‘Fire Challenge': Not as surprising as you think

By Alexia Porche | Urban Agenda

Although the people in the videos change, the ritual stays the same. An accelerant — alcohol, perfume, even lighter fluid — is sloshed on the body and nervous laughter always escapes the daredevil’s mouth before they
decide to set themselves on fire.

Some young people are engaging in a social media dare known as the “Fire Challenge” in which they pour an accelerant on their bodies and light it to test how long they can stand the heat. The practice is an effort to gain Internet fame or popularity among peers, but it can result in serious bodily harm or even death, experts said.

“It’s harming yourself in front of the world,” said Justin Karter, a graduate student in clinical and community psychology at Point Park University, Downtown.

In the U.S. and in the U.K., there have been reports of teens suffering second- and third-degree burns due to the fire challenge. One California teenager, Fernando Valencia, might need reconstructive surgery due to the severity of the burns. He posted pictures of the burns on his social media website as a warning to other teens who dare to take on the challenge.

The types of people completing the challenge vary. Boys and girls of all races and ages are lighting up social media as they light themselves up. In one video, a 12-year-old boy sprayed perfume on himself and took a match to his arm, while in another Vine video a college student chose to make the same decision.

The fire challenge is the newest in a line of Internet challenges, but dangerous youth dares are as old as time. Before the Internet was a concept, teen boys were engaged in dares such as racing cars toward cliffs to see who would stop first.

While there is no specific type of person who commits this type of challenge, there is a particular set of motivators. Karen Boyer, counselor at The Ellis School in Shadyside, said the willingness to participate in such a dangerous dare is a combination of different factors. The most influential factor is the adolescent brain.

According to a research by Dr. Jay N. Giedd, chief of brain imaging at the Child Psychiatry Branch of the National Institute of Mental Health, “The changes the brain undergoes during adolescence pave the way to adulthood, priming the young person for life away from home and for finding unrelated mates. But this plasticity can also open the door-to-poor decision making and risky behavior.”

Because a teenager’s brain is primed to take risks, “most kids who try to burn themselves don’t think they’re going to burn,” Ms. Boyer wrote. These teenagers may not be able to understand the consequences of their actions, making the decision to light themselves on fire easier.

The social media culture of instant gratification and popularity may also be at fault, Ms. Boyer suggested. As the number of videos posted on social media increases, so does the challenges’ popularity, resulting in fame, or infamy, for those who complete or even attempt them. This attention could lead to an increased social media presence for the teens.

Mr. Karter says because a teenager’s brain has not developed the higher cognitive functioning to understand the consequences, teenagers would risk serious bodily harms to gain popularity.

Mr. Karter also believes the challenge is a way to up the ante from previous Internet challenges, and to prove one’s fearlessness. Because of the Internet’s accessibility and the fast pace of social media, a challenge can now be seen by anyone.

“People acted out in front of others and now people can do this at anytime,” Mr. Karter said.

We’ve Been Busy!

Museum race exhibits. Pittsburgh Pirates baseball games. Final news deadlines. Skype sessions with the founder of the Game Changers Project. Trips to the KDKA TV News station for our TV students to put on their own broadcast of their news story. And all that was within the last 40 hours. PBMF is keeping busy even as our time winds down. Check out our previous blog posts to see more about those aforementioned events!

Dream Cream Ice Cream: The Community Center that Just happens to serve ice cream

By Vaishali Tourani | Urban Agenda

Banker-turned-business-owner Thomas Jamison took to heart the saying “if there is a will there is a way.”

Jamison, owner of Dream Cream Ice Cream, created a business that not only provides customers with ice cream, but gives back to the community as well. Jamison graduated from college with a major in business, which led him to become a business banker for three years. With a strong belief in giving to others, he decided to open Dream Cream Ice Cream to the public in Pittsburgh. Dream Cream is a charitable business that donates a portion of its sales to a “dreamer.”

“I wanted to earn a living in helping others. I think that’s the purpose of life,” Jamison said. “It feels more like a community center than an ice cream parlor.”

In this case, a “dreamer” is someone who displays a specific need to Dream Cream by submitting an application. A need could range from a plane ticket to Rwanda to the process of adopting a child in a foreign country, Jamison said.

During the month, the shop will review all applicants and choose the best fit. After a winner is announced, he or she will choose a specific ice cream flavor, with 25 percent of the sales for the flavor given to the applicant.

