Taking it to the Streets

Many San Francisco locals know Haight Street as two things: a tourist trap and a hub for the homeless population, but Christian Calinsky is trying to change this perspective held by the public eye through his program called Taking It to the Streets.

The number one goal of Taking It to the Streets is to get the homeless youth off of Haight Street and into a stable living condition. San Francisco has been attempting to lower the homeless population on Haight Street since the ‘60s, but Calinsky’s program has been more effective in its three years than the city has been in over 50 years.

“We started out as an outreach that just went out on Sundays and gave out bagged lunches,” Calinsky says.

“We only gave ten lunches to test the waters, see what happens, and we also only had a couple of volunteers with us. The next weekend, people had already heard about it, so we moved up to thirty-five bagged lunches and some clothes. The next weekend, we had more donations than we knew what to do with.”

Taking It to the Streets gives the homeless youth of Haight a place to stay in exchange for their service of cleaning the streets that they roam. The program uses its person-power to full effect; dissolving the graffiti off and sweeping the trash in front of small businesses, cleaning up the syringes in alleys where the homeless population inject opioids and stimulants, repainting Haight Street, and everything else that comes with the duty to keep Haight Street clean. Calinsky leads this program, not only get the homeless population in Haight off the streets, but to show that these misunderstood people are hard workers that merely struggle to fit into society, instead of the stereotypical ableist and classist view that dehumanizes them.



“Whether most people realize it or not, people have a tendency to look at homeless people as failures and subhuman,” said Aditya Sharma, who was the captain of the debate team at his old college and an advocate for getting rid of stigmas regarding the needs of the disabled population.

“People don’t realize that homeless people are homeless for a reason. We should help these people, not judge them.”

Calinsky’s methods have been proven to work by the progress they’ve made. For example, their flexibility to take calls from various merchants around Haight and to clean their brick-and-mortar for free has changed how the merchants treat the homeless people that wander in front of their stores.

“My mom used to work around Haight at salons and she told me one time that she was surprised when she noticed a homeless guy cleaning where she works,” Sage Aguirre explains.

“I think it’s changed how she feels about homeless people. Well, she was pleasantly surprised at the very least.”

His methods are also very effective, to the point where the public notices his efforts merely because of the results. It’s difficult to see the effects of picking trash off the ground unless you saw the state it was in before, but something like a fresh coat of paint on a lamppost is noticeable and appreciated even by tourists. Calinsky has also simplified and expedited this process for maximum coverage.

“We use a paint called Garbage Can Green, not Dark Green, because it’s on everything in the city, like this pole right here,” says Calinsky, as he gestured to a metal rod, functioning as a brace for a tree located in a planter in the sidewalk, framed in the window to his left.

“We even take care of structures with all sorts of colors and repaint them appropriately. We take care of everything.”

Calinsky didn’t come up with this idea, he revived it. In the ‘60s, there was a group who called themselves The Diggers that split themselves up into crews, each had a section of Haight Street that they kept clean. The recycling center in Haight paid The Diggers to clean the streets, but the company was sued for worker’s compensation. Since The Diggers wasn’t an organization, it got shut down.

It hasn’t been completely smooth sailing for Take It to the Streets. Their main obstacle being the regulations enforced by the city. Calinsky’s methods are for effectiveness, not to appease the city’s regulations. Although, the city has become more relaxed on regulating Take It to the Streets in particular because it has been able to make an impact on the homeless community, unlike previous attempts.

“The city doesn’t really know how to deal with us,” Calinsky says.

“We just signed a three-year contract with the city, which is huge for an organization that’s only been active three years. Our negotiations were a huge fight because they wanted us to be a certain way.”

Despite this seemingly coherent and efficient methodology, the city still has a problem with some of their implementation. This is due to fundamental ethical differences between the city and Take It to the Streets.

“Our model is housing first. Over the last twenty years, the city has been saying, ‘No, we need to bring services to the people instead of putting them in-doors and then providing the service.’ But this process has been shown to not work because the homeless population has only gotten larger. Our model has shown that: put someone inside, give someone a shower, let them put their stuff down, and they’re going to be more successful in the long run than if you gave them a fresh pair of socks on the street.”

In just three years, Taking It to the Streets has worked with over five hundred homeless people and have gotten over three hundred of them permanently off the streets and into homes. Calinsky’s unorthodox decisions and persistence through the pressure of strict city regulations has rewarded him with an effective program that has proven itself to make a difference in the Haight.

“The city is very lenient because we’ve accessed a part of the population that they’ve never been able to access. They’ve never been able to do anything about Haight Street.”


Video by Alina Castillo

Plus Size

“I use the word ‘fat’ a lot,” says former San Francisco State University communications student, 26-year-old Natalie Meany. She is now a communications professor at Fresno State University and focuses on Fat Studies.

Fat Studies is an academic area of research about fat human bodies. It focuses on the social, political, cultural, and historical aspects of how “fat individuals” are portrayed and treated.

“The world isn’t kind or built for fat bodies, why is that?” asks Natalie.

In 2012, Natalie wanted to write a speech on plus-size issues and she was told by her coach, who was also a plus-sized woman, that the topic “wasn’t important enough.” That is the problem: we (plus-sized women) are constantly told, in many ways, that we are not important enough to care about. That no one will love us because we are not pretty and we are not pretty because we are larger in size than other women.

Natalie hates the term “plus-size.”

“I am not an excess size. I’m just my size. I don’t want to think of myself as an extra person.”

Growing up, she was able to be comfortable in her skin at a young age. Natalie’s mother and sister were both thin and she found it hard to fit in with them at first.

Estrella Y, a political science grad student at SF State, grew up being told not to eat certain things or not to wear certain patterns and colors because it would make her look fat. In the fourth grade, she noticed she was “the big one” in her group of friends. She was constantly thinking about weight because her mom was always on a diet and she had an aunt that was bulimic. She felt “huge” but looks at pictures now and wishes she knew then what she knows now.

Now 33-years-old, Estrella sometimes still faces her insecurities, but she is more accepting of her body now than when she was a child. One could say she is more “woke” now: instead of blaming herself for having the body she has, she blames marketing strategies, globalization, and societal beauty standards for trying to make her feel bad about her body. When it comes to the term “plus size,” she stated she doesn’t know “where people are putting this threshold… if you’re a size 5 and I’m an 18, then you’re a 5 and I’m an 18.” She doesn’t understand why there is the need to have a certain size that declares if you are a “straight” size or a “plus” size.

As for many women, Estrella fails to understand why every article of clothing in the store is not always available in bigger sizes.

“Why can’t one rack have sizes from small to 4X? Why do they have to be separated?”

She explains how creating a section specifically for the larger sizes is a way to make people feel shameful about having to shop in those sections. However, in the stores that have larger sizes, they use a type of “psychological marketing,” as Estrella calls it. Psychological in the sense that they carry sizes 14 and above but Torrid, for example, uses a sizing system ranging from 00 to 6 – size 00 being a size 12/Large to a 30/6XL – to make the consumer feel smaller by not adding the “X” to the end of the number. In this way, the consumer may feel like they are a size 2 rather than a 2XL.

Another struggle that women of all sizes face is the chaotic mismatching of size labels with actual body measurements. This often leads to women not being able to fit in the same label size because one blouse might say 3XL but when you put it up to look at it, it looks like a medium. According to the study “Exploring apparel purchase issues with plus-size female teens” published in the Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, the authors Laurel Dawn Romeo and Young-A Lee realized one reason for this mishap. “There are no relegations surrounding how a brand must label its sizes or if the size must relate to actual body measurements” in the United States. Meaning that brands are allowed to label their clothing however they want, even though the labels might not coincide with the actual measurements of the clothing.

Globalization also plays a role in this structure. When large companies have their brands clothing made in a different country, those countries might have a different idea of what each size is. For example, an XL in China is relatively different than the XL in the United States. Some brands might not be doing this intentionally, but they don’t bother to try to fix this either.  

This is why I, a plus-size woman, have shirt sizes in my closet that range from a medium all the way up to a 3X and pant sizes that range from a 14 to a size 18. When it comes to shopping, I have become accustomed to not necessarily looking at the size, but instead looking at how wide and long the article of clothing is. It took me a while to accept the fact that I had to size up not because of my own fault, but because all the clothing brands don’t label their clothes the correct way.

There has said to be what people call a “fat tax” on plus size clothing, meaning anything above an XL costs more than an XL and below. It is not a secret that several brands do this. Why? Basically because they can. Of course they’re not going to admit that this is true, so they’ll say something along the lines of “it costs us more to make it, hence the extra fabric, hence the extra charge.” But if this is the case, why don’t they charge for the difference between a small and an XL? They know women in the larger sizes will pay those extra bucks because we need to clothe our bodies so we have no other choice than to make our own clothes, which not many people do in the 21 century.

