Tag Archives: Janette Santos

Michele Norris Takes Us Beyond “The Grace of Silence”

By Janette Santos, Editorial Intern

Sometimes you attend an event that opens your eyes and sticks in your mind and heart. For us, this event was the 2012 Simmons Leadership Conference. Surrounded by powerful and inspiring women like Billie Jean King, Meg Whitman, and Jane McGonigal, it’s no wonder why this event empowered us to embrace our womanhood and continue our drive for success.  Earlier this year we wrote about the speech that Whitman gave at the conference and we published our interview with McGonigal. We could think of no better way to wrap up this series than by featuring a conference speaker near and dear to the Teen Voices mission: award-winning journalist Michele Norris.

Norris has led an extensive career, becoming one of the most honored voices in modern journalism, Currently the host of NPR’s flagship afternoon broadcast, All Things Considered, she has dabbled in every manner of media, interviewed personalities from Oscar winners to American presidents, and worked as a writer on such newspapers as The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.

Her work has earned her a plethora of awards including an Alfred I. Dupont-Columbia University Award for Excellence in Broadcasting, and the 1990 Livingston Award, as well as an Emmy and Peabody Award for her contribution to ABC News’ coverage of 9/11.

Norris recently released her first book, The Grace of Silence, a memoir that explores the concept of identity in America by asking the reader, “How well do you really know your parents?” While taking the reader through her own personal journey trying to answer this question for herself, she delves deeper into the racial legacy of American history during the Post-War period.

She told attendees at April’s conference that when writing this book, she initially wanted to research the role of race in America, until she realized that the topic of race hit closer to home than she’d initially thought. “The elders of my family seemed to have entered into a period of historic indigestion; the stories were just spilling out. ‘Pass the peas, and do you know what happened to me in 1940?’” It was only through this casual dinner talk that Norris learned that her own father had been shot in the leg by white police officers just after he was discharged from the military after World War II.

The story utterly flabbergasted her and made her recognize: “I needed to pay more attention to how the people in my family were talking about race, because I realized there was family history that was unknown to me. I realized that I didn’t know enough about the people that were closest to me. So, I changed course and started examining my own family history.”

It’s an amazing journey. Michele Norris takes her readers not only through this country’s long and sordid past of racial struggles, but also reveals interesting bits of history about her own family. In one tidbit she relates how her maternal grandmother was an “itinerant Aunt Jemima” who would tour the Midwest selling pancake mix to housewives.

Norris emphasized to the conference audience the absolute importance of really listening to your elders when they tell stories of your family’s history before it’s too late, because you never know what you’ll learn about the people close to you.

Suffice it to say, Michele Norris is an admirable woman whose career is inspirational for girls aspiring to journalism. A strong, vocal personality in modern media, her unyielding energy continues to carry her into new fields in the media.

Vote for Healthy: School Lunch Campaign

By Janette Santos, Editorial Intern

A lot of attention in the media is currently focused on the importance of healthy food for children and adolescents. Coverage ranges from Michelle Obama’s presidential initiative to lower childhood obesity in the nation from a staggering 20 percent to just 5 percent by 2030, to more local initiatives with new school regulations for serving healthier food. Since teens spend a great deal of time at school, healthier food in the cafeteria is an important change.

According to Sociedad Latina, a Boston-based organization working with Latino youth and families to end destructive cycles of poverty, health inequities, and lack of educational and professional opportunities among the Latino community, there is definitely much left to be desired in the average school cafeteria. For example, a recent crackdown in Cambridge Massachusetts for lax inspections in public school cafeterias yielded numerous health code violations, including animal droppings around the storage rooms of a cafeteria and a school freezer that was rusted and rotting.

While this situation may be extreme, it’s very common for the food offered in school cafeterias to be less than ideal in terms of being healthy. In response, youth activists at Sociedad Latina have taken on this issue and they are working to create healthier food options in school cafeterias in Boston public schools.  Vickie Miranda and Achly Esparra are two teen representatives for Sociedad’s School Lunch Campaign. According to Miranda, the School Lunch Campaign was launched with a mission focused on “eating healthy in schools because that’s where we spend most of our time, besides home. If we don’t eat [at school], we don’t have the energy to learn.”

Last year’s controversial finding by councilor-at-large John R. Connolly, that several Boston public schools had been storing foods past their expiration date,and serving them to students, was one of the catalysts that initially drove the Campaign.

Both Miranda and Vickie believe that most Boston Public School (BPS) students don’t even eat school lunch. They explained: “Some students skip lunch altogether and some leave school to go to Burger King or Subway to get food, and then come back to school.” Either way, they aren’t getting a good lunch.

