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Addressing Educational Disparities with the First 2,000 Days Campaign

Posted by ceciliacapers on October 16, 2013 at 2:40 AM Comments comments (0)

 

 

 

I am a huge proponent of early childhood development programs. Immediately after college, I became an elementary school teacher. My students were primarily African American. Almost twenty years ago I stopped teaching to attend law school but I’m still sensitive to the needs of students, especially the needs of African American children facing academic challenges.

 

  

It is unfair to generalize every African American child as being disadvantaged or in jeopardy of falling behind their white peers. However, the developmental disparity between specific African American students and their white counterparts cannot be ignored. Unfortunately, a significant percentage of African American children entering school are not equipped with fundamental skills necessary for learning at the early stages. These children lack certain cognitive skills to give them a competitive edge.

 

As a child, I was fortunate to have parents who were very involved in my education. Before I walked into kindergarten at a Montessori school, my grandmother would read with me. I can remember my parents and grandparents surrounding me with educational toys and books. Whenever there was a book fair at my school, my mother would go over the list with me. Some of my fondest memories as a child was going to Barnes & Noble with my father. They encouraged me to write and perform skits with my toys to develop my vocabulary. I am thankful my parents took time out of their schedules to prepare me for the future.

 

That is why I am deeply concerned when a child does not receive the proper mental stimulation to prepare them to enjoy learning. Society stigmatizes children, especially in minority and undeserved communities, when their reading and math scores fall below the achievement level of non-minorities and children from more affluent school districts. To increase the likelihood of academic success in preschool and beyond, parents must take time to educate themselves to programs and techniques to get their child on the proper academic path.

 

Recently, I saw Reeshemah Brightley, an alumna of William Smith College, with her mother, Daseta Gray, on a local ABC Network news program discussing Sabree Education Services, an organization they created to provide early childhood development services in the African American community. Sabree Education Services (http://www.sabreeeducationservices.com/) a Harlem-based organization, is on the front lines of The First 2,000 Days Campaign. The first 2,000 days of a child’s life takes place from birth to kindergarten. The Campaign originated in Canada to inform parents and caregivers that a child’s brain development during the first 2,000 days of life determines how their brain will be wired for learning, social, and emotional development. Ms. Brightley and Ms. Gray are doing their part to educate parents and other adults in Harlem and other African American communities in New York City about the importance of preparing children for a lifetime of learning. The segment featuring Ms. Brightley and Ms. Gray on “Here and Now” can be viewed at http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/video?id=9274955&pid=null.

 

  

I am proud to see an alumna of my alma mater using her education and abilities to give back to her community. This mother and daughter team deserve a round of applause for addressing a critical problem in communities across New York City. More important, I hope they will get attention from community leaders and philanthropists who can provide funding and other forms of support. I am looking forward to hearing more great news about their work.

 

Mazel Tov!

 

 

 

 

THE FALL 2013 BACK-TO-SCHOOL MUSIC SYLLABUS

Posted by ceciliacapers on September 24, 2013 at 2:30 PM Comments comments (0)

THE FALL 2013 BACK-TO-SCHOOL MUSIC SYLLABUS

 

Whether you remember dancing to songs on LPs, .45s, and 8-Track tapes, were conceived to tunes on a ‘mixtape,’ or cried when Napster died, music is such an integral part of our lives. As a writer, I need music to elevate my mind.

 

With the help of poet and rapper PicaSso Sight (Jesse Ulysse) here is this semester’s list of 65 must-have albums. These albums make the grade by adding value to musical expression and can help young, aspiring musicians to explore their musicality.  This is an ongoing process so please don't get exited if your favs are not listed.  Please feel free to recommend. 

 

65 may be a passing grade in school but we know ambitious folks want to be at the head of the class. Put in your earbuds! Class is in session.

 

(In alphabetical order)

 

Songs 1 - 20

 

1. Aaliyah- Aaliyah (Life, love, and loss. It would have been wonderful to see and hear her at this stage in her career. Aaliyah…Beyoncé. We could have “watched the throne” of the queens.)

 

2. Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship- India.Arie (Enlightenment, pain, and love poured out from a pure place makes this such a great album.)