Natalie lived in leggings, knock-off UGG boots and a sweatshirt when she was a student at SFSU because it was the outfit she could afford to wear often.

Though there are stores that claim to sell plus-size clothing, they fail to realize that just like the thin women, plus-size babes might be on a budget as well. These chain stores and sections of these chain stores include Torrid, Lane Bryant, Forever 21+, Charlotte Russe Plus, H&M, Target, Old Navy, and more. Torrid and Lane Bryant probably have the better quality of all the ones listed above, but they are exceedingly expensive. The average cost for jeans run from $50 to $120, a screen t-shirt ranges from $30 to $50 and dresses range from $60 to $130.

You bet I’m taking my ass to Ross or TJ Maxx.

“It’s a struggle to find something that hides my fat,” said 24-year-old Stephanie Ortiz.


Stephanie Ortiz and Estrella Y who are San Francisco State University students that take part in a fashion organization on campus and featured in press magazine in a segment called Struggles of Being Plus sized.

After having her daughter over a year ago, the SFSU student found it harder to accept her body. Although she doesn’t blame her daughter for her body change, she admits to the fact that her shopping habits for clothes has definitely changed, in fact, most times she doesn’t even want to go shopping (but who could blame her?). When she finds herself looking for clothes, though, she looks for long, flowy shirts with sleeves, leggings, and high-waisted jeans. These are the articles of clothing that Stephanie feels she can hide her least favorite parts of her body, but why must us plus-size women feel the need to hide ourselves?

Stephanie Ortiz and Estrella Y who are San Francisco State University students that take part in a fashion organization on campus and featured in press magazine in a segment called Struggles of Being Plus sized.

The problem here is that people make the plus-size community, especially women, feel like they cannot wear what they want. Stores will have a small, sectioned-off corner for plus-size clothing but the options are limited. They do not make the same exact article of clothing that is sold in the straight-size section in the plus-size section, and if they do, it usually costs more, as previously stated. We are forced to wear what the industry wants us to wear because it might be “appropriate for them.” They want us to hide behind all black clothing, because it “makes us look thinner” or they don’t want us to wear short skirts and crop tops because “it’ll be too much skin.”

A few years back, Natalie wore a crop-top and high-waisted pants, only showing about an inch and a half of skin. Her aunt told her that she was dressed inappropriately for her size. She shook it off and eventually ended up buying a handful more of crop tops.

“It feels like companies are like, ‘Here’s what we’ve deemed appropriate for your body,” said Natalie.

This is how she feels about plus-size companies not making clothes that make us feel sexy because society believes curvy women can’t or shouldn’t be seen as sexy. The clothes made are very conservative at times and that’s not what all women in their 20s and 30s want to wear.

“Don’t tell me what I can and can’t wear. I’ll decide,” added Estrella.

Stephanie sees people in Spanish-speaking soap operas, commercials, and television shows and realizes that the people are all thin.

“I don’t fall into that category,” she says.

“So it makes me feel like I have to cover it up.”

Recently, there have been more ads and campaigns that encourage body positivity and plus-size advocacy, but it’s still not enough. For example, Sports Illustrated Magazine released their 2016 swimsuit edition with the first “plus-size model” to ever be featured on the front of the magazine. However, their definition of plus-size is a size 12, which is the size that Robyn Lawley, a “plus-size” model, is.

“My head will turn when they have a size 20 model,” Natalie said, “but they won’t do that because it’s not deemed as traditionally attractive.”

For Natalie, it wasn’t enough because she considered how the new average U.S. size for women is a size 16. “More realistic standards would be nice.”  

“I need more than just people telling me to “love my body,” said Stephanie. Stephanie emphasized that although they label Robyn as plus-size, her body size and shape is not realistic compared to millions of women who are also plus-size.

“There is a difference between curvy and chubby and that woman is curvy,” Stephanie.

She wants a model that accurately represents what an average plus-size woman actually looks like.

“Plus-size models have big boobs and a nice butt but I don’t have that, I have a big stomach.”

She also pointed out that it’s not realistic to have that body when one has no time to maintain a good diet and work-out while going to school, working and being a mother. “My daughter is more important than my figure.”  

Stephanie thought that in order to be considered “pretty,” she had to be skinny. Throughout the years, she’s been able to learn to love herself more and more and she is currently in a state where she is not fully confident but she is better than ever. However, when she was in high school, boys would mistreat her because of her body size. She was also bullied by other girls and her self-esteem sunk.

“Kids are cruel,” Natalie said about the same topic, “we’re STILL in a time where it’s socially acceptable to bully someone because of their weight.” There are plus-size women who don’t get bothered by what others say and there are plus-size women that only care about what people say.

There have been several cases where I’ve seen when plus-size Instagram gurus who will post a photo of herself, such as Jessica Torres, or founder of @EffYourBeautyStandards, Tess Holliday, and people post rude comments. Some comments are filled with disgust because “they are embracing and encouraging living an unhealthy lifestyle.”

People tend to automatically correlate fat with lazy. There are several diseases and illnesses that cause weight gain such as hyperthyroidism, Cushing’s syndrome, and depression. Medicines and birth control often can be the reason for rapid weight gain as well. Of course, a poor diet and a lack of exercise can be a main cause for obesity but it’s not the only reason. Obesity is the result of depending on environmental and genetic factors. However, people fail to realize what a person’s life might be like when they are constantly comparing others to themselves. Not everybody has time to go for a 5-mile walk and not everybody has the money to buy healthy, organic foods.

In conclusion, the plus-size community wants people and clothing lines to be mindful of them because the truth is, 67 percent of the women in the U.S. is considered to be plus-size, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. With such a large population in this country, it is hard to believe why it is so hard for companies to realize this. Not all plus size women are conservative and rich so it’s important to be diverse when considering the cost and styles when catering to the plus sized community.

Post-Fire Inferno

The aftermath of the fires

Since the devastating fires that started on a dry, windy night  in Northern California, more than forty people have lost their lives, over five thousand structures have been destroyed, and several hundred thousand acres of land have burned down, according to Cal Fire. The disaster will go into history as one of the worst fires in California’s history. Businesses both in San Francisco and up North have been seriously affected by the devastation, and unknown consequences might occur in the future.

Weed up in smoke

“The county felt like a war zone,” Sarah ElSayed says. She works for Legion of Bloom, which produces and distributes sun-grown marijuana in Sonoma.

“A thick haze of smoke was choking the air and we had nightly curfews. Our city was almost unrecognizable,” she continues.


Santa Rosa lost over fifteen hundred homes and structures within the first three hours of the fire. Many people made it safely out of their homes and neighborhoods just before the blazing inferno blew through the area. The entire county shut down for a week as everyone held their breath waiting to see how bad it would get. Entire neighborhoods were leveled to the ground, businesses were destroyed, and people lost everything.

As far as the Cannabis community is concerned, there are several farmers who shared the same fate as others. According to the Sonoma County Growers Association, thirty pot farms have suffered severe damage. Cannabis farmers are also dealing with the crippling effects of not having the adequate insurance necessary to safeguard their businesses.

SPARC, a San Francisco-based medical cannabis dispensary, was heavily affected. Founder Erich Pearson told the Green State that he went to bed on the first night of the fires thinking “at minimum the plants are going to be trashed and greenhouse plastic is going to be everywhere.”  In reality, sixty thousand square feet of barns filled with cannabis were destroyed, along with SPARC Farm’s drying room and processing room, and living space for ten people.

One of Legion of Bloom’s main farms has been severely affected by the Nuns Fire in the eastern side of the county. The fire destroyed much of their infrastructure and incinerated a good portion of their crop, leaving the rest with varying degrees of smoke damage.

“We are still trying to quantify our total losses, as we pick up the pieces and try to save what we can of our farm,” ElSayed explains.

ElSayed thinks the North Bay will see a slight decline in sun-grown flower because of the fires. However, she thinks it is too early to see the total scope of loss.

“I imagine that there will be a ripple effect in the market as we start to fully understand what this may have done to the overall supply chain,” she says.

Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, told KTLA that the road to recovery is going to be very long. However, he does not think the marijuana dispensaries will have a hard time getting supply because there are so many farms. In California there are more than fifty thousand marijuana farms, and fifteen thousand of these are located in Sonoma County.

“Although this has been devastating for Sonoma County,” ElSayed adds, “it has been beautiful and inspiring to see our community stand strong and rally together. We are very proud to call Sonoma County our home.”

Sweet Flames

Sift Dessert Bar is a dessert shop with stores in San Francisco, Napa, and Santa Rosa. Their main bakery in Santa Rosa was next door to a building that burnt to the ground.

