Seeing the Positive in Being a Teen Mom

News Feature, Tania Pulido

Richmond High is one of the few schools in the city that offers an Adolescent Parenting Program (APP) for teen mothers; and every year, a new wave of young moms attends the yearlong program. Back when I was in high school, a friend once told me she was on the waiting list for APP. I was a little surprised, even though seeing pregnant girls was the norm. In fact, looking back now, most of my friends had children when they were teenagers.

Growing up, my mother emphasized how she didn’t want me to follow in those same footsteps, and the other adults around me also shunned teenage pregnancy. But after recently interviewing teen moms at Richmond High School, I have a different perspective.

One 17-year-old mother from Richmond, Elicia Martinez, told me she went from being an “at risk youth” to an aspiring college student after her child was born. “When I had my baby my life changed. He made me feel like a better person,” said Martinez. The young mother spoke to me about being shot at the age of ten. She admitted to being a victim of violence as well as an initiator, at different times in her life. Like other young people in this city, Martinez said the many daily challenges were what forced her to become “an aggressive person.”
Nayeli, 16, a mother in the 11th grade, agreed that when growing up in Richmond it’s just easier to do the wrong thing sometimes. The biggest challenge Nayeli faced as a teen was not the street violence, but telling her conservative and strict parents that she was pregnant. “My mom kicked me out of the house and my dad didn’t speak to me for months,” said Nayeli. After living at the home of her boyfriend’s family for 3 months, her forgiving parents took her back in.

Michelle Bandy works with YMCA’s school-based mental health service arm, Y Teen. She also serves as a therapist for the APP class at Richmond High, where she’s been for the last four years.
“There’s always a new trend every year. Currently a lot of our girls are at risk of losing their homes, which can cause mental anguish and mental stress. Last year it was domestic violence — in 2012, I was in court a lot. A lot of our girls have been beat up so much they’ve normalized it. Last year, it was the highest rate domestic violence that I have seen.”

Bandy works with the teen moms on activities for daily living, as well as the long-term picture—making sure that they graduate and hopefully go on to college while preventing pregnancy while they are in high school.
“For a lot of our girls, it’s culturally accepted to be a teen mom. A lot of times their moms had them as a teen. There might not be a lot of talk in the home about safe sex,” said Bandy.

For Tyana, being a 16 year-old pregnant teenager growing up in Richmond “was playful.” She had a blast hanging out with the neighborhood kids, although it was sometimes hard. Tyana, like the other teen mothers in APP, is focusing on “trying to be a better me.” Her plans are to graduate from high school and get a job. Tyana just got over the morning sickness phase of her pregnancy, and said she is now feeling more capable of accomplishing her goals.

Learning to accept being a teen mom, said many of the participants, was the hardest thing they’d ever had to do, and challenged them to become good role models. “I don’t have to think about me, but my child,” said Luisa, a 10th grader who has a two-month-old baby.

Luisa, caught in the stressful contemplation of having a kid, was thinking of aborting when she found out she was pregnant. After much consideration she decided to have the child due to guilt. Now, Luisa feels her life has much more meaning with her baby.

Nevertheless, said the Luisa, once you have a baby, you’re strapped for personal time due to the new responsibilities. So what is the young mother’s advice to other teenagers? Wait for motherhood. “Don’t get pregnant at a young age, because if you’re out partying you wont be able to do that anymore with a baby.”
Not only do young mothers have to worry about not being able to freely hang out with friends — school also becomes more of an obstacle.

Nayeli offered her own advice to young mothers. “Not to drop out of school,” she said. “I know it’s hard but think about your son or daughter and do it for them.” The experience of going to school and being a young mother, said Nayeli, made her a more patient and responsible young lady.

Elicia, echoing Nayeli’s advice, said other young girls should “do good in school because they are going to regret it later.”

For these young mothers, regret is far from what they feel now, when they hold their precious children — even though they were all in shock when they found out about their pregnancy.

Elicia was taken aback by the news because she was taking birth control. Nayeli didn’t sleep the night she found out. Tyana and Luisa were scared for the future. Regardless of the roller coaster of emotions, it made all them stronger and they are grateful for the life that changed their own for the better.

