The Mecca…

A story I did for my Lehman MMJ 222 class…

As the hot New York City sun beams down on the asphalt, sweat glistens off the bodies of street warriors battling through each possession, gliding through the air with seemingly no end, contorting their bodies to fit through the smallest spaces all to put the ball in the basket and obtain the coveted win.
Winning isn’t just an objective in New York City, it’s a culture. Winning yields respect and respect makes the playground basketball world turn. The center and capital of this proverbial playground basketball world is none other than New York City.
“New York basketball is the best basketball; it is flashy, gritty, and one of the kind,” said Stefan Gosa, 21 year old street baller from the Bronx.
Gosa isn’t alone in his thinking either, New York City has been donned the Mecca of Basketball and has continued to live up to it’s name for decades. Producing basketball greats such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kenny Anderson, Earl Manigault, Nate “Tiny” Archibald, Bob Cousy, Bernard King and Pee Wee Kirkland, New York’s reputation speaks for itself.
As early as the 1900’s street basketball can be seen as an important part of the black community with teams such as the Harlem Renaissance( Rens) traveling across the country to play against all white street ball teams. Street basketball held such a prominent place in the black community because at this time blacks were not allowed to play in organized leagues. Street ball gave them an outlet and began to produce results as many of the cities top players began enrolling in historic Black Colleges and made the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) one of the strongest conferences in the country.
In 1946, Holcombe Rucker, then an employee of the New York City Parks Department, decided to start a summer basketball tournament for the kids in Harlem. At the time, Mr. Rucker was just trying to help keep the kids off the streets, but as the tournament continued to flourish it saw the likes of Wilt Chamberlain and Julius “Dr. J” Erving gracing the Rucker courts.
As more black players began to surface in organized basketball and even the NBA, the Rucker Park became a stage for the most talented players in the world to showcase their skills every summer.
Street basketball is more than a flashy game and a ticket out of the ghetto for some however. “Basketball is my life. It kept me out of trouble for most of my life so you can say basketball kind of kept me alive,” says Gosa.
Basketball and other after school activities help many kids these days stay out of trouble and on track. According to a study done by Public Agenda, a non partisan and non profit public opinion research and public engagement organization, “79% of America’s middle and high school students regularly participate in activities both after school and on weekends and 57% have some kind of non-school activity nearly every day.” 66% of those kids say they participate in sports activities.
The question then becomes, does this help kids stay out of trouble? One would have to think that the eligibility requirements of a basketball team would put pressure on kids to focus more on their studies from a young age and keep them out of the streets.
“When a kid has the opportunity to play basketball for an organized team, the practice, games, and need for good grades takes them out of the street and creates a close family with his team instead of people trying to do harm, “ said Felix Gonzalez, 21 year old basketball advocate.
Basketball works to empower the youth, give them supreme confidence and a place to be rather than a street corner. With those tools, they are ready to face the world outside of the basketball court, which provides more of a challenge.
Basketball might be just a game to some, but in New York, it’s a way of life. It provides young people with a positive outlet and inspires many.
Mr. Gonzalez put it best, “Basketball changed my life, it has given me something positive to focus my energy to, it has made me active and sparked many debates. It gave me a reason to get together (with friends) and cheer for something of a higher cause. Basketball is to me, what water and food is to a person.”


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Sistas & Brothas

A story I wrote for the Bronx Journal a few semesters back…
(Photo: Jonathan Candelarias)

by Jonathan Candelaria
Bronx Journal Staff Writer

To the average New Yorker, the headquarters of Sistas and Brothas United is a non-descript house, typical of the Bronx: cracked concrete, kids playing outside and grown folks hanging out at the bodega. However, for young people in this borough, it’s more of a safe haven, a fountain of knowledge, and a place of change.

Sistas and Brothas United (SBU) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to generate young leaders in this community.

“We want more people from our community who are willing to take the political system in their hands and feel that they can be powerful,” says Mustafa Sullivan, a staff member of SBU.

One of the SBU participants, 16-year-old Dahiana Lauser, says SBU is important because it challenges her and her peers to critically view what is going on around them.

“It helps us to analyze what’s going on and see how we can change it, ” says Lauser. “They look at you as an individual and they push you to where you don’t think you can even go.”

(Photo: Jonathan Candelarias)

SBU is a student-led organization. Young people are allowed to make decisions about which campaigns they want to work on.

“We work on education reform campaigns mostly in the Bronx, but also local and national (campaigns),” she says. “We work in green work force development and leadership development.”

Sistas and Brothers United, which was founded in the 1980′s, runs on an estimated $430,000 budget annually, with most funding coming from private foundations and public grants. It has three full time staffers who deal with approximately 60 youth daily, with private foundation and public money.

(Photo: Jonathan Candelarias)

The small operation uses its resources to take campaigns to the streets. The group regularly petitions people to support issues such as the Kingsbridge Armory debate.

That debate focused on the development of the Kingsbridge armory. Developers wanted to bring retail stores to the armory, however SBU opposed it because they felt these jobs wouldn’t provide living wages — which in the Bronx constitutes $30 an hour for two adults to support two children.

SBU also runs workshops on topics such as gentrification, combating homophobia, and the roots of the financial crisis. These workshops serve as a platform to highlight specific issues that the youth of the Bronx face daily.