“We were all on the edge of our seat to see if Sift was still standing at the end of that day,” Andrea Ballus, CEO and founder of Sift, says.

When they were finally able to assess the bakery, they needed a major cleaning inside because the building was so close to the fire. Sift had to close four of their five stores in the Napa/Sonoma-area for two weeks due to the damage. Over thirty percent of their sixty employees were mandatorily evacuated. Despite the damage the dessert chain still managed to keep their employees paid.

“I overheard one of our long-time employees say, ‘That was the worst paid vacation I’ve ever had’,” Ballus recalls.

Most of the Sift stores are located in heavy tourist-driven areas, which means that the customer flow has slowed down after the fires, but it is getting better with time.

“People are realizing that we’re still here,” Ballus exclaims.

“For the most part, you won’t even see the burned areas when coming to visit wine country!”

Though Sift has lost money, the CEO is more concerned about the personal losses than the material damage to their bakery.

“We all personally know someone who’s house burned down,” Ballus explains. “That has been the biggest tragedy – helping your friends put back their lives, after suffering so much at the hands of this fire.”

Wine Country

The wine industry definitely suffered damage due to the fires. According to the OC Register, twenty-seven wineries were destroyed or damaged. With that being said, Napa and Sonoma have roughly nineteen hundred licensed wineries and cellars.

“The image that the wine industry has been destroyed has been overblown,” says Dr. Joe LaVilla, restaurant management instructor and sommelier at San Francisco State University.

LaVilla explains how most of what burned were oak trees between vineyards. The vines themselves acted as a fire break for a few wineries. The smoke could have tainted much of the production, but most of harvest had already been completed.

“Only about fifteen percent of the harvest remained, so the damage from smoke will likely be minimal,” LaVilla adds.

Though only some wineries were seriously damaged, the consequences for those affected can be brutal. The wineries that were destroyed have to start from scratch. If they were fermenting at the time of the fire, had grapes ready to ferment, or had wine about to be put into barrels, that part of their production could be destroyed and will leave a gap in their inventory for a year. The fermentation process in winemaking is when juice from the pressed grapes, containing natural sugars, in combination with yeasts present on the skins of the grape are turned to alcohol. This process can take anywhere from ten days to months. While most of the harvest was completed before the fires started, as little as thirty minutes of exposure to smoke can cause a smoke-taint in the final product.

If any wine was stored on site for aging, and that was lost, then the gap in production could be longer. If they lost the whole production of 2017, the consequences are in the future because wine is not usually sold immediately after it is made.

“Visitors who are staying away because they believe the area is devastated, are doing more damage than the fire did,” LaVilla points out.

LaVilla thinks restaurants and wine shops in San Francisco might see a depletion in inventory for some wines.

“There may be a lack of the 2017 vintage in the future, but it remains to be seen how large it will be,” he adds.

Frank Melis, wine expert and owner of Golden Gate Wine Cellars in San Francisco, says that supply was an issue the first two to three weeks, because some of the wineries he works with burned down. However, he is not worried about the wine supply in San Francisco in general.

“I don’t believe it will be an issue,” Melis explains. “Ninety nine percent of the vineyards were not damaged. It could have been much worse.”

If you are worried about the wine prices, you can most likely relax. The 2017 vintage may be higher priced because of its scarcity, but for the most part, there should not be a sudden surge in pricing, according to LaVilla.

The consumers play an important role in helping damaged wineries get back on their feet.

“Take a day trip and go to restaurants, shops, and wineries for tastings,” LaVilla explains.

“Spending money in the local economy will get people back on their feet faster, because they are earning an income and can then work to rebuild their lives.”

The community remains hopeful

Though local businesses in Napa and Sonoma have suffered severe damage, the people behind remain hopeful. The fire inferno has gotten people closer than ever and showed us how important it is to stand together through a disaster. It might take a while for them to get back on their feet, but they will stand again.


Photos by Legion of Bloom

The Butterfly Effect: The Results of Winged Popularity

Miniscule rain drops started collecting on the windows of the Conservatory of Flowers, but anyone inside the building would mistake it for the condensation found inside the building. The Conservatory’s staff is preparing the giant greenhouse for another day filled with curious visitors. While they move through the building to see if anything needs last minute attention, Drew Risner-Davis sits in the left wing, watching a monarch butterfly emerge from its chrysalis, a shell made of hardened protein that protects caterpillars as they transform into butterflies.

Drew, the exhibit manager and butterfly specialist at the Conservatory of Flowers, continues to makes sure everything in the Butterflies and Blooms exhibit runs smoothly, including the unfolding of a single butterfly. While a visit to the Conservatory does not break the bank, any exhibit visitor ill-informed about the price of admission might expect a higher ticket price.

“I’ve been completely immersed in butterflies, and moths a little bit, since last November,” shared Drew, who has worked at the Conservatory for four years.

With a warm smile and overflowing eagerness, the butterfly specialist begins his days at the Conservatory an hour before the greenhouse opens to the public. He first checks the Butterfly Bungalow, a large shadow box filled with rows of chrysalis pinned to the box and newly formed butterflies waiting for their chance to experience the exhibit. It allows him to make sure butterflies are emerging properly while looking for the ones that are ready to join the butterfly community in the next room.

Using cautious hands, the butterfly specialist moves the ready butterflies to the adjoining room where the mesmerizing insects hang from trees, plants, and the ceiling like vibrant Christmas ornaments.

Once he is done with the Butterfly Bungalow, he focuses his attention on feeding the butterflies. Discs carrying sponges filled with nectar — a mix of sugar and water — are placed around the exhibit. Although there are flowers in the room used to feed the butterflies, the extension of the exhibit to close in January, as compared to previous years when the exhibit ends in June, decreases the likeliness that the flowers will produce enough nectar on their own.  

For the rest of the day Drew keeps a watchful eye on the habitat while trying to answer visitor’s questions.

“I get to be here interacting with visitors and really explaining the beauty of butterflies and why they’re so important to the ecosystem as pollinators,” describes the exhibit manager as his eyes light up at the idea of sharing his butterfly knowledge with others.

The 138-year-old Conservatory of Flowers was home to twenty-two species of butterflies and a few species of moths — such as the luna moth — earlier this year, but now currently houses only twelve species of butterflies. With the butterfly’s average adult life cycle around 30 days, the exhibit can carry from 300 to 1,200 any given week.  

Although the greenhouse is the final home for all the butterflies, they do not start their lives in San Francisco. The Conservatory of Flowers receive chrysalis, which are low maintenance and require no sustenance, from farms in Florida and Alabama that breed several species of butterflies. Most of the butterfly species originate from Latin American countries, with the Malachite, a butterfly with gorgeous bluish-green wings, coming from as far as South America.

Unlike the remarkable winged insects housed at the Conservatory, the exhibits flowers are grown in the Conservatory’s own nursery.

“Our nursery specialists designed the exhibit to compliment the space,” explained Maryam Nabi, the marketing and communications manager for the Conservatory of Flowers.

Vivid colors portrayed by the different flowers act as beacons for butterflies. The bright colors tell them there is a probably a flower full of nectar waiting to be fed on. Visitors wearing vibrant clothing are likely to gain a hitchhiker or two while exploring the exhibit.

Butterflies and flowers do not have the left wing to themselves. Koi fish found in a pond in the exhibit add to the stimulating environment, especially one large koi fish that expects food from every visitor that hovers over its watery enclosure.

Thanks to the help of new and returning visitors, the Butterflies and Blooms exhibit was able to return several times since 2006. Due to popular demand, the exhibit’s run was extended to January 7, 2018.

“The community really loved the exhibit,” Nabi exclaimed.

“We really wanted to make sure everyone has an opportunity to see the butterflies.”

Other than the Butterflies and Blooms exhibit, the Conservatory of Flowers is a warm paradise that offers an amazing array of plant life for visitors’ visual consumption. But if you ask Drew, he would explain that the real stars of the building are the winsome butterflies found in the left wing.

“My favorite part is definitely getting to share with people the amazing diversity of our butterflies. And I think that it’s really important in all parts of our lives to really recognize how important diversity is, to our diverse plant collection to our diverse butterfly collection,” Drew remarked.

With San Francisco’s rainy season around the corner, the salient structure found in the northeast corner of Golden Gate Park can be a cheap getaway for anyone. The price of admission for the entire Conservatory is $9 for adults, $6 for youth, seniors, college students, and San Francisco residents, and only $3 for children between the ages of 5 and 11. If a San Francisco resident is also a college student, their entry is only $4, but they must show a piece of mail with their name and San Francisco address on it, and their student ID to receive the discount.

