Saturday, September 27, 2008

See My Finished Poems | The Drunken Boat

I'd love to announce the stellar new issue of The Drunken Boat. This exceptional online literary journal has had some fascinating issues. However, the current issue focuses on the work of Cave Canem poets. (Of which I am one.)

I am so pleased to have been included in the current issue. They have given a lovely home to three of my poems. You may see them here. Readers who have been with me awhile may remember the first drafts of these poems. After all, this blog is really a series of "post it notes" where I share raw moments and momentary musings. Now, you get to see the end of the cycle.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Fun Peace | Week Three

At the beginning of class, we did a moving meditation where we were a river, the fog, the sun lifting the mositure out of the air, the wind blowing a seed along. Finally, we got down on the ground and became a seed. We waited for the rain. We waited for the warmth and then we all grew into flowers. Some of the “flowers” chose to be “picked and brought inside.” Other “flowers” chose to “stay in the field and make seeds for next year.”

I. Welcome Craft - Peace Sticks
Using string and a stick, we will make Peace Sticks. Thoughts on peace will be written down each week. Then we will wrap the stick with coloured string. Each week, we will use a different colour.

II. Circle
A. Get in Circle
1. Love Grows
2. So Glad You’re Here
3. Wind The Bobbin Up
4. Verse
5. Brother Eagle, Sister Sky, by Susan Jeffers

III. Movement Activity
Parachute - We’ve been discussing circles. With our parchute, we took turns working together to make it go way up high. We experimented with what hapens when everyone just moves it whatever way they want. We took turns running under the parachute and changing places on the circle. We took some Whiffle balls and tried to work together to keep them from jumping out.

Due to popular demand - we played Together Tag again.

IV. Movement Meditation
The children moved to a guided meditation where they were stones, sticks and other quiet natural things.

V. Story
A. Beauty Song - lyrics below
B. Old Turtle by Douglas Wood

VI. Craft
Medicine Wheels / Spirit Shields using water colour paint, silk hoops and feathers.

VI. Hands
A. Pass The Pulse
B. “Hands” = something we are thankful for today.








The Beauty Song - based on a traditional Navaho Prayer

On my left beauty
On my right beauty
Beauty above me
Beauty beneath.

At my front beauty
At my back beauty
Beauty within me
Beauty within


The image above is last weeks, wish mobile.
Time permitting we'll make more and turn them into a mobile.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Scenes From Our Autumn Garden

This is how one of our pumpkins insisted on growing. Every day, I would push it out of the fence. Every night, it would wedge itself back in.

The cricket we found in our kitchen. Crickets are supposed to be good luck. Lucky us!




Our green beans are purple. When we cook them, they turn green. The storm blew them over, still they bloom and produce. This is lovely magic!


Winston is very proud of his garden this year. His father hates tomatoes. (Winston isn't keen on them either.) We've made lovely marinara sauces for pizza. He adores homemade pizza with his very own sauce. But, the real lesson learned is abundance and generosity. He's been making bi-weekly distributions of his produce to the neighbours. Next year, I think he could set up a little produce stand in front of the house. Then, he could learn abundance, generosity and business. Not a bad trio.

Interesting Reading | Obama & Hip Hop Rountable Discussion



I'm getting old when professors up in the university are writing books about hip hop and discussing it's impact on current events. I remember when it was an underground dance party in New York. But, I have to thank poet, scholar and writer, Kyle Dargan for his fascinating journal, Post No Ills.

Recently, he conducted an E-Roundtable entitled Sucka-Free Democracy: Hip Hop's Potential Response To An Obama Presidency. The participants include Adam Bradley, R. Scott Heath, Natalie Hopkinson, Natalie Y. Moore, and Mark Anthony Neal. All of the participants are scholars who specialize in Black popular culture. In this roundtable, they discuss the hip hop generation as it relates to expectations of leaders, governance and hip hop's traditional critique of the establishment. (Did I just write hip hop and traditional in the same sentence? Dang, I'm old.) I very much appreciated R Scott Heath's closing comments.

