Undocumented Kids to Get Health Coverage in State Budget

Calling it one of the “best” budgets the state has ever had, California Gov. Jerry Brown said the $167.6 billion dollar budget the legislature passed Tuesday would pump more money into child care and education, pay down the state’s debt by $1.9 billion and provide health care for its undocumented children.

“This is just one step and we need to do more,” Brown said during a press conference, referring to the $40 million budgetary allocation for providing health insurance to an estimated 170,000 undocumented children in the state  through Medi-Cal – California’s name for Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income people.

A jubilant Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, called the $40 million allocation a “modest investment in health care that will be transformational in the lives of not only children,” but also their families and the community as a whole.

He noted that the budget deal “affirms our commitment to embrace and integrate our immigrant community, to lead where the federal government has failed and to acknowledge the hard work and sacrifice of a community that contributes billions of dollars” to the state’s economy.

“This expansion of coverage to all children regardless of immigration status would make California’s children healthier, our health system stronger, and our families and communities more financially secure,” asserted Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, the statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition.

Lara’s own Health for All bill (SB 4) will provide health insurance for all Californians regardless of their immigration status. It is now before the Assembly, after it cleared the Senate last month. If it is signed into law, California would be the first state in the country to provide state-funded health insurance to its undocumented residents.

The original intent of SB 4 was to provide health care for the state’s nearly 1.5 million undocumented residents, both adults and children, either through Medi-Cal or by allowing them to purchase health insurance on the state’s exchange. But the state must first seek a waiver from the federal government to allow them to purchase health insurance on the state’s exchange, Covered California. The Affordable Care Act prevents undocumented U.S. residents from any federally funded health insurance program. The waiver will be sought if SB 4 passes.

According to researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and University of California in Los Angeles, expanding Medi-Cal to undocumented California residents, under Lara’s bill,  would  have cost the state between $353 and $369 million annually, representing a 2 percent increase from what it currently spends. But now that the state has approved $40 million in its budget to provide insurance for its undocumented children, the Medi-Cal cost in Lara’s bill will go down.

“It would also provide the momentum for SB 4 to move forward,” Wright said.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, who participated alongside the governor in the press conference and had backed SB 4 since it was introduced in the Senate late last year, said Washington’s inaction has caused “financial consequences throughout the country.”

Lara’s bill, he said, will send a “very strong message” to lawmakers in Washington who have “dithered” on immigration reform.

The governor’s remark that more needs to be done, including how to address the low Medi-Cal reimbursement rates – among the lowest in the nation — will be discussed in a special session in a few weeks.

Brown said that his office would be hiring an immigration coordinator to assist youth who have been granted temporary relief from deportation under President Obama’s executive action of 2012. One million more California residents could become eligible for deportation relief if the federal courts allow Obama’s 2014 executive action to move forward.

How Leaving the Bay Area Allowed Me to Embrace My Queerness


Commentary, Keisa Reynolds

A high school graduate in Colorado recently came out to her classmates in the middle of her valedictorian speech. Emily Bruell has been added to the list of people I wish I could have been in high school.

I was 12 years old when I realized I liked girls as much as I liked boys. Actually, sometimes more. I was 16 when I learned from the Internet (thank you, online strangers I now call friends) that I could like anyone I wanted, regardless of their gender or lack thereof. It wasn’t until I graduated from high school that I realized I didn’t have to only date straight men.

Growing up in the Bay Area, I interacted with plenty of people who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer. Most of them were older and were settling in long-term relationships with children and pets. A few were my friends, but none of us was very well-versed in queer politics and we could barely articulate our own identities and experiences. While there was a gay-straight alliance at my high school, it didn’t feel like a place for me.

The Bay Area is often seen as a “queertopia” where anyone who isn’t straight can reside and have a blissful life. I can describe the Bay as many things, however, “queertopia” isn’t one of them. It could be a result of being raised in Richmond, not Berkeley, where it is not uncommon to have neighbors in openly queer relationships. It wasn’t that I didn’t know queer people existed, it was more like I couldn’t identify myself as one of them.

One of the best parts of going 1,500 miles away for college was that I got to fully embrace several aspects of my identity: my race, gender and sexual orientation. I was able to proudly say I am a queer black feminist. I did not have to fear people would think there was anything “wrong” with me. I did not have to hide. Most importantly, I was not alone.

