The BCC VOICE
Spring 2017, Interview issue
Inside This Issue
BCC Voice - Spring 2017
THE BCC VOICE is produced by English 14/15 students at Berkeley City College, with funding from the Associated Students. A special thank you to the ASBCC, the BCC English Department, administrators, faculty, and students who make this school great!
3 Berkeley, a Shining Beacon
Mayor Jesse Arreguin on His First 100 Days
6 Life Undocumented
Isabel Hernandez on Immigration in
the Era of Trump
8 Tackling the Student Achievement Gap
BCC Librarian Heather Dodge on
Taking a Holistic Approach
10 Multimedia for the People
Rachel Mercy Simpson on Teamwork and
Community at BCC
David L. Laidig
11 Naturally Punny
Johnny Pujol on Passionate Business and
Being a Nontrepreneur
13 Kickin' It with the King of Cannabis
Lozelle King on Homegrown Happiness
Derek Chartrand Wallace
ON THE COVER: Bri Lamkin is a western Colorado based artist. She received an Associate's Degree from Brigham Young University - Idaho with an emphasis in photography. She has been behind a camera for over ten years. Her recent work is primarily collage and attempts a lighthearted approach to discussing heavy topics such as mental health, feminism, and earth conservation.
See more of her work at brilamkin.format.com
Check her out on society6.com/brilamkin
Find her on Instagram @brilamkin
As I waited in the lobby of the fifth floor for my appointment with the mayor of Berkeley, Jesse Arreguin, who took office in November, 2016, I couldn't help but wonder what kind of person he was. This curiosity made me nervous, as I was ushered into the mayor's corner office at Berkeley's City Civic Center. There I spotted among the minimal decorations adorning the office, a San Francisco street sign bearing, “Cesar Chavez,” a signal I was among friends. Here is a true progressive, I thought, someone who cares about people.
I feel like a lot of BCC students are more activists than political. Why do you think this change occurred for you, and what advice do you have for BCC student activists looking to make political change?
Well I've been a political activist my entire life. Going back to when I was five years old, my interests in the world as well as current events gave me a sort of social consciousness that I was meant to fight for social justice. When I was nine, I was in a movement in my hometown of San Francisco, to rename a street after Cesar Chavez. We felt that pushing for change outside of the system was one way to get things done, but having been an activist, I saw that working within government was an opportunity to make real social change. You can make a real meaningful impact on peoples' lives. That eventually led me to get involved in local government not only in San Francisco, but when I came to Berkeley, getting involved with my community here. Activism, however plays an important role. As a policy maker I am working with community organizers and activists to try and lobby policy to put pressure on other elected officials to be held accountable and do the right thing. There is a critical relationship there, but at the same time, I believe we can make more of an impact working from inside the system.
With some of the cheapest local studios costing $1500–$1600 in rent, what are some of the ways that the affordability of housing is being addressed?
The vast majority of new projects are being built for people who don't live in Berkeley and for above moderate income. We need to demand that builders develop more affordable housing. We need to make sure that as we are growing as a city that we are growing equitably. Through the millions of dollars in additional funding that we will receive through taxes from Measure U1, a Berkeley tax, and A1, an Alameda County housing bond, we will provide more resources than ever for Berkeley to create affordable housing. However, the reasons why we are in a crisis is that we have not built enough houses to keep up with the demand over time. Some people say, “lets just build a lot of expensive housing,” but that is not going to solve the problem. Yes, we need to build more housing, but trickle-down economics will not solve the immediate displacement problem. The Costa-Hawkins Act, which allows landlords to charge whatever they want after a resident vacates, is single-handedly the biggest reason why we are seeing such dramatic rent increases in our community in the State of California. There is a movement now to get a bill passed in Sacramento to appeal that law, however that is going to be very difficult because of the real-estate lobby. We need the support of students and of everyone to create a movement to lobby Sacramento.
What is being done to address the problems of homelessness and housing?
In the first meeting of the new city council, we directed staff to double the number of shelter beds and warming areas in Berkeley. We immediately put that vote before the city council, which came just at the right time with heavy rains and cold winter months. We have also reached out to the homeless population to ask directly what their needs are. To that end, we created The Pathway's Project which is my plan to address the homelessness issue. It would create a shelter, which people can stay in for longer periods of time. It also has all services centralized so people can connect with housing plus mental health services, as well as health care. The biggest challenge is that we don't have enough housing for all the people on the streets. Permanent supportive housing is the solution to homelessness. Housing works, but we don't have the housing that San Francisco or Oakland does to house everyone. It'll take some time to build up the housing stock.
Regarding Alta Bates' potential closure, are there plans to keep them here, so we have an emergency room in Berkeley?
Absolutely. It's a huge issue that has not gotten a lot of attention. Its closure would effect our city and the entire region. I'm committed to doing everything I can to keep Alta Bates open and continue to serve the community. To that end we have been trying to negotiate with Alta Bates for a solution, as well as convening a task force composed of the mayors of nearby cities to discuss what we can do to challenge the closure.
Last weekend there was an attack article against you, published by Breitbart, and I was deeply concerned by their allegations linking you to ANTIFA [Anti-facism group, who often employs violent tactics]. How do you respond to these allegations?
