Losing My Close Friend to Suicide, and No One’s Talking About It

amalia lopez

It’s easy to forget that we are mortal until someone in your life disappears.

My first encounter with youth depression came during my sophomore year in high school. I was only a witness and yet its impact was powerful enough to rip my life apart.

At the the time, mental illness was something foreign to me, something that I didn’t need to be concerned about because it was one of those things that only happened to ‘other people.’ Until the “other people” included my friends. Then it became personal.

I remember the day depression became a part of my reality. I was thrown in, when I became a bystander to a statistic suicide is the second-leading cause of death for teens ages 15-19. This was when I heard from a friend that my friend Jaime had taken his own life the night before.

I couldn’t believe it–I had just talked to him and now he was gone?

Jaime could not be dead. He and I grew up together in the same small school.

Jaime, the person I spent my childhood with. Jaime, who had a little sister. Jaime, who I just saw not a even a month ago. Jaime, who would ask me for help with math, who would complement my drawings with a warm smile. Jaime, who was gone… now.

I remember going about my day as if in a dream, filching every time someone said, ‘Did you hear about that kid who died?

My classmates and I stood there and hugged and cried, saying that we loved each other, because we were hit with the realization that we each could be gone at any moment.

We had all grown up together in this small town, laughed together, learned together, and that day we mourned together. We felt the gravity of Jamie’s death together in silence and thought about the question we were all asking: Why?

The following week, a candle lit was held to honor his memory. So many people shared how Jaime had touched their lives. I had never witnessed such sorrow.

I am forever haunted by wails of his father. He stood there, mortal and broken and reduced to tears screaming, “Why? My baby boy, my son is gone.” The answer still evades me.

The following months were tough. One night my closest friend sent me a text saying he had tried to overdose on pills. I told his mother and he was immediately admitted to a hospital. He later confessed to me that he thought that if he had died before Jaime, he could have shown him that suicide is not the answer. My friend is receiving counseling, and is currently on medication.

If I had not been there I don’t know what could have happened.

Less than three months had passed since I lost someone I knew.  And then I almost lost one of my closest friends to this depression monster.  I feel as if depression is a contagious disease, subtly infecting my friends one by one.

Yet I still don’t fully understand how or why this can happen to someone. Maybe I, and my peers could better understand if mental illness was openly talked about in school. Mental health is an important part of our well-being, and needs to be part of our health education. We need to speak out to break the silence on mental health challenges like depression. This is the only way to reduce the fear and stigma that keeps young people silent about their struggles.

Students like Jamie need to know where to turn for help. Schools need to reach out to students who are struggling with depression and create a safe, open-minded environment for kids to openly speak about the issue.

Depression and self harm  are serious medical issues that are often not taken seriously, resulting in teens not getting the proper treatment they need. We can change this.

If you are concerned for yourself or someone else, don’t keep it a secret. Tell a trusted adult. 


Amalia Lopez, 17, is student at Arvin High School. She joined South Kern Sol’s youth reporting team in September.

Should I Give Up Eating Meat?


Photo • flikr/cookbookman17
Editor’s Note: A new report linking processed meat to cancer hits close to home in Richmond, where fast food is easy to come by. Writers Ronvel Sharper and Karina Guadalupe say this new information makes them want to change their own eating habits. But it won’t be easy.

Meat Is Murder — Or, At Least, Slow Suicide

By Ronvel Sharper

A new report from the World Health Organization says that bacon, sausage and other processed meats now rank alongside cigarettes and asbestos as known carcinogens — and red meat likely as well.

This proves just how unhealthy the typical American diet, with meat at the center, has become. Many people don’t know how what they eat could be damaging their health, or they think the bad effects won’t apply to them. As a meat eater myself, I knew bacon was unhealthy, but thought it only made you fatter, not that it could kill you.

I’m appalled that meat companies give people a slow death and profit from it. So what if the food tastes good? Do you want cancer? Do you want some meat company taking your money as you die by their food?

