Teen Moms and Homelessness in New York City: The trials and tribulations of children raising children in the city

On Good Friday in April, 18-year-old Racheal Moore and her two year old son Aiden showed up to the Mother and Child Crisis Center at the Covenant House, a shelter for homeless youth in Manhattan, with a backpack full of books, a suitcase full of clothes, and a stroller full of toys. This would be Moore’s first time living at a shelter and she said she didn’t know what to really expect, but she knew it would be better than “bumming around” at friends’ houses.

Moore propped up Aiden on her hip, as they were brought downstairs into the living area. They were assigned a small dorm room that has two twin beds, a compact closet, and a tiny bathroom. Moore thought this would be her home for the next month or “at least for the night.”

Moore, a senior at Grand Street Campus High School in Bushwick, Brooklyn, mentioned that her moving day falls exactly on her first day of spring break. But, instead of hanging out with her friends, Moore said she has to spend her break getting herself and Aiden acclimated to their new home. Aiden doesn’t really mind moving from shelter to shelter because he loves playing with the other kids and doesn’t really understand what is going on, she said. “I am the one who always feels like an outsider,” Moore said. “I have been told that I was a stranger since I was young so when you are an outsider, you are used to it. What else is so tough to bear at this point?”

Teen pregnancy in New York City has reached an all-time low over the last decade. The Health Department unveiled a report in 2013 stating that the teen pregnancy rate has fallen 30 percent in the last ten years, including five percent just from 2010 to 2011. Between 2011 and 2012, the teen pregnancy rate in the city declined from 98.7 pregnancies per 1,000 females to 69.2 pregnancies per 1,000 females. However, there are still more than 17,000 teen pregnancies annually and 87 percent are unintended, according to the report.

Although the rate of teenage birth has declined rapidly in the last decade, the thousands of teenage mothers in the city are more likely to be homeless and economically unstable. Almost half of homeless heads of household in New York City shelters were teenage mothers, according to a report by The Institute for Children and Poverty. The report revealed that over the last decade the number of these women residing in the shelter system increased to 47 percent. Some of these young mothers like Moore receive no support from their family, forcing them to live from shelter-to-shelter during pregnancy and motherhood.

When Moore first arrived at the Covenant House, she said she had to get used to living with the other moms and obeying the structure of the program. Her priority was just trying to figure out her next move and plan what was best for her son, she said.

On Tuesday nights at the Covenant House, the mothers who live at the shelter are supposed to gather around for a workshop put on by the counselors. On the Tuesday after Moore moved into the shelter, she decided to not go to the workshop because she doesn’t want to leave Aiden in the day-care for “any longer” that day. She ended up sitting in an extra playroom at the shelter with two other mothers and their children. The room was narrow and packed full of plastic, “Playskool” toys, books, and office supplies. It’s the second-time that the moms were meeting each other.

Katherine Perez, 18, pushed her stroller into the room and sat down on a wooden, child’s chair. She took a long sigh of relief. “It’s just nice to sit and not have to do anything for a minute,” Perez said. Since March, Perez has been staying at the Covenant House with her twin boys, Damien Alexander and William Jacob. She gave birth to the twins on March 9, 2015 and said that she had to find a new place to live when she gave birth because the shelter she was staying at could not provide for her and her babies. “I was completely by myself during the pregnancy,” Perez said.

Tiarra Thomas, 20, and her 10-month-old daughter Kyla Williams sat in the corner of the room. Thomas told Perez that she is “lucky right now because newborns just sleep and sleep.” Thomas peered into the twin’s stroller and gushes about how tiny they are and how fast they will grow up.

For Thomas, she had been at the Covenant House for five weeks and plans on being there up to 18 months if she is able to find a job through the Rights of Passage program. Each day, Thomas is given six hours to go out and look for a job while Kyla is at the shelter’s day-care. So far, Thomas said she has options but nothing is permanent.

Moore’s son Aiden and Thomas’ daughter Kyla played on the ground with a plastic piano and a broken puzzle. Aiden hugged Kyla’s head and Kyla started to cry. Moore yelled at Aiden and told him to get away from Kyla. Then, Aiden started to cry. The mothers don’t even seem phased by the crying. Perez’s twins don’t even wake up. “This is normal for us,” Thomas chuckled.

The three mothers started to talk about what is “normal” for them and quickly realize that they are more alike than they realize. Moore, Thomas, and Perez are used to moving from shelter-to-shelter. Even though they tried to convince themselves that they have the help from their boyfriends and family members, they all agreed that they have “nothing” and “nobody” to depend upon except for themselves and their children. The three young women all said that they didn’t grow up with love and stability. They had absent mothers and incarcerated fathers.

“They [the children] provide us with love and we want to provide them with stability,” Moore said to the group. Thomas pointed to her right shoulder. In skinny, black letters, a tattoo reads, ““What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” Thomas said, “This is my motto. Kyla wasn’t expected but she’s accepted and that’s my takeaway from all of this.” Moore and Perez laugh and nod their heads. “It’s so true, girl. It’s so true,” Moore said.

