Cultural Criticism
Blackness is in, just not dark skin
Teens in Print
Have you ever felt excluded from a group?  Felt as if nobody was there to help you? Now think of this feeling but relate it with the color of your skin. This happens every day in the lives of people of color. Society's preference for a lighter complexion and the shaming of the darker ones is colorism, and it's alive in well in 2020. 
Colorism is detrimental to people altogether. You may have seen acts of colorism in the media, books, schools and maybe even in your own home. An example of this when celebrity Kanye West tweeted that he only wanted “multiracial women” for his runway back in 2016. Or when Lil Wayne allegedly said, “My daughter is the first and last dark skin child I’m ever having.” 
This is very sickening and disappointing because these celebrities have a big fanbase that looks up to them. This would also make the darker-skinned people really upset because they're now going to be seen as less of a person.
Colorism is affecting the youth. Young dark-skinned kids may wonder what it would be like to have lighter skin, like the people they see on the internet, TV and other areas of media. According to Thought Co, when actress KeKe Palmer was younger, she would pray for lighter skin because she heard about how wonderful it would be to have it. 
From my experience growing up, I didn't feel represented in the media because I didn't see people that had my skin color and features. I would always see lighter complexions. And if there was a representation of black characters, you wouldn't see it as often as lighter skin characters. This made me feel left out because I didn't see anybody of my complexion.
Colorism goes deeper than you may imagine. The colonization of countries by European soldiers and the brainwashing of many generations over the years left a mark on the people. Now in the present day, the mark left behind is trying to be cleaned up with awareness and protesting. 
Examples of this is when Zendaya calls out people for colorism because she notices how there's a racial imbalance with it all. “We’re vastly too beautiful and too interesting for me to just be the only representation of that.” She said at BeautyCon in 2018. But even if it’s being cleaned a scar will always be present in the worlds of these communities. 
Colorism needs to get eliminated and replaced with self-love. Your self worth as a person isn't determined by your skin color. It goes by who you are as a person as a whole. Yes, the roots of colorism are deep and painful, but you should keep on pushing to fight off feelings of hate, punishment and sadness. In the end, we all bleed the same blood and feel the same pain. Together we can stop colorism.
Read more…
School News
I pledge allegiance to make my own choice
Last October, after nearly 13 years, the Pledge of Allegiance was reinstated at Boston Latin Academy. The recitation of the pledge will now occur daily over the intercom during homeroom. For many BLA students graduating high school in 2020, this patriotic act has not been a daily practice in school for several years. 
At one point in time, it was a tradition that seemed second nature, a subconscious following of a practice. Students would stand in class, place their hands over their hearts and recite the pledge whilst facing the flag in the room. Some students would even go to the main office as a volunteer to recite the pledge, which felt like a big deal, and they were proud to hear their voice over the loudspeakers.
The push to have the pledge reinstated at BLA was initiated by a band of parents who took their concern to the superintendent. Per Massachusetts law, BLA was breaking the law by not having students recite the pledge. Massachusetts General Law Title XII Chapter 71 Section 69 states that every school should have a flag in every classroom and “each teacher at the commencement of the first class of each day in all grades in all public schools shall lead the class in a group recitation of the ‘Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag.’” The law also outlines how the pledge is to be recited and consequences for if it is not carried out each day in public schools. 
In 2010, an atheist family sued the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District arguing that “...schools conduct a patriotic exercise that ‘exalts and validates’ one religious view — a belief in God — while marginalizing their ‘religious views’ on atheism and humanism,’” reported Education Week. In the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's decision, former Chief Justice Roderick Ireland wrote that no Massachusetts student is required by law to recite the pledge. The court also rejected claims that the inclusion of “under God” in the pledge violates “the state equal-protection rights of atheist and humanist students.” This was ruled in a 7-0 vote. 
Jenny Tran, a 17-year-old senior at BLA, chooses not to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. “My family is also Buddhist, so I can’t really relate to the ‘under God’ part,” she said. 
Jeffrey Isen, a teacher of 13 years at BLA, says that he hates the Pledge of Allegiance. Isen is an immigrant from Canada and as a child, he would sing the American national anthem. “I remember, as a child from a minority religious group, feeling uncomfortable because the national anthem made a reference to God. And I knew that it wasn’t my God. It wasn’t the God of the religious group that I was a part of at the time,” he said.
This discussion of the pledge and even that of the national anthem have been a topic amongst teenagers and young adults for a long time, even more so with Colin Kapernick’s “take a knee” movement. However, this conversation has not been properly addressed in our schools. Boston teenagers need to know their rights: they can say the pledge — or not say it — and they have the right to express how they feel about it. 
