Wired In: Untangling Digital Literacy, Advocacy and Lady Gaga


Wired In is a series of daily reflections from Richmond Pulse reporter Edgardo Cervano-Soto on his participation in Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation launch at Harvard University and The California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities campaign.

February, 27, 2012-Day 1: Downtown Los Angeles

When I first learned I would be attending the launch of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation at Harvard University, I will admit, I was way more excited of walking through the archways of the country’s oldest university and testing my endurance against the bitter coldness of the East Coast’s winter. I have always wanted to know if I have what it takes to survive the East Coast, and part of that requires being victorious over the frostbite and avalanche of snow. But then when learned that Oprah was going to be attending, my head went into a frenzy. I overturned my storage boxes and searched for my “The Color Purple” playbill; positive that it was in there, and yet I couldn’t find it. I scavenged my drawers, closet, bookshelf, everywhere for that playbill. Finally, it was my dad who shook me out of my Oprah/Celebrity Craze and put things into a correct perspective, simply by asking: why are you going?

I told him, “Lady Gaga is starting a foundation that wants to discourage youth bullying. And the plan is to use Facebook and Twitter to promote her foundation.”

– “ Y porque el Feisbook?”

– “Because that’s what we use now.”

– “And what will you be doing?”

– “Reporting the event, and learning how to use social media sites like Facebook.”

– “But I thought you knew how to use that already.”

– “I do”

– “So what will you be learning then?”

I didn’t give it much thought what I would learn. I mean I actually didn’t really know what to expect, except that I would be in the middle of possibly the largest media and philanthropy event of the year. I had no idea over how this experience could link to improving my own personal and professional work. For some time, I have been using tumblr and twitter as a way to share my poems and creative writing on queer Latino identity, but I haven’t generated much of a following. Plus, as a journalist, I often doubted whether my articles for the Richmond Pulse were even being seen and read. I advertise the links on Facebook and send them to friends, but I am not sure if the articles go beyond the established network of contacts. With these questions in my head, I began to think that I had more to learn about social media, and digital literacy than I what I had thought previously.

Today, the presentation by Blue State Digital, an online organizing firm, confirmed my suspicions. I had much to learn. My involvement in the Born This Way Foundation launch and the California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities is not only so I could cover the launch and interview youth delegates, but also use the information of digital storytelling and social media to improve my journalism. I am here to learn outreach strategies and practice them, so I can then try implementing them with my own organization. Now, I am thinking, how can I use all channels of social media to grow the Richmond Pulse reader membership and its presence in the community as a dependable news source? How can I increase the readership and following of my own blog?

We fly out to Boston early in the morning. All the youth delegates and reporters have been told to expect the freezing cold, and to wear hats and gloves. I am a little afraid of facing that cold, but inside I have the feeling of small currents of ideas wiring in my brain. Nice warm, sparkling ideas.

-Edgardo Cervano-Soto, Richmond Pulse

Suspensions at Richmond High Plummet

News Report, Donny Lumpkins and Malcolm Marshall, Posted: Feb 28, 2012

By this time last year Richmond High had recorded close to 500 suspensions. This year the school, which caters to one of the poorest and most underserved student populations in the Bay Area, has halved that number through an approach inspired by the Restorative Justice movement.

“We have to stop the ‘school to prison pipeline’,” says Millie Burns from Catholic Charities East Bay, a non-profit organization working closely with Richmond High’s staff to implement the Restorative School Discipline Project in conjunction with The California Endowment’s Healthy Richmond initiative.

“And we know a lot [of that work] has to center around the schools,” Burns adds.

Staff and students alike at Richmond High attribute the school’s success – suspensions have fallen from 486 in January of 2011 to 290 this year – to its adoption of Restorative Justice practices that were initially focused on the criminal justice system. Such practices emphasize reconciliation and, when applied to a school setting, give students the opportunity for redemption in place of expulsion.

Recent headlines have focused on the topic of school discipline, revealing that across the nation, the number of students suspended and/or expelled each year has increased steadily since the 1970’s.

In California, the use of “zero tolerance” policies – which emphasize disciplinary measures such as suspending or expelling troublesome students – became even more widespread in the 1990’s as districts responded to a growing public fear of violence, weapons and drug use on high school and middle school campuses.

According to the Department of Education, California schools issued 778,084 suspensions and expulsions in the 2009-10 school year alone, the last year for which data is available on the state education website. That comes out to over 11 percent of all enrolled students in the state.

“We know that dropping out and school failure [are] the precursors for a life-long involvement in violence and poverty,” explains Burns. “We now have evidence that introducing the philosophy, approach and practices that are now known as ‘restorative’ gives people different ways to respond in all aspects of their relationships with kids.”

Burns says the old way of doing things at Richmond High clearly weren’t working, adding that the new system she’s helped to put in place fundamentally changes the way teachers and administrators respond to student conflict and wrongdoing.

The restorative approach, says Burns, is all about personal relationship building with the kids and providing them with support to overcome challenges.

“When conflicts happen, we are all harmed. We want to focus on the cause, have logical consequences, and hold ourselves as a community — wrong doers and victims — accountable.”

Sophomore Eugene MacDonald admits he’s never gotten on well with his teachers. On one occasion last year he got into it with an English teacher for something she said.

“I just blew up right in her face,” he says. “She tried to throw me out after that and I started cussing, throwing paper and going bad.”

A week later MacDonald was brought in to see Buzz Sherwood, and was invited to participate in a restorative justice discussion circle. “We did the circle and all my teachers were there and I got along with them. I found out more about them as we were in the circle. I actually did good last year.”

Sherwood, who retired from teaching in 2007, now coordinates the Restorative Discipline Project at Richmond High.

“I’m not in charge. I’m merely the elder that facilitates the process,” says Sherwood.

“One of our first big cases was a girl fight that was [played out] on Youtube. It was one of those [conflicts] that dated back to the 8th grade…”

“They never fought again,” Sherwood notes, adding the aim of the program is to fundamentally reshape the way the students see themselves and their peers.

