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The MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics (YPP) formed out of recognition that youth are critical to the future of democracy and that the digital age is introducing technological changes that are impacting how youth develop into informed, engaged, and effective actors.

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Updated: 58 min 19 sec ago

Can You Teach AI to Dance?

December 3, 2018 - 11:03am

In the same way a dog wags its tail or a flower explodes in full bloom, we express who we are through dance. But what qualities in music make us want to get up and move? It’s an instinct that feels profoundly personal and distinctly human. Besides, what motivates one person to put their hands up isn’t necessarily going to have the same effect on another.

This makes quantifying “danceability,” or the likelihood for a song to urge us onto the dance floor, seem like an impossible challenge. So when Spotify developers decided to construct an algorithm—a set of predefined steps—to decipher which song is the best candidate for a good jam, they really had their work cut out for them.

Artificial Intelligence*, or AI, is any system that mimics human intelligence by recognizing past patterns in human behavior and makes decisions that follow these patterns. The goal is to have an algorithm that would make decisions as a human would—an especially complicated task when applied to something as intimate, dynamic, diverse and culturally specific as taste in music.

The specifics of the AI algorithms powering Spotify’s danceability rating remain shrouded in some mystery, shielded from view by corporate non-disclosure agreements. (Spotify employees declined our interview requests.) However, through a series of blog posts from former interns and employees, it’s known that back in 2014, Spotify announced its acquisition of a small Somerville, Massachusetts-based start-up called The Echo Nest. This startup was one of the first to make use of physical audio attributes like the beats per minute (BPM), tempo, and timbre of a music file to predict certain characteristics for a song, such as “danceability.” It’s likely that this was part of the foundation for Spotify’s current danceability score, which, based on elements including “rhythm stability, beat strength, and overall regularity,” rates tracks on a scale of least to most danceable.

But, how reliable is this algorithm? Can a computer really determine something as fluidly defined as danceability? The developers at YR weren’t so sure… So YR designed a tool to help you compare your own danceability ratings to the AI-powered scores from Spotify. Our awesome six-song playlist is courtesy of the up-and-coming producer Edel, from YR’s music team. Rate all six, and you’ll find out how your tastes line up to algorithm—or don’t.

What’s Danceable? Your Turn! *But wait, how does AI actually work? 

Here’s the deal. AI is any method that automates a decision-making process in order to improve efficiency and result in more data-driven outcomes. Machine learning is a particular kind of AI that happens when computers are trained to “learn” to make certain decisions by observing many past examples of that decision being made either well, or poorly. Say for example, we want an algorithm to be able to make a decision on whether or not an image is of a dog. It will first need to get educated on what a dog looks like, by being shown many labeled examples of dog and non-dog photos. At this point, after having seen enough examples of dog images, it begins to set up some fixed rules about which features of the image are good clues that indicate it is looking at a dog. For instance, it may notice that seeing a floppy ear or fur-like texture or brown color in the image usually means it is looking at a dog.

Once the algorithm graduates from training, it is deployed in the real world, where it needs to make decisions on images it’s never seen before, and use the assumptions it has learned in training to classify new, unfamiliar images. Note that if it learned that all dogs are brown and is presented with only images of black Labradors after training, the algorithm won’t be able to adopt its assumptions to adjust to that change. This means the assumptions of how features influence its labels, or outcomes, are fixed, and do not change over time. That is, unless we decide to re-train the algorithm, sending it back to learn about new examples with the desired label and feature pairing. The examples we use to train AI algorithms are thus incredibly important and really influence the decisions the algorithm will make in the real world.

Which is why even for a playful concept, like danceability, it’s good to pay attention to how any piece of AI is trained. In the case of Spotify, The Echo Nest technology was initially developed at least in part based on ratings provided by a “passionate group of musicians and music lovers,” some associated with the elite conservatory, Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. Their passions and opinions may have played an early role in establishing standards that trained a platform for tens of millions of songs.

“We built this project because we wanted to question the opinion of Spotify’s algorithm,” said 16-year-old Mila Sutphin, one of the developers who created the YR interactive. “Spotify has immense influence on people’s music taste, and if Spotify is telling people what is danceable, it starts to limit the range of music taste.”

YR producer Kuya Rodriguez waxed philosophical on this point. “Music to me is a conversation,” he said. “Whether it be with vocals, with instruments, with sounds [or] atmosphere. Dancing is a response to that conversation, and I believe one of the purest forms of expression.”

It’s difficult to imagine an algorithm that could truly understand that all-too-human expression. And that, perhaps, is a good thing.

  • Shanya Williams
  • Tree Moses
  • Elisabeth Guta
  • Mila Sutphin
  • Dante Brundage
  • Edel
  • Radamés Ajna + Asha Richardson

The post Can You Teach AI to Dance? appeared first on YR Media.

Categories: Blog

We Got Our Own Dance Music – Mix: Only If You Dance

December 3, 2018 - 10:52am
My “only if you dance” mix was a chance for me to show my interest in House music. I’ve always had a sweet spot for this specific genre because it always made me want to dance. Plus the way House music is made, it bounces at the same rate of your heart and I feel like that’s the science behind why it makes you move.

The post We Got Our Own Dance Music – Mix: Only If You Dance appeared first on YR Media.

Categories: Blog

Life After the Fire

December 2, 2018 - 8:00am

Hearing about all the horrible fires in California is reminding me of what it felt like when the house I grew up in burned down.

I was a sophomore in high school when the fire happened.  My family was forced to move out, with little money.

As a teenager, I needed personal space. I needed time to listen to music in peace. Really, I just needed to be alone — and that wasn’t easy. We were stuck in one hotel room with two beds shared among four people and a dog. I spent a lot of time at friends’ houses or wandering around hotels. After a while, my family started to separate. My mom and I moved into a nice house and my grandma moved in with her sister.

