Cheryl Brown: Publisher-turned-lawmaker at home in the Capitol

As a newspaper publisher, Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown is not shy about her advocacy for journalists.


Brown, D-San Bernardino, has been on both sides of the political world, first as a journalist and now as a participant. Elected last year in an upset victory, Brown said the press – whose coverage of Sacramento has been reduced sharply in recent years – plays a “necessary and very important” role and serves as a “check and a balance [system] for everyone.”


“If I do something wrong, they should put me in check,” she said in an interview in her Capitol office.


The daughter of a newspaperman, Brown and her husband, Hardy, in 1980 bought a small UC Riverside publication, The Black Voice News, where she served as its editor-in-chief, and began the Brown Publishing Company.


The reputation and credibility of The Black Voice News grew significantly when, in 1998, it diligently covered the shooting and killing of an African American teenager, Tyisha Miller. As a community newspaper, it took risks by reporting things that the police did not — an example of how, as Brown explains, journalists carry out their duty of checking people and society.


The Browns have been honored in the historic Black Press of America along with figures like Frederick Douglas and Ida B. Wells-Barnett; Brown and her husband are the only living members included in the 175th anniversary of the Black Press of America.


Today Brown has no involvement in Brown Publishing Co. or The Black Voice News. Although her husband continues to write for The Black Voice News, her daughter, Paulette Brown-Hinds, runs the publication.


Last year, Brown took the plunge into elective politics after establishing a reputation for deep involvement for 30 years in the San Bernardino community. Labeling herself as a “community activist,” Brown has done it all – from picking up trash on the streets, serving 17 years with the county and city planning commissions and as a trustee of the San Bernardino African Methodist Episcopal Church.


The years of community involvement paid off when she defeated Joe Baca Jr., who had served in the Assembly from 2004-06. He is the son of Joe Baca, a former member of the Assembly and a member of Congress. The Baca name is well known in the Inland Empire and Brown’s victory captured widespread attention.


Brown lost the primary to Baca Jr., but came back to win in the general election, one of the cases in California’s “top two” system that pitted two Democrats against each other.  As the assemblywoman says, “The Brown name is a very good name in the Inland Empire.”


Born in Massachusetts, Brown and her family moved to Pittsburgh, where her father worked for the Pittsburgh Courier, once the most widely circulated newspaper for African Americans. Around 1957, when she was about 15 years old, her family came to California, first settling in Los Angeles and then moving to San Bernardino, where she chose to stay.


She attended San Bernardino Valley College and earned her bachelor’s degree in geography from California State University, San Bernardino. When asked why she chose to stay so close to home she explains that it was probably because the moving that she did when she was growing up; once her family settled in San Bernardino she decided that that’s where she was going to settle down, too.


Brown has been married to her husband, Hardy, for 50 years; a fact she is blissfully proud of. They have three daughters and a son.


One of her passions is educating and enlightening those who are unaware of black history.


She is deeply involved with Footsteps to Freedom, an informational tour of the Underground Railroad, to help teachers to gain more knowledge about the plight of the slaves and African American history in general, so that they can take all they’ve learned back to their classrooms.


Brown has “always been involved” in politics, in some way. Having grown up during the civil rights era her family actively participated in the movement. She and her husband also participated in Gov. Jerry Brown’s gubernatorial campaigns.


And then, she became the Assembly member for the 47th District, which includes San Bernardino, Rialto, Fontana, Colton, Grand Terrace, Bloomington, and Muscoy. The Assembly committees that Brown currently serves on are: the Committee on Rules, Housing and Community Development, Veterans Affairs, Aging and Long-Term Care, and the Committee on Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism, and Internet Media.


So far in this Assembly session, Brown has only lost one of her proposed bills. And, she currently has a bill on the governor’s desk, waiting for his signature, as well as a few bills in the Senate.


Assemblyman Jose Medina’s (D-Riverside) bill that will provide the University of Riverside Medical School with millions of dollars of funding per year to better its facilities and keep doctors in the area, is a bill of which Brown is especially proud and supportive.


To combat one of the current challenges facing her district, Brown introduced a bill requires that, by 2015, the California Workforce Investment Board set guidelines to aid WIB with training programs for entrepreneurs. The bill’s goal is to help the growth and success of small businesses, which will create an increase in jobs not only in the 47th District, but the entire state.

“My passion comes from trying to help my district,” she said.

Ed’s Note: Amanda Ramirez is a Capitol Weekly intern from the University of California Sacramento Center’s public affairs journalism program.


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