Category Archives: Community


Hundreds hold vigil in Berkeley to remember Efe Ustenci

Saturday's vigil for Efe Ustenci drew hundreds of people. Photo: Ted Friedman
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Several hundred community members came together at Berkeley High School on Saturday evening to remember 17-year-old Efejon Ustenci, who drowned Wednesday in Placer County less than a week after he graduated from BHS.

The theme of the vigil, said photographer Ted Friedman, who attended the event on behalf of Berkeleyside, “was to ‘live Efe’s legacy.'”

One friend told Friedman that Efejon, known to many as Efe, would be remembered as someone who was nurturing, humorous and fair-minded. Others have described him as a natural leader looked up to by many, a talented athlete, and a kind and loving young man.

A fundraiser to help collect money for burial costs has raised more than $16,000 since it was created Friday evening.

Wrote Chris Young on the memorial page, “In my work with BIHS [Berkeley International High School] I see students names a lot and meet most of them as seniors. After visiting me once, I noted that Efe carried himself with maturity and kindness. At graduation he thanked me, though I hadn’t done much to directly serve him. Efejon Ustenci! His name jumps off my list of graduates. Yes, Efejon Ustenci. That’s that humble young man who stands out as a beautiful example of strong character for his peers and teachers. Surely, he will inspire us into the future.”

Several photographs from the memorial appear below. … Continue reading »

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Fundraiser, vigil planned for drowned Berkeley student

Efe is remembered as a talented athlete. Photo: Ustenci family
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The Berkeley Unified School District has announced a vigil and fundraiser for Efe Ustenci, who drowned earlier this week in Placer County while on a trip with friends.

The fundraiser to help pay for the 17-year-old’s burial costs has already raised more than $3,600 in approximately an hour. Its goal is $10,000.

A vigil at Berkeley High School has been planned for Saturday, June 25, from 5-6-30 p.m. in the courtyard. The school district had counselors on campus Friday to help offer support.

Wrote BHS Principal Sam Pasarow in the email about the vigil and fundraiser, sent Friday at 9 p.m.: “Please join us as we mourn the loss of Efejon Ustenci, and also celebrate his life.” … Continue reading »

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Longtime Berkeley resident Henrietta Harris turns 100

Henrietta Harris
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By Erika Shaver-Nelson

Henrietta Harris celebrated her 100th birthday June 15 with a leisurely morning. She had breakfast in bed and then got her hair and make-up done to get ready for her day. She and her close friends had a picnic in the back garden at Chaparral House, where she lives, with fried chicken, potato salad, carrot salad, fruit salad and lemonade. Residents, staff, family and volunteers of Chaparral House gathered to celebrate with chocolate cake.

Everyone really enjoyed R&B/Soul vocalist Kymi, who sang at Henrietta’s party. Kymi and Henrietta sang “Summertime” together and Henrietta danced with her guests. Henrietta received numerous birthday cards, wishes, gifts and flowers. She received a very special birthday letter from the current president of the University of California, Janet Napolitano. Kris Welch sang happy birthday to Henrietta at the beginning of her show, The Talkies on KPFA. The archived link to her announcement can be found here.  … Continue reading »

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Recent Berkeley High grad, 17, dies in drowning

Efe Ustenci (attribution unknown)
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Update, June 24, 10:11 p.m. Read about the vigil and fundraiser that have been set up for Efe.

Original story, June 23, 2:07 p.m. The Berkeley community is mourning the tragic death Wednesday of Efejon Ustenci, who graduated with his Berkeley High School class less than a week ago.

Placer County sheriff’s office spokeswoman Dena Erwin said the 17-year-old, who lived in Berkeley, died in Long Lake. The lake is near Soda Springs, west of Lake Tahoe. She confirmed the teenager died from an apparent drowning and said his body has been recovered, but said no other information was immediately available because the coroner’s investigation is still underway.

Berkeley Unified School District spokesman Mark Coplan said mental health counseling services will be available at Berkeley High on Friday for anyone who needs to drop in for support.

Scroll down to the bottom of the story to read BHS Principal Sam Pasarow’s message to the community.

Efe had been planning to attend Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo in the fall, according to his Facebook page.

Friends mourned Efe’s death online.

Wrote Dante Ryan on Thursday morning: “I just heard seconds ago what happened, and I am mortified. I didn’t know you as deeply as I could have, but I did know what a beautiful soul you were. I was blessed to have class with you all 4 years of high school, and your positive attitude always brought the classroom up. You were always a unifying force. A smart, kind, accepting person. Always supportive of me and my dreams as I was you and yours. This is a sad morning.”  … Continue reading »

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Berkeley High alum embarks on abortion bill documentary

Berkeley director Maya Cueva (courtesy)
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“As a filmmaker, you have this unspoken responsibility to inform your audience,” says director and Berkeley High alum Maya Cueva. “You have to let people know what is happening in the world around them. Sometimes that’s good news, and sometimes it’s bad.”

