Fast Food Chains — Sweatshops By Another Name

Commentary • Sean Shavers | Photo courtesy of Steve Rhodes

Editor’s Note: On a nationwide day of strikes on August 30th, fast food workers in 60 cities across the country marched for higher wages, including in Oakland, where hundreds of workers and their supporters demanded a living wage of $15 an hour and the right to unionize.

Major fast food corporations have long benefited from hiring young employees on the cheap. But nowadays, youth aren’t the only ones taking fast food jobs. There are workers of all ages: seniors, parents and young adults, who rely on these jobs for their bare necessities.

With the minimum wage in California currently at $9 an hour, it would be insane to think these folks are earning a decent living. Some have to rely on public assistance, and still struggle to make ends meet.

At the protest that took place near the Oakland airport, I spoke to some local fast food employees, including Ryan Shoots, who said working for McDonald’s is just not cutting it.

“I’m honestly not making enough to live right now,” said Shoots. “I’m either choosing between food or getting to work, and usually it’s getting to work. So I usually starve for a few days.”

When I asked him why he doesn’t just eat at his job he replied, “I’ve eaten there so many times, that it just gets me sick. I’d rather starve.” Now, this a kid in a lose-lose situation. McDonald’s made billions last year and you mean to tell me, they can’t provide this boy with a bus pass?

I also spoke to Shoots’ roommate, Brian Pointing, 20, an employee at the same McDonald’s in Fremont.

“I was making decent money at first but then they started cutting my hours,” he said. “Now I can barely afford to pay rent and feed myself.”

When asked if McDonald’s offered any opportunities for advancement, Pointing added, “After a year you can become manager but the raise is only fifty cents more per hour, and honestly that’s still not a decent wage.”

Samaj Ransom, an employee at Jack in The Box, is one of the many who are fed up with the industry’s corrupt ways.

“We live in the Bay Area, one of the highest priced places to live in the nation: gas is high, groceries is high, and we can’t do it off $8.50 an hour.’’ I could hear the seriousness in his tone and the anger below his chest. Surrounding him were people with fists raised high, picket signs in their hands, their faces filled with hope and their eyes longing for change.

James Dickerson, an employee at Little Ceaser’s Pizza, feels he deserves more respect from his employer.

“I’m not a child. I need a car,” says James. “I need to pay rent and I can’t do it off one income. I get about thirty-eight hours a week and pay $500 for rent, and my partner pays the other half.’’ When asked why he doesn’t take up a second job, he said, “I go to school and work full time. There’s really no time for another job.”

Like pimps, fast food corporations keep people working long hours for low wages, while all they do is collect. When it comes to this industry, maybe having a job is more stressful and depressing than not having one at all.

People devote their lives to these companies, working day in and day out, accepting low wages, no benefits and disrespect, just to survive. If there’s a bright side, maybe it’s that this dirty secret has been exposed, and the corporations will no longer be able to hide behind a toy in a kid’s meal. They’ll have to deal with the truth, which is that they’re basically running sweatshops disguised as fast food franchises. These workers deserve a living wage and a chance to unionize, without fear. •

Punishment Fits the Crime for Teen Who Videotaped Murder

Commentary, Alicia Marie

In this age of social media, it seems there is no limit to the types of extreme — even violent — acts people will videotape and post on the Internet. If there’s something happening and there are bystanders, chances are someone is catching it on video. Some people do it for the thrill. Others do it because they want to be popular on Facebook. Most do it believing they can get away with it. Most, however, probably don’t stop to consider whether or not they could be prosecuted for doing it.

Yet that is exactly what happened to Anthony Malcolm of Chicago, who was sentenced to 30 years in jail on September 12 for video recording the beating death of 62-year-old Mexican immigrant Delfino Mora. He was 19-years-old at the time. Some might be sad to see a teenager, someone who is just beginning his life, be sentenced to 30 years in jail. I, however, feel that justice is being served. Let me explain my reasoning:

Anthony Malcolm is not a child

Anthony, who recently turned 20, is not technically a child. I do take it into consideration that the incident occurred when he was 18, but judging from the family’s testimony, he was very mature for his age. He wanted to be a police officer in Chicago or an FBI agent. Wanting to pursue a career in the justice system showed that he saw crimes being committed and wanted to do something about it. He even joined the ROTC as a way to do something positive in the community. All of these ambitions show that he knew that day in 2012 the childish “game” he was playing was against the law and he shouldn’t have been doing it.

