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: www.cde.ca.gov

Suit Alleges Mistreatment of California Minors With Mental Health Problems

News Report • Susan Ferriss, The Center for Public Integrity

Minors with mental health problems and other disabilities are held in “unconscionable conditions” of 23-hour solitary confinement and deliberately cut off from education and other rehabilitation at a San Francisco Bay Area juvenile hall, alleges a lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court in Northern California.

The class-action suit against Contra Costa County probation and county school officials accuses them of locking young wards in small cells for days at a time in response to behavior stemming from the children’s own disabilities — including bipolar disorder — and then illegally depriving them of education as part of a three-tier system of isolation.

The two most severe tiers of isolation imposed on wards are called “risk” and “max,” requiring 23-hour confinement in cells, when “youth with disabilities are outright denied both general and special education entirely,” according to the suit.

The first tier, called “program,” results in up to 22 ½ hours of solitary confinement, during which, the suit says, the county’s policies illegally permit probation (officials) to withhold education as a punishment or for no reason at all.”

Among the suit’s allegations:

A 14-year-old girl identified as G.F. was put into solitary in a cell for approximately 100 days over the last year, with no education services and short breaks outside only two times a day. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder and attention deficit, the girl was removed from the juvenile hall county school and put into solitary, with officials failing to conduct a mandatory inquiry into whether her behavior was related to her disability.

W.B. a 17-year-old boy — already found mentally incompetent by a juvenile court — was put into solitary for more than two months out of a four-month period. He began hearing voices, talking to himself, thought he was being poisoned and broke down into a psychotic episode and was hospitalized for three weeks before being returned to the hall.

Q.G., 17, has been in full-time special education since third grade and has diagnosed behavior problems. Before entering juvenile hall, he was on a special education plan with specific daily behavior intervention services. After becoming a ward, he was put into general education classes and his behavior plan eliminated and he was marked “absent” from classes when put into solitary 30 times. “While in solitary confinement, Q.G. is denied the opportunity to go to school and receives zero credits for the time he has missed,” the suit says.

The lawsuit was filed by a national pro bono law firm, Public Counsel, and Berkeley, Calif.-based Disability Rights Advocates and the San Paul Hastings private law firm in San Francisco. Lawyers filing the suit say they have corresponded with probation and other officials about conditions. They said county officials declined to meet with them, but contended in correspondence that there were security reasons for confining wards in cells. Officials did not address arguments, lawyers said, that they were legally bound to provide education services and proper assessment of special needs and behavior problems.

Contra Costa County Probation Officer Philip Kader was out of the office until next week, officials at his office said, and they declined to comment. Kader is named in the suit, along with the Contra Costa County Office of Education, which supervises education at the hall.

Peggy Mashburn, chief communications officers at the Contra Costa Office of Education — which is also named as a defendant — said that the office had no comment Thursday because it is still reviewing the lawsuit.

Public Counsel lawyer Laura Faer called the policies inside Contra Coast’s juvenile hall — located in the city of Martinez — “broken and draconian.” She said conditions resemble “maximum-security-like” prisons rather than what state and federal law dictate for conditions inside juvenile and treatment for children with disabilities.

“Contra Costa is failing in its actual legal mission to rehabilitate children,” Faer told reporters. Officials are in “100 percent violation” of laws requiring assessment of students and special-education services.

Wards “are routinely locked for days and weeks at a time in cells that have barely enough room for a bed and only a narrow window the size of a hand,” she said. “In these cells, they are unlawfully denied education and special education and contact with teachers and other students. They are denied textbooks and instructional materials.”

She said 14-year-old plaintiff G.F. has received additional punishment for peering outside her cell while in solitary.

Faer told the Center for Public Integrity that isolation, lasting days, not just hours, can stem from physical fights, but also from defiant comments or refusal to follow staff orders — all behavior that frequently stems directly from a ward’s mental health problems or disability. The law requires officials to assess whether poor behavior stems from a disability, and create a plan that specifically address that.

Mary-Lee Smith, attorney with Disability Rights Advocates, said “it is abhorrent” to confine students with disabilities. The system in Contra Costa, she said, is used “without regard to whether the behavior leading to solitary was related to disability. It does so without even inquiring into whether the child has a disability that may be worsened in solitary confinement.”

