The Power of Being Outside

By Zaira Sierra

For over four years, I’ve worked with Richmond families. I’ve volunteered with Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization assisting undocumented youth with their Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) applications and Building Blocks for Kids where I was part of the Community Engagement and Advocacy Team. Recently, I joined the Youth Enrichment Strategies, Nature to Neighborhoods family.

In the short time I have been at Y.E.S. as a summer camp assistant, I’ve seen the love, support and guidance Y.E.S. provides for this community. I feel families connect to Y.E.S. because they find it shares the same values they do.

Parents want their children to grow up safe, educated and successful. I know this because of the conversations I’ve had with parents whose children attended camp through Y.E.S. They know that summer camp contributes to the growth and development of their children.

Of all the parents I met, one stands out: Rocio Villa.

Villa’s son, Saul attended camp through Y.E.S. last summer. Before he came, Villa said Saul, 11, didn’t want to go. He was hesitant about attending the two week long camp and was nervous about being away from his family for so long.

Right before we were about to leave for camp, Saul came to the Y.E.S. office and said he wanted to go. Faced with the choice of going to camp or being homebound for the summer, he worked up the nerve to be away from his family.

10384298_10203446116926774_2399815331618954666_nThis summer Saul ended up attending two weeks of camp at Hidden Villa in Los Altos. The camp is at an organic farm. It’s a place where kids go to have a farm experience with animals and an organic garden.

When Saul returned to Richmond, tears ran down his face as he hugged his Mom. He said he enjoyed the experience but he was homesick towards the end. He told her how much he missed her and his father.

A week later, Villa called to ask if Saul could return to camp. I was surprised—sure that Saul had experienced enough camp for the summer. Villa said Saul was bored back at home. She said he told her, ‘Mom, by this time at camp we had already hiked and played a lot of games.’

The many camp activities filled his day and now instead of missing home, he missed camp. Villa said Saul missed the fun activities, the structure and the schedule.

Saul’s parents want the best for him and realize how essential it is for him to attend summer camp. At first, all they expected was for him to enjoy himself. Now, they notice how much camp has contributed to building his character. He shares with them what he learned about the outdoors, the natural environment, and they notice his growing independence. He is more independent and puts more effort into doing well at school. He’s also no longer scared of being alone.

Opportunities for youth can be costly and difficult to find. The gift Y.E.S. provides youth is something hard to measure. Skills learned at camp help young people with all aspects of life.

Like Saul, kids are able to develop their communication skills, become independent and grow their appreciation of the outdoors. All of these skills might be taught at school, or by family, but camp has a way of enhancing them.

I have listened and seen how one week of sleep-away camp transforms youth. Stories like Saul’s are proof that Y.E.S. is contributing to the development, education and success of our Richmond youth.

After having such a great experience the first week, and getting used to the busy scheduled, Saul ended up attending another week long camp at Loma Mar where he enjoyed zip lining, archery, climbing wall and swimming.

He said he’s looking forward to next year’s camp too.

Training Tomorrow’s Richmond Leaders Starts Today

Commentary, Vernon Whitmore


Approaching the November’s elections, I have been thinking more and more about Richmond’s future, not just after this year’s votes are cast, but in the years and generations to come. When I look at Richmond’s government today, one thing is clear: this city has a lot of older statesman. Richmond’s current city leaders need to look to the future and begin to think about the next generation of elected officials.

To ensure that the city’s future politicians are prepared to lead, what I propose is a Mentorship Program. As Chair of the Richmond Business Political Action Committee, an appointed committee of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, our team interviewed all the 2014 mayoral and city council candidates for office in Richmond. I was excited to see new and younger faces declare their candidacy for political office. But as the interviews proceeded it was evident that the new candidates did not fully understand the political process. However, if these candidates have the gumption to get out there, let’s see if we can sharpen their political acumen and prepare them for Richmond politics.

This sort of education has happened before. I remember when former City Councilman Jim McMillan reached out to a number of potential candidates like former Mayor Irma Anderson and former Councilmember and current EBMUD Director Lesa McIntosh. He saw young, budding personalities and told them that he thought they would be excellent candidates for office. Jim connected with them and he helped them. More than just saying that someone should run, Jim was right there every step of the way guiding and informing them of the political process.

Now it’s time for others to carry the torch and take it even further.

I believe a forum between the established figures and the younger generation is the first step of the process. This will allow us to see where their true passions lie and why they’re interested in politics. What is driving first time candidates to run for a seat in the November 2014 Richmond City Council election. What motivates them?