Too many wrongs for the situation to be right

“He was at the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong people,” Anthony’s lawyer testified. Red flags should have gone up in the air for a prospective FBI agent that this situation isn’t right. Playing a twisted “Pick ‘em out, knock ‘em out” game? By playing this game, he was targeting the very people he envisioned himself on day protecting. The game was wrong, his actions were wrong, but the sentencing was right.

“It was something I never wanted to happen.”- Anthony Malcolm

Now a year later, maybe it’s something you never wanted to happen. Nevertheless, the present is not what you were being judged for. Anthony was judged on his actions that very day in July 2012 when he and his friends participated in the beating death of Delfino Mora. He may not have physically touched him; however, he did nothing to help Mora, either. He had the phone in his hand, with two very different choices to make. With about 4 touches to his smartphone he was able to pull up the camera app and record. With the same amount of touches he could have called 911 and saved the man’s life. Anthony instead chose to follow the code of the street, which is to never “snitch.” I sometimes wonder when the code will go back to being about respecting your fellow man.

Delfino Mora will never get his life back

Delfino Mora was just minding his own business when he was attacked. Something that really bothers me is when people who are just living their lives, especially in a positive manner, become victim to other people’s immaturity and heartlessness. Mora was trying to provide for his family the best way he knew how. At his age, he may have had 30 years in him to see, to live, to love. He was robbed of that, as were his children and loved ones. He lost out on his life not because of a “mistake” but by just being at the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong people.

To the family of Anthony Malcolm, I am sorry for your pain of seeing your family member go through this learning experience. To the family of Delfino Mora, I am sorry that your father’s life had to end in such a violent, inhumane way.

Poverty Rate Holding Steady, But Fewer Children Uninsured

News Report, Anna Challet |New America Media

While poverty remains at historically high levels, the percentage of people in the United States – especially children – who lack health insurance is declining, according to new data released by the Census Bureau.

“The big changes are in health insurance,” said David S. Johnson, the chief of the Social, Economic, and Housing Statistics Division of the Census Bureau, in a teleconference last week presenting the agency’s most recent findings on poverty and health insurance. He said that the drop in the number of people who are uninsured is the “most significant change” from 2011 to 2012.

Johnson attributed the change to an increase in coverage by public health insurance programs, including both Medicaid and Medicare. Nearly one in three people in the United States now relies on government programs for coverage. The rate has increased every year for the past six years.

The poverty rate remains 15 percent nationally, or over 46 million people – the same number as in 2011, and up from 37 million in 2007 (the year before the recession began). For children, the rate is higher, at 21.8 percent. African American and Latino children fare the worst, with poverty rates of 37.9 and 33.8 percent, respectively.

People living in poverty are defined as those whose household income is below the federal poverty level; in 2012, the FPL was just over $23,000 a year for a family of four.

“The child poverty rate in our country is still so painfully high. One in five children is living in poverty,” says Dinah Wiley, a senior research fellow at the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute’s Center for Children and Families. “The good news is that more children have health insurance in 2012 than in 2011.”

The rate of children who are uninsured fell from 9.4 percent in 2011 to 8.9 percent in 2012, which represents about 400,000 children gaining insurance.

For children living in poverty, the rate of those who are uninsured is 12.9 percent, as opposed to 7.7 percent for those living above the poverty level.

The percentage of the general population that lacks health insurance dropped for the second consecutive year, from 15.7 percent to 15.4 percent, or from 48.6 million people to 48 million people.

Wiley says “it’s a shame” that many of the remaining uninsured children nationwide are actually eligible for public programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

A study released last week, conducted by the Urban Institute for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found that as of 2011, 4 million children were eligible for public health insurance programs but not enrolled.