Well, Breitbart is not real news. It's fake news, and they didn't even contact me for a comment or reach out to me to get my side of the story. I, for example, follow Donald Trump on Twitter. It doesn't mean I am a Donald Trump supporter. I liked that page many years ago, because I wanted to know what they were up to. In particular, because they (ANTIFA) were organizing violent elements to come into our city to engage in violent confrontation. Had I known that I still 'liked' that page I probably would've unliked it, because I don't want to give the impression that I support their views or their use of violence. In fact, I strongly disagree with their tactics. It was a distortion of the truth. The article was trying to fit Berkeley into this right-wing narrative that Berkeley is trying to suppress people from engaging in freedom of speech, but in reality it is the exact opposite that's the case. We have gone above and beyond to let everyone, regardless of their political views, express their views and engage in public assembly. What we have seen, however, is people coming into our cities to specifically engage in violence. Violence is not freedom of speech.
Considering Milo's appearance, how, as the mayor of Berkeley, did you deal with the perils of balancing free speech with the will of the people and the will of the university?
I received many emails from concerned residents who were troubled with Milo's invitation to speak at UC Berkeley. We knew that there was a real chance that his appearance could incite violence. In fact, I think at one campus rally [University of Washington] someone was shot. So we had a right to be concerned, which we had conveyed to the university [UCB], but at the end of the day it's their decision. Looking back on the event, we thought there was a potential for violence and sure enough there was. I know it's challenging for the university to balance freedom of speech and public safety. Going forward, they will most likely allow controversial speakers to come to campus and they must set the parameters of when they speak and where so that we, the city, can balance public safety, while facilitating freedom of speech. I personally strongly disagree with Milo and Ann Coulter's views, but this city is the birthplace of the free speech movement. We believe in allowing everyone the opportunity to showcase their points of view. However, when violence is involved that's when we will get involved. That's when we will arrest people and hold them accountable for their actions.
How has your tenure embodied resistance by keeping Berkeley's sanctuary city status, especially with the concern of ICE enforcement?
One of the first things that we did before I was sworn in as mayor was that we made a declaration that Berkeley will remain a sanctuary city in light of the current administration's threats and cuts in federal funds. We also created a protocol if ICE comes into our city as well as expanding resources and providing legal defense to members of the undocumented community. We made very clear that despite the fact that we may lose $12 million in federal funds and grants, that maintaining the safety and security of all of our residents, regardless of citizenship status, is something that we believe in. Moreover, we also conveyed that Berkeley needs to resist against unjust and unconstitutional policies that the national administration is putting forth. We have a particular responsibility to speak out to be used as models for other cities.
As the first Latino mayor of Berkeley, I'm sure that this issue hits home for you.
Absolutely, it's my people that Trump is going after and attacking. We are a nation of immigrants, and what he is doing goes against some of the core principles of what our country stands for.
On the subject of Berkeley's federal funding potentially being cut by $12 million, would this adversely affect Berkeley?
It specifically affects funding for public health, housing and homelessness; however, we are fortunate in the last election that the voter's approved two measures. Measure U1 and Measure A1 will provide additional funds to address the housing and homeless crisis. That helps even if we are going to see cuts at the federal level. We need the help of the state though. When the federal government cuts funding for the state with the impending elimination of Obamacare what are we going to place at the state-wide level as well as the local level? We need to provide health care for everyone and that is why I strongly support the bill in Sacramento to establish a single-payer system in California. If that doesn't succeed we are looking into creating a program modeled after San Francisco, which would require that employers provide health care to all their employees in the City of Berkeley.
I am totally in favor of the single-payer method; it would be ideal.
It's what Obamacare should've been. But we have to monitor it [the potential federal cuts] is a changing situation. The president can introduce a budget that is very draconian, which is unlikely be passed in Congress. We are challenging the court, but if the federal government does cut that $12 million, we will maintain the safety net.
How is Berkeley going to embody the greater resistance fight as a whole?
Berkeley needs to lead the resistance and we need to use our voice as a city to speak out against the unjust actions of federal government. Not only are we a sanctuary city, we also became the first city to pass a policy that we will divest in companies that are involved in the construction of the border wall. Which has actually led to other cities passing similar action policies such as in Oakland and San Francisco. We have also passed policy that we will not participate in any Muslim ban as we have spoken very firmly against the anti-Muslim policies of the administration. We have directed our police department to process any hate-crimes in order to make it clear we are a hate-free city. We have come out in opposition to the president's federal budget. Finally, we have also called for the impeachment of the president due to violations of the constitution.
Last question Mr. Mayor, is there anything you would like to say to BCC students?
I think there are a lot of opportunities to strengthen the partnership with BCC. I've met with the president of BCC Rowena Tomaneng, and we are working on creating an internship program with BCC. We welcome the involvement of BCC students since we are literally half a block away. Also we have a lot of forums at City Hall and we want to hear your ideas.
Jesse Arreguin, Mayor of Berkeley, left. Chris Do, staff writer for the BCC Voice, right.
Continued from page 5
By Christopher Do
Photo Credit: Chris Do
Berkeley, a Shining Beacon
Mayor Jesse Arreguin on His First 100 Days
By Katie McCluer
Isabel Hernandez on Immigration in the Era of Trump
(Names have been changed to protect privacy.)