The WHO classified processed meat as carcinogenic on sufficient evidence for colorectal cancer — the second most lethal kind in the United States, causing 50,000 deaths a year. This especially affects communities like Richmond, where we have so many fast food options and our median income remains low. Fast food isn’t generally healthy, but the prices are suited to us. Instead, we should push for more fresh and healthy food in Richmond. The produce we do have is overpriced, and often isn’t even fresh.

In addition, a new Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study finds that diets incorporating fruits and vegetables now will benefit the hearts of young adults when they’re older. They’ll be less likely to have calcified plaque in their arteries, which can lead to hardened arteries and increase the risk of heart disease.

“People shouldn’t assume that they can wait until they’re older to eat healthy — our study suggests that what you eat as a young adult may be as important as what you eat as an older adult,” said the author of the study, Dr. Michael Miedema, a senior consulting cardiologist and clinical investigator at the Minneapolis Heart Institute.

After reading this, I actually want more fruits and vegetables — and, for the most part, I’m someone who can’t stand them. However, I enjoy a few, such as corn, bananas, blueberries, and other sweet ones. But they’re expensive, and I love my fast food!

So I can’t promise I will eat nothing but fruits and vegetables; it will take determination and willpower, and I will try my best. Just wish me luck, reader! And, maybe, you’ll eat more veggies and fruits yourself.


To Meat Or Not To Meat?

by Karina Guadalupe

For the past six months, I have contemplated changing to a vegan diet — not only for my health, but also for the environment. I’ve learned about the impact that eating meat has on our planet: consuming meat remains extremely wasteful, causes pollution, and animals undergo abuse and trauma before they are brutally murdered, just to mention a few reasons. And yes, I know that should be more than enough. However, it’s not that simple for me.

Considering my traditional meat-eating Mexican background, this has been a difficult change to make. My mom is an amazing cook, so I’m not sure how I’ll get through without her mole, pozole or tamales. Most traditional Mexican dishes have meat as their main ingredient. But I thought that, at the very least, I would try to become vegetarian.

Now the World Health Organization has announced that processed meats cause cancer — even comparing them to cigarettes. I didn’t know it was that serious. So now I have more than enough reasons to commit to “the change.” I’m not so naive to think this will happen overnight; I know I have a long, hard journey ahead of me, and I’ll have setbacks, but I’m ready for the challenge. I’ve made up my mind.

I’m hoping for a healthier lifestyle, and to feel better about what I contribute to this world. I can only change myself, and that’s where I will start.




Two Out of Three People Under 50 Have Herpes


Image courtesy of 123rf.com

by Keisa Reynolds

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released a report with information that many of us—but certainly not enough—already knew: having herpes is very common. WHO estimates two-thirds, or 67 percent, of the population under 50 years old are living with herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1).

HSV-1 is mostly spread orally, including non-sexual contact. Many people may have contracted it as children (when they come in contact with an adult who has herpes).

So if it’s so common, why it does it still carry a stigma? As an advocate for sexual health education, I have found there is a severe lack of information.

So here are a few things you need to know:

There are two types of herpes, HSV-1 and HSV-2. Both are easily spread and both are incurable. HSV-1 is the type that usually causes cold sores around your mouth, though it can also be spread to your genital area during oral sex. HSV-2 commonly causes genital herpes.

This information should not scare people into a frenzy. It’s just a reminder to pay closer attention to our bodies and take preventive care as needed.

Those who are sexually active should be cautious of how they engage in oral sex. There are barrier methods such as condoms and dental dams. But before you get to that, the first step is open communication with your sexual partners.

At the beginning of a new relationship, a partner of mine was very nervous when they disclosed they had oral herpes. They were used to people not wanting to be intimate with them and making assumptions about how they came in contact with it. We had a conversation about the risks and how to minimize contact. I was relieved they felt comfortable enough to let me know, and they gave me space to process the information (which was unnecessary since I knew herpes is common). They were a great person; having herpes was not a deal-breaker for me. And I wanted them to feel that our relationship was a safe space, as relationships should be. We maintained a healthy relationship where we could address personal issues, especially anything that could impact the other partner.