While that number represents a decline from nearly 5 million, which occurred between 2008 and 2011, over a third of the remaining 4 million who are eligible but not enrolled live in just three states – California, Texas, and Florida.

Wiley says that states with high numbers of uninsured children need to “put out the welcome mat” in terms of their public health insurance programs, and that “outreach and simplification of the enrollment process” are the main strategies for doing so.

Additionally, she says that one of the most important measures states can take to increase the rate of children and families who are insured is to accept the federal dollars being offered to expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act. Texas and Florida have both rejected Medicaid expansion.

Kelly Hardy, Director of Health Policy at Children Now in California, attributes the decrease in the rate of uninsured children to greater efforts within the context of the Affordable Care Act to enroll and retain children in coverage.

Hardy points out that in California, when the transition of children out of the Healthy Families Program (California’s CHIP, which is being eliminated) and into the Medi-Cal program is complete at the end of this year, nearly one in two children in the state will be enrolled in Medi-Cal.

She agrees with Wiley that there’s more work to be done in closing the coverage gap for kids. She notes, as Wiley does, that children are more likely to be insured if their parents are insured, and is optimistic because more adults will be required to enroll in coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

“I’m hopeful that as we reach October 1 [the start of open enrollment] and January 1 [when coverage under the ACA begins], there will be even more positive buzz around health care and that more parents will be enrolled, which means more children will be enrolled,” she says.

Learning to Cheat, Forgetting to Read – Youth Voices on Classroom Technology

Commentary, Yrui Guan and Jimmie Fails • New America Media

Ed. Note: Amid all the efforts to reform education, perhaps none promise as large of an impact as the growing use of technology in the classroom. From iPads in every student’s hand to computer adapted assessments and the rise of on-line courses, advocates argue that technology can better engage students while providing teachers with valuable new tools. But NAM interns Yuri Guan and Jimmie Fails say the influx of new technology in the classroom also has its downside, one that could radically alter the way students think about learning.

It’s All About Getting the Right Answer
by Yuri Guan

Technology in the classroom is supposed to revolutionize education. But when learning is measured in grades and test scores, it can also make students believe that getting the right answer is more important than understanding why.

That’s what happened recently at Lowell High School, ranked eighth in California and among the top performing public high schools in the country.

In August, Lowell was one of 42 Bay Area high schools that were cited for cheating on the state’s annual standardized test. Some students at the schools used their mobile devices to snap and send pictures of the tests via social media. As a punishment, it and the other schools could lose their API score for two years, which would make them ineligible for state funds and performance awards.

Students Score Digital Disparity in Calif. Schools

In August, NAM interviewed attendees at the Comcast Youth Tech Summit & Expo in Sacramento about their views on technology and education. The informal survey of 40 youth ranging in age from 10-22 years-old found that more than half ranked performance of their school computers at ‘C’ or below, while 80 percent supported greater investments in technology. Below are more of the findings.

• Percent of youth who said they have computer access at home – 95%

• Percent of youth who said they have computer access at school – 92%

• Percent of youth who gave their school computers a “C” grade or below – 55%

• Percent of youth who said they’d be ready for more wired classrooms – 85% 

• Percent of youth who said new technology would make teachers more effective – 67%

• Percent of youth who said schools should invest in new or better technology – 80%

As a recent graduate of Lowell I know the stakes are high there. I remember how after almost every test I took there would be text messages on my phone from students hoping to get a hint of what to expect. “So what was on the test?” they read. Often students would wait outside class with the same question.

And the problem isn’t just at Lowell. In a 2008 survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics of 24,000 high school students in grades nine to 12, 95 percent of respondents admitted to cheating at least once.

Teachers, meanwhile, are going to ever-greater lengths to try to prevent cheating. Some of my teachers made multiple versions of tests, rearranged seating during tests and spent hours on-line afterward on sites like to look for signs of plagiarism. Students caught cheating had their tests thrown out and faced other disciplinary measures. The English Department actually keeps a “Book of Shame,” where plagiarized work is kept for teachers to see.

