Young Men Deserve Credit for Steep Declines in Richmond Violence

OP-ED • DeVone Boggan

Richmond, CA has experienced another consecutive year of historic declines in violence. The City marked its lowest homicide rate in 33 years in 2013.

While we should celebrate this milestone with great exuberance, the media coverage about this success has been shortsighted. The police officers in Richmond certainly deserve recognition, but so do the young men who have decided to stop the violence.

When one truly desires to live, better decisions are made, lives are changed, and conditions are created that help to transform a city.

Each day in Richmond, boys and men of color between the ages of 13-25 (sometimes younger, sometimes older) face significant challenges including that of negotiating conflicts that have traditionally led to vicious cycles of gun violence. For example, such disputes produced more than 160 deaths here between 2006-2009.

In late 2007 the City of Richmond created the Office of Neighborhood Safety (ONS). The ONS is a non-law enforcement city agency with the charge of reducing firearm assaults and associated deaths. In 2013, the city recorded the lowest number of firearm assaults and homicides in more than three decades, and has experienced a 66% reduction in such crime between the ONS launch and 2013.

Although street level conflicts (disputes that may result in retaliatory cycles of gun violence) are ongoing, and several were certainly navigated by our city’s most vulnerable young men in 2013, their responses to these transgressions were far different than in past years.

In mid-2010, the ONS launched the Operation Peacemaker Fellowship, known nationally as “the Richmond Model.” As it is called by its local users, “the Fellowship” is an 18-month intensive transformative mentoring program that is responsive to and customized for those identified to be the most likely perpetrators and/or victims of firearm assaults in Richmond. Since 2010, there have been three Fellowship cohorts and as a result 68 boys and young men of color have agreed to participate. The results of this robust engagement have been dramatic and promising.

Of the 68 Fellows over the past 43 month period: 65 are alive (95%); 64 have not been injured by firearm (94%); and 57 are not in custody (84%). The Fellowship, and its Fellows, have contributed to a 50% reduction in firearm related homicides in Richmond compared to the four years before the Fellowship was implemented.

It is essential to communicate the impact of strong partnerships between a caring community and those who have the greatest influence over the direction in which gun violence trends. Without such a relationship, courage, willingness, and the patience required to empower these specific young men – very little changes, and epidemic rates of gun violence persists.

We have made a commitment to acknowledge and affirm the value, worth and humanity of these young men. As such, Richmond must continue to advance positive investments towards the hope that is dependent upon this specific group of individuals. Only then is real and longstanding “peace in our streets” possible.

There is still much work to do. No codes have been cracked and we should not be satisfied until gun violence ends in Richmond. For the families that have lost loved ones this year and in years past, you and the memory of those who have passed on have encouraged a firm resolve and an ongoing commitment to make our city a healthier place to live, work and play.

The ONS and I are truly grateful to the many young men who when faced with potentially lethal contention, made healthier decisions. We are proud of your hard work, your strength and resolve to resist years of bad information, advice, example and instruction that point you toward a path known to escalate conflicts. You are our city’s greatest resources and advocates for creating a healthy Richmond. For this we celebrate you.

So with great humility, a strong sense of pride and a heart filled with hope, I thank you!

(DeVone Boggan serves as Neighborhood Safety Director and Director of the Office of Neighborhood Safety in Richmond, California)

In Richmond, Does Eating Healthy Depend On Where You Live?

by Luis Cubas

You know how the saying goes: “You are what you eat.” The problem is, we don’t always have a choice. In many parts of Richmond, organic and fresh foods can be quite hard to come by, yet junk food is abundant – a corner store or a fast food restaurant is never too far away. As a Bay Area news reporter from NBC recently put it, “Don’t get hungry in Richmond…”

Here’s a typical scenario: With little time and money available to get lunch, you rush to the nearest fast food restaurant to grab a hamburger. You decide to get the special deal of the day — a hamburger, fries and a large soda. As you quickly unwrap the delicious burger, the familiar smell fills your nose, urging you to take a bite. You quickly devour the hamburger. You head back to work, grateful for the quick and cheap meal. It’s practically a daily ritual.  Rarely if ever do you consider that the meals — so convenient in some ways – could be causing you harm.

“People don’t understand how junk food affects their bodies and their minds. They don’t care, because they don’t see the connection between their own success and their health,” says Doria Robinson, executive director of Urban Tilth and a third-generation Richmond resident. “We have a serious lack of healthy, affordable food in Richmond. There is only one grocery store and… liquor stores.”

Robinson’s organization, Urban Tilth, utilizes a number of strategies with the end goal of getting healthier food into the kitchens of Richmond and West Contra Costa County residents. “What we do is we grow food, sell it at different schools, give it away, take it to food banks, [and] we start community gardens so that you can just grow your own for free,” says Robinson.