Excerpt from: "Obama has never claimed to be a King (though Lil Wayne does, basically), and he is not a preacher proper. And King never aspired to be an Obama, which is to say that he never ran for senator or president. They are two different, extremely charismatic individuals being syndicated to practically discrete audiences."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Fun Peace - Week Two

As the children came in, my co-teacher, Trillium played soft music and invited them to dance and move like animals. Once we reached critical mass, we moved into our first activity.

I. Welcome Craft - Peace Sticks (15 minutes)
Using string and a stick, we will make Peace Sticks. Thoughts on peace will be written down each week. Then we will wrap the stick with coloured string. Each week, we will use a different colour.

II. Circle (15 minutes)
A. Get in Circle
1. Love Grows - see last week’s entry for lyrics
2. So Glad You’re Here - ditto
1. Wind The Bobbin Up
C. Verse
D. Today’s Theme - Be Yourself
E. Tacky The Penguin, Helen Lester

III. Movement Activity - (40 minutes)

a. Together Tag
Clarify that we play safe tag. That means we only tag with one finger. One person chooses to be “it.” They try to tag one person. Once tagged, that person joins hands with the original “it.” Together, they must try to keep tagging the other players until everyone is “it.” The last one tagged gets to be “it” in the next round.

b. Knots
Students hold the hands of two different players. Players cannot hold both hands of the same player, nor can they hold the hand of a player next to them. When the students are ready the signal is given for them to begin unraveling their knot. Players are not allowed to let go of each other’s hand until the game is finished. When the knots are unraveled students should be in a circle with their hands joined. Occasionally, two intertwined circles may be formed. Source = http://www.mrgym.com/Cooperatives/Knots.htm


VI. Craft - Wish Mobile (20 minutes)
Each child was given a piece of hemp string on which was tied a natural piece of wood with the word Peace on one side and Harmony on the other. We put out beads and buttons. Each piece was finished off with a bell. This craft will be repeated and by the end of term, they each should have enough to make a mobile.

IV. Story (10 minutes)
Child Of Faerie, Child Of Earth, Jane Yolen

VII. Hands (5 minutes)
A. Pass Phe Pulse
B. “Hands” = something we are thankful for today.

Lyrics To Songs And Verses Used

Wind the Bobbin Up - Traditional English Children’s Song

Wind the bobbin up,
wind the bobbin up,
pull, pull,
clap clap clap.

Wind it back again
wind it back again
pull, pull,
clap clap clap.

Point to the ceiling,
point to the floor,
point to the window,
point to the door.

Clap you hands together 1 - 2 - 3
Now place them nicely on your knees.

Revised Waldorf Verse

I look into the world,
in which the sun is shining,
in which stars are sparkling,
in which stones are still,
where plants are growing,
where animals live with feeling,
where humans dive dwelling to their spirit.

Now, I pledge my Heart.
Now, I pledge my Mind.
Now, I pledge my Soul.
Now, I pledge my Whole Being.

To be Present;
to Learn;
to Grow
To Share

And be Whole.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Someone Has A Great Mama And She Must Be Proud

Dalton Sherman is 10 years old. He was wearing khaki trousers and his school t-shirt. Just an ordinary African-American boy until he opened his mouth. As the the keynote speaker at a back to school convocation in Dallas, Texas recently, it was almost as if every great Black orator from time began came flooding out. The griots to Fredrick Douglas to King, Jr. to Obama echoed in his demeanor as he stood up in front of 20,000 people delivered his speech. I was inspired. I thought, if you're going to send your children to school, make sure they are filled up with a similar sense of confidence and surety.

Here is his speech. This one is definitely worth the click through.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Because Fathers Are Important

As many of you know, my husband is on the road almost six days a week. We have an extra whole 24 hours with him this week! In honour of our glorious extra 24 hours, I had to share the video below.