But why cheat? For students at Lowell grades are everything. Add to that the feeling — one most Lowell students experience sooner or later — that to the left and right there’s someone smarter than you, and the temptation to look for a way to get ahead becomes even stronger. And with all the new gadgets out there, those ways could be right at your fingertips.

I No Longer Read
by Jimmie Fails

It’s a beautiful, late summer day in San Francisco. I walk into the main public library located near city hall and what do I see? There’s an older disabled man trying his luck at using the computer to find books, while a young working-class mom struggles with three children in tow.

In this big beautiful library with over 7 million books inside of it I manage to see about three people my age, only two of whom were actually there to read or find books to read. The other guy was on a computer in a corner watching porn and looking back every few seconds to make sure no one saw.

So how much reading do young people do on their own time nowadays?

When I was younger, I enjoyed reading and would do so for hours each day. I read the Harry Potter trilogy at 9 years old and more than a dozen Animorphs books. But at 18 I can say that I am no longer as enthusiastic about picking up a new book to read. These days the only reading I do is via Facebook status updates, or the occasional Twitter-length message.

So what happened?

I blame technology. For young people, video sites like YouTube, Vimeo, and the newer phenomenon, are driving the ascent of visual media. It’s like there’s no patience for reading anymore. And even if teens are reading books you will more likely see them reading from their iPads or electronic tablets than with an actual physical book.

It’s gotten to the point where if I was to walk up to a high school student and ask if he’s read J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, chances are he may have not even have heard of the book. But I can bet you he knows the latest viral video on YouTube, or the Facebook status of Kim Kardashian.

Annual Summer Event Encourages Youth to RYSE Up

Photo Essay, Luis Cubas

It was a beautiful, sunny day, and the rhythm of the music was perfect, along with the scent of food being cooked. For the fourth consecutive August, the RYSE Center, a nonprofit youth center in Richmond, organized its own Summer Jam, an event that features live music, a basketball tournament and other activities, all of which is completely free to the public.

The purpose of the event is to create unity by bringing people together, while addressing the needs of Richmond youth. This year, RYSE gave away 200 backpacks to event participants, ages 13 to 21. Another highlight was the release of the newest RYSE Mixtape, vol. 2, which is a collaboration of the center and its youth members.

In addition, free information about education and job opportunities was made available to young community members. The RYSE Center has always encouraged its members to seek a higher education or find a job. In fact, their resources have opened a lot of doors for me, personally. RYSE’s fourth annual summer event continued that tradition.

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Writing the Future: Innovative ‘WriterCoach’ Program Enters Second Year at Richmond High

News Feature • April Suwalsky

WriterCoach Connection (WCC) is an East Bay-based organization that trains and coordinates volunteers to work one-on-one with middle and high school students as “writing coaches” in their English classes. Coaches help students to hone their writing skills, as well as develop their own writing voices and ideas.

Following a very successful expansion to El Cerrito High School in 2010, WCC last year launched a program at Richmond High School, where coaches worked with roughly 150 students in five, English Language Development (ELD) Level 4 classes, helping them to prepare for the challenging—and often confusing—ELD placement exam.

With the current drive to implement new federal academic guidelines known as Common Core — which among other things emphasize critical thinking, writing, literacy and evaluation of evidence — writer coaches can also provide much-needed support to students while they build skills that will translate across disciplines.

As someone who has served as a writer coach with WCC, I can attest to the power and importance of the program and the coaching model. It was a wonderful experience to work directly with the students, as well as watch their writing evolve and take shape over the course of each semester. I was equally thrilled to hear from one of the young writers I was paired with several months after the school year ended. She asked me to provide her some feedback on an essay project, and later reported that the final essay had garnered her a scholarship.

WriterCoach Connection has built community throughout the Bay Area, and made a significant impact in the lives of thousands of emerging writers. I was honored to speak with Karen Larson, WCC Site Coordinator at Richmond High School. The following Q&A was adapted from a conversation in August—looking back at the last year, and ahead to “writing the future.”