Isabel Hernandez gripped her phone in her right hand as she stared down at the bright screen, unable to believe the words she was reading. Smart phones have this uncanny optimism as they announce you’ve received a new text message with a sunny chirp. This was not good news. Her coworker, whom she’d worked with for two years at least, would not be showing up to work tomorrow. He’d been picked up by the police. This was not because he did anything wrong, per se, but because he didn’t have the proper paperwork. Antonio lived in the Bay Area for the past 30 years, where he had a family, a home, and a career. Despite all of this, he was still, technically, undocumented.
Hernandez had become close with Antonio’s wife over the years, and his wife was the one who reported the news.
“[She] texted me and told me they all got deported,” said Hernandez, speaking in an interview with the BCC Voice. Hernandez is soft spoken, and she stuttered over her words a bit as she shared this. She explained that she was nervous, and I did my best to reassure her that she was safe.
I knew, though, that I could only do so much. After weeks of searching for an interviewee, Hernandez emailed me back, agreeing to be interviewed only under the circumstance of absolute anonymity. We couldn’t even meet in person, only over the phone. This is understandable, given the current political climate. Since Donald Trump took office, immigration of any kind has been under scrutiny. Hernandez has a right to be scared.
The night Trump won the vote, Hernandez and her partner cried together, wondering what the future would bring. As she pictured four years of Trump she thought,“What is going to happen to me?”
Eleven years ago, Hernandez left her family and friends behind in the hopes of a brighter future. In Mexico, she was forced to drop out of high school to take care of her family, so college was out of the question. Her parents focused their attention on her two older brothers, and Hernandez was left to figure out life on her own. “We used to drink a lot...I mean a lot,” said Hernandez of her previous life. After months and months of heavy drinking with her friends, Hernandez knew she wanted something better for herself, but saw no way out. Feeling helpless in her situation, she turned to drastic measures. She attempted suicide. “I tried to commit suicide, but I survived. It was kind of a miracle.” After that, she realized she had to change her life. She moved to the Bay Area with the intention of starting anew.
The plan was to live in the United States for six months before moving overseas. Hernandez made her way to the Bay Area and from there, planned to live with a family member in Spain. “I have a relative in Spain. She agreed to take me in.” Hernandez thought it would be easier to live with family, but in the end she fell in love with California. “I liked it here,” she said, “and then 6 months passed, and I’ve been here for 11 years now.”
When she arrived in the U.S, Hernandez knew she wanted to go to school. But at that time, her undocumented status was an obstacle.
“It’s really difficult trying to go to school. It took me hours trying to enroll and explain my situation,” said Hernandez, “It’s difficult to talk about this [being undocumented] openly because there’s kind of a stigma...you feel ashamed about it.”
In California at least, things have changed for the better since Hernandez first had to enroll in school. “They’re more aware of undocumented students now. They’re helping fill out applications and find scholarships...so that’s way better.” Unfortunately, this awareness does not extend to many other states in the U.S.
Hernandez tells me there’s a lot of anxiety that comes with being undocumented. To make matters worse, she has to be careful about expressing this anxiety, for fear of exposing herself. “You must always be aware of what you are doing. Seeing a policeman makes me feel anxious and watching the news when Trump came into office gave me a lot of anxiety. It was horrible. We were watching to see what he would do or if he had a force for removal of undocumented immigrants.”
During the Bush administration, Hernandez was walking down the street when she saw some guys get picked up in the Mission District. She froze, not knowing what to do next, and then forced herself to look away and take a deep breath. Hernandez thought to herself, “OK. That could be me,” and continued walking. That was all she could do.
While being undocumented has its drawbacks, overall Hernandez is satisfied with her life in the East Bay. I asked her if she misses her hometown, and she giggled and said, “Mostly I miss the food...I miss my parents...but...I’m just really happy here, to be honest.” She won a scholarship from City College of San Francisco. “It was the proudest moment of my life," she said. "My effort, all the time I studied, it paid off.” Hernandez studies English at a city college in the East Bay, has a long-term partner, and is proud of the work she does as a line cook in a restaurant. “Most line cooks are men,” Hernandez laughs, “so people look at me like ‘No you can’t and I’m like, ‘Watch me!’”
For a while, Hernandez was learning to play the cello at City College in San Francisco. From the first time she heard a cello she knew she wanted to play. “I’m a weird person; I love classical music,” Hernandez chuckles, “I went to music school and it was very cool. I’m not a very good cellist though.” Hernandez laughs to herself again, “But yeah, I love classical music. Bach is my favorite.”
According to Hernandez, looking for a job was easier than enrolling in school because she had friends looking out for her. “I have a lot of friends, and they helped connect me with work. If they saw, ‘looking for a line cook’ or ‘looking for a waitress,’ they would call me.” On the other hand, Hernandez is limited in the kind of work she would likely be hired to do. She said, “I have a friend who is undocumented and she works at Google. But, she’s from Romania, so they are not as picky with people from Europe [compared to] people from Latin America.”