The second step will be introducing these new political hopefuls to civic leaders in the political arena. Knowing the main players and knowing the landscape is essential. They must understand the 5 ‘W’s’: Who, What, Where, When and Why of politics. It’s good to want to be an elected official, but you have to educate yourself and be prepared for that role.

When I look around at today’s up and coming political crowd, I see that they have an established network, but are too unprepared to jump into the ring. For them to succeed, we need to discover where our interests connect, and where our differences lie. Only by teaming up will we be able to create the best possible future for Richmond. We have to start now preparing for the 2016 election.

Vernon Whitmore is the Chair of the Richmond Business Political Action Committee. 

This article is reprinted with permission from Radio Free Richmond.

The Push to Register Young Voters

by Luis Cubas

It’s no secret that one of the groups least likely to register, or vote, is the youth. Now, a local group is hoping to help change that trend.

September 23 is National Voter Registration Day, a nationwide campaign coordinated with volunteers and organizations to educate and reach out to to voters, while guiding them step by step through the registration process and helping them find their voting location.

In Richmond, one of the organizations helping to register voters on National Voter Registration Day is the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, a national nonprofit aimed at increasing civic involvement.

“We do some advocacy work in that we encourage people to vote in ways that are most equitable and democratic,” said Kia Croom, President of the League of Women Voters West Contra Costa County. “The other part is our voters services in which we get people registered to vote.”

Croom said there are many barriers young people face when it comes to voting. They include, not understand the process, believing that their vote doesn’t matter, feeling that they don’t have a wide variety of choices, and not feeling engaged by politicians.

“Nowadays, I feel like being able to vote just means picking the candidate that’s going to make our situation in the United States of America a little less bad,” 21-year old Anthony Martinez said when asked what voting meant to him.

But, after years of high-profile events showing injustices levied on young people, some younger, would be voters are finding new interest in political involvement.

“I would say events like Ferguson have made me think about politics a lot more,” Christopher Velazquez, 21, said, referencing the shooting of an unarmed, black teenager in Ferguson, MO earlier this summer. “If the community really had a strong say in what happens in their community, things like this would be avoided.”

In order to make a difference and bring change in their communities, many young people have come to understand what a difference their vote can make.

“The injustice that has been happening throughout the U.S. makes me reconsider voting in order to create a positive change and makes me want to have a safer community for my family and friends,” Dalia Ramos, 20, said.

For other young people, the problem of registration is first the hurdle. “I’ve only voted once and that was the Presidential vote,” Xavier Polk, 20, said. “I do not remember the steps.”

It’s voters like Polk that the League of Women Voters is hoping to reach during its Sept. 23 registration drive. To this end, the group will set up three locations throughout West Contra Costa County.

“We will be tabling at local campuses, at local high schools and even at Contra Costa College because we want to encourage as many young people and young adults as possible to get registered to vote,” she said.

At 9:00 a.m., volunteers will be at Contra Costa College, located on 2600 Mission Bell Drive. At noon, they’ll have two booths running at the same time. One at Richmond High School, 1250 23rd street, and the other at Kennedy High School, 4300 Cutting Blvd.

In 2008, six million Americans did not vote, many because they missed the registration deadline, or because they did not know how to register, according the National Voter Registration Day website.


For more information, and to register to vote, visit the National Voter Registration Day website at and the League Of Women Voters at

Internship Teaches Health Solutions to Local Teens

News Report, Sonya Mann/RP Editors

Tamajiea Videau is 16 years old, just halfway through high school, and already she can picture her future career.

“I always loved going to the doctor’s office,” Videau said. “Even if I had to get a shot. I didn’t enjoy that part, but I loved going,” she added, with a laugh.

Videau was one of eight participants in a Public Health Solutions (PHS) training and internship program, sponsored by The California Endowment and Healthy Richmond.

She described her experience to a room full of family and friends during a graduation ceremony last week at the Richmond Public Library.

Amid shiny balloons and cheers from the audience, the De Anza High School’s Health Academy students celebrated their summer accomplishments as interns at public health institutions in Richmond. Each student had a chance to speak during the ceremony about the experience and how it had shaped their views of themselves, their futures and the future of Richmond.

PHS is designed for youth ages 14-19 from communities that are most affected by health inequities. The paid internship program provides an introduction to public health as a career.

IMG_5883Thanks to the program, Videau was able to intern with LifeLong Medical Care on Macdonald Avenue in Richmond and observe nurses in action and working with patients directly. She said that this close interaction with health care professionals gave her even more confidence that she’d be happy in the field as a registered nurse or doctor.