All the young mothers expressed appreciation for being a part APP, because it has given them a family of other teenagers who are going through the same thing — a network of support. The day I visited the group, they were participating in a weekly gardening class hosted by Adam Boisvert and Ashoka Finnely from Urban Tilth, a Richmond non-profit.

The partnership between YMCA and Urban Tilth began in 2012. The on-campus garden is the setting for the weekly gardening and healthy-eating class.

“The class and garden provide a really healing environment for the girls,” said Bandy.
“When the young mothers first participated, they had a hard time eating vegetables from the garden, but they are getting better,” added Boisvert.

As we were talking, the young mothers harvested celery from a garden bed and dipped them in peanut butter. Teacher Angela Davis said the girls are more peaceful when they are outdoors, enjoying nature. Luisa said the garden class “has thought me a lot about nutritious food, I didn’t like vegetables, now I’m excited to eat them and I’m going to make my child eat them.”

Young mothers can be successful with the help of other young mothers, their parents and other adult mentors. Part of the challenge is acknowledging all the barriers young mothers triumph over, both personally and academically. For some of these young mothers, it was their children that motivated them to be better people and strive for the best, so they can give their children everything they need.

It reminded me of a Tupac metaphor, the one about a flower growing through concrete. In the toughest situations a beautiful life can emerge, bringing with it a positive spin on life. As a new aunt, my own life has definitely changed drastically. I just don’t think about myself anymore, but all the experiences I want to have with Luciano, my nephew.

The young mothers taught me a very valuable lesson, life is what you make it and having a kid at a young age can bring more good than bad. Ultimately it’s up to the young lady to decide whether she wants to have a child or not; abort it or keep it — but as I learned from these wise young women, it’s better to wait until you have accomplished your goals and had enough fun, before settling down.

Ahora es el Momento: Los Medios de Comunicación Étnicos Piden Una Reforma Migratoria en el 2013

Ahora es el Momento: Los Medios de Comunicación Étnicos Piden Una Reforma Migratoria en el 2013

Nota Editorial: Este editorial fue producido en colaboración con New America Media (, una asociación nacional de medios étnicos, y fue publicado por medios étnicos a través del país para llamar atención a la urgencia de una reforma migratoria.

La Casa Blanca y el Congreso debe actuar rápidamente para promulgar una reforma migratoria integral que sea justa y humana.

Después de las elecciones de 2012, ambos legisladores democráticos y republicanos han expresado la necesidad de actuar sobre el tema. La ventana para legislación bipartidista está abierta ahora.

Los medios étnicos tienen un gran interés en el futuro de la política de inmigración de este país. Por eso nos estamos uniendo para tomar una posición editorial para urgirle al Congreso y la Casa Blanca: Hagan el 2013 el año de la reforma migratoria.

Esto no es solo una cuestión de la política. Estamos pidiendo una reforma migratoria integral porque es justo moralmente, sabio económicamente, y es lo sensible que hacer.

Nuestro país es una nación de leyes y está claro que las leyes migratorias de los Estados Unidos tienen que ser revisadas. El sistema migratorio está roto, no solo para los 11 millones de inmigrantes indocumentados, sino también para los miles de inmigrantes quienes no pueden conseguir visas para trabajar en los Estados Unidos; para los negocios estadounidenses que no pueden emplear a los trabajadores que necesitan; para las familias que esperan años para recibir visas para reunirse con sus familiares en los Estados Unidos.

Necesitamos una reforma migratoria integral que reunificara a familias, revigorice la economía, y reviva nuestra identidad como una nación que prospera con las contribuciones de inmigrantes trabajadores.

Está claro que nuestras leyes migratorias federales no funcionan. La inacción federal sobre la inmigración ha resultado en que los estados desde Arizona a Alabama han escrito su propia legislación. Aun el reciente anunciado Programa Federal de Acción Diferida para los Llegados en la Infancia (DACA por sus siglas en inglés) es una solución transitoria que no hace nada para resolver el problema más amplio de un sistema roto de inmigración.

La inmigración ha sido pintada como un tema divisivo. En realidad no lo es. Todos nosotros nos beneficiaríamos de un sistema migratorio efectivo que responde a las necesidades del mercado, protege a todos los trabajadores del abuso y la explotación y pone fin a la práctica de separar a los hijos de sus padres.

Necesitamos un sistema migratorio que refleja las mejores tradiciones de nuestra historia – nuestra convicción en la justicia, la igualdad, y la oportunidad económica.