“There’s the drama, the hating on people, all the stuff that goes on… we’re trying to change the way people think about their relationships with each other, how they listen to each other, how teachers interact with students and how students interact with teachers.”

Before the new policy, Sherwood says the school spent an inordinate amount of time dealing with petty fights. Now, he says, staff work on training the general student population, offering one-day sessions for students and faculty members.

“What everyone likes about the circle is that everyone gets to be heard, everybody gets to tell their understanding of what happened,” explains Sherwood. “In the circle we come to a solution that is acceptable for everyone. And that is unique for a lot of young people.”

17-year-old Nathaniel House plays on the school football team. He’s a running back on offense and a cornerback on defense, and hopes to make it to the NFL one day. After an altercation with another student he was brought to Sherwood’s office.

“He had us sit down and talk about it,” says House, explaining that were it not for the intervention, he and the other student “probably would have fought and been suspended, came back and been more heated.”

The process, says House, made him more conscious of the repercussions of his actions. “That’s pretty much what the circle is, it gives you the mindset to think about what you do before you do it.”

Such reactions are proof of what Sherwood says is a “hunger” among the students for a better way. “In their youth they don’t really know what that might be… [this new approach] opens the possibility for a new way of being and they really embrace it.”

Making Waves of Peace In Richmond’s Neighborhoods

News Report, Robert Rogers | Richmond Confidential

George Mitchell stood in front of the mic, glanced at his notes, and let fly.

It’s not always easy for Richmond’s young people like Mitchell to express their feelings and their fears, especially to their peers. But Mitchell was bold, thanks in part to the supportive audience, and his poem took a frank approach to the territorial violence that has suffused his life in Richmond.

“I have a dream that one day I can ride the bus to north Richmond and not worry about who may see me,” Mitchell recited. “Don’t worry about being too far away from home, don’t panic when the bus stops for too long.”

Mitchell wasn’t alone. Other young people from all reaches of the city listened also explored the issues in rhythmic verse, and no one took exception. The gathering was in central Richmond, but the territorial realities were suspended. The teens here were from north, central and south, but those facts went unsaid.

More than 30 young people and local leaders, including Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, gathered at the Nevin Park Community Center Saturday for a youth-led meeting billed as a Town Hall on Violence in Richmond. The event was intended to spark larger and subsequent discussions and strategies for violence reduction at locations in south and North Richmond later this year.

The event was organized by Making Waves/RAW Talent, a creative arts program serving students in urban areas of Oakland, San Francisco and Richmond, along with help from Youth Speaks, Bay Area Peace Keepers, RichmondPulse.org, Street Soldiers and East Bay Center for Performing Arts.

The three-hour meeting provided a safe environment where young people expressed through art, poetry and group discussions how they have been affected by street violence. They also kicked around ideas about how to reduce violence, with the discussions facilitated by experienced community youth advocates from Bay Area Peacekeepers and Street Soldiers.

A key theme was increasing communication. On Saturday many young people described a reality in which invisible barriers preclude them from even visiting family or childhood friends in rival neighborhoods, much less engaging in any positive discussions with people in those neighborhoods.

“If we can find core groups of youth in each part of the city, at the very end we can bring all of them together to talk across borders, across turf divisions, about how they want to take back their city,” said Molly Raynor, a program coordinator for Making Waves and the main organizer of Saturday’s event. “It’s about more positive outcomes and less violence.”

Art and photo collages loomed large, arrayed around the meeting area. Many faces familiar to area students, like Ervin Coley III and Marquis Hamilton, both of whom were killed in unsolved shootings last year, were featured prominently along with many others in memorial placards. Hamilton and Coley were both killed in drive-by shootings in their North Richmond neighborhood. Neither was a suspected gang member, but both killings are suspected by police to have been in blind retaliation for earlier violence in central Richmond.

The deaths of Hamilton and Coley, as well as countless more, referred to as friends, cousins, uncles and brothers, loomed heavy over the peace talks.

In a poem packed with poignant lines, one of Mitchell’s last lines lingered over the audience.

“A dream that I can laugh with a brother from North [Richmond] and not be judged for it,” Mitchell said. “To not worry about dying for a street sign, land that none of us own.”

Reclaiming Richmond Part 1

Video, Sean Shavers, Malcolm Marshall

In the first of a series of stories, Richmond Pulse reporter Sean Shavers explores the history and impact of turf violence in Richmond, CA.

Featuring Joe McCoy, Khalid Elahi, Donta Clark, D’Vondre Woodards, Andres Soto and more.

Grupos Comunitarios Llenado Vacío en los Servicios LGBTQ en Richmond, San Pablo

Reportaje, Edgardo Cervano-Soto

Lilia Quiñones, residente de San Pablo desde 1984, se sienta en un sillón de felpa, escuchando las presentaciones de las personas a su alrededor mientras ella mueve su bastón en la palma de su mano. Cuando es su turno para hablar, Lilia se presenta como la abuela de una sobrina lesbiana que quiere aprender más sobre cómo apoyar a su sobrina y otros jóvenes LGBTQ.

El encuentro fue organizado por Somos Familia, un grupo de padres voluntarios que dirigen talleres y grupos de apoyo para las familias latinas del Este de la Bahía con hijos LGBTQ. Somos Familia comenzó en 2007, después que dos madres decidieron platicar con otras familias con hijos LGBTQ. Morada de Mujeres del Milenio, una organización de servicios de apoyo familiar con sede en el centro de la Iglesia de la Comunidad MacArthur en San Pablo, invito a la organización a dar una presentación.

Dentro de la habitación, alrededor de 15 personas – más de la mitad identificándose como madres y abuelas – miran extractos del documental de Somos Familia, Tres Gotas de Agua. Mirna Medina, miembra fundadora y facilitadora de la discusión, aparece en el video. Medina comparte su experiencia de la aceptación y la comprensión de la orientación bisexual de su hijo dentro de una cultura que es intolerante hacia la homosexualidad.

