Calif. Bill Would Send Sexually Exploited Children to Foster System

News Report, Nicole Hudley • New America Media

SACRAMENTO — Erica Lawrence became worried about her friend when she started acting distant, losing weight, and getting into fights at school. Her worry turned to dread when the friend became pregnant and ran away from home and Lawrence, 16, didn’t know where to find her. Months went by before Lawrence finally discovered that her friend had run away with a man who she said loved her and would take care of her. He only asked for one thing in return – that she have sex with strangers for money.

Lawrence testified in Sacramento last month during a senate hearing on the sexual exploitation of youth, a problem that advocates and law enforcement officials say is a growing concern. Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), who recently authored a bill to address the problem, convened the hearing.

Because of the high financial rewards and relatively low risk of arrest, California-based gangs that in the past relied on drug and weapon sales for money are increasingly turning to prostitution — including prostitution of minors, according to a recent report by the California Child Welfare Council. Nationally, the FBI reports that 100,000 children between the ages of 11 and 14 fall victim to commercial sexual exploitation each year in the United States.

Runaway youth are particularly vulnerable. Within 48 hours of living on the street, one in four runaways is approached by a pimp, according to the advocates who testified at the hearing. Youth arrested for prostitution usually wind up in jail while their pimps go free, said advocates, creating a system that criminalizes and re-victimizes youth.

Senator Yee introduced Senate Bill 738 last February, in an effort to reform how the justice system handles such cases. If passed, SB 738 will allow minors arrested for sex work to be placed in the foster care system where they could receive mental health and family support services, as opposed to being sent to jail.

“Many of these young individuals… don’t have a home anymore, or they’re not wanted in their home, or their relationship with their biological parents is so torn apart that there’s no going back,” said Yee. “So rather than incarcerate them, it’s more appropriate that they be part of the foster care system.”

Stephanie Richard from the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), which sponsored SB 738, said some police officers have already shifted their mindset around child prostitution – where they once saw lawbreakers, they now see victims of child sex trafficking. The problem, said Richard, is that making an arrest is often the only recourse for an officer who encounters a victim.

“Too often, CAST law enforcement partners tell us that to protect these children, they’re actually arresting them, to ensure they receive services. We must give our law enforcement partners better options,” said Richard.

Senate Bill 738 would open the door for several hundred victims of child sex trafficking to enter the state foster care system. Social workers and investigators from Child Protective Services (CPS) would work with families to determine whether or not the parents were abusing or neglecting the children before they ran away and became involved in prostitution. Depending on their personal circumstances and needs, victims could eventually be returned home (where they would be supervised by foster care staff) or be housed in a mental health facility, foster parent home or group home.

Understanding the problem

Children who run away from their families often do so to avoid abuse or neglect at home, said Crystal O’Grady from California Youth Connection (CYC). The victims often fall prey to “romeo pimps” who lure children into prostitution by showering their victims with romantic attention to build trust, before asking them to do a “favor,” according to a recent California Council on Child Welfare report.

“Stockholm syndrome” and “trauma bonding” are survival skills that victims develop as they adapt to their captivity, according to the Senate Committee on Human Services report compiled for the hearing. Living under a constant threat of abuse, said advocates, victims often come to feel grateful toward their abuser for even the smallest acts of kindness or mercy.

“They [sexually exploited youth] would say, I feel good, I just don’t like what I have to do at the end of the day,” said Janne Ault-Brown, who along with Lawrence, co-founded Students Together Reducing Exploitation And Trafficking (STREAT).

The student group raises awareness of sexual exploitation in Sacramento, one of the top five cities in the state for Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE). Sex trafficking is a problem in both wealthy and poor neighborhoods in Sacramento, said Lawrence, yet most people aren’t even aware it’s a problem.

“If you say to a kid my age, ‘sex trafficking,’ they don’t know what that is. People know about drugs and STDs, but not this,” said Lawrence.

Pimps and exploiters have apparently been known to slip past the “gatekeepers” of young victims unnoticed, due to a general lack of public awareness of the underground sex economy, and poor coordination between government agencies. One panelist told a story about a pimp who signed for a young woman at a local jail to be released into his custody.

Safe housing a challenge

Proponents of SB 738 believe that redirecting victims to the foster care system will reduce harm. Yet keeping them safe and sound once they’re there could prove to be the toughest part, for a myriad of reasons.