Y mientras miramos hacia el futuro, debemos asegurarnos que nos mantengamos competitivos en un mundo cada vez más globalizado. Tenemos que seguir a atraer los mejores y más brillantes, ser el destino de los trabajadores más innovadores del mundo.

Debemos actuar ahora. Nuestra economía y nuestro futuro dependen de esto.

The Time Is Now: Ethnic Media Call for Immigration Reform in 2013

Editor’s Note: This editorial was produced in association with New America Media (, a national association of ethnic media, and was published by ethnic media across the country to bring attention to the urgency of immigration reform.

The White House and Congress must move quickly to enact just and humane comprehensive immigration reform.

In the wake of the 2012 elections, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have expressed the need to act on the issue. The window for bipartisan legislation is now open.

Ethnic media have a high stake in the future of immigration policy in this country. That’s why we are joining together to take an editorial stand to urge Congress and the White House: Make 2013 the year of immigration reform.

This is not merely a question of politics. We are calling for comprehensive immigration reform because it is the morally right, economically wise and pragmatically sensible thing to do.

Our country is a nation of laws, and it is clear that U.S. immigration laws need to be overhauled. The immigration system is broken, not only for the 11 million undocumented immigrants, but for the thousands of immigrants who are unable to get visas to work in the United States; for American businesses that can’t hire the workers they need; for the families who wait for years to get visas to join their relatives in the United States.

We need comprehensive immigration reform that will reunite families, reinvigorate the economy, and revive our identity as a nation that thrives on the contributions of hard-working immigrants.

It’s clear that our federal immigration laws are not working. Federal inaction on immigration has led states from Arizona to Alabama to write their own legislation. Even the recently announced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is a temporary band-aid that does nothing to solve the larger problem of a broken immigration system.

Immigration has been portrayed as a divisive issue. In reality it’s not. All of us would benefit from an effective immigration system that responds to the needs of the market, protects all workers from abuse and exploitation and puts an end to the practice of separating parents from their children.

We need an immigration system that reflects the best traditions of our history — our belief in justice, equality, and economic opportunity.

And as we look to the future, we must make sure that we remain competitive in an increasingly globalized world. We need to continue to attract the best and the brightest, to be the destination of the world’s most innovative workers.

We must act now. Our economy and our future depend on it.

The Tooth Gap for California’s Kids – It’s Widening

News Report, Anna Challet | New America Media

Over half of California’s children will soon have access to dental care because of the Affordable Care Act. The problem, according to a recent report, is that not enough dentists are willing to treat them.

“In Alturas, none of the dentists take Medi-Cal,” says resident Christa Perry, whose 4-year-old son Alexander has a cavity. Alturas, tucked into the northeastern corner of California, is a city of close to three thousand. In late October of last year, Perry took Alexander to a dentist in Canby, twenty miles away.

“His tooth hurt so badly that he was crying, and they told me we needed to leave – because he was crying,” she says. The office directed her to a dental practice in Susanville, a hundred miles away.

Perry, who runs a daycare in her home, had to miss work to drive her son to the appointment. She was also concerned about gas money. Alexander’s appointment was for 2:00; at 4:00, he still hadn’t been seen. Perry’s younger child, an infant, was crying, and the dentist, who was working on another patient, seemed frustrated about listening to the baby. Sometime after 4:00, Perry and her children left.

She was eventually able to find a third dentist who took Medi-Cal, but that office had to cancel her appointment the day before due to an emergency. It would have been another long drive and by then it was winter; Perry was concerned about her older car being safe to drive on the snowy roads throughout Modoc County.

This year, Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program, will take on over one million additional children, bringing its total number of children to approximately 5 million – half of California’s kids. This is primarily due to the elimination of the Healthy Families Program, the state’s low-cost insurance program for children who were uninsured and did not qualify for Medi-Cal. Some additional children will also enter the program by 2014 through the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

But according to The Children’s Partnership (TCP), a child advocacy organization based in Santa Monica and Washington, DC, California doesn’t have nearly enough dentists accepting Medi-Cal to cover these additional children.

TCP released a report this week on the crisis faced by many families whose children depend on Medi-Cal for their dental care. Jenny Kattlove, the author of the issue brief, is TCP’s Director of Strategic Health Initiatives.

