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Africa and its Diaspora

I recently watched the African Day parade which traveled down my street in Harlem, and attended the festival in Marcus Garvey park. It was a paradoxical experience for me. On one hand, it felt familiar, and I felt connected. I saw familiar skin tones that spoke different languages, and heard rhythms that I felt on a cosmic level. On the other hand, I felt as if I were in the midst of distant relatives that I had never seen and may never really know. And this, in a nutshell, is the relationship between Africa and her diaspora as I see it in America.

Having been raised in the Bronx and Harlem and living in Harlem now, I have been and continue to be nurtured by the spirit of a rich diversity whose foundation is rooted in African culture, and expressed through African, African American, Latino and Caribbean presence and culture. I am a child of the 70s, and Africa was infused in the soundtrack and landscape of my upbringing. Black was a beautiful desire to connect to the continent, almost as a respite from the deterioration of the Bronx and Harlem at that time.

I have also, unfortunately, witnessed divisions and misunderstandings. From overheard negative statements and to conversations that I have witnessed over the years among my older relatives, there is a definite distrust of the unfamiliar, and a fearful unwillingness to become familiar that exists even to this day.

This country is becoming more polarized with each passing day, so it is increasingly important to examine the sources of all of our divisions and close the gaps where possible. I have decided to start with my own community.

So where do you think Africa and its diaspora stand – are we united or divided? Take this survey and add your voice to the conversation.

Miriam Moore is currently enrolled in online courses at The CUNY School of Professional Studies. Follow her on Twitter

It’s Friday night and I am on a date. Yeah!

Don’t get me wrong most people who are on a date are probably having dinner and taking in a movie.  Guess what y’all?  My date night is me sitting on a computer while my date watches old boxing matches on cable.  But I am a college student and as much as I complain, I am really enjoying it.

I just had to post two initial discussion boards and since my date is enjoying watching old boxing matches, I also decided to post my responses to at least two fellow classmates.  Oh the joy of being an older college student… Maybe next week I will do something more college oriented and buy some beer and have some friends over and let them drink while I post my discussion boards.

Baby steps.

LOL!

I think I am getting the hang of this whole school thing.

Xan Bullock is student in the HIM program. She is 40+, loving life and surprisingly school too!

As I write this I am sitting under a hooded dryer, 10 minutes into a 40 minute process involving 2 steps and 3 chemical mixtures to achieve one result: hide my gray hair. To be a successful magician I have to do this every 4 weeks and I am not alone; I am a hairstylist and all but a handful of the color clients where I work come in to get rid of their grays. In fact according to Professional Consultants and Resources’ 2012 research Americans spend $756 million to color annually—as a beauty professional, I can’t say I mind.

I started coloring my hair when I was 13 and have never thought much of it. In my mid-twenties, my want became a need due to the little crop of silver that had sprouted on the top of my head. Again I didn’t think much of it and went about coloring with the same fun and creativity as I had for over a decade, until about two months ago.

My life started getting pretty hectic at the end of August 2013. Classes started and the summer lull at work came to an end. My mom’s 60th birthday was coming up and my 33rd was 5 days later. I held off coloring my hair until the end of the month because I wanted the color to be fresh for our birthdays. But things got hectic and it never happened. Then I pushed it a little further because I was going on vacation and wanted it to be fresh for that, but things were crazy and I never got a chance. Before I knew it, 2 months had gone by! Looking at the top of my head, I had so much more gray than I realized. And then it hit me: I don’t know what my hair looks like; I don’t know how I look—naturally. That really messed with my head. I toyed with the idea of letting my hair grow out to see what I look like in my natural state. In a way it was kind of exciting. But could I do it? No, obviously not or else I would be sitting somewhere else right now. I thought and thought, constantly checking out other woman’s hair color. I had thoughts like, “She colors, and she doesn’t look too high maintenance,” and “She doesn’t color and she looks really good.” But ultimately, it came down to looking at gray haired people and asking, do I want to look like them. The answer, for me, was no.

