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.

More Adolescents in California are Drinking Sugary Beverages

News Report, Viji Sundaram|New America Media

Even as the consumption of sugary drinks among young children in California is beginning to decline, a study released today shows a significant spike among adolescents.

The study found that fully 65 percent of children between 12 and 17 drink soda and other sugary drinks every day, which is an 8 percent spike since 2005, when the study began.

In the seven-year study, researchers at the California Center for Public Health Advocacy (CCPHA) and the UCLA Center of Health Policy Research found that there was in fact an overall drop by 11 percent in the consumption of sugary beverages by young people, but when they teased the numbers, they found that there was a decline in consumption among children under 11 and an increase in consumption among adolescents, noted CCPHA’s executive director Dr. Harold Goldstein, one of two authors of the study.

How did this happen?

“We got sodas out of schools and out of licensed child care centers, but a loophole in the state law allowed sports drinks in middle schools and high schools,” Goldstein said, adding sarcastically: “As if there’s a need to replace electrolytes in teens for carrying their backpacks.”

More than 40,000 California households were interviewed by the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS) for the study titled, Still Bubbling Over: California Adolescents Drinking More Soda and Other Sugar-Sweetened Beverages.
Adolescents responded for themselves, but parents spoke on behalf of younger children.

Researchers found that at respectively 73 percent and 74 percent, Latino and African American teens drank more sweetened beverages than their Asian (63 percent) and white (56 percent) counterparts in recent years.

Goldstein believes that this can be blamed in large part on the beverage industry’s practice of “specifically marketing” sugary beverages to teens of color using such celebrities as Beyoncé, Shaq O’Neal and Janet Jackson to endorse those products on the air, drawing the wrath of health advocacy groups.

While the average teen sees 406 TV ads for sugary drinks each year, African American teens see 90 percent more ads, Goldstein said. Between the years 2008 and 2010, Spanish language TV ads for sugary beverages doubled, he said.

“Television shows that have a high proportion of Latino and African American teen viewers have a higher proportion of soda ads,” said Dr. Susan Babey, a senior research scientist at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, who co-authored the study.

The study does not directly examine the causes for the sugary spike among teens, but one reason could be that unlike in younger children where parents can control what and how much their offspring drink, teens tend to make their own decisions in those areas.

The researchers warned that if this consumption trend among teens continues, there would be serious health consequences, something that is already happening nationwide. Bodies, they asserted, were not designed to handle large amount of sugars. The liquid sugars are converted into fat in the liver and that contributes to the onset of diabetes.

In 1998, 9 percent of teens had diabetes or pre-diabetes. In 2008, it went up to 23 percent, according to Goldstein, who pointed out that diabetes is the leading contributor to a rise in the nation’s health care costs.

The researchers acknowledged that there is no “silver bullet” to change the sugary beverage consumption habits of youngsters, but California should draw a lesson from its 1998 tobacco tax initiative, which resulted in a 50 percent drop in smoking rates among all age groups and ethnicities by 2011.

“If the tax were large enough, it would discourage people from consuming sugary beverages,” Babey asserted.

School District Hears From Parents On School Safety

By Zaira Sierra

Richmond residents and representatives of West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) met at a convening organized by Building Blocks for Kids Collaborative on Friday September 13, for a discussion about safety in and around schools. About 40 concerned parents were given an opportunity to let the school district know about some of the issues they’ve been grappling with, but need support from the schools to fully address.

One of the biggest concerns raised by parents at the meeting was bullying, which they said is a huge barrier that keeps many of their kids from being fully engaged in their education. The parents asked for more assistance from teachers and school staff, and the district reps agreed to revisit and recommit to anti-bullying programs that are already in place at WCCUSD schools.

An issue surrounding parent engagement and volunteering was also raised. To ensure student safety, the district had recently put in place a system to make sure that any adult coming into contact with students on school campuses would first undergo background checks to receive clearance. Some parents expressed concern that the process requires fingerprinting, a disturbing thought for the undocumented community because of uncertainty over how the information might be shared with other government entities.

The community engagement coordinator for WCCUSD, Marin Trujillo, did his best to assure parents that would not happen.

Other parents expressed a concern that having a criminal record could disqualify them from volunteering. The district’s answer to that was for parents to not be discouraged from going through the process. Each case is different, said Trujillo, and would be evaluated individually. The information was comforting for people to hear, and the discussion provided more overall clarity to those assembled.

Everyone in the room agreed that student safety is a community-wide responsibility, and that the environment surrounding the schools – and not necessarily the schools themselves – often present the biggest challenges for students. One inconvenience that could be easily fixed, said the parents, is the absence of crossing guards before and after school. Clayton Johnson, of Contra Costa Health Services, offered to link parent volunteers to trainings held by Safe Routes to School that would allow them to become crossing guards.

A number of issues remain to be discussed, and parents and school district officials expect there will be many more conversations to come. The meeting ended with the school district agreeing to make some concrete changes within a couple of weeks, and parents agreed to work on getting other parents involved in future meetings. •

Pope’s Positive Message More Likely to Attract Young Minds

Commentary, William Haynes

By now you’ve probably heard that the Catholic Church has a new pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, of Argentina, who took on the name Francis when he assumed the position last March. The 266th pope, Francis, when it’s all said and done may be remembered as one of the more controversial, and potentially transformational, in Church history. In addition to being the first Pope from Latin America, his views on social issues have challenged traditional Catholic orthodoxy on issues like homosexuality, immigration and non-believers. In a recent speech, Francis seemed to sum up his inclusive worldview when he proclaimed, “We must walk united with our differences: there is no other way to become one. This is the way of Jesus.” It’s still a bit early to say, but this contemporary way of interpreting the bible and its dogma may land him high scores with today’s youth.

It seems that with each passing generation, there is a greater openness to new ideas and opinions: a tendency to want to unite, rather than separate. Just as the youth of the 60s and 70s, with their anti-Vietnam War protests and involvement in radical political and cultural movements, astonished a previous generation that was bred on patriotism and widespread popular support for the U.S. military’s role in World War II, the youth of today are much more liberal and accepting of different types of people than previous generations. Religion has become an ideology to be debated, rather than an absolute truth, accepted without question. To take it one step further, one could posit that religion has taken on a negative connotation in the eyes of many youth. The Church, which insists on consistency, has fallen out of step with young people in a rapidly changing world. As a result, the Pope came to be seen as the figurehead of an outdated and never revised mode of thinking. But now, Pope Francis may be breaking that mold.

Young people, just like most others, tend to respond negatively when told what is wrong about them. Yet youth today, more than ever, seem willing to question the assertions, values and ideas hoisted upon them by previous generations. The technique of using fear as a tool to unify has begun to lose its effectiveness. Perhaps knowing this, Francis has taken a different approach, using more progressive language and concentrating on what can be done right – in other words, what makes us similar rather than separates us. He has turned the conversation away from one that focuses on the world’s “sins” – abortion, contraception, homosexuality, etc. – to one that emphasizes a universal need for acceptance.

“We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards,” Francis stated. The Pope’s words indicate he realizes his church’s tendency to shun non-believers has resulted in a failure to bring new faces into its own ranks – and so it seems he’s trying to bring new believers into the church with a message of love, not hate.

The future remains unclear, but Pope Francis is certainly making waves with his efforts to connect with today’s youth. One of his first major acts as pope was to convene a youth summit in Brazil, a country with a young population and a strong Catholic tradition. By daring to be unorthodox, he may yet succeed in bringing in a new generation of followers who see the value in a message of acceptance and inclusiveness, where they saw none in the narrow thinking and exclusivity of the past.

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. •