“Because they frequently run away, because some of them don’t disclose that they are a victim, and because they believe they have good street smarts, they’re not as receptive to services,” said Roberta Medina from the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). “These youth may run away six, seven, eight, nine times and each time go back into that life until it clicks in their head, ‘I need to make a change.’”

What’s more, there is a concern that the foster care system itself has in the past been identified as a recruiting ground for pimps on the lookout for vulnerable girls and boys.

“Part of what we’re seeing occurring is the recruitment of… children within the group homes,” said Medina.

Pimps recruiting young people from group homes is a problem that has been well documented in a number of California counties, according to a recent Child Welfare Council report on the issue.

When asked about the possibility that entry into the foster care system could harm rather than help victims, Sen. Yee acknowledged the problem and went on to say that SB 738 would establish forums for stakeholders to discuss the problem of recruitment in the child welfare system and other unique challenges that victims face, including the lack of coordination across agencies.

Mental health services expanding

If SB 738 is ultimately approved, victims of sexual exploitation and other youth in the foster care system may have access to more support services than ever before. As the result of a class action lawsuit that was settled last January, California’s foster care system will soon be infused with cash to expand “wraparound services” including mental health services. The lawsuit, Katie A. vs. Bonta, was filed on behalf of foster youth against state health care and social service agencies. The lawsuit claimed that existing intensive mental health services offered by the state through the foster care system were inadequate.

The Katie A. settlement provided county mental health agencies and child welfare agencies with approximately $20 million for the current fiscal year and $46 million for next year, with half of the funds coming from the federal government. Funds from the settlement would be available to youth who were previously removed from their homes by the foster care system, as well as young people who have come into the foster care system as a result of being arrested for sex work.

The arrival of new funds could also help county child welfare agencies accommodate the potential influx of new youth entering their foster care agency should SB 738 be signed into law.

A Prom Day in the Life

First Person, Iraida Santillan • Video, Ann Bassette

Prom came ridiculously fast this year. I’d felt like I had all the time in the world to prepare, until I found myself with only two and a half weeks to go before the dance, and I had nothing: no dress, no shoes or accessories, not even a prom ticket.

I knew I’d have to set a budget for myself because the prom tickets cost $100. Of course I only had to pay for one, because my date Mike gave me money for his. Still, prom dresses and shoes can be really expensive and I did not want to ask my parents for money. Senior year has been full of expenses for them having to pay for my SAT and ACT exams, college applications, and all sorts of other school related things like grad night. I felt guilty asking them for more money.

So when I found a formal dress that was on sale at Caché in San Francisco I was relieved – only to find out the store no longer had my size. Luckily, the wonderful lady who worked there started searching to see if any nearby store had the same dress, and it just so happened a store in Sacramento had it and were able to ship it to me three days later. At least I had the dress down, making me one happy girl. I ended up getting my shoes that same day at Forever 21 right after I ordered my dress, and they’re honestly something to die for — that’s how much I like them!

This year, I wasn’t distracted by having to worry about any finals or tests, so I was able to have a relaxing prom day — unlike two years ago, when I had to rush to get ready for prom because I had my physics lab final that same afternoon. The extra time allowed Mike and I to take care of some important last minute things, like going to Burlington so he could get a nice shirt to match me for the night. We went early in the morning, hoping we could find something nice, and it took us awhile before finally finding the perfect shirt in the perfect shade of pink.

After accomplishing that mission in the morning, I got home and started washing the car because I didn’t want to go to prom in a dirty car. After that was done, I went to pick up the boutonniere at the flower shop on McDonald Ave. I never knew that two little flowers could cost so much!

I started getting ready for prom around three o’clock with my little sisters watching me do my hair and makeup the whole time. I felt like it took forever to get ready. It was close to seven o’clock when I finished, and prom started at seven. I was trying to hurry up, but you honestly can’t rush perfection. Mike arrived at my house at 6:45 to get ready here, because I had his shirt and bow tie.

Before leaving for prom we took pictures in the backyard, of us putting on the boutonniere and corsage. Mike and I finally left the house about a quarter past seven, and we decided that the fastest way to get to the Cliff House in San Francisco was by crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.

As we were driving I noticed pedestrians as well as other drivers staring and pointing at us — I guess they were just admiring how good we looked. We finally made it to the Cliff House where the first thing we did was take the prom portrait, before my hair and makeup got all messed up. After the portrait one of my classmates told me that there was a photo booth, and to be honest it was my favorite thing about prom.