Recently, many women have decided to give up coloring their hair—this emboldened my hemming and hawing about my own color. Less chemicals on your skin, less maintenance and an “I’m beautiful, accept me for who I really am” attitude that seems empowering. People have been coloring their hair for millennia; the cult of youth is nothing new. Ancient Egyptians used henna, and American woman began to color their hair late in the first half of the 20th century when hairdressers started working with caustic chemicals. A quick Internet search shows two distinct points of view: tips on how to be a silver fox and tips on the best ways to hide the ugly, wiry truth. It’s great that we have so many choices, but what are the consequences of this choice?

Apart from social pressure, there is professional pressure to look young. Even in my own hair debate I wondered if a hair stylist should have gray hair. Could it be done? In a world where our personal brand is increasingly more important, and people are staying in the workforce longer, both men and woman feel added pressure to artificially turn back the clock. This is an especially important thing to think about for people returning to school as many of us are entering our second careers and will be competing for jobs against traditional students that are a decade or more younger than we are. We need to look hip and contemporary without looking like we raided a Millenial’s closet—a tricky balance.

What I learned from my great hair crisis of 2013, as I now call it, is that what’s truly important is my ability to be confident and comfortable in my own skin. And right now, part that confidence comes in a bottle, and that’s okay.

 Ligeia Minetta is currently at student at The CUNY School of Professional Studies studying Communications and Media.

Sarah Chalmers graduated from the CUNY SPS MA in Applied Theatre program in 2010. In 2012 she started her own company, Civic Ensemble, and was recently awarded the Civic Leader Fellowship from the Cornell University Public Service Center. She will teach applied theatre techniques to Cornell students and engage them in the community-based play process. Below is a reflection on her road to success:

Sarah Chalmers is a graduate of the MA in Applied Theatre program at CUNY SPS

My life since completing the MA in Applied Theatre with SPS in 2010 has been a whirlwind. I promptly left New York City for Ithaca, NY for what many might think would be a quieter life. While we certainly drive slower up here and, unlike NYC, it is against the rules of decorum to honk at someone sitting still at a green light, we do keep busy. My son was born in July of 2011 and I spent a glorious year almost exclusively hanging out with him. In June 2012, ready to scratch my applied theatre itch, a few colleagues and I started a new theatre company, Civic Ensemble. The theatre scene here is thriving and I am thrilled to be a part of it.

While Ithaca has many small community theatre companies and two well-established regional theatres, there was an opening for a new company committed to engaging communities in theatre-making as well as theatre-going. Civic Ensemble is focused on just that. In our first year, in addition to producing a reading series of new plays by women, we implemented several applied theatre programs which we put under the heading of Civic Engagement.

We were commissioned by the Sciencenter (a children’s science museum) to create an interactive theatre workshop about hydraulic fracturing for young children which included debate on both sides of this contentious issue. This workshop was conducted throughout the summer of 2013 and continues into the fall. We also conducted a free two week summer youth theatre for teens ages 13-21 to explore topics of importance to them. This project was in partnership with the Greater Ithaca Activities Center and was funded by the City of Ithaca. We hope that becomes a year round program in the future. Also this summer we implemented a program at a detention center for young men in Lansing using Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed techniques to provide a structure for participants to step back and think critically about their lives and the external forces that shape their circumstances as they explore the ways that they can effect change in their lives. For this project, funded by the State of New York Office of Children and Family Services, and for the Youth Theatre, we hired my fellow MA in Applied Theatre alum Ernell McClennon (’10). It was a wonderful reunion and chance to work with someone who speaks my language completely!