Read more…
City News
Farmers markets make fresh produce accessible
Yasmin Mohamed
The process of getting food onto a dinner table is no small feat. Turning a small seed into fresh produce in the grocery store requires a lot more than we think.  From “seed to fork” is what The Food Project — a nonprofit organization that hires youth to work on farms — calls this process. 
However, not everyone has easy access to healthy food. What if you live in a neighborhood that doesn’t have fresh produce at the nearby grocery store, but instead offers unhealthy alternatives at a low price? These neighborhoods are called food deserts and are usually found in low-income communities that do not have access to affordable grocery stores, so they resort to unhealthy substitutes like fast food and corner stores. This, in turn, leads to higher rates of heart disease and obesity. In an effort to help these residents incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their diets, a number of farmer’s markets around Boston now accept WIC coupons, senior coupons and EBT payment methods.
Farmer’s markets who accept these government programs also have a “matching” system. For example, if you have $36 on your EBT card you can purchase up to $36 worth of fresh fruits and vegetables and get the price “matched,” which is basically an immediate refund back to your card for that same amount. This encourages families and individuals that use food assistance to go to their local farmer’s markets and enjoy fresh produce. 
The Food Project runs multiple farmer’s markets within the season, including one in Dudley in which more than half of its customers use food assistance. The Dudley market runs from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursdays, from June to the end of October and offers a wide array of vegetables like summer squash, dinosaur kale and more. 
Coming from a low-income family meant that my parents did not shop at the nearest Whole Foods Market. Instead, they drove to Cambridge to shop at an affordable supermarket and it was usually a day-long event. Working for The Food Project allowed me to take home as many vegetables as I could, so I took home the vegetables that looked the most interesting to me. I learned what foods I liked and didn’t like (I hate the texture of squash) and spent my Thursday evenings cooking with my mom and incorporating these new foods into my diet. The impact that fresh produce had on my family as a whole was tremendous and farmer’s markets are making sure those in food deserts can reap the same benefits. 
Read more…
Cultural Criticism
Secondhand smoke is my last choice
Meagan, a teacher at Boston Arts Academy, quit smoking cigarettes, but she’s still around it a lot. Her dad smoked when she was young, as did her grandfather. Before she started, Meagan was always the person to tell people to “stop wanting to fit in with college peers.” But, by the end of her freshman year of college, her perspective changed. People would move away and give her weird looks when she was smoking at the bus stop — when they would start coughing she would get annoyed. Smoking is “not gonna be the things that kills you,” she said.
Cigarettes are addictive and can cause cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease and other health problems. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, there are over 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke and tobacco-related products. More than 70 are known to cause and/or initiate cancer and are called carcinogens. Cigarettes, cigars, and pipes contain dried tobacco leaves along with chemicals and additives. Some, like tar and arsenic acetone, are very dangerous. Even “natural” products, such as herbal cigarettes, give off smoke and tar that contains many of the same chemicals.
Even non-smokers can get sick by inhaling secondary smoke states the Centers for Disease Control. With this in mind, people shouldn’t smoke right next to someone else, especially a minor. I’ve encountered people on the train who sat next to me smelling like cigarettes, even if they aren’t smoking at that very moment. In fact, cigarette smoke can rub off on anyone. Smokers should be mindful and wary about this. 
“Smokers need to be respectful,” Meagan said. She didn't feel that way before, but now she feels bad.
I’ve had an experience with secondary smoke before. One lovely afternoon, my friend and I were sitting at an outside table doing homework as I waited for my work shift to start. Everything was going well until a stench forced its way into my nostrils, causing my survival instincts to emerge from within! Immediately me and my friend covered our noses with our hands, but realized it wasn’t working so we used our sweaters. 
My friend couldn’t stop talking about how bothered he was by it. I had to shush him multiple times because he was speaking loudly and I didn’t want things to get out of hand. We could have moved to another table, but they were all occupied and I wanted to stay near the area where I work. Hoping to still get some homework done, I found that every now and then I would get distracted by the smell. Eventually, I gave up on doing homework and told my pal that I couldn’t stand it anymore so we left.
When I spoke with ninth graders at Boston Arts Academy they felt similarly.
“I don’t really like when people smoke around me because it makes my head hurt,” said Arlynn Varela. “I just don’t like the smell of smoke, so I wouldn’t be happy; I would tell em to put that crap away.” 
No one is stopping you from smoking, but keep in mind the people around you and how you could affect them; whether that be physically or emotionally.
Smoking is an addiction. Meagan smoked for 10 years before stopping at age 28. She had gotten diagnosed with a chronic illness. It was probably not caused by her tobacco used, but the doctor still asked her to stop smoking. She did, but she told me she would probably keep going if it wasn't for her health issue. She tried to quit even before the illness. She was switching back and forth on an “on and off, four-year period.” People started asking if she smoked two or three years ago because they could smell it on her, so she eventually got paranoid and kept perfume and body spray on her at all times. 