Only two documentaries into her directing career, Cueva is on a mission to inform the masses. Her latest project, Undue Burden, is a six-part series highlighting the potential effects of the Texas abortion bill known as HB2. The bill is currently being assessed by the U.S. Supreme Court, but with only eight justices on the bench, the possibility of a tie doesn’t seem too far out of reach. As Texas and the rest of nation await a verdict, people for and against abortion are using this time to make cases for their positions.

Cueva, who is 22, was born and raised in Berkeley. She credits her high school teacher, Dharini Rasiah, for awakening her interest in film during media classes in Berkeley High’s small school, CAS [Communications Arts and Sciences]. Cueva said she discovered her passion for film while working with Rasiah, who encouraged her to apply to Ithaca College in New York. After receiving a scholarship to Ithaca, Cueva enrolled in its documentary studies program. She graduated with a bachelor’s in documentary studies in 2015 and, since then, has been living in Berkeley and working on her newest film.

See more from Berkeleyside’s “One to watch” series.

After winning a College Emmy for her first short documentary The Providerthe idea for Undue Burden followed. Cueva and her team started production in February, and they hope to return to Texas to finish the series once the Supreme Court makes its decision. … Continue reading »

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Student exchange program offers new world perspectives

Chief Meehan and family and Aleo . Photo: Courtesy AFS
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“We aren’t just hosting an exchange student. We have another kid. There’s no ‘us’ and ‘him’ — we are a team, a family. That’s how it’s been from the very first day.”

Elia Alberti beams at these words from his host “father,” Berkeley Police Chief Mike Meehan, who is sitting at his family’s dining room table. It has been nearly nine months since a then-16-year-old Alberti stepped off the plane from Milan, frantically plugging “the airline lost my luggage” into Google Translate. Misplaced bags and a tenuous grasp of the English language were only the first adventures that Alberti and his host family would tackle during the year to follow.

Chief Meehan and his family were introduced to Alberti through the American Field Service, or AFS, an intercultural program that connects high-school students from all over the world with host families in other countries. The program has sent nine Berkeley High School students abroad this past year alone. Continue reading »


Share your questions about homelessness in Berkeley

Residents of a homeless encampment remain on the grounds of Old City Hall in what they say is a protest of new laws passed this week by the City Council. Photo: David Yee
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Dozens of Bay Area news organizations have joined forces to present stories on the homeless next week, and Berkeleyside is proud to be taking part. On June 29, more than 30 local media outlets have committed to sharing stories about homelessness, including possible solutions, profiles and more.

We wanted to check in with you, our readers, to find out what questions are most pressing for you. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, or fill out the following Google form. Given the tight turnaround, we know we won’t be able to address everything. But your insights will help us shape our coverage going forward as we continue to delve into one of the most critical issues in Berkeley. … Continue reading »


Berkeley ‘Fat Positive’ festival seeks to smash stereotypes

virgie tovar
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A few days after summer begins, the Berkeley Public Library will launch a “Fat Positive Summer Festival” to address the cultural expectation that all people must be skinny and bikini-ready.

Put together with Virgie Tovar, an activist and one of the nation’s leading experts on body image and fat discrimination, the festival will take place from Wednesday, June 22 through July 6 at three Berkeley library branches.

The idea is to examine societal attitudes toward people who weigh a lot and to liberate them from the idea that their bodies are something to be ashamed of and changed, according to Jack Baur, the supervising librarian at North Branch, who helped organize the festival.

The events will include two lectures by Tovar — the first proved so popular that the library added a second — some short films, and readings and presentations by various writers and body positive activists.

“Each of the events in the festival pushes against the current cultural paradigm that seeks to pathologize and marginalize fat people,” Tovar said in a statement released by the library. … Continue reading »

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Blue skies, warm weather draws thousands to Berkeley Juneteenth festival

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The perfect weather on Sunday drew thousands of people to Adeline Street to Berkeley’s Juneteenth Festival. They frolicked, ate, and listened to music – until it was time to rush to their television sets to watch the seventh heartbreaking final game between  the Warriors and Cavaliers finals.  Then the street grew noticeably emptier.