When Moore was five years old, her mother put her on a plane by herself and sent her from her homeland in Jamaica to the United States to live with her father. She doesn’t really know why she had to leave Jamaica or why her mother didn’t accompany her to the United States. “The only thing I remember is playing with this little toy airplane in the streets of Jamaica when I was younger and my mom said you know you are going to get on one of those soon. That’s all I remember her saying to me,” Moore said. “I think she wanted me to have a better life, but I don’t know anymore.”

Moore arrived in Florida and her father picked her up at the airport. Within a few months, Moore’s father was arrested and she was sent to live in New York City with her father’s girlfriend. Her father’s girlfriend didn’t’ want her and sent her to live with her sister in Brooklyn when she was only six years old, according to Moore. From the moment that she arrived at what she calls her aunt’s house, using air quotes to describe the word “aunt”, Moore felt un-welcomed and unloved. The aunt and her kids never made her feel like she belonged there and it started to take a toll on her from a very young age. “I had no family. My mother wasn’t around. My father wasn’t around. I used to cry sometimes. Who wants to be reminded that they don’t have anyone when they’re just a kid,” Moore said. “Why was I not loved?”

For the next nine years, Moore said that she lived in the “destructive aunt’s house” on-and-off. “I didn’t belong to anyone and my aunt made me know that at a very young age,” Moore said. She said that aunt “tried” to kick her out when she was 12 and 14 for “bad behavior.”

When she was a sophomore in high school, she met Aiden’s father Darren. Moore said that she was waiting outside of a hair salon and he kept trying to talk to her and get her attention. After a few minutes, Moore said she “needed the company” and let Darren walk her home. The two exchanged numbers and started talking. Moore, who is five years younger than Darren, said the relationship moved very fast and they became sexually active right away. “It was more like comfort and just feeling loved. It was more like just feeling like somebody wanted me,” Moore said.

In the first week of February 2012 and Moore realized that she hadn’t gotten her period in a while. At that time, Moore was living with her aunt and said she wasn’t educated about her menstrual cycle or birth control to understand what was happening with her body. “My aunt freaked out when I told her that I hadn’t gotten my period in like a month or so and she just told me to get a pregnancy test and that was it,” Moore said.

For the next nine months of her pregnancy, Moore continued to go to school and tried to “pretend” that she wasn’t pregnant. “I was in denial and just thought ‘How in the world did I get pregnant?,” Moore said. “I was shocked up until the day I gave birth. I did not think I was pregnant.”
Although she wanted to pretend like she wasn’t pregnant, Moore said it was her pregnancy that made her motivated to excel in school and move away from her “terrible” living environment. Moore moved around from various friends’ and relative houses during her pregnancy, but said she never had a stable living that lasted longer than a few months. When she gave birth to Aiden on October, 11, 2012, Moore wasn’t prepared but received some support from her extended family. “Once you have a child, your life doesn’t slow down. It’s not like are you ready but you have to be ready. Even if I wasn’t ready, I had to be ready,” Moore said.

For the next two years, Moore attended Saturday school to catch-up on her schoolwork and said that she was able to continue going to school because of the help of others. “It was hard, but when I got any help, I just had to take it and be grateful,” Moore said. She added that she wished Aiden’s dad would have helped more but he got arrested when Aiden was six months old. Moore said that he tried to help out financially, but took “the illegal route and ended up incarcerated.”

On Mother’s Day morning this year in East New York, Brooklyn, in a shelter for young mothers named Independence Inn II, 18-year-old Racheal Moore glided bright purple lipstick over her lips and glanced at herself in the mirror. She pulled out her cracked Samsung Galaxy smartphone and pouted her lips for a “selfie.” Her two-year-old son tugged at her metallic gold leggings. “What do you want, Aiden?,” Moore said. She grabbed Aiden’s blue and red backpack from the bed and stuffed it with crackers, granola bars, and three cans of cranberry juice. Pulling the backpack over her robust shoulders, she poured three more cans of cranberry juice in a towering, blue, plastic, sippy cup, the kind that many tourists sport in Las Vegas. “I need wipes,” Moore said to the woman working at the front desk of the shelter, “Do we not have any more wipes?”

Aiden clutched a budding yellow and pink rose in his hands. His tiny fingers wrapped around the long, rough stem and the patches where thorns had been trimmed away. “Mom!,” he screamed, as he handed it to her in exchange for the sippy cup. The two walked out the shelter door holdings hands. As they walked along Grant Avenue, neighbors kindly yelled out, “Happy Mother’s Day!” as the two passed by each stoop. When they reached Atlantic Avenue, Moore told Aiden to not let go of her hand. The street was flooded with vendors selling bundles of roses, balloons, and gift baskets for Mother’s Day. “I don’t know this area very well, but I guess we can go to Popeyes for lunch,” Moore quietly said to herself. “It’s a special day, so why not?”

