“Stillwater is a great place to raise a family,” is the common refrain I heard from several Indian aunties at the small Holi dinner party I attended the year I moved to Oklahoma. I had gotten married just a few months earlier at a memorable wedding in Delhi, and with great anticipation, I left the familiar surroundings of the San Francisco Bay Area I had called home for almost 30 years to start a new life in a new state, in a small university town nestled in the middle of wide-open fields and country farms.
Within a year, my husband, a marketing professor at Oklahoma State University, and I welcomed our first son, Abhimanyu (Abhi). My parents flew out from the Bay Area for the blessed occasion. As I watched my parents cradle and cuddle their new grandchild, I thought of how they took care of me as a child in Tamil Nadu, how they instilled in me the values of hard work and a good education, and most importantly, how they effortlessly bridged two cultures to educate and raise two daughters in this country. “What kind of mother will I be?” I wondered.
I once read, “We all can dance when we find music we love.”
And for Abhi, that love was for words. You know those magnetic A-Z letters kids put on the fridge? During our annual summer vacations in Meerut (a bustling city outside of Delhi where my in-laws live), Abhi spent hours moving, rotating, and repositioning those letters on the special dhurrie Dadi ma had laid out for him, making a lot of nonsense words and a few real ones. Soon, he started reading, and then, writing his first stories. School programs like the National PTA Reflections Arts-in-Education competition fueled his creative ambitions; starting in 2nd grade, he wrote and submitted a short story every year, advancing through local and state rounds of competition. They were mostly fantastical adventure stories, not unlike the Enid Blyton stories I had read growing up.
When Abhi learned that a fellow student had made a short film for the competition and that it had won at the national level, Abhi was adamant he could do the same. During that summer in India, he taught himself iMovie and figured out how to program a cute robot called Sphero so he could shoot his first five-minute film featuring a “robot detective” called Monsieur Sphero (a mischievous take on Agatha Christie’s famous sleuth, Monsieur Poirot). He was thrilled when his movie was selected for a national award.
When Abhi was 11, we discovered Stone Soup Magazine, a literary magazine for kids 14 years and under, that offers both a monthly print edition as well as an online blog section. Over the next two years, he became a regular blogger, writing book and movie reviews. The countless hours he spent debating his younger brother about the pros and cons of Star Wars helped shape the analytical skills and power of persuasion he needed to structure and write the reviews.
In 2019, Stone Soup announced their first annual book competition, and Abhi decided to go for it. He wanted to write a sci-fi story and started coming up with ideas, determined to write the book during our summer vacation in Meerut. In India, he saw a segment on cable news about the severe drought in Chennai and it piqued his interest. Why not combine science fiction and climate change in a unique way?
That was the spark for his 70-page novella set in the year 2100 called Three Days Till EOC. It is a story of climate scientist Graham Alison, who literally has three days to save civilization before a catastrophic cyclone threatens to destroy the planet. It is also a story about how small choices can lead to big changes – how a positive action we take today to stop climate change can result in a better world for our children, our children’s children, and generations after. We liked the idea, encouraged him to write the first draft, and then gave him feedback so he could continue to revise and improve his story over the next two months. Finally, he submitted it and was surprised and ecstatic when he learned that his book had won 1st place and would be published in September 2020. Since the book’s publication, Abhi has participated in various TV/newspaper interviews and made presentations to youth in the local Indian American community.
Abhi will turn 13 this month, and in a blink of an eye, he will soon be leaving for college. Like all parents, we wonder if we are doing enough to prepare our kids for this increasingly complex, fast-changing world. We hope that by giving them the freedom to play with and pursue their creative passions from a young age, that they will grow up to be hard-working, resilient, confident individuals who will contribute their talents in some way to make this world a better place. As a parent, there’s no greater legacy I can think of leaving behind.
(Featured Image: Denel McMahan speaking with ABC News)
Weeks before a youth-led Black Lives Matter protest that took place outside the Dublin Civic Center, owner of local gun business Mike Grant posted a picture of the 17-year old organizer, Denel McMahan, on his Facebook page. The caption read, “Please bring your vests and helmets in case these BLM people start trouble. Remember this group is known as a left-wing anti-government group. Take Dublin back!”
Within days, the veiled threat garnered a swift and strong backlash from the Dublin community and beyond. From city residents to Congressman Eric Swalwell, people came together to defend “these BLM people” and the cause they champion.