The term “food desert” refers to areas that have poor acess to healthy and fresh food, usually in the form of full service grocery stores. The following map gives us a look at the grocery stores and food sources located throughout Richmond.

Screenshot 2013-11-18 00.29.05As we can see, even though there are a good number of small grocery stores in the area, most of them are concentrated in the heart of the city. A closer examination reveals that many of the city’s neighborhoods, such as North Richmond, stand out due to the fact that there are no grocery stores — or even fast food restaurants — in the area.

“There aren’t as many organic markets in low-income communities,” says Richmond resident, Alma Carrillo. “Organic food is expensive compared to fast food. Also, eating healthy is time consuming. Not many families have the time to prep meals. Families don’t have time to cook, period, because of work. Dollar-menu chicken sandwiches are way more convenient, and cheaper.”

Not surprisingly, in a world where fast food has replaced fresher and more nutritious meals, health conditions like obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes have skyrocketed. As Robinson points out, “If you are surviving from packaged food (or) junk food, your stress levels are gonna be higher. Your response to stress is going to be more inefficient.”

Despite the significant obstacles, Robinson believes Richmond is headed towards a healthier future. “We have a group of people who are really interested (in promoting healthier foods)… We have an existing inventory of liquor stores, or small produce stores, that could be converted… We also have a lot of land that is cheap. So, if you look at all of those assets, you can think about actually getting to what we really need.”

Breaking Silence on Trauma is First Step to Healing

Commentary by Maaika Marshall, RYSE Youth Justice Coordinator

In cities and communities like Richmond, young people are often exposed to immense amounts of trauma and violence; and unfortunately, many of them are left to find their own ways to cope with the emotional and psychological aftermath.  But at least in Richmond, adults who support young people are trying to connect and begin a conversation about what youth are experiencing, and what should be done to help.

Over the course of 2013, the RYSE Center surveyed nearly 450 young people in Richmond about their experiences with traumatic violence, in order to determine which strategies are best suited to support their healing. The findings from that assessment, dubbed “The Listening Campaign,” were presented last month to an audience of services providers, public agencies, community organizations, schools, and funders.

The types of trauma that young people described varied widely, although there was one theme that stood out from the rest due to its frequency: exposure to gun and gang violence. Racism and bullying were also common experiences. Likewise, a number of youth reported being victim to “silent” forms of violence – things that happen away from the public eye — such as sexual and domestic violence.

Disturbingly, the interviews also revealed that by and large, young people who experience violence are choosing to simply keep quiet. Many youth described feeling shame about the things they were seeing and experiencing, and described a general lack of trust toward the adults in their lives, and a fear of being judged, as the primary reasons for their decision to remain silent.

As a result, there is a correlation between experiencing traumatic violence and unhealthy coping behaviors. Use and abuse of drugs and alcohol were the most commonly identified coping strategies – some youth reported that using allowed them to “forget” their problems for a while. “Running away,” both physically and metaphorically, was heard from the youth. The most damaging behaviors, such as drug abuse, usually accompanied the worst types of violence.  Only a small percentage of young people surveyed (1 to 2 percent) said they responded to their traumatic experience by seeking counseling.

The Listening Campaign lays the foundation for youth service providers and others who work in service or on behalf of young people to begin to make headway on “breaking the silence” of violence-induced trauma in children. Many youth who participated in the campaign described needing “someone they can trust, someone to listen to them.” In turn, the adults expressed a commitment to continue listening and create programs, policies and practices that will ensure young people in the community feel safe to share their experiences, and loved.  It is important for all community members to remember that all it can take to change a young person’s life is for one person to stop and LISTEN!

For more information about the Listening Campaign, you can contact Kanwarpal Dhaliwal, RYSE Community Health Director at Kanwarpal@rysecenter.org

Soon-to-Be Parents Get What They Need at Resource Fair

News Feature, Chanelle Ignant

The gymnasium at Lavonya DeJean Middle School gave new meaning to the phrase “multi-purpose” last Saturday, when it was transformed into a baby shower venue for scores of expecting parents and their family members.

The second annual Family Resource Fair, sponsored by 4 Richmond and West County Baby Committee, was held to raise awareness of city programs and resources for pre-natal and post-natal care. About sixty soon-to-be parents and relatives took advantage of the resources and were treated to breakfast and lunch, as well as a raffle, free baby clothes, and other necessities.

Joan Carpenter, district coordinator for city supervisor John Gioia, said the event is a crucial one for many Richmond families.

