Thursday, August 22, 2013

Beasts of the Beat: Sons of Detroit Using Talent to Change Their World

Today, I am in Detroit for a planning retreat with Usher's New Look Program Department.  During lunch we had the pleasure of meeting some young gentlemen from Northpointe Academy in Highland Park, Michigan. They were accompanied by their music teacher Joe Vercellino.  I had no ideas what I was about to witness.  All I knew was that these boys confidently filed into the room carrying an acoustic guitar and music equipment.  Well what I saw brought tears to my eyes (literally). In fact, I think I cried during the entire performance.

Before I get into why I was moved to tears, I have to draw  your attention to my last post. In fact here is an excerpt.
"One of the many provocative statements that President Obama made was that we have to do our part to uphold African-American boys. Specifically,'We need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African-American boys?' "

So here I am sitting in my comfy chair during lunch and I hear these young boys begin to rap and make beautiful positive music about their lives, love and being champions.  I thought to myself, these boys are really poised to bring about change and become leaders in their communities.  Then their teacher began to ask the young men to share with us why they are apart of the group.  They're responses included statements like "This is a brotherhood"; "I want to change my life"; "I want to rap about positive things". I was hearing these statements from young boys, grades 5-9 who knowingly or unknowingly are debunking a stereotype that is often perpetuated in our media of young black boys.  Mr. Vercellino is answering President Obama's question.

I have to give a hats off to Mr. Vercellino for touching the lives of these boys and sharing love.  I shared with him how great of a job he was doing but I'm not sure he really understood just how inspired I was for him recognizing and helping to develop the talent of these young boys.  When I say that I care about the education of ALL children, I mean just that.  My passion for seeing children succeed is what fuels my work.  My passion is what caused me to well up with tears when I saw these guys on a clear path to succeed.  Regardless of any obstacles they may face, as we all do, Mr. Vercellino has created a space and expectation for them to succeed. 

So I want to say to the Beasts of the Beat, you can do anything you put your mind to.  You have the world at your fingertips. Continue to surround yourselves with positivity.  The positivity you are spreading is a part of you now, do not ever lose it. 

Check out this video of the Beasts of the Beat:
May you be inspired as well.

Friday, July 19, 2013

My Thoughts on President's Obama's statement on the Trayvon Martin Murder

As I listened to President Obama speak today on the murder of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year old boy from my home town of Miami, Florida, I couldn't help but think that he is probably the most appropriate person to share the feelings of most of the African-American community.  He succinctly stated what pundits and analysts have been discussing at length since the delivery of the not guilty verdict  just 6 days ago. 

This unfortunate tragedy is just one of many events that have sparked the conversation of race and the image of African-American boys that is held by so many individuals in our nation. 

One of the many provocative statements that President Obama made was that we have to do our part to uphold African-American boys. Specifically,"We need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African-American boys?" 

As a mother of a very intelligent and talented African-American boy, this question resonates with me.  What can my husband and I do to ensure that my son is seen as a future leader and contributor to this society regardless of his gait and attire. 
Speaking of images of African-American boys, in my work with Usher's New Look Foundation, I have the wonderful opportunity to work with many smart, talented and poised African-American boys and young men who defy all stereotypes that exist.  Some of them rap, have tattoos and wear cornrows, but they also travel to to foreign countries,  converse with executives of international companies and facilitate leadership trainings for children in America and abroad. 

In fact, last Friday, a day before the verdict, I had the opportunity to facilitate an internship development seminar for college students in UNLF college internship program.  I presented the seminar at General Electric for 5 male African-American college students.  Five males who are intelligent, visionaries, ambitious and are tremendous leaders on their respective campuses.  These young men spoke with wisdom and introspect about their internships at one of the largest companies in the world.  I juxtapose the image of these young men with the images that are in the minds of people like those whose fear of young black boys lead to murder. 

This image leads me back to President Obama's question.  What can I do to help reinforce our African-American boys?   I can think of a few ways like mentoring, offering internships, creating opportunities to expand their experiences and investing time, talent and treasure in causes that aim to provide opportunities for success. 

I challenge you to commit to some action that will play a role  in changing the perception of African-American boys across America. 
R.I.P. Trayvon Martin

Monday, July 15, 2013

Confessions of a PTO President

Hello All!
When I look at my last post, it pretty much corresponds with the beginning of last school year and my term as President of the PTO at my son's school.  Boy oh boy has it been a year.  I accepted the nomination to be PTO president because -well let's just admit it , I thought it would be perfect for someone whose soapbox is parental involvement.  I mean how perfect would it be to take part in the parent engagement organization at my child's school!