Videau said she enjoyed connecting with the clinic’s visitors and learning about their lives.

“It inspired me to hear stories from people in the community and learn about who they are,” she said with a tender smile as she recalled the people she’d met. “Some of them are elderly and they’ve spent their whole lives in Richmond.”

Beyond the personal connections, Videau said she also learned a lot more about the health disparities among people of all ages and backgrounds.

“Usually you just hear about African-Americans and white people. But there are all kinds of issues,” she said.

IMG_5877Another of the participants, Jefrie Constantino agreed that the internship was a great way to see what a future career in the field would be like—and for him it also reinforced his ambitions.
The 16 year old, soon to be junior in high school, interned with the HIV/AIDS program run by Contra Costa Health Services.

“They say this is a hard city to work in,” Constantino said of his experience in Richmond. “The mental problems are so bad here. I really want to help.”

Through the internship, Constantino interviewed a psychologist who works with the HIV/AIDS program about what a future in the field might look like. Constantino said that the experience boosted his confidence, especially in terms of public speaking and community outreach. He was particularly impressed with his supervisors’ efforts to engage the community around them, and felt inspired to be more outgoing in his own life.

The program’s sponsors partnered with other local groups to organize the internship opportunities for De Anza High School’s Health Academy students and designed it with the aim of providing students with professional experience in the public health field. But, another benefit for these 16-year-old incoming juniors who will soon be applying to colleges, is that the internship will look good on their applications—increasing the likelihood that they get on a path towards these careers. Steven Thomas, director of the De Anza Health Academy, explained to assembled parents and friends that while it’s good to have an internship on the resume he hopes that the experience they take away goes beyond what can be put on paper.

“Whatever they learn through the program is something that they need to take back to the community,” Thomas said.

Guaranteed College Tuition Could Be Game-Changer in Richmond

News Report, Nancy Deville


Paying for college will soon become much easier for Richmond families, with city officials announcing a new program that will cover college tuition fees for local high school graduates.

The $35 million, 10-year initiative known as Richmond Promise will cover college tuition for Richmond students who graduate from any West Contra Costa School District high school. Funds for the project will be drawn from Chevron’s $90 million community benefits package, an agreement between the city and the oil giant that was negotiated as part of the company’s $1 billion initiative to update and improve its Richmond refinery. The scholarship program will likely launch in 2016, city officials said.

Councilman Jael Myrick, who proposed the idea, says Richmond Promise will be life changing for many students who may have never considered attending college otherwise.

“This is going to create a lot of hope for a lot of Richmond families,” he said. “There’s a cultural shift that happens when people know that their community is investing in them and expecting them to succeed. And that’s what this is about.”

While specific criteria — like how long a student must attend a West Contra Costa school to receive the scholarship – have yet to be established, Myrick said students must enroll in a California public university or community college to be eligible. Similar programs in other cities pay full tuition for those enrolled in the public school system since kindergarten, and 65 percent for those who only attend in high school.

A specific grade point average won’t be required, Myrick said. Program funds will be administered through a local nonprofit, yet to be determined.

Myrick hopes the allure of free college tuition will be the catalyst Richmond needs to boost its economy.

“Over the next 10 years this really has the potential to change the trajectory of our city and has so many benefits beyond education,” Myrick said. “People are going to want to live here and put their kids in our schools and that’s a good thing.”

Besides donating $35 million to launch Richmond Promise, Chevron officials also agreed to assist the city with its fundraising efforts to ensure the program can continue beyond 10 years.

Richmond parents are praising the new program, and many say it eases the burden of trying to figure out how to pay skyrocketing tuition costs.

“It gives me great relief to know that my daughter is ensured enough money by the City of Richmond to attend college,” said Dion Clark, whose daughter attends El Cerrito High.

“This puts a whole different light on the future of a lot of kids in Richmond who can be progressive individuals, if given the chance. And it makes me proud and thankful that the City of Richmond is giving them that chance.”

Richmond’s free college tuition plan is similar to an initiative in Kalamazoo, MI. The effort called Kalamazoo Promise has invested about $55 million to assist more than 3,000 students. In 2005, a group of anonymous donors launched the program, pledging enough funds to pay the tuition of students to attend any of Michigan’s public universities or community colleges. Ninety percent of the district’s graduates enroll in college

Since the program was announced nine years ago, the school district’s enrollment has shot up by 25 percent and test scores and graduation rates have steadily increased, said Bob Jorth, executive director of Kalamazoo Promise. The city also has the third lowest unemployment rate in the state, he said.

“If you want a vital community, socially and economically, you have to have an educated population and the Promise seems to be supporting that,” Jorth said. “Seventy percent of students in Kalamazoo public schools are on free and reduced lunch, so naturally affordability was one of the biggest hurdles for students to go to college.”

“It certainly has made a difference in how many students start college,” added Jorth, “but the challenge remains in getting more students through college.”

Local Boxing Coach Training Champions in Richmond

News Report + Photos, Sukey Lewis

IMG_1980“You better go Richmond on him!”

Coach John Island spoke forcefully into his fighter’s ear as they huddled in the red corner of the boxing ring. Jonny Perez was in the middle of his third and final fight at the 2014 Ringside World Championship in Kansas City, Missouri. He was up against a tough opponent from Puerto Rico, fighting for his family, his community and the title.

It was also his birthday. By the time it was all said and done, Perez was 21-years-old — and a welterweight world champion.

“What he said in that corner, what he put in my head, is really what made me win,” Perez later said.

Coach Island has known Perez since he was an angry 15-year-old kid, getting into schoolyard fights at Richmond High, stealing and getting arrested. But Perez turned his life around, and now works as a community organizer with the Freedom Fighters, inspiring other young people to advocate for their rights and participate in their own rescue.

Island himself is no stranger to adversity. He struggled throughout his childhood in Richmond—living in a foster home for a time, and never having enough money. He began boxing at the age of 10, and credits the sport for saving him.

“I became a fighter in life,” Island said.

He would need that tenacious spirit for more than just boxing. After going professional, Island’s career came to a grinding halt after only four fights. The opponent this time wasn’t another fighter, but a cancer diagnosis: Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which affected his neck and shoulder.

Island spent two years undergoing radiation, surgery and treatment.

“It breaks you down,” he said. “I still feel the side effects.”

IMG_1942An unintended result of his own stalled boxing career was that Island began to teach others. He had never thought about teaching before, describing himself in those days as “selfish” with his knowledge. Cancer, it seems, brought the important things in his life sharply into focus. He needed to find a way to keep doing what he loved, and pass on the important lessons life had taught him.

“I found a way to use what I know to change lives,” he said.

Now 41, Island runs the Richmond Police Activities League boxing program for at-risk youth. For the past seven years, Island has been mentoring the city’s youth, helping them stay fit, and teaching them how to throw a punch.

The program has been very successful. Leon Brown, Island’s nephew and one of his protégés, is ranked number three in the world. And Perez wasn’t the only RPAL boxer to come away with a belt in Kansas City earlier this month.

DeVonnie Ray Davidson, 20, won the lightweight division, ultimately triumphing over a tough third-round fighter.

“Dude was trying to knock my head off,” Davidson said laughing. “I just keep my hands up and stay calm and work off the jab.”

He credits Perez for helping him prepare for the fight. Sparring together at the RPAL gym downtown, Davidson said he’s learned how to deal with pressure and keep his cool.

Tall and soft-spoken, Davidson described the physical ordeal fighters go through—especially those trying to “make weight.” After winning his second fight, the boxer had to go for a run to ensure he would qualify as a lightweight—between 115 and 123 pounds.

Davidson has been training with Island for more than three years, and said he would never have gotten this far without Island’s coaching and mentoring.

“Vonnie came to me, not actually sure where he fit in,” Island said. “I taught him from the bottom up — he didn’t know anything about boxing. From there it changed his life, so much.”

Island’s team also included Officer Savannah Stewart of the Richmond Police Department and Sam Mendoza, though the fighters were knocked out in the first and second rounds, respectively.

“I took those ones because they are some of the hardest working [fighters] that I have here. And I really felt like they deserved (it)… To be able to compete locally is one thing but to be able to compete with athlete(s) from all over the world, that says something.”

Island can see the positive impact the boxing program has on his students’ lives. “Everybody is a graduate of high-school, everybody’s going to college, or they’re working. It’s always positive — no drugs, no alcohol.”

IMG_1977Bringing home two championship belts to Richmond, Island feels his boxing program is part of the change his city needs. He said he sees kids without hope, without anything to do, and without strong role models to show them a positive path.

As Perez tells the story of his coach motivating him with the words, “go Richmond on them,” Island interrupts to explain.

“I’m trying to tell him to be himself. He had it in him all along. I’m saying, remember the tough days from Richmond High when he was up to no good,” Island said. “You thought you was out there fighting and doing something. Now use it for a reason — that’s why I remind you where you come from: Richmond. Never forget.”

“Never forget,” Perez echoed.


Richmond Police Activities League is holding a boxing event at 2200 MacDonald Ave. on Saturday, August 16, to raise money for the team. Their goal is to raise enough funds to participate in the National Police Activities League Championships in Oxnard, in late September.

To get more information on coach Island’s boxing program or to donate to the team, contact him by email at

Q&A: Remembering a Lost Son of Richmond – Terrance Kelly

Interview, Dr. Joseph Marshall

Editor’s Note: From 1992-2004, the De La Salle High School football team in Concord, California won 151 straight games, setting a national record. The streak ended after one of the team’s standout players, Terrance Kelly of Richmond, was shot and killed — just days before he was to leave to attend college at the University of Oregon. The story behind the team’s incredible streak is the topic of a new film, “When the Game Stands Tall,” which opens on August 22nd.

Dr. Joseph Marshall, host of Street Soldiers on 106 KMEL radio, recently welcomed Terrance Kelly’s father, Landrin Kelly, and his wife Mary to the studio to discuss the film and their work with the Terrance Kelly Youth Foundation.


10421346_10152975350645968_1232015053046941037_nDr. Marshall: Thanks for coming in. First of all brother, how are you doing?

Landrin Kelly: It’s been hard because every anniversary of his death, his birthday, Christmas, all the holidays… I start gettin’ depressed, start feelin’ bad, not wanna get up, not wanna do anything… It be tough sometimes.

Dr. M: I’ve heard that you sort of changed your lifestyle when you had Terrance and became a father. How hard was that for you?

LK: It was tough because I was really deep in [the street life] and me and my friends really was makin’ some good money. My dad wasn’t in our everyday life, and I know how I felt as a kid — waitin’ for my dad to come and he never showed up — and I didn’t want that same thing for my sons.

DM: What was Terrance like as a little boy?

LK: He was funny. He was a joker.

Mary Kelly: When he first came to my house, I said, “This is not your son, this must be your brother!” Because they joked around and played… I just assumed that [Landrin was] just joking with me about this kid being his son.

Dr. M: When did you notice that Terrance had athletic talent?

LK: Well, my mom had a daycare and [that is what] got me, really, off the streets. When Terrance [was 18 months old] she said, “I want you to go get what he needs… an education, and you gotta be there for him.” And we made that deal. I used to go to work, get home, go in the back yard, [and] just throw him whiffle balls. He was really good in baseball too. We went to China when he was 12-years-old and he came in second [place] out there on this world team. And he just loved basketball. He loved all sports. And it just really turned me around.

Dr. M: You must have been his biggest cheerleader. How did he get to De La Salle out in Concord?

LK: He went to Catholic school all his life. He went to St. David Elementary and he was doin’ so well ’cause my mother really strived on education. She forced education on all her daycare kids and she picked out the best schools to send them to. If they couldn’t afford it, she gonna send them to the best public school in the area. She was really committed to that… and they had to do they homework. They couldn’t go to practice, they couldn’t do nothin’ if they didn’t do their homework or study. And every night he (Terrance) had to read or do math with her.

Dr. M: I didn’t know he played all three sports at De La Salle.

LK: He played all three sports his junior year. One time he played basketball, then went to the football passing league game, and then we had to shoot to Vacaville for the all-star tournament. As I’m pullin’ up to the game, he had to jump out and jump the fence, and then he went right up to bat and hit a double off the fence! He made a decision his junior year. He said, “I’m just gonna concentrate on football, dad.”

Dr. M: How did you like the movie? It must have been hard for you to see somebody playing [the part of] your boy.

LK: Yeah. It was kinda hard for me. But they really portrayed him good. They really did a good job. You know, they changed some little things, but that guy (actor Stephan James) was really good.

Dr. M: Can you talk a little about the Terrance Kelly Foundation? Mary, you’ve had your arm around him the whole time. You go through this with him. How is it for him?

MK: The loss is very hard, but tryin’ to help Landrin to maintain is [also] very hard. They had a very strong bond, and some days it’s… he just won’t get out of bed. So I have to try everything to motivate him and, with the Foundation, that’s the one thing that motivates him. When he don’t wanna get up and go, I tell him, “Terrance wants you to do this.” We have to go out there. We have to help these kids. There’s one thing Terrance said to him years ago. He started off coaching Terrance and Terrance used to say, “Dad, a lotta these kids don’t have a father, so you’re like their father figure.”