Thomas Jamison, owner and founder of Dream Cream Ice Cream, serves visiting PBMF students on Aug. 3, 2014.

Thomas Jamison, owner and founder of Dream Cream Ice Cream, serves visiting PBMF students on Aug. 3, 2014. Photo by Temperance Surgest

However, the winner must play his or her part. To earn the funds being raised, the winner must contribute time at the shop — two days a week, seven hours a day.

Within 20 months, Jamison and his team were able to raise $50,000 for dreamers.

Instead of simply owning an ice cream shop and supplying customers with the sweet product, Jamison makes his main priority aiding people along the way.

“We set out to help individuals and organizations. We want people to share their stories with us,” Jamison said.

As of now, Dream Cream Ice Cream is just in Pittsburgh, but Jamison hopes to change that in the next 10 years. He aspires to open several more parlors in multiple cities, with a plan to impact lives on a larger scale.

PBMF student Darronte Buckner tries to decide which flavor of ice cream he'd like from the Dream Cream Ice Cream shop on Aug. 3, 2014.

PBMF student Darronte Buckner tries to decide which flavor of ice cream he’d like from the Dream Cream Ice Cream shop on Aug. 3, 2014. Photo by Temperance Surgest

Although serving others is a fulfilling feeling, Jamison conceded the job of a business owner can be challenging.

“It’s stressful every day, almost like an emotional roller coaster. It’s a matter of endurance,” he said.

Regardless of the difficulties, Jamison believes people find their identities and define what they are most passionate about, and they are willing to put them before anything else in life through entrepreneurialism.

And while some entrepreneurs are content talking the talk of a leader, Jamision said taking action is also an important factor. He said the title of “boss” isn’t nearly as important as the action behind it.

Acting like a leader might lead to limited vacations and 14-hour work days, but knowing he’s helping people through the journey keeps Jamison going.

“Every day I go to work, I really think that I’m impacting lives,” Jamison said.

Adults, Teenagers Differ On Dance Trends

By Michaela Flood | Urban Agenda

Greer Reid and her students Rebekah and Brianne practice at the Dance Alloy studio in Friendship.

Greer Reid and her students Rebekah and Brianne practice at the Dance Alloy studio in Friendship. Photo by Nicole Gadsden

Due to urban culture being popularized by social media, dances such as the Nae Nae, twerking and the Shmoney Dance are popular among teenagers, but some adults think they are too provocative.

Raven Reid, 18, of Stanton Heights is familiar with new dance trends. She is a professional dancer who has been dancing since she was a baby.

Reid believes that dancing is a positive outlet for youth. But she points out that as the years have gone by, dances have changed. Dances in general used to be done differently. Today, however, teenagers of all genders do basically the same dances, she said.

Reid believes that the dances teenagers do nowadays are not really dancing. She said twerking is not dancing but is disrespectful and an insult to the dance world. As a dancer, Ms. Reid said there is a difference between professional dancing and twerking, but she did not elaborate.

Students practice at the Dance Alloy studio in Friendship.

Students practice at the Dance Alloy studio in Friendship. Photo by Nicole Gadsden

Twerking is dancing in a sexually provocative manner that involves thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance, according to the Oxford Dictionary.

East Liberty resident Karla Payne, a 41-year-old dance teacher, agreed with Reid.

“The way teenagers dance causes them to mature much sooner than they need to,” she said. Payne thinks when teenagers engage in dances such as twerking, the image they project is not positive.

“Dances are a lot more sexually driven now,” she added.

However, Payne also believes that not all teen dances are negative and that there are many teenagers using dance in a positive way, including dancing at church, in ministries and for community days.

Reflecting on twerking, Payne compared the dance to some cultures in Africa where people from different ethnic groups dance in a similar way without calling it twerking. This dance is also not considered sexual but cultural.

When American teens do this kind of dance, it is considered sexual, Payne said, and that is not a good thing.

Students practice at the Dance Alloy studio in Friendship.

Students practice at the Dance Alloy studio in Friendship. Photo by Nicole Gadsden

Some local teens, however, contend that they and their peers do most popular dances for fun, and they do not think it’s a problem.

“It’s not that big of a deal,” said Kenya Wallace, 14, of Monroeville. “[Adults] portray these kinds of dances and the people doing them as negative. Teens portray them as just dancing.”

