English

Award-winning program guides Dorchester’s youth to college

By E. Wendratama

College Bound Dorchester’s College Connections program has received a Community Partnership Award from Mutual of America for its work in guiding the neighborhood’s high school dropouts toward college.

College Connections offers high school dropouts aged 16 to 27 courses in English, Social Studies, Science, Humanities and Math. The program is entirely free, and experts on staff assist individuals outside these core areas.

“We focus on students who are struggling, having a hard time, who have dropped out of high school, students that other college-focused programs don’t really work with,” said Mark Culliton, College Bound’s CEO.

“Our students are wearing a veil of disruption … doing bad things, being involved in gangs or violence. They’re wearing that cloak of negative behavior. But we don’t believe that’s who they are. We help them to take that cloak off, to allow who they really are to come through, to get into and succeed in college.”

The program currently enrolls 380 students, and recruit students through neighborhood associations and from word of mouth through current and former students.

Mutual of America, an insurance company, has been awarding non-profit organizations since 1996. Ted Herman, vice chairman of Mutual of America, presented the award to Culliton on April 4 for making meaningful contributions to the community.

“Our independent committee applauds the College Connections program for addressing the unique needs of students who have left high school prior to graduating,” he said.  The award comes with a $25,000 grant.

Since the program’s start four years ago, 88 students have received their GED and 56 students have advanced to college. Three-quarters of these enrolled at Bunker Hill Community College, a College Bound partner. Recognizing that financing for college can be a significant barrier, College Bound also partners with UAspire, an organization that provides loans to students.

College Bound has four facilities throughout Dorchester and operates out of an administrative office on SamosetStreet in Shawmut. Culliton said programs like this can help to turn an entire community. “A neighborhood stays bad because their young people stay there,” he said. “They create a pattern of negativity. To make Dorchester a better place, the young people need to go to college and leave this place. This is true in any neighborhood. That’s what we’re doing, giving them hope and opportunity.”

He said that in a bad neighborhood, the people who control the streets and make them a scary place are predominantly teens and young adults who have dropped out of high school.

“So we come and work with them, we’re going to show them a different path,” he said.

Alberto Rodriguez, 19, is a typical student in the program. He dropped out of high school, and before joining the College Bound he said he was “just on the streets.”

Two years ago, his girlfriend asked him to join the program.

“At first I didn’t take the class seriously,because I took it so I could date the girl,”he said. “It was on-and-off, it took me a while, but eventually I got it. Now I’m serious about it, and I know that I want to go to college and get a job.”

He spends every weekday in College Bound’s Little House in Savin Hill from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Jermaine Hamilton finished the College Connections program three years ago and is currently a Brandeis University student.

“I was a former drug dealer, and I went to College Bound for a second chance,” he said. “Kamau [Parker] was my educator, and I could relate to his troubled past and was inspired by his experience.”

Among the program’s educators are those who’ve made it off the streets and who have the experience to help students like Hamilton, said Parker, who has been working for College Bound for six years.

Parker said he’s happy with how Rodriguez has participated in the program.

“When Alberto joined us, he was not Alberto now,” he said. “He didn’t come here every day, didn’t follow instruction. But we just pushed him to keep coming. And at some point, something clicks, and he could figure it out by himself. That’s what we do to our students.”

Parker also said it’s important for the staff to have the same vested interests as the students do. “We’re looking for staff who come from the same community. It gives us a different piece of leverage to stand on when we talk to the students. Trust is a very important thing. The students need to trust us,” he said.

Culliton said College Connections succeeds in guiding 26 to 28 percent of the students through the program and on to college.

“It’s a low percentage compared to our other programs that have 50 to 80 percent. But without any programs, students who go to college are between 6 to 11 percent,” he said.

He said this year’s budget is $1.8 million, with $300,000 coming from government sources, and the rest coming from the private sector.

College Connections plans to enroll 600 students and increase its budget to  $2.6 million by 2017, said Culliton. “We hope 60 percent of the budget would be from government,” he added.

English

Emerson panel debates 2nd Amendment's reach

Gun Discussion

By Engelbertus Wendratama

In the third of a series of Emerson College panels on American’s “gun violence culture,”  panelists shared different interpretations of the Second Amendment, but agreed that politicians and not the courts should formulate gun control laws.

One of the four panelists, Mark Tushnet, a constitutional law professor at Harvard Law School, said he believes in the concept of “thin Constitution,” which relies on the people and their representatives to formulate gun regulations.

“Let the process be done in the political way, with the Court be in the end of the process,” he said at the college’s Bill Bordy Theater Tuesday. Tushnet added, the political way is also preferred by gun-rights advocacy groups, including NRA, in its efforts to fight virtually any limitations on gun rights.