While communication is important, this does not mean anyone should be shamed into disclosure about herpes or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Some people mention stereotypes, for example, that people with STIs are sexually irresponsible—as if being infected with an STI were a punishment for having unprotected sex or having multiple sexual partners. Actually, sexually transmitted infections are so common that they are not an individual issue; if anything, the widespread occurrence of STIs shows that they are a cultural issue. And the solution is getting accurate information so you know how to protect yourself and be responsible.

I believe all of us need to advocate for more education about sexual health. Sexual health education is necessary and is often not as accessible or accepted as it should be.

We have to remind ourselves to remove any stigma around STIs. As a culture, we should create space for people to share information about their sexual health without fear of being shamed. Normalizing herpes and other STIs is one way to start. After all, two out of three people under 50 already have it. It’s time we started talking about it.

If you think you have been exposed to herpes, go to your doctor’s office to get tested. If you are concerned about privacy, there is a Planned Parenthood in Richmond, located at 340 Marina Way. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions about sexual health. They have probably heard it all and are there to help!

What Happens When Everybody Has a Gun?


Commentary,  Dr. Joseph Marshall

Guns are in the news again. The recent mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon thrust the issue of guns squarely back in the public eye. Guns are once again front and center–as they were after the Newtown school shooting three years ago and both gun control and gun rights advocates are once again pressing their cases.

However, this isn’t a piece about gun control or the 2nd Amendment or the right to own a gun. It’s not about legal guns or illegal guns or good guns or bad guns. And It’s not about politics or studies or research. This piece is about the kids I deal with and some of the things that I’ve encountered with them when it comes to guns.

Many of the young people I have dealt with over the years firmly believe in carrying a gun. It’s actually a commandment that they live by–“Thou shalt carry a gun for protection” is the way they put it. It’s dangerous in the neighborhoods they live in they say and they don’t want to be caught ‘slippin.’ They’d rather be caught with it than without it because you never know what’s on the other man’s mind. And they’ve been told that if you pull a gun, you’d better use it. Young people also say that there are way too many guns on the street and in their community–but their answer to the “way too many” is to add another gun to the mix, because quite frankly they’re scared.

Now what strikes me is that everyone else seems to pretty much believe the same thing. They all say they need a gun (or sometimes lot of guns) to protect themselves. They all live by that same commandment–“Thou shalt carry a gun for protection.” The athletes and entertainers say they need one because they’re famous and they’re a target; the homeowners say they need one because their homes might get broken into; school staff and teachers say they need to carry guns on school grounds because they have the right to protect themselves; students themselves carry guns to school because they’re having a problem with somebody at the school site.

Suburban communities see disturbances in Ferguson and Baltimore and they arm themselves to protect against…well actually I’m not sure who. And then there are those citizens who are concerned that the government will take away their rights or impose some kind of martial law–and they’ve got to protect themselves–and they store caches of weapons to do so. Quite frankly, it looks like everybody else is scared too!

So what do you do when everybody’s scared and everybody’s got a gun? Good question. And what do I say to the kids who are smart enough to look at everybody else and see that everybody else’s justification–to protect themselves–is pretty much the same as theirs?

We have a lot of great talks–the kids and I. They put their thoughts out there, I put out mine and we go back and forth. We have to because this is serious stuff and I’m trying to keep them Alive & Free.

One thing that really gets them to thinking though is when I talk about what it was like when I was their age–you know back in the day. They really find it hard to believe when I tell them that I did not go to one funeral of a peer when I was a teen. That I didn’t wear any T-shirts with dead homies’ names on them and that I didn’t have a scrapbook full of obituaries. There were no makeshift street vigils with teddy bears and balloons. Yes there were a lot of fights, but there weren’t a lot of deaths. Why? It’s really pretty simple. Nobody had a gun!

I remember the first time I saw a gun. I was 16 years old and I went to the playground to play basketball. My friend had a .38 and showed it to me. Absolutely freaked me out. The instrument of instant death was right there in his hand. It made me look at him in a whole different way because I knew I had a chance if we ever had a fight, but I knew I had no chance if he had that gun.

As the years went by it began to get all bad in my neighborhood and the neighborhoods around me–from nobody having a gun to everybody having one. From fights to shoot-outs. From no funerals to nothing but funerals. All because of those damn guns. All because everyone was scared and trying to protect themselves.

