Brittany Boseman is on her knees, pink ball cap squashing down her long, raven-black braid, studying the sentence strips laid out on the carpeted floor. It’s the first day of the 2014 Me2We Conference, and Boseman is taking direction from her peers on the best way to arrange them. Each of the nine participants has contributed a strip, written in various colors.
The exercise represents the culmination of two hours’ worth of instruction; in the first hour, the kids played the classic jump-rope game double dutch in the Biltmore Avenue garage down the street from the YMI Cultural Center.
“And when we do this,” workshop leader Tamiko Murray had explained, “I want you to really sense your surroundings. What are you hearing? What are you seeing? What are you smelling? What’s the rhythm to double dutch?”
It’s a tough game to master, and the two guys in the group are noticeably reluctant to jump in. When they do, the ropes slap them across the back and face, and they barely stumble out alive.
“Damn, man!” one exclaims. “Even in 2014, black kids are getting tangled up in white ropes.”
After returning to a cluttered office on the YMI’s third floor and snacking on ice pops, each person is instructed to take a sentence strip and write a single line beginning with “Double dutch is…”
“Double dutch is harsh,” one student writes.
“Double dutch is an action that provokes an epiphany we all share,” another offers.
“Double dutch is Black girls’ first steps away from degradation.”
The final task, facilitated by Boseman, is forming the disparate statements into a poem: an organic, coherent whole.
“That one kind of explains what double dutch is. It needs to go to the top. Like, introducing the concept.”
“I think that word’s missing a letter. You wanna…?”
“I’ll stick it in. Here?”
“Put the line with degradation between those two. It kind of leads in from the other one. Like the first is more what it is, and the second’s more, like, shifted.”
“That’s a good observation,” notes Murray. “It creates a lot of tension in the poem.”
“My participation in Me2We has changed my view of Asheville altogether. Being able to see all the community leaders that I didn’t know of before is inspiring. And besides recognizing our present and future leaders, they also give thanks to our past leaders. Me2We taught me to follow my own beliefs and goals. I am now following in the footsteps of the Me2We leaders in trying to find ways to bring my community closer together.” — Brittany Boseman
This is only one of seven workshops offered at the third annual Me2We Conference, an exercise in “intergenerational instruction, experiential learning and peer mentoring,” according to the brochure.
“We wanted to institute a youth leadership program that honors the accomplishments of ASCORE,” says Erika Germer of the City of Asheville Youth Leadership Academy. “Learning from the past generation’s successes and then confronting their own challenges today. The overall purpose is to create a forum for minority youth to learn about their community’s past as well as recognize their own ability to understand the future.”
ASCORE, the Asheville Student Committee on Racial Equality, played a key role in local desegregation efforts during the ’60s.
“It was active from 1960-65,” says conference co-founder Deborah Miles of UNCA’s Center for Diversity Education. “At first we did commemorations of that work. Then we decided to take that effort and work to rebuild the civic engagement they learned to do. We figured that was the best way to honor their work.”
The first year, 2012, was the 50th anniversary of major desegregation in Asheville. “The hope,” continues Miles, “was to use the anniversary to build interest.” Wholly funded by grants and nonprofits, Me2We is in year three of a four-year focus on civic engagement; 2015 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“I learned that it’s not how the city looks: It’s the community that matters. I also learned about taking opportunities such as Green Opportunities, and I was privileged to hear other young African-American men give their perspectives on stereotypes. With all of these words put together, what I’m trying to get at is this: Me2We rocked!” — Alex Jones
The two-day conference runs from 9 a.m. to 3 or 4 p.m., focusing on a different theme each year. “The first year we had ASCORE people come in the morning, and then college in the afternoon,” says Germer, adding, “We might come full circle to that in the last year.”
Five organizations have joined forces to produce the 2014 edition: the Center for Diversity Education, AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination),the City of Asheville Youth Leadership Academy, the I Have a Dream Foundation of Asheville, andMANOS (Mentoring and Nurturing Our Students).
The event, notes Germer, “is set up like an adult conference, right down to the name tags and registration. The students are getting to select tracks, and you’re interacting with people that might not necessarily be your friends, but you’re exploring that common theme that’s interesting to you.”