The county school at the Martinez juvenile hall enrolls about 1,300 students a year, the lawyers said. The hall’s own records show that at least one-third of the wards have disabilities requiring special education services.

The suit notes that California law declares that juvenile halls exist solely for rehabilitation, and “shall not be deemed to be, not treated as, a penal institution” but rather “a safe and supportive homelike environment.”

Instead, inside the Contra Costa hall, the suit alleges: “Young people with disabilities become trapped in a cruel cycle of discrimination” and “are locked away in solitary confinement where their conditions only deteriorate and they fall further behind in their education.”

Faer said juvenile detention officials are required to create “pro-active, positive rehabilitation plans” for wards, but records obtained and reviewed by lawyers indicate that hall and school officials are failing in that duty.

“These are kids. We have a chance here to help them,” Faer said. “But they are pretty much stealing children’s futures.”

Based on a review of the Martinez hall’s policies, the lawsuit says, wards put into solitary for 23 hours are “outright denied both general and special education entirely.”

The use of solitary confinement in California’s state and county juvenile detention centers has prompted repeated attempts by some legislators to impose regulations barring lengthy isolation beyond relatively short periods and frequent staff observation of youths in cells.

A bill along those lines currently pending in California’s state legislature is sponsored by state Sen. Leland Yee, a San Francisco Democrat. It passed the state Senate, and is now before Assembly members, who have adopted some amendments.

The Center of Public Integrity reported on how a previous unsuccessful attempt by Yee to pass a similar bill was met with stiff opposition from law enforcement officials and prison guards who contribute heavily to legislators’ political campaigns

Call and Response: Community Honors East Bay Center’s Jay Moss

By April Suwalsky

Author’s Note: Jay Moss is one of the most tenacious and hard-working people I have encountered in Richmond. A passionate advocate and organizer at heart, Jay is a steadfast ally — particularly to young people and emerging artists — and a true mentor’s-mentor. He always makes certain that the community is engaged, and that people are recognized and compensated for their work. Jay is often content in a “backstage” role; yet in this, he is one of the critical people who really makes things happen.

I am reminded of a description of Duke Ellington by jazz historian Stanley Crouch. He said Ellington would call himself a “primitive pedestrian minstrel” and this was [mis]interpreted as a joke. But in these words Ellington was actually “obliquely throwing historical daggers.” Similarly, Jay’s usually cool and collected exterior is in jazz-like contrast to a fiery internal drive. Jay is someone who is always planning, curating, envisioning how the component pieces will fit together, thinking about the pitch and the timing, building community knowledge, honoring diverse histories, and progressing the work. It is a special privilege to celebrate and recognize my colleague and ally in this month’s piece. –AS

More than sixty community members, students, faculty and staff of the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts gathered on June 21 to pay tribute to Jay Moss on the occasion of his retirement. Mr. Moss served for the last eleven years as the Center’s Director of Production and Community Engagement. He is also a former board member of the organization, initially engaged in that role in 1990.

“Jay gives a lot to the Center. None of what we do would be possible without him. He helps both with presence and the equipment. I appreciate everything he’s done for us,” said musician and student Eric Diaz, 19.

“He always supported us when we needed him,” agreed Kalin Freeman, 19, also a musician and student at the Center.

Jay Standing Behind Stage

Mr. Moss has more than thirty years of experience as a producer and technical director, having designed and produced technical effects for national touring productions and directed large corporate events. He has worked with Jimi Hendrix, the Beach Boys, Apple Computer, the San Francisco Mime Troupe, and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, among many others.

Moss is best known in Richmond, however, for his commitment to the East Bay Center’s transformational work to develop young artists and leaders, and building and nurturing community beyond the Center’s walls.

“I play drums. Jay always makes sure I have everything I need, and he’s like a mentor. I love the Center because it’s like home, and it’s like art,” stated Quinn Monteiro, 17.

“I like that Jay has a good taste in music. He’s one of the few people who inspired me to play blues, like Muddy Waters,” added Cristian Ponce, 18. Monteiro and Ponce were among the Center artists who performed tributes to Mr. Moss that evening.