I must say that my prom reminded me a lot of the proms you see in “white movies.” It was nothing like Mike’s Richmond High prom two years ago. It was very sweet, with people sitting around tables, and a very small dance floor with people slow dancing or fist pumping and not “twerking.” I’m not saying I didn’t like my prom but it was very different and not what I expected after attending the RHS prom last year.

By the end of the night I was starving, so after leaving the Cliff House, Mike and I went to In-n-Out where we both got a burger and devoured it. We stayed up talking and looking at the sky for a while before it was finally time for him to bring me home — almost like Cinderella — because my mom had warned him that she wanted me back home by one.

School Health Centers, Where Students Can Let Out Their Worries

by Keyannie Norford

Being a young person from Richmond, California, I face a lot on a day-to-day basis and I am thankful and grateful that we have a wonderful and useful health center at De Anza High School. It’s a place that students indeed go to when they are having problems, especially as a result of all the violence happening in the community. I personally go there and utilize their mental health services. The health center has been our place to vent and let out all our worries.

The health center at De Anza was established in 2007 as a collaborative effort between West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) and Bay Area Community Resources (BACR). BACR is a non-profit agency whose mission is to support the healthy development of individuals and families in the community. Today, one of De Anza’s most popular student health services happens to be mental health.

Last year, the De Anza student body participated in a survey and the results showed that those who received mental health services such as individual or group therapy at the center strongly agree school-based health services are beneficial.

Ninety-five percent reported receiving the information and services they needed; 89 percent said the programs helped them deal with stress or anxiety better; 89 percent agreed it helped them set goals and plan for the future; 71 percent said they now do better in school or have improved their attendance; and 71 percent agreed they now avoid risky behaviors such as drugs, alcohol, gang involvement and getting into fights.

Any student can visit the health center, without fear of judgment. Deborah Espinoza, De Anza’s health center advocate and program coordinator, stresses to all students that if they having any kind of problem they can come to the health center and get help.
It’s a safe place where students can receive free and confidential health services, information and programming.

The center’s mental health services include one-on-one and group counseling around issues of anger management, grief or loss, LGBTQ support, self-esteem, depression, substance use or abuse and crisis intervention. Other available services include: health education, violence and drug prevention, youth development, sexual health and even some medical services.

There are about 200 other school-based health care centers up and running in California, according to californiahealthline.org, but there is a need for more. And now, there is growing political will to make it happen.

Last month, California state superintendent of public instruction Tom Torlakson and 18 other district leaders from across the state signed a letter delivered to Congress asking for $50 million in federal funding for the operation of school based health centers for the fiscal year 2014 budget.

Hopefully other students across the state will be given the same opportunity to access the important services, including mental health services, that we value so much at De Anza.

Finding Innovation, Inspiration and Hope in Washington, D.C.


Editor’s note: Last month, Richmond Pulse contributor Yasmine Elsafy traveled to Washington, D.C., as a member of a youth delegation sponsored by The California Endowment, a private health foundation. The purpose of their trip was to gain a broader understanding of how government works, and to learn about advances in education technology.

On my first day in Washington, D.C., our group attended an event at Microsoft where we learned about Glass Lab, a project that applies gaming to education in new and innovative ways. Glass Lab’s mission is to create quality video games that help kids learn and perform better in the classroom, with a focus on engagement, problem solving and teamwork.

Glass Lab’s work runs counter to a rising dissent among many parents and teachers who claim that video games only foster violence and contribute to children having low attention spans, which leads to underperformance at school.

Our group heard from a number of speakers associated with Glass Lab, including students. One was a 7th grader who spoke about how video games can actually help hold attention by engaging students and teaching them relevant information in different subject areas. Later in the day, we spoke to various professionals about video game design, education advocacy and emerging technology fields.

By the end of the day, I’d come to see much more potential in the video game industry as a creative and beneficial platform for educating young people.

The following day, we had a series of exciting meetings with representatives from the White House. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but we had many valuable conversations and I came away with a lot of useful information.

Among the speakers we heard from were Stephanie Valencia and Ronnie Cho from the Office of Public Engagement, Laura Andersen and Katie Dowd who do work on STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) issues, Roberto Rodriguez who is a senior advisor to the president on education matters, and Sam Kass, the senior policy advisor on nutrition.

