Monday, March 20, 2017

Books N' Bros: Sidney Keys lll Creates Reading Club For Young Boys To Encourage Literacy

After a visit to Eye See Me Bookstore in St. Louis, MO, 11 year old Sidney Keys III  was inspired to start his own reading club for boys called Books N Bros.  Eye See Me Bookstore focuses on African-American children’s literature. His mother shot a video of him reading in the store, and expressing the joy he found in discovering books that reflected him. As she explained "Her son had never been to a store that housed so many books that reflected his culture."  The video garnered a lot of attention and over 63,000 views. This made him realize that there were others out there who had the same interest. “ I already love to read but it would be awesome, even better, to read with other people,” he told Huffington Post.  

Since September, the club has met monthly to discuss one book with a black protagonist, which they vote on. So far, the club has read Hidden Figures, The Supadupa Kid and A Song for Harlem: Scraps of Time, which they read during Black History Month. The group also invites Black male mentors to attend each meeting and share their experiences. With a simple $20 membership fee, the boys ages 8 through 12 get a book, a worksheet that ask questions about the work they're reading, and refreshments. Club members get to take home books for their personal collection, thanks to a donation of more than 250 books from community group, Serving with the Badge. Most important the group gets to read books, make friends and have fun.  For Sidney this has given him an opportunity to develop his skills in leadership, public speaking and entrepreneurship. Hopefully, this will inspire more great ideas. In the future he hopes to expand online so that young men who do not live in St. Louis can join Books N Bros.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Teacher Empowers Her Class To"Push Through"

"Teaching my 3rd grade black and brown babies to #PushThrough today. Due to unwelcoming, unsettling, and uncomfortable election results, this was our lesson for the day."

"In Sub-Saharan African cultures, call and response is a pervasive pattern of democratic participation—in public gatherings in the discussion of civic affairs, in religious rituals, as well as in vocal and instrumental musical expression. It is this tradition that African bondsmen and women brought with them to the New World and which has been transmitted over the centuries in various forms of cultural expression—in religious observance; public gatherings; sporting events; even in children's rhymes; and, most notably, in African-American music in its myriad forms and descendants including: soul, gospel, blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, funk and hip hop."   Wikipedia

In good times and stressful times our culture has used call and response as a way to communicate and teach.   Jasmyn Wright, a third-grade reading teacher in Philadelphia, is using this African American tradition to bring a message of hope, and empowerment to her third grade class.  Ms. Wright, a poet and spoken-word artist encourages her students to "push through" in the face of adversity.  

She uses both personal affirmations and the power of the spoken word to motivate the young people in her class. She sees her role as a catalyst to encourage her students talents and ambitions. "My students know who they are. I teach all of them every day that they are born with a gift"

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

International Women's Day

"Fearless Girl" The Wall Street Bull Meets His Match

International Women's Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action, and the theme for 2017 is "Be Bold For Change."

This holiday has been observed for over a century. In 1975, International Women's Day was celebrated for the first time by the United Nations. Then in December 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national traditions.  The issues that women faced a hundred years ago are not that much different than the ones we face today, and the problems we face in our community are not that different across the globe. Everyone is encouraged to commemorate the day in her own unique way and work with other women to bring change. This is a year of activism, and International Women's Day is a catalyst.

"So make a difference, think globally and act locally!
Make everyday International Women's Day.
Do your bit to ensure that the future for girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding."

Breastfeeding Hits Fashion Week

“Birth is the epicenter of a woman’s power. And we are so powerful! Happy Women’s History Month.”

Black Breastfeeding Week was celebrated in August but for Diandra Forrest getting the message out is important every day of the year.  We all want to give our children the best start in life but for many reasons the benefits of breastfeeding have not reached the African American community. Statistics show that less than 55% of Black mothers are actively involved in breastfeeding.  Compared to other groups the numbers are very low for breastfeeding while the black infant mortality rate is high. Black babies are dying at twice the rate (in some place, nearly triple) the rate of white babies. According to the CDC, increased breastfeeding among black women could decrease infant mortality rates.  The CDC states that, "This persistent gap in breastfeeding rates between black women and women of other races and ethnicities might indicate that black women are more likely to encounter unsupportive cultural norms, perceptions that breastfeeding is inferior to formula feeding, lack of partner support, and an unsupportive work environment." Reasons for this might be the lack of support and the lack of spreading the word on the benefits of nursing in Black communities.

Fortunately, we have mothers like model Diandra Forrest who are advocating to change the image of birth and breastfeeding. Diandra who struts the runways of New York Fashion Week posted pictures on Instagram while nursing her baby daughter, Rain. The pictures were from a shoot called   “The Rebirth of Love,” by photographer, Joey Rosado of Island Boi Photography, and was the brainchild of makeup artist and creative director Moshoodat Sanni. Of course, there was some backlash but  Diandra who is accustom to being scrutinized as one of the few albino models in the fashion industry was up to the challenge. As she explains in a Yahoo Style interview, “I think, too often, women’s bodies are looked at in a sexual manner. So when there is a woman breastfeeding her child, which is nurturing and natural, it may seem wrong if your mind isn’t in the right place.”

The benefits of nursing, definitely, out weight the negativity.  Nursing ignites the hormones that increase the bonding between mother and child,  allows the mother's body to heal quicker, provides the right nutrition for the baby and is cheaper than formula. Also mothers who nurse are more inclined to eat healthy. However, for new mothers having a support system is most important. As Diandra explains, “I love the connection that it’s allowed me to have with my daughter and knowing that she is getting all of the nutrients that she needs. It’s important to speak about it because breastfeeding is actually very hard to do. Between the bleeding nipples, feeding every hour, and sleep deprivation, I wouldn’t have made it a week without lots of support.”

"All breastfeeding women need support, but specific interventions might be needed among populations with lower breastfeeding prevalence," suggest the CDC. To get more information and assistance visit Black Breastfeeding Week and La Leche.  Black Breastfeeding Week is all about encouraging black women to keep breastfeeding, connect with other breastfeeding moms, post breastfeeding selfies and more. La Leche has encouraged mothers to nurse for 60 years. Their mission is to help mothers worldwide to breastfeed through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education, and to promote a better understanding of breastfeeding as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and mother. Their helpline number is 877-4 LA LECHE (452-5324). As women move through their journey of motherhood there is no need to be alone and isolated. Finding and building community is an important part of the job. Women's empowerment is very important in the community. As Diandra signs off on her Instagram picture, “Birth is the epicenter of a woman’s power. And we are so powerful! Happy Women’s History Month.”

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Africa's Great Civilizations

This week check out Professor Henry Louis Gate's new six-hour series, Africa’s Great Civilizations on PBS.  Gates takes a new look at the history of Africa, from the birth of humankind to the dawn of the 20th century.  Young adults need to hear these stories even though the story of colonialism can be very disturbing. The challenge is how to empower young people to embrace their history without the anger that can be crippling. Watch it together but beprepared to discuss their questions.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Celebrating African American History Month and Beyond

Pinkster Reenactment
As a child, I always wondered why we didn't have African American holidays. Since then I have learned that our ancestor in slavery observed the holidays of their masters but in their own way. This became a time to unite with family and communicate with each other. They also used this as a time to sell and exchange goods in order to better their circumstances. In spite of oppressive conditions, holidays became an incubator for the creation of African American culture in music, song, dance and storytelling. Their spirit of resistance and resilience allowed them to survive in spite of slavery.

Today we recognize and celebrate many special days that have been part of African American History, and the number keeps growing.  Here is a calendar of Holidays and Days of Remembrance that we can share with family and children this year. Please share with us how you celebrate African American culture and any holidays you think should be added to the list.

January 1         Watch Night!  The Watch Night Services in African American communities can be traced back to gatherings on December 31, 1862. On that night, Blacks came together in churches and private homes all across the nation, anxiously awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation actually had become law. When the news was received, there were prayers, shouts and songs of joy as people fell to their knees and thanked God. Today many Black churches still commemorate that day as a day of prayer, thanksgiving and spiritual liberation.

January 1     Signing of the  Emancipation Proclamation commemorates January 1, 1863 when Abraham Lincoln signed the document that freed slaves in confederate states.

January 15        Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday - MLK was born January 15, 1929. His birthday is celebrated as a national holiday the third Monday of January. Now it has become a special day of service where everyone is encouraged to volunteer in their community.

February 1-28   African American History Month - was started by Carter Woodson in 1926 as Negro History Month, and then expanded to the whole month.

February 4        Rosa Parks Birthday

February 28     Mardi Gras - "Fat Tuesday," is the last day of the Carnival season and always falls on the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Celebrated with parties, concerts and parades.

May 19             Malcolm X Birthday

May 29            Memorial Day celebrated the last Monday of May has its origins in 1865 when former slaves in South Carolina wanted to honor Union  Soldiers

June 19          Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.  Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. This was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official January 1, 1863.

June 4              Pinkster  celebrated the seventh Sunday after Easter refers to the Dutch festivals held by African Americans (both free and slave) in the Northeastern United States, particularly in the early 19th century. For the African slaves, Pinkster was a time free from work and a chance to gather and catch up with family and friends. Today this holiday is celebrated at Philipsburg Manor
381 N. Broadway,  Sleepy Hollow, NY 10591. Festivities include lively presentations of drumming and traditional dance, African folktales, and demonstrations of traditional African instruments and utilitarian wares.

August 28        March on Washington was held on August 28, 1963 where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, a landmark of the Civil Rights Movement.

December 26- January 1   Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration held in the United States and in other nations of the Western African diaspora in the Americas. The celebration honors African heritage and African-American culture, and is observed from December 26 to January 1, culminating in a feast and gift-giving. Kwanzaa has seven core principles (Nguzo Saba).

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Beyonce Reawakens the Fertility Goddess in Her Grammy Appearance

"My intention for the film and album was to create a body of work that would give a voice to our pain, our struggles, our darkness and our history. To confront issues that make us uncomfortable. It's important to me to show images to my children that reflect their beauty so they can grow up in a world where they look in the mirror — first through their own families, as well as the news, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the White House and the Grammys — and see themselves. And have no doubt that they're beautiful, intelligent and capable. This is something I want for every child of every race, and I feel it's vital that we learn from the past and recognize our tendencies to repeat our mistakes."

This past Sunday very pregnant Beyonce ignited a fire of goddess power in her visually appealing and very poignant Grammy performance. Using the archetypal image of the Madonna and Oshun (goddess of love, beauty and fertility), she celebrated motherhood, family and the strength of the female spirit. Motherhood for African American women has always been complicated filled with joy and fear, and rarely celebrated.

From the time we arrived on the shores of America being a Black mother has never been easy but Beyonce reminds us it can be a powerful experience. She is an artist who has displayed courage, taken risk and used her platform to explore issues close to the African American community. Her message was clear. Female relationships especially between mothers and daughters are important.  These relationships just like birth and motherhood are sacred. Against a backdrop of stereotypes, we can choose to define ourselves, find our voice and speak our truth. We can embrace the ancient wisdom that teaches us to be strong and love ourselves.