When I first learned about the situation, I was curious to know who “these BLM people” were, and how Grant’s social media targeting has affected them in this increasingly polarized climate. I had a chat with high school senior, Denel McMahan, president of Dublin High’s Black Student Union, member of the Tri-Valley Black Lives Matter movement, and recipient of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award at the City of Pleasanton’s annual Community of Character Collaborative. Denel was inspired by the string of protests that captured the heart of America this past summer and wanted to bring peaceful advocacy to his city.
Denel McMahan’s Thoughts
1) You’re a staunch supporter of racial equality and a member of the Black Lives Matter movement. As a Gen Z activist, how do you think social media and the Internet Age have affected both racism and social advocacy?
I think that social media has been a great resource throughout this period of COVID-19 and quarantine. The thing that I love about it is that social media has no boundary when it comes to education. People are free to post about whatever in its true form. This includes history. In school, history is heavily censored and manipulated in order to make students comfortable. However, to make real change we need to stop desiring comfortability. We learn about history to avoid repeating it, but we are right now due to sheltering students from traumatic concepts. The same goes for the internet too. I’ve learned more Black history myself through Google than I have in my 11 and a half years of schooling. My parents are also a great resource, but not everyone has parents who understand Black history in its entirety or are Black in general. So, if you want to learn more about truthful history, I recommend looking through Social Media and researching through Google.
2) At school, you’re the president of the Black Student Union. How has this experience shaped your journey of raising awareness and initiating change in your community as a whole?
My presidency has allowed me to earn a platform that is being taken seriously by our administration. For 3 years, I sat and watched the past presidents and how they ran the BSU. Through that, I began to shape my leading style and figured out what I wanted to do with my position. With it, I wanted to do the best I could. I not only wanted to improve our BSU and increase its presence on campus, but I wanted to make sure that we were involved in the Black Lives Matter movement efforts in Dublin. A protest was held in Dublin and there was so much support. Eventually, the other BSU officers and I drafted plans for school change, and our admin engaged heavily with us and is even making more opportunities for us to help the community out more.
3) Post the election, we find ourselves at the precipice of extraordinary political change. What legislative changes do you hope our new administration will bring to address racism, criminal justice, and police brutality?
I just hope that there’s some sense of accountability that comes with a new president. Of course, the President doesn’t have all the power in the federal government, but I feel that at least when incidents of brutality happen, we will have his support. The other big thing that I would want to see is national reparations. Those have been promised to Black Americans since the end of Slavery, but they haven’t been done. They are currently planning a reparations task force in California, so that would be interesting to see what they try to implement. However, they need to be done at the national level since slavery was pretty much a national thing before it ended.
4) If you’re comfortable speaking about this, what was the experience of seeing Mr. Grant’s Facebook post like? Was this kind of backlash something you’ve experienced in the past?
It was very worrying for me. When I saw the post, I was in Las Vegas for my sister’s 21st birthday. When I got word of the post, I was physically shaking. My face had been posted in a public, alt-right Facebook group for many conservatives to see. I saw that it had 29 shares, so that was 30 people who saw me as some thug trying to destroy Dublin, which in no case I was. The event was passed unanimously and was city-sponsored. A huge part of my nervousness was also because this was the first time I received public backlash. I knew I would eventually get some, but never that quick and never by a grown man.
5) In a conversation with ABC News, you mentioned that you’re willing to have a conversation with Mr. Grant. Do you feel like conversations like this are possible at a larger scale, where protestors and counter-protestors can reach a middle ground in constructive, innocuous ways?
Honestly, I believe that the political climate has destroyed any possibility of large-scale, constructive conversations. I think the best way to have them is in private so that all you need to do is to listen. A simple one-on-one conversation to get to a middle ground is the most effective way to do so. However, I hope that one day, groups of people from different beliefs can come together and conversate without it becoming ineffective or violent.
6) What advice do you have for other young people who want to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement?
My advice is to be vocal. In this time, silence also means compliance. Take the time to understand it and bring it close to you. Even in this time of COVID, there are social media platforms. Making and sharing posts are still great ways to advocate for the movement. If you find yourself wanting to protest, don’t be scared. The supporters will always outweigh the opposition.