If I'm honest with myself, I really had my work cut out for me. After last year,  I am all for paying PTO/PTA board members a small stipend-as it is a full time job.  PTO board members are not only thinking about how they can better help their child succeed in school. Instead we are charged with building a community within the school to promote support for teachers, staff and students.  This mission required me to wear many different hats, including but not limited to, event planner, speaker, fundraiser, community liaison, fashion designer, server, decorator and the list goes on and on. 

I enjoyed my time and I believe that our board did a magnificent job of creating a welcoming environment and supporting the school.  Along the way, I've also learned lessons and developed ideas about education and parental involvement.

  • Schools often have to meet a need in order to encourage and increase parental involvement. The need that is being met varies based upon the demographics of the population. Needs can range from providing dinner to creating  an opportunity for a parent to snap pictures of their child singing in the chorus.  I had mixed feelings about this requirement because I thought that being involved out of the sheer desire to be involved should be enough.
  • Teachers are extremely appreciative of the work done by the parent organization.  Teachers can be your number one allies as they get to see first-hand the benefits of the $100 check, or the muffins delivered to them after lunch as a pick-me up or the purchase of the Smart board accessory.  I am forever grateful for the handwritten notes  left under the PTO office door and the words of encouragement and appreciation that were spoken as I walked down the hallway delivering fundraiser prizes to students.
  • Getting the inside scoop on your child's school is priceless.  I would not trade my hour long talks with the principal or meetings with district representatives about various issues.   There is something about being an active member of the PTO that let others know that you are serious about education.  Others value your opinion and seek you out to disseminate information.  It was nice to be "in the know".  I felt better prepared and more knowledgeable about speaking out on education issues.
  • My child had a sense of pride and excitement whenever he saw me walking the halls. I could see it in his eyes.  He relished in the fact that his mom was an active participant at his school.  I cannot help but think that he will forever remember the year that his mom was the PTO president.
  • Parental involvement is more than just checking homework and sending in signed field trip forms.  Parental involvement is an active engagement in the happenings at my child's school.  There is nothing passive about parental involvement.  It is all about taking initiative, being inconvenienced for the sake of making a PTO meeting, sharing my expertise with my school, and doing my part to foster community. 
  • When the PTO says they need your money or RSVP by a certain date, please oblige.  It is nothing fun about going to pick up extra donuts for the 50 people who did no RSVP. Guess who will turn in all forms and money on time next year.
  • Never think, "they have enough help". In most cases we don't.  We have never had to turn away volunteers for an event.  Trust me, there is always something to be done.  If you have the time, they could use the help. If you don't have the time, try to squeeze some from somewhere.  You will be appreciated for it. 
I really could write a book about my observations, but for the sake of brevity I will stop there. I am pretty sure that my year as president has given me a perspective that I am not sure I would have had otherwise.   I will end by saying that no parent should leave parent involvement up to everyone else in the school.  Regardless of work schedules, there is something that a parent can do during the course of 10 months to help further the cause and accomplish the goals of the Parent Organization.  Regardless of the nominal fee that is paid (or in our case not paid), every parent is a part of a very special community at their child's school and should do their part to improve education and the school community.  Take it from me, PTO/PTA, teachers, staff and your child will appreciate it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Learning Plateau

While working with my son, I had the most amazing epiphany about his progress.  I felt as though he had hit a plateau- as if he was becoming a little complacent in his work product.  Well, I realized that this may not be all his fault.  Immediately, I thought of the phenomenon that occurs when I'm trying to lose weight.

After losing weight at some point my weight loss does not occur as rapidly as it does at the beginning of my weight loss regiment.  From speaking with trainers and conducting my own research  I know that a plateau usually signals the need to change something in your regiment. Typically it means I need to turn up the intensity. Perhaps if I was walking 1 mile, then Ineed to walk 1.5 miles. If I was walking on the treadmill at 3.5 miles then perhaps turning up the speed to 3.8 can help kick the weight loss back into high gear.  I've decided to apply this same principle to my son's learning. 