While my friends thought growing up is reaching a certain age, or hitting puberty, for me, the fire is what ended my childhood. I learned that things can be taken away from me without warning. So I value time with my family even more than before. Because the fire could have taken any one of us. Still, it changed my family forever, and I do grieve what we have lost.

The post Life After the Fire appeared first on YR Media.

Categories: Blog

Meet The Teen Poet Whose Love Letter Is a Call to Action

November 29, 2018 - 5:53pm

Leila Mottley, a native Oakland writer, is the 2018 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate. The Youth Poet Laureate program was founded by the Oakland Public Library and other community organizations and is a citywide effort to celebrate literacy through poetry.

Mottley’s poem, “Love Poem to Oakland,” offers a look at the changes she sees in her city. Watch the video to see Leila read her poem and to experience the Oakland sights and sounds she references.

For more about the Youth Poet Laureate Program: https://www.oaklandlibrary.org/teens/events-programs/youth-poet-laureate-program

The post Meet The Teen Poet Whose Love Letter Is a Call to Action appeared first on YR Media.

Categories: Blog

#GOALS: Actor Marcus Scribner

November 29, 2018 - 5:25pm

Black-ish Actor Marcus Scribner goes hard on camo and the HBCU vs. PWI debate.

Actor Marcus Scribner, aka Junior from Black-ish, is now an almost adult on the TV Screen and IRL. YR Media’s Merk Nguyen and Nyge Turner make him dance with questions about interracial dating and historically black colleges and universities.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Check out the full conversation on YR Media’s Adult ISH podcast (episode 5 – Race ISH).

Nyge: Could you describe what you’re wearing right now?

Merk: Is it an original Marcus design?

Marcus: It’s original Marcus by Marcus. I’ve got on camo pants. Some nice camo green Pumas. Then, we’ve got this nice camo green and navy denim blue button-up top which is very weird describing it. But if you saw it, you’d be like, “Oh it works!”

Nyge: Okay, so camo on camo on camo.

Merk: Where’d Marcus go? He’s so camouflaged.

Marcus: Yeah, exactly. You guys couldn’t even find me in the studio [in Los Angeles] if you were here. But green is my color. I love green.

Nyge: But real talk though, are there any similarities between you and your character in real life?

Marcus: Not as much as a lot of people tend to believe. I’m definitely a nerd. I love video games, comic books, superheroes, anime, all the such. But then there [are] a lot of differences between me and Junior. In fact, I feel Junior’s extremely gullible and he lets people push him around and sometimes I’m like, “Come on, Junior! Get out! Do something!” And I’m like, “Oh yeah. It’s a character.” Junior’s also very flexi with the colors. I feel like my style’s a little more chill and reserved. I go with the beiges, the wine reds. You know what I mean? 

Merk: The chardonnays.

Marcus: The chardonnay, the concord grape.

Nyge: Can chardonnay be red?

Marcus: Can it? I don’t even know about alcohol. I’m 18.

Nyge: I feel like I’m your old uncle….like, “Shoot! Look at Junior!” Anyways, now it’s time for you to win the Nobel Peace Prize on our advice segment called GOALS.

Merk: And since we’re talking about race ISH, let’s start with interracial dating or friendships. So I’m thinking about the episode where Junior brings home a white girlfriend. Your TV mom doesn’t know how to feel about it. I’ve had a similar experience, but I want to know from you. What are some tips you have about introducing someone new to your folks that might not come from the same background as you?

Marcus: I think it’s really important obviously to let them know that you’re happy. It’s not about skin color. It’s really about the person and the connection that you share with them. If you’re happy and your parents can’t accept that, tough luck.

Nyge: I remember I was in high school and I brought this girlfriend home. She was Mexican and Dominican and my mom was like, “Oh…Hi…” And I just remember my mom was talking to me like I was like two years old. She was just like, “Oh, so…do you like black women?” Yes I do!

Marcus: Yeah. It’s definitely a conversation starter.

Nyge: On the episode Black Math on Black-ish, Junior gets accepted to Stanford University and Howard University, which is an historically black college, or HBCU. Then Dre [your dad in the show] isn’t really feeling it because you aren’t even considering going to Howard. Then Dre takes you on a campus tour that ultimately ends up going wrong because it makes it seem like HBCUs don’t really prepare you for “real life”. Long story short, Twitter went off and everybody was so upset because HBCU students felt misrepresented.

So what I want to know, if you could break it down for people in the same situation about to go into college, what are some of the pros and cons or misconceptions about HBCUs versus non-HBCUs? Or PWIs, predominantly white institutions.

Marcus: What I want to get straight off the bat is I feel like a lot of people misinterpreted the episode. I think it was definitely Dre’s perspective that he thought HBCUs don’t prepare you for the real world from what he previously experienced. I think we tried to make it obvious from going on the tour of Howard that Junior was really enjoying his experience.

One of Dre’s past employers was like, ” What’d you learn at your HBCU? Black math?” “No! I learned math, homie!”  Believe it or not, there are black people with different views than you. We’re not all the same. Mind blowing, right? 

There are definite benefits to both. At an HBCU, you get to experience your culture with other like-minded black individuals. That definitely cultivates a different experience, and anybody who says that HBCUs don’t prepare you for the real world — [that] is probably the dumbest statement I’ve ever heard in my entire life. Everybody is there to learn. Just touching on one of the moments in our episode, one of Dre’s past employers was like, “What’d you learn at your HBCU? Black math?” “No! I learned math, homie!”  Believe it or not, there are black people with different views than you. We’re not all the same. Mind blowing, right?

Again, it’s really what you feel is right for you. Make the decision that’s smart for you.

The post #GOALS: Actor Marcus Scribner appeared first on YR Media.