“It’s the skin color. That’s the difference. It’s all about skin color and who has the right color and who doesn’t.” Hernandez told me she didn’t realize America was so racist. She is disappointed that Trump uses racism as a political instrument and scapegoats Mexicans as the enemy. The presidential administration is "so full of hate and racism,” said Hernandez, “ I’ve met people who are undocumented from Spain, from Romania, and they have never been arrested. I was like, “What’s the difference? The fact that a political group wants a scapegoat— it’s scary.”
Hernandez wants to speak out for her rights, but feels she can’t say too much out in the open for fear of being targeted. “You have to be careful how you fight,” she said, “I knew a woman from Argentina...living in Arizona and she gave an interview on TV saying she’s not afraid now and that it’s wrong. And the police picked her up.”
Despite all this, Hernandez is an activist for her cause and she takes solace in an amazing group of friends that understand her situation and support her. She recognizes that this kind of support makes her life better. “They want to protect me. They tell me, ‘if anything happens, we’re going to protect you, we’re going to bail you out, we’re going to fight for you.’ I’m happy to have my friends. I’m lucky. Not everyone has that.”
BCC Librarian Heather Dodge on Taking a Holistic Approach
By Tamara Sherman
Photo courtesy of Heather Dodge
BCC librarian Heather Dodge
Tackling the Student Achievement Gap
Being a librarian is not just about loving books and enjoying reading. In her fourth year as a BCC Librarian, Heather Dodge, views her position more holistically on campus. She incorporates teaching, relationship building, counseling, and being of service. She recently sat down with the BCC voice to discuss her dogged determination to get low cost textbooks to students, sitting on five committees, breaking down the achievement gap, and how she ended up in the documentary, “112 Weddings.”
Where were you working before coming to BCC?
I am a Bay Area native, but I was living in New York for six years. I have been a librarian since 2010 and have worked at New York University, New York Society library, and two years at Manhattan College. I moved back to the Bay Area in 2013.
What took you to the East coast?
I never intended to go to library school. I had my bachelor’s degree and I really loved literature and research. I started a master’s program at New York University thinking that I would go on to get a PhD. My master’s program was in comparative literature. I started that program and while I was there, I happened to be in the library and saw a poster about a scholarship opportunity to get a library degree at the same time as getting another master’s degree. The application was due in two weeks. I applied for it on a whim because I already spent a lot of time in the library as it was, and then I ended up getting the scholarship. I was able to get my master’s degree at NYU and get my library degree for free. So that was great.
Was that your ah-ha moment?
I think it was sort of an ah-ha moment. I was going to be in my second year of my master’s program, and I would have to start applying to PhD programs. I did not want to be locked away doing my own writing for five to six years. What I really found that I enjoyed was being with students, being in a research environment; I really enjoyed that context. I am much more sociable than I was just being an academic. All these factors aligned, and I decided to take that path.
As of March, you are tenured faculty. What does that mean for you career-wise at BCC?
It means I can start being noisier because I am not under the gun so much. It also means I had good guidance from faculty members both at the library and other disciplines that helped me with my teaching and cultivating my service to the campus. In the past four years, I have done a lot of exploring of what is of interest to me, what areas I want to cultivate in myself as a leader. I think being a librarian is unique in that I don’t just have the perspective of my discipline. I have student contact because I teach my own class, I see students in the library, and I go into the classroom and teach students how to do research in different disciplines, all of which has given me a nice perspective of the whole campus. It also helped me cultivate a service interest and figure out areas that I am interested in working in.
There is a perception that librarianship is about books and technology, and that is one aspect of it, but it is also about relationships and community building. I think those two pieces are as important as having a strong physical and digital collection in the library. The more you are out in the community and the more you are out on the campus, the more faculty and students see you as being a relevant and available part of their learning experience.
From your experience working with faculty and students, how have your interests broadened?
There have been a couple that I have really become interested in. One of those is the achievement gap. [The achievement gap is a reference to significant disparity in educational performance nationwide, between high and low-income students and/or white and minority students]. I came from NYU and Manhattan College which are private colleges. Although NYU is racially and ethnically diverse, it is not economically diverse. Manhattan College tends to attract suburban kids who want to be in an urban environment, but it is not racially or ethnically diverse. One of my bigger interests is how we can eliminate the achievement gap and what is my role in that. Not just as a campus looking at metrics, but what role do I individually play on this campus to help that. One piece is that I have been teaching with the Umoja Learning Community as an embedded librarian. The students are amazing.
Also, I am looking at the cost of textbooks and course materials. It’s astounding; it’s so expensive. I have become really invested in working on our campus and state wide to make textbooks more affordable and to use open and free textbooks that students can download as a PDF or faculty can offer as low-cost readers. So, I have been doggedly going after some of the disciplines that have really high-cost textbooks and trying to encourage faculty to switch to low-cost or free textbooks. And that is one way to help lessen the achievement gap because if students can afford the materials, then that is less of a barrier to them getting into a class. Students should have access to materials and they need to be low cost or free.
How many BCC committees are you on?
The Education Committee, Facilities Committee, The Planning for Institutional Effectiveness (PIE) Committee, which does assessment, and the Communications Task Force. I was recently elected chair of our department, so next year I will sit on the Chairs Committee. I am also the coordinator of our Teaching and Learning Center, where faculty can apply for small grants to test out new teaching practices or work in small groups to come up with solutions to pedagogical problems.