The celebration itself was intimate, short and sweet–reflecting Moss’ request to not have a large party, as well the fact that the event was not intended as a “good bye.” Moss will still be an active part of the Center community, just no longer as intensively involved in the day-to-day. Staff and students alike spoke passionately about Moss’ contributions to the Center and to Richmond. The diverse group in attendance was a testament to Mr. Moss’ ability to connect with people, and the relationships he built in the broader community.

“We’ve never seen the Center without you. You helped so much with your words and wisdom. We love you,” said a young dancer.

“I just want to say thank you for being such a great mentor,” said teacher and staff member Kwesi Anku.

Ruthie Dineen, Deputy Director of Programs and an accomplished musician in her own right, expressed her appreciation for Mr. Moss and helped present a photo montage with well wishes from the group. She said the local Copy Central had insisted on donating its services to produce the piece. An employee there had remarked simply, “It’s for Jay.”

Indeed, to represent the thousands of people Jay has touched, “we’d need a canvas as big as this room,” remarked Jordan Simmons, a Richmond native and the Center’s Artistic Director for more than three decades.

Mr. Moss, a self-described “backstage guy,” then took his position front-and-center to reflect on his years of work and life path. “It was difficult in the beginning,” he explained. “Production guidelines had not yet been developed, and I was still learning about Richmond.”

He recalled his roots in the Civil Rights and Peace Movements, and how this knowledge informed his path. “My experience with community organizing efforts has always stayed with me, and I knew the importance of the Iron Triangle,” he said.

“I don’t think I’ve met anyone who truly stands up for what he believes in with the same level of commitment that Jay has,” commented Charlene Smith, the Center’s Director of Development. “He is someone who talks the talk but who clearly has also walked the walk.”

Mr. Moss cited four experiences that would endure with him forever: 1) the opportunity to interface with the students, see them enter the Center, find their gift and share it with others; 2) the Center’s outward-facing Call and Response Program; 3) the Growing Great Families Project; and 4) the Iron Triangle Legacy Project, which provides community organizations and groups a space to tell their stories, highlight their cultures, and share where they want to go in life.

Jordan Simmons vowed that the East Bay Center community would continue to embrace and embody the lessons Mr. Moss modeled throughout his tenure. We will, proclaimed Simmons: “Liberate the right things. Keep the right values. Challenge what we think. Move forward with a spirit of giving. Keep on the righteous road, with lots of love.”

Youth Left Orphaned and Homeless by Tragic Fire, Need Community’s Help

Report • Keyannie Norford

In our community, when one has a loss, we all have a loss. Early Friday morning on July 5th, 911 received a call around 2:30am regarding a fire in the neighborhood of 21st Street in Richmond. Firefighters arrived to a tragic scene — a detached garage behind a house was burning with two adults trapped inside, and their son was in flames. It was reported that fireworks might have been the cause of the blaze.

The father, 56-year-old Mearn Lee Pom, and the mother, 50-year-old Bounkeo Viengvilai, were found unconscious in the garage and were later pronounced dead after firefighters were unsuccessful in their attempt to revive them. Their son was rushed to the nearest Kaiser Permanente hospital, and then to St. Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco, where he later died.

The family members who lost their life are survived by their son and brother, Sompong Viengvilai, who is well known in the community as a former youth leader at RYSE, a local youth center. It was there that Sompong became part of a youth leadership team. Among his many accomplishments, Sompong participated on the President’s Youth Council, where he represented Richmond, and helped to produce videos examining the negative health impacts of sugary beverages. He facilitated organizing workshops, and sat on an advisory board for Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” campaign. He remains a strong advocate for young community members in Richmond.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, the RYSE Center set up a fund to support Sompong’s family, and issued the following statement in a letter:

“When Sompong first came to RYSE, he was committed to transforming his community so that his family and siblings could thrive. With a huge heart and the warmest of spirits, Sompong has always brought his full self to everything he does and in his time of greatest need RYSE intend to return this back to him ten-fold.”
Thanks to community donations collected by RYSE, burial costs for Sompong’s family have been covered. All future contributions to the fund will go towards relocating Sompong and the remaining siblings, since they were all living in the home at the time of the fire.

For those who wish to support, checks can be made out to the “RYSE Center” with a note in the memo line indicating that the donation is for the “Viengvilai Family Fund.” Donations should be mailed to: RYSE Center, 205 41st St. Richmond, CA 94805

Credit card donations can be made on the RYSE website: www.rysecenter.org. If making an online donation, please also indicate in that your contribution is for the “Viengvilai Fund.”