Deesha over at Mamalicious tipped me to this awesome public service announcement by the AdCouncil. (Remember the folks who brought you the Native American anti-litter commercial which made you cry?) Well, this time, they bring us one that made me giggle. After I giggled, a snuggly hoarde of warm fuzzies took over my chest. I quietly smiled and then said, "Wow! That's powerful and important. Why don't I see this every half hour on the television?"



And yes, I hope noone ever catches Obama doing this with his own girls. But, like my husband, I'm am heartened that another Black man out there knows how important it is to play, to love, to nurture and to parent his children. The smallest things can change a child's life forever.

Time Better Spent


I wanted to post yesterday about 9 - 11. But, the day marched along as the days always do. It was a lovely Autumn day. Instead of being out in the sunshine, my son donned his navy blue blazer and grey slacks. I dug around for some item of corporately appropriate clothing. And we went downtown to attend a luncheon hosted by the New Pittsburgh Courier.

We were there to celebrate 50 Women Of Excellence. My mother was one of the 50 women honoured. She’s usually being honoured for something. Even Winston has started to pick up on the fact that every time I say the word “grandmother,” it means wearing a blazer. He doesn’t mind. He loves his suits. And he loves his grandmother. Cake, ice cream, chocolate or all three are often part of the process.

The fact that it was 9 - 11 just didn’t feel all that big to me yesterday. On the actual day, I remember it just didn’t register. M. Ayodele Heath, a formidable poet was in town to read for the poetry series I was producing. I’d lined up a bunch of school performance/workshops for him. We arrived at the first school, Winchester-Thurston. The private school cancelled. They were sending the poor, shocked darlings home.

So, we went to the next school, a public school, the Creative And Performing Arts School. I checked in to see if they were cancelling and sending the children home. The answer was an unequivocal no, the show must go on. The children filed into the auditorium. Ayodele performed. I performed. Then, we answered questions. Our final message was that as artists, they could use their voices to make change in the world. They could use their talents to create a world in which people from other places didn’t want to fly aeroplanes into our buildings.

The day went on seven years ago, just as yesterday came and went without a post about 9-11. After the luncheon, we walked around downtown looking at the tall buildings and small parks. It truly is a lovely city. Winston misses the urban environment. So much of our time their was spent meandering the streets.

When we went to to New York last month, my nephew wanted to see Ground Zero. So, we went. We went to the memorial. We looked at the hole. We left. I kind of shrugged. We were in London for 7-7. There is no memorial at Kings Cross or Tavistock Square. By evening, people were riding buses, taking trains and walking through the city. The next day people had picked themselves up and moved on.

People mourned. People were sad. It was a tragedy. Most cities in the world have people in them who remember having been bombed. Most cities in the world have experienced terrorist attacks. Right now, somewhere in the world a child is having nightmares because of gunfire in their streets or village. And here we are, seven years later in an endless war because we’re so special.

Instead of waking up and figuring out why people might want to bring this type of activity to American soil, we take that same behaviour to another country. Here we are seven years later, still whining and still trying to put irrational, self-interested, greedy people in office. My heart goes out to people who lost family members seven years ago. But, my heart especially goes out to the family members of the military and the people of Iraq. There are more dead because of this war then the number of people who died that day. they are all senseless deaths.

This has got to change. I’m hoping people can bring Obama to the White House. It is our only hope. I can’t stand another four years of public hand-wringing about 9-11. I can’t stand another four years of private cackling and coins clinking in personal coffers. My time was better spent yesterday celebrating 50 Black Women Of Excellence.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Fun Peace

At the beginning of class as children drifted in, we played soft and mildly energetic music. Each child was invited to find a way to move quickly in one space or quietly through out the whole room. As soon as we had enough children, we moved into the first activity.

I. Welcome Craft - Peace Sticks
Over the course of the term, we will make Peace Sticks. Each child will be asked to remember a peaceful moment. This will be written down on a piece of paper. The paper will be wrapped around the stick. Then, they will choose a piece of coloured string. The string will be tied to the stick. The child will wrap their peaceful memory around the paper. Each week, we will use a different colour.

II. Circle
A. Love Grows - song
B. So Glad You’re Here - (song which greets each child by name.)
C. Wind The Bobbin Up - (song which settles)
D. Circle poem - modified waldorf verse, see below
E. Story - “Somewhere In the World,” by Shelley Moore Thomas

III. Movement Activity
a. Partner Call
Each child will be given a word that is related in some way, to their partners word. Some examples may be: Ice Cream, Peanut-Butter, Pop-corn. Now, separate the pairs, each player to opposite sides of the playing area. Each player will now close their eyes or play blindfolded (make sure before playing any blindfolded game, that you teach the players to move slowly and keep their hands up at shoulder level, and out from their body, to act as bumpers). The object of the game is to move across the playing area and find your partner. The players will begin announcing (shouting) the word of the person they are looking for. For example, if I am Pop, I would move around yelling the word "Corn". Of course my partner will be yelling "Pop". (Resource here.)

b. Together Tag
Clarify that we play safe tag. That means we only tag with one finger. One person chooses to be “it.” They try to tag one person. Once tagged, that person joins hands with the original “it.” Together, they must try to keep tagging the other players until everyone is “it.” The last one tagged gets to be “it” in the next round.

IV. Meditation - The Empty Meditation
“empty your toes, empty your feet, your ankles, etc.”

V. Story
a. In The Small, Small Night, by Jane Kurtz
b. discussion

VI. Craft
Wet water colour. (Painting will be saved for use in future projects.)
Each child wet their paper with a sponge and clean water. Then they used one brush to create 1 or 2 water colour painting using only red, yellow and blue.

VII. Closing
A. Pass The Pulse - Teacher starts the pulse by squeezing a hand. They "pass the pulse" around the circle by squeezing the next hand until it returns to the teacher.
B. “Hands” = Hlding hands and taking turns, each person states something they are thankful for today.

Notes: Today was an exhausting, yet, exhilarating day! Trillium, my co-teacher, and I need to smooth some of the transitions out. Some children race through a project whilst others take their time. So we discovered a need to better facilitate the "high energy" children.

It is very hard to work in an empty huge room with hard wood floors. The echo simply begs the children to experiment with sound. Because the room is used for anything from yoga to meditation classes, we can not create a "classroom environment." However, in keeping with the idea of this class, it does beg us to find ways to incorporate "simplicity" into the very bones of running this class. Good challenge!

Highlights: Writing down the peace experiences today was exceptional. Here are some thoughts on peaceful moments they experienced this week. Peace is:
"when the birds stopped chirping"
"when the sun sets.
"ice cream and t.v."
"no barking dogs."

Glorious!

Lyrics
Love Grows - we only used the chorus below. The rest of the song is included because I like it.

LOVE GROWS ONE BY ONE

TWO BY TWO AND FOUR BY FOUR

LOVE GROWS ‘ROUND LIKE A CIRCLE

AND COMES BACK KNOCKING

AT YOUR FRONT DOOR

Note by note we make a song

Voice by voice we sing it

Choir by choir we fill up the world

With the music that we bring it (CHORUS)

So let me take your hand, my friend

We’ll each take the hand of another

One by one we’ll reach for all

Our sisters and our brothers (CHORUS)

So Glad I'm Here - modified
For lyrics/ tune please check the Sweet Honey In the Rock album, "All For Freedom"

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Baby Preacher

Your laugh of the day can be found here. Only in America do fundamentalist churches allow toddlers to preach to the congregation. Not only do they allow it, they encourage it. Then they label it, "a powerful move of God in worship service."

You won't be disappointed by the click through. You'll howl with laughter. Then, you'll be very afraid. You'll realize people like this are in our White House and want to keep other people like them there. Then, you'll go out and register someone to vote for Obama. Or just send him some cash.

On that note, introducing, America's youngest preacher, Kanon Tipton. Laugh, get scared, face your fears and get out there and do something.

Monday, September 08, 2008

I Am A Community Organizer


For a comprehensive list of people participating in today's "I Am A Community Organizer," please visit: Electronic Village. Each blog has something different to say, and yet, we all seem to agree that community organizers are important.

I Am A Community Organizer #3 | The Fun Peace At PALS

SNAP SHOT 3 - The Fun Peace

This weekend, I will get the wonderful privilege to volunteer as a Storywalk reader for Beginning With Books. I’m so excited to present a new version of a book I’ve incorporated into pre-school performance and workshop for almost fifteen years. Honey I Love, by Eloise Greenfield has been redone with colour pictures by artist, Jan Spivey Gilchrist!

Back when I was actively presenting workshops, I used to pack extra copies. Invariably, there was always some little kid who couldn’t let me leave with the book. I’ve probably bought 25 copies of the original version. I mean, could you stand in a housing project looking a cute kid in the eyes and take a book away from them? Not me.

Reading at the Storywalk will be a wonderful end to a week in which I’ll be combining my skills as an artist, performer, educator and mother for the first time in a year. I’m nervous. I can handle the 6 - 8 group. I excel with the 9 - 13 crowd. And I always manage to be effective with the teens. I’ve done performances for pre-schoolers before. I’ve even done a few early literacy workshops. But, I’ve never taught a class for a term for a bunch of 3 - 5 year olds.

For two hours over the next ten week period, I’ll have a group of twelve 3 - 5 year olds at PALS Enrichment Programs. I’ll be teaching a class called “The Fun Peace.” I think I’m crazy. But, I believe that early exposure is one of the most critical gifts a parent can give a child. So, here is the synopsis:

The Fun Peace
Peace can mean many things - quiet, stillness or an active call. Fall is the perfect time for reflection on connection, stillness, warmth, co-operation, and love. Every human, no matter how small wants to be in a peaceful place. Using movement, art, poetry, folk tales and historical stories, this class seeks to invite young people to find and become peace. During the term we will decorate candles; make drums; become "a living drum;" walk a spiral, dance and a host of other creative projects. Young people will be afforded opportunities for creative undirected and directed play. And hopefully, together, we will write our own peace stories. Historical figures introduced will include: Cesar Chavez, Wangari Maathai, Martin Luther King Jr, Ghandi, Alia Muhammad Baker and Chief Seattle's speech about the Earth.
I originally developed the class because I was pondering the way in which I’m raising my son as a conscientious objector. (You can look at these old posts for more information.) As we read books and did projects, I realized some other parents may want to have an arty-crafty, storytelling, movement, history class. I was right, because parents actually signed up for the class!

If it hadn’t been for PALS, I wouldn’t have believed the work we are doing at home is relevant to others. So, now, by giving of my time, energy and expertise, I am once again a community organizer. If any of you out there are interested, I’ll post my bibliography and lesson plan each week. That way you can round up your friends and teach it along side of us.

As to Sarah Palin - to whom I don’t want to give undeserved attention - watch out! Here comes a next generation of community organizers. And because of the class size, we outnumber the drones you’ll be unleashing on the world two-to-one.

I Am A Community Organizer #2 | PALS Enrichment Programs

This is my second post on how rich community organizers make my life. If Sarah Palin hadn't made her unfortunate comment last week, I probably wouldn't have shared this with you. It's just a little something in which I participate that may or may not be of interest to other people. Until she made that comment, I just privately acknowledged how blessed I am to be part of PALS.

SNAPSHOT TWO - Pals Enrichment Programs

This is the first week of enrichment classes for our home schooling group, PALS Enrichment Programs. This dynamic, diverse group of mamas (and papas) have given so much to the secular home educating community. (Secular home educators are families that are home schooling in the effort to raise independent and creative thinkers. They are not home educating out of a desire to prevent their children from being exposed to ideas like evolution, diversity and sex education.)

Back when I was raising my firstborn, Imani, there were very few secular homeschoolers out there. It was hard to find playmates. Eventually, we sent her to school. However, many of the mamas who founded PALS discovered each other. They shared their skills and taught each other’s children in a living room. This small group grew until they finally had to incorporate as a 501C3 ten years ago. Now, because of such high enrollment, they must rent space and organize and schedule classes for pre-schoolers all the way through early teens.

PALS is a completely volunteer run organization. It is run by the parents for the children. It is open to anyone who wants to belong. And as trying as it can be sometimes, diversity is in action. (Which means we can and often do disagree...respectfully.)

The classes at PALS are taught by mothers (or Dads) who have some special talent or creative idea that they can share with the group. (Many of us have had dynamic careers in a variety of fields before we chose to stay home with our kids.) Parents pay for classes. The proceeds go toward facility rental, insurance and teacher pay. Any surplus is usually put towards giving families in need scholarships.

Through PALS, my son has had the opportunity to interact in a classroom setting with his peers. But, more importantly, these classes are taught in the way I want my son to learn. For example, last term my son took a dance/literacy class. The teacher incorporated yoga and modern dance to build early literacy skills. He has also been able to learn Mandarin Chinese from a native speaker.

The classes are always affordable, innovative and taught in a way which stimulates the child’s imagination. I’ve seen children being spies and breaking codes. I’ve witnessed children building constructions out of “wood, metal and the occasional match.” I’ve seen a group of 7 to 10 year old interpret MacBeth and stage their own production of it. One afternoon, some of the younger children built this “bench” out of sticks and rocks.

In addition to the weekly classes, PALS offers a Curriculum Lending Library. This library provides access to many high-ticket items which make no sense for a family to buy. For $25 a year, I can check out things like microscopes, telescopes, anatomy models, test tubes, Bunsen burners, and cuisinairre rods. Many of these items have a prohibitive price tag which is unrealistic for the average family to afford.

Finally, a parent organizes opportunities for interested members of the group to attend the “school performances” of a variety of cultural programs. The ticket price for an opera or a ballet is sometimes well above $35.00 a person. Considering that the majority of us are choosing to live on one income, this affords our children the ability to be exposed to arts programs at a discount price.

Other than it exists and I can be part of it, what warmed my heart last week in regards to this organization is its ability to respond swiftly to the concerns of the community. Earlier in the week, a few parents raised the issue that many home schooling families couldn’t afford the membership fee for the Curriculum Lending Library. The community immediately rallied around these families by contributing solutions in the form of money and work exchange ideas. In a little under a week, the community raised a significant amount of money and created a committee to develop policy on how to make disperse scholarship money in the effort to make sure the library is inclusive.

More importantly, I meet parents who say, "I wish I could homeschool." I respond that they can choose not to "leave their child behind." And then I tell them about the programs available to them. It makes them stop, think, and plan.

This is a picture of a "monument to justice" my son and his friend built in the park. Sarah Palin may think community organizers have no actual responsibilities, but, facilitating opportunities that result in a generation of creative and independent thinkers may just save our future from her kind. And that is probably what she fears most of all. People of her ilk would prefer an America filled with sheep masquerading as people.

I Am A Community Organizer #1 | MCAI 20th Anniversary

“I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a 'community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities.” - Sarah Palin, 2008

This past week provided so many uplifting moments. Maybe Sarah Palin’s sniping made me see more clearly how much my life is made better by people in my community who care enough to take actions which make our lives better.

I probably wouldn’t have taken the time to write about these powerful moments. But, I was shocked that anyone - especially an elected official - would denigrate the very people who help keep government small.

I’ll be posting some of these snapshots over the course of the day.

SNAPSHOT ONE - Multi-Cultural Arts Initiative


On Friday evening, I attended the 20th Anniversary Of The Multi-Cultural Arts Initiative
From the MCAI website:
"Over the years, MCAI has awarded close to $7 million and over 600 grants. During this time period almost a third of MCAI funding was directed toward providing operating support dollars for targeted African American arts organizations."

They enact their mission by identifying
“four strategic goals:
1. Institute an organizational and financial infrastructure, which allow for achievement of the mission.
2. Increase the quality of culturally diverse programming.
3. Strengthen African American arts organizations and infrastructures to support individual artists, providing increased value benefiting the primary customer (consumers of the African American and culturally diverse arts programming.)
4. Increase awareness and visibility of culturally diverse arts in the region.”