Being active on so many committees, building relationships with students, and being involved on campus—is there a part of you that believes in service and giving back?
I would say service is at the heart of being a librarian. Service to your campus, service to your population or community—that is the heart of it. [My job] is really divided into half service and half teaching, which is nice. I get a lot of pleasure out of seeing the big picture on our campus and seeing the way different parts fit together and different people work together and being part of that.
How do you decide the acquisitions for the library and do you have a monetary cap per year?
It’s really faculty driven. We take suggestions from faculty. We also look at which programs are developing here on campus. We look at the strengths and weaknesses of our physical collection and we add based on those.
Surprisingly, we do not have a book budget. The California State Lottery set aside funds that are just for textbooks so sometimes we get those. Sometimes we get money from the Peralta Foundation and that is how we maintain our reserve of textbooks along with faculty giving us copies. But the books you see on the shelves, we have to fight, stomp our feet, and demand from our administration to give us funds.
Rowena Tomaneng, our new president has been incredibly supportive of the library. She recognized a need to build our multi-cultural collection of books and she gave us some funds to do that. We have been able to build up our collection in that area.
What is the most under-utilized library service from your experience?
At BCC, we have a chat library function where you can chat with a librarian. I am surprised in this era of texting and so much revolved around short-hand conversations that more people don’t use our chat service.
Also, through an amazing gift, we have a really robust zine collection. We have all these awesome zines, and I wish that more students would come in and read them. I wish that faculty would come and take them to their classes.
It is definitely a collection that for me, pedagogically, I feel like there are a lot of voices that go under-represented and that having a strong zine collection is a way for those voices come to the forefront. You have more LGBTQ people— people from different religions and different racial backgrounds can have an alternative way of having their voice heard. I’m still working on other ways to have better representation in our collection, but that is a way to do it quickly and for people to have an in-road.
If the administration had extra money and you were allowed to have something for the library, what would that be?
More staff. I really love our physical collection, but I am under no presumptions that books are going to circulate more if we have more books. I would love to have another full-time librarian and that librarian to have just one focus, like outreach at events for underrepresented populations on our campus.
Tell me about “112 weddings”?
I love documentaries and film festivals. When I was living in New York, I went to see a documentary and I met the director, Doug Block. He had made a previous movie that I really liked called “51 Birch Street.” I saw him in the audience and we started talking. He said he was working on a new documentary about being a wedding videographer. I said, "I’m getting married this summer," and he said "That’s very interesting because I’m looking for a wedding to film that would be the capstone of this documentary." I said, "That’s great; I don’t have any money to hire a wedding videographer; if you ever think about doing that, get in touch."
He emailed me three weeks later, and asked if he could film our wedding for free, and we would be in his documentary. I was like, "I’m all for free stuff." So, he came and filmed. While it was happening, I was sort of annoyed because his film style is in your face, and he was always asking me questions like, "So what’s gonna happen if this marriage does not work out for you?"
We got a traditional wedding video from him, and we did not hear from him for four years. Then he called and said HBO picked up the documentary, and it is going to be in all these film festivals, and he asked if we wanted to come to a bunch of the openings. We did not actually get to see the whole film until we were sitting in a theater in North Carolina. It was really nerve-wracking but it was really fun. It is one of those weird blips in my life.
A small selection of the hundreds of zines available in the BCC library.
Photo by Tamara Sherman
Rachel Mercy Simpson (left) discusses video editing concepts with students Asekang Ojoi (on right) and Tennessee Reed.
By David L. Laidig
A press release announcing the 2017 Faculty Innovation Award of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) for Rachel Mercy Simpson was succinct:
“Since 2009, Simpson has been instrumental in transforming BCC’s multimedia arts program into one of the leading such programs in the country. Simpson will be recognized for her award at the AACC’s 97th Annual Convention in New Orleans later this month.”
Her take on that: “For me it’s really a love letter to everyone who has contributed to the success of our multimedia department.” She cites students, faculty, staff assistants, and administrators, as well as those “who paid for this building, our amazing equipment, and shooting studio…fellow citizens who believe it’s important that people have access to an affordable education in media.”
During the recent AACC conference in New Orleans, she met with college and Silicon Valley leaders who talked about a problem they see with online education. In its focus on narrow technical skills, it’s not the “full package.” In order for media professionals to have resilience in their careers they need to develop deep analytical and critical communication skills that are best obtained through interactive projects in a group environment.
Her concern for students is evident in the Implicit Bias Training retreat she set up for multimedia faculty and teaching assistants, one factor in winning her the award. The training was to show how prejudice can affect expectations and grading across the diverse range of students we have at BCC. Teaching assistants were also included, as they can be important guides for their peers.
She sees herself as part of a collective endeavor to create an active learning environment by thinking about what students need to do and involving them in the process. Collaboration and teamwork are important. Lectures focus on software, but media is about communication, both visual and verbal. To help students communicate powerful ideas she encourages them to continue their education at one of the many public colleges in this area with affordable options. Quite a few have gone on to UC Berkeley or UCLA.
This interview was conducted on May Day (her high school age son was on a march in San Francisco) which lead to the topics of economics and disparity. She has been concerned about the cost of living in the Bay Area and how this affects students and faculty, especially adjuncts (part-timers). Rents are continuously rising. Many students need full or part-time jobs to survive. Sometimes, for economic reasons, they drop out.