Moore and her son had arrived at Independence Inn II two weeks earlier. It was the second shelter that they had lived at in the last two months. This time, Moore thought things would be different. “This place will allow me to get on my feet, I know it,” Moore said. The Independence Inn is a part of the organization SCO Family of Services that houses young women with children at three shelter located in Brooklyn and Queens.. This shelter offers the young women and their children the opportunity to live there for a year and provides them with more freedom when it comes to a nightly curfew, eating schedules, working, day-care, and more. “I know I have to be here because of my situation, but still, I want to be able to have a place I can call my own,” Moore proclaimed. “I want that for myself and for my son more than anything right now. It’ll happen one day.”

At the Independence Inn, Moore said she feels like over the last three weeks it is slowly becoming her home and she is becoming more connected to the other mothers. But, everyone is “kinda doing their own thing” and it’s different than the community at the Covenant House. “I just have to think that it’s me and Aiden,” Moore said. “No one else is really going to be there for me so I can’t get attached.”

It’s been two years since Moore gave birth to Aiden. This year’s Mother’s Day, she said it’s “important but not that big of a deal.” She said that the shelter tried to make the weekend special by bringing in a life coach who talked to the women and then pampered them with a “spa day” of makeup lessons and eyebrow shaping.

The two arrived at Popeyes Lousiana Kitchen about half of a mile away. The fast-food chain was completely vacant. Moore joked that most people don’t want to come to Popeyes for a “special Mother’s Day meal,” but she doesn’t care because the chicken is just so good. Her and Aiden found a booth in the back of the room by a window. Aiden gazed out the window, while Moore played with her phone. When the food arrived, the two sat across from each other. Aiden closely watched his mom as she dripped grape jelly over her fried, battered chicken and Cajun-style fries. “Give me,” Aiden said, as he motioned his hand to the jelly. She opened up a packet of grape jelly and spurted it on a French fry. He bopped his head up and down in excitement. “He just wants to be like me,” she laughed.

After about twenty minutes, the two finished up their meal. Aiden jumped out from the booth and ran over to an empty table. He climbed up on a chair and started to crawl across the table. “You better get down from there,” Moore screamed at him. “You best not want me to have to come get you.” She wiped off some jelly from her gold leggings and white, mesh jersey crop top that read, “BOSS” in shiny, gold lettering. It’s almost 1pm and she said she’s ready to leave so that she can visit her boyfriend later that afternoon. The two have been going out for less than a week and she said he’s a “bad boy” but means well. “We both have two-year-old sons, so we have that in common,” Moore said. “It’s hard to find someone that is going to be so accepting but he understands.”

Moore is expected to graduate from high school in August and said she has “big plans” for her life and for Aiden’s life after that. She wants to attend community college next year and receive her Associate’s Degree so that she can transfer to Albany State or John Jay College to study law. “When I am 25, he is going to be 9 years old. I will get to live my life. By the time I am 30, I am going to have my career and it is just like I am still young and I still get to have time with my child and be successful. Everything will be booming for me then,” Moore said.

Racheal and Aiden Moore on Mother's Day in East New York, Brooklyn.

Racheal and Aiden Moore on Mother’s Day in East New York, Brooklyn.

 

 

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Public High School Students Fight For Equitable Funding In Team Sports

Originally published on May 8, 2015. 

Host Intro: Over the last 12 years, large, struggling public high schools were shut down in New York City. Over 100 new, smaller schools opened in their place.

This created a gap for smaller schools to form sports programs through the Department of Education. Critics say that it disproportionately affects Black and Latino students.

Now, some of the students at small schools are fighting back.  Charlotte Gibson reports.

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It’s Wednesday night around 10pm and the Eagles – a team of high school students from the Lower East Side are playing soccer against the Tri-Boros – a group of men in their 20s and 30s.

SOCCER GAME AMBI: Soccer ball dribbling and whistle blowing

It’s the Gotham City amateur men’s league. And tonight’s match is special.  It’s the last league match of the season.  The 11 players on the field all work together – moving the ball around from player to player.  Coach El Hadji Diope yells in Wolof from the sidelines. Many of his players are from his native country Senegal.

SOCCER GAME SOUND: Coach yelling from sideline

Alex Salas plays for the Tri-Boros.  He says this is the first time his team has played the Eagles.

ACTUALITY SALAS: “It’s great. Not so much because it can get a little physical because they are still young and they are still developing. They have a lot more ahead of them.” (00:08)

AMBI SOCCER CHEERING GOAL: Clapping and cheering over Eagles goal.

The team wins 3-0 finishing off their season: four wins, one loss, and one tie.

Coach Diope says win or lose the boys are just happy for the opportunity to play.

ACTUALITY DIOPE: “They get hyped. They love this game, you know. These are good kids, good students. It’s tough to be a student athlete but they enjoy it. For the love of the game.” (00:12)

Many of these players have been playing soccer since they could walk.  For them, soccer is life.

The problem is that there are no sports teams available for these students at their high school.

Each year the city’s Department of Education distributes $24 million to Public School Athletic League or PSAL. And that funds sports at more than 400 public schools.