RYSE, in partnership with Community Health for Asian Americans (CHAA), will also be holding grief and healing support groups for Sompong, his family, and any other young people or their families who are grieving a loss. If you or anyone you know is in need of or could benefit from such support, please contact RYSE community health director Kanwarpal Dhaliwal at kanwarpal@rysecenter.org For all other questions, please contact Kimberly Aceves, RYSE executive director at kimberly@rysecenter.org.

For The Colored Boys in The Black Hoodies

By Monet Boyd, 16

The first time I found out that “justice” was just a word was about three days ago. I was sitting on my couch when my friend sent me a text that said, “Monet, you won’t believe this…” I could not even text back because I knew what she was talking about. I turned on my TV, waiting, for what in the back of my mind I already knew. The killer of Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, was pronounced not guilty. My world slowed down as the words “not guilty” played in my mind repeatedly.

This man will go home and sleep calmly in his warm bed next to his wife, while Trayvon’s mother has sleepless nights wondering what her son could have done, would have done, and what he should have done. This verdict is a reminder that in America, we as brown and black people do not matter in the eyes of the law, in this land of the so-called free.

I suppose that this means that I must submit to the police and other forms of authority. Well, when I am in those situations I will not compromise my life because someone is going through some type of ego trip. I will be calm, cool and collected — as I have been taught to be all of my life, to ease my way out of situations that I do not want to be in.
.
As a young person of color, I feel as if I must be a living example of the change I want to see. I cannot be angry for a week and then let Trayvon’s life become a distant memory. I believe that I must work hard in my community to let my voice be heard, and raise awareness not only about forms of injustice by authorities against young people of color — but also the injustices done by people of color against other people of color.

Yes, we should rally and fight for justice, but we should also stop tolerating the genocide happening in our own communities. Maybe the “superior race” will stop killing us when we also stop shooting at a human being that looks similar to the reflection in the mirror.

Q&A: Where Did Prosecution Go Wrong in Zimmerman Trial?

Interview, Dr. Joseph Marshall / Street Soldiers Radio Posted: Jul 16, 2013

Editor’s Note: In an excerpt from an interview with Street Soldiers radio host Dr. Joseph Marshall, Oakland-based civil rights attorney John Burris discusses the recent not-guilty verdict for George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin murder case. Burris is the attorney who represented the family of Oscar Grant, a young African-American man who was killed by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officer early on New Year’s Day, 2009. In that case, the shooter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

I guess the first question on everybody’s mind is: How does a jury come up with this ruling?

I know it was a surprise to many within the African-American community but it really should not be, given the way the evidence… was not presented in a way that you could prove second-degree murder. At best, you could prove involuntary manslaughter. And I say all that because the prosecution, which had the burden of proof, never put forth a theory of how this happened. The jury was really only left with the defense’s version — and the defense’s version was that it was a self-defense case. And there is evidence, obviously, to support that. I mean, all you have to do is know that George Zimmerman had a laceration on the back of his head, he had a bloody nose, and there was another independent person who said… they [Zimmerman and Martin] were involved in a fight. And so, when you’re involved in a fight — putting aside who started it, because they couldn’t prove who started it — if one person is getting beat up really bad, then they have a right to defend themselves. And [then] the question is, should it have been deadly force or not?

My argument was, and is, that it should not have been deadly force, because Zimmerman was not beaten in such a way that a reasonable person would have thought their life was in danger. On the other hand, the prosecution never put forth an argument to show that it was not reasonable for him to believe his life was in danger. What really happened is, the defendants put on [the stand] an expert who basically said that the injuries he did receive are the kind of injuries that can be serious, and that a person receiving those injuries may think their life is in danger. The prosecution never countered that particular evidence… And so, it was very hurtful to see this unfold.

Now, did I think the prosecution did a good job? No I do not. I think they did… a terrible job. I don’t know all the evidence that they had, but I do know that the evidence they did present. They did not present it well. They did not screen their witnesses; they did not protect their witnesses. They let this young lady, Rachel Jeantel, testify, and they never prepared her so that she would know how challenging the cross examination was going to be.

You’re telling me that the case was not charged properly?