 

3. Licensed to Ill- Beastie Boys (They exposed the world to a new ‘complexion’ in the rap genre.)

 

4. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band- The Beatles (No explanation necessary.)

 

5. Dangerously in Love- Beyoncé (All the shades of love painted with vibratos and harmony. The powerhouse production team is an all-star lineup of musical talent.)

 

6. Turnstiles; The Stranger; and Glass Houses- Billy Joel (The choice is so difficult. After 9/11 “New York State of Mind and “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)” took on new meanings.)

 

7. Parallel Lines- Blondie (When you listen to Debbie Harry sing, you can feel the 1970’s.)

 

8. Slippery When Wet- Bon Jovi (Long hair, tight pants, Chevy Camaros, and leather…hmmm…some things never go out of style.)

 

9. The Lord Will Make a Way- Shirley Caesar (Still the 'Singin' Preacher' after decades, this 1997 album can make you feel like you are in church wherever you are. Testify!)

10.

Folsom Prison Blues-Johnny Cash (Unapologetic music sung and played by and for the common man. Cash was and still is an American treasure.)

 

 

11. Combat Rock- The Clash (Expressing British teen angst courtesy of Joe Strummer with spiky hair and plenty of amplifier reverb. If you love rap, check out their influences.)

 

12. Giant Steps- John Coltrane (Trane + Saxophone = Pure Genius.)

 

13. Bitches Brew- Miles Davis (A canvass of Nubian splendor. Words cannot describe the experience of listening to this work of art. Enlightening music for kings and queens.)

 

14. Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)- Eurythmics (Annie Lennox’s short, platinum hair and androgynous look coupled with her vocals makes the album a brash and brilliant experience.)

 

15. Food and Liquor-Lupe Fiasco (The Chi Town native’s debut album is filled with thought provoking lyrics coupled with slick rhymes and poetry.)

 

16. Rumours- Fleetwood Mac (Their unique sound enhanced by the one and only Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham can be simply characterized as enchanting.)

 

17. Amazing Grace- Aretha Franklin (The Queen of Soul sings soul-stirring gospel. Get uplifted.)

 

18. Here, My Dear- Marvin Gaye (One of the lesser know albums by the mesmerizing singer-musician. Possibly too open and confession ridden, Marvin gets bare, raw, and real.)

 

19. The Message- Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five (They expressed the feelings of people living in the concrete jungle using urban poetry: It's like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep from going under.)

 

20. I'm Still in Love with You- Al Green (His gospel roots gives his music character and depth. The seminal classic "Love and Happiness" can move you with power and delight.)

 

 

How Actors and Theatre Technique Can Enhance a Novelist's Writing Part One: Dialogue

Posted by ceciliacapers on September 22, 2013 at 9:45 PM Comments comments (0)

 

 

By Cecilia T. Capers (September 22, 2013)

 

Uta Hagen. Stella Adler. Meyerhold, Stanislavsky, and Bertolt Brecht. These are the names of theatrical pioneers. Not exactly names on books you would expect to find in a novelist’s library. I’ve had them in my personal collection for years. I first read Brecht in my 11th grade. I started my studies in the art of writing at a young age because I fell in love with theatre. I liked the idea that I could become a novelist someday but I really loved the idea of writing characters that could be interpreted by an actor on a stage. Actors are magical to me. They take what a creative or inspired mind constructs on paper and gives it skin, bone, and connective tissue. When I decided to parlay my background into becoming a novelist, my love for actors and theatre crossed over to my new craft. Novelist can learn a lot from actors and acting technique to guide them as they write.

 

 

Theatre will always be my first love. I went to my first Broadway musical on my 5th birthday and I was hooked. I wrote several one act plays and skits in high school. Fortunately, I grew up in the suburbs and attended a high school that fostered a good academic environment. By the end of my sophomore year in college, I had a full-length play under my belt. Almost two years of writing and working with my theatre professor paid off tremendously when the theatre program produced “The Life and Death of the Existential Black Man.” Watching actors bring my words to life was quite cool. Listening to actors deliver the dialogue I wrote was more important.