“It’s not like that anymore Dr. Marshall, but I sure wish it was,” the kids tell me. “I’m just glad we don’t have to worry about that here.” And they’re right. I figured out a long time ago that in bringing together and working with all kinds of kids–gang members, drug dealers, friends, enemies, turf rivals and everything in between–I really only had one thing to worry about. You could bring your attitudes, your past behaviors, your fears, your concerns, your different backgrounds, your belief in your need to protect yourself–all of that–but the one thing you couldn’t bring with you was a gun.

So I did my own form of gun control–I banned them. And if they brought them and I found out, I took them away and then I told them they could come anytime but the gun was not welcome. And then we talked about risk factors for violence–the gun being number one–and we talked about the mentality you have and the power you feel when you’ve got one. And we talked about being afraid and how to handle it when you’re feeling that way. And we watched movies like Juice and South Central and we analyzed them. And I told them that in spite of what everyone else was doing the worst possible thing they could do was have a gun. And then I gave them our number one Rule for Living–The Rule of Life: “There’s nothing more valuable than an individual’s life.”

So tell me have I been wrong all this time? Should I have let them bring their guns because they felt the need to protect themselves? And further was I wrong myself in not having a gun to protect myself and them in case someone came in here to harm me or them? I need to know because I want them to stay Alive & Free, and if I’m not doing it the right way please tell me.

What I can tell you is this. It’s been 28 years and 1456 Tuesday night meetings and 200 college graduates produced and not one gun death here. Not even a fight. Imagine that! It’s almost like the old days, huh?

Yes I know everybody’s got a gun. But not here. Stay Alive & Free.


Dr. Joseph E. Marshall, Jr. is a noted author, lecturer, and host of the Street Soldiers radio show on 106MKEL. He is both a MacArthur genius award recipient and an Ashoka Fellow recognized for his pioneering work in the area of youth violence.

Follow Dr. Joseph E. Marshall, Jr. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DrAliveNFree



Using Cosplay to Get Through Anxiety

Using Cosplay to Get Through Anxiety

New America Media, News Feature, Stacey Arevalo

Photos by: Nicolas Heredia

Her heart rate starts rising. Her hands begin to sweat and shake. She paces back and forth.

“I feel like something is going to happen to me but nothing is really there,” she says. “[I tell myself,] ‘There is nothing wrong. It’s okay. This is just your body being weird again.’”

This is what an anxiety attack feels like for Karina Perez, a 20-year-old student at Pierce College.

She started having the attacks while she was involved in an abusive relationship. She also fell into a depression. The relationship is over, but the anxiety attacks have continued.

“During my first year at Pierce I went through an abusive relationship that no one knew about,” Perez says. Her boyfriend, she says, was emotionally abusive, controlling, and unfaithful.

The emotional strain made it hard to focus at school. “I was 18 at the time, very young and inexperienced, so it really hit me,” she says.


“It was a pain to go to school and try to concentrate when my mind was being blown up by everything else.”

Even though Perez was determined to succeed in college, her inability to focus led her to drop all her classes during her first semester at Pierce. Then she decided not to take classes the following semester, setting her back a full year.

“It was shocking to see my grades so low because I was always used to seeing good grades. When I was younger I graduated with honors,” Perez says. She started losing weight.

Her internal struggle wasn’t apparent to the people around her. “People thought I was just taking a year for myself,” she says.

Dr. Janina Scarlet, a licensed clinical psychologist at the Center for Stress and Anxiety Management and Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego, says there are many popular misconceptions about depression.

“Many people think that a person who is depressed is sad all the time, is unable to laugh, is ‘weak’ and/or suicidal. None of these are true of everyone,” Scarlet says. “Many people with depression might not be ‘obviously’ depressed. They might laugh and appear happy while struggling on the inside.”

Perez agees. “You can be the most active person in the world and be depressed,” she says. “Look at Robin Williams; he made so many people happy and looked like such a happy person but he was struggling with so much.”

“I lost so much weight. I basically lost interest in everything,” Perez says. “I was still trying, but there were days when I didn’t have the will to get out of bed.”