“The state has said that they feel there are enough dental providers, except for a few small counties … But, the program is not up to par. It can’t currently meet the needs of its enrollees, let alone those of a million new children,” Kattlove says.

In 2011, almost half of the children enrolled in Medi-Cal’s dental program did not see a dentist. Approximately one-third of California’s dentists accept Medi-Cal patients, but according to the most recent data available, only one-fourth of those dentists saw 80 percent of all Medi-Cal patients. This indicates that there are a limited number of dentists who are willing to see a significant number of children who are covered by Medi-Cal.

California has one of the lowest Medicaid reimbursement rates in the nation – the vast majority of dentists who do not accept Medi-Cal report the low reimbursement rates as their primary reason for not doing so. Making matters worse, Medi-Cal reimbursement rates are lower than Healthy Families reimbursement rates, raising the concern that not all dentists who accepted Healthy Families patients will complete the burdensome paperwork to accept Medi-Cal.

Kattlove says that while the State should be applauded for engaging with various children’s advocates, Medi-Cal’s dental program needs work.

Other parents Kattlove has worked with include one mother in Mendocino whose toddler fell and broke his tooth. She does not own a car, and the closest pediatric dentist who would accept Medi-Cal and could treat her son was over a hundred miles away with a long wait for an appointment.

Her son’s teeth became infected and began to rot. Over the months waiting for an appointment, the infection spread and caused facial edema, resulting in two emergency room visits. Ultimately, four of his teeth had to be extracted and his permanent teeth will likely be adversely affected.

TCP’s report outlines recommendations for the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS), which is the department administering Medi-Cal. In addition to recommending that the department take steps toward higher reimbursement rates, TCP has suggested workforce solutions, like employing other dental professionals who work under the supervision of dentists (comparable to nurse practitioners). The expansion of teledentistry, or using technology to provide dental care at a distance, is another possible solution for serving remote areas.

Anthony Cava, a spokesman for DHCS, says that the department plans to perform a “network adequacy assessment” prior to the transition of children from Healthy Families to Medi-Cal, and that children will not be transitioned until DHCS is sure that the program is adequate to serve the additional children.

“DHCS continues to work with advocates to improve its dental program and is expanding its dental provider network to ensure access to dental care services for all children enrolled in Medi-Cal,” says Cava. The department did not respond more specifically to questions about the number of dentists accepting Medi-Cal.

Kattlove and The Children’s Partnership remain concerned. “We believe that the Department of Heath Care Services has a mandate that all children enrolled in Medi-Cal get the dental care they need. The legislature should hold the department accountable,” she says.

Kattlove believes that this could be a first step toward mandating adult dental coverage as well. “By having an overall action plan to ensure that all kids access their dental care, we can help put the issue of adults on the table … Adults need that care and end up in the emergency room because they can’t afford preventative visits. We also know that when parents access dental care, their children are more likely to access dental care,” she says.

Today, almost three months later, Christa Perry’s son has still not been treated. Perry, who both underwent a hysterectomy and had an aneurysm this winter, is not sure when she’ll be on her feet again.

“He keeps saying, ‘Mommy, my cheek hurts,’ and I don’t know what to do,” she says.

Taking Anti-Violence Message From Bay Area Streets to the White House

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a transcript of a conversation that took place on Street Soldiers Radio between Dr. Joseph Marshall, co-founder and Executive Director of Omega Boys Club of San Francisco and Reverend Michael McBride of The Way Christian Center in West Berkeley. Reverend McBride is also Director of the Lifelines to Healing Campaign, with the PICO National Network. The campaign is committed to addressing gun violence and mass incarceration of young people of color. Both Marshall and McBride were recent guests at the White House, where they spoke about the issue of gun violence in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting.

Dr. Marshall: So, I’m sitting in my car going through my emails at 7 o’clock at night and I get this email:

Dear Dr. Marshall,

In the weeks since the tragedy in Newtown, Americans from all over the country have called for action to deter mass shootings and reduce gun violence. President Obama has asked his Administration to identify concrete proposals for real reform in the coming weeks. The Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation specifically has been asked how to collaborate with the Office of the Vice President to consider how we might address the issue. Rather than prepare legislative proposals, we have been asked to explore how community solutions might allow us to tackle this challenge in a bottom-up, cross-sector manner.