Anyone traveling near or from SF State can hop on the 28 Muni line and exit the bus at 19th Avenue and Lincoln Avenue. They can take a short fifteen-minute walk through the right side of Golden Gate park and find the Conservatory of Flowers at 100 John F Kennedy Drive. Future visitors coming from downtown San Francisco can catch the 5 Muni line, exiting at the Arguello Boulevard stop, then travelling south on Arguello Boulevard until they hit Conservatory Drive.


Photos by Cristabell Fierros

Social Media and Relationships

We all know social media plays a big role in the world, but does it have to play a big role in your relationship?

We’ve all been there. Either you’re the friend asking, or you’re the one being asked, “Do they post about you?” It seems like social media is hitting closer and closer to relationships, when it used to be just outlets to keep in touch with those you know. Some think posting about their significant other is very important, it shows they care, they love you, and that they’re proud of you. On the other hand, there are those that like to keep their lives and whereabouts private. But who’s right?

“It depends on the different people’s personality, their privacy level, and how comfortable they are sharing information about their lives,” says San Francisco State University sex and relationships instructor, Ivy Chen.

Ah, of course, one of those, “it depends,” answers.

But it’s true, it really depends on the individual posting. Linda Bernstein, Social Media Strategist and Journalism professor at Long Island University, Brooklyn, said that she has heard many instances of couples being upset about posting. She has found that when the other partner in the relationship doesn’t reciprocate, they tend to get upset because they feel like posting should be equal.

Some may be thinking, “But is it really that serious?” According to Bernstein, yes! About six years ago, Bernstein heard of a couple that was going through a divorce. When the couple got together to sign the divorce papers, they had arranged with the lawyers that they would change their relationship status on Facebook to “single” at the exact same time.

“People are what they are, and social media is just another outlet for people to act, or not act in a certain way,” Bernstein explained.

SF State University alumni, Jan Jerome Ochoa, and his girlfriend, Maria Elena Urquico, have been together for about two years. It took Ochoa almost one year into the relationship to post about his girlfriend on any social media platform, and it bothered her. Ochoa prefers to be more private, and doesn’t think posting about his whereabouts are that important. Still, Urquico encourages her boyfriend to occasionally post about her.

Ochoa goes further to say that he wouldn’t mind one bit if Urquico didn’t post about him at all. He believes that at the end of the day, he’s the one she is constantly in contact with, and wouldn’t question her motives or feelings for him off of some posts.

“Whatever she would want me to post, like a special moment to me, or a special memory between the both of us, I don’t really need it to be put out to everyone else to see,” Ochoa said. “I personally like to be much more private about it.”

Ochoa admits that posting on social media has caused some bickering between the two. This is because Urquico believes that posting about your significant other on your social media does have some validation behind it, but also knows that words speak louder than a post.

“It’s a way for your significant other to show you off, to show that they care,” Urquico said. “It doesn’t have to be frequent, but it would be nice every now and then that we could have a memory somewhere out there in the virtual world.”

Urquico argues that yes, girls post a lot more than guys, but whatever males do post, it must mean something to them since they tend to post less frequently. Ivy Chen has found that generally, more people who identify as women tend to have larger social networks, whether it be online, or a larger group of friends in real life. They also tend to be more in regular contact with their friends and family.

According to Chen, what’s common for a straight male is to maybe have a couple of close friends. In most cases, his romantic partner makes up a big part of how he connects emotionally. Men tend to look at what’s going on in real life with their romantic partner, and when they see that is going fine, they don’t feel a need to advertise it on social media.

SF State alumni, Angelica “Giee” Lapid, posts about her girlfriend frequently, but says she would respect her girlfriend’s wishes if she didn’t want to be so public with their relationship. In terms of being in a LGBTQ relationship versus a heterosexual relationship, Lapid says she doesn’t really see a difference in posting. Pretty much all couples, whether heterosexual or LGBTQ, post about their significant others almost the same.

“Me and my girlfriend do a lot of things that most heterosexual couples do and post about it,” Lapid said.“But heterosexual couples tend to post more than LGBTQ couples.”

But if they’re not posting about you, how do you know when to get a little suspicious? There’s a difference between being private and keeping the relationship a secret. Some get insecure when they aren’t on their partner’s social media, and tend to believe the worse and jump to conclusions. It can have people guessing if their partner is as committed as they are.

Chen suggests that the individual assuming should look for alarming signs. If they claim to be private but they’re posting about every single thing throughout the day, she believes this might be a red flag. A good way to determine if you’re being kept a secret is to evaluate how the relationship is. Chen believes you should take these things into consideration: do you hang out in public? Have you met their parents or friends? Do they make you feel validated and reassured in real life?

“If you’ve gotten a chance to meet your partner’s friends, and they know you exist, and they seem to be really proud of you, and not like they’re hiding you, I feel like those are better signs of how they feel about you and the relationship, rather than how much they post online,” Chen says confidently.

In fact, Chen believes that if a person in a relationship is constantly needing proof that their partner cares about them through social media, it may be a red flag that there is something else wrong. Chen has been teaching at SF State for fifteen years, and has found that needing constant external validation may be a sign that the issue might be with the individual person, rather than with the relationship.

SF State student, Adrian Cuyson, knows that social media is not an accurate representation of what goes on in real life. He posts about his girlfriend, but tries to post in a different way. Cuyson prefers to write appreciation posts dedicated to his girlfriend every now and then. He thinks they are more meaningful and serve a purpose. But at the end of the day, Cuyson knows that the amount of pictures you post doesn’t measure the amount of love you have for someone else.

“It’s cool, it’s a nice gesture, and I appreciate it, but it’s something that shouldn’t be used as a crutch in a relationship,” Cuyson said.

On the flip side, there are those that post “too much” about their significant other. Chen stresses that the primary person who needs to hear “I love you,” is your partner. And sometimes people don’t realize that posting too much and showing how happy they perceive to be in real life can get a little annoying to their followers. It almost seems like people post to get validation from others and are fishing for compliments.

Posting about your significant other is a nice gesture, however, it isn’t something that needs to be done. If the relationship is going well and you feel validated in real life, social media shouldn’t be a factor.

“As long as they realize their relationship is good, healthy, mutually supportive, and that their partner is as committed as they are, why do they need to tell the rest of the world?” Chen said. “It doesn’t have to be a problem.”



Illustration by Marielle Cabillo, Visual Communication Design major at SF State  

Buggin’ Out

Craving Crickets

The bar is dimly lit and the music is loud. The ceiling is decorated with hundreds of empty beer glasses placed vertically next to each other to show the labels. The shelves behind the counter carry bottle after bottle of tequila and mezcal.

Mosto Bar doesn’t have many tables, but the ones they have are occupied by men and women imbibing in colorful drinks. At first glance, it looks like just another tequila bar with an assortment Mexican dishes on the menu. But upon taking a closer look, some see-through plastic boxes in the kitchen reveal the unusual ingredients of two of their dishes – insects.

Mosto Bar serves spicy mealworms and cricket tostadas – one of the only places in San Francisco to do so.


Insect farms

As the population of the world increases every year, so does the necessity of more food, which will put more pressure on the environment. However, eating insects can be part of the solution.

Edible insects contain a lot of protein, vitamins, and amino acids. Crickets contain sixty percent protein compared to steak, which contains about thirty percent.  According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations crickets need six times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep, and two times less than pigs and chickens to produce the same amount of protein.

Andrew Brentano, founder and CEO of Tiny Farms breeds and distributes crickets in Oakland. His small, modern type of farm can currently produce hundreds of pounds of crickets per week. It all started five years ago when he and his wife decided to try insects for the first time. They basically went out in their garden, caught a few grasshoppers and in their kitchen, wrapped them in bacon and fried them up.

“They tasted delicious. Almost like bacon-wrapped shrimp!” Brentano explains enthusiastically.

Since that day they have developed their successful cricket farm. Today, they sell their crickets to restaurants and companies that use them in their cooking and products.

However, it is fully possible to breed crickets in your own home.

Brentano explains how you can buy live crickets in a pet store and keep them in a box with egg cartons. The insects will eat just about anything – some vegetables or chicken feed will do. When they are grown you simply put them in the freezer and they can be used for cooking.

Bugs Mexican style

Back in Mosto Bar, 35-year-old culinary director Quinten Frye opens the plastic boxes containing the dead insects. He pours the mealworms in a small ceramic bowl. The fried crickets are lined up on three small corn tortillas with guacamole, cilantro, and sour cream. They look like a miniature version of regular tostadas. Since the crickets are both fried and seasoned, it is hard to tell what they really look like. But if you look close you can see their tiny legs sticking out from their bodies.