In addition, the workshops help young people to get jobs. “(We are) working with workforce development, training the youth on how to write their resumes and also assisting them in finding jobs,” says Ralfael Pena, a SBU volunteer. “Ever since SBU was founded, there were students and youth leaders who just didn’t have a place to go, they didn’t have a job. That’s why SBU stepped in.”

Jonathan Candelarias

Sullivan says the Bronx particularly needs these services.

“I think the Bronx is like a lot of places across the country — there are people who are low income. There are a lot of people from immigrant communities who are just neglected by elected officials, who feel like they don’t really have to own up to them.”

Lauser says that is one of the main goals of SBU — to hold public officials responsible.

“We aren’t politicians, we don’t have to lie to people and tell them we’re going to do this and that,” says Lauser. “We’re doing it because we believe it. If you have the will, you can do it.”

This “will” was evident on a recent visit to SBU. Sitting at a roundtable, the group discussed some issues they wanted to change about the Bronx. Everyone of them had a fire in their eyes, a belief that a better day is in sight as long as they fight.

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Smokers Under Fire

A story I wrote for the Bronx Journal last semester…

By Jonathan Candelaria
Bronx Journal Staff Writer

Remember the days when people could take out a cigarette and smoke carefree? When the only hint at a cigarette’s toxicity was an occasional finger-wagging television commercial? Remember a time when smokers weren’t constantly bombarded with the consequences of their actions?

Those hazy halcyon days are now a distant memory, and could be replaced by a nightmare-inspiring, in-your-face reality check, courtesy of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

With the passing of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act in June 2009, the life of the everyday smoker changed. This law stated that, in 2012, cigarette distributors would be required to install new warning labels on all packaging.

The Tobacco Control Act requires that nine graphic health warnings appear on the upper portion of the front and rear panels of every cigarette pack. The warning must comprise at least the top 50 percent of these panels.

Nine text warnings will accompany the graphic images:

The accompanying images are currently being narrowed down from a pool of 36 to nine through a phase of Public Commentary, according to the FDA. The FDA is the government agency that oversees public health and regulates the manufacturing, marketing and distribution of tobacco products.

“What we’re in now is what we call Public Commentary, where we’re actually listening to the public, to industry, and state clerk groups and getting their feedback on which particular images we will pair off with text warnings,” says Jeffrey Ventura, spokesperson for the FDA.

(Warning: FDA Cigarette Health Advisories May Cause Queasiness, Anxiety and Night Sweats)

This public commentary won’t be evaluated until January 2011, but across the Bronx people are already speaking their minds. Some found the grim images a little heavy-handed and excessive.

“I don’t think any of them will make smokers quit,” says Raven Rodriguez, an 18-year-old non-smoker. “The whole idea is contradictory. You can’t advertise how addictive a substance is by using vulgar images and slogans. Cigarette smokers are already highly aware of the repercussions of smoking. They have an addiction, they aren’t ignorant.”

When asked which of the the proposed images for the campaign she found most compelling, Rodriguez replied, “They’re all equally non-effective in my eyes.”

Smokers were divided on the warnings and their impact.

“I find it kind of sad that we’ve gotten to a point where such drastic measures need to be taken, but I see the benefits from this being greater than the drawbacks, which seem very minor,” said smoker, Ilya Varentsov. “These extremely graphic images coupled with the very straightforward messages in place can definitely convince many of those that are ignorant to possibly quit smoking.”

While some of the images are very controversial and disturbing others seem cartoonish. “The least effective labels would be the ones that are cartoon or look like they are drawn. To many smokers these animated messages won’t be as eye catching as something realistic, something more personal to them than a child-like drawing,” Varentsov explains.

Some of the more horrifying images include a cancer patient lying lifeless on a hospital bed, a man smoking with smoke coming out of a hole in his throat, and a photo of a toe-tagged corpse. Of the Bronx smokers polled, these images seem to have the biggest impact and made a few think twice about their favorite vice.

“In terms of legit and effective pictures, there is none more greater than a picture of someone dying of cancer,” said Jason Fouchecourt, who has smoked on and off during the past decade. “I was motivated when I saw the picture, and frightened. That daunting image is going to stay with me the rest of the day.”

All in all, there appeared to be a split between people who thought that smokers were already aware of the dangers that they are putting themselves in and people who thought that this could be a positive form of education.

Philip Morris USA, the largest tobacco company in the U.S., states that it supports the FDA in its decision-making and that it will continue to oversee the agency’s actions so that it will continue to be fair.

According to a Philip Morris statement, the company says it will follow the new regulations closely.

”The legislative process often involves compromise, and that is why we believe the law as enacted is not perfect. Among other things, we have consistently expressed our belief that certain provisions of the law cross constitutional limits. We are hopeful that these issues will be addressed as part of an ongoing collaborative process with the FDA and other stakeholders.”

Naturally, the tobacco companies will continue to fight for their right to sell cigarettes unencumbered by government regulation. This may reassure smokers for the moment, but there is still much at stake. With the recent ban on flavored tobacco products and the proposed ban by Mayor Bloomberg on smoking in parks or beaches, smokers continue to be under fire as the government fights to save them from their unhealthy hobby.

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Hello world!

I’m new to this, using wordpress as a platform for my Journalism portfolio…

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