But smaller schools – including Manhattan Comprehensive High School where our soccer players attend – is TOO small to get money.

The principal and athletic director from their school scraped together almost $5,000 of their own money to let their students play soccer in an outside amateur league.

Mark Dorman is the athletic director at the high school.

ACTUALITY DORMAN: “They are denying the potential of all the kids throughout the city and that’s unfortunate.” (00:06)

Out of the 480 public high schools in the city, nearly 70 have no sports teams at all.

BRING UP SOUND OF PROTESTS: “Civil rights matter! Civil rights matter!  Let them play!  Let them play!”

A small group of students and administrators from some of these schools have been protesting every Wednesday evening in front of City Hall.

Hassanatou Samake is a old senior at International High School.  She is one of the students that organizes the NYCLetEmPlay protests.

ACUTALITY HASSANATOU SAMAKE: “If we had sports, we will be playing in soccer field, baseball field or basketball field. But because we don’t have sports all we have left is to go every Wednesday at city Hall to protest. So they can hear us, so they can do something. So that next spring, we will be able to play.” (00:18)

ACTUALITY DAVID GARCIA-ROSEN: “Sports is a vital part of an education.” (00:03)

David Garcia-Rosen is the former dean of International High School in the Bronx – another school that lost its funding when it was downsized.  He says there are so many students of color affected, it’s a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

ACTUALITY GARCIA-ROSEN: “Right now, next year, the schools with the white students are going to get a disproportionate amount of funding and access and Black and Latino students are going to get less access and less funding.” (00:10)

Four years ago, Garcia-Rosen tried to save the problem by starting the Small School Athletic League.  That grassroots campaign was money pulled together with individual school budgets.

But, last May, the DOE gave more than $800,000 to the small league on the condition that it become apart of the longer PSAL.  Garcia-Rosen says then nothing changed.

ACTUALITY GARCIA-ROSEN: “On the DOE level I think there is still denial. We tried very hard at discussion and negotiation. The DOE is paralyzed by institutionalized racism that they cannot shake.” (00:12)

The DOE did not respond to repeated requests. In previous statements, they said they’re working on it.  Garcia-Rosen says not fast enough.

Last November he filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education.

In March, Garcia-Rosen was suspended for protests outside of City Hall with students.

Council Member Andy King is the Co-Chair of the Black Latino Asian Caucus.  He says he’s ready to do more.

ACTUALITY KING: “I want us to take the politics out of it and do what’s right for these students and children that want to play high school sports.”  (00:05)

Fatou Boy agrees. She is a 17-year-old junior from International High School.  She says this lack of funding is nothing short of segregation.

ACTUALITY BOY:  “So, not having a sport makes me really feel frustrated. Like what do we have to do as a student to get a sport, beside being white or going to a bigger school. What else can we do to get the sports?” (00:14)

The students say they will continue to fight until Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina meet their demands.


Charlotte Gibson, Columbia Radio News.

Nail Health And Safety Bill Tries to Regulate Nail Salons Throughout The City

Originally published on May 1, 2015. 

HOST INTRO: Last fall, the public advocates office released a report alleging unsafe conditions at the city’s 2,000 nail salons. Today, the city council took up a bill that would regulate them. Charlotte Gibson reports.

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There are 2,000 salons in New York City and the state is currently in charge of inspecting them. But, there are only 32 inspectors in the whole state.

The bill would allow the city to take over inspecting the salons, according to Public Advocate Letitia James

JAMES ACTUALITY: “People need to know, we need to inform the general public and most importantly we need to make sure that employees know about the dangers of some of these chemicals and protect themselves.” (00:09)

Most nail salons use products that have been linked to reproductive harm, respiratory problems, and cancer.

The bill would allow the City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to develop guidelines for salons.

Sonam Dolaer works for a group called Adhikaarh, a group that represents Nepali- speaking communities in New York City. Many of whom work in nail salons. She hopes the bill will improve conditions for the workers.

DOLAER ACTUALITY: “I think it’s a great step forward. The fact that finally people are talking about how to improve standards at nail salons because people have been working for years and they work with so many chemicals.” (00:12).

Srijana Malla is a member of the group and has worked seven years. She says workers like her need respiratory masks.

MALLA ACTUALITY: “Lots of people are allergic from the nails. When we do the nail files, we have the dust that makes our noses block and bleeding and breathing problem, you know.” (00:24)

The bill would implement a letter-grading system for beauty parlors and nail salons like the one used for restaurants. The Independent Budget Office estimates it would cost the city $7.2 million a year to inspect the salons.

Uptown Radio approached a dozen nail salons in the city and none of the managers would agree to an interview. Advocates of the bill say there doesn’t appear to be a trade association for nail salons. But, the salon owners we spoke to don’t seem to be aware that the bill has been introduced.

Some nail salon customers say they approve of the measure. Pat Poklemba is a regular customer of a salon in the Upper West Side.

POKLEMBA ACTUALITY: “That would be very important it’s like when you are going to a restaurant, you look at the ratings outside. I wouldn’t just walk into any place. You look at the place, especially walking around new york there’s a lot of them, salons, so if there’s something just looking at them, I wouldn’t go in.”

