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Ventura County Reporter - Local veterans "stand down" at National Guard Armory

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Photo by: Michael Lopez, Brooks Institute, 2012 Vietnam veteran Ben Sherry shares a laugh with Air force soldiers Tech SGT Mary Jean Stevenson (sitting) and SGT Yesenia Serrano before getting his eyes checked at the Ventura Stand Down event held at the National Guard Armory last weekend.

Local veterans "stand down" at National Guard Armory
By Ben Gill 07/26/2012

• 2 To stand down is a military term generally used to signal a transition from the constant stress of combat to a state of rest and relaxation (R&R). And this past weekend at Ventura’s National Guard armory, that’s exactly what happened. From Friday, July 20, to Sunday, July 22, veterans from across Ventura County converged upon the military barracks for three days full of every possible resource one could imagine, including food, shelter, healthcare, legal assistance and a variety of organizations dedicated to helping veterans battle everything from homelessness to drug addiction. The event, which bears the same name as the military term, is just one of 47 Stand Down events taking place across the United States in 2012. The first Stand Down was originally staged by a veterans group in San Diego in 1988 as a way to assist and give back to the estimated 67,495 homeless veterans then living across the country. Ventura’s version of the event is currently in its 20th year and, according to its founder, Claire Hope, aims to combat the “cycle of homelessness” that has become a major nationwide issue for American


Ventura County Reporter - Local veterans "stand down" at National Guard Armory

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veterans. By providing veterans with a safe environment where they can seek out the resources they need, Hope said, she believes that the event can have a major impact on homelessness among veterans in Ventura County. Hope explained that she was originally inspired by a Stand Down event in Long Beach to begin the one here. “I was awed by the volunteer effort from the professional community and everyday citizens to put on an effort to help homeless veterans,” she said. “I was totally inspired so I decided, I’m gonna do this in Ventura County. So here we are 20 years later.” Beyond aiding veterans suffering from the physical effects of combat, Stand Down also strives to connect vets with psychological help if they are afflicted by psychological disorders such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Ben Sherry, a Vietnam veteran from Simi Valley, recounted one of his more traumatic experiences during combat: “I thought I was tough until I got to Vietnam. Then I learned I wasn’t very fucking tough,” he said. “I cried like a baby when I killed my first man, and I threw up all over the damn place,” Sherry continued. For homeless veterans like him, the challenges of surviving life on the streets is compounded by the fact that they must also deal with the mental consequences of what was witnessed during their time in the military. Thankfully, however, both private and government-run organizations such as the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) were on hand to provide psychological support to anyone who needed it. According to Mary Jeanne, the medical director of Stand Down, veterans in need of medical care are automatically registered with the VA upon arrival at the event to ensure that whatever needs they have will continue to be met after Stand Down ends. Stand Down provides a comprehensive array of services to veterans and their families, ranging from dental care to prescription glasses, said Jeanne. While Stand Down provides a temporary haven for veterans in need of help, the real issue is guaranteeing that they receive the services they need in the long term. Because of this, Stand Down is designed as a sort of entry point for veterans to become acquainted and familiar with the large network of organizations dedicated to assisting them. And with a new generation of veterans coming back from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the need for programs and services like those at Stand Down will only increase with time. Because of this looming issue, the VA has set itself a goal to end homelessness among veterans by 2015.


Ventura County ranks No. 2 in domestic abuse cases per capita
By Ben Gill 07/19/2012

Rosemary is a lifetime resident of Ventura County and one of thousands of victims of domestic abuse reported to police every year. After moving in with her boyfriend at age 16, she suffered 17 years of physical and emotional abuse before losing her unborn child in one particularly brutal beating. Fearing for her own life, Rosemary managed to escape her abuser three years ago, finding shelter in the homes of friends and family. Unfortunately, Rosemary’s case is far from isolated. Ventura County has the second highest per capita rate of reported domestic abuse in the state, a rate nearly double the state average. According to data from the California Department of Justice and US Census in 2010, there were 8.87 domestic violence related calls to police per 1,000 Ventura County residents, compared to a state average of 4.46. And this is not a recent development; reports of domestic violence in the county have been well above average for at least the past 10 years. In addition to the county’s high rate of overall domestic abuse, there has been a sharp uptick in the rate of child abuse. According to Ventura County Children and Family Services (VCFCS), the number of reported cases rose from 796 in 2008 to 1,177 in 2011, an increase of 48 percent. “The economic stress (for families) over the last several years” has contributed to the high rate of domestic violence in Ventura County, said Eric Sternad, executive director of Interface Children and Family Services. Sternad emphasized that the domestic violence in the county isn’t isolated in any certain “socioeconomic or cultural group,” and that it is spread throughout the entire community. “We are seeing, in the field, much more complex cases where there are multiple allegations (of abuse),” said Judy Webber, the deputy director of Ventura County Child and Family Services. “Once we get into the home, we are seeing that there’s multiple issues … facing a family,” such as illness, substance abuse, and financial hardship. 9/17/2012

