AFH Photo//Yvonne YanYing Chen
For people who do not fit the norm, prison can be hell. Faced with regular abuse, assault, and a systematic erasure of identity, the LGBTQ community suffers greatly in the prison-industrial complex. From having higher rates of homelessness pre-incarceration to the injustices they suffer as inmates, they are disproportionately disadvantaged every step of the way.
The school-to-prison pipeline — the way in which youths from poor and minority neighborhoods disproportionately end up in the prison system — is often contextualized by race; however, it sweeps up gender and sexuality non-conforming individuals as well. According to the True Colors Fund, LGBTQ youth make up 20-40 percent of the homeless despite making up less than 5 percent of the population. Many are thrown out by their families or drop out of school to avoid harassment. “Going back, I’ve had my share of being in the closet and being afraid to come out, with gender identity and sexuality alike. And there were many times I’d have to lie about being cisgender because I felt I wouldn’t be accepted otherwise,” said Rebecca Patsenker, a Wayland High freshman.
This uncertainty can leave kids on the streets early in life. They struggle to get services and space in shelters, so many turn to illegal activities for survival. In Out of the Concrete Closet, a study done by Black and Pink, an LGBTQ inmate advocacy and prison abolitionist organization, 39 percent of inmates stated they have traded sex for survival.
Instead of aid, many find themselves targets of “quality of life” policing, in which law enforcement criminalizes practices that might be necessary for survival. Sex workers, drug dealers, and addicts face a variety of risks, but most are afraid to go to the police for help. 
“The fact that there is a vested economic interest for society to have lots of prisoners...ensures that the system cannot truly be just, because the system is not about helping society or ending crime,” said Felix Flax, a Newton South junior. “A working criminal justice system should lead to less criminals, not more.” 
Discrimination ensures that even innocent people will see the inside of a jail cell. According to a 2012 study by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 47 percent of black trans women will have been arrested at some point in their lives, many on the basis of not having an ID that matches their gender presentation. 
 Just Detention reports that 59 percent of transgender women were sexually abused in men’s prisons, as opposed to 4 percent of cisgender inmates. Coming Out of the Concrete Closet has shown that LGBTQ inmates are strip-searched at higher rates. Moreover, regulations on recognizing gender can vary across prisons, meaning it can be difficult to build legal cases to be transferred to a prison of preferred gender. 
85 percent of LGBTQ inmates will spend time in solitary confinement. While this measure is sometimes presented as necessary for the protection of those individuals, it is almost always more harmful as the alternative. Being denied human interaction and variety in scene in activity is extremely harmful to a person’s mental health. A study done in California showed that inmates held in solitary confinement are 33 times more likely to commit suicide. It has been denounced by the UN as torture, yet it remains a common practice in US prisons.
In addition to physical abuse and extremely harmful punitive practices, transgender prisoners are faced with the  systematic erasure of their identities. 
“Policies regarding respectful treatment of transgender prisoners vary widely across states; the vast majority of policies are awful,” said Black and Pink’s Reed Miller. “Trans prisoners are more often than not placed in facilities that don't align with their gender identity, aren't allowed access to clothing, hairstyles, and accessories in alignment with their gender identity, and are often denied requested hormone treatment therapy. Abuse, harassment, and physical and sexual assault are commonplace.” 
`“It hurts, like trying to move after being beaten up hurts,” said Flax, of having to hide one’s identity. How can we expect broken people to be able to make positive changes in their lives?
Ultimately, there needs to be a major set of prison reforms. There must be a shift of focus from retaliation to rehabilitation and a movement to respect all inmates’ identities. Countries such as Norway, which have shown their prisoners respect, have seen outstanding results. 
“A lot of people's mindset on prison is to make sure that criminals are away from other people, but we also have to make sure that prisoners, after they leave prison, have good morals and are not planning other crimes,” said Elisa Mezhirov, a Lexington High junior. In this sense, rehabilitation centers are a very important part in the purpose of the criminal justice system and prisons.” 
Unfortunately, the public often ignores the imprisoned population. They are out of the spotlight and there is a sense that we have less moral responsibility to those that have already done wrong. Most people have some idea of what the prison system should do, but many do not understand the reality of the situation, and this ignorance and lack of advocacy on behalf of our nation’s more vulnerable people is doing real harm. 
“Students can raise awareness about the prison industrial complex and the school to prison pipeline,” Miller said. “I became an activist in high school and organized campaigns — you all can too!”
We need to have these conversations with our friends, our classmates, and our families. You can volunteer with Black and Pink here in Boston, and educate yourself. Someday, those slighted by the justice system should be able to count on a support net of educated, passionate activists.




Read more…
AFH Art//Christiana Black
It’s a classic scene: a suave character walks down the hallway and reaches a door with several ominous buttons and screens. They place their hand on one, step forward to a red light scanning their face up and down, and a monotone robotic voice grants them entrance. Originally a crazy phenomenon in science fiction movies, this is now something you might encounter in everyday life—facial recognition technology. 