AS: WriterCoach Connection has now been at Richmond High for a year. How has the program been received so far? Were there any challenges in getting started?

KL: I’ve found Richmond High to be the best school I’ve worked in, in terms of support from the school as a whole. Everyone is aware they are members of a community, and the teachers have embraced us. Teachers set the stage, and the students are very appreciative of the coaches.

The Richmond community also has been wonderful. Many of the writer coaches are very involved in other aspects of the community or serve as volunteers at multiple organizations.

When we first started there were some “unknowns” as we were new to the school. One minor challenge was that our meeting space was physically located far away from the classrooms, so sometimes we only had 15 or so minutes of time with each student. But the space itself was great, and we were able to work with each student one-on-one for a total of approximately six hours over the course of the semester.

AS: What does success look like for students and teachers?

KL: We’ve seen many successes. We’ve heard from some students that the coaching sessions stand out as one of the more positive experiences they have at school. If we can get them to write about something that’s meaningful to them, I count that as a success. Perhaps the topic isn’t exactly the same as the writing prompt, but the students are developing their skills, and they are engaged in their learning.

It’s great when teachers report their students’ skills have improved, as well as grades and turn-in rates for assignments. Sometimes teachers are reluctant to get started with WCC, but once they’ve been through four or five class sessions they come to love the program– and become some of its strongest advocates. I’m excited that our teacher partners have expressed interest to continue this year.

AS: How did you first become involved with WriterCoach Connection?

KL: I first become involved eight years ago as a volunteer at Albany High School. The following year, I became the site coordinator at Albany Middle School, and then moved to the role of site coordinator at Fremont High in Oakland five years ago. The students are the reason I’m doing this.

AS: How do you know WCC is working?

KL: For the coaches, it’s seeing that what we’re doing is making a difference. Students are sitting with us and focused; their writing is improving; they are participating in the coaching session. We meet people where they are, and work with one student at a time.

As the site coordinator, I also care about supporting the coaches. I want to help them feel ready to coach and problem-solve. I want them to be enthusiastic about the work they are doing, and return to coach each year.

AS: What qualities does WriterCoach Connection look for in a writer coach? And is WCC currently recruiting more coaches?

KL: Coaches do not need to be academics, professional educators or writers. We want people who like working with young people. Coaches should be fluent in English, and have a high school diploma. We are looking for individuals who are open-minded, and can help students think critically and reflect on their writing process.

We are actively recruiting and training coaches for the fall, and will offer trainings in Richmond, El Cerrito, Berkeley and Oakland through October. Trainings consist of two three-hour sessions. Coaches who would like to coach at Richmond High can attend trainings at any location. We hope to recruit 75 new coaches this fall, for a total of 125 coaches who will work with about 250 students.

WriterCoach Connection is a program of Community Alliance for Learning, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded by writer coaches and parents in 2001. Anyone who is interested in becoming a writer coach is invited to visit the organization’s website and click on the “volunteer” tab at

El Rincón de Khalid – September 2013

Sabiduria de un Líder Comunitario, Khalid Elahi

Nunca conocí el valor completo de la vida hasta que perdí a mi amigo más cercano a la brutalidad de una arma en 1991. Vi los efectos que su muerte tuvo en su familia entera y las metas que nunca cumpliría. Me hizo realmente entender el verdadero significado de la pérdida. Dije, la vida no va a ser igual, y no lo fue. Por eso es que no le deseo la muerte a nadie porque no se regresa de eso. No hay nada más valioso que la vida de un humano. •

In Asthma Plagued County, a Move Toward Prevention

News Report, Malcolm Marshall

Richmond High School senior Maribel Navarro remembers what it felt like to have to go to the emergency room every time she had an asthma attack, which was often. “When I was little, I’d get my asthma really bad. I would go to the hospital in the middle of the night. It (was) hard to try to calm down… you don’t know how to react,” she recalls.