Community and connection are a big part of Me2We, and they’re reflected in this year’s theme, “Rep My City.” “Community,” local spoken-word poet Jonathan Santos noted during the opening ceremony. “Common unity: the space between you and me.” But community includes both history and a sense of fostered connection, whether through former ASCORE members, “alumni-led discussions” or “this is my story” sessions, in which college students or recent graduates share their experiences and answer participants’ questions.
“The Me2We Conference is a great time for you to meet new people and to explore and learn about people’s lives. Also to know what people did to make the conference how it is now. It’s also a time for fun and winning prizes. A time when people get together to better our community and to help change the people in our community.” —Maria Rubalcara
The idea behind this year’s workshops, says Germer, is “exploring identity through the arts”; students choose a track that fits their interests (though some undecided ones are assigned to groups to help keep them roughly even in size). In addition to the poetry/double dutch track, the list includes:
Hip-hop: Each student writes a four- or five-line verse and records it to a beat, using high-quality audio equipment.
Video: Students here create a “Rep My City” video. After going out and asking passers-by for their reactions to stereotypes of Asheville, they collect the responses on a sheet of poster board taped up on the wall. The list includes such statements as “I am not a hippie,” “I do not support Biltmore House” and “There are people of color here.”
Visual art: Group members create papier-mâché masks to express their individual personalities.
Photography: These students go out into the city, either alone or in small groups, come up with a theme, and snap at least eight photos of parts of Asheville that relate to it.
Dance: These kids help develop and then rehearse a hip-hop dance to a pumped-up version of Michael Jackson’s “They Don’t Care About Us.”
Fashion design: About eight kids explore “upcycling,” a newish fashion concept that involves using two or more pieces of worn-out, obsolete or frayed clothing to create something new.
Double dutch is ….
Double dutch is red sneakers on flaming black top, Double dutch is velvet brown velvet girls sweating mangos, Double dutch is boys taking off their chains to jump, Double dutch is girls turning white ropes, Double dutch is Black girls’ first steps away from degradation, Double dutch is God’s way of turning things around.
Double dutch is Beyoncé to your ears, Purple to your eyes and plums to your mouth, Double dutch is pain to your hands, And a lavender scent to your nose.
Double dutch is harsh.
Double dutch is life on the concrete that brings smiles to passers-by. Double dutch is the sound of beads beating on the sidewalk, Double dutch is when the people come together To hold the ropes for those who dare to jump, Double dutch is feeling the rhythm and seeing The time is right.
Double dutch is the action that provokes an epiphany we all share, Double dutch is the bonding among teachers and students over the summer, Double dutch is me “repping my city.”
Fear of failure
The 92 conference participants range in age from middle school to high school, Germer explains. And for conference organizers and leaders, that means navigating the often turbulent emotions of insecure, self-conscious high-schoolers while maintaining their excitement and focus over two alluring summer days. The discomfort of one girl in the poetry/double dutch session, for example, is palpable: A rising ninth-grader, she’s the youngest in her group and doesn’t know any of the others. Meanwhile, two girls in the dance group just sit on the sidelines, watching their peers rehearse.
“It’s fear,” says their group leader. “Fear of failing; fear of looking stupid. Fear of putting yourself out there.”
The best way to combat those emotions is by creating a safe space bolstered by a close-knit community. Many students, in fact, exhibit both strong support for others and a complete lack of self-consciousness. One self-taught robotic hip-hop dancer has no qualms about performing not one but two solos during the conference, and several members of the poetry workshop display natural leadership skills. Even the painfully reserved girl is much more expressive and involved the second day.
“It’s a time for them to exhibit some peer leadership,” says Germer, and many of the students seem up to the challenge. Fully half of the poetry workshop participants, including two of the three girls, want to become M.D.s, a field still dominated by white men. Rising senior Shaunessy Lofton hopes to attend either Wake Forest or Dukeand specialize in pediatric oncology. Pearl Debellott, a rising 10th-grader at Asheville High, has a plan for the entire next decade: “Go to school and then join the military and have them pay off my college loans, then become a doctor. Surgeon, probably.”