Dr. Scarlet says that symptoms of depression include a low or sad mood, as well as difficulty enjoying things one used to enjoy. Individuals may also experience fatigue, trouble eating or sleeping, thoughts about being worthless, thoughts of suicide, and withdrawal from social activities.

Over time Perez was able to deal with her depression and anxiety in a unique way.

“I realized that my life was going nowhere,” she says. “Therapy was alright, but I realized that putting my mind into projects was helping [more]. I would dance, focus on school projects, and then I started cosplay.”

In cosplay (“costume play”), people dress up as fictional characters whom they like or admire, says Perez. Cosplayers go to gatherings and conventions and meet with others who have similar interests.

“It is a very open and loving community that I fell in love with,” Perez says.

Dr. Scarlet says that an activity like cosplay can have an important role in some people’s healing process.

“There is research that shows that meaningful social engagement, such as what cosplay provides … can potentially reduce depression and help buffer the individual against depression,” Scarlet says.

Scarlet has herself pioneered a type a therapy she calls “Superhero Therapy,” the goal of which she says is to “help patients become the very kind of hero that they want to be despite any limitations they might face.” She incorporates concepts around superheroes and other fictional characters into her therapy practice, which she says can help patients better identify with their own struggles. It’s common for people to relate with fictional characters, she says, and she uses those characters’ vulnerabilities to help her patients realize that everyone experiences them.

Due to the positive feedback Perez was receiving on her costumes, she started a Facebook fan page called KPM Cosplay where she posts pictures of the costumes she creates. She has over 4,500 followers and makes appearances at conventions.

“Cosplay [has been] my own form of therapy,” Perez says. “It [has been] nice to bring so much happiness to others. It was unexpected.”

Perez’s costumes portray characters she identifies with, both female and male. They’ve included Star-Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy, Khal Drogo from Game of Thrones, Batman, and multiple characters from the X-Men.

“The X-Men are made up of people that fight for acceptance so I relate to that,” Perez says.

After graduating from Pierce, Perez plans to attend law school. Her dream job would be working on a legal team at SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, which manufactures and launches new kinds of rockets and spacecraft.

“This company brings a lot of science into reality. I want to be in a place where I can merge different parts of my life and be completely happy,” Perez says.

Now that Perez has found a way to take control of her anxiety and depression, she encourages people suffering with depression to seek help with friends and family.

“Don’t be afraid to accept that there is something wrong going on,” Perez says. “How else is anyone supposed to help you if you don’t say it?”

She also recommends that students seek help at Pierce’s student health center, which offers individual therapy sessions.

“There will be times when things will be bad,” says Perez. “But you can’t let anxiety or depression stop your life.”

At this point, Perez says she’s learned to embrace her anxiety.

“If the anxiety went away [completely] I would lose a part of myself,” Perez says. “It is a part of my personality and a part of what pushes me. It is not necessarily a positive thing in my life, but I’ve learned to turn it into one.”

NAM’s community college initiative on youth depression is supported by the California Health Care Foundation. Additional support for expanding ethnic and youth media coverage of mental health issues comes from The California Endowment, The California Wellness Foundation, The Orchard House Foundation, The Parnassus Fund, The Arthur Rock Foundation, The Wallace A Gerbode Foundation, and The Zellerbach Family Fund.


Richmond Grinders Capture Medal In Junior Olympics Nationals


Richmond Grinders Capture Medal In Junior Olympics Nationals

By Dedan Ji Jaga

“There is no magic arrow for good health. The solution to the health crisis that our youth face is for communities to embrace a culture of fitness and proper diet. We must love our children enough to instill in them the discipline to exercise regularly and to eat right.”

— Dr. Tommie Smith, Gold Medalist, 1968 Mexico City Olympics

The Richmond Grinders won a medal at the junior Olympics nationals in Virginia this year. And as their coach, I can tell you that what they accomplished is only the beginning. Their success is part of a bigger movement in Richmond and across the country, and its inspiration dates all the way back to the 1968 Olympics.

Five years ago, Mark Alexander of the organization 100 Black Men of America, Inc., which works to improve the quality of life within African-American communities, asked me to create a health and fitness program for Richmond. The idea was to get our community involved in the Youth Movement, a youth development program focused on children’s health.