These are wise words, especially coming from an individual who helped organize a Black Lives Matter protest on November 15th. The demonstration was both peaceful and successful, with Denel and his peers giving speeches about racism, their participation in the Black Student Union, and the harsh realities of police brutality in America. In a creative display of solidarity, this protest featured a ‘Sign Garden’, where signs and posters supporting the Black Lives Matter were placed everywhere from City Hall to the Civic Plaza. These signs were both positive and united, some of them including messages like, “Fear and hate have no place here” and “Color is not a crime”.
Personally, I’m both relieved and overjoyed that this demonstration, despite the initial conflict, remained peaceful and constructive. It was interesting to see this single cause bring together different generations, ethnicities, and cities to reflect on racial justice. But I can’t help but harken back to Denel’s comment about initiating a conversation with Grant. What does the exchange between these two political antipodes suggest about the future of race relations in America?
In a flash of optimism, I’d like to believe that recorded displays of police brutality, such as the tragic murder of George Floyd, will bring different ends of the socio-political spectrum together. As said by Will Smith, “Racism is not getting worse; it’s getting recorded.” Before videos of racism had the opportunity to go viral on social media and mainstream news outlets, it was far easier for American citizens to exist within an ideological bubble, where systemic oppression did not exist. That’s much harder to do when they’re being confronted by a live video of police brutality and racial profiling at its worst.
Furthermore, I do think that the coronavirus outbreak may offer a moment for the public to self-reflect, and consider how racial and socio-economic privilege has ravaged the very ideals we consider the ‘soul’ of America. After the strong online response to his incendiary post, Grant discussed how he became ‘educated’ about what it means to be a person of color in the United States in a phone interview with ABC.
“I never thought a 17-year old-boy could teach a 65-year-old man something, but he did,” said Grant. “For the last four-and-a-half days I’ve lived it. Just with phone calls, and texts, and hate mail and stuff. Now I think I understand why this young man is doing this, to try to educate people.”
The First Amendment of the American Constitution offers each one of us a voice, but these voices are muffled or confined in echo chambers due to political polarization. And personally, I can attest to subscribing to certain echo chambers myself. My social media feed is primarily consumed by individuals who shared the same political views that I do. My choices in mainstream media are a reflection of my opinions as well.
As an Indian-American, I think my identity as an immigrant has definitely been splintered along the lines of these echo chambers as well. During the 2020 election, for example, I found myself isolating myself from certain subsets of the Indian-American population who identified as Trump supporters. Amid the growing strength of the Black Lives Matter movement, I’ve seen so many Indian-Americans distance themselves from conversations about racial equality because they don’t learn (and perhaps don’t want to learn) about racial hierarchies and the myth that is America’s “Model Minority”. As immigrants, the echo chambers of this nation have only made our ignorance of the issues that plague our communities more convenient.
And while these tendencies may be very normal on both ends of the spectrum in our heated political climate, they also contribute to ideological myopia. Men like Mike Grant have no idea what it’s like to be a young black man, constantly targeted and unjustly policed. They read and watch media which feeds them highly distorted narratives on race in this country, and it shows.
Prior to this incident, I can’t help but wonder if Grant has ever had a constructive, honest conversation with a supporter of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Could this gap be bridged? Perhaps the path to an educated America — an America willing to recognize its racism for what it is — requires a space where these conversations can take place.
Kanchan Naik is a senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. She is the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton, as well as the Director of Media Outreach for youth nonprofit Break the Outbreak. Kanchan is the founder and editor-in-chief of her school newspaper, The Roar, and was the Global Student Editor for the summer edition of Stanford’s Newsroom by the Bay publication.
The top reasons why Masks will continue to play a critical role are:
No vaccine is 100% effective.
Vaccines do not provide immediate protection.
Covid vaccines may not prevent one from spreading the virus.
Kids are last in the line to get a vaccine as the clinical trials are still in process.
Because a vaccine is out, that does not mean that people should stop social distancing or wearing a mask. It is still very important to wear a mask and social distance. While doing this, you not only protect yourself but also the people around you, including those with compromised immune systems, senior citizens, friends, family.
Coloring has the ability to relax the fear center of your brain, the amygdala.
“Art therapy is being prescribed a lot more to support the mental health of young kids, especially those with social and emotional deficiencies,” Phaire
It induces the same state as meditating by reducing the thoughts of a restless mind. In these difficult times, this is a small initiative to help people around the world cope with COVID-19.
Creating an hour of activity.
Spreading and educating the importance of Masks to younger kids.
