Environmental conference encourages teens to turn ‘green’

imageAbout 80,000 chemicals used in products are manufactured in the United States and almost all have not been tested for safety, a scientist told dozens of teens, parents and educators Saturday at an environmental education conference near Inglewood.

“We’re all being exposed to this,” said Renee Sharp, senior scientist and director at the Environmental Working Group. Many of these chemicals are associated with cancer, autism and asthma.

The conference was aimed at encouraging students to launch green movement groups in their schools. Teens Turning Green, a national student-led environmental advocacy organization, hosted the event.

“You are the most powerful people on Earth,” said Judi Shils, founder of Teens Turning Green. Shils told the teens that they have the most influential voices in persuading legislators to make changes because they do not expect the passion that some teens have.

“My goal is to let every kid in here know that you can change the world,” Shils said.

The presenters said that even simple changes, like persuading schools to replace toxic whiteboard markers for refillable, non-toxic ones, make a big difference.

“If you guys try to talk to your legislature, it’s harder for them to say no,” Sharp said.

The audience learned about topics ranging from the harmful effects of pesticides to what kind of harmful chemicals are found in cosmetics and household products.

One prevailing piece of advice was for teens to pick one area of their life and make a pledge to change a behavior into a more socially responsible one, whether it is using reusable bags instead of plastic bags or limiting showers to four minutes.

imageJordan Howard, 18, an environmental advocate who has opened for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said that education changed her once skeptical perception about the green movement. After taking environmental classes, Howard said she learned practical solutions for how she could make a difference.

“It really inspired me because I saw that the green movement was real,” Howard said. “We have the influence and we need to start using that influence in a right way.”

Listen to Howard’s speech at the conference:

Many teens at the conference said they wanted to learn how to make decisions that were better for their environment.

“Start in your local community,” said Anna Cummins, co-founder of 5 Gyres, a non-profit research group to end plastic pollution. She advised the teens to find their passion and make their activism fun.

Cummins, who researches plastic pollution in the ocean, said that pollution is “not just a litter issue, it’s also potentially a public health issue.”

Many of the presenters talked about the possible links between the chemicals in products to diseases, cancer and other illnesses, and they suggested organic food as the healthier, “greener” alternative.

“This green movement is a healthy movement…that will help us save ourselves from diseases like cancer and diabetes,” Howard said. “Once you care about the earth, you begin to care about yourself, and you begin to care about the people that are around you.”

Logo courtesy of Creative Commons

Q&A: Tough financial times cut business at South L.A. hair salon

imageItzhak Nughadam, 64, owns Touch of Class beauty salon in the University Village Shopping Center. Nughadam chose this location 37 years ago because of the built-in student population, which once provided a steady stream of business. Since the recession hit, Nughadam saw his revenue plummet by as much as 30 percent.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Nughadam had two employees in the salon. One was busy cutting a man’s hair, while the other watched for potential customers from within. Nughadam took a smoke break.

Intersections South LA’s Raquel Estupinan caught up with Nughadam about his business, his customers and his determination to stay open despite challenging financial times.

Raquel Estupinan: How has the economy of the last few years affected your business?

Itzhak Nughadam: Terrible, terrible. I can’t even describe it. I’m just living day by day.

RE: What has been the hardest period?

IN: Ever since 2008 business is down. No up and down; it just keeps going down. Because I keep record and I see and I can’t even compare it to last year. Every year is bad since 2008. I can’t even match it; it just keeps going down.

RE: Did you need to get a loan, or were you able to get a loan?

IN: I might be able to get a loan. But paying it back, I don’t think I could pay it back, that’s why I don’t get it. It’s not a good idea at all, in my book.

RE: Are things looking any better now?

IN: I want to think that way, but I don’t see it really. If I say yes, I would lie. It’s not. I don’t know what’s going to happen.

imageRE: What factors contribute to how your business is doing?

IN: I guess the economy because basically we’re dealing with people—students, as a matter of fact. They would want to get a haircut every two to four weeks; now it goes to two to three months. No one gets coloring anymore. Color is the main money in this business.

RE: Does the beauty business do well only when the economy is doing well?

IN: Most definitely, yeah. People, they have to pay bills first before they can do their hair. As old as I am, I understand. People need money to do anything. That’s why business is down. It’s not only this area. Every area you look at, they’re in the same boat as I am. At least I could keep it going the last few years, so many people are out of business already. We’ll see what happens.

RE: How much is your rent?

IN: Almost $4,000 a month. I wrote a letter to the USC real estate agency to see what would happened if they could reduce the rent somehow.

RE: And have they responded?

IN: Not yet, no.

RE: What is keeping your business open?

IN: [I have to] pay bills and pay my house mortgage. That is [what] is the most important to me: bills. [It’s not] pleasure or anything like that. [It’s] just to live on, day by day, and to pay whatever I can.

Southeast L.A. activists campaign against Proposition 23


imageAdvocates with an environmental justice organization in Huntington Park are stepping up their efforts to inform South East Los Angeles residents about Proposition 23 and its potential effects on greenhouse gas emissions on their communities.