We spoke about issues affecting our communities — health, immigration, education, inclusion of women and minorities in the STEM fields, and youth outreach. Valencia spoke about a program called Youth Jobs Plus, an initiative for young people to have access to resources that will help them find summer jobs, internships, and other development opportunities. Andersen and Dowd spoke about President Obama’s efforts to reward students excelling in STEM fields, as well as involving professionals in these fields to volunteer as mentors to create more opportunities young women and students of color. All the speakers were passionate and optimistic about their respective projects and efforts to reach out to different communities.

We also visited Senator Diane Feinstein’s office and heard personal testimonies from individuals who are now working professionals. Hearing how they struggled as young people was inspiring because I could relate. Hearing about how they overcame personal challenges to become prominent members in their professional fields gave me hope. Their experiences reinforced how important it is to work hard and not be discouraged by failures, but to keep going.

I was also lucky enough to get to do some sightseeing and explore the nation’s Capitol. We were able to visit the major monuments and memorials, including the Lincoln Memorial and the Martin Luther King Memorial. It was humbling to be at the site of so much history and to consider all the major events and movements that took place in the area.

I left D.C. with a reinforced sense of motivation and inspiration. I feel more determined now than ever before to push myself past my comfort zone and exceed people’s expectations of me. Making connections and being part of a talented and promising group of young people was so rewarding, and provided me the opportunity to see firsthand just how much is possible when you combine a solid work ethic with the motivation to succeed.

YMCA of the East Bay Encourages Kids to Play and Learn at Healthy Kids Day

Photo Essay, Gallen.Neilly & Associates

On Saturday April 27, over 450 people attended Healthy Kids Day at the Hilltop YMCA. Healthy Kids Day, a national initiative of the YMCA to improve the health and well being of kids, is filled with fun, active play and educational activities that will help parents improve their kids’ lifestyles for the long term. Attendees participated in a variety of classes and events like the Move-A-Thon circuit course, which included lunges, jumping jacks, push-ups and sit-ups. A new circuit was added this year that included knowledge about recycling and fitness at the same time. The day also involved sports challenges, swimming, hula hooping, a recycle relay, West Cat Bus and lots of fun. Miss Richmond, Alexis Pickins, who has become a ‘Let’s Move’ Community Ambassador, participated in the activities and led a comprehensive initiative class launched by the First Lady herself. 

Over 250 people participated in YMCA classes during Healthy Kids Day and collectively burned over 93,500 calories.

[flagallery gid=4 name=”Healthy Kids Day 2013″]

Berkeley Fourth-Graders Determined to Bring Classmate Back Home

Ed Note: On January 10, 2013 nine-year-old Rodrigo Guzman was detained along with his family by Immigration and Customs Enformcement (ICE) along the Texas-Mexico border. After determing their visas had expired, the family was sent back to Mexico and told they must wait five years before reapplying for a visa. Social Justice activist Mable Yee is the mother of twin boys, Kyle and Scott Kuwahara, who are Rodrigo’s classmates at Jefferson Elementary School in Berkeley, California. They are in the forefront of the Bring Rodrigo Home – Kids For Kids campaign that was launched March 19. NAM reporter Semany Gashaw interviewed her.

New America Media: How long has Rodrigo been in this country?

Mable Yee: Rodrigo has lived here continuously since he was 18 months old and he has attended public school at Jefferson elementary the entire time.

NAM: You say he and his mother have been going to Tijuana every six months to renew their visas. So what happened on this trip?

Yee: August 2011 was the last time that they renewed their visas. On that visit, the border patrol remarked that Rodrigo’s Spanish was very poor and his English was really good. That worried the mother, who was concerned that they might think that the family had been living long term in the U.S.

When they were returning to the U.S. from Mexico last January, they flew into Houston. ICE detained them. The boy and his mother were separated from the father, who was questioned for hours with security guards watching the entire time. ICE finally told them that their visas had expired and that they were going to be sent back to Mexico.

While the father was being interrogated, young Rodrigo said he was hungry. The mother asked a security guard if she could buy him some food. The security guard said ok, and he brought him a bowl of soup. But before Rodrigo could eat the soup, the guard demanded that Rodrigo give him his visa and passport … They took it and then stamped “cancel” on the visa. To this day, the boy blames himself for the whole mess.

NAM: How did Rodrigo’s friends respond when they heard he wasn’t coming back?