“Esta fue la primera vez que conozco de un grupo de apoyo para los padres latinos con hijos gays y lesbianas”, dice Lilia durante la reflexión en grupo.

La falta de servicios de apoyo LGBTQ

Reuniones como la descrita anteriormente son un fenómeno poco frecuente en las comunidades de clase obrera de Richmond y San Pablo. A pesar de su proximidad a San Francisco, Oakland y Berkeley, tres ciudades tradicionalmente liberales con culturas y comunidades fuertes LGBTQ, una discusión pública y participación con personas LGBTQ todavía no a sucedido aquí de una manera significativa.

Ahora, Somos Familia se une al Grupo Alphabet (Alfabeto) del Centro RYSE en Richmond como las dos organizaciones solitarias que trabajan directamente en temas LGBTQ en la región. Esto no quiere decir, sin embargo, que Richmond y San Pablo no han tenido que responder a las preocupaciones de la comunidad LGBTQ.

En diciembre de 2008, la violación en grupo de una mujer lesbiana – clasificada como un crimen de odio – en Richmond impulsó una amplia gama de organizaciones comunitarias a través del Área de la Bahía. Las vigilias, campañas educativas, la cobertura de los medios de comunicación y la acusación de los cuatro hombres, dio lugar a una mayor conciencia local de la discriminación que sufre la comunidad LGBTQ en Richmond.

Y en el 2008, la Alcaldesa Gayle McLaughlin y el Consejo de la Ciudad de Richmond aprobó una proclamación reconociendo cada mes de junio como el Mes del Orgullo Gay. Sin embargo, algunos defensores de la comunidad LGBTQ mantienen que aún queda mucho por hacer.

“Creo que dice mucho de que no tenemos una comisión oficial LGBTQ o servicio desde el Ayuntamiento”, dice Jenab-i Parejas, coordinador del Grupo Alphabet, un grupo de apoyo para jóvenes LGBTQ. El Grupo Alphabet tiene sus reuniones en el Centro RYSE en las calles 44 y MacDonald, una organización local enfocada en el desarrollo de la juventud sin fines de lucro, ha sido de todos, el defensor más constante, vocal y proveedor para los jóvenes LGBTQ desde su inicio aproximadamente hace tres años.

Además de ser la sede del Grupo Alphabet, RYSE ha guiado la creación de un club Alianza gay-heterosexuales en la De Anza High School, y es un miembro fundador de la Colaboración de Defensa de Jóvenes LGBTQ de Contra Costa, la misma colaboración de el condado que le otorgo a Somos Familia, una beca para realizar presentaciones en Richmond y San Pablo. El Grupo Alphabet alcanza a los jóvenes LGBTQ, mientras que Somos Familia alcanza a sus familias.

 Relaciones Sociales Complicadas de los Jóvenes LGBTQ

Según Parejas, llegar a los jóvenes LGBTQ de Richmond requiere estrategias personalizadas que satisfagan sus necesidades específicas. Esto se debe a que la comunidad de Richmond es multifacética, con identidades entrecruzadas de fe, etnia, cultura, lenguaje, sexualidad y clase. Pero dentro de esa diversidad, dice Parejas, hay ciertas divisiones entre las comunidades basadas en raza, etnia, idioma y edad – alimentando aún más la necesidad de proporcionar servicios de apoyo.

La concejal Jovanka Beckles está de acuerdo. En una entrevista telefónica, Beckles cito que los prejuicios religiosos y culturales desalientan a las personas LGBTQ de “liderar con su identidad (LGBT)” y  eso hace que sea difícil crear una cultura de paz y respeto en Richmond.

Beckles también es la oficial de enlace de la Comisión de Derechos Humanos y Relaciones Humanas (HRHR por sus siglas en inglés) al consejo de la ciudad. De acuerdo con Beckles, la comisión HRHR es el mejor foro apropiado para que la comunidad de Richmond presente los asuntos LGBTQ. Es responsabilidad de la comisión comunicar estos asuntos al consejo de la ciudad, y hacer recomendaciones de política. Sin embargo, dice Beckles, la gente no puede esperar que el Ayuntamiento realice servicios para las personas LGBTQ por su propia cuenta.

“Aquí es donde ponemos nuestras mentes juntas con los miembros de la comunidad LGBTQ y preguntamos: ¿qué falta?”, dice Beckles. “He tenido a gente que pregunta por qué no celebramos el orgullo [Gay] en Richmond y yo digo, bueno no hay nada que nos detenga. El consejo tiene que escucharlo. Yo necesito escucharlo”.

Aunque Beckles dijo que no hay un plan actual del Ayuntamiento para fortalecer el apoyo a la comunidad LGBTQ o colaborar con organizaciones LGBTQ, la Alcaldesa Gayle McLaughlin ha dicho que está dispuesta a hacer cualquier cosa para “amplificar aún más la voz de este segmento de nuestra comunidad”. Durante una entrevista, McLaughlin incluyo la proclamación anual del Orgullo Gay, su apoyo al firmar la declaración del Alcaldes por la Libertad de Casarse  y los talleres sobre los derechos civiles de la Alianza Progresista de Richmond como ejemplos de trabajo que reflejan su compromiso con la comunidad LGBTQ de Richmond. McLaughlin también comentó que ha habido una discusión entre la ciudad y RYSE sobre desarrollar un departamento de Servicios para Jóvenes y Niños, que ella se imagina incluyera servicios para los jóvenes LGBTQ. Cuando se le pregunto sobre la posibilidad de contar con una Comisión Asesora de LGBTQ, McLaughlin dijo: “Sin duda queremos que los jóvenes que están sugiriendo esto vengan y se reúnan conmigo y podemos hablar sobre que sería el trabajo de esa comisión”.

El Grupo Alphabet tendrá esto como tarea. Sin una comisión oficial de la ciudad para evaluar las necesidades de la comunidad LGBTQ de Richmond, el Grupo Alphabet llevará a cabo su propia evaluación de las necesidades de la comunidad y presentará el informe final al consejo de la ciudad este año. Jenab-i Parejas también dice que los miembros producirán material de divulgación e incluso una lista de revisión tipo Yelp de empresas y espacios amables a la comunidad LGBTQ en Richmond.