I was fortunate to attend a college that prided itself on its diversity. While it is not a perfect place and many students still faced discrimination, it operated as a safe and re-affirming space. There, I made close friends who expanded the acronym to Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer or Questioning Intersex Asexual (LGBTQIA) and introduced me to a language that allowed me to confidently express my feelings. My new friends became a community of people I could turn to, people who also came to college in search of belonging.

The things we thought made us weird were accepted among people also understood what it was like to feel isolated for being their true self. Instead of being taunted by our peers, we were told we betta werk. We were able to reconcile who we always knew we were and who we wanted to be: femmes, bois, gurls, queens, and kings.

When someone did face discrimination, it was often easy to have supporters band together on their behalf. We did not have to take on the battle of being accepted on our own. That was something I didn’t know was possible.

For many LGBTQIA-youth, it still isn’t possible. Not all of us make it to our first year of college. The CDC reports that lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth. According to the Trevor Project, one quarter of transgender youth have attempted suicide. For youth of color, those numbers are significantly higher. In 2009, the National Coalition for the Homeless reported that 20 percent of homeless youth are LGBT, and San Francisco has almost a thousand homeless youth documented. Harassment and lack of acceptance from peers and family are major factors.

We know from the It Gets Better Project that it is possible to live long, healthy lives as LGBTQIA adults (it is important to note it is more of a possibility for those who are white and cisgender). I wouldn’t have accepted that as truth when I was 16 years old. But here I am, a 20something who finds myself sharing my narrative for the young queer black girl who needs to know we are not anomalies.

We are valedictorians, jocks, band geeks, and theatre nerds. We are writers, filmmakers, performers, multimedia artists, healers, and activists. There are plenty of us who are not, by choice and by force. But we all deserve the community that validates us and allows us to accept ourselves.

While it took moving away to find myself, it took returning home to share my journey.

Family Justice Center Opens at New Location


News Report, Keisa Reynolds | Photo,  Ann Bassette

After breaking ground in 2013, the West Contra Costa Family Justice Center held its grand opening this month at 256 24th Street. In the first year at its new location, the center is expected to help an estimated 2,000 survivors of domestic violence, family violence, elder abuse and human trafficking.

The center moved from its temporary location at Richmond Police Department’s substation at Hilltop Mall, where it had operated since 2011.

Mayor Tom Butt, who spoke at the opening reception, said the center was the first community construction project to impact the lives of victims and survivors of domestic violence. Other speakers included Police Chief Chris Magnus, Andrea Bailey from Chevron Richmond, and Jodi Ravel and Karen Kruger from Kaiser Permanente. Fourteen-year-old spoken word artist Sukari Wright from RYSE opened the ceremony with an inspirational poem.

County Supervisor John Gioia told the audience that the center “demonstrates what could happen when community and government do well working together.”

In 2001, Contra Costa County became the first Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence County in California. As a part of the initiative, two centers have opened here in West County and Central County (Concord) with a third in East County underway.

Survivors of violence often have to speak with multiple agencies in order to get assistance. The center aims to eliminate this by offering dozens of on-site and off-site providers. Its partnerships give clients access to local organizations including Monument Crisis Center, Children and Family Services, Bay Area Community Resource, Bay Area Legal Aid, Community Violence Solutions, County Mental Health, Familias Unidas, Native American Health Center, and many more.

“We see that at about 50 percent of our clients identify as Hispanic or Latino. Our next biggest demographic is African American: About 30 percent of our clients identify as African American. We also see a significant number of Asian Americans,” said Elizabeth Wilmerding, director of Project Connect at West Contra Costa Family Justice Center.

Between its staff and partners, the center is able to offer services in 10 languages including Spanish, Korean, Lao, and Thai. The center also offers services for victims of many other demographics including children and youth, elders, veterans, and Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer or Questioning (LGBTQ) individuals and families.

Clients work with navigators who help them create goals and connect them with services for long-term solutions. Clients can receive assistance from myriad services such as civil legal services, health care, mental health, housing, job training, tutoring, and prosecution.

Menbere Aklilu, owner of Salute e Vita Ristorante in the Marina, shared a personal story of her experience as a survivor of domestic violence. “Today, I fully love Richmond more, especially when I see this type of thing coming together,” she said.