 

 

In theatre you don’t have a lot of literal space to create an imitation of life. A set is designed but the words and presence of an actor are more important to move the story forward and emote a response from the audience. Playwriting gives a writer a certain level of training to define each character by the words they speak. It is different than writing a screenplay. Unlike writing a book or short story, a playwright cannot hide behind dense prose to differentiate one character from another. Character A and Character B can speak the King’s English but their individual personalities must shine through in the words they speak. Great dialogue gives any literary work a higher level of verisimilitude. If dialogue is written well, an actor as well as a novelist can create a back story to help them construct the character’s motivation. I believe it is constructive for novelists to watch plays or read them to enhance their dialogue and/or character development.

 

 

Actors and theatrical techniques also taught me the musicality of writing words. To me, like hearing a power g chord played on a guitar (trust me, if you listen to rock & roll or any form of popular music, you hear it all the time) certain word ring! To me, certain words have a bounce. As a writer, I want my readers to hear the rhythm of words in their head. When dialogue is written in a rigid way, even the best actors cannot salvage a script. Stilted dialogue in a script or novel will not make a person envision real-life situations. It will not make a reader connect with characters. Some fiction authors are very adept at tapping into the musicality of character dialogue. I applaud authors who have that skill. When in doubt, novelists should read their dialogue aloud without the exposition. If it sounds like a real conversation rolling off your tongue, then you’ve done what actors do on a table read of a script.

 

I don’t advocate veering from the path of being a novelist to become a script loving playwright but you might broaden your mind to tap into some acting and theatrical techniques. You never know what a little extra insight can do for your craft.

 

 

MORE THAN NOVEL IDEAS: FALL INTO FALL 2013

Posted by ceciliacapers on September 20, 2013 at 5:35 PM Comments comments (0)

 By Cecilia T. Capers (September 20, 2013)

 

I can hardly believe how quickly summer is over.  In two days the fall equinox will occur.  Equinox is Latin for "equal night" and refers to equal hours of day and night.  There is slightly more sunlight for regions near the equator and the poles.  This year, the sun will move along the celestial equator at 4:44 p.m. EST on Sunday, September 22nd ushering in fall for the northern hemisphere and spring for the southern hemisphere.  This magnificent event of changing seasons presents a great opportunity to evaluate the goals we set for ourselves at the beginning of 2013.

  

It is fairly safe to say that most of us have not fulfilled every goal we set for ourselves when we made our New Year's resolutions.  Instead of kicking ourselves that we did not achieve our ideal weight, become the sales leader on our team, or spend more time with family and friends, we should focus on the things we accomplished that made us and the people we love happy.  Twice per year during the spring and fall equinoxes nature reminds us that balancing our personal lives is important to sustain order.  Just as the fall equinox will divide daylight and night into equal parts, we need to equaly divide the things that are important to us versus the things we should not sweat about.

  

On Sunday, people in the northern hemisphere will fall into the fall season while our friends in the southern hemisphere embrace spring.  Symbolically, the transition of seasons is also a natural reminder that all of us go through seasons in our life experiences.  There will be intervals when we are basking in the sun of success while others are going through a cold season lacking growth.  Then a change might occur when our days fell as though we are going through the coldest winter of our spiritual lives.  During those times, we cannot fret.  Instead, wait and have faith during the transition period.

  

So let's fall into fall embracing a new season in our lives with purpose and optimism.  Nature is ready to remind us it is the right thing to do.

 

 

Philanthropist Fabrice Armand Keeps the Spotlight on Haiti

Posted by ceciliacapers on March 2, 2012 at 4:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Celebrating Hope: Philanthropist Fabrice Armand Keeps the Spotlight on Haiti

Haitian-American philanthropist and businessman, Fabrice J. Armand is focusing his time and energy on planning his 30th birthday. Unlike most of his peers who typically celebrate such a milestone by throwing a fabulous fete, Fabrice has committed himself to an unselfish purpose. Inspired by famous columnist, Liz Smith, who uses her annual birthday bash to bring attention to philanthropy, Fabrice will use his March 3rd celebration for his 2nd Annual Haiti Cherie: Pride. Love. Commitment fundraiser. The event will celebrate Haitian culture, honor those that perished during the 2010 earthquake, and raise money to benefit Wings over Haiti and the Haiti Cultural Exchange.