Follow the money
For low-income minority youth, money can be a major obstacle to getting these kinds of experiences. “There’s nothing like this,” says Germer. “There’s leadership conferences in, say, Raleigh and that sort of thing, but if you delve into it it’s mostly white, student-government-type kids, and it costs money to attend.”
Meanwhile, notes Miles, “Research shows that when young people are engaged, they maintain that behavior for a lifetime. It’s harder to pick up the habit of caring for the community later on in life.”
But while students don’t pay to take part in Me2We, that means the sponsoring organizations must come up with the money, so extending the project past its initial four-year run will depend on outside support.
“It takes about $7,000 a year for 100 students to do this program,” says Miles. “The hope was to use the 50th anniversaries to build interest, followed by money, so it could continue. Hopefully it will. I would like to get to the point that a yearly luncheon funds it. Last year it made $1,500. It was the first year, so pretty good.”
Putting yourself out there
The Expo, the conference’s final component, is wehn each track presents its work. The dancers dance, and the hip-hop writers come up and play the song to which each of them contributed a verse. The hook is the line “Who in the world?” as in “Who in the world, who in the world, who in the world is [student’s name]? followed by three or four lines describing that person. And if the talent level varies, all at least seem to grasp the basic rules of the form. One precocious youngster stands up and mouths his verse while moving agilely in quick-time fashion.
The fashion group’s showcase features merged T-shirts and assorted re-engineered cloth scraps. Group leader Kimberly Hunter bestows a prize on a girl who went home after the first day and “upcycled” a piece of her own clothing.
Meanwhile, the photography track’s leader has set up a Web page so group members can present slideshows of their photographs. The first two girls go into considerable detail about each one of their images; but the next two stand up and declare: “We’re not going to explain the photos like everyone else ’cause, like, we think photos and art, like, means different things to each specific person.” Postmodernism, it seems, is taking root in these kids before they even learn to drive.
Then it’s poetry’s turn, and the group double-dutches while reciting a poem they wrote the second day. It’s a game attempt, but the execution is clumsy. The stomping feet and slapping ropes drown out the students’ voices as they pass the microphone, each one reading a section. And when Lofton, the future pediatric oncologist, jumps into the swirling ropes, disaster strikes.
Is the floor too slick? The space too small? Do the ropes just happen to catch her at a bad angle?
Whatever the cause, both her feet come out from under her as she lands with a thud on the hard wood floor, yelping in surprise. The audience gasps and stands, and her fellow double-dutchers start forward to help her up. It’s precisely the kind of public humiliation the more timid participants seem to fear the most.
But as Lofton gets to her feet and slinks back to hide behind another student, instead of taunts and jeers, the room breaks into sincere applause and laughter. And when she sits down, there’s a big grin on her face. The kids are cheering, yelling “That-a-girl,” and suddenly, there it is: Community. Common unity. A dynamic mass of high schoolers coming together to support one of their own.
“This was a great thing to be part of. I learned how to ‘Rep My City’ and how I can be a big part of my city’s growth. I also learned how to try new things. It was a good, fun time to meet new people. I have been in the Me2We Conference ever since it started, and I love it and hope it keeps going.” — Jesse Rubalcara
A wider world
“I think with a program like this … I don’t want to say it changes their trajectory,” Germer observes, “but it provides them with a wider world.”
In a few short hours they’ll venture back into a city where their parents’ annual incomes average $10,000 less than those of their white counterparts; into neighborhoods where the poverty rate hovers around 40 percent. The challenges these young people face are huge: The road is long, the temptations immense. Yet in that moment, the future looks bright.
These kids, Miles predicts, “will be the next generation of leaders — in this community and throughout our state and nation. They will have a voice and be the people at the table who make decisions for the community’s well-being. They will make us proud.”
To learn more about the Me2We program, contact Erika Germer (EGermer@ashevillenc.gov).
BEAUMONT, TEXAS (AP) --Prosecutors say the leader of a Texas-based drug ring that supplied at least eight other states has been sentenced to nearly 23 years in federal prison.
Alejandro "Alex" Gonzales of Alvin was sentenced Tuesday in Beaumont.
