Jabari and Dad

Trayvon Martin Killing Sends Shock Waves Through Multiracial Family

Editor on Thursday, Mar. 29th

Since the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida, racial profiling has been the topic of conversations from the floor of Congress to dinner tables across the county, particularly in regards to the safety of young black men.

Gerald Gray, a psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker who’s spent much of his career working with victims of torture, sat down with his son Jabari, an employee of Turnstyle’s parent company Youth Radio, to discuss trauma he feels as the father of a biracial son who has been repeatedly targeted because of race.

This story also aired on KALW-FM.

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Juvenile Life Without Parole: U.S. Supreme Court Reconsiders

on Friday, Mar. 23rd

Back in 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that sentencing juveniles to life without parole for any crimes besides murder is cruel and unusual punishment.This week the high court took another look at life in prison, except this time for juveniles under the age of 14 convicted of homicide.

NPR reports that currently 79 people are serving life terms for crimes committed when they were 14 or younger. Justice Anthony Kennedy is expected to be the deciding vote on a decision expected by early summer.

Youth Radio’s Reginald Dwayne Betts contributed to an amicus brief in the 2010 Supreme Court case. At 16 years old he was found guilty for carjacking and spent more than nine years in adult prisons. But his sentence could have put him behind bars for life. This commentary originally aired on NPR’s All Things Considered, in May 2010.

I remember meeting a guy even younger than I was, waiting for the bus to go to prison. I’ll call him Rashid. His voice still carried the cracks and high notes of adolescence, and his smooth face had never seen a razor. We were headed to Southampton Correctional Center in Virginia.

No fewer than a dozen of us were teenagers, all with peers at home waiting on driver licenses, graduations and proms – while we waited for a prison cell. Rashid’s time was legendary: three life sentences with no chance for parole. It meant he awoke each morning knowing he would one day flatline in a cell.

In prison, guys told me that Rashid robbed and raped an old lady. His crime had no explanation, and everyone I ever talked to about it thought it was wild, heinous, and unfathomable. Rashid didn’t talk about his charges, and I couldn’t look at him without thinking how his sentence would last until his final breath. In the visiting room, I caught glimpses of his family and it almost seemed normal. Except that Rashid, the youngest among them, rarely smiled. And in prison, surrounded by the violence cells inspire in men, he was just a kid. There was no meanness about him, just the fragility of someone in the deep end, arms flailing, unable to swim.

When I looked at him, I remembered the judge looking down at me, asking if I understood my charges carried a possible life sentence. Rashid wasn’t old enough to drive, vote, or serve on a jury of his peers – but he was old enough to walk out of a courtroom with a sentence that ends in a casket. After I met him, my nine-year sentence for carjacking seemed like a gift.

Everything I did while incarcerated meant something because I could envision a day when I’d be free, and that vision pushed me. Because I had a release date, I recognized that the time was a way for me to improve myself. Seventeen hours each day to read, study and exercise – to think and become a man far different than the sixteen-old boy who plead guilty to carjacking.

As teenagers, our lives are impulse and reaction. I’m not the same person I was at 16. No one is. Juvenile offenders who are years away from the maturity and sensibility of a 25 or 30 year old, need to know that society believes they can be more than their crimes. They need to know we believe rehabilitation is not only possible, but real.

All any incarcerated minor wants to believe, is that life can be more than a series of cell doors.

Editor’s Note: Since being released from prison, Reginald Dwayne Betts graduated from the University of Maryland where he served as the commencement speaker. He’s published two books, and this year is the recipient of the NAACP Image Award and a Soros Justice Fellowship.

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Slideshow: The Bronx Riviera

on Wednesday, Sep. 21st

Long stigmatized as a “ghetto beach,” Orchard Beach is a mile long sliver of constructed landscape in The Bronx. Wayne Lawrence has spent the last four years photographing there. Built in the 1930, He says the “The Bronx Riviera” has served as a workingman’s oasis for generations of families living in an environment defined by struggle.

Brett Myers: Why do you call it The Bronx Riviera?

Wayne Lawrence: Well, I didn’t come up with the title. Orchard Beach was dubbed the Riviera of New York when it was first built back in the 30’s mainly because of it’s grand design during that time. Over the years it’s been called many things like, Chocha Beach and The Puerto Rican Riviera but The Bronx Riviera is the name that is most popular and a name which I think somehow fits the work that I’ve done there.

BAM: What drew you to Orchard Beach as opposed to the dozens of other NY beaches?