Yee: Very badly. When my twin boys, Kyle and Scott, came home from school, Kyle told me, “Rodrigo isn’t coming back.” I asked why and he said “because of visa problems,” but he didn’t really know much else. Kyle also told me: “The kids in our class are really angry and we want to go on a hunger strike and we want to hold a rally!” He told me they’ve been learning about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, and they knew about Cesar Chavez and his hunger strike. And he said we’ve got to do something to help bring Rodrigo back. I encouraged them because after all I’m a social justice advocate.

NAM: Did the kids understand what actually happened to Rodrigo?

Yee: I explained to them that in order to be a citizen of this country, you have to either have been born here or become a (naturalized) citizen. These kids understand the concept of social justice. My son says: “We are taught about Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and Cesar Chavez standing up for other people’s rights. But who is fighting for Rodrigo’s rights?” Kyle said it is our turn and our time to stand up like Martin Luther King and Yuri Kochiyama. We give them all this information and now they actually have an opportunity to put into action the lessons they learned in class through their history books.

NAM: Do his classmates keep in contact with Rodrigo?

Yee: My sons and I regularly Skype Rodrigo and his mother. Even though he’s in Mexico, it feels as if he’s in the next room. When Rodrigo was here, he would play a game called Minecraft, a popular online multi player platform game where you can build communities. It’s like a 3D virtual Lego world. So the kids play online together.

NAM: Take us through the Bring Rodrigo Home – Kids For Kids campaign.

Yee: I developed a strategy, involving the City of Berkeley and the school district to provide institutional support for Rodrigo’s family. The Berkeley Unified School District and the Berkeley City Council unanimously passed resolutions. The City council’s included sending letters to President Obama, Senator Diane Feinstein and Congresswoman Barbara Lee urging them to grant humanitarian parole for Rodrigo. My son, Kyle, personally wrote a letter to President Obama. It has been translated into Spanish, broadcast on the radio and read on the Internet.

I found an immigration attorney who spoke directly with the family. She interviewed the parents and said basically they had overstayed their visas and that ICE was within their rights to turn the family back. But she said if the family were fortunate enough to have a legislator sponsor a private bill granting humanitarian parole and it was approved, they could be able to return legally. This could happen if enough public outcry and media attention were generated for their case.

NAM: Are you optimistic about bringing Rodrigo back home?

Yee: Yes. We met Congresswoman Barbara Lee at her immigration town hall meeting a few weeks ago in Oakland, Calif. Our kids and parents got a private meeting with her for 10 minutes. We skyped in Rodrigo and his mother live from Mexico. Rodrigo asked her if he could have a second chance to return to his home. Congresswoman Lee was so moved. She said: “I will do everything possible to bring you home Rodrigo.” He then asked her: “Can you please invite my classmates to go to Washington DC to speak for me because I can not speak for myself?” At this, she turned to the kids and said: “You are all invited to Washington, DC, and I need you to come and speak to my congressional colleagues about the need for immediate and comprehensive immigration reform.”

Rodrigo is the face of immigration. He is an innocent child caught in the middle of this mess for which he cannot be blamed. He is as American as you and I are.

Click here to see young Kyle Kuwahara’s speech to the Berkeley council. More information is available at the Bring Rodrigo Home – Kids For Kids campaign website.

Richmond Tales Fest Promotes Literacy

News Report • Malcolm Marshall

Civic Center Plaza provided a beautiful backdrop for the fourth annual Richmond Tales Fest on Saturday, April 20. The event is based on the book “Richmond Tales” by Summer Brenner, has grown to become one of the more enjoyable family events in the Bay Area. With its message of literacy and health, it’s also one of the most positive.

Numerous community organizations were on hand with booths, where they spoke to community members and handed out information about healthy living.

One of those organizations, West County Reads, distributed 5,000 books in both English and Spanish, including English/Spanish dictionaries, for free. All of the books were donated, many of them brand new. Children and parents alike took advantage of the giveaway.

The day’s lineup of local entertainers featured youth poets, a gospel choir, and dance routines by Zumba, traditional Mexican, Laotian and Native-American performers.

Kids laughed and played, with many taking advantage of the free face painting and hula hooping.

Richmond’s own Liberty Ship Cafe gave out free fresh food — mini chicken sandwiches, kale salads and empanadas.

At least 1500 people attended the festival, according to Tana Montero, community liaison for Richmond College Prep Schools and one the event organizers. The theme of this year’s event, she said, was inspired by the book, “Richmond Tales,” a novel that deals with many of the same themes event organizers sought to highlight.