Categories: Blog

5 Songs Off Anderson .Paak’s Oxnard You Need to Listen to

November 29, 2018 - 1:49pm

It’s been two years since Anderson .Paak’s last project, Malibu, and fans have been itching for more ever since. Executive produced by Dr. Dre, Oxnard notes the evolution of Anderson .Paak, the album contains a unique sonic experience incorporating definitive elements of funk, disco, jazz, and gospel. Engulfing listeners with warm percussion, plush-sounding choirs, and .Paak’s signature raspy voice. The album includes guest appearances from Pusha T, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, J. Cole, and many more. The album’s lead single, “Tints,” featuring Kendrick Lamar, is only a glimpse of the sound .Paak chooses to orchestrate this album with. Running at almost an hour long, we put together a list of our favorite records from .Paak’s latest, Oxnard.

The Chase (feat. Kadhja Bonet)

The opening track features Kadhja Bonet’s soothing jazz-derived harmonies then swiftly transitions into an uptempo 70’s-inspired jazz record. A solid intro that sets the scene for the rest of .Paak’s funky renaissance album.

Tints (feat. Kendrick Lamar)

This song is a certified classic, Anderson .Paak graced us with the talents of many stars on Oxnard and Kendrick is probably the most exciting one. Kendrick adds reassurance with a brief feature, bringing about a shift in feeling, it’s almost as if Kendrick is personally hyping you up. This song is special because if you’re from the Bay Area, you know how relatable it is to constantly see tinted windows mobbin’ around the city.

6 Summers

“6 Summers” is a hymn for the streets. Augmented with a catchy hook and fast-paced rhythm, “6 Summers” covers controversial topics like gun control, politics, and Trump’s love child. Lyrically, it’s one of the strongest tracks on the album and .Paak boasts that it’s going to “bang for at least six summers,” and it probably will. It has a timeless sound to it, and lyrics that will continue to incite listeners even after the very first listen.

Saviers Road

9th Wonder pays tribute to the Latino culture that dominates Southern California. It features old-school Tito Puente-type soft guitar riffs, and a dope-sounding keyboard that transitions to a nice, old-school hip-hop kick drum. This song made me realize that the world needs an Anderson .Paak and Kali Uchis collab in the future.

Brother’s Keeper (feat. Pusha T)

This track stands out for many reasons but mostly because of its funk-like approach. This song sounds like a soundtrack for the streets of the Bronx in 1977. Anderson .Paak and Pusha T rap about what it means to be “your brother’s keeper,” over a hypnotic bassline that makes it feels like it’s a crime to be sitting while this song plays.

The post 5 Songs Off Anderson .Paak’s Oxnard You Need to Listen to appeared first on YR Media.

Categories: Blog

My School Was a For-Profit College. Now It’s Closing.

November 29, 2018 - 8:00am

I’ve been attending The Art Institute of California at their San Francisco campus for the past year and a half.

My school has been through a lot of turmoil. It was owned by a for-profit parent company called Education Management Corporation. A few years ago, this company settled a 95-million dollar lawsuit with the federal government for misleading students. Last year, the school was sold. Now it’s closing.

I feel embarrassed to say this, but I didn’t know the school’s history when I signed up. This may seem naive, but I enrolled in the Art Institute to pursue filmmaking. It’s been my dream since I was 12. As a kid, I loved watching movies like Jaws and Hook.

I knew getting into college wasn’t going to be easy. My high school GPA wasn’t the best, and I’m not great at standardized testing. So when I researched schools, I singled out ones that didn’t care about your high school transcript.

As someone who struggled academically in high school, finishing college is a monumental achievement in my eyes. It never occurred to me that a school would financially screw me over like this.

Tuition is an extreme concern. I even considered joining the military, so I could pay for school with the GI bill. But I didn’t want to put off my dreams. To make it work, my dad and I took out several loans. But I don’t want to leave these debts on him. So I’m determined to work hard and put myself in a position to earn some real money.

I’m transferring to the North Hollywood campus of the Art Institute to try to salvage the money that I’ve already sunk into this. I’m worried because I wasn’t planning on moving.

There’s no way to know whether I’m making the right choice. A career in the arts is a gamble. I didn’t think that my education would be one, too.

But I’m also optimistic. I’m determined to work towards the career I want. I don’t want to be another statistic in the narrative of student debt. I acknowledge the uncertainty, but I won’t let it cripple me.

The post My School Was a For-Profit College. Now It’s Closing. appeared first on YR Media.

Categories: Blog

Special: Slam Poet Ashlee Haze

November 29, 2018 - 12:15am

Ingredients you’d need to get to poet Ashlee Haze status: Missy Elliott, believing in your beauty and abilities, lace and corsets

Ashlee Haze, a two-time finalist for the Women of the World Poetry Slam, talks to YR Media’s Nyge Turner and Merk Nguyen. Ashlee brings down the house by digging into the details of her Missy Elliott poem and sharing an exclusive piece. The three dive into the inspiration and meaning behind Ashlee’s work. Let’s just say it includes letting thoughts marinate over time, valuing self-worth, and a combo of doing body rolls in a corset.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Check out the full conversation on YR Media’s Adult ISH podcast (episode 5 – Race ISH).

Nyge: We wanted to start off by asking how you got your start in poetry. Were you just born a wordsmithing pro?

Ashlee: I’ve been known to be dramatic, but I’ve been writing since I was about 10. I started writing in church and I’ve just been doing it literally ever since.

Merk: There’s a poem you wrote for Button Poetry during the prelims at the 2015 Individual World Poetry Slam. It’s called For Colored Girls (The Missy Elliott Poem). It’s partially a throwback of you discovering Missy Elliott and a reflection of how she made a difference in your life. How’d she change your worldview?