 La educación empieza en casa

Al final de la reunión Somos Familia, los participantes hablan libremente entre ellos mismos. “Debería haber más volantes, vallas publicitarias, carteles en español”, ofrece Lilia. Jerry Peterson y Jenab-i Parejas, de la Colaboración de Defensa de Jóvenes LGBTQ de Contra Costa y el Grupo Alphabet, y el Concejal de San Pablo, Genoveva García-Calloway hablan con Mirna Medina y miembros de Somos Familia

De acuerdo con Mirna Medina, el siguiente objetivo sería reclutar y capacitar a los padres a ser promotores de salud comunitarios dentro de la comunidad latina, pero tendrá que esperar hasta que haya más apoyo público establecido. Medina dice que ninguna afiliada u organización de la ciudad ha llegado a solicitar la formación de promotores de salud o un currículo para la comunidad. “… Y, debido a esto”, dice Medina, “estamos en la fase de la educación, difundiendo la conciencia a otras organizaciones latinas que no son de interés LGBTQ”.

“Es importante que las familias latinas conozcan esta organización, ya que abre sus ojos hacia el entendimiento que tenemos que aceptar a nuestros hijos tal como son”, dice Lilia Quiñones. En su tiempo libre, Quiñones es una consejera de familia voluntaria en la Morada de Mujeres de Milenio. Ella ha escuchado las historias de las familias, la mayoría padres, rechazando sus hijos gays. No ser capaz de aceptar a su hijo, rechazándolos y separándose de ellos por ser homosexuales es una forma de violencia doméstica, dice Lilia. Afecta a toda la familia. Medina está de acuerdo. “El primer espacio seguro para nuestros hijos tiene que ser sus hogares. Y es la responsabilidad de los padres estar informados y sensibles”.

 

El Grupo Alphabet se reúne todos los martes de 5pm a 7pm en el Centro RYSE, donde los jóvenes pueden discutir temas de identidad, familia, amor, citas y mucho más. Si está interesado en unirse al Grupo Alphabet, póngase en contacto con Jena-bi Parejas, jenabi@rysecenter.org.

 El alcance de Somos Familia abarca todo el Este de la Bahía. Puede ver su documental, Tres Gotas de Agua en http://somosfamiliabay.org, o llámelos o mande un correo para unirse a sus esfuerzos al 510-725-7764 y/o somosfamiliabay@hotmail.com.

 La Comisión de los Derechos Humanos y de Relaciones Humanas se reúne cada cuarto lunes a las 6:30 en la Cámara del Consejo de Richmond. Llame para confirmar.

Community Groups Filling Void in LGBTQ Services in Richmond, San Pablo

News Report, Edgardo Cervano-Soto

Lilia Quiñones, a San Pablo resident since 1984, sits in a plush armchair, listening to the introductions of the people around her while she toggles her walking cane in her palm. When it’s her turn to speak, Lilia introduces herself as the grandmother of a lesbian niece who wants to learn more about how to support her niece and other LGBTQ youth.

The meeting was organized by Somos Familia, an all-volunteer group of parents who facilitate workshops and support groups for East Bay Latino families with LGBTQ children. Somos Familia began in 2007, after two mothers decided to reach out to other families with LGBT children. Today, the organization has been invited to give a presentation by Morada de Mujeres del Milenio, a family support service organization based at the MacArthur Community Church Center in San Pablo.

Inside the room, which resembles more of a storage unit, around 15 people – more than half identifying as mothers and grandmothers – watch short clips of Somos Familia’s documentary, Tres Gotas de Agua, or Three Drops of Water. Mirna Medina, a founding member and facilitator for the discussion, is featured in the video. Medina shares her experience of accepting and understanding her son’s bisexual orientation within a culture that is intolerant towards homosexuality.

“This was the first time I ever heard of a support group for Latino parents with gay and lesbian children,” says Lilia during group reflection.

Lack of LGBTQ Support Services

Meetings like the one described above are a rare occurrence in the working class communities of Richmond and San Pablo. Despite their proximity to San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley, three traditionally liberal cities with strong LGBTQ cultures and communities of their own, public discussion and involvement with LGBTQ people has yet to happen here in any meaningful way.

Today, Somos Familia joins the RYSE Center’s Alphabet Group in Richmond as the two lone organizations directly working on LGBTQ issues in this region. This is not to say, however, that Richmond and San Pablo have not had to address the concerns of the LGBTQ community.

In December 2008, the gang rape – classified as a hate crime – of a lesbian woman in Richmond galvanized a wide range of community organizations throughout the Bay Area. The vigils, educational campaigns, media coverage and the prosecution of the four men now on trial, led to an increased local awareness of discrimination faced by the LGBTQ community in Richmond.

And in 2008, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and the Richmond City Council approved a proclamation recognizing each June as Gay Pride Month. However, some LGBTQ advocates maintain more needs to be done.

“I think it says a lot that we don’t have an official LGBTQ commission or service from City Hall,” says Jenab-i Parejas, coordinator of The Alphabet Group, a drop-in support group for LGBT youth. The Alphabet Group holds their meetings at the RYSE Center on 44th & MacDonald, a local youth development non-profit that has been by all accounts the most consistent and vocal supporter and provider for LGBT youth since its inception roughly three years ago.

In addition to hosting The Alphabet Group, RYSE has guided the creation of a Gay Straight Alliance club at De Anza High School, and is a founding member of the Contra Costa LGBTQ Youth Advocacy Collaborative, the same countywide collaborative that gave Somos Familia a grant to conduct presentations in Richmond and San Pablo. The Alphabet Group outreaches to LGBTQ youth, while Somos Familia outreaches to their families.

Parejas says that in the short time of The Alphabet Group’s existence, its members have grown from being silent to outspoken about their sexual identity – an important development according to Parejas. “Once you limit freedom of expression, that’s when you see the downfall,” says Parejas, referring to the emotional depression commonly experienced by LGBTQ youth.