Aklilu encouraged the community to invest in the center and, leading by example, she said she donated $15,000. “I am doing this for my mother, for me, my sister, brother, for all domestic violence survivors,” she said.

Chevron Richmond followed suit and donated $80,000 to the center.

Family Justice Center Alliance (FJCA) President Casey Gwinn praised the center for “creating a beacon of hope that will impact survivors for generations to come.”

“This is where you break the cycle,” he said, noting that many incarcerated people come from homes where child abuse and other forms of violence are present. “We end up locking people up instead of saving them.”

FJCA donated $65,000 at the beginning of stages of the project. Gwinn acknowledged project director Jennifer Anderson, who had recommended opening a family justice center in Richmond six years ago, and Gloria Sandoval, director of STAND! For Families Free of Violence, one of the center’s on-site partners.

“There isn’t a person listening to my voice who can’t involved in the family justice center going forward. Everybody here can do something to invest in this. This is how we can change the world.” Gwinn urged. “Twenty years from now it will matter that you were standing in this parking lot. It will matter Zero Tolerance was created. It will matter John Gioia said we’re going to make this countywide. It will matter that we invested ourselves here in changing the endings for survivors and their children.”

Residents can get involved with the work of the center by donating, volunteering, or participating in workshops offered by the Family Justice Institute.

Grand Opening of the West Contra Costa Family Justice Center from Alive & Free/ Street Soldiers on Vimeo.

Finding Power


By Ronvel Sharper

The Young Men’s Empowerment Group at Richmond High School, led by counselors Kawal Ulaneday and Lakeyssia Brown, taught me how to react in bad times, helped me when I felt trapped and made me—and the other people in my group—more conscious of our decisions and how we make them.

When I first joined this group, I didn’t really see the purpose in it. I didn’t think I would need it, because I didn’t think I’d ever be depressed or encounter situations so bad that I couldn’t help myself. I was wrong.

Since it began in 2013, the group has provided support and healing for youth who have experienced complex, traumatic experience in their lives. It is funded by the City of San Pablo and functions as a partnership between YMCA of the East Bay and the high school, to provide counseling services out of the campuses’ health center.

Ulaneday says the group is like a circle at school, where students can feel safe to be vulnerable and share their experience.

For me, it’s like therapy. We talk about our day and week, usually something different each time. At one meeting we talked about what inspires us, everyone listed masculine inspirational figures, but I said I was inspired by the ‘Powerpuff Girls.’ Rather than being teased for these feminine role models, I was accepted—one guy even said he’s also inspired by them. In addition, we also discuss how to help the community and let out anger in a productive way.

“We try to create safety for them and a feeling of connection with others,” said Ulaneday of the environment the leaders aim to establish for us students. “Symptoms of trauma can really affect young men’s ability to form relationships and also with having healthy sense of self.”

Recently, I found myself in a complicated situation in need of honest advice. If I hadn’t been part of the group I could’ve lost some great friends. But the guys offered practical help and now all I can say to them and the staff members is, “Thank you.”


White, Upper-Middle Class and Living in Richmond


A view of the Richmond Hills near Cutting and Carlson Blvd.

Commentary, Sonya Mann

I was ashamed to live in Richmond when I first moved here 10 years ago.

In middle school, people would grimace when I told them I lived in Richmond. I’d hurry to reassure them, “Oh no, I don’t live in the drug-dealer part. My house is up in the hills.” I was quick to distance myself from the Iron Triangle, culturally if not geographically.

It wasn’t until halfway through high school that I realized that my reaction was problematic. Being white and wealthy meant that I had all the advantages in the world, yet I wasn’t leveraging my privilege to advocate for people in tougher situations. Instead, I was responding with the moral equivalent of “Ew, no!”

Over time I’ve learned to respect the city and the people who lived here before my family arrived, but I still occupy community space that used to belong to someone else, someone with less money. As an upper-middle class white person, my presence changes how people perceive the value of my neighborhood, a reality that persists despite being completely unjust.

Now I’m convinced that Richmond’s bad reputation is undeserved, or at least more complex than it’s made out to be. Many of the city’s residents are low-income people of color; the notoriously prevalent crime and violence exist because institutional racism makes people’s lives harder, leading them to turn away from the law in order to survive. When I first moved here, I perpetuated this oppressive system through my own ignorance. I was too immature to understand what I was doing, but that doesn’t absolve me of responsibility.