It was not charged properly. It never should have been charged as a second-degree murder case. Now, I understand why they did — there was a lot of publicity, a lot of public pressure. But in terms of a professional judgment, they made a decision based on the fact that George Zimmerman had made some improper statements. He used profanity [during his encounter with Martin] and he basically profiled Trayvon Martin — I think that that’s a given, that he was profiled. The judge would say you couldn’t use race [as a trial argument], but he was profiled. So, that gets you into the game. But ultimately, you can stop someone; you can follow someone — that doesn’t automatically make an illegal act. You can do that. It’s only when you become aggressive and you physically touch them. But beyond that, you can follow them. You can say that this person looks like he’s committing a crime or something, and you should call the police. And he [Zimmerman] did call the police, but he should have stopped right there. What everyone was upset about, and rightfully so, is that he was told [by the police dispatcher] that he didn’t need to follow [Martin], but he continued to follow. And by doing that, he created this confrontation.

The problem with the case was, you don’t know what happened once the confrontation took place. We do know this: that there is another witness that says that George Zimmerman was on the bottom, and Trayvon Martin was on top. And Trayvon Martin was beating this guy up, and then a few seconds later you hear this shot, and then you see Trayvon Martin lying off to the side. And so it looked like Trayvon Martin was on top of this guy, getting the best of him, because this guy has a bloody nose and he has lacerations on the back of his head, so George Zimmerman thought his life was in danger and so he shot him. The point is, did he really have to do that or was that excessive? And that’s where the manslaughter case comes in — it never was a second [degree murder]. And so the prosecution overcharged the case and couldn’t prove it. And then they didn’t even argue very well about the manslaughter.

They let a jury get selected with all women, five white, one maybe Hispanic, and no blacks — the blacks got kicked off the jury. There was no one to explain to the other members of the jury that this was racial profiling and this is how it happened, and this is what it means. And so as a consequence of that, the jurors really weren’t placed in a position where they could make an intelligent decision on facts that would have been helpful for the prosecution of the case.

As a lawyer, you must have been sitting there saying, ‘What are these guys doing?’

First off, the opening statement [by the prosecutor] that everyone thought was terrific — it wasn’t terrific. It was very emotional. There were no facts in it… Well, the truth of the matter is, cases are not about heart; they’re about evidence, and rules of evidence.

What we were upset about was that a young boy goes to the store, buys whatever he’s buying, he’s walking back, he’s talking on the phone to a girl, and someone says he looks suspicious. And they follow him. And within minutes, the kid is dead. Well, there’s something fundamentally wrong with that. Except that the lawsuit wasn’t the place for that [racial profiling argument] to occur.

What can be done now? I know there’s talk of a civil suit.

There are a lot of discussions going on. First off, they want to see if the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., will file criminal civil rights violations based on this being a hate crime. I can tell you, I’ve sent maybe 10 to 15 cases to the Department of Justice for prosecution. In many of them, people have been shot any number of times. The Oscar Grant case, I sent there. And I got a case out of Manteca I’m working on now — a kid was shot 20 times. And the Justice Department has not prosecuted any of those cases. And the reason being is that unless they have clear, bona fide evidence, like a Rodney King, [a case] which I did many years ago, with video tape, it’s pretty clear that they’re not going to take action on a case like this. What they’re looking for is impact cases — the city of New Orleans, when they had all those problems; the city of LA; they would have done Oakland [for the Oscar Grant case] but for the fact we did Oakland. So they’re looking for impact cases that are going to impact discrimination… Now, when Al Sharpton and the NAACP get involved, it may be that the Justice Department will be more responsive….

The other thing is, they can sue Mr. Zimmerman in a civil case. Now, that’s easy to do — you can sue him, and then he’d be required to testify and you may get a judgment in your favor. But if it [the civil trial] is in Seminole County… you may not. The difference is this: the Martin family, or the mother, does not live in that county. And Trayvon didn’t live in the county. The lawyer doesn’t live in the county. So in a way, it was outsiders coming into the county, and George Zimmerman was one of them [a local]. That’s an undercurrent of a political thing that a jury is not to consider, but this is an all white jury from Seminole County who, you know, basically didn’t have the same value system as you and I may have… You or I might say, ‘Why would you say he’s suspicious?’ Walking in the rain, on the phone, trying to get back to his house. [Zimmerman] could have easily said, ‘What are you doing? I’m the neighborhood watch commander,’ and say that in a polite way. [Martin] could have responded, ‘I’m here with my mom, my dad is here, and I live over here….’ That was a confrontation that did not have to happen.