Members of Communities for a Better Environment, which focuses on environmental health and justice, have been canvassing door to door to educate their communities about the facts of the state-wide measure that proposes to suspend Assembly Bill 32, California’s 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act.

Jennifer Ganata, a community organizer for the group, said that the residents of Southeast L.A. are being affected by pollution and bad air quality from nearby petroleum refineries.

“These communities are some of the most overburdened communities when it comes to environmental pollution, hit by both stationary (refineries, power plants, etc) and mobile (diesel trucks, freeways, etc) sources of pollution,” said the group’s website. “This translates into higher exposure to chemicals that cause illnesses such as asthma, cancer, reduced lung function, reproductive harm among others.”

Proposition 23 proposes to set aside prior legislation that requires California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to the levels that existed in 1990. California would have until 2020 to comply.

Ganata said that residents of Southeast L.A. would benefit from defeating this statewide measure. “People want to see this change because their environment and communities are being impacted.”

Supporters of Proposition 23 say that the state should worry about jobs first, and the environment second. The measure proposes to suspend Assembly Bill 32 until unemployment is at or below 5.5 percent in California. Currently, the unemployment rate is 12.4 percent in California, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“We all want to do our part on global warming, but with 2.3 million Californians already unemployed and the state facing a $20 billion budget deficit, protecting jobs and the economy should be our first priority,” said yeson23.com, the official website for those supporting the measure.

“Proposition 23 would simply suspend California’s global warming plan until the economy stabilizes, we get people back to work and we can afford these investments.”

The city of Huntington Park has not taken an official stance on Proposition 23, but Councilwoman Ofelia Hernandez said that the clean air requirements spelled out in Assembly Bill 32 are going to be extremely difficult for cities like hers to meet. “The state ties our hands because they don’t give the funds for the changes,” she said.

The California Environmental Justice Alliance, a partner organization to Communities for a Better Environment, also operates from Huntington Park. Strela Cervas, a coordinator with the alliance, said the Yes on Proposition 23 campaign is misleading because “Prop. 23 claims that it will create lots of new jobs if it passes,” she said.

Ganata and Cervas both emphasized that bad air quality in Southeast L.A. is harming its residents, and the passage of Proposition 23 would only prolong efforts to improve air quality.

“If Prop. 23 passes, it will allow polluters to continue to pollute, and it will actually prevent the creation of more green jobs,” Cervas said. “Additionally, if Prop. 23 passes, our communities will continue to suffer from high rates of asthma, lung disease and other types of environmental health issues that are plaguing our communities.”

Huntington Park and Wilmington are two cities that Communities for a Better Environment and the California Environmental Justice Alliance serve because they are heavily industrial. In the past, these organizations have campaigned for the removal of power plants.

Opponents of Proposition 23 are criticizing two Texas-based oil companies, Valero Energy Corp. and Tesoro Corp., for supporting the measure. The oil giants have donated $5,606,273.20 to the Proposition 23 campaign, according to stopdirtyenergyprop.com, the official website of those opposed to the measure.

Valero and Tesoro both have refineries in Wilmington.

“They are not doing their part to be better neighbors,” Ganata said.

She said they should be looking at ways to benefit the communities by using alternative technologies.

Currently, the city of Los Angeles is in a three-way tie with Long Beach and Riverside for being the cities with the worst ozone-polluted air in the nation, according to the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2010 report. Los Angeles County ranks fifth in the nation.

Additionally, out of the top 25 counties in the U.S. that have the most ozone-pollution, 17 are in California, according to the report from the American Lung Association.

If Proposition 23 passes, “I think that sends the message to the community that industry wins,” Ganata said. “It would feel a little bit disempowering because I’m living next to this, and no one really cares.”

Photo courtesy of California Student Public Interest Research Group

South Central Scholars funds futures

imageSouth Central Scholars alumnus Ricardo Elorza always knew he was college bound, but he also knew he had hurdles to overcome before reaching that goal.

In 1998, Elorza came to Pico-Union at age 11 from Mexico.

“Right at the onset, being an immigrant from Mexico, language was a great barrier for my success,” Elorza said.

Elorza, who attended Manuel Arts High School, explained that in school he would see apathy from some teachers, students, and administrators, in addition to a lack of resources and space in classes. According to Elorza, drug abuse, violence and gangs were “rampant in my high school.”

Elorza said that he would have been a “regular student, but thanks to South Central Scholars, I got a world of experiences.”

While many scholarship programs provide the resources for college-bound students to learn about time management, financial aid and careers, South Central Scholars goes a step further. South Central Scholars provides the desperately needed mentorship and scholarships that often make the difference between falling behind and succeeding, Elorza said.

The program focuses on assisting South Los Angeles high school students who exhibit passion and the capacity to succeed in college.

“We’re very much focused on kids who want to give back,” said Meredith Curry, the executive director of South Central Scholars. “We are really about being a family, so we want to make sure that a student’s personal statement, leadership or extracurricular activities show some kind of a passion for working with others and solving issues in their communities.”