Esparra’s role as a dancer is one of the reasons she feels that working on the Campaign is incredibly important. “I got involved because of my dancing. I wanted to learn more about eating healthy and all things that involve healthy habits…especially eating, because I love food!” Miranda said: “I got involved because I eat school lunch. I eat at school because I know I won’t be able to eat anything else during school hours. And for me, I want to eat healthy. And if the food at school isn’t healthy, meaning that the food that I eat most of the time isn’t healthy, then I’m not healthy.”

The girls would like to see more healthy and great-tasting foods in their cafeteria. Esparra noted that they “want healthy food that tastes good, not just healthy food that tastes awful.”  Miranda added, ”In my school we have fruit, such as oranges and apples, but I would prefer more variety of fruit. Like at one point we had grapes, but then they disappeared.”

You may wonder how a teen-led campaign facilitated change in public schools. First, the teens started talking about what they wanted to change, and how they thought they could make that change. From there, Esparra and Miranda passed out 300 surveys at schools and in the community that asked students directly what kind of food and changes they would like to see in their cafeterias.  More than 70 percent of the respondents were in favor of establishing a salad/fruit bar in their school. Esparra and Miranda, alongside their peers, then began having conversations with their school cafeteria managers and principals to build support. In the early fall, they presented their idea to expand the salad bars in high schools to the director of the food and nutrition services.

The Campaign has been very successful. It has established salad bars in two new high schools, with more planned for the future.  In fact, Miranda and Esparra have secured a commitment from the BPS director of food and nutrition services to establish salad bars in all BPS high schools.  Miranda believes that they are off to a good start, but said:  “There are millions of others schools, millions of other students, who are still not eating healthy, not eating while at school, or leaving school to eat.  It is really important to try to get healthy foods and to try and keep students in school and keep them awake in classes.” In addition, Esparra would like to more see more food prepared in the cafeteria, as opposed to microwave meals, because she believes that “cooking real food is also part of eating healthy.”

Miranda and Esparra attribute much of the success of the School Lunch Campaign to Sociedad Latina’s genuine concern for the health of young people.  And they feel it’s important for girls to be activists in their own communities because “it shows that we’re trying to do something—we’re trying to make a change [for the better.] When people see that a girl is doing something about [a problem], it makes them think that at least someone cares about what’s going on in the community.”

Miranda complemented the thought: “Since we’re teenagers, people think that we don’t take anything seriously.” Miranda often sees the ‘she’s-not-gonna-take-this-job-seriously-because-she’s-a-teenager’ mentality. She stated: “But then, people see what we do here and they see how we take it seriously, so they see that the stereotypes aren’t correct.”

Sociedad staff member Melissa Luna reflected:  “I think it’s very important for adults to act as allies for our young women and encourage their leadership and participation.  In most schools, students and their abilities are taken for granted.  Every youth has the potential to become a leader and make their school a better place.  These young women have take on this charge and created a positive change for both themselves and their peers.”

Esparra advises: If you want to inspire change in your own community, whether it’s in your school cafeteria or elsewhere, “find an interest…My interest is me; I want to be healthy; I want to be fit. I think that finding motivation is the first move, the first step that you need to take to move forward.”

So do some reflective thinking, girls, and decide what you want to change in your community, then figure out your first step.  By moving one step at a time, in collaboration with others, you too can change the negative stereotypes of teens—and create positive change in your community.  Go to it!

For more information on efforts to increase healthy lunches in schools, see “The Secret Life of Lunch: Teen Voices Goes Beyond the Mystery Meat” in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of the Teen Voices print magazine (pp. 19-21).

For more information on Sociedad Latina and their School Lunch Campaign, see: http://sociedadlatinaschoollunch.blogspot.com/p/sociedad-latina-school-lunch-goals.html

Screen-Free Week 2012: Turn off the TV, and Turn On Life!

By Janette Santos, Editorial Intern

How many hours a day would you guess that you stare at a television, computer screen, video game, or cell phone? According to a 2010 study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, on average, children aged 8-18 spends about seven and a half hours using entertainment media every day. And because so much of that time is spent using more than one medium at a time, it’s really more like 11 hours worth of media content. Furthermore, the average teenager in 7th -12th grade spends about an hour and a half every day just sending and receiving texts!  On average, Black and Hispanic children consume much more TV than white kids–black children watching almost six hours per day, Latino youth about five and a half hours per day, and white kids three and a half hours a day.

A down side to watching TV and using the computer is that you are not physically active (except maybe a little bit with games like Wii Sports). And especially for teens, this is not good. Approximately 12.5 million of children and adolescents aged 2-19 years are considered obese. Physical inactivity is a risk factor for not only obesity, but also Type 2 diabetes. Heavy media users also tend to perform poorly in school, usually getting fair or poor grades (mostly C’s or lower). In addition to that, getting wrapped up in screens can be detrimental to developing a well-rounded social life. TV, social media sites, and video games may be entertaining, but they are no substitute for interactions with real people.