Simpson recalled her student days and how she benefited from an unlikely, but good education starting at “a tiny, ad hoc elementary school in Brooklyn.” It was in a diverse neighborhood with a lot of recent immigrants, like her family. Her father, from South Africa, had passed through England to Canada. Her mother, born and raised in Canada, had parents originally from Scotland. She feels a strong connection with Berkeley’s diversity.
She didn’t go to the local high school she thought she was destined for. Through fortunate family connections she was sent to Phillips Academy, a boarding high school. After attending Wesleyan University on a scholarship, she went to Tisch School of the Arts at New York University where she had to scrub soup pots to support herself.
After several years shooting video documentaries, producing radio shows for NPR, and giving birth to her son, she decided to try teaching as a way to stay closer to home. Simpson couldn’t afford to leave town for days to shoot on location. Just as she once loved to wrap her own films, she now feels invested in her students’ projects and in developing BCC’s “beloved community.”
Before going full time in 2009, Simpson was an adjunct. She feels pay disparity between adjuncts and full-time faculty needs to be addressed. Adjuncts earn considerably less than full-time teachers doing the same jobs. “It is such a boon to our students to have adjuncts currently working in the industry. They help students in networking, finding jobs, and internships. Their skills are cutting edge.”
Simposon and Mary Clarke-Miller co-chair BCC's Multimedia Department, working together to prioritize building closer ties with the industry, and pushing for higher levels of rigor, skills, and opportunity.
Rachel Mercy Simpson on Teamwork and Community at BCC
Photo Credit: David L. Laidig
Multimedia for the People
Six of the most popular tea tins offered at novelteatins.com
Many a bibliophile finds solace lost between the pages of a new book with their hands cupping an aromatic cup of tea. In fact, Johnny Pujol has built an entire business, NovelTea Tins, around crafting premium blended teas and housing them in witty tins that are artfully designed to pay homage to the novels that inspire them.
Under the delightful email pseudonym Don Quixotea, Pujol agreed to chat with the BCC Voice about how an idea like this came to fruition, and what students looking to create businesses of their own should know. Sitting down with Pujol at local Berkeley haunt, Caffe Strada, it’s not hard to see how he’s able to bring his ideas to life. With a palpable energy that buzzes through the air, Pujol exudes passion and excitement for everything he is a part of, especially NovelTea Tins, which he describes as more like a hobby than actual work. What “started off as a joke over Christmas” of 2015, has snowballed into a viable business that keeps on growing.
A bit of a crowdfunding savant, Pujol started his first company, SimpleWater, through a booming Kickstarter campaign, and was able to pull off the same success for NovelTea Tins blowing their initial goal out of the water. He’s turned to the masses again to expand the brand and bring in new products. One look at their site shows why these tins are such a hit. With beautiful, thoughtful imagery and punny titles with a touch of whimsy, like “Pippi Ooolongstocking” and “Matcha Do About Nothing,” these tins are one-of-a-kind. Part of this vision came from the simple, wholesome desire to encourage more people to read and find joy in the ultimate bliss you can reach when you combine it with a delicious cup of tea. Pujol describes his vision saying that:
"So much of the world is theater and people wanting things that are human. Literature talks a lot about human vices, obstacles, and challenges that, sorry, you just can’t learn at Berkeley [or anywhere else]. When you read a book, you step into a character’s life, and you learn to empathize. You become a more caring and more thoughtful person when you’re reading. "
Pujol credits his partner Jorgen Stovne with pulling off their artistic vision by sourcing incredible talent and collaborating on eye-catching designs that are Instagram ready; drawing in followers by the thousands and giving them the perfect fodder for a chic "bookstagram" to show off.
Pujol says that they “don’t release anything that doesn’t look good, unless [he has] a crazy idea at two in the morning, but then [he] can count on Stovne taking it down." He goes on to say that in today's society you "have to show people everything, and prove why they should buy your product over someone else's" which is why presentation is vital and he's grateful to have Stovne's impeccable eye.
The dynamic duo met when Stovne stayed as Pujol’s Airbnb guest, with the two linking minds and never looking back. Pujol and Stovne balance each other out well; Pujol acting as the unflappable “yes we can” man with contagious enthusiasm; whereas Stovne serves as a more grounding force, honing in on the fine details and technicalities. Pujol says that without his “idiocy [NovelTea Tins] wouldn’t have become tangible, and without [Stovne’s] brilliance, it wouldn’t have become viable.” It takes a certain “kind of bravado to say hey this is going to work” and have other people buy into that too.
Pujol had “little intention of becoming an entrepreneur” saying that he “hates the word, in fact” and that you will never hear him refer to himself as one; a funny stance for someone who is running three start-ups. But, all kidding aside, this nontrepreneur’s real motivation comes from feeling “unmotivated by the ideas others were giving [him]." So, he set out to bring his ideas to the table and surround himself with the talented, hireable, people who can help make it happen. Pujol humbly describes himself as someone who was never a good student or particularly good at any one skill, but as one who is full of ideas that are “ninety percent trash, with the remaining ten percent having the potential to strike gold once in a while.”