Ashlee: My view of the world was super limited [when I was 10] and limited to whatever I saw on TV. I remember TRL on MTV. They had all the popular videos like ‘N Sync, the Backstreet Boys, Britney [Spears], and Christina [Aguilera]. When I saw Missy Elliott’s video, that was the first time I saw somebody who looked like me — a plus-sized black woman who defied the gender binary and was unapologetically gangsta. At that moment, I realized it’s possible to be in this body and be whoever I want. Representation is important because it shows us what we have the possibility to be. And it’s very difficult to know what you can be if you don’t have an example of it.

When I saw Missy Elliott’s video, that was the first time I saw somebody who looked like me — a plus-sized black woman who defied the gender binary and was unapologetically gangsta. 

Nyge: Were you always in love with your identity?

Ashlee: I’m a fat black girl. No! I was bullied for a lot of years. I look like my dad and my brothers and wasn’t girly when I was a kid. That was a struggle because you have to tell yourself what [other people are] saying isn’t true about you.

Merk: I can relate to that. Not only do I look like my dad, I’m a woman with a darker complexion. I struggled with my skin color. Colorism definitely exists and I felt like I wasn’t pretty because of it. I don’t think that anymore, but I feel like there are people out there who do struggle with this today. Anything you want to say to them?

Ashlee: The truth is that you’re worthy. You’re enough. You’re absolutely gorgeous the way you are. I hate to say cliché stuff, but you need to believe it.

Nyge: Even though my boss is a bit of a hater because he wouldn’t let me read an original poem of my own, I do write a little. What’s your writing process like? 

Ashlee: [I have] this theory about my writing. That I have my own set of muses [and] I spend a lot of time waiting for [them] to show up. I’ve actually [been] quoted, “Sometimes them hoes don’t show up.” Sometimes I’ll write everything straight and then come back to it and edit it.

Nyge: Do you have anything in the vault that you can perform right now?

Ashlee: I have a new book coming out early in 2019 and this is my newest stage poem from it called Hymn. I wrote this for black women, women of color, and for the ways in which they always show up for me.

Nyge: You got me [almost] crying. Every time you were like, “Come through,” I was like “Come through, Ashlee.” You killin’ it!

Merk: I just want to say thank you for that ’cause you just spoke to my soul. Especially toward the end. I just appreciate you for really being able to capture being a woman of color. You just spoke the truth right there.

Ashlee: That’s why I do this work.

Nyge: It’s really just a gift whenever you start your poetry. You can just tell it just comes from such pain and such pride. How do you channel all that when you start writing?

Ashlee: When I sat down with this poem, I was angry because I feel sometimes as a black woman the only people who show up for me is black women. It’s the best feeling in the world to know these capable women show up for me emotionally. But it also sucks to have to show up all the time. Like when do we get the opportunity to say, “I’m not doing this today”? It still needs to get done though. There’s got to be a gift for that. And if nothing else, I can say to the women who do the work, “I see you, sis and you make it look good.”

It’s the best feeling in the world to know these capable women show up for me emotionally. But it also sucks to have to show up all the time. Like when do we get the opportunity to say, “I’m not doing this today”? 

Merk: Snaps to that. Isn’t that a poetry thing too? Snapping?

Ashlee: Poets wake up in the morning and are like, “Snaps for breakfast.” 

The post Special: Slam Poet Ashlee Haze appeared first on YR Media.

Categories: Blog

Momma I Made It: Comedian Ronny Chieng

November 29, 2018 - 12:05am

Comedian Ronny Chieng lovingly talks sh*t about other sh*t talking Asians.

Not only is he a senior correspondent on The Daily ShowComedian Ronny Chieng also played the fly a-hole cousin in the summer blockbuster Crazy Rich Asians and recently dropped Ronny Chieng: International Students, a sitcom on Comedy Central based on his experiences as a Malaysian international student studying law in Australia. In an interview with YR Media, he tells Merk Nguyen and Nyge Turner about sh*t talking Asians and how his Singaporean/Malaysian accent helped him book his role on Crazy Rich Asians.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Check out the full conversation on YR Media’s Adult ISH podcast (episode 5 – Race ISH).

Merk: You have a segment called Everything Is Stupid on The Daily Show and there is one bit where you rip your shirt open and you have leeches on your chest to show that this might be the new pet fad. Were those real leeches?

Ronny: No, we tried to get real leeches and we got stopped by lawyers…Unfortunately, SAG union rules prevent us from using real animals that draw blood on set.

Merk: Let’s talk about this summer in three words: Crazy. Rich. Asians. The first Hollywood film to have all-Asian cast since 1993 — Joy Luck Club. What kind of feeling does that bring to you knowing that you were part of this monumental point in Asian representation history?

Ronny: Yeah, this is the sequel to Joy Luck Club. (That’s a joke, so don’t take that seriously.) Obviously, it’s awesome to be part of a project that is representing something I really believe in. Telling Asian stories without being heavy-handed about it. It shows Asian people in a position of power and strength that I don’t think is normally shown…I mean, forget the diversity angle. I would say: don’t watch it because it’s Asian, just watch it because it’s a cool movie.

It shows Asian people in a position of power and strength that I don’t think is normally shown…I mean forget the diversity angle. I would say: don’t watch it because it’s Asian, just watch it because it’s a cool movie.

Merk: Yeah, I was able to go watch an advanced screening of it and sitting there in the seat I just had a lot of moments of like, “Dang! I love this movie because I see people who are like, ‘Yo! Constance. She’s got my side profile!'”

Ronny: Don’t underestimate the power of symbols.

Nyge: How did you get involved with Crazy Rich Asians? Did you just go and audition for it?

Ronny: Basically the director, Jon Chu, said he was having trouble casting the movie because he was looking for authentic accents. I was like, “I have a shot here. It’s the only accent I can do.” It’s a story set in Singapore and I grew up there. My parents live in Singapore. I grew up with these people. I know this story. So I was like, “If you give me an audition, I’m pretty sure I can book this.”

Merk: You got it, lah.

Ronny: Nice Singlish attempt there.