“We have such a high rate of African-American and Latino infant mortality in West Contra Costa County,” said Carpenter, who started the event last year as a way to meet the challenges faced by local parents.

“A lot of the mothers don’t have resources like clothing or things they need for infants. We wanted to make sure they have all the resources they need to keep their baby healthy,” she said.

As well as distributing much needed material help, the fair puts a focus on parents establishing healthy habits before, during and after pregnancy.

Alexina Rojas of West Contra Costa First Five led participants through stretching exercises in between presentations, demonstrating simple routines that parents can do at home.

“Kids learn what they see”, said Dr. Desmond Carson, during his presentation on weight management. “If they see you exercising, they will too.”

Staff from Oakland-based Lifelong Medical Care provided free glucose screenings.

Presentations offered practical parenting tips, information about the Affordable Care Act, information on how to access to continued education, and lessons on money management.

First time mom Samantha Baumgardner was invited by her mother. The 24-year-old aspiring medical technician was encouraged by the stories of moms who had children early, but started successful careers later in life.

“I was surprised to hear that they were able to make a career after having a kid at a young age,” said Baumgardner.

Peter Memariam came hoping to receive information, and he left impressed by the upscale feel of the event, and grateful for the resources provided. The 27-year-old is expecting his first son, with partner Rachel Valle.

Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin was among a number of public officials and community leaders who attended the fair.

Even those who weren’t expecting children said they learned something new that they could share with friends and family.

“I didn’t know that so many resources were out there,” said Kim Jones. She found out about the event through First 5, and brought her four-month-old granddaughter.

Stephanie Sequeira had her first child at 17. Now 25, and a mother of three, Sequeira learned about the resource fair and decided to invite some of her friends who are soon to be mothers.

“I didn’t have all the resources they’re talking about today,” said Sequeira.

12 Years a Slave – A Must See Film For Black Youth

Movie Review, Monet Boyd

I recently had the privilege of watching the new movie, “12 Years a Slave,” which is based on a memoir by Solomon Northup. Northup was born in 1808 in Saratoga, New York as a free Black man. His book tells the story of his capture by slave traders in 1841 and the ensuing long hard years he spent transitioning from a free life to that of a slave.

He was a father, a husband, and a well-respected man in the north. One of his many skills was playing the fiddle, which benefited him in many ways throughout the movie. Solomon Northup was a survivor. He never lost his identity, though slave masters, overseers, and even other slaves told him to forget his past. In one scene, an overseer beats him brutally just for uttering his real name and proclaiming that he was a free man. Even after his back was stripped of its skin, he still stood tall.

As I sat in the movie theater watching amazing actors and actresses depict my ancestors and their many hardships, all I could do was cry. From the stripping of names, to the stripping of skin, to the breaking of families, I truly cannot understand why people choose to forget about this part of history. Maybe some choose to forget because it is such a harsh reality. Most often we are told that slavery is where Black history begins — not that we were Kings and Queens with unshackled feet, long before we were stripped of our land and freedoms. This movie is a reminder that my ancestors were not submissive, but warriors who knew that it would one day get better. I hope, in my own life, to internalize their strength and greatness.

The film is far from comfortable — the brutality and the unbelievable mental and physical abuse is no happy sight. Director Steve McQueen unapologetically displays the inhumanity of slavery.

My mind was blown by hearing the words and phrases used by the slaveholders, and how they were not unfamiliar to me: “nigga,” “stop crying before I give you a reason to cry,” and “light skin is better than dark skin.” I find it scary that these words are still spoken. I find it scary that we have internalized these terms, and now use them to refer to one another. In one scene, another slave, Patsy, is getting whipped when the master asks Solomon to do it. He doesn’t want to, but Patsy says, “I rather it be you, Solomon.” As a people, I wonder if we have gotten used to hurting one another?

In another scene, Solomon is hanging from a tree with a noose around his neck and his feet barely touching the ground. People walk around him, and even children play. Only one girl gives him water. To see Black people so numb to slavery and its brutality made my stomach turn. It reminded me of how Black boys die on the streets and no one mourns unless the media makes a big deal of it. And the hand that killed him probably looked similar to his. I think in the Black community we have a lot of self-hate.

Although “12 Years a Slave” is hard to watch at times, it is a must see for people of all ages. As a 16-year-old, I was enlightened by the truth in this film, and I encourage all young folks to see it. Yes, it’s sad, but we need to see what our ancestors went through, so we can make sure that their blood was not shed in vain; that we do not repeat the very crimes against each another that our ancestors once endured at the hands of others.