The 36-year-old Gonzales in January pleaded guilty to conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine. Investigators say Gonzales and his associates for several years were supplied by cartels in Mexico.
The drugs were distributed throughout Texas as well as to Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Oklahoma.
Gonzales was among more than two dozen people indicted last August in the drug trafficking conspiracy and firearms investigation. Further details on the other defendants weren't immediately available.
Authorities are releasing details about a gun battle that left several men dead south of the border in the popular tourist town of Nuevo Progreso.
Tamaulipas officials confirmed that a shootout between rival groups of armed men got into a firefight with each other there around 7 p.m. Tuesday.
The incident happened after most American tourists had left the popular shopping town.
The shootout resulted in fires and blockades around town and on the highway to Reynosa.
Tamaulipas officials reported that authorities found the bodies of five tattooed and armed men in the parking of a convenience store near Rio Bravo just after 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Investigators reported that Mexican marines also came under fire in the nearby Ejido Soledad just outside Valle Hermoso around 10:45 p.m. Tuesday.
That firefight ended with one gunman being killed.
Authorities have not released the names of the slain gunmen but the incidents remain under investigation.
CD. VICTORIA, Tamaulipas.- La Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado comunica que en la noche del martes 22 de julio se suscitaron varios hechos delictivos, la mayoría en el poblado Nuevo Progreso del municipio de Río Bravo y uno más en el ejido La Soledad del municipio de Valle Hermoso, con saldo de seis probables delincuentes sin vida. En Nuevo Progreso, los hechos delictivos iniciaron poco antes de las 19:00 horas con persecuciones y enfrentamientos entre integrantes antagónicos de grupos delincuenciales que operan en ese punto de la región fronteriza, lo que derivó en bloqueos en algunos sectores del poblado y la salida a la carretera a Reynosa. A las 20:10 horas se reportó que en la Avenida Benito Juárez, con salida al municipio de Reynosa, cinco hombres integrantes de un grupo delincuencial fueron privados de la vida en el estacionamiento de una tienda de conveniencia, luego de haber sido bajados de tres vehículos por hombres armados rivales. Los hoy occisos no han sido identificados y contaban con edades que van de los 30 a los 40 años. Algunos presentaban tatuajes en sus cuerpos y todos fueron abatidos con diversos impactos de bala. En el lugar de los hechos personal de la Secretaría de Marina, Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, Policía Federal y Policía Estatal Acreditable recogieron casquillos percutidos y aseguraron tres vehículos que presentaban impactos de bala, los cuales se presume pertenecían a los hoy occisos. Posteriormente, a las 23:45 horas, se reportó que personal de la Secretaría de Marina fue atacado cuando realizaba patrullaje de vigilancia en las inmediaciones del ejido Soledad, perteneciente al municipio de Valle Hermoso, abatiendo a un civil armado al momento de repeler la agresión. El agresor abatido no ha sido identificado, tenía de 20 a 25 años de edad y vestía pantalón y camisa tipo militar, así como portaba un arma larga. El personal de la Secretaría de Marina aseguró en el lugar de los hechos vehículos, armas, cartuchos y cargadores que abandonaron los acompañantes del hoy occiso.
Former Sheriff Lupe Trevino’s Chief of Staff Pat Medina’s sentencing hearing has been put on hold.
This, after the judge said he wants to hear testimony from former Commander Joe Padilla.
For the first time since his indictment, Joe Padilla spoke on-camera exclusively to Action 4 News.
Padilla will take the stand Thursday.
We caught up with the former Hidalgo County Sheriff Commander earlier, and he told us he's not the only one who brought in illegal cash contributions.
"Hi Mr. Padilla, I was wondering if I could chat with you for just a few minutes,” asked Action4 News Reporter Ashly Custer.
“You are?” asked a skeptical Padilla.
"My name is Ashly, I work with Channel 4."
Padilla is expected to testify Wednesday at Pad Medina's hearing. She's awaiting sentencing for not reporting that ex-Sheriff Lupe Trevino was laundering money.
"Every single time I turned in the money to the Sheriff or Pat Medina," said Padilla.
Action 4 News asked Padilla if Medina directly benefited the illegal cash that he brought in for Lupe Trevino's campaign.