Nyge: Your new show, Ronny Chieng: International Student, is based on your real life as a law student in Australia. Can you give us the rundown?

Ronny: It’s about Asian international students studying in an Australian University, which is what I did. I thought would be a cool story that hasn’t really been told yet. But it’s very relevant to everybody in a weird way because I feel like that’s how the East and West interact in college a lot of the time. Also, it’s a multibillion-dollar industry. I’m sure you both saw international kids at college.

Merk: I did. My college at Washington State University (GO COUGS!) was in a rural town and it was predominately white. But I lived in a dorm where there were mostly international students. It was weird because I’m an American-born Asian versus like Vietnamese-born Asian.

Ronny: It’s an obvious distinction, but it hasn’t been explored. Not just the differences between Asian-Americans and Asian people from Asia, but even when we say Asian. There are a lot of different types of Asians and they all usually hate each other.

Merk: They talk so much shit! It’s crazy.

Ronny: Yeah! But people lump us all together, right? So having a show that even addresses that I think is interesting. We kind of segregate ourselves because culturally we tend to be in our own circles, but we’re both actually awful people. If we only got to know each other, we would have bonded over how awful we all are. I feel when white people watch the show, they see an Asian show. But I feel like when younger people watch the show, they just see a college comedy.

We kind of segregate ourselves because culturally we tend to be in our own circles, but we’re both actually awful people. If we only got to know each other, we would have bonded over how awful we all are. 

Nyge: I feel like you really gave ignorance a voice with the U.S. international student character on your show. That’s so important when you’re doing any type of educating anybody about your culture.

Ronny: Yeah, I think knowing the fine line difference between ignorance and racism is important. Merk, you are from Vietnam and I feel like Americans don’t really know Southeast Asia. That’s not me calling anyone out. Like why would Americans know about Southeast Asia? It’s on the other side of the planet. You have never watched our TV shows. So in the show, we talk about topics like colonialism in Southeast Asia and we do it in a way that I feel isn’t blaming anyone for not knowing.

Nyge: If you could tell your less adult-ish self a piece of advice in a sentence or two, what would it be?

Ronny: Don’t be afraid to take your time to grow up. I was too anxious about trying to be an adult when I really wasn’t.

The post Momma I Made It: Comedian Ronny Chieng appeared first on YR Media.

Categories: Blog

Adult ISH: Race ISH

November 29, 2018 - 12:01am

Actor Marcus Scribner, aka Junior from Black-ish, dances with questions about interracial dating and HBCUs. Comedian Ronny Chieng, aka the senior correspondent on The Daily Show and fly a-hole cousin in Crazy Rich Asians, lovingly talks sh*t about sh*t talking Asians. Ashlee Haze, a two-time finalist for the Women of the World Poetry Slam, shares an exclusive piece and dives into the inspiration behind her work. Let’s just say it includes valuing self-worth and a combo of doing body rolls in a corset. Yow!

The post Adult ISH: Race ISH appeared first on YR Media.

Categories: Blog

Foster Care’s Burn Book on Me

November 27, 2018 - 6:17pm
What if strangers wrote about you for 20 years?

I didn’t grow up like most kids. If I went to the doctor or dentist, I had to file paperwork. If I wanted to play sports, more paperwork. To travel, I needed to go to court to get permission from a judge, which led to more paperwork. I have 10 folders about two feet high of paperwork. That’s because I was raised in foster care. There’s paperwork for everything.  

After 20 years in care, I emancipated at age 21. Now I’m working on a documentary about teens in the system and how adoption works. Filming the documentary made me curious about my life, which led me to want my foster-care court records.

VIDEO: Watch the trailer for Noel’s documentary project, coming soon

If you’re placed in foster care, every six months there’s at least one court hearing where adults check in, supposedly on your behalf. It’s also mandatory for strangers to visit you at least once a month so they can write a report for the judge who then determines your fate. These court hearings and visits generate a ton of paperwork regardless of how much time you’ve been in care.

RELATED: A Journey Through Foster Care

When I finally worked up the courage to get my court records, I called Ben, who was one of my lawyers (all kids in foster care have legal representation). In California, kids have a right to get their court records at the age of 12, but they rarely do. I don’t think a lot of kids actually know they have this right, and who knows if adults are properly and clearly explaining what court records are, why they’re important and who it affects.

When I talked to my former lawyer, Ben, he told me that I had around 10 binders of paperwork and that it would take about two weeks for a legal secretary to make copies of everything for me. Then I learned it would take even more time because when I was in foster care, some of my family members were too, and for confidentiality reasons the legal secretary had to review everything and remove information about them from my records.

RELATED: Listen to “Adult ISH,” YR Media’s podcast about being an “almost adult”

The wait to get this redacted version of the truth was so painful and nerve-wracking. It’s what I imagine someone might feel like when they’re trying to figure out if they’re pregnant or not, or if they have an STD or not. That’s how intense it felt.

After two weeks, I got a notification from Ben, telling me my court records were ready and that I could come pick them up. Going to San Jose to meet up with him felt like one of the longest drives ever. The moment I saw my records, I underestimated how heavy they’d be. When I lifted them, I felt the literal weight of my life in my hands. I thought to myself, “This is me.”

Reading the records, I felt exposed in a cringy, involuntary way because the records are full of information I had no choice but to give.

Having to open up to people against your own will is one of the most violating things that has ever been done to me. On top of it all, it seems like almost everyone in my life had conversations about me on the record but behind my back.

RELATED: My Journey Through a Psych Ward

As I read my documents, I felt confused and betrayed. At certain points, it was like I was reading fake news about my own life. At other points, it seemed adults put the blame on past-child me so they wouldn’t look bad. If I felt sad or angry or even lonely, somehow that was a sign there was something wrong with me, instead of what was happening to me. Reading the records, I understood the pain I felt as a child in a new way.