But Kenya agreed with some adults that twerking itself is sexual in nature and can give the wrong impression of the person doing the dance. She also thinks that as the years have gone by, certain types of dances have gotten worse and even out of control.

“Little kids are twerking and grinding,” she said, “and it’s very disturbing.”

Despite Greater Acceptance, Interracial Marriages Still Find Social Resistance

By Savion Buccilli | Urban Agenda

Kim Winbush’s family was not very supportive of her marriage to a black man. While the number of interracial marriages in America continues to grow, many challenges for these families still exist.

They still get looks from strangers. They hear the whispers. Family conflicts remain. And they are constantly on guard for acts of discrimination.

“I’m always on watch,” said Winbush from Bloomfield.

In 1958, 4 percent of the public approved of interracial marriage, according to a Gallup poll from that year.

In 2013 the approval rate was dramatically different: another Gallup poll reported 87 percent approval of interracial marriage.

From 2000 to 2010 the number of interracial households grew by 28 percent, meaning there were 78 million interracial families, according to a 2012 U.S. census report.

Eric Randall of Highland Park, who is black, has been married for 17 years — since his freshman year in college. When dating his wife, who is white, he faced some issues from her parents, but he said the issues were easily resolved once they got to know him. Randall feels the issues were caused by her family living in a rural area, where they rarely came in contact with black people.

Randall also said that while he and his wife were on dates, they received some “looks,” but had no major problems.

Randall said the approval rate of such marriages have increased because of the civil rights movement. He said public figures, sports and entertainment personalities helped as well. He said Americans have made great strides in being more accepting of people.

When Stanley Thompson — a black man who was married to a black woman — remarried, his only concern was that his stepchildren accepted him and that his black children accepted his white wife. No major problems occurred.

But Thompson, 57, of North Side, said that when he was out with his wife, Jeri Thompson, he could feel a certain vibe, but no one walked up and said anything. Thompson explained that he and his wife would get more looks when in the South.

“People are realizing that love is love,” said Thompson regarding the change in approval since 1958. “Skin is really just one thing. … People are taking the risk of dating for love.”

If couples have a common goal and respect the person and work well together, Thompson said then they could work past problems.

He believes that because there are so many biracial children, people are more accepting and that interracial couples are a reflection on the society.

David Atkinson has been married to his wife, Janine Jones, for seven years. Atkinson said that his family is from Mississippi, and being from there he expected some problems.

Atkinson, 40, said the younger generation aren’t as overwhelm by the prospect of interracial couples and marriages.

This compares to the distant past, Atkinson said, when certain people weren’t allowed to marry certain people.
“Irish weren’t allowed to marry Germans and Germans couldn’t marry English,” Atkinson said. But now, “The country is a melting pot, and that maybe in 100 years people will look back like that was history.”

Winbush, who is 48 has been married for 23 years, said the problems she faced came from her family. They were not overtly racist, but they were not supportive.

She said that she has not experienced any violence and doesn’t feel her safety is jeopardized because of her interracial marriage. But she is cautious of people.

Winbush said Pittsburgh is still segregated, and that it’s rare to see an interracial marriage.

“You don’t see it in the middle class,” she said.

When asked how she felt about the approval rate of interracial marriage, Winbush said that people still disapprove and that the number was “what people want to think.”

Randall has a different view.

“We are gradually moving to a better society.”

Racial Profiling Not Uncommon in Pittsburgh Area

By Marcelius Lewis II | Urban Agenda

Joseph Tindal had his first encounter with racial profiling when he went out to Club Zoo in Pittsburgh’s Strip District with a friend on a Saturday evening last year.

Tindal, 17, and his friend, who are both African-Americans, were barred from entering the dance club when a security officer told his friend he couldn’t come in.

The dress code prohibited large white T-shirts. Tindal’s friend was wearing a fitted white V-neck at the time.
According to Tindal, moments later, he saw the security officer admit a Caucasian man wearing a similar shirt. Tindal approached and asked the security officer why the white man was allowed entry and not him and his friend.

The security officer said nothing, left, and then returned with the club owner. He and the security officer demanded that Tindal and his friend leave the premises.

“When he pulled out the mace that was my breaking point,” Tindal said. “I felt extremely threatened and disrespected.”

As the security officer and club owner asked them to leave, the owner even pulled out a bottle of pepper spray and waved it in the faces of Tindal and his friend. It was then that Tindal and his friend left.