With the arrival of the iPhone X face unlock and the Google Arts and Culture selfie feature (where Google can compare your selfies to faces in famous artworks), facial recognition is now entering the mainstream. However, facial recognition has actually been around for ages, even before it began appearing on our television. Many people, including teens, don’t have any knowledge on it. “I don’t really care about it to be honest. All I know is that it’s strong enough to the point where it can recognize your face in full on makeup,” said Ashley, a freshman at Boston Arts Academy. 
Woodrow Wilson Bledsoe, a mathematician and scientist of the 20th century is considered the “father of facial recognition.” He began his work with a system to distinguish individual faces in the 60s. His program was able to recognize patterns in faces (such as the hairline), distances between features, and specific shapes. When given another photo, the program would take data from that image and compare it to the other photos in the database, and select the most similar. While far from perfect and severely limited, it was a huge first step.
In the same decade, the television show “Star Trek” introduced not just facial recognition technology, but retina scans, voice identification, and vital scanners. The show has predicted many other technologies that would become available to us in the future, like artificial intelligence programs (Siri, Alexa), tablets, and more.
The technology continued to develop over the decades. One notable progression was made in 1993, when the FERET (Facial Recognition Technology) program was introduced and put out. And by 2009, the technology was being introduced to law enforcement systems, thus resulting in 4,000 more arrests in 2010 than in years before, according to NY Daily News.
Social media in the 2010s is what really moved facial recognition from our TV screens into our everyday lives. Facebook introduced a feature that selected faces out of you and your friends’ photos and associated them with specific accounts. Google and Apple both have programs that recognize locations and individuals in your personal photo books. And now, this feature is everywhere, unlocking our phones and improving with every update. Our computers are becoming more powerful, and our faces might someday become  “more powerful than fingerprints,” according to Will Ades, a data scientist at a local information technology company. Facial recognition technology relies on big data, or large amounts of information. Every pixel of your face is a “data point”—so facial recognition technology works by “just recognizing patterns,” according to Ades.  With so many details in our face now being picked up, it might even be more secure than your fingerprint someday.
While it is convenient, there are those who find it a little scary. “Personally, I think it's a little interesting because so many people are uncomfortable with that their faces are going to be recognized by their phone,” said Helen Nguyen, a freshman at Boston Arts Academy. In a world where people cover their webcams and rely heavily on the Internet to keep all their personal information secure, people are just now comprehending that companies have been keeping even more of our information than we previously understood. And, this technology will continue to progress whether we want it to or not, it will slowly take over all aspects of our lives and we won’t be able to resist. Ades says facial recognition will grow in popularity “without a doubt.” And as another Boston Arts Academy freshman, Quinn, puts it, “There are reasons to be scared of it because it’s literally recognizing someone’s face, but at the same time, it can be used for good. But in our society, there’s not a big chance everybody will use it for good.” We must grow with these innovations and educate ourselves on safe ways to live our lives on the screen.
Surf Safe
Here are a few tips for how you can protect yourself online. 
  • Have different passwords for everything and keep them written down in a safe place.
  • Do not allow your browser to autofill your information. 
  • Avoid ads promising rewards and prizes: they’re probably scams.
  • Keep all your anti-virus software up-to-date. 
Read more…
AFH Photo//Aijanah Sanford
You’ve probably wondered it in the middle of a history test or on the first day of a new social studies class, or maybe your teachers have even asked you themselves—why does anything from the past decade, century or even millennium matter? Shouldn’t we be looking at the future, and not the past? 
However, looking at the past is essential. Any educated person should know that the past is what moves us forward. It helps us grow and think. We either learn from the past or we ignore it—and either way, there are consequences.
In 1953, Ray Bradbury published his most iconic work, “Fahrenheit 451.” The dystopian noveltakes a look at a future society in which books are outlawed and destroyed by “firefighters.” The community is lazy and careless, absorbed in television and disinterested in the outside world. Suicide and empty-mindedness plague everyone, including firefighter Guy Montag, until one day he meets his strange neighbor, who causes him to have a revelation about the empty life that he and everyone around him has been living.
The winner of numerous prestigious awards, Bradbury’s book was terrifyingly ahead of its time and is intensely thought-provoking. The novel takes a trip to a reality of repressed and censored individual minds, influenced by a ban on intelligence and technology smothering free will. With an HBO adaptation coming later this year, the book and our modern lives are eerily similar.
The common expression “ignorance is bliss” is discussed heavily throughout the book, and is proven to be far from what we need to live by—the actions taken by Montag (stealing books to read himself, running away from the authorities) show that we as people have a thirst for knowledge. Additionally, it shows that if we are blind to truth and intelligence, we lose power over our own lives—no more control, and an intense lack of individuality and life.