Frye first started cooking with insects eight years ago when he visited Oaxaca in Mexico. Since then he’s been experimenting with them in different dishes and salsas.

“The insects are becoming more popular on the menu. I think people are excited to learn more about them and try something out of the ordinary,” he says.

On the high-top chairs by the window, two students from San Francisco State University are waiting to try edible insects for the first time. Marike Duckstein a, 21-year-old psychology major, and 20-year-old BECA major Sabrina Mora are a little nervous, but mostly excited.

“I think the crickets are gonna be crunchy,” Mora says.

“I don’t know what it will taste like. Maybe chicken?”

The girls go for the bowl of spicy mealworms first. You can hear the crunching as Mora and Duckstein put their teeth in the crispy cricket bodies.

“Interesting,” Duckstein says frowning a little. “I don’t know, not my favorite. It’s ok.”

“They’re good, kind of salty,” Mora exclaims while grabbing a second one.

“Yes, almost like roasted sunflower seeds,” Duckstein agrees.

Next up are the tostadas. The brownish crickets are almost hidden under the sour cream and guacamole. The students admire the small, delicate dish before digging in.

“The mealworms were way scarier than the tostadas. They’re so small and cute,” Mora laughs.

“If you stop thinking about what you’re eating it tastes good,” Duckstein says.

The students finish all three of the tostadas and seem pleased with their meal. They both prefer the cricket tostadas over the crunchy mealworms.

Cultural differences

Two billion people in the world eat insects. Mosto Bar is trying to show Americans that it’s possible to make delicious dishes with bugs. However, many Americans still think it’s creepy.

“I think people have an idea in their head that bugs are gross or creepy but most of the time people try them, they are pleasantly surprised,” Frye explains.

He hopes bugs can be more normalized as food in the future.

Cricket distributor Andrew Brentano also thinks education is key. People don’t know how to cook with bugs and that’s what has to change.

“Most people warm up to the idea once they have tried it,” Brentano says.

Even though more and more people, and restaurants, are welcoming insects into their lives, it will probably take some time before we include them in our regular diets, like in other parts of the world.

Eating insects, or entomophagy, is an old tradition. The ancient Romans and Greeks ate them. People in Africa, Asia and Latin America still do, but in Europe and North America it is not as usual. According to The National Geographic, one reason for that is that after Europe became agrarian, insects were seen as destroyers of crops rather than a source of food.

Changing culture can’t happen overnight, but saying yes to bugs would pay off in the long run. After all, bugs just might be the food of the future.

The Festival of Light Brightens San Francisco for the Fifth Time

San Francisco is shining bright now until New Year’s day with 37 eco-friendly light art installations located in 17 different neighborhoods throughout the city. This is San Francisco’s fifth year hosting Illuminate SF’s, The Festival of Light, which features artists from around the globe. All 37 pieces range in variety and type, making the festival even more unique.


Illuminate, a non-profit founded by Ben Davis, focuses on bringing public art to the masses. They’re mission statement reads:


“Our highly aspirational mission of changing humanity’s future for the better via public art—some would call it impossible—is a reflection of our core beliefs. The best of our projects will always be radically accessible, free to experience and widely viewable.”


Davis and his team began their journey with the first Illuminate piece, The Bay Lights, back in 2013. The Bay Lights is a light sculpture made of 25,000 white LED lights that creates a magnificent light show on the north side of The Bay Bridge. The display was set to run March 2013 to March of 2015 but has now become a permanent piece in the city. For many, this has become an iconic landmark in San Francisco. Since The Bay City Lights, Davis and the rest of Illuminate have helped multiple artists bring their public art to life.

“It’s hard to choose a favorite,” says Jordan Guerrero, a former student at San Francisco State University and now an employee at SoulCycle Castro.


“One of my favorites has to be the “Hope Will Never Be Silent” sign that’s recently been installed outside my work.”


Guerrero is referring to one of six new art light installations that has been installed for this years Festival of Light. The white neon sign reads “Hope will never be silent” and rests above the doors of Soul Cycle, which is located in The Harvey Milk Plaza in the Castro district. The sign is meant to pay tribute to the late Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the history of California.


“It makes you smile when you see it. It’s a nice little reminder of how far we’ve come. It just goes to show what type of community lives within the Castro,” says Guerrero while smiling.


Another favorite, the Bayview Rise by Laura Haddad and Tom Drugan, towers over the Bayview District standing at 187 feet tall. The mural located at Port Pier 92 symbolizes change but also honors the rich history of the neighborhood.


“We wanted to honor the neighborhood,” says Haddad while talking about the process of creating the piece.

“We decided to ask the community to come up with words to describe the district. We thought that it was a nice way to get the neighborhoods input. The words they came up with were so empowering. The one that really stood out to us was  ‘rise’.”


Haddad goes on to explain other inspirations for their piece, including one special lady, Essie Webb.


Webb, one of five women a part of “The Big Five”, a group of black women who advocated for better housing and health clinics in their neighborhood, made a quote that brought the whole piece together.


“All the air came out of the balloon, and it just came to the ground and it’s still there, and it’s just waiting for someone to put some more air in and blow it up.”

Webb’s quote inspired Haddad and Drugan to incorporate balloons into their piece. The balloons are the most prominent on the mural. With the use of light, Haddad and Drugan showcase different elements of their piece.


“At night, the art extends this visual metaphor of transformation through a dynamic interaction of light and color. The light fixtures at the base of the building cycle through different colors that each highlight a unique combination of images within the painted mural. As the light colors shift, images appear to float in and out of the scene. This striking effect of “illumination animation” results in a kinetic image abstractly representing a neighborhood in flux, or Bayview Rising.” (Laura Haddad, Inimitable Glitter)


The incorporation of the lights creates a story for art-goers to interpret. Without them, some elements of the mural would go unnoticed.


Matthew Passmore, the creator of Handsignals, located in the Mission District, explains the importance of light in his piece.


“It’s (the light) critical. It was a little bit of a challenge to get the Arts Commission to go along with a lit piece. The lighting is so critical to it. If the lights don’t work, ya got nothing,” says Passmore.


“Light is the essence of the piece. It comes to life at night.”


Passmore is right when saying these pieces come to life at night, some more than others. One of this year’s new most-raved about exhibits is the Photosynthesis Love for All Seasons, a vibrant imagery show that is projected on the exterior of The Conservatory of Flowers. More events occurring during The Festival of Light include Sausalito Lighted Boat Parade, Parol Light Festival, and After Hours at the Conservatory-Botanicals and Brews Beer Garden.

Illuminate SF’s website provides maps of free self-guided walking tours along with detailed information about each piece and the artist behind the work. The festival along with its events will last until New Years Day. The final celebration will go off with a bang on the Moonlight New Year’s Eve Fireworks Party Cruise.


Website: http://www.illuminatesf.com/home-page


Upcoming Festival of Light Events:


SF Holiday Lights Tour

When: 5:00PM or 7:30PM Friday, November 25, 2017 – December 30, 2017

Where Fisherman’s Wharf: 2899 Hyde Street

SF Neon Light Tours

When: 5:00PM – 7:00PM Friday, December 15, 2017

Where: Union Square

When: 4:30PM – 6:30PM Friday, December 29, 2017

Where: Tender Nob

Night at the Jewseum: Light, Analog Edition

When: 6:00PM – 9:00PM Thursday, December 14, 2017

Where Contemporary Jewish Museum

de Young | Light Art Docent tour/activation 

When: Saturdays, December 16, 23, 30, 2017

Where: de Young Museum

After Hours at the Conservatory – Botanicals and Brews Beer Garden

When: 6:30PM – 11:30PM Friday, December 15, 2017

Where: Golden Gate Park – Conservancy of Flowers

Moonlight New Year’s Eve Fireworks Party Cruise

When: 9:00PM – 1:00PM Sunday, December 31, 2017

Where: Pier 3 – Hornblower Landings

50 Years in the Making: Project Rebound Celebrates its Accomplishments

Families, pairs, and solo guests trickled into the dimly lit Jack Adams Hall found at San Francisco State University. Some dressed casually, donning clothes they probably wore all day, while others wore attire that was fitting for a prestigious awards ceremony.

Volunteers handed them red tickets and well-designed programs that read “Celebrating 50 years of Project Rebound” on the cover. On the back side of the clean cover was the program’s objective: “a special admissions program assisting formerly incarcerated individuals wanting to enter San Francisco State University.” Upon entering the dark room adorned with purple and yellow balloons, guests met the men behind the proud smiles, Jason Bell and Curtis Penn, the regional director and interim director of the program, who were happy to see the event off to a positive start.    