Complicated Social Relationships for LGBTQ Youth

According to Parejas, outreaching to Richmond LGBTQ youth requires personalized strategies that meet their specific needs. This is because Richmond’s community is multifaceted, with intersectional identities of faith, ethnicity, culture, language, sexuality and class. But within that diversity, says Parejas, come certain divisions between communities on the basis of race, ethnicity, language and age – further fueling the need to provide support services.

Councilperson Jovanka Beckles agrees. In a phone interview, Beckles cited that religious and cultural prejudices discourage LGBTQ people from “leading with their (LGBTQ) identity” and it makes it difficult to create a culture of peace and respect in Richmond.

Beckles is also the Human Rights and Human Relations (HRHR) commission’s liason to the city council. According to Beckles, the HRHR commission is the best appropriate forum for the community of Richmond to submit LGBTQ-related concerns. It is the commission’s responsibility to communicate these concerns to the city council, and make policy recommendations. However, says Beckles, people cannot expect city council to create services for LGBTQ people on its own.

“This is where we put our minds together with members of the LGBTQ community and ask, ‘what’s missing?” says Beckles. “I have had people ask how come we don’t celebrate Pride in Richmond and I say, well there is nothing stopping us. The council needs to hear it. I need hear it.”

Although Beckles said there is no current City Hall plan to strengthen LGBTQ support or collaborate with LGBQ organizations, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin has said she is willing to do anything to “further amplify the voice of this segment of our community.” During an interview, McLaughlin listed the annual Gay Pride proclamation, her support in signing the Mayors for Freedom to Marry statement and the workshops on civil rights from the Richmond Progressive Alliance as examples of work reflecting her commitment to the LGBTQ Richmond community. McLaughlin also commented that there has been discussion between the city and RYSE in developing a Youth and Children Services department, which she imagines would include services for LGBTQ youth. Asked of the possibility of having an LGBTQ advisory commission, McLaughlin said, “I would certainly want the young people who are suggesting this to come and meet me and we can talk through what the task and charge of that commission would be.”

The Alphabet Group will take this to task. Without an official city commission to assess the needs of Richmond’s LBGT community, The Alphabet Group will conduct its own community needs assessment and submit the final report to the city council sometime this year. Jenab-i Parejas also says the members will produce outreach material and even a Yelp-like review list of LGBTQ-friendly businesses and spaces in Richmond.

Education Starts at Home

At the end of the Somos Familia meeting, the participants talk freely among themselves. Many are saying thanks to the facilitators and others are giving their ideas. “There should be more flyers, billboards, posters in Spanish, offers Lilia. Jerry Peterson and Jenab-i Parejas, from the Contra Costa LGBTQ Youth Advocacy Collaborative and the Alphabet Group, and San Pablo Councilperson Genoveva Garcia-Calloway speak to Mirna Medina and Somos Familia members. Business cards are passed around. The next goal for Somos Familia is to present again to Latino-interest organizations in Richmond and San Pablo.

According to Mirna Medina, the next objective would be to recruit and train parents to be community health promoters within the Latino community, but it will have to wait until more public support is established. Medina says no organization or city affiliate has reached out to them requesting the formation of health promoters or a curriculum for the community. “…And so because of this,” says Medina, “we are in the education phase, spreading consciousness to other non-LGBT interest Latino organizations.”

“It’s important for Latino families to know this organization because it opens their eyes towards understanding that we have to accept our children as they are,” says Lilia Quiñones. In her spare time, Quiñones is a volunteer family counselor at Morada de Mujeres de Milenio. She has heard the stories of families, mostly fathers, rejecting their gay children. Not being able to accept your child, rejecting and separating from them because they are gay is a form of domestic violence, says Lilia. It affects the entire family. Medina agrees. “The first secure space for our children has to be their homes. And it’s the responsibility of the parents to be informed and sensible.”

The Alphabet Group meets every Tuesday from 5pm-7pm at the RYSE Center, where young people can discuss themes of identity, family, love, dating and more. In February, Parejas and The Alphabet Group will give presentations to students at Richmond High and Parejas himself plans to set up regular drop-in counseling hours for students at the school. If you are interested in joining the Alphabet Group, contact Jenabi Parejas, jenabi@rysecenter.org.

Somos Familia’s outreach covers the entire East Bay. You can view their documentary, Tres Gotas de Agua on http://somosfamiliabay.org, or call/email to join their efforts at 510-725-7764 and/or somosfamiliabay@hotmail.com.

The Human Rights and Human Relations Commission meets every 4th Monday at 6:30 in Richmond’s Council Chamber. Call to confirm.

Why Jeremy Lin Matters: Asian Male Image in the Media

New America Media, Commentary, Ky Phong Paul Tran, Posted: Feb 17, 2012

Pop culture traditionally has painted Asians as awkward, unathletic and never the leading man, like Long Duk Dong from a 1980s film. In just a week, Lin has shattered the stereotype.

Since he burst into the national consciousness just a week ago, basketball sensation and New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin has proved that he’s just not any old underdog story. His is a very specific one. It leads me to a scene in the film “White Men Can’t Jump” where Wesley Snipes tells Woody Harrelson, “You can listen to Jimi (Hendrix), but you can’t hear him.”

Because to “hear” the story of Jeremy Lin, you have to go back to 1984 ― four years before Jeremy was even born ― and a beloved film by John Hughes called “Sixteen Candles.” It’s a cutesy high school drama with quintessential 1980s actors Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall.

Except, for no reason other than as racist comic relief, Hughes inserts the nightmare image of an Asian male foreign exchange student from an un-named Asian country (and thus all of them). The character’s name is Long Duk Dong, and he alternates between being goofy, accented and clueless, but always, always, always lusting after “American” girls.

To truly appreciate and understand the joy of what Jeremy Lin is doing right now, to know why so many of us Asian American males are wearing his jersey and chanting his name, you had to have cringed as that gong sounded whenever Long Duk Dong came into a scene. You had to be called his name at school and pretend it didn’t hurt and then laugh along with your “friends.” You had to let that shame burn inside you until it bordered on self-loathing.

