Local Poet and Teacher Struggles to Regain her Home

Opal Palmer Adisa

It’s a story you’ve probably heard before and maybe discounted. Or, you thought, it can’t happen to me.

Many of us Oakland progressives have spent most of our adult lives fighting for tenants’ rights so when things go so wrong for a landlord or, in this case, a homeowner who is a single parent, we have trouble believing it really happened this way.

Believe it. Opal Palmer Adisa, author, teacher, poet, radio parenting expert, has found herself outside her home looking in, wondering what has happened to all her family memorabilia, her writing notes, books, and art collections since she cannot enter her home to check on, much less retrieve them.

Her saga started when she took a visiting professor position at the University of the Virgin Islands, one of many visiting writing-professorships she has enjoyed all over the world.

She left home for a year because she could earn more money that way-money she needed to help put her children through college. The first thing she did was to contact the realtor that she had used on previous trips to find tenants for her 4 bedroom home in the Millsmont area of Oakland.

Ms. Adisa had realized that her house was “upside down” in value to mortgage, as many in her neighborhood were, but was determined to preserve the home she had raised her three children in for the last decade, for their future.

A few months after she left, she began to hear that the family she had rented to was falling behind in the rent ever more frequently. She asked her property manager to check with them and find out whether they would be able to keep up the payments for the remainder of the one year lease.

During that period she also began to seek a loan modification and, in a familiar story of the American Dream gone wrong, the bank responded by ignoring her requests and/or losing her paperwork  month after month. Finally, with the help of Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s office, she signed up for the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) and began that process.

But Chase Bank had bought her mortgage holder during this time and the paperwork was reshuffled yet again. During the mix-up Chase foreclosed and quickly “sold” her home before the folks at HAMP discovered the problem.

She found out because her property manager called her and told her the tenants were completely refusing to pay rent, saying that she no longer owned the house. Ms. Adisa contacted HAMP which notified Chase to rescind the sale and it did. But they told her she would have to start the modification process all over again. She was, however, subsequently able to obtain a modification.

Unfortunately, somewhere during that time everything else started to unravel. The manager who was supposed to be evicting the non-paying tenants moved away and abandoned her responsibilities while the tenants refused to pay anything. At this point, the lease was up and Adisa was on her way home to reclaim her house.

Opal Palmer Adisa has been back for months but she’s not home yet. The tenants have overstayed their lease while refusing to pay rent at all or to even let her visit the premises to check on her things.

She has sent certified letters which have been refused. In response, she has received threatening phone calls from the tenants and even been arrested sitting-in on her own doorstep.

Ms. Adisa is a small Jamaican-American woman with a gentle nature. If you ever heard her lilting voice on the former KPFA Morning Show, giving advice on positive parenting, you would know that she’s never been a threat to anyone, except maybe bad parenting practices.

She can no longer pay her mortgage, modified or not, if she is to pay her daughter’s tuition and keep body and soul together. At fifty-six, Opal Palmer Adisa is getting tired of this struggle.

She has been told that it could cost her up to $10,000 and six months to get her family home back and even then that she will not recover any of her hard-spent money; and that “if they trash my house, I will not recoup anything.”

She has been trying to finish a book of short stories she is supposed to be working on this summer but cannot concentrate and has “lost countless sleepless nights.” When asked how she keeps going, she told me that she still walks and meditates in order to keep her spirit in its usual optimistic bent.

In her typical fashion, she has written about this struggle. The first issue she addressed was her belief in tenants’ rights and her desire to not see them breached.

However, as a single Black woman who has worked hard to build a home for her family, a home she hoped to pass on to her children, she is feeling violated. She says that she has had her “sacred space snatched” from her and wants it back, even if only to lose it again. If she is going to lose her home, she says, she wants to be the one that moves out.

Opal Palmer Adisa would like to see this struggle end by bringing “fairness and equity to tenants and homeowners alike.” She has even engaged in fasting as a protest against the laws that protect bad tenants over a single homeowner.

You can read more at housejackedoaktown@gmail.com or go to opalpalmeradisa.com.


Oakland’s Frail Seniors At Risk Due to Brown’s Veto

Frail seniors enjoy lunch together

Back in the late 70’s when California was flush and the governor rode a moonbeam into town, legislation was created to establish pilot programs to provide day care for the frail elderly. By 1978, that fateful year when Proposition 13 was passed, Medi-Cal was approved to cover the cost for indigent seniors and disabled folk who wanted to stay in their homes despite their need for medical supervision, physical therapy, and other services.

It was called Adult Day Health Care and, according to Corrine Jan of the Family Bridges Center in downtown Oakland, “California was a pioneer in the field of senior independence for decades” and showed the way nationwide on how to reduce nursing home costs-saving pots of money and not a little pain in the communities where these services were delivered.