Fabrice became an advocate for his homeland long before the 2010 earthquake. Fabrice's intense passion for Haiti began during his formative years in Port au Prince. He came to America in his early teens but a sense of pride in his heritage kept him connected to Haiti. Fabrice was disturbed by constant media coverage of Haiti as an impoverished, third world nation teetering on social and political collapse. There was rarely an emphasis on its rich history and culture. Instead of throwing up his hands in frustration, Fabrice got involved with organizations making a positive impact. More important, he took out his address book and started a personal campaign to educate and encourage his friends as well as business contacts to invest in Haiti's future.

Read more at:

http/www.huffingtonpost.com/cecilia-t-capers/haiti-relief-fundraiser_b_1298259.html?ref=black-voices

 

 

Let There Be Light - Illuminating a Writer's Universe

Posted by ceciliacapers on December 29, 2011 at 9:30 PM Comments comments (0)

Writing a novel is never easy. The craft of writing can be an all-consuming effort. Late nights and days filled with hours at a keyboard have been my norm since 2005 when I began writing my first novel. I have been writing since the age of five. As an only child, I learned at an early age to make toys as well as books substitutes for adventures with non-existent siblings. Several decades later as I am working on the final stages of my fictional creation, I have to pause to look back at how I got here in the first place.


Creating universes inhabited by people synthesized in my own imagination or loosely based on characters in books and television was my norm. I did not know it then but I was creating derivative works — at least that is how some of my musings could be described by the standards of the United States Copyright Code. Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble would cross over into stories where Ken and Barbie would be searching for missing toys stolen by some sinister scientist. Indeed, my childhood was never boring.


By the time I was in Mrs. Rosenberg’s third grade class, I knew how to disappear for hours in a world of creative wonder. On yellow paper with a number 2 pencil, I wrote my first eight-page short story. I can still remember it. Three or four young girls were competing to win a prestigious ballet contest. The ending is a bit fuzzy in my mind but I guess the underdog won. My teacher was shocked that I could write so much for my age. She took the story and “lost” it at a teacher’s conference. An early lesson was learned in not giving the sole draft of my work to anyone. That is what a “Ditto Machine” was for back in the day.


Skipping ahead to high school, I was a writing fool. Writing for the school newspaper and the literary magazine were my claims to fame. I was not on an athletic team or cheerleading squad but I was running the writer’s race. I would cringe if I received less that a 95 percent on a twenty-page one-act play or a fifteen-page creative story I handed to Mrs. Shapiro in my honors English classes. A 90 percent would make me crazy.


In college, I wrote and produced my first full-length play entitled The Life and Death of the Existential Black Man. The play explored racism, sexuality, and identity as well as the suicide of the main character, David Blackman, a successful lawyer whose world fell apart when the people and institutions that he idolized collapsed. I was seventeen when I started to write the play. People recognized my ability but I lacked the confidence to surge forward with my craft. The play was tremendously successful but in the months and years that followed, I got lost in my own existential conundrum. I ran away from writing. Akin to the tragedy of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in the movie Inception, I let the universes I built collapse in the wake of my own self-loathing.


Similar to the after-effects of a tornado cutting through a small town, it took me years to rebuild my creativity. It did not help that I chased away the muses who inspired me. I had to appeal to them to come back but like all creative energy, just because you ask for it to return does not mean it returns immediately.


Like the lyrics Bono sings in U2’s song The Fly:

Every artist is a cannibal/

Every poet is a thief/

Both kill their inspiration/

And sing about the grief.


I had a belly full of human experiences and emotions but I killed the fire in my bones. The fire would return but this time I had to acknowledge my calling. The stories, muses, and energy have returned but I must handle them with care. The task at hand requires me to spend hours with characters that I refer to as ‘my children.’ I tell my supporters that my characters found me, I did not find them. This is not a creative exaggeration.


The entire plot of the novel came to me in a flash − I knew the ending before I wrote the first chapter. I write in a non-linear fashion, so there were days I would jump from writing one of the earlier chapters in the book to writing nine or ten pages of a later segment. Sometimes the characters are unruly or make bad choices. In other moments they make me laugh or cry. They are my complex, beautiful, brash, vibrant children who simply ask me to tell their stories in a clear, yet poetic manner. I respect their request and I am thankful to pen their tales.


Once again stating the obvious, writing a novel is never easy. It takes time and dedication to build a universe. Now, I have to get back to work.

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