Navarro, 17, who has lived in Richmond her entire life, remembers thinking to herself, “I can’t breathe, what else can I do?”

Asthma attacks like the one Navarro describes send tens of thousands of children in California to the emergency room every year. But in Richmond, a city with a particularly high prevalence of asthma, residents will soon have another option. A new asthma treatment clinic, the first in Contra Costa County, is slated to open in September at the West County Health Center in neighboring San Pablo.

The new clinic aims to reduce the number of asthma patients using emergency rooms, by helping to develop consistent management plans and a more preventative approach, with an emphasis on self-management.

The kick off will be September 16 with the first community asthma self-management class. The free classes will be taught by Licensed Respiratory Care Practitioners.

The emphasis on prevention is being driven in part by changes to the health care system that are taking place under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, which will be fully implemented on January 1, 2014.

“This clinic is not directly connected the ACA now, but it is preparing us (for what) the ACA will be increasingly requiring,” says Wendell Brunner, Director of Public Health for Contra Costa Health Services. “The ACA will move away from paying providers just for seeing patients, [or] fee for service, and more toward paying providers for health outcomes and keeping patients healthy. This is not only more cost-effective, it is clearly better for patients too.”

In Contra Costa County, approximately 191,000 children and adults have been diagnosed with asthma. The prevalence of childhood asthma in Richmond is 17 percent – more than double the national average and higher than the state average of 14.8 percent, according to a 2009 health survey of Richmond conducted by Communities for a Better Environment.

Another study from 2006 by the Contra Costa Asthma Coalition confirmed that in California, African American and Latino children are hospitalized for asthma at higher rates than
 other children. Contributing factors cited include poor air quality that children living in low-income neighborhoods are often exposed to, limited access to health care, and a lack of asthma education programs.

“That’s one of the reasons that asthma’s a big issue for us,” says Brunner. “It’s important throughout the county but it’s also particularly a health equity issue. It impacts our low‑income communities, and it particularly impacts our youth — it’s just another barrier to them being successful. [It’s] not fair.”

Richmond is also home to the Chevron refinery which has long been blamed by many in the community for high asthma rates and other respiratory problems. Two days after a major explosion and fire at the refinery last year, Navarro, who lives about 3 miles from that site, was back in the emergency room.

“I think the big problem with Chevron is probably not its general emissions, but the releases that it has, and that includes flaring,” says Brunner. “So things like the fire, that produces an enormous amount of particulate matter. We’ve done some surveys of the hospitals [and] we know that that triggered off people with asthma or people with underlying lung problems.”

When it come to treating patients, Janyth Bolden, Cardiopulmonary Director at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center, says there are no asthma-specific health services in many underserved areas of the county:

“A system to receive ongoing services and education so (people with asthma) will know what to look for, do some self assessment and learn how to manage their own breathing problems,” explains Bolden. “You have those things in place for people that have insurance.”

Bolden hopes the new clinic will help reduce emergency room visits by 25 percent and hospitalization by 15 percent or more.

County officials say they want to provide asthma education to all residents of Contra Costa County, not just to the patients, and have chosen the Richmond area as their focal point to start off because it is still badly underserved.

“One of the reasons we’re trying to do a number of other things around asthma in West County,” says Brunner, “is because community groups and the City of Richmond and other groups in Richmond, are really pressing the health department to address asthma and to do something about it. And they’re right.”

If successful, officials hope to replicate their efforts in other areas of the county over time. Another asthma clinic is already being planned in the City of Pittsburg, in East Contra Costa County.

Brunner stresses that there is no magic bullet to reducing health risks associated with asthma in West County — a number of things need to be done. The first being, when people are sick, they need to have access to modern quality, evidence-based asthma care.

“One of the things we have to do is make sure that all the kids and adults in West County who have asthma get the most modern medical treatments.”

Second on the list is education regarding prevention and treatments. There is currently no cure for asthma but most care providers agree that managing one’s asthma is crucial to avoiding asthma attacks and improving one’s quality of life.