While the puns come easy, that’s been the only easy part in Pujol’s business endeavors. When asked what advice he has for budding entrepreneurs, Pujol acknowledges that there are so many different ways of starting a business.
"I think my way of doing it so far has been a very unglamorous one; we have always been on a tight budget. We have always been doing things that are new. If I were to take my advice, it would be to mimic things that are working and tweak them. That’s a much safer and less risky way of being an entrepreneur. It may not feel as satisfying, but it might make your job a bit easier than trying to do something entirely different.”
Every day, Pujol checks in with himself, looks into the mirror, and says “Hey, today you’re probably not going to make any money; you’re probably going to fuck up." As long as he can keep being OK with that, he keeps moving forward and urges others to do the same. He also says that they should prepare for this feeling, and lack of money, not to go away for a long time.
Pujol’s biggest piece of advice is to link up with a fantastic partner like the one he’s found in Stovne. Someone who will hold you accountable and isn’t afraid to tell you the truth. They should make up for the areas you lack in so that your business is as well-rounded as possible. Don’t build yourself a team of people who all think the same as you do, Pujol explains, that doesn’t leave room for growth like a diverse group of individuals does.
Most of all, you have to persevere and be persistent. Persistence has gotten Pujol far in life, from building companies to getting into UC Berkeley’s Masters of Engineering program with no engineering background (it only took three tries and a whole lot of hard work).
Keep pushing forward with passion and dedication, and success will follow, or not, but at the very least you'll learn from the experience.
Johnny Pujol on Passionate Business and Being a Nontrepreneur
Johnny Pujol, co-founder of NovelTea Tins
Photo courtesy of novelteatins.com
By Alex Burt
Photo courtesy of Johnny Pujol
It’s one week before 4/20—the largest counterculture holiday in North America that celebrates the consumption of the devil's lettuce in all its varied forms. If he’s stressing about it, you can’t tell from Lozelle King’s demeanor. Through shafts of setting sunlight slicing between trees lining the neighborhood, we walk to his nearby art studio. In just a couple of streets he has already been greeted by half a dozen grateful neighbors. It’s the Berkeley I heard about in my childhood, the golden pot at the end of the tie-dye rainbow. We take time to “get in the zone,” but not for fun and games (that always happens when you spend time with Lo because he’s a naturally funny guy)—because what I don’t realize until later, is that he is mentally preparing me for what’s to come, as he is about to drop some serious words of wisdom, and that is one cold pool you don't just cannonball into. I lament the state of tensions in the country and how we couldn’t do this interview at a local park on a swing set without being hassled by someone. With a precautionary scan of the area before heading inside, King agrees. “I don’t like being outside because there is always an opportunity for me to be cornered by police. That’s what this is about...”
He swings open the door to his art-house like Bruce Wayne revealing the Batcave. It’s the kind of place you might not notice, subtle and sly and nondescript. You can get work done here, but also hide in plain sight. It reminds me of a recent story about a puma in Mountain View that took cover in some bushes along a busy downtown street as people passed by obliviously just a few feet away. “My little shop,” he grins. “It ain’t much, but it’s a start.” In addition to using the space for creative writing and making t-shirts to sell, he also stores art that he creates and collects. One piece is a painting of Jay-Z’s album cover for “Reasonable Doubt,” which I instantly know will be the backdrop for a future photo shoot.
I suggest we start our chat with a talk about fashion. “Chuck Taylors,” he says with conviction bordering on an edict. “I’m not spending no hundred and—I get why my grandmother was serious about shoes.” He indicates the kicks on his feet, “Chuck’s? That’s what a tennis shoe is supposed to be. Thirty, forty bucks tops. Why you paying two-hundred dollars for shoes and you ain’t even on the team? You ain't even playing basketball!”
He talks about his love of handmade products, from clothing to food, and I suddenly never missed my family so much as in that moment. Both King and I used to live in Georgia, but it doesn’t take long to find that we had much different experiences in the land of the peaches.
“Growing up, most of my classroom was white. But we also had a good amount of black kids. A lot of those black kids would tease me sometimes. The mentality’s crazy down South. Ya know why? It’s that ‘paper bag’ complexion thing. You’re light-skinned like me? I’m a man to listen to. Why? Because I’m light. Oh my god, don’t let me throw on no glasses. I could be in a room of established, well-educated men and they’ll be like ‘All you darkies shut up!’
We share a laugh, but a cloud of somberness passes across his face. “It becomes an insult, though. My whole life, growing up, darker kids would try me. ‘What you say, boy?’ thinking I’m weak because I’m white. Nah, I’m a bit crazy. It didn’t work that way with me. But it insulted me.”
“Did I ever tell you I almost got lynched at eleven years old? I was at a football game with my friends and my brother didn’t come pick me up, me and my friends Travis and Dee Anthony Morgan. Dee Anthony was maybe thirteen, his brother was eleven; we were the same age. So we let everybody leave, but there was a truck circling the school. ‘Hey you n—s!’ I’m like, what the hell? I’m not used to this kind of shit, none of us are used to it—you don’t never get used to this kind of shit. So they go around again. It’s a big block. The third time, Dee Anthony said, ‘Listen y’all...when the truck turns the corner this time, we have to run.’ Me, I was chubby.”