The club is now closed. The owner of Club Zoo could not be reached for comments. The reason of the closing is unknown and is unrelated to this specific incident.

Unfortunately, what happened to Tindal and his friend is not uncommon or new. Racial profiling has a strong presence in American history.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union website, “racial profiling” refers to the discriminatory practice by law enforcement officials of targeting individuals for suspicion of crime based on the individual’s race, ethnicity, religion or national origin.

Although the ACLU states that racial profiling is a discriminatory practice done by the police anyone can racial profile another person.

David A. Harris, distinguished faculty scholar and professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh, believes that there is mistrust between Pittsburgh Police and African-Americans in the area. This mistrust implements itself within the minds of everyday citizens within Pittsburgh.

“There is work being done in the community to bride the gap between police and blacks, because there is mistrust between them,” Mr. Harris said

Mr. Harris spoke on the fact that African-Americans like Tindal feel that some police and white citizens of Pittsburgh do not respect them. This distrust and tension was not created out of thin air.

There are a number of situations in which racial profiling has led to violence.

Jordan Miles, a high school teen hospitalized by three Pittsburgh police officers, and Jonny Gammage, brother of a former Pittsburgh Steeler killed by police in Brentwood, are examples of African Americans in Pittsburgh who have been racially profiled.

Mr. Harris was asked if anything was being done about racial profiling to prevent situations like the Jordan Miles case. Mr. Harris mentioned the pressure behind picking a new police chief because of the distrust between African-Americans and the police.

There is a common belief within the black community that choosing a new police chief will solve their problems. Blacks in Pittsburgh want to make sure there is not a repeat of the Jordan Miles case. Mr. Harris said, “The selection of a new police chief is being looked at as a way to solve the racial profiling problem.”

In response to being asked what is being done to prevent racial profiling, Mr. Harris said, the Pittsburgh City Council is paying attention to racial profiling.

“Three years ago, they started making efforts to gather statistics on racial profiling.”

Hurdles Remain In Police, Community Relations

By Jason Andrews | Urban Agenda

Jonny Gammage was a 156-pound, 31-year-old Pittsburgh native. It was a routine traffic stop until he died while being subdued during a struggle with three police officers.

The 1995 incident on Route 51 in the South Hills is an example of physical altercations between police and citizens around the country.

Other Pittsburgh examples include Leon Ford, 19 at the time, who was shot and paralyzed by police during a traffic stop; and Jordan Miles, one day after his 18th birthday, being beaten and arrested by police on charges of resisting arrest. Police officers also said they thought he had a gun but later determined it was a Mountain Dew bottle. Miles claims that he didn’t have anything on him at the time of the incident.

Complaints about police brutality have been around for generations in Pittsburgh and elsewhere.

“Police brutality was far worse before the 1960s,” said David Harris, a distinguished scholar and law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. “Any group of people with less political power and less of a voice is always more vulnerable.”

People who cannot speak for themselves — racial minorities, the poor, the homeless and the mentally ill — are more vulnerable, he said.

Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of Pittsburgh’s Citizen Police Review Board, which investigates complaints about police conduct, says the relationship between the community and the police department is “strained.”

These types of confrontations have led to the creation of the Alliance for Police Accountability, based in Pittsburgh. Its goal is to prevent and to take action against any violation of the law, abuse of power and authority, or injustice committed against civilians by the police.

Sonya Toler, public information officer for the city of Pittsburgh who handles communications for the public safety bureaus, acknowledges a few incidents of police brutality, but thinks each complaint should be investigated on a case-by-case basis.

According to the 2010 Cato Institute’s “National Police Misconduct Reporting Project,” 1,575 officers were accused of using excessive force that year. Fifty-seven percent of the cases involved physical force, such as hitting; choke holds, and baton strikes. About 15 percent involved firearms; more than 11 percent involved Tasers, and the rest involved a combination.

Carl Redwood, chairman of the Hill District Consensus Group, which works to improve its community, believes that the majority of police officers don’t participate in police brutality. But he said, “The main job of the police is not to protect you and me,” referring to African-Americans.

Mr. Harris said the police are punished sometimes, but not always and not consistently enough. “Since police do have the right to use force properly, it is sometimes difficult to untangle when they have used it improperly in very fast-developing, violent situations,” he said.

“More important, there is a tendency of police departments to defend their own whenever there is any question of any possible wrongdoing, so it is difficult to have an unbiased investigation. This allows some instances of brutality to go unpunished.”