“(Asthma) medicines aren’t necessarily easy to use. A lot of the doctors who prescribe them have never used them. People need to be educated on how to use these properly. We need to have a component so that patients with asthma can be trained and educated about their disease, because they’re the ones who are living with it every day,” explains Brenner.

There is also the issue of asthma triggers that can often be found in people’s homes.

“Looking at cleaning up the molds, getting rid of some kinds of carpets that hold the dust and the asthma triggers — there’s a variety of things that can be done in the homes to make it better for people with asthma,” says Brenner.

Making those types of changes in the home made a huge difference for Maribel Navarro, says her mother, Rosaria Meza.

“Since we took the carpet out, we put tile in all the rooms. (We don’t have) no cats, and we just have a few plants.”

Even certain flowers can be a trigger for her daughter’s asthma, Meza says. “It depends what kind of plants we have.”

The changes have brought relief to Navarro and to her mother, in more ways than one.

“Almost every week in the nighttime, going to emergency. Plus the money, because every time you go to emergency, you pay. I used to pay $50 [or] $55, and now it’s more.”

One City, Two Success Stories

By Yaquelin Valencia

My name is Yaquelin Valencia. I am 21-years-old, an undocumented Dreamer and a recent recipient of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). I was born in Aquila, Michoacán, Mexico. My mother brought me to the U.S. at the age of two, and I was raised in Richmond, California. I grew up with a diverse group of friends, and we all faced the same struggles: living in low-income neighborhoods, and experiencing violence at school and in front of our very own homes. Still, I get all excited when I hear people say, “I’m from Richmond.”

Growing up, I rarely heard success stories of young people who graduated high school and went off to college. I recently got to know one such success story, however – that of a young African American brother — while I was at a national training for PICO (People Improving through Community Organizing).

Ryan Coogler grew up in Richmond where he played football like many of my friends did. After high school, he attended St. Mary’s College where he fell in love with chemistry and math. “If football doesn’t work then I’ll be a doctor,” he said.

But Ryan took a different path.

Ryan didn’t think about film or writing until one of his professors at St. Mary’s college encouraged him to write. Ryan did, and his words were powerful. His professor asked him, “Have you ever thought about making a career out of this?” Ryan said no. But when he went back to his dorm, it was all he could think about. He eventually transferred to Sacramento State University, where he continued to play football and enrolled in some film classes. From there he transferred to UCLA, where he went from being an athlete to a different sort of team player – as director of the film, “Fruitvale Station.”

Over time, PICO played a supportive role in Ryan’s career. When Ryan was in Los Angeles, PICO founder John Baumann lent him a hand. And when Ryan decided to write the film, he came back to Richmond, but needed a quiet place to write. Once again, John lent him a hand so Ryan could focus on his writing.

A few days before Ryan was scheduled to be at the PICO training, we were given an opportunity to see his film, which was impactful. As we got on two charter buses and headed over to watch the movie, I was full of anxiety. I knew that I was going to experience pain in some sense.

The movie was completely different from how I’d seen Oscar Grant portrayed in the news broadcasts. In the film, I got to see Oscar as a loving human being who was trying to turn his life around. I got to see some of Oscar’s struggles, and I could relate to some of them. Everyone makes mistakes and that’s part of being human. Oscar was a human being. Unlike the news, the film showed that it wasn’t just a homicide — it was one more child who was robbed from having a father.

During the movie I experienced a range of emotions: I felt anger, sadness, and deep pain. After the movie all I could think of was Oscar Grant saying, “You shot me… I have a daughter. Why’d you shoot me?” This played over and over again in my mind.

Ryan and I both grew up in Richmond and both played sports. But now, the connection is that his mother and I are both part of PICO. It’s exciting to see that link and to know that like Ryan, I am working to make a positive impact on the community. In a different way, of course, but I know that we are both doing what we love to do.

I can be very outgoing, but there are times that I feel like I have no voice. Most of my friends are documented, so I’ve mostly had to face my struggle alone. Nevertheless, it was in Richmond where I was given the opportunity to raise my voice and be a part of creating change. I met Adam Kruggel who is the director of CCISCO, a multi faith, multi-racial organization linked to PICO, and I learned to confront my fear of speaking up. To this day I get nervous, but I’ve also had major accomplishments.