So I kind of flip that back on him… A lot of kids look up to him, they like what we’re doing. We’re presenting them with opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise [have] through helping them get further with their education. We also take them on a lot of different excursions — we take them out of their normal surroundings — and we show them the good, the bad, and the ugly. We take them to the prisons, we take them to the coroner’s office — we actually take them and show them where Terrance’s resting place is. But we also give them a little fun. We take them indoor rock climbing and jumping. The program is definitely not a “scared-straight” program, but we wan to show them [life] is basically all about consequences. So we are constantly giving them options other than street life.

Dr. M: You got a book comin’ out yourself…

LK: Yeah, we’ve been trying to finish it up. It’s gonna be the TK Story… It will [cover] everything, all throughout his (Terrance’s) childhood.

Former Prisoner Finds Solitude, Joy, Working at Community Garden

Profile, Edgardo Cervano-Soto

Brandon Clark, 25, loves being outdoors and meeting people, which makes his job managing the Edible Forest Garden on the Richmond Greenway an ideal fit.

“This is the perfect location to have [a community garden] because of all the traffic that comes in and out of this place,” says Clark. “When you put [together] gardening, the outdoors, and communicating with other people – well, that’s a plus for me.”

Clark can appreciate these things more than most because it wasn’t too long ago that he was cut off from both nature and his community, entirely.

00 IMG_0209_EClark spent his childhood years living with his father – his parents had divorced — and two brothers. His grandmother also lived nearby. The family home was located near the corner of 12th Street and Ohio, but it also sat at the intersection of deep-seated and sometimes violent neighborhood rivalries.

Clark was not immune to the drama, and by the time he entered middle school, he was already running with the wrong crowd. “I used to bully people, take their things, get into fights and miss school. It was out of control,” he recalls.

When Clark was 12, his father decided to relocate the family to Bellflower, Los Angeles. A large suburb, Bellflower was an opportunity for Clark to hit the reset button. “My father took me out of Richmond for a reason,” says Clark. “He saw the potential in me.”

The move paid off. In Bellflower, Clark finished middle school and went on to high school, where he joined ROTC and played some football.

Yet, he would not remain in Los Angeles. Clark eventually decided to strike out on his own, and he returned to the Bay Area. He hooked up with JobCorps, a work skills program in San Francisco, where he began to master gardening and carpentry, things he used to do back home in the yards of his extended family members. Clark was making progress, but it all came to an abrupt halt in 2009, when he was sentenced to prison at the age of 20 for committing a robbery.

Prison was a two-year journey that shook Clark to his core. After spending a year in jail in San Ramon, he was transferred to San Quentin State Prison for 6 months, which Clark describes as the worst place he’s ever been. The sanitary conditions, isolation and inmate hierarchies challenged Clark to adjust quickly.

“At San Quentin they had us locked in a cell 23 hours a day. We had 30 minutes to eat. If you didn’t finish, you brought your food back to your cell,” he says.

His final six months were spent at Pelican Bay, another state prison with a notorious reputation. But Clark describes his personal experience there as being far better. He was grateful to hold various jobs at the prison, including in the administration office, even though, he says, he received no compensation for the work. During his time there he was also able to earn a GED, enroll in anger management classes and even take a business class.

At 5:55 a.m. on October 23rd, 2010, Clark was released and given $200 to fund his re-entry to free society. His mother, who was then living in Antioch, picked him up. Clark remembers craving a cheeseburger, and getting motion sickness during the long windy car ride back down the coast to the Bay Area.

In the weeks following his release, Clark found it hard to shake certain routines he’d learned in prison. He woke up at 6:30 each morning, worked out, had breakfast and returned to his bedroom. At 10 a.m., he would “begin” his day, as was the case in prison. In his bedroom, Clark always folded his clothes, tucked away his belongings into neat spaces, and kept his room in impeccable order.

“My youngest brother told me, ‘Bro, you’re out of there. Relax!’ But in my mind I was still [in prison],” says Clark.

There was one new routine that Clark soon became accustomed to in his new life on the outside – filling out job applications. Clark was released on parole in Antioch, and like all parolees he had requirements to meet: he was given three months to find a job, and failure would constitute a violation of his parole, potentially returning him to prison. He applied to jobs everyday, grimacing every time he had to check the felony conviction box on applications. He noticed when potential employers would scan his application only to pause at the checked box. With no interest from employers and facing the very real prospect of going back to prison, the routine became stressful.