“It’s about Mario and Myesha, two kids from Richmond who go back in time and learn about the history of Richmond,” Montero explained. “They also get to see a glimpse of the future of what they’re doing. Myesha’s… an urban gardener [and] Mario has a family neighborhood clinic. Everything we wanted to showcase here was literacy, health, eating healthy, growing your own [food], family, and showcasing the kids.”

Now in its fourth year, Tales Fest has grown from its initial beginnings as an event catering to the Richmond College Prep community in the Nystrom-Lincoln-Coronado area, to now serving the entire city and beyond. A contribution from Kaiser Permanente of $5,000 helped with the expansion. “When we were able to get that kind of seed money, we were like, we can invite all of Richmond, all the Title 1 schools, Richmond and San Pablo,” said Montero.

Glenda Monterroza, Community Benefits Specialist at Kaiser and a member of the planning committee, has seen the event grow over the last several years. “It’s an event that attracts a lot of different families,” said Monterroza. “We’ve partnered with West Contra Costa Unified School District so that they can help spread the word. A lot of different community partners came together for this event.” Over 30 community based organizations participated in this year’s festival.

Eddie Davis, 10, of Richmond, and his mother Nicole attended Tales Fest for the first time. “It’s cool because it gives the kids something to do plus there’s a lot of information out here — like the Rosie the Riveter museums that are in Richmond. I had no idea. It’s a nice day out for the kids and the grown ups.”

Vergil Weeks works with Richmond’s LEAP (Literacy for Every Adult Project). Weeks said LEAP is happy to promote the event every year because it emphasizes reading. “The community will be stronger if its level of literacy is high,” said Weeks. Furthermore, said Weeks, there will be job growth in Richmond “when we have a workforce that can understand and function within a modern system.”

In the 15 years Weeks has worked for LEAP, he said the organization’s clientele has gotten younger, while the level of literacy has gotten lower. “We have to go back to the basics. It’s about teaching them how to learn before I can teach them something. The manual learning and getting them back to the discipline of learning is what’s the key here. It’s not something that can be instantly obtained.”

The Richmond Tales Fest also served as the kick-off of Screen Free Week – a national celebration where families, schools, and communities turn off their TV screens and other media for seven days to promote healthy alternatives to televisions and video games. “We know that families that tend to do something active like walking together… tend to be healthier,” said Monterroza. “Specifically [in] the African American and Latino populations, obesity is a big problem. Hopefully they will realize that TV is not the only way to something fun together.”

The spirit of community was out in full force for this year’s event. Author Summer Brenner and actors from the cast of the stage version of “Richmond Tales” perfomed readings from the book. Mothers, fathers and children all had smiles on their faces. The weather was perfect and everyone felt safe. Families went home with big bags of books, and many people signed up for library cards. It was, said Monterroza, “the best Tales Fest yet.”

Rick Ross Lyric Shows Rape Isn’t Taken Seriously

By Karina Guadalupe


Put Molly all in the champagne. She ain’t even know it. I took her home and I enjoy that. She ain’t even know it.
– Lyics from U.O.E.N.O. by Rick Ross

I haven’t yet heard the song “U.O.E.N.O.” but Miami rapper Rick Ross is a pig for saying what he did. When I read about his lyrics, the story of Canadian teen Rehtaeh Parsons came to mind — she committed suicide after she was gang-raped, photographed and bullied as the rape went viral on youtube. I also thought about15-year-old Audrie Pott, who hanged herself after allegedly being sexually battered while passed out at a party.

These kinds of stories happen all the time. When he first apologized Ross said that he never used the word rape and his lyrics were misunderstood. The fact that he said his lyrics were “interpreted as rape” is complete BS to me. How can you misinterpret what he said for anything other than what it really is? It’s disgusting and it seems to celebrate rape. What he said bothers me because it seems like he is taking everything really lightly. There are a lot of weak-minded people out there that take what “famous” people say to heart and might think it’s okay to do something like that.

Date rape is an issue everywhere, definitely among my friends. I usually feel safe when I go out with my friends, though, because we look after each other. Whenever we go out we make sure to take the normal precautions I believe everyone should take: Never leave your drink unattended, don’t take drinks from people you don’t know and if you drink, don’t drink to get drunk. I feel like you should only drink if you feel comfortable with the environment you are in and have people around that you know and trust to have your back in case anything went wrong. But with pigs like this, you can never be too careful.