Despite how hard it’s been, I can’t stress enough the importance of getting your court records. There’s something special about taking initiative, about being a detective of your own life. I wanted to reclaim something that’s mine. I knew little to nothing about my own origins. I met my biological mom when I was 14 and I never met my biological father or seven of my 11 siblings. Even though a lot was redacted, I still got information about these family members that I otherwise wouldn’t have had.

Noel reads his court documents for the first time.

When you leave foster care, you have a “termination” court hearing and sometimes you get a gift. At mine, I got a stupid $10 Jamba Juice card — I can’t even get a large with toppings! I’ve actually kept the card as a tragically hilarious parody of what a memento should be.

But what if instead of lame gifts, kids were given their own court records, encouraging them to be more involved with how government works by starting with their own lives?

In California, foster kids age out of the system at 21, and that moment can feel like a kind of divorce. But actually, it should be celebrated as a once-in-a-lifetime event, like a cotillion, a quinceanera or a sweet 16. The termination hearing is a book-end on a chapter of your life. It’s a bridge to becoming an official adult, a stepping stone from child to grown-up. And getting your court records at this hearing could become a new tradition, a way to embrace your past as a person in foster care and move on.

Noel Anaya’s documentary project is part of an ongoing series about foster care that he has produced which includes a piece he wrote about navigating school and a radio story he made about emancipating on his own terms. The narrative continues as he journeys into his new, free life after foster care.

The post Foster Care’s Burn Book on Me appeared first on YR Media.

Categories: Blog

Found Sounds Ep 3: Oakland Public Library

November 27, 2018 - 2:41pm

Clay Xavier and Oluwafemi take this episode of Found Sounds to a quiet place making a beat out of books, chairs and more of their surroundings in the Oakland Public Library.

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Categories: Blog

What’s Keeping Native American Students Out of Higher Ed?

November 27, 2018 - 10:46am

I grew up on the Wind River Reservation, home to the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes in Wyoming. I’m also a recent graduate of the University of Wyoming. Since stepping on campus, I became aware that there are few Native Americans in higher education. So when I was asked by a professor to do a class presentation about the reservation where I grew up, nervously I agreed.

After my speech, I asked my peers what questions they might have. Slowly, I heard two of my classmates beating on the desks in front of them like a drum, as if they were imitating a Native American drum circle. I watched as they became more confident, until they felt brazen enough to start doing the “Tomahawk Chop.” It’s a baseball chant popularized by the Atlanta Braves, a team that has faced criticism for its appropriation of Native American culture.

I stood at the front of the class while they were chanting. I found it hard to speak up out of embarrassment and rage. I felt as if I was paraded out to be mocked because the professor did little to quell the two classmates and the laughter that ensued. Later that school year I went to the department head to tell them of the situation, to perhaps get some closure or recompense. I was met with an awkward laugh and no promise to do anything about the matter.

I have heard many similar education stories from my Indigenous peers. Professors insinuate that the class is too hard for them. A student is told that she’s doing better than expected considering where she is from. These micro-aggressive blows to our sense of self remind us that we are lucky to be here and should be happy we are in college at all.

In 2017, only 27 percent of Native Americans had attained an associate’s degree or higher. That’s compared to 54 percent for white students, according to data from the Postsecondary National Policy Institute. And the participation of Native American students in higher education dropped from 23 percent in 2015-16 down to 19 percent in 2016-2017.

My university, in particular, has a fraught relationship with Indigenous peoples from the Wind River Reservation. In 2015, high schoolers on a college visit were detained and searched while shopping at the campus bookstore. In 2017, a group of prospective students were brought to a musical that depicted Native Americans as evil. This treatment is reflected in the enrollment of Native American students, which in a student body of over 12,000, declined from 79 in 2015 down to 64 in 2017.

The University of Wyoming is trying to address this. Training on discrimination and harassment prevention is now mandatory for all university faculty. This training will include education about micro-aggressions and racial bias. The university has also opened a Native American Research Center, where Native American students can gather to study, have meetings, and meet other students. The center is also home to a summer institute for Native American high schoolers, to help them envision college as a part of their future.

While I enjoy the benefits of the Native American Research Center, I wish the rest of the campus was more educated about Native peoples. Many students at the University have not met or been around a Native. And, as a result, Indigenous students bear the brunt of their ignorance. I’ve been called a squaw. I have been asked if I scalp people in my free time. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard my people referred to as drunks. Yes, these are jokes, but these remarks are made at the expense of a marginalized people.

When I think back on my classmates doing the “Tomahawk Chop,” I wish the professor had called out their racism. The administration should have heard my complaint with more than an uncomfortable laugh. I have worked hard to strengthen my voice, in the face of uncomfortable situations and racist remarks disguised as jokes. It seems ridiculous that this burden falls on me, an Indigenous student, rather than the university administration and faculty. But I push myself to speak up, in attempt to build a world where ridicule for my people isn’t the norm.

This essay was produced in collaboration with Wyoming Public Media.

The post What’s Keeping Native American Students Out of Higher Ed? appeared first on YR Media.

Categories: Blog

Meet The 22-Year-Old Fighting Mental Health Stigma

November 26, 2018 - 11:52am

Breyonna Pinkney struggled with mental health during her sophomore year of college at Howard University. Her struggle turned into triumph when she started her own non-profit that aims to tackle mental illness.

The Pinkney Promise Foundation, which she founded in 2017, focuses on the importance of mental health awareness and creating a space for people, especially African Americans, to talk openly about their issues.

The stigma behind mental illness is shifting, as celebrities like Adele, NBA player Demar DeRozan, and Beyoncé have opened up about their battles with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Their ability to talk about these problems has sparked debates on many different social platforms, but Pinkney, a Baltimore, Md. native, decided to go the extra mile and started her foundation in the Washington D.C. area.

YR Media correspondent Nayo Campbell spoke with Pickney about how she is using her own battle with depression to shape the mental health conversation.