00 IMG_0222_EClark’s big break came when a cousin gave him a tip about a job opportunity at a local Richmond non-profit organization, Urban Tilth, that was looking to fill an apprentice position at one of their gardening sites. Already being familiar with Richmond and having picked up gardening and carpentry skills from JobsCorp, Clark knew he could do the job if given a chance. He immediately went to Richmond and applied for the job, and in a matter of weeks he was interviewed, hired and began his training. His first project was working on the flower boxes and planting trees at the Edible Forest Garden.

He narrowly avoided the parole violation, and was officially released from parole on November 23rd, 2012.  “That’s a chapter of my life that is closed now,” says Clark. “I’m never returning back.”

Clark now has a different course – he plans to return to school and earn an Associate’s Degree with a focus on business. He currently lives in Richmond with his grandmother, for whom he also does garden work. Under his watchful eye, the Edible Forest Garden has grown into an oasis, appreciated by unsuspecting by visitors, an interactive space where one can hear and share stories.

During our interview at the garden, a young man from the neighborhood approaches Clark, asking him for suggestions on trees and plants for his yard. The conversation moves across the street, and ends with the two shaking hands. Clark returns to the Edible Forest Garden, walks up to me smiling and says, “He used to be in the military. [Now] he’s going to volunteer and help out around the Edible Forest. That’s what I like best here. You can be here, and engage.”

For Depressed Youth, A Chance to Break the Silence

News Report, Marco Villalobos

When Amber Cavarlez was 16 years old, her mother was diagnosed with cancer. As the oldest child, she cared for both her mother and her younger brother. During the time that her mother was sick, and even after her mother’s passing, the family didn’t discuss what was happening, and Cavarlez kept what she was feeling to herself.

Her younger brother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and repeatedly attempted suicide while Cavarlez was in college. Still, there was no discussion. Over time, the silence in her life gave way to depression.

amber_cavarlez_2Cavarlez describes sadness and depression as “an invisible subject” in her Filipino household. “I feel like I’ve been socialized to avoid it,” she says. She’s not alone. Stigmatized in many communities, depression and other mental illnesses often leave sufferers to figure things out on their own.

Cavarlez spoke at a forum in San Francisco earlier this month on breaking silence around youth depression, organized by New America Media with support from the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health. Cavarlez and other young people shared their stories about dealing with depression, and a panel of experts in the field weighed in on cultural attitudes toward depression and what the future holds for children’s mental health care.

“The population we worry about are those suffering in silence,” said Ziomara Ochoa, a unit supervisor at Behavioral Health and Recovery Services of San Mateo County. According to Ochoa, who serves a primarily Latino community, mental health care is often challenged by social and cultural obstacles. For example, she says, among the Latinos she serves, particularly those who are immigrants or undocumented, a “survivor mentality” can prevent individuals from recognizing and dealing with depression that stems from traumatic experiences.

panelists_2Jeneé Darden, the host of Mental Health and Wellness Radio at P.E.E.R.S., an Oakland nonprofit that advocates for people with mental health challenges, said that as an African American, she has seen family and friends perceive getting therapy as a “white thing.” Coupled with a mistrust of a medical system in which African Americans are often misdiagnosed and overmedicated, she says, this perception presents a challenge around mental wellness in the community.

“What we’re seeing is a result of our larger societal structure,” added Kordnie Lee, a Youth Mental Health First Aid instructor at Lincoln Child Center in Alameda County. Among youth, social isolation, the loss of friendships due to violence, and feelings of guilt and responsibility are more common when living in an environment impacted by poverty, racism, and addiction, and where access to care and alternative treatments is scarce.

Overcoming these barriers is particularly crucial for treating youth, for whom mental health problems can interfere with proper development.

According to Patrick Gardner, founder of the Young Minds Advocacy Project, which specializes in children’s mental health law and policy, 85 percent of the disease load for young people between the ages of 15 and 25 is related to mental health problems. The key to treatment, he says, is that services must be delivered more efficiently (with shorter wait times) and must offer value, such that people who access care feel that they are actually being helped.

“The better engaged you are,” he says, “the more likely the services will help.”

For Lee, programs like Youth Mental Health First Aid, in which she instructs people about warning signs of mental health problems and teaches them how to help young people in crisis, convey that depression is a treatable illness and communicate positive opportunities for treatment. Recognizing youth depression is a community effort, she says, and adults who work with young people are integral.