WL: Maybe it’s because I grew up on an island that I’m always drawn to the ocean wherever I am in the world. So when I started photographing at Orchard Beach, it was at a time when I was getting to know New York, having moved here from California, and I needed a place where I could grow as a photographer and where I knew that I wouldn’t mind spending a lot of time. So going to the water felt natural. I was drawn to Orchard Beach in particular because it is man-made and has a reputation for being one of the worst beaches in New York but to most of the people who go there, it’s the best thing happening during the summer.

BAM: I bet there’s some really good food being barbequed and shared. What are the smells of Orchard Beach?

WL: Well, no fires are allowed on the beach, so you won’t see or smell anything on a grill unless you go to the park right behind. Most people either bring their own stuff or spend too much on junk food at the concession stands there. What you will smell a lot of is blunt smoke.

BAM: Are there any anecdotes or stories from your time there?

WL: One of the benefits of doing long term documentary work is that it has allowed me the opportunity to really connect with a lot of my subjects. Some of whom have shared very intimate details of their life stories with me. A lot of these stories I wouldn’t feel comfortable repeating but are constant reminders that things aren’t always as they seem and that life is indeed precious and should celebrated.

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Slideshow: Benjamin Lowy Sees Libya

on Wednesday, Sep. 21st

The phone made that funny international ring. Beep beep, beep beep. “Oh crap. What time is it in Libya?” I wondered.

A craggy voice answered, and I introduced myself, attempting to get Benjamin Lowy’s okay to publish some of his beautiful photos from the recent fighting in Benghazi, Libya. Lowy was patient, but confused. He said, “I really need to sleep. Can you just email me about this?” A fair request at 2:30 in the morning.

Such is the life of a conflict photographer, answering bizarre calls on his international GSM phone in the wee hours of the morning, after, according to one of his Twitter posts, “Walking across Egypt/Libya border.“

After a swift war victory, Julius Cesar is said to have written “Veni, vidi, vici” – I came, I saw, I conquered. 31 year-old Benjamin Lowy has spent much of the last decade in war zones like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Darfur, but he only claims to have seen. The New York based photographer is currently in Libya on assignment for GQ. Draped in heavy digital cameras and surrounded by chaos, Lowy occasionally pulls out his iPhone, using it almost as a palate cleanser. He posts the images on his Tumblr page titled vidi: I saw. He wrote this of the process:

This blog is part of a project borne during my travels as a professional photojournalist. For years, I have worked with bulky digital cameras, always mindful of the technical maneuvers from setting the shutter speed and aperture to editing and toning on a computer screen. In the last two years I have discovered that my iPhone has allowed me to capture scenes without feeling that I am once again on the job. To “point and shoot” has been a liberating experience. It has allowed me to rediscover the excitement of seeing imperfections and happy accidents rendered through the lens of my handheld device. I am able to create imagery, edit, and transmit all the images straight to this blog, creating a modern and efficient workflow for the most inefficient of pursuits – self expression.

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StoryCorps Animations: No More Questions!

on Tuesday, Jun. 21st

StoryCorps is the nation’s largest and most ambitious oral history project. [Ed note: I am fortunate to have worked there for many years] People interview one another in one of StoryCorps’ intimate recording booths — friends, family, acquaintances coming together to share stories — and all the interviews are archived at the Library of Congress. Many people are familiar with the weekly Friday broadcasts on NPR’s Morning Edition, but not as many know about the original animations the organization has been producing for the last year.

Katie Simon and Michael Garofalo produced the audio, Bill Wray rocked art direction, and the über talented Rauch Brothers directed all of the StoryCorps animations. Below is some background on the latest video in the series, courtesy of StoryCorps:

Kay Wang was a strong-willed grandmother who was reluctantly taken to a StoryCorps booth by her son and granddaughter. Though Kay resisted, she still had stories to tell—from disobeying her mother and rebuffing suitors while growing up in China to late-life adventures as a detective for Bloomingdale’s department store. Kay passed away just weeks after that interview, and her son and granddaughter returned to StoryCorps to remember her gentler side, which she kept to herself.

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Freaker Amazing Kickstarter Campaign

on Tuesday, Jun. 21st

Zach Crain is the face of Freaker, and I can’t imagine a more perfect face for the hipster DIY knitted bottle koozie company that just rocked a Kickstarter campaign, surpassing their $48,500 goal by more than 14K.