The cornerstone of Civic Ensemble’s season every year is a community-based play. The play tells our collective story as devised by the participants with the guidance of Civic artists. All members of our community are welcome to participate in these plays. The topic of our first play was parenting and resulted in a production called, Parent Stories. Our topic this year is Safety: Community-Police Relations in Ithaca. This is a hot-button topic here in Ithaca, as in many communities in America. Through the sharing of personal stories and perspectives, participants can examine this challenging topic and potentially rethink entrenched positions. We will take these personal stories and craft a play that we will then rehearse and perform for the broader Ithaca community.

Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the response to Civic Ensemble and the work that we do with communities. When I look at what we’ve done in one year I am convinced that the applied theatre techniques we bring are needed by our communities. People are hungry for a way to connect and having the tools to facilitate that connection means I am able to create the life I want, doing work that is meaningful to me.

#FindYourReason

Hello All,

This is my second post. I had to work through the kinks.  Well it’s officially week 5 and although it’s a lot of work but I am actually loving school.  I feel so academically inclined these days.  Tonight I am going to rush home to do some schoolwork and get ready for the season premiere of Vampire Diaries and Scandal.  Two of my favorite shows.  I have to admit I am a television enthusiasts.  Thank God for DVR, now I tape my shows just in case I am too busy to catch them.

I don’t know about other working adult students, but I’m so busy.  Dinner will be Cap’n Crunch cereal.  Speaking of cereal.  For those of you who don’t know, since starting school my dinner options have been pared down to cereal, canned soup, and the occasional sandwich with a protein shake.  I have to admit school is giving me more of a reason not to cook (I hate cooking). It’s just easier to say I’m a busy college student and I don’t have time, then to say I hate cooking and I have always hated cooking.  LOL!  That may be one of the reasons I am still single but OH WELL, I AM A BUSY OLDER (but fabulous) WORKING COLLEGE STUDENT.  As you can see I am going to milk this older college student excuse for all it’s worth. :-)

Pssst…  Gotta go and do some work, work. I don’t think the whole college student excuse is going to fly on the job.  So goodbye for now.  Stop by and say hi, and if you have any other easy dinner ideas feel free to share. :-)

Until next time!

Xan Bullock is student in the HIM program. She is 40+, loving life and surprisingly school too!

Hello All,

I have no idea what I am doing and this is a test as I try to keep up with the 21st century by starting a blog. This is from a woman who does not indulge in social media. I don’t tweet or Facebook, but I decided to join the Community Blog to discuss being an older (47), single, and fabulous college student. I also plan to write about the ups and downs of trying to hold down a full-time job, attend college half time, and the perils of being single and dating in this technologically inclined world we live. Today marks my first blog post so wish me luck.  LOL!

A little more about me: this is my first semester as an undergraduate student at SPS, and I am majoring in Health Information Management. I currently work full-time as an Administrative assistant in the Radiology Dept at NYU Medical Centers.

I decided to start writing for the blog because there has to be other students trying to walk through the murky waters as an employed, busy, single, older (but should I say fabulous), college student. Other students who also happen to be looking for love, while trying to gain and maintain at least a 3.5 GPA, of course. Not to mention the whole social media thing is enough to drive one into early menopause. It’s all so exhausting. So here I am joining the millions of bloggers in the hopes of venting my stress away while updating my skills as a computer savvy, multimedia goddess.  LOL!

Feel free to stop by and say hi and wish me well on my new adventure.

Xan Bullock is student in the HIM program. She is 40+, loving life and surprisingly school too!

While NYC wilted in the sticky, sweltering weeks of early July, twelve fortunate members of the SPS Master of Arts in Applied Theatre program (eight students, three faculty members, and Linda Key, a MAAT alumna who returned to Rwanda as a Fulbright Specialist) spent seventeen dry and temperate days and nights in Kigali, Rwanda. This was the fourth such annual venture, a partnership between SPS/MAAT and the Kigali Institute of Education through which K IE undergraduate drama majors receive practical training in such areas as play-building, teaching through theater, and Theater of the Oppressed, and CUNY graduate students hone their skills as teachers and facilitators and absorb the transformative culture, beauty, and contradictions that are present-day Rwanda.