People should be allowed to smoke in their backyard, or in public spaces that are specifically designated for smoking, because then non-smokers can enter at their own risk. As Meagan said, it’s “a choice you’re making not the people around you.
Read more…
City News
Is vaping fated to burn out?
Vaping, the act of inhaling and exhaling vapor produced from an electronic cigarette or similar device has been around since 2003. As the industry thrived, specialized vape shops opened to satisfy the growing product demand. Now, almost 17 years after their introduction, lawmakers all over the country are taking action against the potential health risks of vaping.
"Today I'm officially declaring a public health emergency in the commonwealth, due to severe lung disease associated with the use of e-cigarettes and marijuana-infused vaping products," said Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker to the press on Tuesday, Sept. 24 at the State House. “This order prohibits the sale of all devices, all non-flavored and flavored vaping products including mint and menthol, and all THC or marijuana vaping products in the Commonwealth.''
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 2,291 hospitalized E-cigarette or Vaping Product Use-Associated Lung Injury cases as of Dec.3, and 48 deaths have been confirmed. The intake of nicotine in both vaping and smoking regular cigarettes can cause lung diseases, however, diseases associated with vaping are mysterious and not very well understood. At the ban’s announcement back in September, Monica Bharel, state public health commissioner, said to the press  "We do not know what is causing these illnesses, but the only thing in common in each one of these cases is the use of e-cigarettes and vaping products. So, we want to act now to protect our children."
The popularity of nicotine vaping among children is part of what led to Gov. Baker’s decision to ban vaping products. Schools and parents have become increasingly concerned with kids’ embrace of vaping and possible long-term health risks. As people around the country begin to become ill and even die from the effects of vaping, the health risks and call for legislative action grew more urgent. 
Although e-cigarettes and vapes have only been on the market in the United States since 2007, vapes have had a history much longer than 13 years. According to Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association, the first patent for a smokeless cigarette was granted to Joseph Robinson in 1930. It would be over thirty years before Herman Gilbert pioneered a prototype resembling the modern e-cigarette in 1963, and another couple decades after that before Phil Ray and Norman Robinson attempted commercial cigarette devices in the 1980s. This particular ‘vape’ was not electronic but instead relied on nicotine evaporation. Fast-forward to 2003, Hon Lik, a Chinese pharmacist, created the world’s first commercially successful electronic cigarette. By 2006, they were being sold in Europe, and in 2007 arrived in the US.
Originally introduced as a “safer” alternative to smoking, e-cigarettes took off. Their success was immediate and their popularity only grew. As the industry began to expand even further, companies began to add flavors into cartridge-based e-cigarette pods. Once the e-cigarette vaporizes water and nicotine from a pod, the user inhales the vapor, thus the name “vaping.” Adding flavors to the pods increased their appeal, but these flavors weren’t just any flavors. Stores started selling mango, strawberry, candy, vanilla, and many more pod flavors, which attracted new users. This new line of products profoundly affected the vaping industry since its commercialization in 2003 because now there was a different and larger group of consumers: teens. 
Suddenly, high schools around the country were plagued with vaping in bathrooms every day. Students who vaped either took their parent’s vape or simply bought their own online. The accessibility for vaping only made it easier for e-cigarettes to get into the hands of children who would get “hooked” on vaping, increasing the bottom line. According to the Pew Research Center, 31% of teens choose to vape just because of the availability of attractive flavors.
At first glance, the vaping ban seems reasonable. As a state, we will stop selling vapes and vaping products to prevent and research new and related lung diseases. We will also protect our children from vaping’s harmful effects. But one should also take into account who is being negatively affected by this ban. With a phenomenal demand from consumers, businesses exclusively catered to the sale of vape products. Locations such as the Vape Shop in Allston, Boston Smoke Shop on Newbury Street, or Beyond Vape in Sommerville all primarily sold vape and e-cigarette products. As a result of the ban, they will likely suffer heavily or close due to the fact that all of the money they invested to stock their shelves has been spent for nothing now that buying or selling the products is illegal.  Furthermore, the ban affects many traditional cigarette smokers, who are frustrated and worried that they will now revert back to smoking traditional cigarettes.  
Public health policy and consumer freedom are considerations that hang in the balance; that is the nature of such policy-making. Recently, a Massachusetts judge ruled that the ban will remain in place. Gov. Baker planned to lift the ban four months after it was instituted, but with such court ruling, the ban’s extension is expected. 
Is vaping fated to burn out, or will we continue to light up?
Read more…