Supporters hope that the full council will take it up within the next few months.

Charlotte Gibson, Columbia Radio News.

Armenians Commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

Originally Published April 24, 2015 

HOST 1: Today marks the one hundredth anniversary of the mass killings most historians refer to as the Armenian genocide. Up to one and a half million Armenians were killed during the Ottoman Empire in 1915.
HOST 2: Many countries, including Turkey, refuse to call the killings a genocide. Today, thousands of Armenians marched to the Turkish consulate in Manhattan, trying to get recognition for the century-old killings. Charlotte Gibson reports.

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St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral is a massive church located on 34th Street and 2nd Avenue. It is the heart of the Armenian community in New York City.

This morning thousands gathered to attend church to remember those who died. Lisa Stepanian is the Executive Director of the Armenia Fund USA.

STEPANIAN: “Already I have goosebumps so it’s a very special day for all Armenians all over the world.” (00:08)

The group was preparing to march and spend the afternoon protesting at the Turkish Consulate at third and 28th, demanding that Turkey recognize the genocide.

SCENE AND OF MARCH/PROTEST

Turkey has insisted for a century that the Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks killed in 1915 were victims of civil war and unrest as the Ottoman Empire collapsed during World War I. It says there was no plan to wipe out Armenians and therefore does not add up to genocide.

Howard Eissenstat is a historian at St. Lawrence University. He says for Turkey to admit to the genocide would require them to rethink their own history.

EISSENSTAT: “When they think genocide, they think in terms of the Holocaust, they think in terms of the Nazis, they don’t think in terms of the many more complicated more muddy genocides that have also occurred, so for them, the Armenian genocide means the holocaust, and they don’t see that.” (00:19)

Norair Meguerbitchian is the chair of the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party. He says Turkey’s denial is an affront to a core part of their national identity.

MEGUERBITCHIAN: “The fiftieth anniversary of the genocide, the first fifty years, the survivors of the Armenian genocide were like in a comma, they really didn’t do much, however, starting 1965, the fiftieth anniversary, we woke up and starting pursuing the cause so that the world would know.” (00:09)

Today, only 20 nations officially recognize the Armenian Genocide. The list does not include the United States, Israel and many others who count on Turkey as an important ally in the Middle East.

The White House announced on Tuesday that it does not want to use the term genocide.

In 2007, when he was running for president, Barack Obama called the mass killing a genocide. But, during his presidency, he has resorted to citing “regional priorities,” in its decision not to say the killings amounted to genocide.

The decision has angered many Armenians in the United States and abroad who say they hoped President Obama would use the centennial as an opportunity to put things right.

MEGUERBITCHIAN: “You will see that the Armenian community are very mad with President Obama. There’s a cause we have and we are going to pursue it regardless.” (00:08)

This Sunday, Armenians will continue to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide  in Times Square.

Charlotte Gibson, Columbia Radio News.

Commentary: The Great Outdoors Can Leave Its Mark Both Physically and Mentally

Originally published April 24, 2015

Host: Being in the outdoors can be thrilling and terrifying.  Last summer, commentator Charlotte Gibson learned that camping can leave a lasting mark.

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My boyfriend Shon and I have been dating for almost two years.  We’re kind of opposites.  He’s a professional whitewater kayaker.  I’m not.  But, when he invited me on his family’s annual rafting trip on the Klamath River in California, just weeks before I was going to graduate school in New York City, I was game.

A few days into the trip – I hadn’t drowned or made a spectacle of myself.  In my mind, I was Queen of the River.  I paddled down roaring rapids – check.  Jumped off cliffs with the guys – check.  Slept in a tent every night – check.

And then the third day rolled around.

We hiked up this creek to a waterfall. The  sunshine, the natural beauty, the peacefulness.  I felt like I finally started to get this whole camping thing.

My eyes wandered all around, gazing at the beauty of the great outdoors.  And then, out of nowhere, I hit my head on a sharp rock jutting out from the side of the cliff. Blood was everywhere.  Shon ran to help me.

I couldn’t stop crying and hyperventilating.

I was scared, but more than that, I was embarrassed.

Once I was cleaned up a bit, we debated leaving or just bandaging my cuts at the river.  I downplayed how hurt – and worried – I really was.  Two days later, back at home, I finally had a chance to be alone to examine my wounds.

There I was, standing in front of the mirror, looking at this three inch gash above my eyebrow and a jagged, two inch gash below my left eye.  I started to cry.  I hated the idea that my face was forever damaged from the trip.

And then, it got worse.

A week later, I started to feel really sick.  I was vomiting every day.  But I didn’t think it was related my injury.

When my mom finally dragged me to a concussion specialist, he made me do things like stand on one leg with eyes closed for 30 seconds.  Couldn’t do it.  Stand on both legs with my eyes closed.  Nope.  Say the months backwards – I started with November.