As part of that process, senior Administration officials would like to hold a hands-on meeting on Friday, January 11th from 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. with leading thinkers from the broad field of social innovation. This is not a conventional meeting wherein people simply will listen, but we anticipate a hands-on problem solving session wherein attendees drawn from different sectors will be expected to participate and present.

So I finally get it — they’re asking me to come to the White House. It was Tuesday night and they wanted me to be there on Friday. So I say, “I’m going.” It was great to be asked from the Bay Area. The event was a social innovation workshop on violence prevention. They want(ed) to gather info and take it back to Vice President Biden, because you know gun control is the hottest thing right now.

Someone else was doing the same thing. Someone from the Bay, Reverend Michael McBride of PICO. Let’s get him on the line.

Reverend, how you doing?

Reverend McBride: Hey, Street Soldiers, I’m doing well. We had our meeting on Wednesday at the White House with about 12 other religious leaders from around the country.

Dr. M: Apparently he (Obama) met with faith-based leaders, he met with the NRA; he met with a whole bunch of folks. I guess he’s trying to cover the landscape and get a variety of thoughts and opinions from folks about this whole gun violence issue.

Certainly by the end of the month the President is supposed to announce what approach he will take after the Newtown shooting. You’ve been really involved with this; you’ve been leading clergy in a number of areas but particularly around this gun violence thing. How do you feel about what’s been going on with the Office of the Vice President and what they’re trying to do?

Rev. M: I think it’s certainly a great, ambitious agenda and set of recommendations that he’s trying to pull together. I believe that they’re trying to make the agenda and the recommendations as comprehensive as they can. And part of what I’ve been trying to continue to lift up — the kind of recommendations around background checks, making sure that all guns that are sold have background checks — is a very important policy change. 40 percent of all the 300 million guns in this country are sold without a background check and usually those are the guns that make it into our neighborhoods. So I think it’s an important policy change — trying to ban assault weapons and increase mental health services.

I’ve been saying that we also need to make sure that we continue to address gun violence in our cities all across the country. Certainly the tragedy of Newtown is very much on our minds, but just this year in Oakland we already had 4 murders. So we been saying that we need to unite the whole country around the common tragedy and pain of gun violence, and let’s make an effort to address everybody as it relates to these issues. Certainly, I think the recommendations that may come forward will address the flow of guns, but we also got to make sure that we are doing some immediate things in urban neighborhoods and cities all across the country. So that’s what we’ve been talking about and we’re gonna work very hard to get all of our clergy and community members, homies and friends to be involved because if we don’t, then other people will get their needs met and our communities will stay in the place that they are in right now.

Dr. M: It’s important to be in the conversation because you come up with things that they would never think about. I suggested to them that if they really want to do something here, they have got to do something to change people’s attitudes about using violence, period, and particularly around guns. I pointed out what was done around tobacco — the legislation came after they had begun to get people to change the way they thought about smoking. They really got people to think that “this is a health risk” and got people to stop. They didn’t label the person as bad, they said that smoking is not good for you. It took awhile, but they did it. To really make a dent in this thing they have to do something about the way people feel about guns and they also have to get people to think about using violence when they feel there is a problem. In all of these instances, whether it be Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Newtown or the homie on the block — he feels like the way to deal with however he is feeling is with violence. And what violence do I use? I use the gun.

So you got to get a seed change, an attitudinal change, and I don’t know if they’re willing to take that on. The legislative piece alone isn’t going to do it. In fact, more guns are selling, right, because people are afraid that Obama is going to ban them. There’s a huge battle with the 2nd Amendment.

Our approach is to get our young folks to think. A lot of them are wired to carry a gun, so if I don’t change that mindset, they’re just gonna do that.

Rev. M: Anything we want to happen in this country is gonna happen because we all get up and make it happen. If we wanna stop this violence, this is an opportunity. If we had 20 people to call their local senator or congressperson everyday about this issue — every single day — your local senator or congressman would actually change their decision. I’m talking about all over this country. It’s really important just for us to learn how the system works and to inject ourselves when we have opportunities. There is a truth and an opportunity in this moment. We need the laws changed, we need the behaviors changed and we need them all to understand that we are going to be very much active in this process. We’ve been traveling the country, meeting with families, meeting with clergy, and everyone says the same thing — we need to stop this violence.