The visitors, some new and some used to the campus of SF State, slowly made their ways to the round tables, covered by black table cloths and several cups of water, while caterers rushed through the hall, setting up trays full of steaming foods that waited to be devoured.

Family members of Dr. John Irwin, the founder of Project Rebound, settled themselves at a table in the middle of the welcomed commotion. The caterers, all matching with surprisingly clean, white chef coats and white pants, already rushed from table to table, refilling any empty glasses they could find.

As the hall continued to fill with forty, fifty, sixty people, Bell rushed to the stage, studying the crowd to find the right time to start the event. He dressed for the part with a black button-down and a diagonally striped tie to accompany his walnut brown suit. Penn finished his conversation with a guest and slowly moved towards the front of the stage, focusing his attention on Bell. It was already 4:45 p.m.; the whole affair was fashionably late by fifteen minutes.

“A huge obstacle for Project Rebound is funding,” shared Penn, his deep voice carried through the almost empty conference room on the third floor of the César Chávez building. “We need the funding to continue the outreach at a high level,” he explained.

Penn was wary of the two Golden Gate Xpress reporters with their cameras pointed on him, but decided that it would not become a nuisance for him. He and Bell were popular and caught the attention of several news outlets, including KQED. It was one week before Project Rebound’s 50th Anniversary celebration, but the event became an added stress to the interim director’s already busy days.

The 54-year-old’s days are based around a recruitment strategy to get more people in the program.

“We’re going to the jails and prisons and into underrepresented communities,” shared Penn as his demeanor softened with each word. “We do a lot of resource fairs where we connect with men and women who were formerly incarcerated who can benefit from a program that assists them to matriculate into the CSU system.”

Recently, the program received a grant of $500,000 and could spread to eight other California State Universities: CSU Bakersfield, CSU Fresno, CSU Fullerton, CSU Sacramento, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, CSU San Bernardino, CSU Bakersfield, and San Diego State University.

Project Rebound started in 1967 thanks to Dr. Irwin, who went through the criminal justice system before earning his bachelor’s degree in sociology at University of California, Los Angeles. After earning his degree, he began teaching at SF State, where he felt a program was needed to help those in the prison system become acclimated to life and education outside of their current situation. He created Project Rebound with the intent of helping the formerly incarcerated find a path back into the education system.


50 years later, Irwin shared some similar experiences with the current interim director. The San Diego native can understand how difficult it can be for someone to transition from a prison to a college because he went through the criminal justice system himself. With the help of Jody Lewen—the founder of the Prison University Project, which gives the men in San Quentin a chance to involve themselves with higher education—and Project Rebound, Penn could graduate from SF State.

As he tries to extend that same helping hand to those being released by the prison system, he and Bell are pleased to look back at the success of their former students. In 2016, Project Rebound had 10 students graduate from SF State while their current students have an average GPA of 3.23. With such committed students, the program holds an eighty-seven percent retention rate and a graduation rate of eighty-six percent.

Penn and Bell wanted to properly honor Dr. Irwin and the students of Project Rebound with a celebratory event, but ran into several problems during the several months it took to plan it. One of the most glaring problems was the funding the event. Fortunately, with the help of President Wong and the Associated Students of S.F.S.U., the organization could pay for all the necessities for the celebration.

Hilda Villanueva, a marriage and family therapist from the county of San Mateo’s health system and a former SF State alumna, reached out to Penn about the Vocational Rehabilitation Services Workcenter in San Mateo. Villanueva wanted to let the people in the VRS program, who are mostly formerly incarcerated, help cater the event. Penn agreed and was excited to work with them.

As they planned the 50th celebration, the idea of an art gallery began to take off in Project Rebound’s small office. “The art gallery fell in our laps” exclaimed Bell, recounting the 23 pieces of art displayed in the exhibit. Each piece was created by a student in Project Rebound or someone that went through the legal system. Even though it was a last-minute idea, they had the chance to secure a spot at the art gallery located across from Jack Adams Hall, which usually needs to be booked months in advance.

“Early on we worried the speakers wouldn’t show up, although I knew Jody was good,” Penn remarked. With a little work, Penn convinced Honorable Judge Trina Thompson and Law Professor James Forman, Jr. to speak at the event.

The event ran almost seamlessly. Although it started later than usual, all the attendees seemed to enjoy themselves while Penn and Bell successfully honored the legacy of John Irwin and Project Rebound.

“Obviously the goal, the long-term objective, is to have a Project Rebound program at all twenty-three CSU campuses throughout the state,” Penn shared.

Take the Rock: Serving Those Who Serve, and Have Served

It is strange to see the San Francisco skyline completely pitch black. The shadows of skyscrapers cast a watchful eye over the marina. There is a stillness, broken only by the sound of the waves lapping at the Hyde Street Pier.

The masts of the boats sway softly, untouched by the triangular appendages of gulls.

A familiar scent lures us into the corner of the pier. The smell of coffee mingles with the salty air, and with it a shallow murmur of conversation.

A small group of veterans and organizers are already here, setting up registration and taking out the swim caps for every swimmer.

Looking out across the chilly water, towards the island in the middle of the Bay, one might ask, “why Alcatraz?”

Kirk Mckinney, a commercial real estate developer and one of the coaches for today’s swim, believes that it’s one of the main things that draws people in.

“There’s something special about Alcatraz,” Kirk begins to explain.

“…We just thought it was so iconic and so San Francisco, that we figured that [Alcatraz] would be the thing, and that would hopefully attract people from all over. And it’s starting to do that.”


Kirk Mckinney gives last minute advice the morning of the challenge.
(Anya Livshyts/Xpress Magazine)

What makes Alcatraz so special, of course, is its history, particularly when referring to the multiple attempts that were made by prisoners to escape the island in its years as a Federal Prison. During its heyday, the maximum security prison held the creme-de-la-creme of the criminal world, including Al Capone and Robert “Birdman of Alcatraz” Stroud.

According to FBI files, the attempts that were made to escape the Rock were deemed unsuccessful, with escapees being shot, captured, or found drowned. However, five were labeled as missing, and presumed drowned. The records of the meticulous planning that went into these escapes have puzzled law enforcement, and the public alike. These stories have spurred excitement and a challenge to overcome for adventures seekers to try the swim from Alcatraz, in an attempt to prove that this escape could have, in fact, been plausible.  

The “Take the Rock” Veteran Swim Challenge is an annual, non-profit swimming challenge that takes place in the fall. This year the event took place on October 1, with the final chance to qualify for the event the day prior, on September 30.

Consisting of a 1.3 mile swim, participants are dropped off via boats in the water near the shore of the island off the southeast side to swim back into Aquatic Park. Due to the 60 degree Fahrenheit water, as well as the strong current, swimmers are surveilled by volunteers with canoes and boats during the entire swim, as well as joined by coaches and experienced swimmers in the water.


The event is free and sponsored by the Vietnam Vets of Diablo Valley, as well as the Nadadores Locos swim club. These two organizations help to pay for the insurance fees, and help put together the event. Working alongside with the organizers, they notify the Coast Guard of the event, and find volunteers who will use boats to keep the swimmers safe. It is open for veterans from all over the country, as well as family members and active service members.

“The idea is it’s serving those who serve and those who have served,” expounded Coach Mckinney.



At this years  5th annual “Take the Rock” challenge, the event brought in 80 participants, with the eldest being in his 70’s.

Earle Conklin, a member of the Vietnam Vets of Diablo Valley, the Nadadores Locos swim club, and one of the main organizers of the event, explained that in order to qualify, certain conditions must be met during training at Aquatic Park in San Francisco.

Earle Conklin at the registration table.
(Anya Livshyts / Xpress Magazine)

“We have a lot of coaching, kind of in a seminar format,” Earle explains.

“We get into the water, we start with some basic skills. We teach the people how to hold their hands and how to twist their body, how to breathe, and how to use the ocean to their benefit, to help them swim.”

“Participants in the event are not allowed to swim without completing this final preparatory swim.”

During the last day to qualify for the event, Earle explains why seminars like this are so important for swimmers.

“The main thing was to build confidence in our swimmers – so we had them swim a route that is actually more difficult than the Alcatraz swim, and the idea was to look at their technique, coach them a little bit, help them with their goggles and their stroke, and how they’re managing their body,” he says, gesturing through the swimming motions.

These exercises also help the swimmers develop stamina and endurance through technique development.

“At the end of the swim we were in the water for almost two hours, which is far longer than it takes to swim from Alcatraz. We did almost 2 miles.”

Without taking into consideration the effect of the current, the swim from Alcatraz should be a little less than 1.3 miles, according to data recorded from previous swims.

“So two things were accomplished: one was we got to see everybody swim, we got to do a little bit more coaching, and the other thing was is that at the end of the swim, we can tell people you have done a swim that is more difficult than the Alcatraz swim.”