The doctor diagnosed a severe concussion.  The only remedy was “brain rest,” pretty much do nothing until I healed.  But, I was going to graduate school in New York City in three weeks.  How was I supposed to survive if I couldn’t even say the months in the right order?

At the beginning of the summer of 2014, my biggest fear was if I was going to survive five days camping on the river.  By the end of the summer, my biggest fear was if I was going to survive all of graduate school at an Ivy League.

For the next six months, I had migraines and short-term memory loss.  I worried my brain would never work the same way again.

I have survived.  And thrived.  But that moment on the river is never far from my mind.

Each morning, when I look in the mirror, I see two scars from the accident.  They tell a story.  A story of triumph and a story of trauma.  They represent my first and possibly last camping trip.  And, hopefully my first and only head injury.

Outcue: Charlotte Gibson was invited on her boyfriend’s family rafting trip again this summer.  She’s hoping that this time she won’t run into any rocks.

Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Hope New Bill Will Legalize Sport in New York State

Originally published April 17, 2015 

Host Intro: New York is the only state in the country to ban professional mixed martial arts events. New York fighters have to travel out of state to compete and gain national recognition in the increasingly popular sport. Charlotte Gibson reports that momentum is growing in Albany to legalize the violent fight club events in New York.


Every Thursday, a dozen mixed martial arts fighters gather at the Renzo Gracie Academy just two blocks from the iconic Madison Square Garden. The sport is unarmed combat involving the technique and skills from different disciplines of the martial arts, including, without limitation, grappling, submission holds, kicking and striking.

AMBI PRACTICE SOUND – MAT WORK AND SPARRING  

Amateur fighters Brandon Vancleave and Ezekiel Okunola warm up on the large, blue mats spread across the bottom floor of the gym alongisde the other fighters. Then, they step into this enormous circular platform that is caged in by a black fence and padding wrapped around the top of the fence.  This fights takes place in what is called the Octagon and it literally looks like a cage for humans without a top.  Vancleave prepares to enter the cage and practice fight with with Okunola.

ACTUALITY VANCLEAVE“It’s a different world when the cage door locks. It’s the most peaceful place on earth and chaos at the same time and that’s what makes it beautiful.” (00:07)

The cage is 30 feet across and 6 feet high.  Its walls and padded surfaces protect fighters from falling out or getting thrown out during the fight.

AMBI SOUND PUNCHING

ACTUALITY VANCLEAVE: “When the bell rings, it’s like a snap and you do what you know and you do what you have been training and what’s your instinct more or else and nothing else matters.” (00:09)

Vancleave and Okunola walk into the cage.  They stand at opposite corners of the Octagon. They glare at each other, oblivious to everything else outside the cage. Then, they begin to pivot their feet and move towards the middle of the mat.  Okunola japs his fist towards the center of Vancleave’s chest.  Vancleave pivots to the left.  It’s like a dance.  After a few minutes, the two figthers switch positions.  Okunola kicks Vancleave in his side. Sweat drips from their foreheads but the two don’t even look out of breath.

What Vancleave and Okunola are doing is legal because it’s a practice fight.  What they can’t do is fight for money.  They said they have to travel out of states to places like New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and California to compete in fights.

Across the gym, 26-year-old Jared Gordon is grappling with another opponent on a large blue mat. He said he started competing at the age of 16 in underground fight clubs around the city and didn’t like the experience.

ACTUALITY JARED GORDON: “It’s like a bunch of knuckleheads and they think they are martial artists but meanwhile these guys started fighting like a year ago they are like 30 years old fighting like 16 year olds, knocking guys out. And you know, it just makes a bad name for the sport.”  (00:15)

Gordon works out at the Renzo Gracie Academy almost every day because he wants to become a professional and do it the right way this time.

There’s a ray of hope for MMA fighters from New York like Gordon, Vancleave, and Okunola.

Last month, the New York State Senate passed a bill that would allow for legal fights in New York.

Democratic Senator Joseph Addabbo of Queens co-sponsored the bill and has long supported the effort to legalize the sport in the state.

ACTUALITY ADDABBO: “We are certainly missing out on the jobs and the revenue that’s why I support it but I also support it knowing that the safeguards are there. This is a regulated sport probably in my opinion more regulated than boxing.” (00:12)

Only 14 of the 47 Senators voted against the bill.  Democratic Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan continues to be one of the biggest opponents of the bill.

ACTUALITY KRUEGER: “Mixed martial arts is an incredibly dangerous activity that has displayed a pattern of unchallenged misogyny.” (00:18)

MMA is a combat sport and is indeed dangerous. About one-thrid of professional mixed martial arts matches end in knockout or technical knockout, according to the American Journal of Sports Medicine. The study indicated a higher incidence of brain trauma than boxing or other matial arts.

MMA fighters and advocates disagree.

ACTUALITY CHISOLM: “It’s one of the safest sports out there.” (00:02) 

Ultimate Fighting Champion coach and mixed martial artist Tory Chisolm says that the mixed martial arts techniques used by the fighters are what makes the sport safer than it appears.