The discussion was titled “The Second Amendment: What is it? What is it not?” and it started by showing the words of the Second Amendment, which reads simply, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Ted Canova, the moderator and executive director of WGBH news, noted that when it was written in 1791, semi-automatic weapons did not exist. “What they meant by arms were muskets, and they’re completely different from weapons we see today.”

He then asked the two panelists from gun-rights groups about their view on this very different context today.

Karen MacNutt, a consulting attorney for gun-rights organizations, said she believes the same right is still applicable, since it’s only a matter of technology.

“The musket was an assault weapon of that day,” she said, noting that knives, the bow and arrow, and other traditional weapons existed when the Bill of Rights was written.

Brent Carlton, president of Comm2A, said that semi-automatic weapon has been around since 1890, and it’s not too different from what we have now.

“Only 15 percent of today’s weapons are semi-automatic, which are typically used for self-defense, and this type is very different from the fully automatic one,” he said. “People also talk about how guns killed innocent people, but they don’t discuss how many times firearms stopped criminals.”

His group, Commonwealth Second Amendment,  filed suit last month in US District Court in Boston against four Massachusetts police chiefs alleging that they violated six citizens Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

Another panelist was Kent Greenfield, a constitutional law professor at Boston College. He said cultural background plays big part in the gun debate. “It depends on how one’s culture views guns and interprets the Second Amendment,” he said. “Research shows that there’s a link between gun ownership and cultural and political viewpoint.”

Tushnet agreed that there are basically two groups with different social visions. “One group sees gun possession as liberty, and the second sees it as an aggressive action. In theory, we just need to find the balance of interests,” he said.

In the aftermath of the Newtown shootings,  President Barack Obama continues to push Congress to act on gun control bills that he says would reduce gun violence. These include efforts to require background checks and limit the number of rounds in the magazines of semi-automatic weapons.

On Thursday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut signed a gun control bill considered as one of the toughest gun laws in the country. It includes background checks for private gun sales and a ban on sales of high-capacity magazines. The bill was applauded by the family members of the Newtown shooting.

English

Emerson panel debates 2nd Amendment’s reach

Gun Discussion

By Engelbertus Wendratama

In the third of a series of Emerson College panels on American’s “gun violence culture,”  panelists shared different interpretations of the Second Amendment, but agreed that politicians and not the courts should formulate gun control laws.

One of the four panelists, Mark Tushnet, a constitutional law professor at Harvard Law School, said he believes in the concept of “thin Constitution,” which relies on the people and their representatives to formulate gun regulations.

“Let the process be done in the political way, with the Court be in the end of the process,” he said at the college’s Bill Bordy Theater Tuesday. Tushnet added, the political way is also preferred by gun-rights advocacy groups, including NRA, in its efforts to fight virtually any limitations on gun rights.

The discussion was titled “The Second Amendment: What is it? What is it not?” and it started by showing the words of the Second Amendment, which reads simply, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Ted Canova, the moderator and executive director of WGBH news, noted that when it was written in 1791, semi-automatic weapons did not exist. “What they meant by arms were muskets, and they’re completely different from weapons we see today.”

He then asked the two panelists from gun-rights groups about their view on this very different context today.

Karen MacNutt, a consulting attorney for gun-rights organizations, said she believes the same right is still applicable, since it’s only a matter of technology.

“The musket was an assault weapon of that day,” she said, noting that knives, the bow and arrow, and other traditional weapons existed when the Bill of Rights was written.

Brent Carlton, president of Comm2A, said that semi-automatic weapon has been around since 1890, and it’s not too different from what we have now.

“Only 15 percent of today’s weapons are semi-automatic, which are typically used for self-defense, and this type is very different from the fully automatic one,” he said. “People also talk about how guns killed innocent people, but they don’t discuss how many times firearms stopped criminals.”

His group, Commonwealth Second Amendment,  filed suit last month in US District Court in Boston against four Massachusetts police chiefs alleging that they violated six citizens Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

Another panelist was Kent Greenfield, a constitutional law professor at Boston College. He said cultural background plays big part in the gun debate. “It depends on how one’s culture views guns and interprets the Second Amendment,” he said. “Research shows that there’s a link between gun ownership and cultural and political viewpoint.”

Tushnet agreed that there are basically two groups with different social visions. “One group sees gun possession as liberty, and the second sees it as an aggressive action. In theory, we just need to find the balance of interests,” he said.

In the aftermath of the Newtown shootings,  President Barack Obama continues to push Congress to act on gun control bills that he says would reduce gun violence. These include efforts to require background checks and limit the number of rounds in the magazines of semi-automatic weapons.

On Thursday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut signed a gun control bill considered as one of the toughest gun laws in the country. It includes background checks for private gun sales and a ban on sales of high-capacity magazines. The bill was applauded by the family members of the Newtown shooting.