I have began to provide him with other types of learning activities at home. Recently while at the Decatur Book Festival, I visited the Usborne  Books tent and purchased a deck of logic cards.  They are the neatest little activities.  Portable cards with a dry erase marker that consist of great age appropriate logic puzzles. My rationale is that I want to get another section of his brain firing off neurons.  Additionally, we took the summer off from violin.  I was a little slow about getting him back into it. The plateau I saw rearing its ugly head put me into gear. Guess who is going back to violin every Saturday now. 

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has noticed a change in their child's energy and excitement towards learning. I think as parents we have to respond to these impending slumps with a change of activity or more intense learning opportunities.  Unfortunately, I know some adults who I believe their plateau went undetected and therefore unaddressed.

Have you detected a plateau in your child's learning gains? If so, how do you address them. I would love to hear your ideas. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Instilling the Attitude of a Champion

As the Olympics have come to a close and I reflect on every minute of the competition I watched, and read about, I can't help but think that the Olympians who garnered international attention are the epitome of competing to succeed.  In fact, while hearing and watching the back stories of these world class athletes, it is impossible to walk away with anything but admiration for them and the families they represent. There is so much sacrifice and rehearsal that went into the 75 second performances, 9.8 second races, or 4 second dives that we saw on television.  We as parents can learn from the attitudes of these champions. 

In order for our children to succeed, it will take sacrifice.  I don't know a parent out there who would say they have not sacrificed something for their child. It may be a career, a new pair of shoes, or a good night sleep.  Regardless of the magnitude, it is a sacrifice all the same.  So how do we transfer that same concept to our children? How can we as parents show our children that success and excellence does not come without sacrifice? Perhaps it is missing a birthday party to put in a few extra hours at the gym or staying up later than normal to complete a science fair project.  Whatever it is, we as parents must instill in our children that sacrifice is a part of success.  I believe that not requiring our children to sacrifice on some level would be doing them a disservice.

Rehearsal is another critical piece. Our children must understand that very few things are considered excellent after one attempt.  Most things that people are good at require rehearsal, practice and deliberate repeated actions.  Instilling this in children early can combat the "I give up" attitude.  If at an early age children are required to repeat and rehearse, perhaps it will develop the tenacity that is needed to overcome obstacles and obtain achievements later in life.  I am sure that Gabby Douglas and Michael Phelps did not achieve excellence on the first try.  In fact they often talk about the countless hours and "blood, sweat and tears" that helped catapult them to their culminating performances at the Olympics.  It is this try and try again attitude that can cause a gymnast to not give up after falling off of a balance beam.  It is that sticktoitiveness that allows a 5,000 meter runner to get up after a fall and rejoin the pack.  And it is that same fortitude that will allow our children to continue in an honors level class despite earning a less than stellar grade. 

All in all, the Olympians experienced ups and downs; and despite some not winning a medal in 2012, they are still deemed successful.  As with our children, we have to teach them that there will be some ups and downs in life; however, in the end with sacrifice and resolute persistence they will find success.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Summer Reading Ideas

While you still have a little bit of the summer left, you may want to have your child squeeze in a few more books.  Perhaps you are continuing to make trips to the library and you want some fresh new ideas on selections. Take a look at the link below.
Also, don't forget to comment on my page your child's favorite books or book series. My 7- year old enjoys the Magic Treehouse series. We've even found a great little used book store that sales them for $1 (WOW!!). Enjoy!.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Value in the Village

I recently read a very inspiring article about a group of young people dubbed "Club 2012". This group of students graduated this year; however, the cohort was formed six years ago.  The parents of the students saw  the need to take parental involvement to another level.  I won't spoil their strategies because the article is worth reading, but suffice it to say these students were immersed in an environment where they had not other choice but to succeed. 

The lesson that I took from the formation and ultimately the success of this club is that no person can succeed on their own.  What an awesome lesson to teach our children.  Not only does it take the child putting forth maximum effort; but it also requires parents, friends and outside family members.  I guess you could say: "It really does take a village". It takes other people to help hold one  accountable.  It helps to have the expertise of others in areas where one may not be as adept.  Why not visit a local museum with a group of parents and children instead of just with the immediate family? Imagine how many more points of view can be introduced and discussed. How fun would it be for you to take your teenager on a college tour with other friends and their parents? I see the value in sitting down for dinner after a college tour with other parents and families and discussing the pros and cons of that particular college. 

 I urge you to surround yourself with two or three other families who you can collaborate with, share parenting tips and stories of success.  Just think of it as the beginning of your child's network.  Perhaps try it this upcoming school year and see if it does not prove beneficial. Maybe you can start your own "Club 20??".