IMG_6561These days, I love Richmond unabashedly. Sure, if you walk down Cutting Boulevard, maybe a homeless person will ask you for money, and there will be a moment of social discomfort when you lie about not having cash, but that’s no different from any other city in the Bay Area, right?

But I know that for all my defense of the city, I’m still part of the changes that are leading it inexorably upmarket. Pressures on real estate haven’t impacted Richmond as dramatically as San Francisco or Oakland, yet. But we must plan for an influx of house-hungry tech workers—I’m surprised that we haven’t already been hit with a rush of them. Erin Carlyle reports in Forbes that rental costs in Bay Area cities have skyrocketed: San Francisco rent is up 12.8 percent, Oakland is up 10.5 percent, and San Jose is up by 11.3 percent, just in the last year.

The inevitable displacement of low-income Richmond residents isn’t exactly my fault, in a direct and intentional way. But in another sense it is totally my fault. As journalist Adam Brinklow commented regarding San Francisco gentrification, “Look, it’s cause and effect. [Tech companies’] business is the cause. Eviction is an effect. This isn’t a big mystery.” My dad doesn’t work for the new generation of tech startups—Facebook, Twitter, Uber, etc.—but he’s employed by one of the companies that dominated the 1990s.

IMG_6588We live on the edge of Wildcat Canyon, with a view of the classic golden hills of California. Our property’s sticker price was more than $1 million dollars. Obviously my parents didn’t pay the whole amount up front, but we’re financially secure.

Since we moved to Richmond a decade ago, the neighborhood has cleaned up, so to speak. My block used to be rough, but in 2014 the 20-something, frequently-jailed man – whom my parents suspected of fixing up old cars for street racing—moved because he couldn’t pay the mortgage. Or at least that’s what the neighbors speculated. A house-flipping developer bought the vacated home, fixed it up, and sold it to a family with toddlers. The father teaches computer science at UC Berkeley.

This story, a microcosm of how gentrification happens, isn’t new in the slightest, and it isn’t new here. The divide between “good” cities and Richmond has existed for a long time, and a similar divide has been evident within Richmond. Even before the rowdy neighbor moved away, everyone on my street was white. Now we’re all white and middle class. The supposedly “good” parts of Richmond are expanding, even though what counts as “good” is determined by oppressive power structures that date back to slavery.

For Female Athletes, Double Standards Start at an Early Age

BY , VoiceWaces

Aug 20, 2014; South Williamsport, PA, USA; Mid-Atlantic Region pitcher Mo'ne Davis (3) throws a pitch in the first inning against the West Region at Lamade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports - RTR435SVWhen 13-year-old female baseball player Mo’ne Davis was publicly slut-shamed on Twitter earlier this year, thousands rallied to her defense. The incident highlighted the longstanding tradition in this country of hyper-sexualizing female athletes.

Female athletes are judged by their appearance far more than male athletes and are often subjected to public scrutiny based on their looks or “sexual behavior.”

For instance, Mokgadi Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic distance runner and world champion, had to undergo sex testing because she didn’t conform to the stereotypical feminine image. She eventually fought back and won her case, arguing on the basis of protecting her medical privacy. She nevertheless had to wait a year before being able to compete again as a woman.

A recent cover of Sports Illustrated featured University of Kentucky basketball player Karl-Anthony Towns shooting a lay-up. The picture highlighted his strength and agility. Compare that to lists like “The Top 50 Hottest Female Athletes Of All Time” or “The Sexiest Female Athletes of 2014.”

Karen Marin during a badminton game with her co-ed team at Cabrillo High.

When these strong and successful women aren’t in bikinis, their dating and personal lives become main topics. WNBA player Candace Parker’s 2009 pregnancy cover on ESPN magazine is a prime example. Instead of including her skills on the court, the cover shows her in a white dress while pregnant.

That kind of double standard isn’t limited to professional athletes but starts as early as high school.

When I played girls’ tennis, I felt uncomfortable because our uniform consisted of a short skirt. I never understood why I had to wear a skirt when the boys’ team wore long shorts. I always wore shorts to games, even though my coach would reprimand me for not wearing the appropriate uniform.