Understandably though, with the irresistible lure of modern luxuries such as DVR-ing your favorite television shows (can you say, Once Upon A Time marathon?), updating your Facebook status, or even spending hours exploring the awesome Teen Voices website (ahem!), it can be hard to motivate yourself to get up off the couch and pursue a more physical or social activity such as taking a walk, riding your bike, or doing Double Dutch.

Luckily for all of us, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is sponsoring Screen-Free Week 2012! Started in 1996, the goal is to give children and families around the country a chance to turn off the screens they use for entertainment, and turn on life! For one whole week, you can use your creativity to think up great new ways to spend your free time, whether it be finally cracking open that book you’ve been meaning to read; taking a walk around your city; playing a game of soccer with your friends; swimming at the beach; going for a hike in the woods with your family; or even enjoying a jog through your neighborhood. The possibilities are endless. The fact that it’s spring will hopefully make it more appealing to go outside.

Another piece of good news is that YOU can help spread the word about Screen-Free Week and inspire others to start themselves on the path to a healthier, more active lifestyle by downloading an Organizer’s Kit at the Screen Free Week website.

So, get up off that couch, and get moving! And start talking! To find out more information about Screen Free Week, visit their website.

“Hi, my name is Frank, and I collect secrets.”

By Editorial Intern Janette Santos

Photo by Angela Mary Butler

If someone were to tell you that every single day, thousands of people willingly give their innermost secrets to some guy living in Maryland, would you believe them? Well…say hello to Frank Warren.

In case you aren’t familiar with it, PostSecret is a community art project (and some may say, movement) where hundreds of thousands of people send Frank postcards with their secrets on them. It sounds odd, but that is part of the beauty of this project. They don’t call him “The Most Trusted Stranger in America” for nothing.

As part of this project, Frank has published several books, and tours across the country to promote them. Attending one of Frank’s talks is almost like a therapeutic experience; all that has been bubbling and festering inside people’s hearts is finally set free, like a sort of spiritual deliverance, whether it’s by actually plucking up the courage to tell everyone in the room your secret, or just listening to everybody else talk, you finally get to feel that you are not alone.

One of the things that makes PostSecret such a big success is that everyone has secrets. Your parents, your teachers, your friends, and even your mail carrier have secrets, and having an opportunity to share them with the world, without fear and judgment from others, can be very liberating. All of sudden, you’re not alone. There are other people that have your secret, and being a part of a community that encourages you to not only share your secrets, but inspires you to get help or improve your life, is ultimately something that appeals to everyone. It’s a project that supports the human condition of finding fulfillment in your life.

So suffice it to say that when there is a PostSecret event, it’s a mad scramble to get the highly-coveted tickets to attend. At a recent UMass Boston event, hundreds of people from all walks of life lined the hallways of the University Campus Center in anxious anticipation. The lights were dimmed, and people all around talked in excited murmurs, wondering what they were about to experience.

Soon enough, a man strode up to the stage. It was Frank. He seemed very unassuming in his grey sweater, jeans, and glasses. He looked like an average guy, not the mastermind behind an international movement like PostSecret. But then again, if you’re ever lucky enough to see Frank in person at one of these talks, you will see why PostSecret has become so popular. (According to Wikipedia, at one point, PostSecret was the 10th most popular site among female students in the USA, with 7% of those polled naming the site as their favorite, and in September 2011, when an Iphone app was released, it quickly became the top seller and more than 2 million secrets were shared.)

In Boston, Frank simply introduced himself to us with: “Hi, my name is Frank, and I collect secrets.” From there, he explained to everyone in the room how the PostSecret project began, with soliciting secrets from random strangers on the streets of Washington D.C., often being met by the response, “I don’t have any secrets.” Frank revealed that in reality, these people usually had the best secrets! Over time, Frank watched his project expand virally. The secrets began “as a slow trickle at first, but soon, [the secrets] just kept arriving and arriving.” Today, Frank has in his possession literally hundreds of thousands of secrets, stacked up in pyramids at his home at 13345 Copper Ridge Road, in Germantown, Maryland (an address that is now world famous!).

There are two types of secrets, according to Frank: secrets we keep from others and the secrets we keep from ourselves. The two most common secrets that Frank receives are: “I pee in the shower,” and “I want someone in my life who understands me.” Many of the secrets he receives are humorous and silly, but others are just heartbreaking.

Girls, in particular, may find solace in such a public forum; many girls submit their secrets of being raped, of suicide attempts, or of heartbreak. The great thing about PostSecret is that once you submit your secret, the community usually comes forward, bursting with supportive commentary through the online threads of the website.

In fact, one of the reasons Frank continues to keep the PostSecret project alive is to help people. And it is why he gives attention and money to suicide prevention, aligning himself and the project with IMAlive.org, a live online crisis network that uses instant messaging to respond to people in crisis 24/7.  During his talk, he stated: “In the time I’ve been speaking to you, two people have been killed. Four have committed suicide.”

