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Firefighter Dies From Work-Related Illness

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Houston, TX — The family of Margaret Roberts, a Black firefighter with the Houston Fire Department who died battling cancer directly caused by her work as confirmed by the fire department chief, has been  fighting to have her pension benefits. Their case is more than a year old, but the city of Houston refuses to compensate them claiming that her illness was caused by her being Black.

For more than 21 years, Margaret was in service as a firefighter for the Houston Fire Department, until she began to suffer from multiple myeloma.

“I had to sit there for almost five years and watch her die daily,” Margaret’s husband, Daniel Roberts, said.

Since her death in January 2017, her family has been dealing with her loss and with the fight for the benefits she has earned but hasn’t been granted.

Houston Fire Department Chief Sam Pena wrote in a letter to the state pension three months after Roberts’ death confirming that it “was a result of an illness sustained in the line of duty.” After that, he also wrote a letter to 100 Club saying that it was “Declared a Line of Duty Death.”

The confirmations made by the fire department chief himself should have entitled Roberts’ family to benefits paid by groups besides the city of Houston. However, the benefits from city funds are ultimately being brought to court.

“The city saw the opportunity to re-dispute the claim starting all over again, said Roberts attorney Mike Sprain.

The city has already lost the case for Roberts’ health benefits when she was alive but they’re trying to fight again on a similar issue now that she’s dead, claiming that her multiple myeloma was not caused by her work as a firefighter, but instead of her weight, family history, and race.

Meanwhile, Robert’s occupational doctor declared in 2013, “In my professional opinion, Margaret Roberts’ multiple myeloma is work-related.”

The International Firefighters Union, as well as four states in the US, specifically recognize the connection of firefighting to multiple myeloma. There are also studies that confirmed an “increased” or “significantly elevated” risk for firefighters getting multiple myeloma.

Yet Texas ignores all these and instead decides to follow the recommendation from United Nations that doesn’t categorically link cancer to firefighting.

“I guess they don’t want to pay the benefits that me and my kids have coming,” Daniel Roberts said.

The city didn’t make any comment about the lawsuit.

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Black Worship VIII Show Recording

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Air Conditioning on the Way for Vulnerable Residents

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A needed step was taken today to improve the dignity and quality of life of some of San Antonio’s most vulnerable residents.

The City Council’s Comprehensive Plan Committee recently approved a funding recommendation to install air conditioning in over 2,500 public housing units on San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) properties that don’t have them.

“Some of these SAHA housing units were built in the 1930s,” said District 5 City Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, chair of the Comprehensive Plan Committee. “Two thousand, five hundred families in our city including children and the elderly have lived through scorching summers without air conditioning for generations because their housing is old – that needs to change.”

The recommendation, which is pending the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s regulatory approval and will be sent to the full City Council for final approval, is to allocate $500,000 in CDBG funds that will be leveraged with private and non-profit funding to purchase and install air conditioning units at 22 SAHA facilities. The City’s CDBG funds will be matched by SAHA in the same amount of $500,000.

SAHA will work on a short deadline in order to install the air conditioners before the summer. If approved by Council, purchasing will begin in March and April with installation finished by the summer months.

According to San Antonio Housing Authority CEO David Nisivoccia, one-third of the residents of the public housing units that need air conditioning are elderly and disabled. Those units will be prioritized, followed by families with children.

State Representative Diego Bernal attended the Committee meeting to thank the members for their approval and commented that all concerned were racing against the summer to get the project going.

“This will help the most vulnerable in our City,” Councilwoman Gonzales said. “Public housing should not reflect a community’s poverty.”

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Sharing Stories of Racial Discrimination

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San Antonio residents of color are invited to share personal stories of racial discrimination for the third annual HBCU Oral History Project, hosted at St. Philip’s College Feb. 15-17, from 9 AM to 5 PM in the Sutton Learning Center, 1801 Martin Luther King Dr.

The HBCU Truth & Reconciliation Oral History Project is an endeavor that uses the power of spoken and documented words to heal and create spiritual and social change. These stories and, the related research, will be used to inform policy changes within the political environment and spiritual changes from a grassroots and common person’s perspective.

Under the direction of Rev. Steve Miller, the Project’s founder, digitized oral history accounts will be gathered by the HBCU academy which includes; Huston-Tillotson University, Jarvis Christian College and Southwestern Christian College. Participating partner universities include, Austin Presbyterian, Baylor University and TCU.

Miller’s work has resulted in federal civil rights investigations by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and the United States Department of Justice’s Community Services Division, primarily, within the Texas educational system. His work has brought increased equity to hiring processes, enlarged job opportunities, and fostered greater understanding of institutional partiality through education.

Miller has coordinated and won legal actions at the federal court level and has been the stimulus of rewrites of discipline policies, whose ends resulted in fewer minorities being exposed to and caught in the educational system’s disciplinary apparatus, which correlates highly with elevated juvenile justice and mass incarceration rates.

For more information, contact St. Philip’s Director of Student Success Dr. Angela McPherson Williams at (210) 486-2090, awilliams284@alamo.edu or Project Founder and Director Rev. Steve Miller at (713) 557-6520 – (512) 404-4800, stevemiller@usclo.com

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