“When you look at larger systems of care, there’s an underlying historical philosophy that is very disempowering for the young people that are served and that doesn’t necessarily recognize the richness of personal experience,” she says.

Cavarlez, now 23, is currently a mentor with the peer wellness program at Edgewood Center for Children and Families in San Francisco. She wants young people who struggle with depression the way she has to have a person they can go to. “I know that if they have an outlet somehow there’s going to be some visibility around it, some awareness for themselves,” she says.

In communities where awareness is lacking, shedding light on mental health needs could represent a first, real glimmer of hope for young people grappling with depression.

LA Youth Fast for Central American Youth – ‘We Are Just Like Those Kids’

By VoiceWaves Beat Reporter Michael Lozano

Editor’s Note: This week a group of young people in Los Angeles went on a seven-day fast to call attention to the welfare of children who are crossing into the United States to flee violence in their home countries.

LOS ANGELES – Young people are once again leading the moral charge on a humanitarian issue that they say has been hijacked by politics.

Eight Los Angeles youth between the ages of 14 and 22 are fasting this week to call attention to the welfare of the tens of thousands of Central American children who have entered the United States to flee violence in their home countries.

Eighteen-year old Yamilex Rustrian says she decided to participate in the seven-day fast to remind the country whom the White House and Congress are seeking to deport: “These are children, not animals,” she said. “They still deserve to have human rights.”

The youth are spending their nights inside a giant white tent encampment perched on the grass lawn of historic Olvera Street in Los Angeles, hoping that Washington, D.C. politicians will consider treating the 50,000-plus children coming into the United States as refugees.

Attitudes towards the migrant children have clearly become politicized. Forty-six percent of Democrats support speeding up immigration proceedings even if those eligible for asylum may be deported, as do 60 percent of Republicans, the Pew Research Center reports.

But the fasters say they want to keep politics out of the discussion.

“This a little different from the Dreamers’ movement,” Rustrian said, who is a DACA recipient. “We recognize that this is a humanitarian crisis.”

It isn’t the first time young people have positioned themselves as the moral compass on an issue. From Dreamers (undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children) to the “undocuqueer” (who identify as both queer and undocumented), American youth in recent years have pushed for a critical dialogue on what they see as today’s most pressing civil rights issues, calling attention to the human faces behind the numbers.

The fasters say they see part of themselves in the migrating children. Some of them, too, fled to the United States to escape violence in their native country.

“I was just like these kids 12 years ago,” said Rustrian, who left Guatemala in 2002 after her father was killed as a result of gang violence. “I didn’t run from my country because I wanted to. I had to,” she said. “The violence and poverty was too much.”

Rustrian was six years old when she and her younger sister Yosselin left. Their father, a bus driver, had been assassinated. He was shot nine times while working his shift.

“I was five. I honestly didn’t know what was happening around me,” said the younger Rustrian. “I know some of the kids (migrating now) probably don’t have their parents (either).”

The sisters trekked through the desert for days to reach the United States.

“It was hard,” the younger Rustrian said. “I remember my sister was about to faint. They didn’t even have waters for us. We were the only little girls there.” The coyote hired to guide them was someone they didn’t even know.

Simon Gun, 19, who is also fasting this week, said he, too, can relate to the migrating children on a personal level.

When an economic crisis hit his home country of South Korea in 2001, Gun’s family moved from apartment to apartment. He remembers each one being smaller than the last.

“It couldn’t get any smaller, so we went to the U.S.,” explained Gun, a Dreamer who is now attending UC Irvine.

Alease Wilson, an African-American biology student at East Los Angeles College, said she was shocked to see people protesting the child migrants on TV.

“I’m so close to their age,” said the 18-year-old.

Wilson’s mother, Kawana Anderson, was astounded at her daughter’s initiative to join the fast. “I had no choice but to step in and support her, which she’s doing to support other kids,” said Anderson.

President Obama has called for $3.7 billion to deal with the border crisis. His plan includes speeding up deportations, resources, and assistance to Central American countries.

House Republicans are working on their own plan of about $1.5 billion to send in the National Guard, speed up deportations, and undo protections granted the children under a 2008 law that guarantees immigration hearings to minors from countries not bordering the United States.

“Either they’re going to get killed or they’re just going to die from hunger,” said the older Rustrian, worried about the children’s fate.

The fasters are demanding refugee status or asylum for the migrant children, with some hoping President Obama might take executive action.

“This is the country of opportunities. If we call it that, we should truly show that,” the older Rustrian said. “The statue of liberty says ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,’” she said. “Why don’t we do that?”

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