Today, I no longer live in Richmond but continue to work with a sister organization to CCISCO called CBC (Congregations Building Community) in Modesto, where I am a community organizer working on immigration. Being connected to the PICO network through both organizations has given me tools – I’ve learned about power, unmasking power, and my highest purpose. I’ve had opportunities to talk about race, and learn about different faith traditions. The tools I’ve collected I will use today and in the future, to transform lives through campaigns that address the issues causing pain in our community.

Through his film, Ryan voiced that Oscar Grant was a human being. I want to build power by empowering people to have a voice, so that like a team, we can create opportunities for all.

New School Year Brings New Academic Standards

By Antoinette J. Evans

If all goes according to plan, Richmond public schools — and the students they serve — will have something positive to look forward to, this fall and beyond.

Back in 2010, California’s State Board of Education voted to adopt a new set of federal academic guidelines referred to as “Common Core”. This year, California public schools including those in Richmond will take one step closer toward the goal of fully implementing those standards by the 2014/15 Academic Year.

Along with California, 45 other states are also in various stages of implementing Common Core.

Teachers, parents and education experts developed the new standards for the purpose of better preparing students with the knowledge and skills they’ll need to have success in college and eventually, in a career. Common Core is expected to provide a consistent and clear understanding for teachers, parents and students alike, of what students in all grade levels are expected to learn and should know.

I discussed the transition to Common Core with my fellow West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) colleagues, who will be tasked with implementing these guidelines into their schools and classrooms. I was curious to hear their general thoughts about introducing Common Core to a generation of students who sometimes seem more interested in Facebook, Youtube and music videos than they do in reading or arithmetic; especially because Common Core was designed to be a bridge for teachers to connect with students in a more creative and engaging manner, with an added emphasis on new technology.

“Students will benefit from receiving instruction that is enriching and inspiring,” according to Valerie Garrett, principal at Verde Elementary School who has been actively preparing her staff for the transition to Common Core. “The standards are bringing about uniformity, and promise to assist our teachers with the promotion of standards-based instruction in a meaningful manner.”

Garrett describes the new standards as a base that will allow districts and schools to identify areas of challenge for students, with the goal of tailoring instruction so schools can meet or even exceed their academic benchmarks. It’s an outcome many educators like myself are patiently waiting to see.

“Eventually all students will thrive,” affirms Mike Aaronian, Coordinator of Educational Services for WCCUSD.

“There are even Common Core ELD (English Language Development) standards which will directly affect CELDT (California English Language Development Test) scores. With more emphasis on writing across the curriculum and learning math ‘outside of the box’ and integrating technology, our students test scores should excel and their goals will be endless,” adds Karolyn Langston-Haynes, a teacher from Grant Elementary.

With all of this said, we must also expect some hesitation and uncertainty from those who may feel differently about the looming new standards.

“Some teachers will immediately be enthusiastic and some will initially resist, but there will always be those resistant to change,” says Aaronian, who confidently adds that most teachers will eventually come to embrace the changes.

And as for the students? Judging from my experience, most students are hungry for a curriculum that will empower them to think critically and gain knowledge they can apply to their everyday experiences. They also want an education that will prepare them for future careers.

As a new teacher, I’m enthused to use the Common Core Standards in my classroom. The Common Core should give teachers more freedom to be creative as long as they stay within their district guidelines. For other teachers with more experience under their belt, transitioning to a new set of standards may prove more difficult.

Luckily, over the last few years, “there have been [Common Core] trainings and workshops for teachers and administrators” says 6th Grade Teacher Karolyn Langston-Haynes from Grant Elementary School in Richmond. “Most of us have been involved in training at one level or another, so this transition should not come as a surprise.”

Sounds like most of us are well prepared to embark on the new journey! Now let’s see where that journey takes us.

To learn more about the Common Core Standards, visit the California Department of Education website at: