Daytrip: Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park, Agua Dulce CA


I’ve been craving a beautiful, otherworldly place to wander, so a friend and I made the relatively short trip up to iconic Vasquez Rocks from Los Angeles this afternoon. In addition to being a rad ‘ol place in the desert, the distinctive rock formations have been used as a shooting location since the mid-1930s, and were featured in classics like Star Trek, Planet of the Apes and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (yes, I am taking liberties with the word “classic”).  

The rocks and park are otherworldly indeed. Jagged outcroppings and rolling terrain makes the beginner trails interesting and somewhat challenging. More advanced hikers and climbers scaled the rocks as we puttered along below.

Vasquez’s landscape made it easy to pretend I was on another planet or in the Shire during an especially hot summer. There were both literal and figurative signs of horses all over, but sadly we didn’t encounter any equine beauties. We did, however, encounter evil desert vegetation that bloodied my leg with thorns.

The only thing that took us out of the cinematic mindset were the cosplayers, wedding parties and fashion photographers who’d climbed to the top of the rocks for photo shoots wearing their capes, gowns and bikinis. The view was more spectacular later in the evening before the park closed, when everyone else had left and the sun began to set spilling golden light across the canyon.  For the day, we were on an alien planet, and all was well.

I hope you enjoy these images from Vasquez Rocks!

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Remembering 3.11: the Tokohu Earthquake and Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster

Today is the 4th anniversary of the Tokohu earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Japan and neighboring countries, in addition to sparking the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster — the worst nuclear disaster since the catastrophic accident at Chernobyl in 1986.

Fukushima is in the process of being decommissioned, but its threat remains: the plant is still leaking radioactive elements into the sea and workers struggle to contain the water that remains in the plant’s troubled reactors. Since the accident, the rate of thyroid cancer has increased exponentially for children of Fukushima Prefecture, and a large plume of radioactive waste in making it’s way across the Pacific Ocean.

Each year since the quake, protesters have gathered all across Japan to protest Japan’s continued use of nuclear power and to memorialize the victims of the tragedy.

This video shows Tokyo’s reaction just one year after the 9.0 quake.

2015 Los Angeles Kingdom Day Parade


“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Story by Shannon Luders-Manuel; Photos by Kimberly Abruzzo

The first week of December marked the first time I ever cried for someone other than myself. As I strutted through my new neighborhood of Hollywood in my new city of Los Angeles, I happened upon a handful of protesters gathered in support of Eric Garner, who a few days prior had been “accidentally” choked to death at the hands of an officer.


This incident had followed quickly on the heels of similarly unjust cases involving Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and the boy who was fatally shot in the park for playing with his toy gun. Knowledge lead to fear, which lead to anger, as I questioned our current level of justice to a degree that I hadn’t previously considered.

I identify as a black / biracial woman, which affords me both an innate understanding of race relations and an undesired separation from both my white and black worlds, however minute. This inherent contradiction comes with its own complications.


I have hazy memories of riding the “Freedom Train” with my father when I was a child. The train transported passengers to the MLK parade in San Francisco, which was always clamoring with vibrancy and a sense of urgency that I didn’t witness on routine days. I moved to Los Angeles to write my father’s history, and his memories paired with the recent deaths propelled me to this year’s Kingdom Day Parade.

Initially, my (white) friend and I planned to join protesters who would be bringing up the rear. However, as we stepped onto the streets of central LA, we immediately became immersed in the scene that lay before us.


We saw black cheerleaders doing impressive preteenish twerks, a teenage boy leading his entire procession with elegant, fluid dance moves, and a Corvette club cruising down MLK Boulevard with no need for signage.

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By the time the protesters reached us—or we reached them—there seemed no reason to join their rally. The brown-skinned bystanders seemed as unfazed by the largely white protesters’ message as they had the by the Hare Krishnas who were now further up the parade route. We were struck by how the culture of this parade was itself a form of protest.

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When our section of the parade ended, the vibrancy of Martin Luther King Boulevard ended with it. Street sweepers followed closely behind squad cars, flinging trash and debris in a hurried frenzy to erase all traces of revelry. The corner liquor store went back to serving black customers through bulletproof glass.

Protests are integral to a quest for equal rights, and King dedicated himself to such highly political acts. However, he did so in order to assure that black communities were never denied their right to exist in harmony and prosperity.

For those two beautiful hours, Kimberly and I saw his dream fulfilled.


Today the jury continues it’s second day of deliberation to determine George Zimmerman’s guilt in the murder of Trayvon Martin. The Florida jury has the option of convicting Zimmerman for murder in the second degree, or for a recently added charge of manslaughter.

The above video follows the 1000 Hoodie Walk last March, where Cheryl A. Coakley-Rivera and other local lawmakers spoke out about Martin’s murder and how it parallels violence in the Springfield, Massachusetts community.

Thanks for watching! You can read a bit more about the rally and a personal anecdote about racism in Florida here.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” – MLK

Getting Hitched in Manhattan: Hurricane Edition

Yes there’s been lots of radio silence over here, and no I did not get married; my best friend came from London to New York for a wedding at City Hall, incidentally the day before hurricane Sandy began moving in on Manhattan.

The wedding was lovely and moving and hectic and I’m so glad I could be there to document the unique nuptials. I spent the night in a hotel with another friend, after the reception dinner and it was strange to stay in midtown; when I’ve visited New York I’ve always stayed with friends. It was relaxing to hear the constant noise and bustle, peaceful to wake to our discount-rate-view: classic New York.

And as my train pulled out of Penn to bring me home to the too quiet, I could see the clouds from the hurricane, ominous, innocent then, soon to become historic.

Springfield MA walks for Trayvon Martin and an anecdote on racism in Florida

More than 1000 people attended the Alliance of Black Professionals 1,000 Hoodies Walk for Trayvon Martin today in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Growing up in Florida, I never would have known a Trayvon Martin.

My neighborhood was all-white. The public magnet school I attended had several minority kids, and everyone there knew at least one wealthy minority; but no one would go to New Town – a part of Sarasota now at the heart of an intense international murder case.

This line from a recent story in the Herald Tribune says so much with so little:

“When British tourists James Kouzaris and James Cooper were murdered by a stranger in Sarasota housing projects last year, everyone asked the same question: What were two well-to-do white men doing there?“

In 1999, I was a production intern at Sarasota News Now, the Tribune’s TV outlet. One humid Florida day, I was asked to help with an assignment at a public housing area in New Town. This felt at the time a bit dangerous and definitely foreign. I was intrigued, apprehensive, and I’m not sure I told my parents.

Once there, we toured the complex: some residents navigated damage caused by electrical fires caused by shoddy wiring. Everywhere, roaches and rats scuttled across the floor. There were families with no running water, no hot water. Some homes were flooded from the relentless yearly storms.

The New Town projects were just like the nightmare of public housing I’d grown up taught to picture, and that was messed up.

I’m stunned thirteen years have passed and so little has changed. Hopefully, attention from the Trayvon Martin murder and the New Town  shootings will be a wake-up call finally loud enough for affluent communities like Sarasota, whose famous white-sand beaches glint just around the corner from violent, abject poverty.