Urban Tilth’s MLK Day of Service Showcases Richmond’s Green Thumb

News Feature, Edgardo Cervano-Soto

Teams of volunteers in white MLK t-shirts pushed wheelbarrows of compost and struck the ground with shovels for Urban Tilth’s 6th Annual MLK Day of National Service at the Richmond Greenway. Stretching from 6th Avenue to Harbour Way, the Richmond Greenway was host to multiple green projects and activities. By 9am, work was already underway on the many plant beds, and by the afternoon families and children strolled the greenway to the performing stages.

Along the trail, bilingual posters featuring quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. speeches were posted for the people to read. In addition to the projects, which included planting trees, mural painting and building sitting areas, numerous city organizations were on hand in their booths.

Alvino Rodriguez, 60, a grandfather, walked the Greenway with his family. He’s on a visit from Mexico, and said he was surprised by the activity on the Greenway. “It’s great to walk around, and see the progress of the city,” said Rodriguez. “The city is getting better, little by little.”

Near Harbour Way, Carmen Lee, 40, welcomed visitors to the Pogo Park booth and shared information on the non-profit organization that is leading the reimagining and building of parks in Richmond’s most underserved neighborhoods. Dr. Amahra Hicks presented a model of “Unity Park,” a community collaborative project to create a new park, and effort led by Pogo Park.

According to Dr. Hicks, “Unity Park” will feature amenities and play structures designed entirely by the community, an effort that has lasted three years. Today, Dr. Hicks was collecting signatures for future participation. “We want the community to be involved in this process. This is a very underserved community and Unity Park will put (in place) a lot of programs for the community to benefit,” he said.

Residents from Richmond were not the only ones volunteering. The event drew people from the nearby cities of Albany, Berkeley, Oakland and even Antioch. Marisol, 15, a student from Albany, found herself planting a tree on the Greenway for RichmondTrees, a grassroots organization promoting the growth of Richmond’s “urban forest.” The task of planting a tree was a new one for Marisol, but she was glad to participate and honor MLK through service. “It feels good to do something to honor Dr. King. There is not a whole lot of celebration where we live,” said Marisol, “and this brings everyone together.”

Q&A: Byron Hurt and the Dish on ‘Soul Food Junkies’

Question & Answer, Malcolm Marshall

Ed. Note: Writer, activist, lecturer and filmmaker Byron Hurt takes on tough subjects for the right reasons. His previous film “Beyond Beats and Rhymes,” explored the world of Hip-hop and music videos, and its affect on ideas of masculinity among youth and the black community. In his latest documentary, “Soul Food Junkies,” the New Jersey native examines the history of African American culinary culture, its connection to black identity and the impact it has had on African American’s health. It also digs into the growing food justice movement now taking root. The film airs on PBS Monday Jan 14th as part of the Independent Lens series. Hurt spoke with Street Soldiers producer Malcolm Marshall.

Richmond Pulse: Tell me about Soul Food Junkies and why you made this film.

Byron Hurt: The film “Soul Food Junkies” is a really personal and intimate story about my family and my relationship with my father and my father’s relationship with food, Soul food in particular but also fast food and other processed food. The story is about me sort of challenging my father to change his eating habits once he became seriously ill, and learning and realizing how difficult it was for him to do that. And then taking a journey to learn more about soul food’s history and why we’re so emotionally connected to the food. The film is humorous, informational and its emotional, and I think audiences will really appreciate it.

RP: How long did it take you to put this film together?

BH: I came up with the idea back in 2004 when my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I started working on the film in 2009, when I got my first funding. So we started shooting in June of 2009 and we finished in 2012 so it was about 3 years once we started production.

RP: “Soul Food Junkies” as well as your previous film “Beyond Beats and Rhymes” are both personal reflections on your own life. What do you want us to get out of “Soul Food Junkies?”

BH: This film is even more personal than “Beyond Beats and Rhymes.” I think it’s a better story. What I’d like the audience to get out of this film is to think a little more critically about the food that we consume: how we consume our food, how we prepare our food, the access that we have to food in our communities, or the lack of access.

I’d also like them to think about the healthy nutritious foods that we already have in our communities, and about what we can do on a regular basis to eat in a more healthy way so we can enjoy a longer and better quality of life.