I was never a Rick Ross fan but I did listen to a few of his songs. However, after hearing something so low, desperate, pathetic and disgusting, I will definitely stop listening to his music. I don’t think the issue of rape is taken seriously. I’ve heard that different artists and people have tried to defend Rick Ross by saying it’s freedom of speech. Maybe, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that what he said was inappropriate. Just like he had the freedom to say something so disgusting, everyone else has the right to let him know how ignorant and stupid his lyrics have made him look.

It’s sad that Hip Hop and rap has come to this. I wonder if people are gonna be so brain dead to believe Ross’s apology. And yes, there have been other artists sing or rap about worse things than Ross – but that doesn’t make his lyrics OK.

I heard on the radio that Reebok has dropped Rick Ross because of public pressure and the rapper has issued a formal apology to women who have “felt the sting of abuse” and to young men for setting a regrettable example. I hope he really means it. In general, rappers talk about sex and drugs because it sells. But Ross is the latest example of how artists have taken it to a whole new level of disrespect.

Teachers Helped Me In Ways Online Learning Couldn’t

Commentary, Alicia Marie

When I finished high school, I was adamant that I wasn’t going to college. I didn’t have good relationships with my teachers and I wanted nothing more to do with school. However, once I started regularly attending Omega Boys Club in San Francisco, my “bad teacher relationships” changed. At the club I was taught how to create and stick to a budget, how to choose my friends, and how to survive in college. With all this training, I felt confident to go off to school. With the support of Omega Boys Club, I was able to go study in Hawai’i at the University of Hawai’i Maui College.

Once I got there, my teachers were the first ones to become like my family. They were amazed at my work ethic and how much I wanted to learn. I spent much time after class with them learning and talking about my life in San Francisco. They saw my expressions when I learned something new and congratulated me when I did something right. If it weren’t for my teachers taking the extra personal time to physically meet with me somewhere to learn, I wouldn’t have done well in college.

However, everything changed my junior year. I finished all the courses on Maui that I needed in order to transfer to University of Hawai’i West O’ahu, the school that actually offered the degree in Public Administration that I wanted. I would be on O’ahu for the next 2 years, but there was one catch –all of the classes would be online.

At first I thought online classes would make things simpler — I could work on my own time. As I quickly learned, however, that wasn’t the case.

Due to the fact I wasn’t in class with my teachers, learning and asking questions on a regular basis, I felt as if I wasn’t learning anything. I was just doing the assignments, but not retaining any information. I felt so discouraged. So much was going on in my personal life and I was so used to going to my teachers and talking to them about it. Now I couldn’t, because the teacher was just there to post a grade, not really to have a conversation or explain in detail how the assignment was to go. It really took the whole “school” aspect away. I wanted to physically go to class but it wasn’t possible.

I hate to think that soon all schools will be online. Without a teacher that is physically accessable, school will become automated and future students will miss out on having a great experience. Teachers are there to be family and teach you. A computer lacks that emotional connection. I hope the schools realize that students need teachers to be successful.

Teachers Who Changed My Life

Commentary, Various Authors

David Meza:

At my high school, Omega Continuation High School, there were only three teachers: Roland Nazar, Mary Zolly and Margaret Love. They were all great in their own way. We had school baseball games and BBQs where everyone had fun – we were like one big family.

The teachers all taught multiple subjects, and together it seemed there was nothing they couldn’t do. Mr. Nazar taught History, Government, Economics, Physical Education and Art. Ms. Zolly taught English, Creative Writing, Acting and Computer class. Ms. Love taught Math, Spanish and the Towards No Drug Abuse (TND) Class.

One thing that made a big difference in my life was the day Ms. Love asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. This was not something new to me — teachers have asked me this before, and I always gave them the same answer: “I don’t know.” But this time Ms. Love asked me the question in a different way – she asked what the basic things were that I cared about, and I said those would be art and teaching. Then she told me, “You don’t have to only be one thing. The greatest people in this world all do many things.”

What she said that day changed my life forever. It opened my eyes because I saw that, just like my three teachers, I didn’t have to do or be good at just one thing in life to be successful.

Sean Shavers:
Growing up, I had a hateful relationship with teachers. If I wasn’t getting a referral or being sent to the office, then I was probably suspended. I wasn’t a bad kid; I just had a lot of energy — maybe too much. Making matters worse, a few of my teachers were full of it. They would say things like, “I get paid whether you learn or not.” Now how can any teacher be effective with an attitude like that? Instead of being motivated, I felt like school wasn’t worth my time. So eventually, I found something else to occupy it and pretty much stopped going.