Webber said she believes that the economic recession has contributed to an environment in which the risk of child abuse is greater due to heightened levels of stress on families which sometimes result in “unhealthy coping mechanisms” like substance abuse and physical violence. Given that many of the causes of domestic violence cited — economic hardship, substance abuse, and illness — exist statewide, none of the experts were able to specifically describe what might be contributing to higher domestic violence rates in Ventura County. “I think the analogy would be … we wouldn’t just sit back and say ‘Well we don’t understand why there’s cancer, so we shouldn’t do anything,’” Sternad said. “And that’s what we’re (Interface) doing, we’re treating the impact, the effects of domestic violence. We’re preventing domestic violence by getting to victims that are at risk or who already have been battered.” Sternad also explained that his organization is educating teens in the classroom about how to avoid abusive relationships in the first place and about appropriate types of behavior for healthy relationships. By utilizing proven methods for combating and preventing domestic violence, Sternad said he believes that organizations like Interface have the ability to create positive change and to eventually have an impact on the rate of the crime in Ventura County. The network of battered women’s shelters throughout the county also plays a major role in giving victims of domestic abuse, like Rosemary, a safe place to live when they often have nowhere else to go. Recently, following an extended period in which she was homeless, Rosemary decided to move to a local shelter, still struggling to move beyond the trauma and build a new life. With the help of the staff and resources available at the shelter, Rosemary hopes to be living on her own again with her kids sometime in the near future. While it may be too late for organizations to prevent abuse for victims like Rosemary, it’s hoped that by ramping up preventative programs that future cases of abuse can be avoided in the first place.

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Student Showcase


Talking Toonami with the Otaku King, Richie Branson
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SUNDAY, 03 JUNE 2012 16:28



Richie Branson

is a lover of video games and anime. He’s a nerd in 

the truest sense of the word, but there’s one thing that sets him apart, he’s also a rapper. Branson, the self­declared Otaku King, is an artist devoted to “spittin’ rhymes” about anime  and everything it entails. Branson’s brand of hip­hop is part of a sub­genre known as nerdcore, a form of rap characterized by themes relevant to nerds, from comic books to  computers. Recently, however, two of Branson’s songs, entitled “Bring Back Toonami” and “Toonami’s  Back B*tches,” have taken on new dimensions as anthems for the revival of a popular anime  television block called Toonami.  Originally a weekday afternoon package of anime and other action cartoons, the show was  cancelled in 2008 after nearly 11 years on the air. Fans of the block, collectively known as the Toonami Faithful, successfully managed to rally  the show’s network, Adult Swim, to revive it after they launched a web campaign  comprised of Twitter storms, mass emails, and other forms of communication. As a result, Branson’s music has been featured numerous times on the channel and has  spread across the web, exposing it to a much larger audience.
Rapper Richie Branson has recently found success in the hip­ hop sub­genre known as nerdcore. Credit: Mellie Melle. Used  with permission.

The Dragon Press recently sat down with Branson to talk about his recent success, new­ found popularity, and his role in the return of Toonami.

Dragon Press: How did you get into music in the first place?
Richie Branson: Growing up I wasn’t really wasn’t into music as a child… it wasn’t until I was in middle school that I joined band and I was an alto  saxophone player. Once I was playing that alto sax I really took an interest into making music, so I ended up joining jazz band in high school…[In college]  I took a few music theory classes where I ended up learning how to compose piano music and whatnot.  I didn’t start making beats or doing anything hip­hop until my senior year of high school. We had this little crew... [and we] used to make music and beat  on the soda machines during lunch and freestyle rap… That’s kinda how the whole beat­making thing ended up starting. So then I went to college, not  doing too much musically, I was more just goofing around. [I] ended up moving back home to help my mom out because she got sick. I transferred schools  and just really started doing good in school out here [in San Antonio, TX], and decided that I would start producing again. I ended up hooking up with an artist named Bone who ended up signing to Def Jam, and me and my cousin actually produced a few tracks for Def Jam  around that time. One of those tracks ended up hitting Billboard, so we ended up getting a little bit of success off of that in the music production realm. 

And I guess, like maybe a year after that, it hit me that I just wanna rap. You know, I’d always been a nerdy guy… A lot of people told me I’d never really  be able to be a rapper; I kind of set out on a mission to prove em’ wrong. So I started rapping, at first I kind of went the mainstream route because that’s  what all my friends were doing, but it sort of didn’t fit me. 