Frank believes that it is only because of life’s hardships that we are able to grow into better people. He has had a very hard life himself, but admits: “If I could go back in time and look over my life and all the bad moments, I would go through each and every one of those moments as they occurred. And I wouldn’t change a thing.”

So whatever secret you may be harboring in your heart, don’t be ashamed to share it–you’ll be welcomed with open arms. If you are lucky enough to get the chance to attend a PostSecret show, go! You’ll be glad you came.

America Ferrera is No Dummy—She’s Inspirational!

By Janette Santos, Editorial Assistant
Photos by Max Tsekhanaovsky, Courtesy of The Mass Media

On Tuesday, January 31st, award-winning actress and political activist America Ferrera visited University of Massachusetts, Boston, where she was met with great warmth from the community. The reason for her visit? She was slated to speak about how race and class have affected her career. But in the end, America did much more than that. In recounting tales from her life, she heightened and inspired an entire ballroom of people.

Beginning on a humbled note: “Wow, I‘m sure there are a million other things you could do tonight. I‘ll try to make this worth your time!” Ferrera began to speak. She recalled how when she was nine years old, she used to daydream about having a life where the water in her house would never get shut off and the electricity would never go out. She dreamed of a life of fame, and wealth, and diamonds. She wanted to be a famous actress. America revealed that she caught the acting bug when she played the role of the Artful Dodger in a school production for Oliver Twist, and from then on, she just couldn’t stop. She appeared in a plethora of films and TV shows from a young age, such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Touched by An Angel, The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, How to Train Your Dragon, and most prominently, Ugly Betty.

But America did not fit the cookie-cutter image of an actress; she was not blonde, thin, or wealthy. She was quite the opposite of that, and that made her life difficult. America described, for example, how an ex-manager had once told her that she had “inflated ideas of what she could accomplish as an actress.” After that, all of a sudden, self-doubt began to constantly infiltrate her thoughts. She reported: “Like many other young people, I didn’t appreciate what made me unique.” This sentiment plagued her for years.

It wasn’t until she got to college and experienced what she calls her “pre-quarter life crisis” (a period in her life when she nearly quit acting) that Ferrera says her perspective of herself and her life changed dramatically. Fresh off the success of her movie, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, America decided that she would go back to college and study international relations. After a semester of learning about the existence of sweatshops, deformed baby alligators, and young girls forced into prostitution, America was utterly shocked by her ignorance. Growing up, America was academically gifted—she graduated from high school as the valedictorian—and was constantly told by teachers that she was “smart.” But after coming to college, Ferrera decided that she was “stupid.” She lamented: “I mourned the discovery of my stupidity. How could I be a dummy? But I didn’t know about the world; I didn’t know how to ask the right questions.”

At that point, America Ferrera looked upon her long-held passion and love for acting as a “frivolous, useless activity” that would not help people. She decided to quit acting. But luckily for her (and us!), America decided to speak to her professor/mentor, Mr. Anders, and ask him whether she was doing the right thing. In response, Mr. Anders told America about a young inner-city girl that he was mentoring. This girl had always held him at arm’s length, but one day she asked him if he really wanted to know what her life was really like. He answered, “yes,” and then at her request he took her, and a few of her friends, to see the film Real Women Have Curves. The movie was about a Mexican-American girl named Ana who is an accomplished student, but also works in her sister’s dress shop, and who, despite her mother’s old-fashioned perceptions of how a woman should behave, dreams of going to Columbia University. The movie portrays Ana’s struggles in dealing with both her traditional mother’s views, and her own self-image issues. Mr. Anders told America that because of that movie, he was able to open a dialogue with the young woman he was mentoring, and to tell her parents about her dreams of attending college, a dream that she was eventually able to fulfill. It was because of this movie, Mr. Anders told America, that this girl’s life was changed for the better. For those of you who don’t know, the role of Ana in that movie was played by America Ferrera.

All of a sudden it hit America that her passion for acting actually had the potential to help others. She realized, “I didn’t have to give up what I loved doing in order to help people.”

Ferrera referenced the many times over the course of her acting career that she was looked over for a role because she was “not Caucasian enough, or not authentically [Mexican] enough.” It hurt, but she realized that regardless, she needed to love herself. “I was fat, brown, poor, and ethnic…but my so-called faults made me perfect for [the role of Ana].” Likewise, in her role as the titular character in Ugly Betty, America felt that she was able to help people deal with the very same problems she went through growing up.

Ending her talk with a quote from Steven Levitan (the co-creator and executive producer of Ugly Betty), Ferrera stated, “[As actors,] we’re not just making people laugh, we’re making them more tolerant.”

And with that, the entire ballroom erupted into an uproarious standing ovation!