But when I played in co-ed badminton, my coach let us choose our uniforms. I could wear long shorts or shorter ones based on how comfortable they were to me. My teammates didn’t care that I was wearing shorts that were too long or that I wasn’t wearing a skirt. We were all treated equally.

Having played a co-ed sport, I never felt put down because I was a girl. At the end of the day, I want to be seen for my strength on the court, not how I look on or off of it.

I’m not sure what will eradicate sexism, especially in sports, but I do believe the reason Davis was so graceful with her response to Twitter-shaming was due somewhat to playing on a co-ed team. She knows her worth and didn’t need to bring anyone down to make herself look better. She let her strength in the sport do all the talking.

VoiceWaves asked several high school athletes in Long Beach to share their thoughts on the hyper-sexualization of female athletes:

Bottreypich ChapBottreypich Chap, 17: I played two sports in high school: co-ed badminton and all-girls tennis. In badminton, the boys and the girls wore the same t-shirts and bottoms were based on student preference. In tennis, we were required to wear a tank top and athletic skirt, which was quite different from the boy’s tennis teams. I didn’t comfortable in my tennis uniform. The fact that I had to prance around in a micro skirt made me constantly conscious of the skin on display, which didn’t exactly help my confidence during matches. “Pull down your skirt more,” or “your bra strap is showing” were constantly thrown around. I felt as if I had to up my attitude level a bit, to show people that I may be wearing this “girly” uniform, but I wasn’t someone to be toyed with, and that being “girly” wasn’t a bad thing. This “girly girl” could still serve a mean smash. In badminton I didn’t feel anyone’s stares; it was just me, the birdy, and my opponent. I was in it to win it, and I never felt self-conscious. There wasn’t an urge to prove anything to anyone, other than myself.


Sulma SolisSulma Solis, 17: If people care too much about how we female athletes look then it takes away the whole meaning of female athlete. People should expect us to get dirty and to look sporty instead of having the idea that just because we’re females we have to be dolled up as if we were going to a party instead of a game. Being a female athlete can add a bit of pressure because people, including your coaches, expect more of you because they want you to prove people wrong.



Sarah RodriguezSarah Rodriguez, 17: For me the double standard is definitely an added pressure … to play harder. The criticism can be difficult emotionally. Nevertheless it empowers me to keep doing the sport I love.





Nikki GawaranNikki Gawaran, 18: A girl should be fine with dressing with whatever’s comfortable for them. If men are able to sag and show their buttocks on a normal day, then girls can wear short shorts like spandex that are comfortable and easier to play with. Wearing spandex makes it really comfortable and easy for female athletes to be active. I think it’s all about the player and what they feel is the most comfortable for them.”

– See more at: http://voicewaves.org/2015/05/for-female-athletes-double-standards-start-at-an-early-age/#sthash.J7qr1pR9.dpuf

The Technology of Teen Life

By Ronvel Sharper and Brianna Ferrell

Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 12.34.14 AM

Editor’s Note: More than 90% of teens ages 13 -17 report going online daily via smart phones, with about one in four online “almost constantly”, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center. Results also show more frequent use among African-American and Hispanic youth than whites. While girls dominate social media, boys are more likely to play video games. Richmond Pulse asked two local teenagers to share the roles that their phones and social media play in their lives.

Social media and technology has had a large impact on today’s society, with new ways to contact people and send or receive information. Social media — such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Kik, and other apps and websites — has attracted many teenagers, me included. It reminds me of my first experiences with technology.

I was about 3 years old and lived in an apartment in Richmond. My father bought me a Nintendo 64 for my birthday with a game called “Glover”. I had no idea what this was, but it was colorful and I loved controlling the cute little namesake character. I never beat the game, but Glover has always been in my heart, because he started my gaming “career” (yes, let’s call it that).

Then in 2006, at 7 years old in elementary school, I heard of a website called “Facebook”. I made a Facebook page on my parents’ computer, but it was boring. I thought it was a videogame!
So I stuck with my trusty gaming consoles for a long while, until 2010. I was in sixth grade, and 12 years old. People had started having these phones, like my mother — but I thought they were useless, so I never planned on having one. Finally, though, I got one for Christmas. It wasn’t a smart phone, but I didn’t mind, so I started showing it off. Everyone laughed at me. But hey, I didn’t care, it was still a phone!