Youth Movement was started in response to the high numbers of African American children suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and other health problems. Its mission
is to improve the overall health and well-being of young people through physical fitness training, wholesome food choices, character development, and mentoring.

We introduced aspiring young athletes to educational nutrition clinics, aerobic and endurance assessments, track and field skills, and participation in local, regional and national track meets, like the Annual Tommie Smith Youth Track Meet, which is a celebration and recruiting tool for the Youth Movement program. Young athletes also got to interact with Olympic greats like Tommie Smith, Eddie Hart and Mike Powell.

Gold medalist Tommie Smith won his medal in 1968, the same year that Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. It was the courage of Smith and John Carlos — with their iconic, defiant fists raised to the heavens — that helped inspire people from their grief. It’s the main reason why Smith tops my hero list, and it’s inspiring to work with him to create a more promising future for our children.

As Alexander of 100 Black Men of America has said, “Our children’s success is predicated on a wholesome lifestyle. When we nurture our children, we strengthen our community.”

It is from these core principles that the Richmond Grinders evolved to become a respected presence in the ever-expanding track and field community.

With Smith as our “patron saint,” the Richmond Grinders proudly run under the banner of the Tommie Smith Youth Movement, enjoying support that includes training clinics, track shoes, uniforms and equipment. Smith also hosts an annual series of track meets in Washington, D.C., New Orleans and Louisville, Kentucky, along with our annual showcase meet at U.C. Berkeley.

Currently, the Grinders count 15 athletes on its roster. Thanks to a collaboration with Tara Hills Elementary School — the only elementary school with a full track and field program in the school district last year — we expect another 25 to 35 students to join our program. The club accepts participants as young as 4 and as old as 17.

This year, five of our athletes qualified for the Amateur Athletic Union’s national “Junior Olympics” track and field competition at Norfolk State University in Virginia. Four traveled to compete, including my daughters Amadi, 9, and Naja, 11, along with 9-year-old Amaya Harris and 12-year-old Marcell Anderson.

During our coast-to-coast, 22-day odyssey to Virginia and back, we crossed 20 states, visited 41 cities and drove more than 6,800 miles. We sweated down the simmering highways of California, through arid flats of eastern Nevada and the salt lakes of Utah, and marveled at the painted rock facades of Arizona and the vastness of Texas before admiring the greenery of West Virginia, the plains of Kansas and the mountainous ranges of Wyoming.

DSC_9350The redeeming moment of the competition came when Naja, struggling with an ankle injury, medaled in fourth place of the Turbo Javelin event, besting more than 60 other competitors who represented some of the best young athletes in the nation.

“We saw and learned so much, but I also learned that I have a lot of work to do in order to compete on a national level,” Marcell told me.

Working with kids remains a constant reward with recurring dividends, and experiencing these moments together with my daughters makes it priceless. I hope my daughters see what I am doing and someday continue the cycle, giving back beyond the extent they have received.

Urban Tilth Celebrates 10 Years of Food Justice


Photo Essay, David Meza and Malcolm Marshall

Marking a decade of community gardening, about 225 people came from across the Bay Area to the Craneway Pavilion on Saturday, Oct. 3 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the non-profit Urban Tilth.

The fundraiser included bus tours of some of Urban Tilth’s community gardens in Richmond, along with a seasonal harvest dinner prepared by the People’s Kitchen of Oakland. The event also featured live music and dancing, including a stirring a cappella performance by singer Jennifer Johns.

Urban Tilth works to put healthy and sustainable foods into the kitchens of Richmond and West Contra Costa County residents. Employing local youth, the group manages community gardens through the area — many in schools, where they grow and sell food and teach community members to cultivate their own gardens.

“What makes Urban Tilth so powerful is their commitment not just to healthy food or healthy land, but above all to healthy people and community power,” said Josh Healey, emcee for the evening.

“They put young people, black and brown people, at the center of the conversation about what food justice looks like in Richmond,” he said. “They have a bold vision. It’s not just about one little garden here or there; they’re on their way to radically transforming the whole food system in Richmond and beyond.”