You had to bear the cross of the “Donger.”

And what is that cross? Historically throughout American pop culture, it alternates between never being depicted and thus never existing OR being depicted in the most humiliating and emasculating light possible.

It means you can never be the lead but always the sidekick (Kato, Sulu, Mike Chang).

To create an import culture car and film franchise only to be relegated into a prop or a villain (The Fast and the Furious).

To never front a band but maybe strum along at stage left (Smashing Pumpkins and Airborne Toxic Event).

It means to never be depicted as handsome or suave or a lady’s man. (Or a gentleman’s man for that matter).

It means to never get to kiss the girl. (In “Romeo Must Die” Jet Li does not kiss Aaliyah and in “The Replacement Killers,” Chow Yun Fat does not kiss Mira Sorvino. I despised Hollywood for a very long time after those transgressions).

Of late, there has been some breakthrough. In sports, we have Ichiro and Yao, but since they were still deeply entrenched in their Japanese and Chinese cultures, that distanced them from our American identity. Recently, the rap group Far East Movement has been the first Asian American pop music group to get consistent air play. And pretty much everyone now knows that many Asian American guys are talented dancers due to reality TV shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” and “America’s Best Dance Crew.”

Of course, we do have one icon in popular culture ― probably the last Asian American guy who made us proud to be who we are and look how we do: Bruce Lee. I suspect that some of us deep down inside thought to ourselves, “Yeah, he’s great and all, but does it have to be at martial arts? That’s not exactly breaking stereotypes.”

Before Jeremy, Asian American males were akin to vampires. We’d look into the mirror of popular culture and see nothing ― or negativity. Now 26 years after “Sixteen Candles,” Jeremy Lin arrives to play basketball on its biggest stage and in doing so, to declare that we not only do we exist but that we can succeed as a professional athlete in one of the big three glory ESPN sports. That’s the power of popular media, right? For all 300-plus million of us Americans to see one collective new image.

And what an image that is. Through his play, Jeremy has already shattered some pretty heavy and burdensome stereotypes of Asian American males. He is neither short nor weak. He was born in the United States and does not speak with an accent (not that there is anything wrong with that). He is emotional and demonstrative. He has a swagger and flair to his game. He is at times flashy. He does not back down on the court.

He is a winner and best of all (and this is what makes sports so wonderful) he is a bonafide star strictly due to his abilities (not his looks, marketability, or pedigree).

In “White Men,” Snipes concludes his argument by saying, “Just because you’re listening to him doesn’t mean you’re hearing him.” And trust me when I write this: We Asian American males hear every single thing Jeremy Lin’s crossover dribbles, pinpoint passes and smooth swishes say about us ― and that’s that we too can be athletic, daring and heroic.

All are welcome on the Jeremy bandwagon, but there’s a VIP section for Asian American males. And since we’re a cool bunch, even Long Duk Dong can come along for the ride.

Ky-Phong Tran is a columnist for Nguoi Viet newspaper, where this article was first published.

Massage Therapy Offers Path to Self Healing

Commentary, Taisa Grant

I am a firm believer that we are all healers. Every person possesses the ability and has been given the tools necessary to heal themselves and others.

This way of thinking led me down the path of becoming a doula, which in turn led me to massage therapy — a form of healing accessible to everyone that can benefit the body without negative side effects. During the course of my doula training, I learned that massage therapy could be used specifically during pregnancy and labor to help the expectant mother experience comfort and relaxation. Before that, I was aware of massage but didn’t really know how beneficial it was.

The first birth I attended as a doula took place in a hospital, with a close friend who had a high-risk pregnancy. Out of fear for her life and that of her unborn child, my friend had given her full trust to the doctors and medical staff at the hospital. Sadly, after witnessing the birth process I felt the doctors hadn’t made my friend’s experience very pleasant or mistake free. Seeing that birth motivated me to find the money I needed to pay for massage school.

With my studies came a new awareness of my physical self, and I learned that I am in fact the expert of my own body. Through massage, I also found relief from pain that I had been dealing with for many years, and I gained an understanding of how to sustain that relief. Massage also gave me a career, one that allows me to work for myself. One day, I would like to be a mother myself and have a positive, empowering home birth experience.

But today, I am a facilitator of healing. My role is to share knowledge and help other people re-discover the lost art of how to listen to their body, which sends messages we can use to self-heal.

These are lessons that could be put to great use in Richmond. In a community as tough as this, I doubt most people regularly experience what it’s like to be spoken to gently or touched in a consenting, soothing, therapeutic way. Massage therapy, as well as other forms of bodywork and health education, can provide this type of healthy experience. If Richmond residents started taking advantage of massage therapy and other healing arts, our collective experience could begin to change, one person at a time.

After her first session with a body awareness educator, Brandy Roberson, a Richmond native, said such therapy “established a better meaning of what it is to have inner peace and awareness of my body.”

There are currently several massage therapists and body workers in Richmond, including Nancy Burke, a Cranial Sacral Therapist whose office is located in the Labyrinth Center.

“I encourage Richmond residents of all ages to get body work at least once,” said Burke.

The regular use of such therapies in Richmond could impact individuals and the community as a whole in a plethora of ways. First, massage can decrease stress, so people will think clearly and make better decisions. Massage can also decrease pain associated with conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), stroke-related disabilities, Bell’s Palsy, autism, arthritis and much more.

I’ve been told that before you can change your external environment, you have to start with your internal one. Living a healthy lifestyle takes discipline. If we want to end the violence, poverty and toxicity in Richmond, we have to take care of ourselves first by living in ways that are aligned with our instincts, and massage therapy is only one of a number of pathways we can take to get there.

There are gardens with medicinal herbs right here in Richmond, harvested and nurtured by experts. I envision more of these gardens, with more community use and participation. I envision a health-conscious city with residents living long lives, un-interrupted by preventable ailments. I see a city where instead of liquor stores on every corner, there are laboratories full of young scientists.