Joining the group of regulars, and returning swimmers, were twenty active duty members from Fort Huachuca, Arizona. They had driven up the night before in order to participate in the qualifying swim.

Miranda DeSpain, a member of the US Army, and originally from North Carolina, was excited to get into the water.

“Every year our commander likes to do different things like this. So this year he put it out and asked for volunteers, so we decided to volunteer. And we’ve been training for a little while, because it’s colder here than our waters in Arizona, ” she expressed, blinking at the sunlight bouncing off the waves.

“I am excited for the experience and to be able to say that I actually did this, but I’m a little nervous because it’s not like a swimming pool.”

When it comes to events like these it is always fascinating to hear who is trying to accomplish what by participating in this feat. While Miranda would be swimming in order to set a personal goal and prove something to herself, Bill Chan would be swimming with something different in mind.

Bill Leon Chan, a full-time international business student at San Francisco State University, is a part of the VETS at SFSU program, which stands for Vets, Education, Transition, Support. This organization is active in helping current and former members of the Armed Forces in pursuing their education. VETS also provides benefits and community, both of which are vital for returning veterans.

“Take the Rock” is only one of the events that the veterans find out about while being a part of this program.

“I learned how to swim at an early age – my mom kinda threw me into the pool and it was either sink or swim,” Bill laughs as he recalls his first experiences with swimming.

“Ever since then, I loved swimming. It’s great exercise.”

For Bill, swimming is not only about the workout, but also provides a sense of community through the opportunities it has provided.

“Swimming has always given me great opportunities in life. Being able to swim when I was in the Marines, opened up the opportunity to join a unit that was more specialized in amphibious assault.”

As for why he had decided to “take the rock”, Bill had a few reasons.

“Growing up, it always seemed like Alcatraz was the prison that nobody could escape from because it’s the island. By doing this swim, I just really wanted to pay tribute to my aunt. She escaped communism by swimming from mainland China to Hong Kong, and I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for her doing that swim and risking everything, just for the idea of freedom.”

Bill Chan smiles as he finishes Take The Rock, a swim from Alctraz to the shore in San Francisco, Oct. 1, 2017 (Mitchell Mylius/Xpress Magazine)
Cora Henry smiles after finishing the Take The Rock challenge in San Francisco, Oct. 1, 2017 (Mitchell Mylius/Xpress)

This idea was echoed for many of the veterans and family members swimming. A few of the veterans had their children completing the swim with them, not only as a bonding experience, but also as a tribute to what the body and mind can accomplish, even when it has gone through so much.

For Terri Parker, former Coast Guard veteran, the swim is all about speed and passion. This being her 3rd Take the Rock Challenge, Parker wanted to focus on setting a personal best, while  actively reaching out and introducing more veterans to this amazing event.

“I did exactly what I set out to do. I have four veteran swimmers that I bring from the North Bay to SF every weekend, and I also got another veteran who’s kayaking for us, so now I’m with my tribe.”

Terri had initially found out about the Take the Rock Challenge from Earle Conklin.

“This swim that he [Earle] has invented, and has been doing for years, has given all of us veterans the opportunity to not only to hang out with each other and find our tribe, but also the benefits of cold water swimming,” Terri elaborates.

“We are really passionate about that, because it’s very helpful with things like PTSD, physical injuries due to the cold water and reducing inflammation – there’s so many positive things about swimming in the bay.”


Terri Parker chats with an onlooker of the event.
(Anya Livshyts/Xpress Magazine)

The passion and thought that go into an event like this is overwhelming. On one side there is the physical feat that it trains your body for. On the other side there is a mental challenge where it helps with endorphins and a natural way to feel adrenaline and pride.

Terri underlines the importance of this swim.

“We are both very passionate about getting veterans to the water, not only to find their purpose but also to find their tribe. It’s very difficult to transition into civilian life when you’ve been in the military, I don’t think it matters how long you were in, you know, you are changed forever.”  

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 4 active duty members show signs of a mental health condition. When it comes to returning to civilian life after active duty, there are three major health concerns that are most encountered while serving in the military.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and traumatic brain injury are the most commonly found conditions in returning Veterans, and can be severely debilitating to quality of life. PTSD can be caused from witnessing or experiencing a traumatic experience, such as military combat, assault and disasters. This condition can have lasting effects, manifesting in insomnia, anger issues, and a potential for substance abuse, among others. From the NAMI research, the rate of PTSD is fifteen times more likely in veterans than in civilians.

The rate of PTSD differs depending on the missions and operations a veteran was a part of, as show in a study from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (USDVA). Their statistics show that for the Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF), the rate of PTSD ranges from 12 to 20 percent in a given year.

The USDVA does provide resources on their website for ways of treating PTSD, TBI, and depression. There are questionnaires available, as well as resources for various therapies, including cognitive processing therapy, prolonged exposure therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy. An extensive catalogue of veteran stories, as a part of Make the Connection Program where families and veterans both can research, compare stories, and look at mental health solutions is also available.

However, this is not the only way people seek respite from their problems. For some, leaning on a community, and a communal activity, is a treatment on its own.

Exercise helps decrease rumination and negative thinking habits, according to Psychology Today, and being a part of a community that values exercise and camaraderie only helps with creating a stronger will to continue exercising and swimming. Thus healing your mind and body.

As Coach Mckinney put it, not only does it help veterans with PTSD because of its meditative and physical components, there is potential for coping and healing on a mental level.

“They start feeling healthier about themselves, about their bodies, and what’s going on, and it really does help them move past some of the challenges that they are dealing with.”

One returning swimmer in particular stood out to Coach Mckinney.

“The second year we did this I had a veteran come up to me and tell me… he was considering suicide. And he said, ‘Hey, swimming from Alcatraz was on my bucket-list. I wanted to swim, and then I was going to kill myself.’”

This swimmer went on to tell Coach Mckinney that the camaraderie he experienced in this community, as well as the exercise and the beauty of the bay, changed his mind. Being a part of something bigger, something so hopeful and strong was life-changing for him.

“So after that, I was hooked – and that is the epitome of why we are here and what we are doing.”

Serving those who serve, and those who have served.

We Have the Power

“How do we create that revolution?”

Almost mirror-like, the art is intended to help people of color see themselves in a world that doesn’t thoroughly grasp the concept of equal representation. A world that acts as a broken mirror.

Lenworth Mcintosh, who goes by Joonbug, is an established illustrator, film photographer, and part of an art group called The Black Mail Collective. This 30-year-old with Jamaican roots has found himself in Oakland after living in states Florida and Texas.

Starting with five black males, The Black Mail Collective’s – originally The Black Male Collective – first mission was to depict the Black man’s experience in America through their art. Now, with women as a part of their group, male turned into “mail” and the platform changed to be hyper-focused on people of color’s experience as a whole.

“Everywhere I’ve been has lent itself, enhanced my ability to create what I see,” Joonbug said.

“I’m an accumulation of all the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met.”

His wrist goes up and down as he strokes the wall with paint.



In the thick of the busy streets of South of Market,  or SoMa if you’re a native, which is basically downtown San Francisco, but not the downtown with the brief cases and gentrification. He paints in the downtown that is the home to the homeless, or sans-abri if you’re French, the downtown where sidewalks double as a place where many come to rest their heads at night.

“You got skills bro,” and “maybe you should add some stars right there or the Golden Gate Bridge in that corner there,” are some of the many things heard by Joonbug on a daily basis.

Passerbys seem incapable of passing by without smiling, commenting, or adding suggestions.

“I feel like I’m the first artist to paint out here,” Joonbug utters.

“…or at least to paint black faces.”

A lucky wall at Howard & 6th st. gets to be the home for the mural he is working on, until it is eventually painted over.

A friend, and fellow artist, Colt Platt expresses his appreciation for Joonbug’s work.

“It’s refreshing to see someone do something different, something that most would be afraid to do.”

He acknowledges everyone that acknowledges him, and speaks to everyone with such strong familiarity you would think he already knew them.

“There’s a beauty in building that bridge between like the super poor and well off and showing that we have all these layers to us, but historically we’ve only been shown two sides,” Joonbug sighs.

People typically become professionals at turning a blind eye when it comes to encountering people on the street, not him. He kindly accepts every comment and advice from those passing by with grace, knowing full well he is going to stick with his own ideas and do things the way he has always known how.

Occasionally he gets dangerously close to the busy traffic street to get a wide view of the progress he has made on his work, establishing what needs more work, and then walks back over paintbrush in hand.

Done for the day, he heads out at around 6 p.m.

It’s about five blocks to get to the bart station, and he stops almost every 30 seconds to snap pictures of his environment and the people around him. He is a man of the people to say the least.

