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University of California Riverside, STEM Program, Holds Reception for Young Scholars

UCR Photo

By John Coleman

RIVERSIDE, CA- The Barn at the University of California Riverside was overflowing on Friday, March 13,  not with cows or corn, but with the crowd of proud parents, teachers and other supporters at the reception for the inaugural class, USA Riverside, the University Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Academy (STEM Academy) at UCR.

USA at UCR describes itself  as a campus-community collaborative that provides 6th to 9th grade scholars  a high quality, academically robust learning environment with the mission to increase STEM Academy graduates’ academic skills and performance in STEM curricula, and to maximize the numbers and percentage of Academy graduates who proceed on to college and higher education levels.


The UCR campus, obviously, is highly involved in this educational ‘enterprise’.   Beginning ‘a bit later’, (Spring 2014), the list of  ‘community collaborators’  is growing, and include:   California Black Faculty and Staff Association; The Council for the Advancement of Black Engineers; The Los Angeles Council of Black Professional Engineers; The J W Vines Medical Society, (Inland Empire); J W Vines Medical Foundation; Theta Pi Sigma Alumnae Chapter, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc; Riverside NAACP; The Group; Riverside Alumni Chapter, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc; the Universitystemacademy.org parentsassn; and the host of friends, supporters, and others who teach, supervise, raise funds, and provide the range of administrative, organizational maintenance, and other services that keep things working.



In her opening remarks and welcome, Carolyn B Murray, PhD, UCR Professor in Psychology and Director, University STEM Academy stated that for years she had been pressing for the restoration of the Saturday Academy Program or the initiation of a new STEM Program at UCR. Many different administrations gave several reasons why it couldn’t be done, but when the concept, issues and needs were presented to Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox his response was positive, enthusiastic, activist…which led to the fact that UCR would be more than just a place where Academy classes and programs could ‘meet’, but the renowned academic institution in the collaboration to enhance to prospects for academic success of Academy participants.




Cal State San Bernardino Social Work Students Partner with Pal Charter

Social Work Policy group with Pal Charter guidance counselor Daniel Ibarra in middle

Social Work Policy group with Pal Charter guidance counselor Daniel Ibarra in middle

By Shauna Shalton De Jesus 

It started with an assignment in our social work policy class. We were challenged to make a difference within a community. Our professor, Ms. Gigi Crawley, wanted to teach us about advocacy in action and help us understand the steps it takes to get the wheels in motion. We chose the unincorporated area of Muscoy as our target area and soon discovered Pal Charter High School; the only high school actually within the immediate area. As we learned about the facility and their students, it was perfectly clear to us that we wanted to reach out. We felt such a strong draw to help them continue on and pursue higher education after graduation. Our mission is not only to empower the students themselves, but also to help the community of Muscoy improve their socio-economic status.  So with these goals in mind, we got permission to host a “Road to College” workshop at the school for the juniors and seniors on March 10.

Our workshop will provide step by step instruction on everything these students need to know to get to college. We want to stress that it is their choice, it is their future, and we support them in pursuit of their dreams.

Due to their curriculum at Pal Charter, they do not meet the state criteria for transfer directly to a 4 year university like CSUSB; but, we don’t want them to think because of this that college is out of the question. Many of Pal’s students opt to go directly into the workforce or a trade school post-graduation, thinking that college is not a viable option. But most of us started our path at community college so we’d like to share our journey and our insight.

We feel that since we are also students, they can relate to us more than they would the normal guidance counselors or authority figures. We think this workshop is important because the youth are our future and they deserve to know their potential. Many of Pal’s students have hit rough patches in life that have taken them on a detour or slowed them down; or maybe education has not been emphasized throughout their life.  We want to acknowledge that since they are the future, a brighter one starts with their gains. The socio-economic status of the community can only be changed when we start working toward supporting those who will grow up in it and continue to live there.

As we planned this workshop, it became apparent that we did not want to simply stop here. A workshop is a great source of information but what happens after that? What happens when it is time to put that information to use and start taking action? There will definitely be questions, possibly some confusion because the process is new and unfamiliar.  Sometimes it can be enough to discourage people from continuing on and we did not want that to happen with these students.  So we began planning the launch of a mentoring project that will partner students and alumni from San Bernardino Valley College and Cal State San Bernardino with Pal Charter’s students.  If our pilot program is successful, we’d like to see it grow and branch out to other high schools in the area and work with other colleges as well.