Inside the Craneway, the event began with a screening of “Gaining Ground,” the new work from Portland, Oregon filmmakers Barbara Bernstein and Elaine Velazquez, which looks at both rural and urban farmers feeding local communities sustainably by changing their farming practices. Urban Tilth and its executive director Doria Robinson feature prominently in the film.

“Urban Tilth brings together youth organizing, environmental justice and urban agriculture in a totally unique, beautiful way,” said Healey. “As this drought continues in California, and climate change [continues] across the globe, they’re teaching all of us the skills we’ll need to thrive and survive as a community — and really, a species. I love Urban Tilth not just because they show me how to grow food and eat right, but because they really show us all how to live.”

California Governor Signs Health for All Kids Bill



News Report, Viji Sundaram, New America Media

Photo courtesy of the Office of Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens.

In May 2016, California will become the fifth state to allow undocumented children from low-income families to enroll in comprehensive health care.

Gov. Brown signed legislation Friday that will allow 170,000 undocumented children to smoothly transition from restricted scope Emergency Medi-Cal (the state’s name for Medicaid) to full-scope coverage, by removing barriers to re-applying or re-enrolling. It will also let children with severe and chronic illnesses stay in specialty care.

Once undocumented children enroll in comprehensive Medi-Cal, they will be able to take advantage of preventive services and not have to wait until a medical emergency to seek care.

Earlier this year, the governor allocated $40 million for health care coverage for undocumented children through the Health for All Kids program initiated by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, while committing an allocation of $132 million for each subsequent year.

“When I began the effort to expand health care coverage to undocumented Californians, many people said it couldn’t get done,” Sen. Lara said in a press release. “Just a year later, we are covering all undocumented children, becoming the largest state to do so.”

He said the victory will send a message across the country “that says compassion should always trump bigotry when we’re talking about our immigrant population.” Lara noted that President Obama’s Affordable Care Act excluded undocumented immigrants.

Tanya Broder, a staff attorney with the National Immigration Law Center in its Oakland office, said she was happy that California took this step.

“I look forward to continuing the conversation about the need to cover everyone in California,” she said.

That conversation is expected to resume early next year when Lara’s SB 10 bill, aimed at providing health coverage to the state’s 1.5 million or so undocumented adults, will be taken up by the legislature. The bill will provide health care coverage through a capped Medi-Cal enrollment program, and seek a federal waiver so undocumented residents can purchase health insurance on the state’s online marketplace exchange, Covered California, using their own money.

The other states that currently provide comprehensive health care to children, regardless of their immigration status, are Massachusetts, Illinois, Washington and New York, as well as the District of Columbia.

Earlier this year, Sacramento, Contra Costa, and Monterey counties, along with the County Medical Services Program that serves 35 small and rural counties in California, launched pilot programs to provide limited health benefits to their remaining uninsured, regardless of their immigration status.

“Californians increasingly recognize it is more efficient and effective to offer primary, preventive and specialty care on the front end rather than just expensive emergency and episodic care when it may be too late,” observed Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a statewide health advocacy coalition.

County Supervisors Expand Health Care For Undocumented Immigrants



By Melvin Willis | Photo courtesy: Anthony Wright

Contra Costa County supervisors voted 4-1 on Sept. 22 to enact a new pilot program that — pending matching funds from local hospitals — would provide health care coverage to potentially thousands of undocumented immigrants for the next year.

An estimated 19,000 Contra Costa County residents remain without health coverage despite President Barack Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act. Now Contra Costa County, like San Francisco and Los Angeles counties before it, will narrow this gap with a program designed to cover an additional 3,000 adults, regardless of their immigration status.

County supervisors designated $500,000 to launch the program this coming November, with similar matching funds expected to come from area hosiptals. The program intends to provide basic, preventative and non-emergency care to uninsured adults for a year.

Lydia Arizmendi, a 52-year-old Richmond resident and member of the community group Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, is one of them.

“I have not been able to get checked out by a doctor because the out-of-pocket costs at the clinic are too expensive,” said Arizmendi, who has been living with diabetes and kidney pain for more than a year.

