Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"Penny Wise, Pound Foolish"

1. Do you want to see more teens roaming the streets without supervision, joining gangs, creating unsafe neighborhoods?
2. Do you care that more children and youth are obese and at high-risk for serious health issues?
3. Do you enjoy swimming laps in the city pools?

Check off “not applicable” if you live on the Westside or other upscale neighborhood. These issues don’t impact your life. Most homes in Beverly Hills or San Marino have pools in the backyard (some have tennis courts, too). Children who live in these neighborhoods have after school and summer activities -- private college prep tutors, gymnastics class and music lessons or lounging on the couch plugged in to an iPhone and laptop.

But childhood obesity, nowhere safe to play or cool off on a hot summer day are crisis problems for thousands of families in Los Angeles because Mayor Villaraigosa has cut jobs and programs in L.A. City parks and recreation centers.

The city has a huge budget deficit. Cutting these critical “safety nets” will cost taxpayers more money as youth with nowhere to recreate join gangs, commit crimes and are confined in over-crowded juvenile detention facilities. Health insurance rates will rise with the increase of juvenile diabetes and ultimately the city will need to hire more police (or pay millions in overtime) to combat neighborhood crime from aimless teenagers.

This is a short quiz but the answers have long-term consequences.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Special Teacher

With more than 20 years in the trenches with teen journalism I still get teary-eyed when I read a note like the one here from a teacher at Locke High School in South L.A. L.A. Youth Editors Mike Fricano and Laura Lee visited her class last week and plan to continue weekly visits. She brought a few students to our Saturday editorial meeting.

Locke has been in turmoil since it opened in 1967. It’s one of the lowest achieving schools in California. Racial tension between black and Latino students brought police in riot gear to the campus to break up fights in May 2008. Faculty and administrative turnover is a revolving door. On September 11, 2007, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) approved a motion to turn over control of Locke High School to Green Dot Public Schools, an outside charter management organization.

“ I just wanted to say thank you for letting me crash the Saturday meeting. As a teacher who has committed my life to working in some of the most disenfranchised urban communities, I have only worked in severely segregated schools. My experience bringing students to the Saturday meeting and hearing such generative discourse representing students from diverse walks of life was inspiring beyond words. It made me think a lot about the importance of integrated schools. My students rarely get an opportunity to interact with folks who are not Black or Latino, nor do they often have the chance to interact with young people who are not living in poverty.

At the risk of sounding overly romantic, I think that LA Youth has the unique opportunity to bring a democratic experience to youth that they are not getting in school. What a rare and sacred thing in today's society.

Thank you so much for making the effort to include my students in your
community. I think they felt intimidated, yet empowered by the experience. It means a lot to them and to our entire community! In fact, Frank's mother has told everyone she knows that her baby is going to be published in a newspaper. For a student like Frank, this is one of the few times in his life that he feels a sense of academic identity. This is why his mother could not believe that he was writing a piece for LA Youth. I am grateful for your time and interest in their stories.”

In community,
Jerica Coffey

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities

The first time I vacationed in Palm Springs I was 12 years old. It was the only place my family could afford -- the prices are low in summer as the temperature climbs to 115 degrees. Palm Springs is located in Coachella Valley, about 100 miles east of Los Angeles. The desert is surrounded by the San Jacinto Mountains. In winter you can swim laps in a heated pool
and look up at snow-capped mountains. Not far from Palm Springs is Joshua Tree National Park, 800,00 acres of massive granite formations, prickly trees, the San Andreas Fault, coyotes and jackrabbits.

Today, Palm Springs is home to aging boomers, retirees, a large gay community, casinos, numerous golf courses and the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation. On the north side of the 10 is Desert Hot Springs, described by locals as "Desperate Hot Springs," home to once fashionable spas, now swarming with meth labs, headquarters for notorious gangs and families struggling to survive above the poverty level. In March 2009 local and federal law enforcement agencies busted these depots of illegal activities.

I shop at Von's, corner of Gene Autry Rd. and Highway 111, in Palm Springs. Standing near the check-out I noticed a tall, glass cabinet with cartons of cigarettes, packs of Nicorette and large containers of Similac (powder baby formula). "Why is Similac under lock and key?" I asked the cashier.

"People steal the baby formula and use it as a "filler" for cocaine."

Two towns in the Coachella Valley, four miles apart, yet galaxies removed in housing, education, and culture. How did this happen and will the balance be restored or will the infection spread?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Trying to Survive Without a Phone

My friend, former teacher Ken Lawrence, cannot afford an iPhone, Blackberry or any other mobile device. He’s disabled, survives on a frugal budget, and his lifeline to doctors and 911 has been out of order for more than three weeks. When a life-threatening asthma attack occurred in the middle of the night, he reached for his land phone -- no dial tone.

Ken’s neighbors alerted me the next day. I called AT&T hoping to speak to a real live person. No such luck, there’s only a recording with a long menu for services. “Our first available appointment for service is February 1.” I hollered back at the recorded voice, “that’s over a week, he’s disabled in a wheelchair.”

“Thank you for calling AT&T,” was the final message.

The repairman finally arrived Feb. 1. He moved cables, climbed the telephone pole and tested the phone with various devices. “The phone’s working,” he reported and left.

An hour later it was out of order and still doesn’t work.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Superbowl Surprise!

Eating healthy is a challenge this weekend for Superbowl fans. If you’re the party host Sunday, thrill your guests with Kimchi Chicken Stew, Quinoa with Grapes, Sesame Chicken Salad and Broccoli Puree. Food guru Michael Pollan would approve, you’d be following his “Food Rules.”

I know, you’re thinking, “Yuck!” But you’ll love these dishes created by L.A. Youth’s teen writers as part of our healthy eating package for the March issue. Those nasty nachos loaded with orange, slimy cheese will sit on your hips for days. And the stark, white sour cream dip is definitely a no-no with those “double-dipper” carrot sticks. Remember, the guy on the couch will dip in, take a bite, return for another dip. Did he sanitize his hands?

About those ribs and slaw…..you’ll consume 7,000 calories with sweet b-b-que sauce and tons of mayonnaise burying the cabbage. How about ice tea instead of 4-5 beers?

Let me know if you’re inspired to follow my advice. And, happy game day.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Youth Media Gets Deserved Attention

Dear Friends,

I haven’t forgotten you, been soooo busy with new projects for L.A. Youth; watching endless hours of TV coverage of Haiti earthquake and aftermath; business trip to New York; and, raking leaves and other debris in my backyard after the deluge of rain 10 days ago.

Good news……L.A. Youth was awarded a $100,000 matching grant from the Challenge Fund for Journalism VI, a collaborative of The Ford Foundation, McCormick Foundation and Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Foundation. Gotta hustle to identify new donors and diversify our funding base.

Speaking of partnerships, the Youth Media L.A. Collaborative met Jan. 29 in our office to officially launch a partnership among local youth media organizations. Those of us working with young people in print, video, radio and the Web will share resources and collaborate on community reporting projects. Thanks to The McCormick Foundation for bringing us together and supporting the pilot project with a $50,000 grant.

Stay tuned for more exciting updates in a few days.