The main RD Bonds Main Stage, which showcases  “the best of the African American experience: African drumming, jazz, blues, neo-soul, gospel, rhythm and blues, and reggae,” served as the heart of the festival. Dance, spoken word, and fashion graced the Lothario Lotho Stage. There were also food booths, historical displays, health screenings, and activities for children.

Juneteenth celebrates the day slaves in Galveston, Texas learned that they had been freed from slavery. President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863 but the Civil War had prevented news of the abolishment of slavery from reaching Texas for another two and half years.  On June 19, 1865, Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived with the news that the war had ended. Many former slaves celebrated in the streets, forming the basis for the holiday. … Continue reading »


Berkeley balcony collapse tragedy: One year later

People comfort each other at a vigil at St. Columba Catholic Church in Oakland, on Friday, June 19, 2015, for the victims of Tuesday's balcony collapse in Berkeley. Photo: David Yee ©2015
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One year ago today, Berkeley woke up to the horrifying news that a balcony holding 13 people had sheared off the face of Library Gardens, an apartment building in downtown Berkeley, sending six people in their 20s to their deaths.

News of the tragedy rippled through the world, as most of those killed were young Irish students who had come to the Bay Area on J-1 visas for the summer. Families who had sent their children off for three months of fun, work and American culture boarded transcontinental flights with heavy hearts to bring their children’s bodies home.

Read more Berkeleyside coverage of the balcony collapse.

From the earliest hours of the tragedy, questions arose about why the balcony had fallen off. Library Gardens at 2020 Kittredge St. had only been built nine years earlier. When reached by phone shortly after the calamity, John DeClercq, one of building’s original developers insisted to Berkeleyside that top-notch contractors and materials had been used.

But clearly something had gone wrong. The city of Berkeley conducted an investigation and concluded that the wooden beams holding up the balcony had rotted. The beams had not been properly waterproofed during construction, allowing water to eat away at the fibers. … Continue reading »

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Authorities clear out Gilman homeless camp in Berkeley

A homeless couple sleeps as Berkeley city officials watch Berkeley and Caltrans work crews clear out a homeless encampment near the Gilman Street interchange of I-80, in Berkeley, on Thursday, June 16, 2016. Photo: David Yee
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In a coordinated effort, workers from Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol and the city of Berkeley cleared out a large homeless encampment on Gilman Street near the I-80 freeway on Thursday.

It’s the latest chapter in a struggle that has been going on for years between homeless denizens who have set up their tents on Gilman in West Berkeley, and authorities who say the squalid conditions that result cannot be left unchecked.

Jim Hynes, with the Berkeley city manager’s office, said homeless outreach, city maintenance crews, mental health workers and environmental health staff were all on the scene to help out. He estimated that five containers of syringes, some 250 needles, had been removed, along with numerous bottles of human urine.

“It’s not a pretty sight, that’s for sure,” he said.  … Continue reading »

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Berkeley Community Fund awards scholarships to 27 Berkeley High seniors

The 27 Berkeley Community Fund High Hopes scholars. Photo: Courtesy BCF
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On Monday night the Berkeley Community Fund (BCF) honored a new cohort of seniors with High Hopes scholarships. A total of $432,000 was awarded to 27 students who will receive the funds over the course of the next four years.

The High Hopes scholarships have been awarded since 2008, and BCF College Success Coordinator Lynn Walker said the program is doing a great job of living up to its purpose — to provide students with the necessary resources to ensure they thrive not only in college, but well past graduation.

Read more on Berkeleyside about the Berkeley Community Fund.

“BCF was started with the intent of providing resources to students who needed them,” said Walker. “At BCF we understand that not everyone is born into privilege. We wanted to find a way to level the playing field. The High Hopes scholarship is a step in that direction.”

The program provides need-based scholarships worth $16,000 each to Berkeley High school students identified as being “talented and resilient.” The financial support helps close the gap between the true cost of attending college and the typical financial aid award, BCF states on its website, and the scholarships are funded through generous donations from the community. … Continue reading »


Photos: Hundreds gather at ‘Cal Stands With Orlando’ vigil

Staff from Berkeley Lab were among the participants in a vigil to show solidarity with the victim of the Orlando mass shooting. Photo: Kelly Owen
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An estimated 300 people gathered at noon on Sproul Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus Monday to demonstrate their support for the victims and families of the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, which has so far claimed the lives of some 50 people.

The flags at the entrance to the campus were flying at half-staff. Participants listened to speakers — including Na’ilah Nasir, Vice Chancellor of Equity and Inclusion at UC Berkeley and Billy Curtis, Director of the university’s Gender Equity Resource Center — and were asked to join hands and sing “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” together.  … Continue reading »