Teaching the basics of Masks.
I have authored the coloring book “The mask” to educate young children about the importance of a mask, especially during this time. It gives children something to do other than watch tv. During this time, there are not a lot of things that people can do and it is much harder for the younger children. My hope with this is to give them an activity or something fun to do while educating them. You can download the book here. It is also available on amazon
With the intention to educate the younger generation, I have reached out to a dozen non-profit organizations, and with their help, I am in the process of distributing 500 “The Mask” coloring books to kids in shelters in the San Francisco Bay area and Seattle. The primary intention being:
To raise awareness about masks and the importance of wearing it
More importantly to support the mental health of young kids using art.
As per NY times, for a teenager living in California, the stats for getting the vaccine are:
Based on your risk profile, we believe the teenager is in line behind 185.6 million people across the United States.
When it comes to California, teenagers are behind 20.7 million others who are at higher risk in your state.
Masks are our saviors, so the quest to educate kids on masks and their importance is critical, as they are last in line to get the vaccine once one become available. Please continue to wear the masks and educate about the importance of Masks.
Pranav Medida is a freshman at BISV in San Jose. His love of reading, which started at a young age, soon grew into a love of writing. He loves educating kids by authoring books and distributing them to the needy. ‘The Mask’ is his third book to raise awareness.
I struggled with 2020. What was it all about? All over the world this year people weren’t just fighting COVID-19 and lack of freedom, but were also standing up against violence and discrimination.
The year 2020 has been the first of many things:
The first time we experienced lockdowns and felt an urgency to grab every wet wipe in sight.
The first time people spent their holidays without family.
The first time people worked and studied from home, where the first twenty minutes of every Zoom interaction were spent discussing poor connections, muted microphones, and turned off cameras.
Someone’s first graduation or first year in school.
Someone’s first day at work and someone’s last.
All these firsts occurred so naturally that we became increasingly comfortable in them and they became our seconds, thirds, and constants. Most importantly, however, this year has been a space of growth for people, not just individually but as a community – something that perhaps a fast-paced, capitalistic society might’ve prevented in the past.
These movements highlighted that people are born human. It’s ironic that the biggest divides are made by people. We divide the day with time, divide people with everything we possibly could, and yet, believe that the solution to atrocities that occur from such divide is to further divide a community that is already disintegrating.
For once, in perhaps a long time, Black people were not alone in fighting their own battles against institutionalized oppression and racism. Teenagers and senior citizens walked on the streets to empower and protect a future that should be built on equality, regardless of skin color. But the BLM movement isn’t a trend, it didn’t ask people to post a picture once or twice on Instagram with captions like “Black Out Tuesday” and call it a day.
Instead, it created a space that supported black-owned businesses. It gave a platform for students and employees who were discriminated against in the workplace because of the color of their skin. It united people, as the privileged stood with black people and worked as allies. While all these events are a change in the positive direction, this movement isn’t close to ending. It has just begun.
To add to this, India’s nationalist government wanted Hindutva to prevail as the dominant (and only) religion. The government was and is vehemently against people who identify as Muslim. From crass WhatsApp jokes that highlight the ingrained discrimination against Muslims in India, to the police and government using violence against Muslim people on the streets, the divide and inequality reached a high this year.
These violent crimes against Muslim and Dalit people caused rage all over the country (as it should). Caste-ism, sexism, and religious discrimination reared their ugly heads and Indians came out in hoards to globally speak out against it. Calls for equality were heard as thousands of protests were held to fight against the violence these minorities face.
It irked me to say Muslim People, Hindu People, Dalit people, Black people. It irked me because it has come to a world where people are defined more by a part of their whole identity and less as just people. Rather than giving equal weight to ‘Dalit’ and ‘people’, we have begun to stress on the former and neglect the latter. It irks me because we take humanity away from humans. This year, however, it irked the whole world. These movements, these calls for equality forced people to stand up for each other. There is unrest still, there is discomfort, but what I learned this year is that we are tirelessly hopeful beings, even when we ourselves don’t see it.
So while 2020 had some of the worst to give, the best part of it has been the people living in it.
Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person.
An anonymous author once wrote: “We are living in an era where capturing moments using our phone is more important than actually living the moment with whoever is beside us.”