"I'd rather not talk about that right now," he quickly responded.
But what Padilla did tell us was that while he is the only commanding officer currently being indicted, he's not the only one who brought in illegal cash donations.
He said all of Trevino's commanding officers had to participate in fundraisers and all turned in the cash directly to Trevino or Medina.
“So they all brought cash to Lupe and Pat- the same way that you did?” asked Action4.
“Sure,” replied Padilla.
Action 4 wanted to clarify, “ So I just want to know specifics, people like Montemayor, Danny Garcia..did they do this exact thing? Did they bring cash to Lupe Trevino and Pat Medina?”
“All of the command staff,” reiterated Padilla.
We asked again, “All of the command staff, everyone?”
“Everybody," said the former commander.
Action4 News asked Padilla if he would give us specific names and cash amounts that the other command staff brought in, but Padilla had had enough.
"I'd rather not talk about it right now, and let me just talk to my attorney," he said.
Padilla also told us that to his knowledge, the majority of the command staff that had brought those illegal cash donations to Lupe Trevino and Pat Medina are still currently employed at the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office.
Canadian Drug Kingpin , Jimmy Cournoyer, with Ties to the Rizutto and Bonanno Crime Families, the Hells Angels and the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel Plead Guilty in 2013 to Narcotics Trafficking Crimes Carrying Sentence of 20 Years to Life and $1 Billion in Forfeiture.
However, U.S. feds are now seeking a 30 year sentence, arguing that a lighter sentence would amount to little incarceration time for Cournoyer, due to the fact he has elected to spend his sentence in Canada. Canada has a very liberal probation system that would drastically cut actual time spent behind bars.
Pointing out that Cournoyer "had a cadre of high-priced lawyers in Canada and the United States working to intimidate and threaten underlings into not cooperating with authorities. Various lawyers helped monitor several criminal cases related to Jimmy Cournoyer's massive cross-border drug trafficking network, probing for tips about investigations, warning co-conspirators against testifying and even offering 'bribes,' pay-offs and'implied threats of harm to themselves or members of their families," say prosecutors.
Cournoyer feared his 1.2 million dollar Bugatli would draw attention from law enforcement
French Canadian Jimmy “Cosmo” Cournoyer was living the life Chino Antrax thinks he had.
A Canadian “narco newbie” at the age of 21, and until his arrest at age 33, he developed a billion dollar marijuana business operating a business with associates such as the Hells Angeles, Sinaloa Cartel, New York’s Bonnano Crime Family while being back by Montreal’s Rizzuto mob (Vito Rizzuto below left).
Cournoyer was part of an operation with the mafia on both sides the US/Canadian border that involved in a vast cross border trafficking that channeled Canadian ecstasy and weed to New York, then usingthe profits in purchasingMexican cocaine, which was shipped back to Canada.
U.S. Federal prosecutor Steven Tiscione stated “the illegal narcotics distributed worldwide by members of the criminal enterprise have a retail value of more than $1 billion… conservatively.”
U.S. charges the Cournoyer network specialized in growing and distributing potent hydroponic marijuana harvested in British Columbia.. The marijuana was then transported by Hells Angeles, in motor homes and trucks, across Canada.
By 2009, he sent at least 1,000 pounds of hydroponic cannabis a week to New York, most of it to a Bonnano associate.
The biker gang and the Montreal mob then smuggled the marihuana from Quebec into upstate New York, where trucks delivered it to a warehouse in Brooklyn, authorities and sources said.
Cournoyer acquired his $1-billion drug empire by “gaining control over ports and customs checkpoints through a combination of covert operations and outright political corruption” and abusing “sovereign tribal lands” on First Nations’ reserves “that are almost impossible to police,” prosecutors claim.They further claim he maintained a 2 million dollar execution fund, used to eliminate known or potential informers.
Cournoyer was apprehended by Mexican police on Feb. 16, 2012 when he landed in Cancun for a planned vacation.
Cournoyer’sBrazilian-Canadian model girlfriend,Amelia Racine’s (at left)jailed brother, Mario Racine, was reported to be acting as the kingpin’s trusted lieutenant.