Arizmendi works as a janitor, cleaning fast-food restaurants. She said that some days her pain from diabetes becomes so bad that she can’t get out of bed to go to work. But because of her undocumented status, she can’t receive the care she needs, and remains afraid that she could end up in an emergency room or lose her life to a preventable illness.

“Health care for all means that I could benefit from regular doctor visits,” she said. “With my condition, that could mean the difference between maintaining my health or a costly emergency visit that I’m afraid would be a huge burden on me and my family.”

The new pilot program will be available to Contra Costa County residents 18 and older who remain uninsured and not eligible for full-scope Medi-Cal or the Covered California exchange created through Obamacare. Household annual income must not exceed 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($16,105 for an individual; $32,913 for a family of four).

Four participating community health centers — La Clinica de la Raza, LifeLong Medical Care, Axis Health and Brighter Beginnings — would provide primary care services to participants. Planned Parenthood of Northern California would also provide limited services.

Health care advocates argue that lack of coverage doesn’t only hurt people’s health; it can also hurt California’s economy. A 2009 Center for American Progress report found that lack of insurance cost the California economy between $18.3 and $36.7 billion in lost productivity that year.

Support for providing health care, regardless of immigration status, has also grown in recent years. According to a recent Field Poll, 58 percent of registered voters think California should provide Medi-Cal to all undocumented immigrants.

“Today was a huge victory in bridging the gap of health equity in Contra Costa County,” said Alvaro Fuentes, executive director of the Community Clinic Consortium, which represents community health centers in Contra Costa County. “The vote today echoes the voices of thousands of individuals — locally and statewide — committed to improving the health of their communities by ensuring that everyone has access to quality and affordable health care.”

Melvin Willis is an organizer with ACCE (Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment)

Health Watchdog Put E-Cigarette Manufacturers On Notice

SAN FRANCISCO — A California health watchdog put e-cigarette manufacturers on alert on September 2, warning them that if they don’t recall the products they have sold on the California market within 60 days, they could be sued.

The action follows independent lab tests by the Oakland-based Center for Environmental Health (CEH) of e-cigarettes manufactured by 24 companies; 21 of them had products that have high levels of one or both of the cancer-causing chemicals, formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, said Charles Margulis, media director at the center.

The CEH found that most – 50 of 97 products examined – contained high levels of one or both chemicals.

Vapor4Life and R.J.Reynolds, two manufacturers listed among the companies whose products were tested by CEH, did not respond to requests seeking comment.

Brought on the U.S. market eight years ago, and promoted as a lot less hazardous than conventional cigarettes, e-cigarette manufacturers have been recommending them as a quitting aid for smokers.

The product is also known as a personal vaporizer, or electronic nicotine-delivery system, among other names. Some look like a regular cigarette, others come with a pocket-size vaporizer and nicotine-juice cartridges.

Critics said that in many respects it is not that different from the conventional cigarette. A drag from its mouthpiece gives the person a genuine nicotine fix.

Research findings reported in The New England Journal of Medicine state that “like conventional cigarettes, electronic cigarettes may function as a ‘gateway drug’ that can prime the brain to be more receptive to harder drugs.”

Because major tobacco companies such as R.J. Reynolds have gotten involved in the e-cigarette market, health and environmental groups grew suspicious of claims that e-cigarettes are “healthier than smoking,” and that they contain “harmless water vapor.”

“These cigarettes are promoted as safe and as only containing water vapor, which is a lie,” asserted Dr. Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California in San Francisco and director of the school’s Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education.

Glantz accused California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris as being lax in enforcing issues around e-cigarettes and tobacco products.

“She’s been asleep at the switch on this,” he asserted, noting that just last week she “quietly settled” with some e-cigarette manufacturers in California for violating a consent decree with the state that they would stop selling flavored e-cigarettes.

In the 60-day notice sent out Sept. 2, the CEH is not only demanding a recall of products already sold, it wants manufacturers to provide “clear and reasonable warning” for products sold in the future, plus pay an appropriate civil penalty for violating the state’s Health and Safety Code.

CEH executive director Michael Green said his agency’s legal action aims to force the industry to comply with the law and create pressure “to end their most abusive practices.”

photo credit courtsey of PR News Wire.