holman United March 13 by U.S. Rep. Karen Bass and former Rep. Diane Watson at a celebration hosted by Holman’s Rev. Judi Wortham-Sauls, minister Marguerite Phillips, and Holman United Methodist Women President Sharon Jackson and members of the congregation.

Dr. Elaine Batchlor
Dr. Elaine Batchlor

At Holman’s morning services, Dr. Elaine Batchlor, chief executive officer of Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in Willowbrook, told the audience that “racial and ethnic disparities undermine our community and our abilities to offer care.”

Batchlor said “African Americans are more likely to suffer from many health conditions and to get sicker and have serious complications and even die. African Americans, [for example], are 30 percent more likely to die of heart disease, 40 percent more likely to die of stroke and 60 percent more likely to be diabetic.

“Here is what we know about why our community is suffering,” she added: “African Americans lack access to quality comprehensive affordable health care; have limited access to healthy fresh foods and safe places to exercise; have poor health habits — such as smoking, drinking and substance abuse — economic hardship, and stress; and even discrimination.”

Batchlor said social and physical environments, access to health care, behavior, and genes contribute to a healthy individual and community.

“We are stuck with our genes — at least for now — but we can do many things to change the determinations…”

“Martin Luther King Community Hospital is here to help with access to health care and as a private nonprofit safety net hospital,” she added. “Each one of us can grow our own blessedness, which we must do first using our own immediate gifts. Individuals can help cook healthy food at home, for example, bring some to a neighbor, and invite a friend to accompany you on a daily walk.”