Our group, “S.M.I.L.E – Social Worker’s Movement in Learning Enrichment”, consists of four CSUSB Bachelor of Social work students: Shauna De Jesus, Jannice Burling, Kenya Sanchez, and Ronnie Washington. Our specific area of study within the program is child welfare. We are reaching out to college students and graduates who have the same passion as we do and who share the same dedication to helping other students grow and reach their goals. These high school students are our future and we’d like them to realize how amazing they truly are. We believe in them and want to help them believe in themselves. Thank you and if you have any interest in partnering with us to achieve these goals, please contact us at (909) 322-7666 or by email at 004819616@coyote.csusb.edu.

Former and Incarnated Philadelphia Mafia Member, John Griffin, Shares Story of Redemption

John Griffin

John Griffin

By Naomi K. Bonman

When we hear of our young Black men and teenagers deterring in the wrong direction, we give them the wrong response by turning our heads and ignoring them. They need solid advice and a positive, but raw message from someone, preferably another Black male, who has been where they have been and has or is experiencing the consequence. This will showcase as an eye opener and wake up call for many.

In lieu of making this happen is through a media platform entitled, Gangster Chronicles. Gangster Chronicles is geared towards giving current and ex-convicts the ability to share their stories, put an end to mythologies by unveiling hidden stories and reach the youth through literature.  The roster consists of men who were leaders of well-known gangs, such as the Vicelords and Black Mafia, and even a man who inspired a character on the popular HBO series “The Wire.”

John Griffin, member of the group known as the Philadelphia Black Mafia continues to battle a wrongful prison murder conviction, for which he is serving life, and for which he has already served 40 years. Although charged with the Hanifi case, he was tried and acquitted of this crime. He holds college degrees in both Human Services and Marketing. John can discuss what lead him to the black nationalist ideology of the Nation of Islam, community activism, and crime. 

What was your life like before you got locked up?

For me, life before incarceration felt promising because of the people in my life, I never felt limited.  My mother was widowed at an early age, but alone, she raised me and my brother to be confident and respectful individuals.  At age 12, I went to work after school so that I could buy my own clothes.  By the time I was 22, I was married to my first wife, had 3 children, and was managing clothing stores in Center City Philadelphia.  Over the next 5 years, my marriage ended in divorce, I remarried and fathered 4 more children.  

What led you to a life of crime?

I grew up in North Philadelphia. In the environment in which I was raised, crime and hustle were synonymous.  From my first employer to my last, hustling was a part of their business practice.  I was taught to pressure-sale clothes that had been stolen and delivered to Center City Philadelphia stores, so crime had always been present in my life.  However, once I and others became aware of the need to control the economy in our communities, we targeted the illegal activities there.  I had always worked with the Jewish jewelers, who resold stolen items, and Italian gamblers, who set up card games and controlled most of the drugs in our community.  So, once we put a dent in their operations, we set our sights on the stores and bars in our neighborhoods.  We felt these business should be Black-owned, so we designed ways to make that happen.  

What have you learned about yourself since you’ve been in prison?

By shackling the human body and human spirit, prisons are designed to demoralize and destroy.  To quote Oscar Wilde, “The vilest deeds like poison weeds, bloom well in prison air.” Though I never committed the murder for which I am in prison, I accepted that my life style made it easier for those who desired to charge me with this crime.

Upon my incarceration, one of the things I discovered was that we still have a responsibility to our families, especially our children,  Those of us who may have been conscious and sincere enough to make positive contributions to our communities, removed and de-legitimize ourselves in the struggle.  We must try harder to show them a positive side of ourselves.  We must try to guide them in a different direction, one that leads away from prison.  

What led you to the Black nationalist ideology of the Nation of Islam?

I was always concerned about the welfare of my people.  Raised at a time when the evening news showed Blacks being beaten, brutalized and shot down in the streets; of course, I was one of those who became angry.  I listened to various black leaders at that time, some not much older than myself.  But, it was Malcom X’s interpretation of Elijah Muhammad’s teachings that I most admired.  As I said earlier, my Mother raised her sons to be confident and respectful.  I saw in the Nation of Islam, at that time, black, confident and respectful acting men, who were not afraid to stand up for what they believed. Basically, I was attracted to the nationalistic ideology of the Nation of Islam, more than the spiritual aspects of it. As a young man, tired of hearing whites refer to us as boys, the Nation of Islam was what I thought was needed in our lives.