Things went smoothly until eighth grade and the 2012-2013 school year. I had become popular, and I got a smart phone so I could always be with my friends, even at home. A red Samsung! I made another Facebook page, and soon added all my new friends. It became a lot more fun, commenting on people’s posts and letting them know of my achievements. It made me feel as if I knew the world! Things couldn’t get better, right?

Now it’s the 2014-2015 school year. Last year, thanks to a phone call from a friend, I met my girlfriend. We’re really happy together, we text every day, and my parents are sometimes calling me out about it!
-Ronvel Sharper, age 16

I access social media on my phone, along with my iPad and iPod. I go on social sites every day in my free time. I love being around and talking to people. I don’t think I’d be able to live without my phone — I’m always on it because I keep in contact with people I’m close to. I’m a social butterfly, and it’s a big part of my life.

Social media means a lot to me. I like to show others my accomplishments, and things I like to do or eat. It’s interesting, and when I’m having a bad day it helps me through. Sometimes it’s uplifting, because I see motivational posts that make me want to go for my dreams.

It’s also a way to show your personality. It lets me give others a little peek into my life, and I get a peek into theirs. Their personalities show in the type of things they post and the way they talk on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and other social sites.

Social media also helps you meet people around the world, of different races, cultures and business backgrounds. It can help you meet people to further your career, or to find others who share your interests in the same hobbies and career fields.

I always hear from adults that teenagers need to stay off social media and our electronics. They tell us it’s not good for us, that a lot of negativity comes from it. They’d like to see us focus more on schoolwork than these social sites. They say that social media sites bring a lot of drama to the lives of young people, that it’s corrupting our lives. But there are a lot of good things about meeting people on social media.
-Brianna Ferrell, age 16

Richmond’s Native American Health Center Hosts Children’s Mental Health Day

by Malcolm Marshall


More than 15 years after a landmark Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health brought attention to mental illness as an “urgent health concern,” many youth and adults with mental illness are still not getting the treatment they need.

To begin tackling this issue, and expand awareness of mental health issues, the Native American Health Center in Richmond hosted its third annual Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day on May 8. This year’s free community event featured guest speakers and youth workshops aimed at developing a community definition of mental health.

“I looked up the definition of mental health, because I didn’t know it,” said Michael Dyer, program manager at the health center, as he welcomed youth and families to the event. “It said ‘a state of well-being’. It’s very vague and you don’t quite get the meaning from that. We can define mental health together.”

The lack of a working definition means youth aren’t always able to identify their problem, Dyer said, so they don’t seek treatment.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 20 percent of youth ages 13-18 live with a mental health condition nationwide. In California the children with the highest rates of serious mental illness include Latinos, African Americans and Native Americans, according to a 2013 study by the California HealthCare Foundation.

The Native American Health Center serves Native American youth and adults, offering crisis prevention and early intervention services like support groups and counseling. It’s also a cultural hub for Native Americans, where people can learn about their culture through traditional art and music classes.

“When we were asking the youth [what mental health meant], during the planning stages for this event, no one knew what it meant,” said Dyer. “The one person that did raise their hand to answer said, ‘mental health is when you go crazy.'”

As part of the day’s activities, the center’s media team set up a video booth to interview people about their own personal definition of mental health. In another room, the center asked people to write on a wall what mental health meant to them.

Some of the phrases written were, “loving yourself and others,” “friends and family,” “listening to your body and heart,” “being positive,” and “keeping your mind fit.”

The center’s event was part of a national movement to increase awareness of mental health issues. This year marked the 10th anniversary of a national awareness day, meant to raise awareness of mental health in children and advocate for comprehensive care.

Newly appointed Surgeon General of the United States, Vivek Murthy, told the Washington Post that he believes in improving public health by creating a prevention-based society. And, he said he has included emotional and mental well being in his top four rules for health.

In Richmond, Dyer said he hoped to also highlight the things that go into having a strong mental state.

“We want to show the community that it’s ok to reach out,” he said. “Being able to check in with yourself, and acknowledge that you’re sad or depressed and that you need a support system.”