He pantomimes breathing heavy and feeling put upon, reaching that point in the storytelling where you shift from past tense to present tense because you are reliving that trauma all over again.
“So as soon as they bend the corner we all strike out. Around the school is white neighborhoods, but before you get to those white neighborhoods is overturned cotton fields. Fresh overturned. Just dirt. We run across this dirt. I don’t know if I fell, if I was just going too slow, but I remember him grabbing me, putting me on his back, a thirteen year-old boy and I’m eleven, and running his ass off, his brother right beside him. Then we got to these ritzy-ass neighborhoods of white people. Then sneaking through there, just tryna make our way home. We end up getting to a phone booth and we call and somebody picked us up from that store. But I never forgot that run. And I never forgot my homey, Dee Anthony. That’s why my whole life, anything he ever asked me for, I gave him. Cause what thirteen year-old kid thinks like that? He knew more of the threat than we did. That was in 1988. That’s some shit, ain’t it?”
King's eyes water up as he recounts his harrowing tale. It’s different reading stories of racism and oppression and violence in a Howard Zinn history book than when it comes from the mouth of someone you know and love and admire.
We discuss race relations further, touching upon the media distortions of icons like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Finally, our conversation winds down and as he pauses for a moment to check his cell phone, I ask him his favorite cannabis strain. “OG Kush,” he responds with the same definitiveness as when he told me his favorite shoes. “It just gets you where you need to be. A perfect hybrid.”
Building on this, I pull up my sweater and show him my old work shirt, emblazoned with the logo of the Cannabis Buyers Club of Berkeley. I ask what that means to him.
“Man, when I started working at CBCB, all I needed was someone to give me a chance, a chance to help people. We all come from parents of the 60s and 70s where what they taught you was fighting 'The Man.' One thing I never forgot was that The Man was colorless. Color ain't got shit to do with The Man, it's got to do with that big-ass hand of oppression called 'Government.' The thing is, we live in a day and age when you can't stick out and fight. I can't be in the Black Panthers. I can't make myself a target like that. That's reactive. That's physical activism. You don't have be so physical to make something happen.”
While I digest this, he taps the logo on my chest, “This is the same thing as being an activist to me: helping people. Doing what they said we couldn't do. Helping people to consume cannabis. This shit ain't about getting high. That's a benefit, I guess, but I view it as a smokescreen from what's important. That's why I voted 'No' for recreational use. Shit is not a game, it is not a recreational thing. There's people who need this, man. We live in a country that diagnosed depression as a disease or a disorder. Depression is a damned emotion. Does that mean 'happiness' should be diagnosed? Who can tell me I can't be too happy? The thing about weed? Weed ain't about to help nobody who is depressed. That's why that argument was doomed to fail, because it's a lie. You know what weed is good for? It's an enhancer. The emotional and psychological effects of weed? It doesn't turn you from happy to sad. If you're sad, you're about to be sadder. If you're happy, you're about to laugh uncontrollably. That's personal, that's your feeling, your opinion, your experience; that's a very individual thang."
But on a collective note, I’ll tell you what it does do: Stops people from having seizures. Helps that man with MS who can't stand up or reach this way to stretch out. I am at CBCB for fellowship. I used to love being a budtender. People would come in with migraines and tell me that Death Star was the only strain that took away their headache. Now we have tests and we can compare strains. I tell people treat your weed like Valium. You don't take Valium if your stomach hurts, do you?”
I think back to all the tinctures, ointments, sprays, rubs, pills, edibles, suppositories, and other non-smokable forms of cannabis we provided for patients. I recall all of the flowers we offered, from sativas to indicas to hybrids and their various effects, be they mental and/or physical. Most of all, I remember fondly what it was like to have been “in the service of the King,” helping him to get medicine to patients during one of the craziest times in human history. We weathered the storm together through Fourth of July, Bernie Sanders dropping out of the Presidential race, Election Day, Black Friday, and Christmas. Right up to Trump’s coronation, when tensions rose to near-breaking point as people grew more anxious and race relations simmered to a boil.
Through it all, Lozelle Ibin King remained my friend, confidant, and surrogate older brother. I wish I could find the guys that chased him and his friends through those Georgia cotton fields back in 1988—if only to share some medicine and change their minds. Maybe if they knew the King of Cannabis like I do and saw him as a community-driven man just trying to make the world a better, more loving place, then fellowship could happen.
As we hug good night, I ask if he has a favorite song. King quick-draws his smartphone and starts playing me Stevie Wonder’s “A Place in the Sun.” He sings along to emphasize a part that mirrors our recent talk:
"Like a long, lonely stream/ I keep runnin' towards a dream…That’s my life, man!” he laughs. "Like a branch on a tree/ I keep reachin' to be free…Like a branch on a tree, man!” he smiles, his free hand stretching up toward the setting California sun.
Lozelle King on Homegrown Happiness
Photo Credit: Derek Chartrand Wallace
King is a fixture at the Cannabis Buyers Club of Berkeley (CBCB), but this medicine man is also an artist and raconteur.
By Derek Chartrand Wallace
Kickin'’It With the King of Cannabis
Photo Credit: Google Maps
Cannabis Buyers Club of Berkeley at 3033 Shattuck Avenue.