Nayo Campbell: What is Pinkney Promise and how did you come up with the concept?

Breyonna Pinkney: Pinkney Promise is a 501c3 non-profit organization for mental health awareness. We have different workshops, community services, and creative events that bring like-minded people together to teach them how to cope in a healthy way, while simultaneously teaching about mental health and finding their true purpose.

A lot of people get mental health wellness and mental health illness confused, and my organization is to help others become aware of different mental illnesses and give them an outlet for them to express themselves.

You mentioned that this came from your own personal experiences. Can you share your battle with mental health?

My sophomore year of college, I faced depression. A lot of times, depression is taboo in the African-American community and we’re told to “man up” or “woman up” and handle your business. But there was a point in my life where I needed to deal with my emotions and find an outlet to cope.

In 2009, I lost my mother, and I didn’t really heal from that, but I kind of buried that feeling of losing someone. I also had to deal with homelessness and many other traumatic events and instead of dealing with it, I compressed it inside. I had to learn how to find my escape. I was able to find my escape through writing. From my writing, more people were able to relate to me about their battles, and I was able to learn about other people’s escapes, which then started the foundation.

What is your ultimate goal with Pinkney Promise?

My ultimate goal with the foundation is to bring more awareness to mental health. I want people to experience these events and see what works for them. We have a variety of events from writing, painting, and panel discussions where professional mental-health psychologists come in and speak. I want to get to a point where I help as many people as possible, and they are able to figure out how to express their emotions in a healthy way.

There is a lot of focus on mental health. Where do you want the conversation to go next?

I want to see more people be proactive about bringing awareness and sharing their story. A few celebrities–like Big Sean and Michelle Williams–speak about mental health and their depression. But there are so many different artists and celebrities we look up to who understand this topic, and if they spoke on it, it would affect so many lives.

But it will take a lot of time to break down that barrier and not appear as if we have it all together. It’s not the easiest to let people know your problems, but you have to conquer that and be able to talk about the places that you’ve been and how you got through it.

Where do you see your non-profit organization in the next five years?

In the next five years, I plan to have different programs at HBCUs around the country. I specifically want to target young adults in college. I came to college as an engineering major, I pledged Alpha Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and sometimes you get to this period of accomplishment where people are proud of you and people don’t realize you are going through stuff.

Mental health issues are super prevalent in college, but we tend to go to a happy hour or a party and we get to a place where we don’t tackle the issue. Therefore, I want to be able to bring this discussion up on numerous campuses in the future.

The post Meet The 22-Year-Old Fighting Mental Health Stigma appeared first on YR Media.

Categories: Blog

Bay Word of the Day: Bappin

November 26, 2018 - 11:32am

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Categories: Blog

Thrifted! Ep 3: Notorious BIG “Hypnotize”

November 24, 2018 - 10:10pm

Bet you didn’t know Notorious BIG’s “Hypnotize” was inspired by Herb Alpert’s “Rise.”

The post Thrifted! Ep 3: Notorious BIG “Hypnotize” appeared first on YR Media.

Categories: Blog

Playlist: Songs to Fall in Love to (in Spanish)

November 24, 2018 - 10:07pm

Some days it’s inevitable; we get a feeling in our gut that tells us we care about someone more than usual. My go-to to help myself deal with these feelings is the Spanish music I grew up with. There’s just something about music from my culture that speaks to me on more levels than any English song. These songs paint a picture with feelings rather than just telling me a story with words. Hopefully this playlist of classics takes you there.

Buena Vista Social Club – Dos Gardenias

Buena Vista Social Club is a group I grew up listening to every now and then at family gatherings. It wasn’t until I was older that their music really made sense to me, and I was finally able to appreciate the beauty of the group. Waking up to this song will put you in a mood for love.

Julio Jaramillo – Nuestro Juramento

Julio Jaramillo brings his rendition of a song by Benito de Jesús, a song about two passionate beings’ vows to always love each other.

Joe Cuba Sextet – Mujer Divina

Joe Cuba Sextet’s song reminds me of being a hot mess when I used to live in LA, riding around at night in the valley thinking about torn-up relationships. This is funny considering the entire song is about a woman of divine beauty.

Eydie Gormé y Los Panchos – Sabor A Mi

Eydie Gormé y Los Panchos blessed us with this song featuring flawless guitars and the dreamy sensation of love in its lyrics.

Los Panchos – Sin Ti

Los Panchos are a group of guitar players that my grandma used to listen to. I was sitting at the breakfast table while this song played one day and my grandma said to me (in Spanish) that this song reminds her of an old jealous boyfriend that left her alone at a party in Guatemala because she danced with one of his friends. That’s a story that makes me think of love and beauty like nothing else. This song’s name translates to “without you.”

Vicente Garcia – Dulcito e Coco

Vicente Garcia’s Dulcito e Coco is a beautiful blend of sounds and passion that puts me in my feelings every time.

Devendra Banhart – Mi Negrita

Devendra Banhart creates some beautiful music, and this song is no exception. I fasho cried to this song before, so listen to it and fall in love or sumn.

Frankie Reyes – Flor de Azalea

Frankie Reyes is a young person which is wild as hell considering this beautiful song full of lucious keys sounds like a dip back to the past. This track screams passion.

Rodrigo Amarante – Tuyo

Rodrigo Amarante’s amazing song about the perseverance to be someone’s world may also be featured in the TV show Narcos but that shouldn’t distract from its beauty. I can sing the whole thing to you in person if you wanna feel uncomfortable for no reason.

Manu Chao – Me Gustas Tu

Manu Chao is last but definitely not least as he brings us a song that sings of his longing for a special person, listing what he likes about this person, but not knowing what he will do about it. I grew up to this song and it definitely brings a lot of loving memories to me.

I know that this is a pretty intense list. But I hope that you take the time to appreciate these songs, to see their individual beauty, and the power they have. Feel something!