“Chicky boom boom. My name’s Zach.” That’s how Crain starts the freaking amazing promotional video posted above. Then he begins complimenting the viewer. “I love your hair. I love your new shoes. Are those new shoes because they’re so shiny…” While I know its all flummery – I mean it’s not like he can see me — it feels good that Crain is saying nice things about me. He seems truly genuine. Then for the best quote ever. “Your hair is like beautiful fire.” Oh S#*t, you had me at “Your hair is like beautiful fire!” I’ll take three Freakers please – whatever they are – because this guy is awesome.

Freaker is a better looking, better performing beer koozie. In fact, the knitted insulation sock fits over everything from beer cans and bottles to huge jugs of juice, and the designs as diverse as the use. Goofy foam koozies emblazoned with promotional whatnot have never appealed to me, in part because I drink all liquids at a break-throat pace, but I could imagine wrapping a pilsner in one of these things for a post work dog walk, so as to avoid salty words and raised eye brows from conservative neighbors. And when it comes to promotional materials like this insanely loveable Freaker coach vid or this clever attempt to land an appearance on the TV show Ellen, the Freaker folks reign supreme.

Crain invented the Freaker after joining a stitch-and-bitch in Wilmington, NC. The creation came  after road tripping the country in a Geo Metro clad in indoor/outdoor carpeting, outfitted with curtains, homemade shelves complete with a coffee maker, and a lie-flat bed (photo left). He says his early one-man promotion attempts never got much traction, describing marketing 1.0 as pretty mundane and informational. Things began catching fire when Crain partnered with four friends. “We all had this fun vibe about us,” he said, summarizing their marketing strategy as, “We just have to do cool shit and make people inquire about us.”

The group began brainstorming about product names, first trying to invent a completely new word like Orea or Zinga, but Crain said, “No matter what you say when you first say a new word, it sounds stupid.” A friend of his had been using “freaker” as a catchall phrase, which Crain said he found annoying. Then a week later, he succumbed to using the word, and only then did he realize its potential awesomeness.

When I spoke to Crain by phone, he had just returned from a trip to the hosiery mill in Troy, NC where he set up the first run of five Freaker designs. When asked how many units they were manufacturing, he said, “We’re just going to get a bunch made, something like 20,000.” The husband and wife team who own the mill let Crain and his business partner toss out bedrolls and spend the night sleeping on the floor of the mill.  “Like right now we’re probably like a pain in their butt,” said Crain of his relationship with the mill owners, “but they don’t really care because they’ve been making socks for a long time.”

Crain said people are always asking if he and his colleagues have a business plan. They don’t. Some folks have even tried to write one for them, and Crain said, “I’m like no. Stop!” He says the company is about having fun. “We’re real chill about it,” said Crain.  For me, that’s what makes the company so damn cool. They have a great product. They take chances trying to make me laugh while marketing that product. Too much over thinking could kill the whole thing.

Crain is great on camera, and it’s likely you will be seeing more of him. Producers from ABC’s Shark Tank have shown interest in featuring the Freaker, and Crain says he’s spoken to people who know people at the Ellen Degeneres Show, and he feels hopeful that he might be getting freaky with Degeneres sometime soon. And if you’re one of the lucky 954 residents of Republic, Washington, Crain and Freaker posse are planning a trip your way for a grilled cheese box truck party, in appreciation of the $3,000 the town raised to support the Kickstarter campaign. I like grilled cheese.

If the Freaker looks good to your eye grapes, they’re available for sale here.

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Our Shadow Obscures The Moon

on Wednesday, Jun. 15th

Those of us in the western hemisphere can’t see it in the sky because it’s daytime, but we can watch the full lunar eclipse live online, thanks to SLOOH Space Camera and Google. We’re about ten minutes from witnessing the earth’s shadow completely obscure the sunlight hitting the moon. The moon is turning red and amazing right now…not something to miss!

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Slideshow: Portuguese Fishermen

on Tuesday, Jun. 7th

I like fish…and fish-related photography. So you would imagine my joy when I found this Flickr set from Portuguese photographer Paulo Alegria, aka Paulgi. Check out the slideshow below. What’s that guy doing with the spigot, you ask??? Who cares, he’s awesome.

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College Students Reflect On 30 Years Of HIV/AIDS

Asha Richardson on Friday, Jun. 3rd

Listen to audio.

A lot has changed since the Eighties. Or so I’m told. I wasn’t born until 1991 – the same year Magic Johnson announced that he had HIV. I’m 19 now, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people joke that Magic Johnson discovered the cure to AIDS…money.