I would say to all young people — you have to look at how to de-escalate a situation, particularly when you know you can be viewed suspiciously, even when you’re not doing anything wrong. You’ve got to have a way to handle that, just in case. And that is, you talk to the person to find out what the problem is, if you can, in a polite way, and tell them who you are and what you’re trying to do, which maybe will prevent the problem from escalating — because in certain states, people carry guns. And the other thing you should keep in mind: there are going to be a lot more neighborhood patrol groups. I know in the city of Oakland we have them, and these people have guns. So if you walk into my neighborhood or a neighborhood like mine, and they don’t know you, you may get accosted. So, young people have to be very mindful of that….

Fountain Brings Fresh Water to Thirsty Kids at Elm Playlot

News Report • Edgardo Cervano-Soto

It took five years of community organizing, government meetings, and filling out grant applications, but the Elm Playlot on 7th and Elm Street is on track to become one of the most innovative parks in the City of Richmond.

Pogo Park, a grassroots non-profit in Richmond, has been overseeing the project and working with residents to rebuild this small city park, located in the Iron Triangle neighborhood, that has for so long been beset by violence, poverty and neglect – and even seemingly small improvements can make a big difference.

Earlier this month, residents celebrated the installation of a filtered water fountain at Elm Playlot, an event that brought out local families, community partners and city officials. The groundbreaking ceremony for the new fountain gave community members a glimpse of the progress Pogo Park has made so far, and a better idea of what lies ahead. A large banner featured illustrations of the new park design, including features that were developed by neighborhood residents.

“Our vision at Pogo Park is to create these superlative and phenomenal parks,” said Toody Maher, executive director of Pogo Park. “We want [residents], the moment they walk through the gate, to be entering an oasis of health.”

It is spacious, with five trees providing shade over most of the park grounds. There are sandboxes, a tetherball area and a field for sports. The tetherball pole is actually cemented to a tire, and tree stumps serve as chairs. There are tents that can be easily collapsed, and floor mats. Large, rolling plastic balls are spread out in various places. Given it’s unique features, Maher refers to Elm Playlot as a “pop-up park.”

“It’s a great park for the children that live near by,” says Carmen Avalos, 60, in Spanish. This day, Carmen is watching over her grandson as he runs around the playground. She wears glasses and a flowery patterned top with large pockets on the lower end of her shirt, where she stores a children’s “sippy cup” of water. “A water fountain is great because they say tap water is healthier than bottled water,” says Carmen. “It’s a marvel for the children.” Carmen has lived in Richmond for 15 years and has been actively attending the community meetings at Pogo Park.

On a bench next to the small central field sits Doris Mason, 65, watching a pair of young people play hit and catch with a softball. Ms. Mason, or Mother Mason, as she is known in the neighborhood, is a community outreach liaison for Pogo Park. She has lived in Richmond for 25 years, and believes the water fountain can have a profound impact on the health of the community’s youth. “This water fountain will encourage the children to drink more water. They need their bodies to be hydrated. This water fountain, this park, is significant for them.”

Arriving park goers stop by to say hello to Mother Mason. Clearly, she is a fixture in the Iron Triangle. Her relationship to the community and her role as a surrogate grandmother to many people in the neighborhood, she said, is her strength. “Our young people don’t have grandparents, so as a seasoned resident, me and others, we serve as surrogates. We make sure everything is safe out here as they play, and not only play, but we interact with them,” she added.

Children gather around the tetherball area to watch a match between two players. It is apparent from the adults I speak to and the murals in the park, that the wellbeing of the neighborhood’s children is the focus of the park redesign. I try interviewing some of the children, but they are shy. One youth, Jeremiah Daly, 11, requests to be interviewed. I ask him about the water fountain. “I drink water like maybe five times a day,” and so do his friends, he confirmed.