ACTUALITY CHISOLM: “You are using kicks, you are using submissions and takedowns. So the damage that’s afflicted goes all around your body.” (00:06)

Chisolm argues that MMA is safer than boxing.  He says that in boxing a fighter can be knocked out for up to 10 seconds and still continue a fight.  But, in MMA, the rules and regulations prohibit a fighter from continuing the fight if he is knocked out.

ACTUALITY CHISOLM: “In MMA if two of us are fighting and you hit me with a head kick or a really strong punch and I am not able to defend myself that fight is over.” (00:15)

Back at the Renzo Gracie Academy in Midtown, Vancleave finsihes up his afternoon practice.

Vancleave says his main focus right now is training.  He will travel to New Jersey on June 6th for his first professional fight and what he says is the start of his career.

ACTUALITY VANCLEAVE:  “I accomplish everything I set my heart on and this is just one more thing to accomplish so I am sure it is going to be a hard road and it’s going to be tough. And it already has been.” (00:10)

The bill to legalize the sport he loves is currently in committee in the New York State Assembly.  Backers are optimistic because the new Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie was once listed as a co-sponsor legalization bill. The New York Assembly will have until the end of June to legalize the sport.

Charlotte Gibson, Columbia Radio News.

Iranian-American Novelist Porochista Khakpour Explains the Powerful Impact of Iran Deal For The World

Originally Published April 3, 2015 

CHARLOTTE GIBSON (HOST 1): After two years of negotiations, the United States, along with six other leading nations have finally reached a framework agreement with Iran for the country’s nuclear program.

ARIEL RITCHIN (HOST 2): President Barack Obama commented on the progress yesterday. He said that now Iran will face more inspections than any other country.

OBAMA_IRAN_1: If Iran cheats, the world will know it. (0:02)

HOST 1:  The deal won’t be finalized until the end of June, when negotiators work out the key details for final agreement. The program plans to restrict Iran’s nuclear capabilities for the next decade.

HOST 2:  If Iran breaches the terms, Obama says the country could face unprecedented sanctions. But he said this agreement should peacefully resolve one of the greatest threats to our security.

HOST 1:  Some are calling the framework a major achievement of the president’s foreign policy. And Obama says the breakthrough could help reunite Iran with the world.

OBAMA_IRAN_3: It demonstrates that if Iran complies with its international obligations, then it can fully rejoin the community of nations. Thereby fulfilling the talent and aspirations of the Iranian people. That would be good for Iran and it would be good for the world. (0:15)

HOST 1:  In Iran, this news has been met with widespread celebration. And for some Iranian-Americans, the news is even more momentous. I visited Iranian-American novelist Porochista Khakpour this morning. In her Harlem apartment I asked her about her initial reaction on Twitter.

INCUE KHAKPOUR: “If you look at it in the context of the news…”

OUTUE KHAKPOUR: “…Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure.” 

BACK ANNOUNCE HOST 1: Porochista Khakpour is an award-winning Iranian-American novelist, who wrote Sons and Other Flammable Objects and The Last Illusion.

NEW-LOGO-TAGLINE-BOLD

UptownRadio is produced by Columbia Radio News, staffed by the students of the Advanced Radio Workshop of the Columbia University Journalism School. The program is a one-hour weekly magazine modeled on NPR’s All Things Considered. It has been webcast live each week from February through May each year since 1996. It is the Journalism School’s oldest continuous webcast. UptownRadio is on the web live each Friday at 4 pm, and contains summaries of the latest news, interviews and in-depth reports on the full gamut of topics of public interest in New York City and the world.

With up to 18 reporters covering the city, national and international beats, UptownRadio offers original journalism and high quality radio production comparable to that heard on the best public radio stations. The UptownRadio newsroom is directed by Professor John Dinges, a former managing editor and editorial director of National Public Radio. Reporting and production is supervised by adjunct professors Rick Karr and Kerry Donahue, both of whom have wide experience in the NPR system.

Further information about Columbia’s radio program can be found by emailing John Dinges at jcd35[at]columbia.edu.

 

Major League Soccer and the Players Union Settle Upon New Deal That Raises Minimum Salary

Originally Published March 13, 2015

Host 1: This year’s Major League Soccer season almost didn’t start.

Host 2: Last week, players threatened to strike over their contract. They finally reached an agreement with the league just two days before the season’s opener last Friday.

Host 1: And while the new agreement increases players salaries, Charlotte Gibson reports that some still question whether the league will survive.

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About a quarter of MLS players earned less than $50,000 playing soccer last season. About half earned less than $100,000.

Players say that makes them the lowest paid professional athletes in North American team sports.

Some players said they didn’t mind starting at the league’s minimum wage of $36,500 because they loved the sport.

Davis Paul felt that way when he started playing for the Chicago Fire in 2011.

Paul: From my experience it wasn’t ideal for living super comfortably, you weren’t necessarily living in like a penthouse in a top floor in Chicago, but it was a sacrifice that you had to make in the hopes that you were going to make it big. (00:21)

Other players have left the sport because of the salaries.