The post Playlist: Songs to Fall in Love to (in Spanish) appeared first on YR Media.

Categories: Blog

Playlist: Afrobeats/ Dancehall Selection

November 23, 2018 - 7:47am

Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Nigerian music. Afrobeats/ Dancehall/Afropop have this complex quality of always keeping a dance groove while maintaining sad or cheerful melodies. Not to mention the romantic tones of it all, especially in the lyrics. Here are some songs I’ve been stuck on.

Wizkid – Master Groove

Wizkid is kinda like the Drake of this genre and gets some amazing production. Notice that the song is sorta melancholy but still has that upbeat groove. It’s crazy dope.

Tekno – Pana

Tekno produces his own songs and deserves mad respect, this is my favorite song by him.

Olamide – First of All

This song’s energy is crazy and makes me feel like whining a subway pole when I’ve got my headphones on so shout out to Olamide.

Wande Coal & Dj Tunez – Iskaba

This song is so positive and the video and vibes of it all just makes me happy, so big ups to Wande Coal for this magic right here.

Dj Spinall & Wizkid – Nowo

Dj Spinall is a crazy-good producer and so working with Wizkid is kinda like a home run for me.

Falz – Jeje

Falz is special because he kinda raps more than sings and he’s got bars, plus his voice is hella satisfying to hear.

Orezi & Vanessa Mdee – Just Like Dat

The energy in this track is insane, it’s a great addition to any good-ass day or even a party. I threw this in my Dj set one time and the groove was crazy.

Tekno – Duro

Here goes Tekno again with another hit describing how much he wants to show his love for this one girl. A king of romance.

Tiwa Savage, Spellz & Wizkid – Ma Lo

This right here is a great collab that just slaps, period.

Mayorkun – Posh

Another example of that upbeat yet kinda sad duality right here, Mayorkun brings us this tune that I’m sure a lot of people will end up slapping more than they realize at first.

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Categories: Blog

Special: Musician Snail Mail

November 22, 2018 - 9:48pm

Indie-rock star Snail Mail recants her hate for Crunchwrap Supremes and talks about her diss track Heat Wave.

Rolling Stone, NPR, and Stereo Gum have raved about indie-rock breakout artist Snail Mail (Lindsey Jordan). Her latest album Lush is being called one of the best albums of 2018. But apparently, Lindsey hates Taco Bell’s Crunchwrap Supreme and knows a thing or three about partying at “cool” bars, even though she is 19. YR Media’s Merk Nguyen and Nyge Turner confront Lindsey on these bold claims.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Check out the full conversation on YR Media’s Adult ISH podcast (episode 4 – Pro ISH).

Nyge: I’m going to ask you probably the most important question of this interview…You had some people pretty upset here in the office about some comments that you made about a Taco Bell classic. You said, “F*ck Crunchwrap Supremes.” What’s up with that?

Lindsey: I guess that was a little bit of an overreaction for me — I retract that. My band loves Taco Bell and I just can’t eat it on the road.

Nyge: So what really inspired you to write Heat Wave?

Lindsey: That song is just like so specifically about a breakup that I had. I wrote it two weeks after and if you were to consult my friends at home, it is obvious who I’m talking about. It is like a snail mail diss track. I’ve since never written a song in that way and probably never will. I remember coming up with parts of it [while] fully clothed, sitting in my bathtub with no water in it.

Merk: So in the guitar-driven song Pristine, you’re singing about love and toward the end, you’re talking about some party we weren’t invited to…#TFTI Lindsey. It seems like there’s a story to this song…

Lindsey: It’s like a little ode to the monotony of adolescence and just being bored and sort of lovesick. It’s kind of like a sick joke and I’m making fun of myself. Obviously, I’m aware of the fact that falling in and out of love at 17 is going to happen. But it’s a really good reflection of exactly who I was at that time. I was stuck in high school and I was just partying all the time and having a hard time appreciating the simple aspects of life, which I now really love. I love being bored, going to parties, seeing my friends from home, and just sitting around.

It’s kind of like a sick joke and I’m kind of making fun of myself. Obviously, I’m aware of the fact that falling in and out of love at 17 is obviously going to happen. But it’s a really good reflection of exactly who I was at that time. 

Nyge: What is a Snail Mail party like?

Lindsey: I think my ideal party would be at a cool bar, but not the kind of bar that industry people take you to. Like a bar that’s cheap and trashy. No jerks allowed. Just a place with late-night tacos and free drinks.

Merk:  So correct me if I’m wrong on this, but I read on some YouTube comment that one of your favorite songs is Let’s Find An Out?
Davey, our boss, says that this is one of his favorite songs because of the subtle yet complex guitar fingerpicking. Why is it your favorite?

Lindsey: It kind of came out of nowhere for me. Usually Snail Mail songs take a lot of planning and that song was just the most organic thing I’ve ever written. The meaning is also really personal to me and it’s not really as straightforward as the other ones. The guitar work is the kind of song I’ve wanted to make for a while, but didn’t really know where it would fit on the record.

Nyge: I’m curious: what was your first song like?

Lindsey: It was the song Pieces Of Me by Ashlee Simpson, but just different words. I think that might have been my first ever song [when I was around 7 years old]. I think I changed a couple lyrics…I never even realized that is what I was ripping off until a couple years later. I think the song was about waiting around for my friend to sleep over.

Merk: That’s a good one. That was the question back in the day. You just would never know.

Lindsey: Like are they going to come sleep over? Am I going to have to clean my room? Or am I just going to wait?

The post Special: Musician Snail Mail appeared first on YR Media.

Categories: Blog

Remix Your Life Artist Spotlight: Stoney

November 22, 2018 - 10:19am
The RYL Spotlight Series highlights the artists and producers featured on the Remix Your Life mixtape — available everywhere Jan 2019.

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Categories: Blog