Professor Helen White and students from the Kigali Institute of Education and the SPS Master of Arts in Applied Theater

Professor Helen White and students from the Kigali Institute of Education and the CUNY SPS Master of Arts in Applied Theater

In 2010 Rwanda was still digging out from under the psychic, social, and political rubble of the 1994 genocide that killed up to a million citizens and catapulted this tiny, lush, and previously obscure nation onto the world stage. With unprecedented candor, Rwandans remember the slaughter and pay tribute to the dead with local and national memorials, in village churches and roadside monuments, and at the Genocide Memorial Museum in the capital. Many of these sites include underground crypts and display skeletal remains, clothing, ID cards, rosary beads, and other personal belongings of the victims so that history cannot be denied. Pledges of “Never Again” appear on signage. Alongside remembrance and mourning, Rwandans pursue justice and reconciliation, a 21st Century economy, and universal education.

In 2010, the Rwandan Education Board added drama to the national curriculum, believing that it could be a vehicle for national dialogue. KIE, the central teacher-training institution, initiated a drama major. But Rwandan performance tradition consists mainly of music and dance. There is no national theater or body of dramatic literature, and few Rwandans were trained in acting, directing, or playwriting. The KIE curriculum was based in the theoretical study of other theater traditions, primarily European, until a fortuitous connection brought KIE and CUNY together in the summer of 2010.

Ariyan McDaniel (’14) shares some hip-hop during an afternoon of cultural exchange with KIE students.  The author, Professor Amy Green, follows along (back left).

Ariyan McDaniel (’14) shares some hip-hop during an afternoon of cultural exchange with KIE students. The author, Professor Amy Green, follows along (back left).

This summer, KIE students who were in their first year of study in 2010 are graduating. They worked consistently with MAAT founding faculty Chris Vine (Academic Program Director) and Helen White (Director of the CAT Youth Theatre) every summer and credit them with revolutionizing their ideas about the power of theater and helping them acquire the skills and confidence to create meaningful performances with and for a wide variety of school and community participants. They are the first cohort of Rwandan students to have served their teaching internships as drama specialists, and they will be the first professional drama teachers. My role this summer was to observe the program and begin to assess its impact now that the first KIE-CUNY cohort is ready to move on to professional careers.

Eva Burgess (’14) and colleagues perform a scene from "The Great Sleep."

Eva Burgess (’14) and colleagues perform a scene from “The Great Sleep.”

What I saw and heard was nothing short of remarkable. In ten intense days, the KIE-CUNY collaborators performed Forum Theater about sexual harassment in the workplace, corruption and gender discrimination in hiring, alcoholism, and domestic abuse; and the plight of orphans and stepchildren (hundreds of thousands of children lost parents in the genocide); analyzed and dramatized Langston Hughes’ “A Dream Deferred”; created scenes with props and fabric and their bodies; and rehearsed and performed two plays for a public audience of approximately two hundred. Creating together fused the KIE and CUNY groups, enabling us to share artistic, academic, and personal stories and concerns.

Rwanda is re-creating itself. As Professor Vine said, on behalf of SPS and CUNY at our closing celebration with KIE students, faculty, and administration, “We are honored to have played a very small part in this remarkable transformation.”

Check out the Project Rwanda Blog for a daily recap and reflection.

Piper Anderson is a 2011 graduate of the CUNY SPS M.A. in Applied Theatre program. She is currently the Director of Education & Artist Development at Young Audiences New York. She is also a performance artist, writer, educator, and life coach. Below is her reflection on the question “Where are you from?” based on time spent in Rwanda working at the Kigali Institute of Education. 