RAW Talent Presents “Po’ Boys Kitchen”

A Spoken Word Theater Piece by Richmond Youth,
March 7th & 8th at De Anza High School Theater

“Po’Boys Kitchen” is a spoken word theater piece written, directed, and produced by Richmond youth. The central character of this show is the corner store itself, a Black-owned, family business in the heart of Richmond that provides a place of refuge for those looking to escape their harsh realities. Through the daily drama of life inside Po’Boys, we hear the stories of the downtrodden characters who are so often overlooked and unheard- the homeless, the prostitute the drug dealers, the crack addicts. Some come for Po’Boys’ signature butter-me-up-cornbread and Big Mama’s southern lemonade, comfort food that generations of their families have been raised on. Some stop in to talk trash, crack jokes, or gossip about daily news. Some come seeking wisdom and redemption, a clean slate where they can re-write themselves. For most people, Po’Boys is more than a convenient store, but a place that saved their lives. This show centers in on what it means to be family, how to forgive and move forward, and how a community can heal itself through hard work and love.

We will be having a “Po’Boys Kitchen” fundraiser and sneak peek of the play from 7-9pm on Saturday, December 7th at the Maple Hall Community Center (13831 San Pablo Ave). Save the date and get ready for an evening of delicious soul food, music, poetry, theater and more!

For more information contact RAW Talent Coordinator Molly Raynor at (734) 395-5899

Nonprofits Adapt to Demographic Shift

News Report,  Chanelle Ignant

Every Thursday at the West County First 5 center in Richmond, a group of ten to twelve moms gathers to discuss the issues that matter most to them. The group, Kahawia Uzazi, which in Swahili language means “brown parenting,” is a space where African-American mothers can share their experiences. Many come for the sense of community; others say they just like having a chance to break away from their normal routine.

For First 5, a non-profit that focuses on supporting families during the first five years of a child’s development, the meetings serve the dual purpose of attracting more African-American parents, a group whose numbers have fallen at First Five’s San Pablo and Richmond satellites in recent years.

“We started the group to encourage moms to participate more in the programs,” says Alisa Robinson, the group facilitator. “We’re taking a different approach to outreach targeting African-American parents.”

Last fiscal year, only 120 of the 1,394 program participants at the non-profit’s Richmond and San Pablo sites were African-American, and only 85 were Asian or Pacific Islander. By comparison, 1,014 of all clients were Latino, a number that reflects a larger demographic shift that has been occurring in Richmond in recent years.

Between 2000 and 2010, according U.S. Census Bureau data, the number of African-American residents in the Richmond declined by 10 percent, while the total number of Latino residents grew by 13 percent.

As a result, First 5 is not the only organization operating in Richmond that is grappling with how to maintain its ties to long time African American residents, even while Latinos have become the largest single ethnic group in the city, at 40 percent.

“We are seeing a changing demographic trend where a lot of African-American families are moving out of Richmond,” says Eric Aaholm, executive director of Youth Enrichment Strategies (YES). “We’ve seen a lot of our families who have attended our camps for years move out of the area, and we don’t know exactly where they’re going.”

With the changes taking place in the city, YES, like First 5, has been making an effort to adapt. The 14-year-old organization, which sends urban youth and their families to summer camps, is putting a deliberate emphasis on nurturing multi-cultural relationships between staff members and program participants who come from different cultural backgrounds, in order to make everyone feel welcome and foster understanding between long time residents and newcomers.

“We really emphasize that all of our programming is done with a focus on cross-cultural and relationship building and interaction,” says Aaholm. “We think it’s really important that families who live in the same neighborhood and go to the same school are connected to one another.”

At Richmond’s RYSE Center, a youth development organization, director Kimberly Aceves says about a quarter of her staff is made up of past youth participants. As an organization whose mission it is to empower youth to become community leaders, says Aceves, the organization has committed itself to hiring young people to administrative roles once they age out of the center’s programs. The success of that strategy is apparent in the diversity of the organization’s staff.

First 5 director Alexia Rojas says language is increasingly a factor when making hires due to the fact that Spanish-language skills are so in demand. Much of First 5’s current staff is bilingual.

“When we speak to Spanish speakers in English they only get a small part of what were are saying,” says Rojas. “Often we have to duplicate the conversation in Spanish. To provide the best possible service to people, you want to speak in their language.”

Nevertheless, Rojas acknowledges meeting the needs of the city’s growing Latino population can result in fewer resources for targeting other communities, including African Americans.

“We are being proactive about this and we have already started our new outreach strategy. My goal now is to increase diversity in the staff as positions opens up,” says Rojas.  “I know we aren’t the only ones dealing with this issue.”Another local non-profit, Building Blocks for Kids (BBK), is also looking to refine their outreach efforts.

“The numbers of African-American families are decreasing, but I also think that the way in which we outreach [to] and support African-American families to participate needs to improve,” says Jennifer B. Lyle, BBK’s chief of operations.