I can’t believe they have been around for twenty years now. They have been involved with me and my art work for 14 years. They have been directly responsible for any success I've had.

Back in 1994, I was in post-production on my first (and final) 16 mm film. They were the first to support my project. Without them, I would have never been able to complete my film.

Later down the road, as I headed into my performance art career, they were the first to support a non-profit organization I cofounded with Christiane Leach. Our mission was to support emerging artists. Sun Crumbs produced over 52 programs a year which included visual arts exhibitions, The Bust-A-Myth Series, the Sun Crumbs Performance Poetry series, the Pittsburgh Poetry Slam, and commissioned an interdisciplinary arts collaboration on an annual basis.

During the five years, Christiane Leach and I were running Sun Crumbs, we provided support and economic assistance to emerging artists of all colours. For many of the poets we served, it was the first time any reading series had provided: one on one consultations about career development; paid them university wages; housed them in a posh hotel; gave them opportunities to work with children. Many of these same poets such as: Staceyann Chin, Roger Bonair Agard, Regie Gibson, Al Letson, and Tyehimba Jess have gone on to contribute to the national and international community.

We commissioned Staceyann Chin to perform her first interdisciplinary collaborative performance with local jazz musicians. Later, she went on to create a one woman show off-broadway. Roger Bonair Agard went on to be a founding member of The Louder Arts Project - a very Sun Crumbs like group of artists who create opportunities for artists in New York City. Al Letson has had tremendous success as both a playwright and performing author of a one man show. And Tyehimba Jess has been a recent winner of the National Poetry Series with his stunning collection, Leadbelly. Without the belief of MCAI, we would not have been able to touch directly and indirectly so many lives.

The 20th Anniversary event was an exciting evening. The performances and visual art exhibited reflect the true diversity of African voices. A stunning performance of drum and dance by Africa Yetu; a beautiful modern dance piece, art from Women Of Vision and a video documentary tribute to Thaddeus Mosley. Thaddeus Mosley was the honoured artist that evening.

The highlight of the evening the premiere of a new jazz piece by Sean Jones and The Mission Statement. (More about Sean Jones.) Entitled “Oliver: The Master Builder,” it paid tribute to Oliver Byrd, the man who has kept the MCAI going. Without his brilliant leadership, the MCAI is a 20 year old non-profit which has never run at a deficit. Pretty amazing. But, more importantly, MCAI is not some behemoth foundation made by the super rich to alleviate their tax burden. MCAI is able to contribute to the community by pulling together big donations, small donations and a lot of people power. (Envelope stuffers, committee members, round table participants, etc.)

The most amazing thing to witness was that in these hard economic times, the diversity of my fellow celebrants amazed me. With a fifty dollar entrance ticket, folks from unions, blue-collar workers, big corporation employees and executives, individual artists and regular folks managed to find a way to get there. That’s saying something about the way they enrich our community by their support. These days fifty dollars is hard to come by and still folks found a way.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A Helping Hand | Not Back To School Resources

an interview with Songs Of Higher Learning

What do you get when a father is committed to making sure his children succeed academically? The answer is Songs Of Higher Learning. I posted about this group awhile back.

After living with the CD for a few months, I have to state that unequivocally, every child needs this in their musical collection. What is Laurie Berkner teaching our children? Not much. What is Raffi teaching our children, well a little bit of something. But, the educational bang-for-the-buck I get with Songs Of Higher Learning is priceless. (I also get a side benefit. It is simply not having my nerves set afire whilst driving from Point A to Point B because I’m being infected with aesthetic diarrhoea. )

For the record, I’ve purchased these products without any kickbacks or freebies. (Heck, they’re too small for kickbacks and freebies.) So, read along and visit the website. And by all means... even if you don’t like hip hop...support.) Winston’s current favourite song is “Phases Of The Moon” from “Astronomy.” They recently released a few videos to accompany the music. You can preview those here.

Interview

CS - Who is "Songs Of Higher Learning?"