Katherine Hood knows the same joke. She’s a senior at UC Berkeley and has grown up knowing about the disease her whole life. Regardless of the jokes, we both know HIV is still a deadly serious. “I think it’s interesting because while I don’t think it’s the same sort of death sentence mentality,” says Hood, “To me if I actually stop and think about it, it still seems like a horrifying thought.”

Hood and lots of kids we talked to say their school Sex Ed classes were pretty good. Thanks to my school’s health classes, I had seen a condom by the 7th grade and knew what it was for. My mom even bought me a book called Deal With It. I remember my friends coming over after school to giggle about stick figure illustrations of sexual positions.

Sex and STDs weren’t a mystery for me, but that’s not the experience had by some students, like UC Berkeley senior Tori Partridge. She explains, “I went to this little private Catholic school and our Sex Ed was basically ‘Hey these are the diseases you can get. Don’t have sex.’ So I just sort of went into this world unprepared.”

The benefit of being in my generation is that we can turn to Google for answers. But no amount of research can prepare a person to ask their sexual partner if they’ve been tested. Nicki Ghafari is sitting at a food court in downtown Berkeley with friends. They graduated from a local Catholic high school just last Sunday, and are headed to college this fall. Ghafari knows they’re supposed to ask about their partner’s sexual heath, but the idea still makes her uncomfortable.  “If you ask someone, it’s like they’re dirty in a way, like they’re gross,” she says, “personally I feel like whoever you’re with, you should ask.”

At Laney College in downtown Oakland, junior Salvador Lopez has a little more experience with this situation. He says he wasn’t afraid to have the conversation with his sexual partner, “It wasn’t awkward. They just shot the question right back, and I was like ‘I’m good.’ These are questions you still have to ask, no matter how comfortable you are with one another, just to be safe.”

My friend Elizabeth Welsh, a junior at Mills College wants to be safe, but she feels like the talk around prevention never includes her. Welsh is a lesbian who isn’t embarrassed to admit that she has, “a lot of unprotected sex.” She says, “I talk about aids and I’m informed, but at the same time I’m not using a condom in my sex. So what am I going to do? You think about it and the fears there are but how do you get passed that.”  Welsh thinks prevention is mainly geared towards straight people and gay men.

No matter who you are, the saddest part about getting tested for HIV today, is that you’re not only worried about your test results, but you’re still terrified about what people might say, at least that’s the case for me. David Villamarina, a student at Laney College, agrees. “People get made fun of for having an STD or STI. People are judged.”

While treatments have progressed dramatically in the last 30 years, Villamarina says that society is hung up on wrong things. “We will want to be more focused on what we can do to stop it, instead of who has it. It’s not about the people who already got it. The people who already got it, they got it.”

That’s today anyway. My hope is that 30 years from now, people who “got it,” won’t have it forever.

This story also appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered.

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Jonathan Harris: One Of The Great Daddies Of Photo Diaries

on Friday, May. 27th

Photographer Jonathan Harris is 31, but seems much older. It’s not just because of his accomplishments — he’s presented at TED, Google, Princeton and Stanford, and his work is in the permanent collections of major museums throughout the world — but it’s also because it seems like I’ve been tracking his life for the last few decades.Ironically, I’ve only known of Harris and his work for the last few months, and it’s because of his project Today that I feel like I’ve known about him for so long.

When Harris turned 30, he began posting one photo a day to the web. He kept it up for 440 days, more than a full year. The images are often quite personal, as were Jonathan Harris’ reasons for taking on the project. He says he wanted to mark the passing of time in a more meaningful way, almost as a crutch to aid his memory.

This new video, made by Scott Thrift, showcases Jonathan Harris’ project and his thinking behind it.

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To Build The VR Education of Tomorrow One Scholar Turns To The Past

There are plenty of folks in the education technology field who are excited about virtual reality as the next great educational tool.



We’re Closer To Our Photorealistic VR Future Than You’d Think (INTERVIEW)

A look into the virtual world of tomorrow with USC researcher Paul Debevec.


Prepare Yourselves For The Personal VR Video Revolution

Virtual Reality is rapidly approaching a watershed moment.

Ralph Echemendia

Spoiler Alert: Hollywood Isn’t Taking Cyber Security Seriously (LA Film Fest)

Tonight at the Los Angeles Film Festival, squeezed in between movies and red carpet events, a symposium on Cyber Security is being held at the Grammy Museum.

Gumroad Rentals H

Rent Video Straight From Social Media Via Gumroad

The people who brought the “Buy Now” button to Twitter are going all-in on film distribution.