I understand that changing one’s diet and eating habits is a very, very difficult thing. I’m not naive enough to think that the film in and of itself is going to do that. But I think the film will launch a lot of discussions and conversations around the country in households, among family members, friends and colleagues. It may prod some people to have some difficult conversations with a family member who may need to make some real serious changes to their diet.

RP: What’s the response been so far to the film?

BH: I’ve been showing the film around the country … Audiences start talking about their families and how they could relate to people in the film like my father, my sister or myself. And that was what I wanted to do; to make a film people could connect with and see themselves in.

When I went to see flicks like “Food Inc.,” or “Super Size Me” — both great films — one thing missing was that people of color, black people specifically, weren’t featured and we weren’t really reflected in the audience. This film speaks directly to us, African American people, people of color. But while its directed at us its also a very universal story that all people can identify with regardless of race and ethnicity.

RP: Soul food is a cultural term that has a lot of pride attached to it. Were there any sensitivities to putting it under the microscope in your film?

BH: People who didn’t really know me or weren’t really sure of my direction were concerned that I was going to throw soul food under the bus or that I was going to say we shouldn’t eat soul food anymore. If you watch the film it becomes clear that’s not what it’s about.

Soul food is part of who [African Americans] are, it’s a huge part of our cultural identity, passed down from generation to generation. It helped us survive, through slavery, reconstruction, the Civil Rights Movement … all of that. We have the right to guard our tradition, to maintain and hold onto what is ours because we’re always under attack by the status quo and people outside of our community. But even knowing that … one of the reasons I pay such close attention and I put so much care into my films is because I love black people and I love black culture and I would in no way throw my culture under the bus to make some sort of political or social point.

So for me it’s all about uplifting my community, about making myself better, growing and evolving and challenging my viewers to grow and evolve. That’s how you lift as you climb. That’s how you stand on the shoulders of your ancestors, and I feel a special obligation to do that.

Watch Is Soul Food a Sacrament or a Sin? on PBS. See more from Independent Lens.


FCC Says Cost of Prison Phone Calls Too High

FCC Says Cost of Prison Phone Calls Too High

Black America Web, News Report, Candace Bagwell

Experiencing life while a loved one is imprisoned can strain your emotions and relationships, but it shouldn’t strain your pocketbook.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) found that the cost of phone calls from incarcerated friends and family members is at an all-time high, and they are committed to changing that. In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC brought the issue to light, finding that most inmate calls are nearly 15 times more expensive than regular phone calls.

Full Story


Park It column by Ned MacKay, East Bay Regional Park District

It looks like this is a great time to go fishing in East Bay Regional Park District lakes, and here’s why: the park district has just planted more rainbow trout than ever before.

In December the district added a total of 23,000 pounds of rainbow to five of its lakes: Del Valle south of Livermore, Shadow Cliffs in Pleasanton, Quarry Lakes in Fremont, Lake Chabot in Castro Valley and Lake Temescal in Oakland.

Of this total, 17,000 pounds of fish were provided by the district and another 6,000 pounds by the State Department of Fish & Game. They must be swimming fin to fin out there.

In order to fish at district lakes, anglers age 16 or older must possess a state fishing license. These are generally available at sporting good stores. You must also purchase a $5 daily park district fishing access permit. These are sold at park kiosks and marinas.

Anglers age 15 and younger do not need a state license or park district permit. They can fish for free. And all ages can fish for free from piers on San Francisco Bay. It’s a state law. Piers where you can fish for free on the bay include those at Pt. Pinole in Richmond, and Carquinez Shoreline between Crockett and Martinez. The usual limits still apply.

All proceeds from sale of fishing access permits are used to help pay for planting more fish.
Anglers should be aware of a temporary situation at Contra Loma Reservoir in Antioch. Contra Costa Water District has lowered the reservoir for vegetation management and gauge installation.

The reservoir is being lowered to 188 feet from its maximum elevation of nearly 205 feet. Tule and other vegetation will be controlled, and the gauge will be installed near the dam.

Completion of this work is expected by the end of January, and the reservoir level will be restored. Until the water level rises again, it won’t be possible to plant game fish at Contra Loma. For further information contact Gina Oltman at Contra Costa Water District, 925-688-8010.

For full information on park district fishing regulations, fish plant schedules, and reports on where the fish are biting, check the district’s Anglers’ Edge newsletter online at You can also call 888-327-2757.