Lyle says BBK’s door-to-door outreach allows them to directly share with families what programs are offered at their site.

“I think a lot of people put out a flyer, but some African-American families don’t see them (the programs being advertised) as their need. So when we go door-to-door, we talk about the offerings… about what is here that they want or need.”

Rojas agrees that part of the challenge in bringing in more African-American participants is communicating the value of the services, especially those not perceived as providing basic needs.

“There is a lack of communication and awareness about nursery rhymes,” says Rojas. “Some see it as a luxury, but they play a role in language development.” The catch-22, she adds, is that “if you can’t get them in the door, you can’t pass on the information.”

Still, says Lyle, “It’s not the information, resources, or services that come first, it’s the relationship.”

Street Soldiers Radio: Bay Area Parents Share Perspectives on Schools

Editor’s Note: Below is a transcribed excerpt from the October 26th broadcast of Street Soldiers, a live call-in radio show that airs every Sunday night on KMEL 106.1fm. The topic of discussion was California’s new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which gives school districts more of a say in determining how their state education dollars are spent. Street Soldiers host Dr. Joseph Marshall was joined in studio by three Bay Area mothers who have school-age children: Shawn Acree of Oakland, Bivette Brackett of San Francisco, and Brandi Lyles Ferrell of Richmond.

Street Soldiers: What is going right for your kids right now? What are the schools doing well, in your opinion?

Shawn Acree: Our biggest downfall last year was no parent participation, but this year we have a lot of new parents coming on board to work and help out. It’s a new year. We have new teachers, and old teachers that know how to deal with our children. The new teachers, not so well, because they have to adapt to our environment… and they aren’t used to the challenges of our children.

Bivette Brackett: I think what’s going right, there is one particular teacher that I feel is doing an awesome job at Wallenberg High School, and that’s [my son’s] Modern World History teacher. She writes a grant every year [so she can] take all the children on a camping trip — about 150 kids. She has bonding experiences with them, and I believe it helps to build a rapport between students and teachers.

Brandi Lyles Ferrell: Well, we just got a new vice-principle (at Richmond High). He’s African-American and he and a couple of the parents have started a new program to help African-American students find different ways to get to college, and how to write up a resume for college, and different ways to keep them active in the community. We also have a program my daughter is in, Bay Area Peacekeepers — it’s keeping the kids out of trouble.

SS: So overall, do the three of you think the schools are doing a good job with your kids?

BLF: No.
BB: No
SA: Yes.
SS: I’m curious, (Shawn) — why did you say yes?

SA: Probably because I’m a different type of parent. I sacrifice not going to work so I can be at my kid’s school, and so I can have the impact not just on my kid, but other kids too.

SS: It sounds like the school is doing a good job because you’re there.

SA: I do have a relationship with the principal and with the afterschool program. I’m very reachable, so I feel like that’s a big part of it. If you show your kid that you’re interested, they’re going to do their best to show you their best.

SS: So why did the two of you say no?

BB: A lot of the issues that I’ve had with [my son’s] school in general are because there has been disparate treatment — how he’s been treated versus other students. And some of those issues he cannot advocate for himself.

Let me give you an example: My son was sick for a week. I called the school in advance, and told them he was going to be out. I also called the school while he was out, and told his teachers to please email me all of his assignments. When he went back to school I wrote him a note to say he was out. Now he’s “back in,” following proper procedure. I get a call a week later from the attendance office telling me that as a parent he cannot be excused for his absences and that I need to give them a medical note because that’s their new procedure, and that they would not give him any of his makeup work until he got his absences excused, despite the fact that I requested it. And the thing that [bothers] me is, here is a child that wants to make up their work. Why would you as a teacher, an instructor, prevent a child from doing that, regardless of what paperwork you felt you did not have? I had to contact his counselor to get the situation resolved. I had to go and fax him a copy of the SFUSD parent handbook, which showed that there was no reason for them to ask me for a doctor’s note. That’s wasting my time as a parent because now I’m spending extra hours advocating for something that should have been simple.

BB: It’s not always the teacher’s fault. There are situations within (the school) that prevent the teachers from being as helpful to the children as possible. When I was young, teachers were available after school to answer or ask questions. Teachers are now forced to work on their curriculum plans afterschool, or they’re going home because they are not being paid appropriately… So sometimes the teachers are not available to help students with their homework. And that’s why most inner city kids, especially in San Francisco, rely on these non-profit organizations to give afterschool programs and tutoring services.

SA: We have teachers asking for the basics like pencils, hand sanitizers, tissues, and things of that nature because they’ve exceeded their limit for supplies. So they have to ask for donations because it’s winter and kids are coming in with germs. I just think that’s really unfair.