South Central Scholars has a competitive application process. Out of approximately 1,000 students that the program reaches out to, roughly 350 apply and about 75 are accepted, according to Curry.

Students are selected based on several criteria: personal statements, test scores, high school transcripts, as well as their college acceptance letters and financial aid packages.

Throughout the year, South Central Scholars provides workshops for middle and high school students — and their parents — to help prepare them for their future academic careers.

The South Central Scholars program was founded by Dr. James London and Patricia London after they were inspired by reading the story of a dozen Crenshaw High school students in And Still We Rise: The Trials and Triumphs of Twelve Gifted Inner-City Students.

“In the beginning, the program was about scholarships, but the Londons found out that kids would end up going to community colleges because they still didn’t have all the money they needed to go to four-year universities,” Curry said. “These students were dealing with a learning curve. It was kind of a culture shock.”

Ricardo Elorza, who graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2009 with a Bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in English, said that he appreciated the summer conference that South Central Scholars provided before he entered his first year of college. The conferences are meant to prepare students mentally about what to expect in college.

South Central Scholars helped him to “develop a good grasp of what college should be.” Elorza said that the program “became the bridge between excellent and barely getting by.”

Before the program, he said his perspective of careers was limited.

But throughout his time at UCLA, Elorza had four mentors—with whom he still keeps in contact—who helped shape his future path. Now, he is applying to law school and is grateful that one of his mentors is an attorney and has been able to provide him guidance.

imageLike Elorza, Dominique Reese has used her connections from the South Central Scholars program to attend college and find a career.

Reese attended Crenshaw High School and applied to eight colleges, including Princeton, Stanford, USC and UCLA. She was accepted to them all and although she had never been to the East Coast, Reese chose to attend Princeton University.

“I was definitely college bound. I was a self-motivated student. When I was introduced to South Central Scholars, given their mission to support high achieving students in under-served areas, I was a perfect student for the program,” Reese said.

Although Reese grew up in South Los Angeles, she said she could not call the environment an obstacle, but only a distraction that she was determined to avoid.

“Sometimes I’d be doing my homework in front of a window and there’d be a drive by. I would just duck, and when the coast was clear, I would get back to doing my homework,” Reese said.

What she did see as an obstacle was the lack of resources at school. She took it upon herself to learn to fill in the holes in her education. She went to UCLA on the weekends to learn about the stock market, Reese said.

South Central Scholars helped Reese by pairing her with a mentor and providing a scholarship.

Three of Reese’s mentors were affiliated with Merrill Lynch where she interned. Upon graduation, Reese accepted a full-time job with Merrill Lynch.

Beyond graduation, both Elorza and Reese remain active members of South Central Scholar’s Alumni Association, which reaches out to schools that are not yet part of the scholarship program.

As part of her involvement with the Alumni Association, Reese recently secured a $15,000 grant for the College Access Conference and Institute. The eight-month institute will teach middle school students about college once a month.

Since May 2009, Reese has taught economic literacy to youth through the financial business she started in New York City, CommuniTree LLC.

Elorza received a grant to work with University of Southern California faculty member Willa Seidenberg in a project to archive and digitize his high school newspaper, the Toiler Times, which is the oldest high school newspaper in Los Angeles, Elorza said.

“South Central Scholars provides you with the confidence to become a leader,” Elorza said.

Photos courtesy of South Central Scholars

Crenshaw High School sends off students to White House

Students from Crenshaw’s Digital Media Team and the Cooking Live with Dorsey High members said goodbye to their parents, schools, and California on Wednesday for a few days.

On Friday, the 18 students will meet with President Obama’s Web Team and Mrs. Obama’s Nutrition Team to discuss how they can create a partnership. Crenshaw has a 2.5-acre garden on campus that they propose to name “Let’s Move Garden” in order to promote the cause of fighting childhood obesity.

Crenshaw Principal Carrie H. Allen congratulated the students and expressed her pride in seeing off the two classes to “one of the best cities in the world.”

“I’m so proud of you; more than you could ever imagine,” Allen told the students.

Parents were also present at Wednesday’s send-off celebration to support their children.

Rodney H. Fairweather, parent of a Crenshaw student, said the opportunity for the group to visit the White House is “phenomenal,” and “should be life changing.”

“You go to school, read about the Constitution, and they actually now get to see how it takes place. This is where the commander in chief…orchestrates world events,” said Fairweather.

Many students said they were most excited to get on a plane for the first time, to visit the White House, and to possibly catch a glimpse of the president himself.

Laurie Bailey, mother of a Crenshaw student, said she was really excited for the students to take the trip to Washington, D.C. because they did a lot of fundraising.

“It’s a really exciting time. This is something these kids will remember for a lifetime,” said Bailey.

Crenshaw High School Principal Carrie H. Allen congratulates students as they head to the airport.

More Intersections coverage of the Journey to the White House:

South Los Angeles students to visit White House

Crenshaw digital team goes straight to the top

Dorsey High School’s culinary program