By 1983 it was given a “permanent” category within Medi-Cal and the funding increased under succeeding Republican governors. Over the decades it was shuttled around to various state agencies but was always considered an innovative way to keep people out of emergency rooms and nursing homes. In fact ADHC was offered to patients in nursing homes in hopes of transitioning them back to their communities.

However, the new Governor Brown administration of 2011 promptly vetoed the continuation of the Adult Day Health Care program even with funding cut in half (which halves the Medicaid match.)

The governor’s office declared that the remaining funds were meant to transition these clients out of ADHC into something else. Corrine Jan of Family Bridges in Oakland declared, “I’ve got news for him. There ain’t nothing else.”

The Legislature had expected the Governor to apply for a federal waiver to implement the new version called KAFI, which stands for Keeping Adults Free from Institutions, and receive the appropriate federal funds.

According to the California Association for Adult Day Services, the veto by the Governor prevents the state from applying for those funds and would make California-the former leader in the field -the only state in the nation without an ADHC program.

Ms. Jan of Family Bridges which serves the majority of Oakland seniors using ADHC services, describes the program as more than just senior centers where classes take place or a meal is provided, important as that is.

Seniors at Family Bridges celebrate the holidays.

“This is a multidisciplinary medical model which provides medical supervision, physical therapy, nutrition, and socialization.” They also provide transportation for their clients from Chinatown, East, and West Oakland and services in Korean, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Vietnamese as well as English.

Ms. Jan says her center’s services cost about $75 a day compared to the $250 a day a nursing home will cost the taxpayers. Since most of the patients seen in ADHCs suffer from hypertension, diabetes, and/or dementia, emergency room visits will soar when there is no one to monitor the patient’s condition.

Ms. Jan continues, “many times symptoms are missed if no one knows,”… the client like the providers at the ADHC, “like shortness of breath or a slight blurring of the vision….signs of stroke.” These conditions have more serious consequences once they escalate, resulting in long hospital stays-at best.

Dr. Marty Lynch of Lifelong Medical Care which has a center in the Foothill Square area of East Oakland, explains that the licensing requirements of ADHCs require each center to have a medical director, an occupational and speech therapist, transportation plus providers who can assist their clients with basic functions like going to the bathroom, plus taking up to 6 medications a day within individualized plans for members of this very disabled population. Most programs must fundraise to cover the costs that Medi-Cal does not cover.

Micheal Pope, who has been with Alzheimer’s Services of the East Bay, ASEB, for 16 years, said that eleven ADHC centers have already closed their doors in California. She also stated that statewide 80 to 90% of the seniors and disabled who use this program are Medi-Cal dependent whereas 100% of their Oakland Alzheimer patients are dependent on state aid.

As a result of this abdication of the state’s responsibility to these folks, the Disability Rights California legal team, along with the National Senior Citizens Law Center, the National Health Law Program, and the law firm of Morrison & Forester filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in June to prevent the their shutdown. They expect to hear whether they have won a reprieve by the end of July.

Both Lynch and Jan say that there are no “alternative services” as posted in the governor’s veto. There is nothing to transition to since in-home services have been cut, case management plans are full, and nursing homes prefer private patients plus a small percentage of Medicare clients-putting it back on the Feds.

In fact, Jan suggests, since most other states are in the financial hole, they have looked to California’s ADHC model as a useful innovation.

Dr. Lynch was also blunt on the law suit. He says that the language on “transitioning to alternatives” was just language to protect the state which has lost previous attempts to dump patient services in the courts.

Lynch quips, “the state just wanted to say, we’re going to be able to transition to other services,” and then “count the savings” when there weren’t any services out there.

If the injunction does not win in court, frail seniors and the disabled in Oakland and throughout California will have to contend with the possibilities-losing their independence, losing their remaining health, and even losing their lives.

Even with the injunction in place, there will be little to celebrate. Seniors, the disabled, and the folks who take care of them, will have to keep fighting just to maintain the reduced circumstances they now find themselves in.

To find out how you can help, go to the California Association for Adult Day Services,  www.caads.org.

Well-known Local Columnist Pens First Novel

Local writer, journalist, and chronicler of Oakland’s political scene and beyond, J. Douglas Allen Taylor, has written a novel set in South Carolina in the late 1930’s. Mr. Taylor known to most of us as Jesse is a native Oaklander whose family has deep roots in the Bay Area. I asked him why the book was set in South Carolina.

Jesse Taylor in Oakland

“Half of my adult life was spent in the South,” he replied. He began traveling South in the mid-1960’s and moved to South Carolina in 1969. He was a full time Freedom Worker and community organizer in the Movement, working for such organizations as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the American Friends Service Committee while writing for an African-American newspaper. During this period he heard the stories of African-Americans who had survived generations of oppression and upheaval in the South.