I believe that when we start improving our health by treating ourselves to massage, we will be making a positive change in the community. Perhaps Tupac Shakur said it best: “It’s all good in the hood, for nobody.” If positive change can happen in Richmond, it can happen anywhere.

ADVICE FOR YOUR MASSAGE THERAPY VISIT

If you have never been to a massage therapist, this is how your visit might go. During a massage session, you can expect to be lying down in a comfortable position. You will be asked questions such as: How does this feel? Do you like deep pressure or light pressure? Are you allergic to anything? Where are the areas of your body that are experiencing pain in the moment? The practitioner may or may not work on the painful area because the body is interconnected, and working in another area of the body can bring relief. The environment should be cozy. Follow your intuition; you want to feel comfortable with the practitioner.

Are We Married to Facebook for Life?

Editor’s Note: Young people in the San Francisco Bay Area write about how they see their future with the regional Internet giant Facebook.

Molly Raynor, 27, Richmond

I am a 27-year-old transplant from Ann Arbor, Michigan. I run a creative arts program in Richmond, California, live with my best friend in Oakland and have a wonderful group of friends. I like to think that I have reached a point where I am super comfortable with myself and secure in who I am.

Despite all of this I find that I am obsessed with checking my Facebook. It’s like a sick addiction, this need to stay updated on everyone’s lives, including people I barely know or care about. I get too excited when I see the little red pop up signaling new notifications and sadly depressed when I don’t.

I often think about deleting my account, since I get sucked in for way too much time that I could be using for more productive things, but I can never bring myself to do it. I mean, what would the world come to if I didn’t know what so-and-so was listening to on Spotify or what this person just ate for dinner?

Our generation is so “connected” by technology, yet so disconnected from each other and our former, more meaningful modes of communication. While I could go on all day about how stupid Facebook is, I am still a complete sucker for it.

Edgado-Cervano Soto, 22, Richmond

As an aspiring journalist, Facebook is my friend.

At my fingertips, I have a personal directory through which I can promote certain news articles, points of view and happenings, or ask for leads and recommendations for my own reports, and remain connected to dispersed communities.

I have used Facebook to fulfill my own belief that information is power, posting anything from Youtube videos of a San Antonio Chicana rock band to links supporting the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights on my status updates. Facebook affords me a platform to promote my social justice views and see what other politics my circle of friends have swimming in their heads.

Alongside the politics, I post the personal. On some days I treat Facebook like a diary, typing nostalgic and very “emo” status updates when my world seems bleak, all for the public to see. When I enter these kinds of posts, I am reminded of Walt Whitman’s poem, “A Noiseless Patient Spider,” and I too am like the spider shooting strings of gossamer web into a digital world in need of human contact. I post remnants of the past, photographs of moments with my sisters, friends, grandparents and family — as if by digitizing them I am vowing to never forget them.

With Facebook, I have a documented life. I am often shocked when I see my photographs, archived chronologically in my online account, describing my life back to me. Facebook reminds me of the friends I no longer have, the places I left, the many identities of me I have shed and left behind in cyber-space.

But Facebook and I shouldn’t be friends. We’re complete opposites.

In the physical world, I am silent. I tend not to make my politics clear through my exterior self, and I don’t always share my feelings with the people closest to me. And yet, I choose to participate in an online community that requires a loss of inhibition. It’s a contradiction, the way I function as a cyber-person and the form I live in the flesh. In sending my random thoughts out over the network, in the moments when I reflect on my personality and my desire to be connected, I see that the reason why I choose the Facebook way is because I lack an honesty and self-satisfaction in the physical.

I’d like to think I am using Facebook as my own training ground, where I practice being loud and present, until I can express the political and personal through my very real body and voice.

Sean Shavers, 20, Oakland

In September of 2010 I got involved with Facebook, which I thought was a cool site to meet women and chat with friends. But after using the site for a while, I realized it was actually just a gateway for other people to nose around in your personal business.

People I never used to communicate with were suddenly eager to chat and discuss issues regarding my personal life. Even the church folks got involved, chatting with me online and pretending to be genuinely concerned about my life, when we don’t even speak at church.

After about a month, I deleted my Facebook account entirely and went back to my old life. I used the site for what it was worth but in my opinion, it wasn’t worth much.
Maybe because it was my first time using any type of social media network. I never had a Myspace page, never used a chat room or even had a personal email before.

Regardless, I don’t see Facebook leaving anytime soon, just because everyone I know uses it. From kids to teens to seniors, it’s all the same… There are just too many people involved, not to mention addicted, to Facebook.

Victor Petersen, 23, San Francisco

When I first created my Facebook profile over two years ago, I was sent dozens of friend requests and questions about how I’ve been and what I’ve been doing. Here I was in my private room, feeling as if I had just walked into a reunion attended by almost everyone I’d ever known. As much as I felt uncomfortable, I felt connected and found myself logging in daily, excited to discover who was sending me a friend request, message, or notification.

In 2011 I was isolated in the Central Valley, finishing up general education requirements to transfer into SF State. Being hundreds of miles away from all of my friends and family motivated me to log in to Facebook in the morning, noon and night. I remember chatting on Facebook one night with a friend, enjoying a glass of wine, while reminiscing about our past together.

Since I’ve moved back to San Francisco, however, I barely log in to my Facebook account. I haven’t posted anything in months and when I do log in, I check my messages then log out. Facebook was my connection to the world when I was isolated from friends and family. Now that I am back in The City, I can meet up with people and connect with people in person.

I believe Facebook is here to stay for a while, as is social networking in general, because many people may feel isolated and invisible without a Facebook profile. Be that as it may, I plan to use my Facebook profile as a tool to be useful and beneficial for the world surrounding me.

Taisa Grant, 25, Richmond

I’m a young black woman in her mid-20’s who enjoys writing, photography, music… I truly seek to live in a world that is better for all, so this desire is expressed in all that I do.

Facebook is something that I enjoy using. It allows me to share who I am with friends that aren’t presently in my life and it allows me to reconnect with people from my past whom I wish to be in contact with. Also, being young and single, it’s a nice place to stay in contact and learn more about potential love interests.