I started to realize that the whole mainstream rap persona, if you will, it wasn’t really fitting my particular style… I decided that I would start rapping  about things that I like to rap about, so I decided I would go ahead and start rapping about video games because that’s the sort of thing I like. I started  making music about it. It really ended up taking off. I did a mixtape about “Star Wars: The Old Republic” that ended up doing really well, and I started  realizing that I was really good at rapping about the stuff I like. Then I took it to anime and made the Gundam mixtape called “Wing Zero EP” and that  kind of took off as well, and here I am.

When did you first become a fan of Toonami?
When Toonami was sort of getting its legs I was in, like, 9th and 10th grade. I remember first getting into it when they were showing “Dragon Ball Z.” It  was something about that show... I remember seeing this “Dragon Ball Z” stuff, and what really hooked me to “Dragon Ball Z” was the way they executed  the story. The story was huge, it kept you in the edge of your seat every episode. Because before that, I’d never experienced that, where a cartoon would  force you to watch the next episode to see how the saga continued. That changed my whole perspective on cartoons, period. I was really stoked. This is the type of stuff I wanna watch, these are the type of cartoons that I  wanna see. Discovering that it was Japanese, and anime and all that, that’s what really fueled my anime fandom... It was like a gateway drug. And if that  was the gateway drug, “Gundam Wing” was like that last step. Once I watched through “Gundam Wing” I was hooked, that’s always going to be my  favorite anime of all time.

Explain how you got into the nerdcore scene initially.
Well the way that sort of started off…[was the] Cold Republic mixtape, it ended up getting out  there, and it ended up getting on a lot of nerdcore websites. So I thought it was pretty cool, and  after that I ended up reaching out and doing some collaborations... I started trying to link up  with some of them [fellow nerdcore rappers] to make some music, and one artist that I linked up  with, Mega Ran, it was a blessing to be able to collaborate with him. I ended up producing his  single off his current album, “The Language Arts EP,” and it was pretty fun. Once I realized that there was an actual scene of artists that have been doing this, and a fan­base  for it, that just excited me more... and I realized that I was getting more publicity doing this kind  of music than I ever did doing mainstream. I was getting way more exposure, way more fans that actually were digging me for me... and  they genuinely care for seeing me succeed. At that point, I was just like ʹscrew it I’m just gonna  full steam ahead on this nerdcore stuff and just keep it pushing.ʹ I’ve rocked some mainstream  crowds before... and none of that will ever compare to the type of support I’ve been getting from 

What would be your ultimate Toonami lineup?
“Cowboy Bebop” would definitely  be in that lineup, “Gundam Wing.” I would keep the couple of news  shows we have, although I’m  preferential to “Deadman Wonderland.” I love the old anime, but I’m trying to  keep it balanced, I would say  “Gundam Wing,” “Cowboy Bebop,” and “YuYu Hakusho” for the old 

the nerdcore crowds. It’s crazy, I love it.

stuff. Those three would be my old  ones.  [For] new stuff, I would probably  have “Deadman Wonderland,” and I  would bring over “Gundam Unicorn.” Maybe I would think about showing  a feature, at least every Friday doing  a movie. There’s a lot of good anime  movies... and bringing over features  might help out Toonami’s ratings a  lot.

How did you come to assume your nickname as the Otaku King? And when did anime become the main focus of your music?
It was funny, because right after I dropped that [Cold Republic EP], I was like man what am I  gonna put out next? And it was like immediate, like there was no doubt in my mind that I was  gonna do the Gundam, the Wing Zero EP. I just knew I was gonna do that, so I immediately  started producing for the Wing Zero EP, and eventually after doing that for so long, it just sort of  came to a head... After I dropped that I was like, ʹwell, okay, the people are really feeling this,  they’re really feeling this Gundam rap I’m doing.ʹ So after that I decided that I would kick it up a  notch, and just really try to stay focused on doing a lot of the anime rap. I like doing it because it’s the true spirit of hip­hop. A lot of hip­hop has sort of devolved into  this sort of bragging thing... Even though it’s nerdcore... I really do feel like the type of music 

that nerdcore artists make is more true to the spirit of hip­hop than mainstream hip­hop is nowadays. You know, we are telling stories, we’re giving people  music that they can relate to, we’re not just making the same crap that everybody else is making... we’re telling a perspective here that a lot of people can  realistically relate to.