Cinco de Mayo Festival, Better than Imagined


Photo Essay, Josue Hernandez

Each year thousands of people come out for one of Richmond’s biggest events, the annual Cinco de Mayo Festival organized by the 23rd Street Merchants Association. This year it was held on May 2, and for the first time I decided to see what all the hype was about.

The free, all day celebration of Mexican culture included exhibits, live music, dancing, food and fun for the kids with jumpers and slides.

After years of not attending, I went this year to work with my mom, Gloria Hernandez, selling food at the event. My Mom has always been a good cook and last year she started her own business, Gloria’s Tacos, catering weddings and parties.

My sister, Karina Hernandez, and I took orders as Mom made traditional Mexican fare —tortas, tacos, aguas frescas and more.

Once there, I was surprised by how many people families attended and I wondered why I didn’t come every year. I thought it was going to be people drinking, being obnoxious and not celebrating in a respectable way, but it was not like that and it blew me away.

The vibe was energetic with something happening at every spot along two miles of 23rd Street between Clinton Avenue and Rheem Avenue. Seeing the traditional native dancers perform the dances that my ancestors did while chanting in old native languages made me feel connected to my Mexican roots. Vaqueros atop horses also danced around, performing and low riders showed off their classic cars.

Mexican flags waved in the wind around the festival and people sold handmade, traditional goods from Mexico. My grandmother also had her own booth, selling Mexican ponchos and folklórico dresses.

After such a good time this year, I’m ready for the next one.

What Are Students Eating? A Teen Research Team Looks To Find Out








By Chanelle Ignant

A team of high school students from across the West Contra Costa Unified School District is asking: “What are we eating?”

Teens from the nonprofit group YES Nature To Neighborhoods have conducted a research project into the nutrition of meals served in the district’s 11 high schools.

Gustavo Chavez, a sophomore at De Anza High School and member of the organization’s “youth engagement team”, said many of his peers don’t prefer the school meals, a view that inspired the eight-student team to get involved.

“A lot of people really dislike them, so we tried to figure out what’s inside of them and how can we change them to make them better,” said Chavez.

According to Chavez, this push to improve lunches reflects the connection between nutrition and academic performance.

“We want better quality school lunches, so that kids aren’t going through their day without nutrition, so that they can perform better,” he said.

According to Director of Food Services, Barbara Jellison, over 3.3 million lunches were served to students throughout WCCUSD during the 2013-2014 school year. With an impact this great, the Richmond Food Policy Council — which works to ensure that the local food system reflects the needs of the community — described the district’s cafeteria system as “the biggest restaurant in the county”.

Students, however, say the restaurant doesn’t please its patrons.

Most kids don’t eat school lunches,” said Gillian Linsy, a senior at Pinole Valley High School and fellow member of the Youth Participatory Action Research project, an annual program at YES that focuses on wellness in the Richmond community. “They would rather bring something from home or not eat at all.”

The project intends to address this disconnect.

“The ultimate goal is to raise awareness and put pressure on the administration to continue to work towards healthy lunch for all the students,” said Adam Smith, assistant youth coordinator for the team.

For their research, students used pictures of lunches to create a photo-voice presentation. They also interviewed Jellison, as well as cafeteria staff throughout the district about the process of making lunches.

The students, however, said the staff couldn’t answer some of their questions.

“Sometimes they wouldn’t even know,” said Chavez. “Not even the cafeteria members know how the food is made.”

The students also researched the nutrition of the food served each week — and discovered that they couldn’t find the information online.

Likewise, the district’s limited financial resources surprised researchers the most. According to their findings, schools have $3 per student for a lunch — but half of that goes to labor.

“Only about $1.50 for students, just to eat a full lunch,” Chavez said. “That’s their main meal [for the day].”

Team members continue to compile their findings, and plan to share them with the local food council as part of its campaign for healthy school food.

This year’s research project joins a similar student project last year by the Urban Nutrition Initiative, the youth leadership arm of the Bay Area Resource Center. Those students, mostly from Gompers Continuation High School, also investigated the district’s school lunch quality, interviewing their peers about cafeteria food.

Claire Zurlo, youth coordinator at the resource center, said last year’s project gave students the opportunity to reach out beyond their small campus.

“It was helpful for them to do something that impacted the rest of the district,” she said.

Linsy confirmed that students are happy to make a difference.

“I think that just getting our voices heard is big, and hopefully [we’re] making a change,” she said.