One day he asked an elderly man where he was from and the man pointed to a nearby lake, “over there,” he said. Mr. Taylor asked him what he meant, “was there an island in that lake once upon a time?” The man told him that his home, his neighbors, his town had once existed in the lake’s depths before the area had been flooded. It had taken place during the Works Progress Administration as a rural electrification program, the Santee-Cooper Power Project.

This happened in Berkeley County which had a majority African-American population until the late 1960’s. At least 6,000 people were evacuated including churches, homes, and graves. Still, many buildings were submerged; the communities changed forever. Berkeley County remains a special place-Mr.Taylor told me that it is the only county in the South he has ever visited that is without a confederate statue.

According to Mr. Taylor these close-knit but isolated communities have been dispersed, not just by projects like this but also as a result of the unintentional forces of modernization such as “air conditioning, bridges, and the cure for malaria”. The Oakland author developed this story out of a deep appreciation of the long history of southern Black America, its culture and values, and its continuing influence on African-Americans and all Americans reaching as far as Oakland. For him the history of these communities deserved to be recreated. As he said, these are “the stories you have to tell.”

He began by writing a short story about a funeral that takes place in a small town loosely based on the Santee-Cooper River basin-the Sugaree River in the novel-that later became Lake Moultrie. Everyone at a funeral in a small town knew the woman who died, or thought they knew her, but no one knew the man who turned up at her funeral or what part he played in her life. But the short story kept growing, the characters kept developing, and they “wanted” their stories told.

When people ask him what the book is about, he tells them it’s a female coming-of-age story. When asked why he wrote it from a woman’s point-of-view, he replies, “Because I raised four daughters.”

Since this is a book preview rather than a more traditional review, it is only possible to get a taste, but a tantalizing one of the story by going to the website www.SugareeRising.com for video “readings” of the novel which is subtitled, “A Book of Dark Spirits” and “A Story of the Black South”.

I asked the author about the spirituality which infuses the work (from the readings), seemingly very different from his political writing, though there is more than a hint of poetry in his descriptions of life in East Oakland. He told me that the ancient African religions which fused with Christianity early on and then deepened in the slave experience are always an important part of every story of the Black American experience.

If you look up the terms Vodoun, Voodou, or Voodoo, which are often denigrated and trivialized by European culture, including White America, you find they are “traceable to an African word for ‘spirit’” according to the site www.Hermetics.org.  It refers to “the manifestation of the spirit world through the channel of a human being,” possibly Yoruba in origin.

These African traditions in which the natural world is the nexus to the spirit world in everyday life is practiced openly throughout Latin America as Santeria in Cuba, Candomble in Brazil, Shango in Trinidad, and Vodou in Haiti.  Mr. Taylor asserts that it is at work in the Black Churches of America but is less visible than it is in Latin America; however, he states, “it is pervasive in Oakland.”

As Mr. Taylor pointed out to me, any religion can be snickered at when separated from its traditions and cultural context. Drinking the blood of god or coloring eggs might seem ridiculous if described to an alien from outer space. What may be called superstition in one religious context is called faith in another.

The significance of this theme was explicated in Mr. Taylor’s analysis of the movie, “Ray”, and its importance to Black audiences which can be found in his article, “Race and ‘Ray’” (Alternet.org, “Race and Ray”, 2/025/05).

“There is something clearly both old African and non-Christian in the bottle tree images in the movie, even for those who don’t know the details of its symbolism.” Expanding on the film’s honest representations of Black spirituality, he writes, “But an unstated theme of the movie is bridging the often-overlooked split between African-American Christian spiritualism and the older African spiritualism many thought was permanently discarded in the holds of the slave ships in the Middle Passage.”

It was Mr. Taylor’s desire to faithfully recreate the spirit of these vanquished communities that even in Diaspora carry their traditions and values with them that has led him to spend years expanding these stories into this first novel. When asked if the story could grow into a series, he answers enigmatically, “It’s possible.”

If you’re wondering when you will get to see the full novel in print, there is no set publication date as yet; but negotiations are in the works with a publisher and the final editing is taking place.

This is good news to Oaklanders who have grown accustomed to following Mr. Taylor’s columns and reporting over the years-first for The Metro, then Urbanview, The Daily Planet, the East Bay Express, Alternet.org, in other on-line and print journals, and, last but not least, the “Anybody but Perata” website from the recent mayoral election where he also honed his video skills.

Since the election last fall he has dedicated himself almost exclusively to finishing this novel and getting it published. A book about the South by one of Oakland’s homegrown talents is being awaited, not anxiously but with great anticipation. In the meantime, please visit Sugaree Rising at www.sugareerising.com for a preview.