 Other issues the book deals with are censorship and freedom of speech. These are widely disputed topics, especially with the intense spike of television and the Internet. In our modern lives, opinions are everywhere. According to statista.com, 81 percent of Americans and 2.46 billion users worldwide use social media. Anyone has the ability to put out whatever they want into the world, and that scares many people.
But copious studies on technology and its effects on humans, as well as Bradbury himself, have expressed concern about if this surplus of information is good. While books haven’t been forgotten or neglected, “Fahrenheit 451” brings up the idea that we may eventually reach the point where nobody bothers with them anymore—that the ban on books will be something we inflicted upon ourselves.
The past matters. One lesson we can take from “Fahrenheit 451” is that we need to read, to learn. Not just to to help ourselves, but to help the world around us. We need to read because without reading, how will we grow? And though Bradbury’s narrative includes the fear that television and radio are what will destroy our minds, as long as we know that ignorance is not bliss, we can truly prevent the future he terrifyingly portrays.


Read more…
AFH Photo//Bill Le
if you needed a sign,
this is it right here.
while you’re out here living just fine,
i’ll be here mending a tear
that was left in my garden.
your tongue’s in your cheek--
excuse if i don’t accept your pardon.
your excuses are weak.
you can’t pronounce my name?
chamo, you didn’t try hard enough.
but correcting you doesn’t fill me with shame
not as much as i once was.
see i’ve been on a path,
a path of loving my locks.
i don’t hold any wrath
but i turn against the orthodox.
because Joropo Llanero fills my ears,
and the taste of learnt seasoning is upon my tongue.
my grandmother’s soft words is what i hear,
even though i am still young.
my face was crafted on old words
my soul was filled with new views.
we are the butterflies, not the birds
and we are far from blue.
my skin like the sand of my father's beaches,
my hair like the curls of my mother's coming of age,
the traditions of my dirt where people stood spoke speeches
i stand now proudly upon a stage.
I carry new perspectives on my shoulders,
but hold my latin heart close.
white hispana scolders--
but is that all, you suppose?
western asian? never heard of her.
boricua, sounds familiar
lebanon, rico and cuba are my mother’s whispers
venezuela is my father’s reconciliar
until i say so the word terrorist never crosses your mind.
arabian princess, i am not.
my spanish speak might be blind,
and as for terror and hate, i find fraught.
call me gringa as you please,
but i know much better.
i’ve discovered my blood with ease,
and i write about it like a love letter.
i dress talk learn breathe for me,
but i live for you.
and i know the roots hold the key,
to turn the lies they fed us untrue.


Read more…
AFH Photo//Aijanah Sanford
“WHITES ONLY” signs are no longer found in America, yet racism is still a problem here. Despite the progress this nation has made, there are (metaphorically) still people who would prefer that minorities sit in the back of the bus. It’s likely these behaviors don’t fall far from the tree, and parents have planted these ideologies into their heads. I recall many experiences with children saying things they did not realize were offensive—for example, a kindergartener once said to me that Tiana was the worst Disney princess because “her skin was black.”
The best way to increase racial tolerance is by teaching children how to behave in more accepting ways towards other races. As generations grow and change, it’s their responsibility to pass down teachings of racial tolerance. While some believe discussing race with children is uncomfortable, it is absolutely necessary. 
Parents can raise their kids to be racist unintentionally by not addressing race with them at all. If parents put racism on the table as a topic of discussion, it will make kids more tolerant towards other races because it will make children comfortable about it. 
Ruthie Vincil, a white mother of a young daughter, has been teaching her daughter about racism since she was four. Vincil realized that with her white privilege, she was responsible for informing her daughter about racism so she would not remain ignorant of her privilege. “Like the ocean’s undertow, racism is a strong force and it is easy to let it carry you,” Vincil said. “If I do not actively teach my children to be vigilant anti-racists, they will not be able to see racism until it is too difficult to get back to shore. In fact, they may not even be able to see shore at all.” Her discussion of race with her child prompted her daughter to become cautious of becoming racist herself.
Madeline Rogin, a kindergarten teacher at Prospect Sierra School, had difficulty teaching her students the full truth about Martin Luther King Jr. She shared that she rushed over parts about segregation out of discomfort towards explaining it to children. However, she realized she was being unfair by not teaching her students the full story of how he became so influential. “I learned that it is impossible to teach my daughter or my students about who Dr. King was without also telling the ugly truth about racism,” she said.
Speaking to children about racism could expand their acceptance towards others. There are many ways to help kids become racially tolerant. RaceConcious.org, a popular “resource for talking about race with young children,”  suggests challenging stereotypes in front of kids: “Say ‘I don’t like this image’ when you see a stereotype reinforced. Using simple, concrete language, try to explain why.”
 RaceConcious also recommends discussing fairness: “The concept of fairness is a daily part of a child’s life—so it is an accessible and natural way to frame conversations about equity with our youngest children (including toddlers!)” For more strategies for combating internalized racism in children, visit RaceConcious.org for tips. And remember, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”


Read more…