Demitrius Omphroy earned the minimum wage when he played for Toronto FC. He says he got by because he had roommates and worked during the off-season. After a while, that was too much effort.

Omphroy: You know I love soccer but I am better off going back to school. We were super underpaid and like it almost made more sense to go back to school and finish out your degree because your most likely going to get paid a higher paying job. (00:12)

Players say the league’s salaries are low because of its unique business structure. Most players actually work for the league not the teams they play for and the league owns a majority interest in every one of its teams and sets the salaries for almost all of its players. Teams can pay as much as they want to so-called designated players the big name European players like NYCFC’s David Villa and American stars like Seattle’s Clint Dempsey, but the league limits most teams to having no more than three.

Soccer writer Charles Boem says that makes the structure pretty unpopular among players.

Boem: You have a strict salary cap and there’s a lot of limitations for what you can do because the league is the final arbiter rather than the clubs themselves. (00:06)

The league and the Players Union hadn’t agreed on a new contract by the time the old one expired at the end of last year.

Two and a half months later, they still hadn’t. Just a week before the season was supposed to start, union representatives voted overwhelmingly for a strike.

But mood shifted and twenty-four hours later, player representatives voted in favor of a tentative agreement which guaranteed the season would start on time two days later, according to Boem and ESPN FC.

But the 12-7 vote was proof according to Boem that a lot of players might still be unhappy.

Boem: The players improved their lot but they didn’t necessarily get an ideal contract and that made some significant concessions and there has been some grumbling. (00:09).

The five year deal allows players to become free agents but its conditions make only 10 percent of the league’s players eligible.

The contract also increases the league’s minimum salary by nearly two thirds to $60,000 a year.

But that’s not good enough, according to Patrick McCabe. He’s an agent who represents more than 70 MLS players. Even with these imporvements, he thinks that it is not enough for the league to hold on to players who know their careers aren’t going to be long anyway.

With this new deal on the table, the biggest question for the league right now is if they can keep and acquire talented players in the U.S.

McCabe: The best thing about the CBA was that it was just a five-year term so we can have another chance to get a crack at this in five years and hopefully really make some improvements from the players, some real improvements. There’s still a lot to be done and to be fought for. (00:16)

MLS players are expected to ratify the deal but the vote has not been scheduled yet. The deal will last until the 2019 season.

Charlotte Gibson, Columbia Radio News.

New York City Football Club Kicks Off Inaugural Season

Originally Published February 27, 2015

Host 1: In just over a week, the New York City Football Club will take to the field for their first competitive match in Major League Soccer.

Host 2: Manchester City Football Club and the New York Yankees, two of the most valuable athletic franchises, acquired the new team in May 2013 for 100 million dollars. Charlotte Gibson reports.

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Two years ago, two of the biggest names in sports came together to form an American soccer team: the New York City Football Club.

Manchester City is the majority owner of the Major League Soccer’s 20th franchise team and the current reigning champion of the English Premiere League. The team got interested in American soccer after overspending and attracting top players in the 2011-2012 financial year, losing over 137 million dollars. The team owners violated the European’s soccer’s governing body’s Financial Fair Play rules designed to keep soccer teams from spending more than they earn in pursuit of winning.

Sean Maslin, Editor of MLS Multiplex, the Major League Soccer news and opinion site, says that due to Manchester City’s history, their money and ownership won’t be enough to prove their interest in the American soccer league.

Maslin: When Manchester City ends up coming in, they have to be able to prove themselves that they are interested in the American soccer products. That they are interested in developing this league and that this isn’t just another team for them to store players and hide salaries. (00:15:24)

NYCFC must compete for the loyalty and attention of sports fan in the New York area. There are 10 other professional major sports teams in the New York market, including MLS veteran the New York Red Bulls.

But, the team will have some help with the backing of the New York Yankees, the most valuable professional baseball team with a net worth of $2.5 billion dollars.

Maslin: Specifically with the Yankee background and the way the Yankee ownership understand the city, I think we should give them a little bit of credit and let’s see what they can do. (00:10:00)

The soccer team will also have to compete for the attention of soccer fans who follow other leagues around the world, like Manchester City who is apart of the English Premiere League.

However, many U.S. Manchester City fans remain unsure about NYCFC’s ability to be a standout soccer team. Loyal Manchester City fan and Alabama native, Christopher Aiden, feels that NYCFC will not have the depth on the field to go far in MLS season. Aiden has been following the English Premiere team now for almost 10 years.

Aiden: I know some people out there will say that they are backed by Yankees money and Manchester city money so they should be able to win the cup their first year, but I don’t think that’s the case, I think it will just be a generic expansion team season where they will make a push for the playoffs and if they go deep, they go deep. (00:19:00)

NYCFC players have been practicing for the last two years in anticipation for their first MLS season. The team is expected to play its first game against Orlando City Soccer Club on March 8,that is if the MLS players do not carry out their threat to strike in an effort to increase their salaries and become free agents.

Charlotte Gibson, Columbia Radio News.