Still, I wouldn’t say I’m married to Facebook — if something better comes along I’d have no problem leaving it. For now, it is a place where I express my feelings and concerns through poetry or what I like to call “capturing thought” statements. I’m able to get feedback from people and this does give me a feeling of not being alone.

Are We Married to Facebook for Life?

Editor’s Note: Young people in the San Francisco Bay Area write about how they see their future with the regional Internet giant Facebook.

Molly Raynor, 27, Richmond

I am a 27-year-old transplant from Ann Arbor, Michigan. I run a creative arts program in Richmond, California, live with my best friend in Oakland and have a wonderful group of friends. I like to think that I have reached a point where I am super comfortable with myself and secure in who I am.

Despite all of this I find that I am obsessed with checking my Facebook. It’s like a sick addiction, this need to stay updated on everyone’s lives, including people I barely know or care about. I get too excited when I see the little red pop up signaling new notifications and sadly depressed when I don’t.

I often think about deleting my account, since I get sucked in for way too much time that I could be using for more productive things, but I can never bring myself to do it. I mean, what would the world come to if I didn’t know what so-and-so was listening to on Spotify or what this person just ate for dinner?

Our generation is so “connected” by technology, yet so disconnected from each other and our former, more meaningful modes of communication. While I could go on all day about how stupid Facebook is, I am still a complete sucker for it.

Edgado-Cervano Soto, 22, Richmond

As an aspiring journalist, Facebook is my friend.

At my fingertips, I have a personal directory through which I can promote certain news articles, points of view and happenings, or ask for leads and recommendations for my own reports, and remain connected to dispersed communities.

I have used Facebook to fulfill my own belief that information is power, posting anything from Youtube videos of a San Antonio Chicana rock band to links supporting the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights on my status updates. Facebook affords me a platform to promote my social justice views and see what other politics my circle of friends have swimming in their heads.

Alongside the politics, I post the personal. On some days I treat Facebook like a diary, typing nostalgic and very “emo” status updates when my world seems bleak, all for the public to see. When I enter these kinds of posts, I am reminded of Walt Whitman’s poem, “A Noiseless Patient Spider,” and I too am like the spider shooting strings of gossamer web into a digital world in need of human contact. I post remnants of the past, photographs of moments with my sisters, friends, grandparents and family — as if by digitizing them I am vowing to never forget them.

With Facebook, I have a documented life. I am often shocked when I see my photographs, archived chronologically in my online account, describing my life back to me. Facebook reminds me of the friends I no longer have, the places I left, the many identities of me I have shed and left behind in cyber-space.

But Facebook and I shouldn’t be friends. We’re complete opposites.

In the physical world, I am silent. I tend not to make my politics clear through my exterior self, and I don’t always share my feelings with the people closest to me. And yet, I choose to participate in an online community that requires a loss of inhibition. It’s a contradiction, the way I function as a cyber-person and the form I live in the flesh. In sending my random thoughts out over the network, in the moments when I reflect on my personality and my desire to be connected, I see that the reason why I choose the Facebook way is because I lack an honesty and self-satisfaction in the physical.

I’d like to think I am using Facebook as my own training ground, where I practice being loud and present, until I can express the political and personal through my very real body and voice.

Sean Shavers, 20, Oakland

In September of 2010 I got involved with Facebook, which I thought was a cool site to meet women and chat with friends. But after using the site for a while, I realized it was actually just a gateway for other people to nose around in your personal business.

People I never used to communicate with were suddenly eager to chat and discuss issues regarding my personal life. Even the church folks got involved, chatting with me online and pretending to be genuinely concerned about my life, when we don’t even speak at church.

After about a month, I deleted my Facebook account entirely and went back to my old life. I used the site for what it was worth but in my opinion, it wasn’t worth much.
Maybe because it was my first time using any type of social media network. I never had a Myspace page, never used a chat room or even had a personal email before.

Regardless, I don’t see Facebook leaving anytime soon, just because everyone I know uses it. From kids to teens to seniors, it’s all the same… There are just too many people involved, not to mention addicted, to Facebook.

Victor Petersen, 23, San Francisco

When I first created my Facebook profile over two years ago, I was sent dozens of friend requests and questions about how I’ve been and what I’ve been doing. Here I was in my private room, feeling as if I had just walked into a reunion attended by almost everyone I’d ever known. As much as I felt uncomfortable, I felt connected and found myself logging in daily, excited to discover who was sending me a friend request, message, or notification.

In 2011 I was isolated in the Central Valley, finishing up general education requirements to transfer into SF State. Being hundreds of miles away from all of my friends and family motivated me to log in to Facebook in the morning, noon and night. I remember chatting on Facebook one night with a friend, enjoying a glass of wine, while reminiscing about our past together.

Since I’ve moved back to San Francisco, however, I barely log in to my Facebook account. I haven’t posted anything in months and when I do log in, I check my messages then log out. Facebook was my connection to the world when I was isolated from friends and family. Now that I am back in The City, I can meet up with people and connect with people in person.

I believe Facebook is here to stay for a while, as is social networking in general, because many people may feel isolated and invisible without a Facebook profile. Be that as it may, I plan to use my Facebook profile as a tool to be useful and beneficial for the world surrounding me.

Taisa Grant, 25, Richmond

I’m a young black woman in her mid-20’s who enjoys writing, photography, music… I truly seek to live in a world that is better for all, so this desire is expressed in all that I do.

Facebook is something that I enjoy using. It allows me to share who I am with friends that aren’t presently in my life and it allows me to reconnect with people from my past whom I wish to be in contact with. Also, being young and single, it’s a nice place to stay in contact and learn more about potential love interests.

Still, I wouldn’t say I’m married to Facebook — if something better comes along I’d have no problem leaving it. For now, it is a place where I express my feelings and concerns through poetry or what I like to call “capturing thought” statements. I’m able to get feedback from people and this does give me a feeling of not being alone.