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By Briana Gomez

May 9, 2021 (El Cajon) - The East County People’s Forum launched by the East County Justice Coalition took place over Zoom on May 4, 2020. The Coalition launched a call for transparent & inclusive city planning in El Cajon.

The meeting had heated discussions in two segments, COVID-19 equity/vaccine availability in minority communities and  proposed re-districting in East County.

Darwin Fishman, a cofounder of the Racial Justice Coalition (RJCSD), launched the meeting.

Buki Domingos, founder of RJCSD  was also a host. Domingos is also a member of the San Diego Black Nurses Association of San Diego which was instrumental in the boots-on-the-ground campaign of getting access to vaccines in the Black communities. 

Other organizational representatives included Dilkhwaz Ahmed from License to Freedom, Doris Bittar, of the San Diego Chapter of the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), Yusef Miller of the Racial Justice Coalition and the MultiCultural Health Foundation, Joyce Moore of the Multicultural Health Foundation, Amal Jubran of the ADC and House of Palestine, Wedad Schlotte, AD78 Democratic Delegate, American Arab Anti Discrimination Committee, and ACLU board member; Christina Aushana, an Iraqi Assyrian-Colombian scholar researching racialized police violence in East County San Diego, Andy Trimlett from La Mesa Activists for Good Governance, Kenya Taylor, a local political candidate and psychologist, and Jeanine Erikat of the Partnership (PANA) the ADC and the Majdal Center. 

Several viewers were in attendance as observers. 

Mejgan Afshan started the meeting off with a Ramadan prayer. 

“There is so much patriarchy that is really threatening our people of all colors,” said Afshan. “how do we want our community to look like? How do we want our community to feel like?”

Translations for the meeting were available in Arabic, Dhari and Spanish.

Community leader Estela De Los Rios (photo, left) was in attendance and opened the floor following the prayer.

The East County Justice Coalition was founded in 2015, said De Los Rios, and many of the founders were in attendance. 

“Our goal is to raise consciousness on issues that include civic engagement, healthcare and social justice,” De Los Rios said, adding that it is the coalition’s first forum. 

The Health Equity and Access to COVID-19 Resources

Buki Domingos took over the narrative and introduced Yusef Miller (photo, below right) who is also part of the Multicultural Health Foundation.

Miller is a known Black, Muslim community activist and spoke on equity in the healthcare system.

“In San Diego the COVID-19 vaccination of adults… we have three million people who received at least one…our goal is 75 percent vaccination if we want to get back to normal, said Miller.

Miller began citing the inequitable distributions of vaccines, which have large disparities in data by race.

More data on vaccine distribution by race can be found here with an interactive table that allows the user to change demographics and view their total number of cases compared to population and vaccine rate by state. 

Joyce Moore, a Community Health Worker from the Multicultural Health Foundation, then spoke about the COVID-19 outreach initiative and the barriers in distribution.

Moore said that more sites are needed in East County.

“People do not like traveling far and I’m going to staple that by saying seniors,” said Moore who may have been overlooked in this situation with lack of technology or lack of transportation. 

Moore said they've been working with churches to increase community trust and get vaccines distributed.

La Mesa Councilmember Jack Shu (photo, right) said that it’s necessary for the community to address this issue.

“We don’t have to change the whole healthcare system to deal with the inequity,” said Shu.

Shu commended elected officials in South County (San Diego) for closing gaps between getting vaccines to the Latinx population in comparison to the white population. 

Shu wants the La Mesa City Council to have a goal of closing gaps in vaccinated populations by Juneteenth.

“If freedom is good for one person it’s good for everyone,” said Shu. 

Shu noted that Helix High School already agreed to send county informational material with students on vaccine safety and availability.

Shu also suggested putting fliers at barbershops and beauty salons to access other members of the community.

Miller welcomes the idea of vaccination pop-up sites and places of worship, community centers, and public locations for unsheltered/homeless populations. 

Dilkhwaz Ahmad (photo, left), of License to Freedom, said “one of the issues with the count is that we’re still considered as white…there is no statistic on how many [Middle Eastern] people in East County got the vaccine.”

License to Freedom provided transportation and interpreters to assist their clients with appointments

Drawing new district lines in East County

Naomi Miller kicked off the second portion of the meeting on upcoming redistricting. She focused on the history of East County, which entails El Cajon, La Mesa, Santee, Spring Valley, Lakeside, Lemon Grove, Alpine, Julian, Jamul, and other rural areas. 

“There is stolen land we are on Kumeyaay land and I think it’s important that we acknowledge it as we go into our spaces,” said Miller. 

Naomi Miller said that East County has grown along with the population of San Diego, but that people of color have gotten pushed aside.

“We do have these very deep, racist, non-equitable roots in East County,” she told viewers.  

The next speaker was Danielle Wilkerson, a mixed Black woman from East County and one of the founders of East County BIPOC. 

Wilkerson read the mission for East County BIPOC, which acts as a monitor for city and county decisions that affect East County. 

The group tries to stay on top of city council meetings with agendas that are vague, sketchy, or may negatively impact people of color in the community.

“We are citizens of East County and our values should be reflected in the cities’ decisions and budgets,” said Wilkerson. 

The following testimony was from Kenya Taylor (photo, left), a 2020 candidate for District 2 Board of County Supervisors. Taylor is also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.

“We need everybody’s voice at the table to make a difference,” said Taylor, who hails from Rancho San Diego.

Taylor said because she lives in an unincorporated section, she has no mayor or city council when grievances arise.

“We need to make sure we’re not the next Paradise, CA or Flint, MI with bad water,” Taylor said.

Jeanine Erikat read the testimony of Lahib Al-Obeidy, an immigrant from Iraq.

“The census does not provide Middle Easterns or North Africans a way to truly be counted,” Al-Obeidy wrote. 

Erikat closed the session by recapping that PANA has been pushing for transparency from the City of El Cajon during the redistricting planning process. 

“We will be engaging the public once we get the data from the state of California which we anticipate in mid-August to early September,” said El Cajon Councilman Steve Goble.

“I don’t anticipate drawing new lines completely. In District 2, Latinos make 36 percent, and that’s the majority race in District 2,” Goble added. “Fifty-four percent of the people in District 4 are either Latino or Middle Eastern…It would be disastrous to go back on that,” he concluded.

National Demographic Services is the leading contender for the contract. 

Wedad Schlotte brought up concerns over recently arrived Syrian refugees.

 “They lack financial resources, they usually live under the poverty level,” Schlotte noted.

She also mentioned that the Arab American community has been dissatisfied during previous decisions on drawing borders. 

“Raise awareness that maps are going to be redrawn to truly represent the community,” said Schlotte. 

Doris Bittar, President of the San Diego ADC, spoke during the community forum.

“El Cajon is split in half in terms of its Congressional seats, so people often fall through the cracks,” said Bittar, “Why should people fall through the cracks?”

Diego Lynch a community member asked a question for Steve Goble asking if the new data from the 2020 census has been made fully available online.

George Ibarra with the East County Justice Coalition said he has a problem that we have to wait until August to obtain information and that this is the same problem that occurred in 2017.

“The demographer that was used did not do the job, I would like to see a demographer that was neutral instead of partial to the city,” said Ibarra who mentioned gerrymandering the districts. 

Gerrymandering occurs when the border of a constituent electoral district favors one party or class. 

Kenya Taylor encouraged everyone to get involved in civic engagement, to attend meetings and to stay until the end because that’s when the policy changes happen. 

Yusef Miller wrapped up the meeting with a final prayer blessing.


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