A Pogo Park staff member began to call everyone over for the water fountain installation ceremony. Maher introduced representatives from the Native American Health Center, who performed a ritual. After the blessing, the children were invited to drink water from the fountain. As a line formed beside a colorful mural depicting the origin of Richmond’s tap water in the Sierra Mountains, water canteens were passed out to the children, who filled them up with the filtered water. “Everyone is trying to figure out how to make kids drink water and not sugar beverages. We decided to make drinking water like theater,” explained Maher.

With steps leading to the tap one side, and no steps on the other side, Maher said the fountain was designed and built by Pogo Park with both adults and children in mind. As if part of the mural itself, the blue colors of a river decorate the fountain.

Groundbreaking on the rest of the park redesign will begin later this year.

“Our only agenda for Pogo Park is that children must play to be healthy,” said Maher.

Sealing Youth Offender Records Brings ‘Chance at a New Life’

Commentary, David Cunningham, New America Media

Ed. Note: In June, youth advocates testified before a hearing of the Senate Public Safety Committee in Sacramento in support of AB 1006, which would require court and probation officers to inform youth offenders of how to seal their records upun turning 18. The bill is currently awaiting approval by the Senate Appropriations Committee. The author, David Cunningham, 23, is a youth contributor to New America Media (NAM) and a member of the California Council on Youth Relations, a NAM project that brings youth voices to policy discussions in the state capitol.

SAN FRANCISCO — Joy riding, staying out past curfew, drinking in public — to me it was all just harmless fun. But to civil society it was breaking the law, and I paid the price. After 13 months of serving time in juvenile hall, paying off restitution fees, and doing community service, I thought I was in the clear. I soon found out that wasn’t the case.

I was tired of dealing with the system. I was ready to change my life. I tried applying for part time jobs at Subway, Radio Shack, McDonalds, Jack in the Box, Century 21, and a few other places. But after 30 days of checking the “I have a criminal record” box on job applications, I still hadn’t been called back for any job interviews. I was ready to give up.

I realized that even though I’d legally paid my debt to society, my criminal record condemned me to a life of continuing to pay for the mistakes of my youth, over and over again.

And then a friend told me I could seal my juvenile criminal record. I barely believed him, because no probation officer or judge ever told me I could have a fresh start. I reached out to a community organization in San Francisco to see if he was right, and it turns out he was. A caseworker helped me submit my paperwork to get my records sealed.

Being given a clean slate felt great. I ended up landing a few jobs. I worked for the Department of Public Works and Brothers Against Guns, an organization that works to reduce violence. Having those jobs taught me the importance of taking advantage of good opportunities, and just cherishing what you have. I’m grateful to that case manager and to other community-based organizations that look out for kids in trouble.

But many youth aren’t lucky enough to find the support of local community-based organizations. And many more aren’t even aware of their rights or the services that are available to help them.

Young people coming out of juvenile detention into today’s job market need more than just a pat on the back and a friendly “good luck finding help.” Every youth should have the opportunity to go into a job interview feeling like they have a fair chance, like I eventually did.

When I found out that there is a state bill, AB 1006, that would require probation officers and courts to provide information to juvenile offenders about how to seal their criminal record, I went to Sacramento to show my support.

The California Senate Public Safety Committee is one of two key committees where all the crime bills are voted on. When state assembly member Mariko Yamada, the author of AB 1006, motioned for me to join her up at the podium, I went up and testified to the room full of people dressed in business attire why I believed young offenders should be informed about their right to start over with a clean slate by sealing their juvenile records.

I shared with them things I’d learned from my own personal experience: that feeling defeated, before you even apply for a job, is what can cause a person to go crazy. It’s enough for some youth to lose all hope of finding a job, and they will resort back to what they know best — a life of crime to pay the bills.

I was fortunate enough to have a support group and a mentor to guide me in the right direction. But we can’t assume that all of California’s youth will be helped by community organizations. We need probation officers in every county to give youthful offenders the information they need to seal their records so they can find work.

When I finished my testimony, I asked the politicians to vote in favor of AB 1006. Some seemed to not care — when I spoke, it seemed like they wanted to be somewhere else, and they voted “no” when the time came, without hesitation. Others, however, expressed some concern for the issue being raised, and ultimately the bill did receive enough “yes” votes to pass the Senate Public Safety Committee.

But state politicians still have two chances to vote the bill down, and I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure they know how important this issue is. Because sealing juvenile records not only means getting a fair shot at employment, it means giving young people like myself a chance at a new life.