Fortunately, there was one teacher who actually gave a damn: Ms. Sims, my 10th grade sociology teacher. Now, this lady was rugged and raw. If she had something on her mind, she’d say it whether I liked it or not (and it was usually not). She’d be like, “Sean! You need to come to my class sober, on time and ready to learn.” Mind you, she would say this in front of the whole class. If I came to class high, she would make me write about my experience, what triggered the high, and the health risks.
As a result, I wrote several pages on marijuana and a few about alcohol. The funny thing is, I was actually graded on those papers. Ms. Sims was the only teacher who didn’t fail me. I’d actually get good grades in her class, it seemed, without even trying.

Ms. Sims was so determined to turn me around that she’d call my mother everyday just to get me into class. If I missed a period, my mom would surely know about it, so I decided to just give her class a real try. Eventually, I found myself wanting to read and write, eager to learn. Ms. Sims taught me about my African history, that dreadlocks were a symbol of power and that the human race originated in Africa.
My experience with Ms. Sims is proof that a good teacher can bring inspiration, hope and a sense of accomplishment to even the toughest-to-reach students.

Keayannie Norford:

As a soon-to-be graduate of De Anza High School, I can honestly say I ran into quite a few teachers in my life. Some were funny, others were super-serious, and some did not want to have a personal relationship with any student whatsoever. But one teacher stood out to me the most: Steven Thomas.

I got to know him during the middle of my sophomore year, in physiology class. At the time I felt that he always singled me out and picked on me for no reason, but now I realize that there was a purpose behind it that was all for my benefit — he’d seen something in me that I did not see in myself during that time.

He taught me how to be an independent person and challenged me in ways that helped me develop the strong work ethic I have today. His Health Academy taught me to be professional, absorb information and take advantage of opportunities. The curriculum and standards he set for his students also prepared me for higher learning. When I graduate, I feel I’ll be well prepared to enter the health field.

He may not have always given me the attention that I demanded all the time, but that just taught me that I have to do what is necessary, without always expecting something in return.

Mr. Thomas is an all-around great individual. Most of the time he is misunderstood because of how he deals with misbehaving students, but if you really get to know him you can see that his mind is set on challenging students creatively to the point where they can think for themselves and even become role models for younger students. If I had not met him, I can honestly say I do not know what type of student I would be today. He is definitely part of the team that keeps me on track and I know he has my well-being at heart. I owe him a big thanks and recognition.

Antoinette Evans:

Her name was Ms. Gocker. She was my Creative Writing and English teacher at El Cerrito High School, and I was blessed to have her during my sophomore and junior years. Ms. Gocker was an honest, liberal lady who lived on the Lake Merritt side of Oakland. She was a writer who appreciated and praised unique poetry and non-fiction stories. The creative arts excited her and she cultivated a chill-inspiring vibe in her classroom. She was never judgmental, and always open to new ideas and the thoughts her students were eager to share. Her assignments were designed for a purpose: to allow us to explore our deeper selves and be confident in expressing our own creativity.

She taught me how to love words and the many ways they can be manipulated into works of art. I grew to recognize my talent and natural passion for writing poetry and songs due to her positive influence and daily lessons. There was one day in particular that still stands out among the rest — a day that I replay in my mind whenever I’m feeling unmotivated or at a standstill.

We’d been instructed to write a poem from a third-person perspective, describing an individual without revealing their name. I decided to write about a child’s experience living with an alcoholic parent. The poem was a page long, alternating between the child’s fear, the father’s irate behavior and the fragmented relationship between the two. I wrote the poem with the intention of having every word possess meaning and emotion. My goal wasn’t to get an A+ — it was to awaken the reader emotionally.

I completed the poem and turned it in, patiently awaiting Ms. Gocker’s scribbled comments on the top, bottom and side margins of my one-page poem. Later that week, Ms. Gocker returned our papers and there it was, her comment in the top right corner written in black ink: “YOU ARE A POET!”

After that day, my life changed completely. I’ve never stopped writing. I have accumulated hundreds of poems since high school, throughout my college years and after. In the last four years I’ve combined my poetry into two self-published poetry books, the first titled When Your Words Are Just Not Enough: Thoughts From a Young Black Woman, released in October 2008 and For the People, introduced in September 2012. Thank you, Ms. Gocker!