The busy stretch of road from the Kigali Institute of Education to Hotel Civitas is about a 20-minute walk on a narrow sidewalk. J’nelle and I slowed our pace and fell into step together similarly feeling reflective and inspired by all that we were seeing and experiencing in our brief time in Rwanda. Sharing our growing expertise in Applied Theatre was exciting. Learning about a new country and the ways Rwandans were finding creative solutions to the call for reconciliation and healing was powerful and confirmed the deep resonate value of our work. But there was another layer to this trip that I wasn’t quite expecting: “Where are you from?”

It’s a question that I get on Brooklyn streets or the Walmart in small town USA. But when an African asks me this question while standing in a school yard surrounded by the lush hills of the Rwandan country side, I’m not quite sure where to begin. “I’m from the U.S.,” but of course that’s not useful. Africans move to the U.S. all the time seeking opportunities, an escape, a new beginning. The question is not where you ended up. No, where are you from? Where do you begin? So I began with what I knew of my history. I began with the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Which for many Rwandans sounded like some legend, some Grimms tale used to trick naïve children into obedience; it couldn’t possibly be true. But I told the story again and again with the certainty that hours spent in my small public library after school reading every volume on that one bookcase devoted to African American literature. That history finally came in handy on the streets and in the schoolyards where I met people in Rwanda. But my facts seemed to leave more questions than answers and each conversation left me feeling more and more displaced.

Where do I begin? I may never know. Dr. John Henrik Clark says, “History is not everything, but it is a starting point… It tells them where they are, but more importantly, what they must be.” So as J’nelle and I walked along that Kigali road we began to hatch a plan to explore our being, our being a part of the African Diaspora. Our thesis project took the shape of one amazingly simple, complex question: “What does it mean to be part of a Diaspora?” We returned to the states and to our final year in the M.A. in Applied Theatre program and began structuring a creative gathering for a diverse group of Black women artists to explore this question. Our exploration took the shape of a devised theatre piece called “The Offering.” In April of 2011, The Diaspora Project performed “The Offering” at The Brecht Forum in New York City.

Re-Writes_1

When we reconvened the women who participated in the project for a final reflection, there was an urgent desire to continue creating. What we had created together had become a vital means of generating radical material that challenged perceptions of Black women and revealed the complexity of our identities. We wanted to do more. We wanted to create a theatre company and so we did. On September 18, 2011 Re-writes of Passage Ensemble Theatre was born in my Harlem apartment. This is where we get to define our existence. This is the re-writing of our passage. Where we get to decide who we must BE. To learn more about our company visit www.rewritesensemble.com.

Re-Writes_2

 

In 2004, Senator Robert Byrd [D-WV] introduced legislation that lead to the passage of a bill establishing Constitution Day.


Here are five fun facts about the Constitution of the United States that you might not know:

Thomas Jefferson didn’t have a chance to place his “John Hancock” on the Constitution. He was in France and missed the signing altogether.

There are several spelling errors in the Constitution, but the most egregious might be “Pensylvania.”

Benjamin Franklin, “Sage of the Constitutional Convention” was the oldest signer at 81 and needed help because of ailing health.

Vermont ratified the Constitution before it even became a state on January 10, 1791.

Amendment XXVII, ratified May 7, 1992, was the last to be adopted and declares: “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened.”

The complete text of the Constitution of the United States can be found on the The Charters of Freedom website of the National Archives.

The City University of New York offers several initiatives aimed at providing assistance to the community on constitutional rights. Citizenship Now!, perhaps the largest and most diverse program, offers individuals and families law services to help them navigate their path to U.S. citizenship. CUNY SPS has proudly supported the efforts of Citizenship Now! through technical support of webinars featuring top immigration attorneys and advocates.

The CUNY SPS’s Graduate Certificate in Immigration Law program is planning a webinar on the immigration implications of two recent Supreme Court decisions: DOMA/United States v. Windsor, in which the court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional; and the striking down of Prop. 8, California’s ballot measure banning same-sex marriage. More information will be posted on our Facebook “Events” page so check back often.

*Fun facts above can be found on the Oak Hill Publishing Company’s website ConsitutionFacts.com.
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