English

Savin Hill residents shake off daytime stabbing

Savin Scoop, the most favorite ice cream shop in Savin Hill
Savin Scoop, an ice cream shop near the T stop.

By Engelbertus Wendratama

Several Savin Hill residents dismissed a brazen daylight stabbing near the Savin Hill T station Monday, saying the attack was not a random crime and would not affect the neighborhood’s reputation.

“It was a tragedy, but I think it doesn’t represent a safety issue in the neighborhood,” said Andrea Rossi, who saw the victim when she collapsed in front of Savin Scoop, a local ice cream shop. “She fell on her face and blood on her back. It was shocking. I could not work for the rest of that day.”

The attack took place on Monday afternoon when a 21-year-old mother was stabbed multiple times by a teenage girl assisted by her 19-year-old boyfriend, the victim’s ex-boyfriend. The victim, Angeleek Barros, was taken to the hospital in a serious but stable condition. The 17-year-old attacker, Samia Jones, was arrested shortly after the attack. On Thursday, police arrested Daquan Sparks, the boyfriend, in Quincy.

Ross works part-time at At Home Real Estate and Savin Scoop, adjoining businesses. Her views were shared by others who work in the neighborhood.
Jennifer Merritt, a worker at Kennedy Cleaners, said, “It’s horrible, but it’s not a random crime. Savin Hill, particularly this area, is a nice place. I always consider Savin Hill as one of the safest neighborhoods in Dorchester. My friends from outside Savin Hill also see that.”

Maria Fernanda who works as a janitor at the T station said, “It really saddens me, they attacked the girl in front of her baby boy. But residents here are good people. I think it’s still safe.”

Some residents who use the T station on daily basis, like Kevin McKenzie and James Santiago, said they were not aware of the assault. “I didn’t know about that. But I think it’s a pretty safe area. I read that the crime rate is decreasing,” McKenzie said. Santiago didn’t know about the incident, but he acknowledged that crime is an issue in Dorchester. “Crimes happen here, but mostly I think drug-related,” Santiago said.

According to the BPD, the number of crimes in Dorchester during the last three months has decreased compared to the same period last year. Between January and April this year, there were 550 cases in total, while the record shows there were 617 cases in the same period last year.

English

The business of dispensing marijuana

By Engelbertus Wendratama

One person who is eagerly anticipating the medical marijuana business in Boston is Jon Napoli. As the owner of Boston Gardener, a store supplying urban gardening needs, Napoli has been teaching classes on how to grow marijuana since January. He hopes when the medical marijuana law is implemented in May, marijuana patients would consider his place as a reliable source to obtain their medicine.

“The law allows some patients and caregivers to grow marijuana by themselves. The class is also for those who want to open marijuana dispensaries,” Napoli said.

As a businessman who plans to apply for a marijuana dispensary license, he said he didn’t know exactly the potential market in Boston, but he’s optimistic about it, given the number of people supporting the marijuana referendum last year.

Napoli is a member of the Coalition for Responsible Patient Care, an advocacy group for medical marijuana industry professionals. “CRPC is helping the DPH formulate the regulations, in such a way that is beneficial for business like mine, for patients, and for the state. They have submitted recommendations to the DPH, based on other states’ experience,” Napoli said.

Napoli said he believes the CRPC would help create better condition for the marijuana business. The state has adopted a non-profit model for marijuana dispensation, which means any profit made must go back to the dispensary, not for the financial benefit of its owners or shareholders as in a for-profit model.

However, it’s still not clear what kind of non-profits the Massachusetts dispensaries would be. IRS classifies non-profits into 15 categories, and each has its own characteristics in terms of its operation and tax system. Leah Harris, membership coordinator at Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., said other states don’t relate their dispensaries with the IRS classifications.  “The states laws that require dispensaries to be non-profit don’t require them to have an IRS designation as a non-profit, because the feds are not expected to grant non-profit status,” Harris said.

The DPH is still working on the regulations, and they will hold a public hearing to receive further comment on the proposed regulations April 19.

Regardless the non-profit regulations adopted by the state, Jon Napoli said he believes the best model for dispensary is a for-profit. “I think eventually we will go that way (for-profit). By this, the dispensary will be better regulated and could generate more revenue to the state. But for now, the non-profit is good,” he said. “I think in 2016 we will have a referendum to have for-profit model, like in Colorado, where marijuana is considered in the same class as tobacco and alcohol,” he said.

The same aspiration was voiced by Addison DeMoura, vice president of Steep Hill, a cannabis analysis laboratory whose clients are dispensaries located in California and Colorado. “We can compare the two states’ experiences. Colorado is a better and safer environment for patients, businesses and the public than in California,” DeMoura said. “To the state, it means more revenue too. In this economy, I guess it’s the option people would like to have.”