Last year, in 2019, this quote rang true, where everyone was glued to their devices by choice, not necessity. As the pandemic rages on, our paradigms have continued to shift, forcing us to socialize virtually. If we shut away our screens, we become truly isolated. Isolation brings depression along with lethargy. As more people become glued to screens, health and fitness drop and, in some cases, to dangerously low levels.
Fitness – the backbone of a strong lifestyle – helps us de-stress and stay healthy and happy, while allowing us to take a much needed break from our screens. But as this dangerous pandemic has engulfed us, the lockdown has constrained most to our homes. CNBC and Psychology Today found that nationally, people have become less active and sleeping more. Within one month of lockdown, the average activity level dropped 48%, while people are sleeping 20% more.
After the national emergency lockdown in March, the national average of those reporting anxiety increased from 29% to 49%, largely due to the restrictions on activities and the health scares. Physical activity reduces temporary and long-term diagnosed and undiagnosed anxiety and increases neutrophils and natural killer cells which protect the body from viruses such as COVID-19.Regular exercise can also indirectly reduce the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome and other respiratory problems that are prevalent with many who have contracted COVID-19. There is no doubt that staying fit is the best way to shield ourselves from both physical and mental health issues, which bolsters our immunity and helps fight against dangerous infections and diseases.
During these past six months since lockdown, it has become abundantly clear that fitness, or the lack thereof, has become a major issue. It may seem like a mystery that the national average for activity levels has decreased during this period, even though many people claim “to have started working out.” This can be explained rather easily by the types of exercise most are pursuing under lockdown: unsteady vs. regular. Regular fitness is categorized as vigorous repetitive exercise of 75 minutes to 150 minutes per week over several weeks, as described by Mayo Clinic. Unsteady exercise, on the other hand, while may still be rigorous, does not occur repeatedly enough to cause a noticeable improvement in fitness.
Many of us have tried to adapt to the rising virtual fitness world, turning to virtual products of at-home workouts and exercise, says Fortune. But staying committed to a routine without external support is difficult over a long period of time. Families have eagerly scheduled activity times, such as hiking, family walks, and beach days, but these activities are not defined as rigorous, repetitive exercise, leading to the major misconception that people are becoming more active. Since regular exercise is mandatory to maintain a calm composure, release stress, protect against viruses, and remain focused and alert, we must find a way to bring fitness back to our society.
The proven method to create and manage an exercise routine is to create a planned extensive workout schedule with someone and work together to hold each other accountable. When it comes to your health, never leave anything to chance, so plan out your approach, and take guidance from experts to design the best and safest exercise routine for you. Each individual is unique in their strengths, abilities, and flexibility, so a routine designed around you is best. I personally started with scheduled Zoom workouts with my friends, focusing on building muscles and staying healthy. I joined virtual sports classes for youth and committed to attending them each time. My top sport is Taekwondo and I have incorporated at least one hour of virtual learning and teaching each day of the week.
In March, I began my own virtual fitness and martial arts classes, mostly for family and close friends. In just a couple of months, I realized the amazing progress my students had made with their martial art learning and overall fitness and health. They had matured in discipline and perseverance. Encouraged, and realizing the benefit my classes provided, I formally started a non-profit on the premise of spreading fitness and martial arts training to youth virtually. The free classes teach general fitness, self-defense, and confidence. Fit4Grit Academynow has nearly 10 instructors instructing over 35 students. We also have multiple partnerships with national non-profits, youth-employment/development organizations, and martial art and fitness academies. We are working to expand nationwide, and globally. Fit4Grit focuses on fitness by teaching students the most effective ways to exercise in a safe environment with commitment, rigor, and discipline. The foundational values of fitness taught in Fit4Grit can translate to creating a healthy lifestyle for the long haul.
With the uncertainty around us, it is important to take care of our health and that of our loved ones. Fitness provides the most benefits to anyone of any age, anywhere. Take your time to understand your body and your needs and prioritize your health, even if it means picking up that electronic device and joining a virtual fitness class.
Let Fit4Grit Academy help you. Try out a class and plan your fitness schedule in the comfort of your home. If you have questions or would like to discuss your fitness needs, feel free to reach out to me, Adarsh Gupta, at email@example.com.
Adarsh Gupta, a sophomore at Saint Francis High School, a 2nd Degree Martial Art Black Belt, a competitive golfer, and the Founder of Fit4Grit Academy. He loves to be surrounded by fitness but also enjoys relaxing by playing guitar and gardening.