BB: My children were in a public school that was in an affluent area, and they basically on the first day of class said, “This is how we do it in our school. Every parent has to donate twenty dollars to the school towards this class fund.” So by the end of the year there were many parents donating, but they had the resources to do that. These were parents whose incomes were over six figures. Most of the mothers were stay-at-home moms, so they were able to spend time in the classroom. They donated a class rug; they donated money for field trips; they donated food and snacks for the kids… It makes a big difference in a child’s educational experience when you have those types of extra resources.

Then a year later, my kids went to a school that was in a not-so nice neighborhood. It was actually one of the “Dream Schools,” and there was a promise of funding, (but) it never came through. My kids were gone from there, within six months. Because at the end of the day, I’m responsible for my child’s education, and if they’re not getting their needs met, I’ve got to find somewhere else.
SS: Is there someone at the school that you feel you can talk to? Is there anyone you can trust at the school?

BLF: Well at Richmond High we have the BAP (Bay Area Peacekeepers) family — Gonzalo Rucobo and Valerie. When the kids are feeling bad and need somebody to talk to, they can always run in there. If they are having problems with their teachers, they can always run in there. They can always go in there if they need tutoring, or if they just need a shoulder to cry on. If they’re having problems at home, there will always be somebody in that BAP office they can talk to.

BB: I don’t worry about who I can trust because I know that I have the right to talk to anybody at the school. I come in looking for who can support, because that is what they are there for.

SS: Since kids spend most of their time at school, what can schools do to create more supportive environments for kids?

BB: There were a lot of pink slips [given to] teachers over the last couple of years… so there has been a shortage of teachers and overcrowding of classes. That is going to affect the quality of education that children get.

The other issue is… a lot of times the teachers do not have a lot of experience in dealing with children that are a problem. We are not saying that as a teacher you have to have children of your own, but you have to have context in terms of handling children, and right now the way the California teaching system is, they don’t have to have any [experience] dealing with children so they are coming in here with adult strategies to handle children and you can’t do that – it’s a recipe for disaster.

SS: If you were in charge of how the [state education] money will be spent, what would spend it on?

BB: The first thing that I think would make a big difference is the peer professional role that needs to be in addition to the mental health provider that they used to have at schools, in terms of creating some type of program where students could come in at a lunch hour and get some sort of counseling. I think that would help.
The second thing that I would like to see happen is that more of those resources go to either providing teachers with (higher) wages or consolidating the afterschool programs at schools [because] children need a lot of help with their homework and their parents are usually still at work at 3 o’clock.

The third thing I would say is we need to reinvest in arts, and other areas for the children. I think that having rigorous coursework for children with very little arts and music doesn’t really help our children grow in other ways. There’s a part of their mind that is logical and there’s also the part that is creative. I think we are doing a disservice to our children by not having those activities, as well as AP courses. There is a disparity in the type of education that children get because some schools can afford these extracurricular activities and coursework for kids, and other schools have nothing.

Street Soldiers Radio: Bay Area Parents Share Perspectives on Schools

Editor’s Note: Below is a transcribed excerpt from the October 26th broadcast of Street Soldiers, a live call-in radio show that airs every Sunday night on KMEL 106.1fm. The topic of discussion was California’s new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which gives school districts more of a say in determining how their state education dollars are spent. Street Soldiers host Dr. Joseph Marshall was joined in studio by three Bay Area mothers who have school-age children: Shawn Acree of Oakland, Bivette Brackett of San Francisco, and Brandi Lyles Ferrell of Richmond.

Street Soldiers: What is going right for your kids right now? What are the schools doing well, in your opinion?

Shawn Acree: Our biggest downfall last year was no parent participation, but this year we have a lot of new parents coming on board to work and help out. It’s a new year. We have new teachers, and old teachers that know how to deal with our children. The new teachers, not so well, because they have to adapt to our environment… and they aren’t used to the challenges of our children.

Bivette Brackett: I think what’s going right, there is one particular teacher that I feel is doing an awesome job at Wallenberg High School, and that’s [my son’s] Modern World History teacher. She writes a grant every year [so she can] take all the children on a camping trip — about 150 kids. She has bonding experiences with them, and I believe it helps to build a rapport between students and teachers.

Brandi Lyles Ferrell: Well, we just got a new vice-principle (at Richmond High). He’s African-American and he and a couple of the parents have started a new program to help African-American students find different ways to get to college, and how to write up a resume for college, and different ways to keep them active in the community. We also have a program my daughter is in, Bay Area Peacekeepers — it’s keeping the kids out of trouble.