You’ve been getting a lot of attention and exposure both online and on Adult Swim for your Toonami music, what has that been like?
When I started the Otaku Tuesdays, I made a point to try to get people to tell me what I should rap about... And I remember it was few people in particular  that stayed on my [expletive] about doing the “Bring Back Toonami” rap. The funny thing is because after they did the April Foolʹs joke, that was a surreal  moment for me when they aired Toonami April 1st. Watching Gundam Wing on television for the first time in a long, long time was a very emotional  moment for me.  I went on Twitter and I was like I’m gonna do a bring back Toonami rap, I don’t know when, but [expletive] I’m gonna do it... The next day as soon as the  April Foolʹs joke aired, I wrote this bring back Toonami song. After a while, you know, I started getting requests from people, and it was just a few people  consistently on Twitter, email, however they could get to me [telling me to release it]. So I recorded it, mixed it, and threw it out there a couple weeks ago. And it was crazy, I didn’t expect it to get that big of a buzz, but I think by that  afternoon Adult Swim had heard it and they had already put it up on their Twitter. The Internet went nuts that day...and it gave hope to the #BringBackToonami movement. I don’t think the song itself single­handedly brought back  Toonami. The song was sort of just that icing on the cake. I just feel like I was the player off the bench that just made a lucky shot, that’s all. But it sorted of  rallied everybody.

What have been some of your favorite responses to your music?
My favorite one has gotta be Jason DeMarco [co­creator of Toonami] when he first heard the Toonami rap he tweeted, “Holly [expletive]! This Toonami rap  by Richie Branson is amazing.” By far the favorite one, no doubt. And also, of course, Steve Blum [voice of TOM, the host of Toonami] reached out and gave me some really good feedback as well. That was humbling to  here him say how talented I am, and I’m like, “Naw, if I’m talented then you’re like a freakin’ god.” It’s good to know that some of the creators of some of the things that I’m actually rapping about, or sampling my music [from], are actually congratulating  me or giving me props. That’s a great thing for me. That’s worth its weight in gold to me.           

Can you describe what it felt like when Adult Swim announced that Toonami was actually coming back?
I freaked out... that Wednesday they had announced on Twitter that they were bringing Toonami back. And I was like, “Holy [expletive]!” I really did shed  a few nostalgia tears... It was, man, I can’t really describe in words how great I felt just to know that Toonami was coming back. You know, I had dropped  a whole album about my Toonami experiences with the Gundam (EP)... I can talk all day about that, man.                       

What was your creative process for writing the Toonami songs?
It was two completely different creative processes... If I had to pick one, I’d have to say the  “Bring Back Toonami” rap was definitely my favorite of the two. There was passion in that one...  I dug down to the depths of my soul writing that one. I was on a mission, I was like ʹI’ve gotta  make a point, these people have to hear this.ʹ I think my favorite line, though, was ʹWe miss  T.O.M., not version 4 but the previous/Before he got mellowed out like Toyota Prius.ʹ    Now, “#ToonamisBackB*tches” was kind of like ʹyeah, we did it.ʹ I didn’t want to go too out  there, but I did want to drive home the point that we did it. But at the same time I did wanna spit  it in a way that introduced new people to Toonami who may not have been accustomed to what  Toonami was about. And I sort of gave it more of a general, almost theme songy type of feel just  so new people wouldn’t be like ʹWhat the hell is Toonami?ʹ               

Do you have advice for anyone who hopes to follow in your footsteps?
I think the thing is, when you’re  destined to do something nobody  will ever criticize you on you’re road  to doing it... I think if you’re destined  to do something you’ll have all the  support you need to do it.  Now, once you start getting good at  it, that haters will come.  Their gonna come and say, “quit  rapping.” You’ll get hated on  eventually, but I always tell people  when you start to get the hate that  means you’re close.  Because people won’t hate what they  don’t feel is a threat, so nobody is  gonna tell you you suck when you  really suck. But once you get good  people are going to try to discourage  [you]. 

Do you think this is part of a bigger resurgence of anime in the United States?
I think this was like the “shot heard round the world” and the war to bring back anime to the  forefront. I think Toonami coming back is like a signal... it’s like they’re [Adult Swim] making a  point, we’ve made a point to say “Hey, anime is not this obscure thing. You have to respect  anime, and we’re really gonna have to get this thing going.” I think that is the message we’re  sending. We swayed a network to bring a whole block of anime back in style. So that, hopefully, will send  a message to other networks as well who may have had their anime programming sort of fade  out over the years. 

What new material or projects are you currently working on?
There’s gonna be an album about “Cowboy Bebop” [entitled the Jupiter Jazz EP]. I’ve got a little bit of jazz training under my belt, so I’m gonna try my best  to make it as jazzy and hip­hoppy as possible. It’s gonna be awesome.  

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