Back at his Oakland studio he is in his element, like two puzzle pieces fitting together – but almost better, contributing to an aesthetic not even a Tumblr account could dream of emulating.

He sinks into the small loveseat growing more comfortable by the second soaking up every question like a sponge, dwelling on them.  

“I feel relaxed right now. It’s been a long day,” Joonbug laughs.

‘Power to the People’ are the words that he wants to accompany the mural.

His work has no political intent but he does include messages within his work that are up to the viewer to decipher.

“So much of our lives are governed by people telling us what to do or whatever. Even like when your parents tell you what to do, there’s a certain level of respect but after a while, especially when you’re a teenager you start to rebel because you kind of have a problem with it,” Joonbug says.

He explains that if people really want to dig deeper they are at liberty to.


In protest you have a lot of room for error and a lot of complexity and a lot of fake shit because humans just love being seen.

He tells of a character he created of a tall man wearing a hat, a very simple hat one would assume, but like his other works this goes deeper.

The deeper you go into this character the more complexities you find. The hat can represent so many things-it can be protection, it can be warmth, it can be just style, it can be anything,

protection…. can lead to different things,” Joonbug added gesturing delicately with his hands.

“But they’re all tied to the constraints of the black man’s plight or the person of color’s plight

here in America or throughout history,throughout time. There are all these things but it just boils down to a man wearing a hat,” Joonbug continued.

Political messages have snuck their way into art since the dawn of time, art has always served as a visual relief from the real world issues while reminding us that they still exist. It has served as an escape and an answer.

“I’ve seen more decorative creators,” mentioned Joonbug.

“That’s why I hate pop art sometimes because there’s a very thin line between decoration and substance.”

Now more than ever our generation is seeing heightened racial tension. In response to whether that has created a turning point in the messages included into his art, he explains how everything that people do after these grave incidents, which show our country’s true colors, is just “reaction shit.”

He stresses the importance of attaching his messages on a level where the viewer will not forget, where it’s an after thought as opposed to an initial.

“In protest you have a lot of room for error and a lot of complexity and a lot of fake shit because humans just love being seen,” Joonbug explains.

“You have people that are definitely in it for the greater good then you have people that are mixing in that aren’t there for anything but being able to say “I was there” then they go home and live their regular lives.”

Desensitization is the common cold of our generation. Fortunately, we have social media to visually see all of the disgracefulness of systemic racism, but because it is online people become occupied with new posts and forget about the old ones.  

What seems the most important to Joonbug is affecting people long term and causing real change with each stroke of his brush and each snap of a moment.

With growing comfort Joonbug becomes one with the small couch.

“I feel like… real change takes place within yourself.”


Featured Art by: Joonbug 

Photography by: Richard Lomibao


The Keys to the Depot

An old Kimball piano is nestled among the tables and chairs in The Depot at San Francisco State University. Surrounded by students who get food from restaurants in the food court, e.g. Farm Fresh Underground, or buy drinks and/or beer at the pub, occasionally one can hear its key being played by a student. The Depot is located in the Lower Conference Level of the Cesar Chavez Building. But why is this piano here? Where did it come from?

The answer is: nobody is really quite sure, but it serves a particular function to the student body.

The wood body of the piano feels like a skateboard that was waterlogged from a trip through the rain; the keys have lost their stunning pearl whiteness and sit unevenly across; the smell of dust and spilled food/drink lightly emanates from the housing and lid. The piano also plays as though its been played one too many times, the keys lag and stick after they react to touch, creating a muddy hand-feel.

The piano looks like something someone would leave on the corner for months without anyone taking it, yet it serves a purpose to the students at SFSU.

Owning a piano is a privilege that not everyone has. Providing a piano that anyone can play, if they build up the courage to fill the Lower Conference Level with the sound of their piano skills, is something that gives all students the opportunity to play and potentially learn piano, something they might not have had the chance to do before. It also gives students the chance to overcome their stage fright by playing in front of, albeit, distracted students. But the bottom line is that this hunk of wood, spring steel and ivory, is a tool that students use to learn, which seems like an obvious positive, especially for a university.

“I’m here for five days of the week,” said James Hall, an english major at SFSU.

“I never owned a piano before, but I learned how to play from a class I took last semester.”

Hall enjoys playing all genres of music in order to avoid musical weak spots, adjacent to not skipping leg day at the gym. Some of his favorites to play are “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol and “Variations Aria” composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. Hall comes from a musical family, which has given him an urge to learn the piano, and is thankful for the old Kimball in The Depot.

Students like Hall are perhaps the most obvious and most important example as to why there should be learning tools, like musical instruments, made accessible to students on campus. Without the piano in The Depot, it’s likely that Hall would never be able to fit piano practice in his daily routine. Skills like learning an instrument, require consistent practice just to maintain a certain level of expertise. Therefore, The Depot, or at least the convenience of placing a dusty piano on campus in general, has kept students’ musical ambitions alive.

SFSU is a university that teaches piano classes in their music curriculum, so why’s the only piano that students have access to an antique resting in a food court?

It’s definitely not the optimal place for a piano. Ramen, pizza, sandwiches, and beer conflict the smell of the room, resulting in a distractive practice place, while dialogue, silverware-clattering, and the beeps of the arcade downstairs suffocate the sound of the piano.

This isn’t the only piano on campus, but it’s the only one that all students have access to. There are pianos that collect dust until a performance or formal recital, like the seven-foot model C7 Yamaha, a much larger piano, which enjoys a good reputation among musicians, located in Jack Adams room. There are also pianos scattered across the Fine Arts Building, alas they are only for music majors.

While it is a nice addition to The Depot, this concept has more to add than one random, beat-up piano in a food court. This success should result in a spring board that inspires the school to offer more musical educational tools to the whole student body. A school ought to strive to educate students to goals of both quality and quantity of education; providing as many tools as possible is an efficient way to do so.

This is a contested issue because some faculty and students don’t see a reason for a renovation. The prior perspective can be summed up with the old saying “give an inch and they’ll take a mile,” but this perspective can look crude especially when considering educational tools.

While nobody seems to know exactly why that old piano is there, Margie Williams, the SFSU piano technician, has seen this type of piano before – the type of piano that’s been abandoned and uncared for. Pianos that tend to have a similar story.

“The problem with pianos in public spaces is that they become orphans because nobody is really there paying attention to them until there’s a big problem,” Williams said.

“They tend to get abused, in the form of drinks getting spilled inside, wear and tear in outsized proportion to the maintenance budget, etcetera. Technicians are generally reluctant to work on these types of pianos because it’s really discouraging. I certainly support the idea of public access to pianos, but nobody thinks about the maintenance required or tries to monitor what goes on around the piano. Eventually the pianos get so awful that nobody wants to play them.”

In all likelihood, the piano was left in The Depot because it would have been thrown out otherwise. It’s also likely that this piano will maintain resting in The Depot until it is deemed completely unplayable. This will most likely result in its destruction, but what’s unknown is whether or not its death will be accompanied by rebirth – a new, or another old and forgotten, learning tool for the students at SFSU.

Regardless, not all the students who use the piano on campus depend on it to be their one and only learning tool. Tiffany Duong, a student who has been playing piano for sixteen years, and owns a piano at home, plays Disney and musical soundtracks, like La La Land, at The Depot about once every two weeks simply for fun.

“It’s a little bit old and the keys are small and close, but it’s convenient,” Duong said.

“The piano I have at home is better a lot nicer, but I just play this one for fun because I commute far.”

While seemingly less important than being a tool to learn, having a piano next to a bar is a fun concept for a lot of students. Despite Duong having the option to practice from home on a much nicer piano, she still really enjoys playing the piano in The Depot from time-to-time.

There are even music majors who have access to the exclusive pianos who still choose to play on the piano in The Depot for similar reasons. While it is most-definitely the worst piano on campus, speaking from a technical standpoint, the students that use this piano have found value in it from its unique novelty. Adam Medina is a music major at SFSU who chooses to use the pianos located in the Fine Arts Building – music major use only – and the piano in The Depot.


“I use this piano, lately, every Tuesday and Thursday between classes,” says Medina.

“I’d say I mostly practice in the Fine Arts Building, but if I’m grabbing a beer or something, I’ll use this one. Nice atmosphere and it’s more social; people come to you.”


That’s not the only reason Medina enjoys using this piano. Despite it being undeniably a worn and overused instrument, there’s a certain warmth that doesn’t come with a brand new, expensive Yamaha.

“This piano has a honky tonk type of feel. I just feel like older pianos have more character. I mean, it’s beat-up and looks like a run-down piano in a saloon, but it sounds good, despite not being maintained.”