SS: So overall, do the three of you think the schools are doing a good job with your kids?

BLF: No.
BB: No
SA: Yes.
SS: I’m curious, (Shawn) — why did you say yes?

SA: Probably because I’m a different type of parent. I sacrifice not going to work so I can be at my kid’s school, and so I can have the impact not just on my kid, but other kids too.

SS: It sounds like the school is doing a good job because you’re there.

SA: I do have a relationship with the principal and with the afterschool program. I’m very reachable, so I feel like that’s a big part of it. If you show your kid that you’re interested, they’re going to do their best to show you their best.

SS: So why did the two of you say no?

BB: A lot of the issues that I’ve had with [my son’s] school in general are because there has been disparate treatment — how he’s been treated versus other students. And some of those issues he cannot advocate for himself.

Let me give you an example: My son was sick for a week. I called the school in advance, and told them he was going to be out. I also called the school while he was out, and told his teachers to please email me all of his assignments. When he went back to school I wrote him a note to say he was out. Now he’s “back in,” following proper procedure. I get a call a week later from the attendance office telling me that as a parent he cannot be excused for his absences and that I need to give them a medical note because that’s their new procedure, and that they would not give him any of his makeup work until he got his absences excused, despite the fact that I requested it. And the thing that [bothers] me is, here is a child that wants to make up their work. Why would you as a teacher, an instructor, prevent a child from doing that, regardless of what paperwork you felt you did not have? I had to contact his counselor to get the situation resolved. I had to go and fax him a copy of the SFUSD parent handbook, which showed that there was no reason for them to ask me for a doctor’s note. That’s wasting my time as a parent because now I’m spending extra hours advocating for something that should have been simple.

BB: It’s not always the teacher’s fault. There are situations within (the school) that prevent the teachers from being as helpful to the children as possible. When I was young, teachers were available after school to answer or ask questions. Teachers are now forced to work on their curriculum plans afterschool, or they’re going home because they are not being paid appropriately… So sometimes the teachers are not available to help students with their homework. And that’s why most inner city kids, especially in San Francisco, rely on these non-profit organizations to give afterschool programs and tutoring services.

SA: We have teachers asking for the basics like pencils, hand sanitizers, tissues, and things of that nature because they’ve exceeded their limit for supplies. So they have to ask for donations because it’s winter and kids are coming in with germs. I just think that’s really unfair.

BB: My children were in a public school that was in an affluent area, and they basically on the first day of class said, “This is how we do it in our school. Every parent has to donate twenty dollars to the school towards this class fund.” So by the end of the year there were many parents donating, but they had the resources to do that. These were parents whose incomes were over six figures. Most of the mothers were stay-at-home moms, so they were able to spend time in the classroom. They donated a class rug; they donated money for field trips; they donated food and snacks for the kids… It makes a big difference in a child’s educational experience when you have those types of extra resources.

Then a year later, my kids went to a school that was in a not-so nice neighborhood. It was actually one of the “Dream Schools,” and there was a promise of funding, (but) it never came through. My kids were gone from there, within six months. Because at the end of the day, I’m responsible for my child’s education, and if they’re not getting their needs met, I’ve got to find somewhere else.
SS: Is there someone at the school that you feel you can talk to? Is there anyone you can trust at the school?

BLF: Well at Richmond High we have the BAP (Bay Area Peacekeepers) family — Gonzalo Rucobo and Valerie. When the kids are feeling bad and need somebody to talk to, they can always run in there. If they are having problems with their teachers, they can always run in there. They can always go in there if they need tutoring, or if they just need a shoulder to cry on. If they’re having problems at home, there will always be somebody in that BAP office they can talk to.

BB: I don’t worry about who I can trust because I know that I have the right to talk to anybody at the school. I come in looking for who can support, because that is what they are there for.

SS: Since kids spend most of their time at school, what can schools do to create more supportive environments for kids?

BB: There were a lot of pink slips [given to] teachers over the last couple of years… so there has been a shortage of teachers and overcrowding of classes. That is going to affect the quality of education that children get.

The other issue is… a lot of times the teachers do not have a lot of experience in dealing with children that are a problem. We are not saying that as a teacher you have to have children of your own, but you have to have context in terms of handling children, and right now the way the California teaching system is, they don’t have to have any [experience] dealing with children so they are coming in here with adult strategies to handle children and you can’t do that – it’s a recipe for disaster.

SS: If you were in charge of how the [state education] money will be spent, what would spend it on?

BB: The first thing that I think would make a big difference is the peer professional role that needs to be in addition to the mental health provider that they used to have at schools, in terms of creating some type of program where students could come in at a lunch hour and get some sort of counseling. I think that would help.
The second thing that I would like to see happen is that more of those resources go to either providing teachers with (higher) wages or consolidating the afterschool programs at schools [because] children need a lot of help with their homework and their parents are usually still at work at 3 o’clock.