SOHL - Songs Of Higher Learning are a few parents trying to make a change. We're trying to make the teachers job easier while making the kids want to learn.
CS - Do you have children of your own? Is this how you got the idea to begin doing this important work?
SOHL - Yes. I myself have 5 kids ranging from 1 to 14. Songs Of Higher Learning began when my son had a test coming up and he couldn't remember the 7 continents, the four major oceans and which states surround Virginia. So we put them into songs and that was the beginning of Songs Of Higher Learning.
CS - You are obviously a grassroots effort. I've truly appreciated how responsive you've been to me as a customer. I also very much appreciate of the fact that I can support a company which shares values that are exceptionally important to my family. How difficult has it been to get started?
SOHL - We at Songs Of Higher Learning truly appreciate you as a customer. It has been very long and very costly getting this started. The hardest part is coming home after working 12 hours, tired, body aching and then studying a topic to make a song about. I look at this as another part of life because there have been many obstacles along our path and we overcame each and every one.
CS - The cd's feel as if you have either a background in education or have researched core curriculum materials for today's public schools.
SOHL - Well one of my partners is a 5th grade teacher. I myself have no prior educational background. I was actually a high school dropout and then eventually settled for a G.E.D.. But now with all the work that I do for Songs Of Higher Learning and helping my kids with their homework it puts me back in school.
CS - I've got to ask. Only one song really bugs me on the CDs. No, it is not "From The Sun To Pluto.” You make it very clear in that song that Pluto is no longer considered a planet.

It is the "Nouns" song on the grammar CD. First, you ease your way into the introduction of pronouns and proper nouns.

Verse 1 quote:
"AND WE BOTH WEAR JORDANS TOO;
WE (NOUN) JORDANS (NOUNS) "

We is a pronoun. As I understand it, Jordan's is a proper noun.

Then in Verse 2, you introduce proper nouns,

"WE DRIVE A MERCEDES BENZ; MERCEDES BENZ (PROPER NOUN)"

Finally, pronouns are introduced in Verse 3. What contributed to your artistic and educational choices doing it that way. And finally - how much were you catering to an intended audience by using things like Jordan's as Mercedes Benz as proper nouns? And why would you choose to cater to this audience? Where you assuming there wouldn't be a wider interest? Are you afraid of dating yourselves by these choices?
SOHL - Yes. We is a pronoun and Jordan’s is a proper noun. I've been criticized over that line a few times. The reason why I haven't changed it is because it was done like that to show that everything is a noun. That's why the first verse is just nouns.

Then when you get more in depth with nouns, they get broken down into pronouns and proper nouns. That's when the second and third verses comes into play. It was set up that way because we felt that it would be easier to teach nouns, pronouns and proper nouns all in one song. If a child learns that one song they would learn 3 different topics.

We're not necessarily catering to a specific audience. I used Jordan’s and Mercedes because those are two of the most popular materials things that kids all across America would love to have. So it’s definitely universal.

Now, I was told by people who work in music industry and work with Disney that what we're doing won't work. I was told that I need to make all the music sound happier so it can cross over to a wide audience. I told them that their wrong for the simple fact that Hip Hop is not a "black thing". Hip Hop is an "everybody thing". The majority of Hip Hop fans in this country are NOT black. What we offer is Hop Hip intended for ALL kids.

As long as we can keep finding young and talented producer and writers I don't think you’ll be able to put a date on us. The key to longevity is the ability to change with time.
CS - Do you do other kinds of music?
SOHL - Currently no. Between my regular 9 to 5, my kids and Songs Of Higher Learning, I don't have the time. But I would love to do some work with r&b and pop-rock soon.
CS - Where do you see yourselves in 5 years?
SOHL - In 5 years I can see Songs Of Higher Learning in more than half of the school districts in the country. We also do songs or change songs to fit specific curriculum.
CS - What other exciting projects can we look forward to seeing?
SOHL - In the very near future we'll be presenting a lot more videos to go along with all the albums. We also have a CD coming that teaches Spanish and English.
CS - Awesome! I look forward to it!