The third thing I would say is we need to reinvest in arts, and other areas for the children. I think that having rigorous coursework for children with very little arts and music doesn’t really help our children grow in other ways. There’s a part of their mind that is logical and there’s also the part that is creative. I think we are doing a disservice to our children by not having those activities, as well as AP courses. There is a disparity in the type of education that children get because some schools can afford these extracurricular activities and coursework for kids, and other schools have nothing.

Why I’ll Practice Safe Texting

Commentary • Poojan Dave

From the spoken word, to written letters to dial-up phones, humans have always sought new ways to communicate with one another. Today, it seems that texting is the mode of choice for getting messages to others quickly, especially when it comes to teenagers. According to Nielsen, American teenagers, on average, are sending and receiving over 3,339 texts a month. But other statistics – those culled from police reports – show that texting among teens is not only growing in popularity, it’s a growing threat to theirs and other people’s health.

Ling Murray knows well the dangers of texting. On December 1, 2010, she and her daughter, Calli Ann, were hit by a car as they were walking home from a park. Calli Ann was killed instantly and Ling was put in critical condition. The driver later admitted that she was texting when she hit them.

Texting and driving is now a major public safety concern, and there is never a good excuse for doing it. To convey my point, imagine a conversation between the police officer and the driver of the car that killed Calli Ann:

Cop: Why did you crash into this mother and child?

Driver: I was texting.

Cop: You mean to say that you killed this child just because you couldn’t wait to send a text message?

Driver:

I don’t even know how someone would reply to that, which is why I left it blank.

It didn’t take too long for lawmakers to see that texting and driving would become a huge problem as a new generation of teenagers, and drivers, started to text more. So, our government finally got something right when they passed the Wireless Communications Device Law prohibiting the writing, sending, or reading of any text-based communication while driving. The law went into effect on January 1, 2009.

Should we be surprised that Calli died on December 1, 2010, almost a year after the law was enacted? Contradictory to common sense, people have actually been texting while driving more since the law went into effect. According to AAA of California, before the law only 1.5% of drivers texted compared to now, when 4% of drivers text.

Teenagers are the biggest group of people who drive and text. As I said, American teens text more than 3,000 times per month. So, it’s not a surprise that texting while driving is now the leading cause of death among teen drivers, at 3,000 deaths per year. This now surpasses drinking and driving as the leading cause of death among teen drivers, which is at 2,700 teens. It’s only surprising that it’s not more. A survey done by Dr. Andrew Adesman found that about 49% of teen males and 45% of teen females admitted to texting while driving.

Personally speaking, as a 16-year-old teen male, these statistics make me scared for my own friends. I’ll be honest. I do text. A lot! And the idea of me having to answer the question, “You mean to say that you killed a child just because you couldn’t wait to send a message?” terrifies me to great extremes. Now, I haven’t exactly taken a pledge to not text and drive yet since I haven’t gotten my permit, but when I do, I will take the pledge.

When lawmakers made the texting and driving ban in 2009, they didn’t ban the use of hands-free technology – devices that use vocal recognition to craft text messages. They quickly realized that and tried to pass a bill prohibiting them, but the bill did not pass. I have to admit, the technology in these devices is amazing, but the devices themselves aren’t perfect. Recent research shows that hands-free devices promote cognitive distraction and inattention blindness. Basically, inattention blindness is when the brain doesn’t process information because it was concentrating on something else. An example is that a driver may miss an off-ramp that they are used to taking everyday. Many studies also show that drivers using these devices look down for about 2.5 seconds to make sure that their words are being correctly entered. That’s obviously very dangerous. Now, even though hand-free devices sound like a great idea, until someone can be confident enough to trust them without having to see that they are working properly, the technology just isn’t here and they should be prohibited for now.

Texting while driving is a danger on our roadways at this very moment. There are hundreds, if not thousands of people texting right now and in the news tonight there will be a report of an accident caused by texting and driving. People will blame it on the wide availability of phones to teenagers, or on iPhones and Samsung’s being really cheap. But I believe that it’s just evolution. People now text. We just need to accept it. People should be taught where to text, rather where not to text, and that’s what the problem is, not texting itself.

“Doing that (texting-and-driving) has severe repercussions to not only yourself, but to others. And the impact that you have when you injure someone, that spreads to so many members of the family and goes to so many people in the community. It’s– it’s devastating.” ~ Al Andres, Calli Ann Murray’s grandfather

Poojan Dave is a junior at Middle College High School in San Pablo, Calif.