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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Children Ages 9-14 Can Enter Contest To Visit Peru with National Geographic

It’s interesting how one is introduced to a country or a culture. For example, I am always surprised to learn that many people only associate Ethiopia with famine and hungry children. But for my family and me, who for years have eaten almost monthly in Ethiopian restaurants, Ethiopia is a country of incredible food and the most beautiful people. Just the act of experiencing the food of another culture can be a door that leads to a more complex understanding of that culture. Because of my love of Ethiopian food, I looked for books about Ethiopia. One of my favorites is Saba: Under the Hyena’s Foot, 1846. This book is part of a great series called Girls From Many Lands, published by American Girl. Though this particular book has a few really mean characters in it, the book shows its Ethiopian characters to be complex, intelligent and coming from a rich cultural heritage.

I say all of this to say this. My first introduction to Peru was by way of Susana Baca, an African singer from Peru. So, my first impression of Peru was of it being beautifully black and it being full of beautiful music. I have, of course, learned about Peru’s native people and its history with Spain, but it is my first impression that caused me to love Peru even though I have never been there.


National Geographic Kids is sponsoring its annual contest-Hands-On Explorer Challenge for kids ages 9-14. The first year, the young winners of this contest went to The Galapagos Islands. The following year, a new batch of winners went to South Africa on safari and this year’s winners went to Australia.

The winners for 2009 will go to Peru and visit Machu Picchu, the famous Inca Ruins. Ten to fifteen winners will be selected and one parent of each winner gets to go along on this trip of a lifetime, with all expenses paid. Winners will travel with a National Geographic Team of professional explorers for 12 days and learn about forest medicine, Inca rituals and develop exploratory skills as well as receive a digital camera and learn how to take great photographs.

The deadline is in February 5, 2009. Go now to the link below and get all the necessary details and apply. Maybe I’ll see you in Peru!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Arden Theatre Presents Gee's Bend-The Play

My regular readers know that I have encouraged them and their families to visit The Philadelphia Museum of Art and see Gee’s Bend; The Architecture of the Quilt. I have posted several stories about this exhibition which closes on December 14, 2008.

There are many events happening around the Philadelphia area that complement this exhibition. One of these events is the play Gee’s Bend which is currently being staged at the Arden Theatre Company. I went on November 16th with my Girls' Friendly Society group to see this play which was written by Elizabeth Gregory Wilder.

What an amazing play about family and about how everyday struggles are linked to bigger struggles. Gee’s Bend is a town in Alabama where the play takes place during the Civil Rights Movement. The play revolves around two sisters and their mother and how their quilt-making is a metaphor (I’m learning about metaphors) for family, protection and the struggle to move forward. The youngest sister meets a man and gets married. He builds their home and they decide never to lock their doors. They face many challenges together from trying to get voting rights to protesting against other injustices. This married couple sometimes doesn’t see eye to eye, but it’s up to you to see what happens in their lives. See the play!!!

The play’s dialogue and its beautiful, moving music and how effectively these two things moved me, now makes me open to the idea of exploring what a playwright does. I would like to leave a heartfelt impression on an audience. Gee’s Bend director was also a woman; Eleanor Holdridge. How inspiring!!! Both Wilder and Holdridge are great role models. And if you’re interested in the theatre, there is so much more than just acting. You can write, direct, design the set, design the costumes and do the stage lighting to name a few things.

If you are looking for a play that’s entertaining, moving and full of history , then Gee’s Bend is for you. Tell your parents and the other big people in your lives to take you. They’ll enjoy it just as well.

I also want to thank the Arden Theatre for giving the members of the GFS the tickets for Gee's Bend. This was a phenomenal opportunity for us as young people. We thank you.

Gee’s Bend continues at the Arden Theatre until December 7, 2008. For more information call 215-922-1122.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The 2008 National Book Awards Teen Press Conference

I am fortunate enough to live in a city with many universities and great libraries. Because of this, I have had the opportunity to meet many great writers like Wole Soyinka, Adrienne Rich, Rita Dove and Sonia Sanchez to name a few. But, to be honest, I hadn’t read their works before I met them. I mainly went to see these writers because my mom adores them.

But last week, I had an amazing experience; my own literary experience that didn’t involve me following someone else’s literary interests. I participated in the annual National Book Awards Teen Press Conference in New York City. Since 1998, this organization has given students like me the opportunity to read one of the books of the finalists in the Young People’s Literature category . The National Book Foundation sent teen reporters, like me ,one of the finalists books to read before the press conference. Then on November 18, 2008, upon arriving at The New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, we received professional press kits, we got to meet the finalists and hear these writers read from their books. We also had the empowering honor to ask questions of these writers.

One of the National Book Awards finalists in the Young People’s Literature category was Laurie Halse Anderson. Last year, the sixth grade class at my school read Anderson’s book entitled Fever, 1793. What an incredible book. I am from Philadelphia and this particular book deals with the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 that killed a third of Philadelphia’s population. It’s kind of an out-of-body experience to read about a city you know and its popular heroes from another era. Fever,1793 like most of Anderson’s books, is a piece of historical fiction. Anderson makes history wonderful and inviting for teens.

This year Laurie Halse Anderson was nominated for her book Chains. Chains takes place during the American Revolutionary War and revolves around the character Isabel and her journey to Freedom. I will review this book next week and I’ll have photos from the press conference as well. But, again, this is another great read by Anderson. I was thrilled to meet her. She is so friendly and open. I even turned my mom on to her books.

The other finalists for the National Book Award in the Young People’s Literature category were Kathi Appelt for The Underneath( Atheneum),Judy Blundell for What I Saw and How I Lied(Scholastic), E. Lockhart for The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (Hyperion) and Tim Tharp for The Spectacular Now(Alfred A. Knopf). Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson is published by Simon and Schuster.

The winner in the Young People’s Literature genre was Judy Blundell. Congratulations!!

I want to especially thank Rebecca Keith, of the National Book Foundation, for allowing me to participate in the National Book Awards Teen Press Conference. I also want to thank my Tante Marva for accompanying me to New York for this great experience.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Hip Hop Speaks to Children; A Celebration of Poetry With A Beat

Hip Hop Speaks to Children ;

A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat
Edited by Nikki Giovanni
Published by Sourcebooks-Jabberwocky/2008
Reviewed by Sojourner Ahebee

We ,young people, need to be grateful for people like Nikki Giovanni because she always is looking for ways to engage us with fabulous poetry. Her latest book recently came out in stores. It is called Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat. The book also includes an audio CD. You have two great ways of experiencing this phenomenal book; you can read the works of 42 poets and you can listen to 30 performances of the 51 poems included in this anthology.

And what a range of poets-Langston Hughes, Sterling Brown,Kanye West,Maya Angelou, Common,Eloise Greenfield, Mos Def, Queen Latifah, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Lauren Hill and many more. This anthology really showcases the best of poetry that has a particular movement and beat that appeals especially to young people.
One of my favorite poems included in Hip Hop Speaks to Children; A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat is Ego Tripping by Nikki Giovanni herself. It basically talks about loving yourself and proclaiming how great you are. My favorite line in this poem is “I am so hip even my errors are correct” and my favorite stanza is:

I sowed diamonds in my back yard
My bowels deliver uranium
the filings from my fingernails are semi-precious jewels
On a trip north I caught a cold and blew
My nose giving oil to the arab world
I am so hip even my errors are correct
I sailed west to reach east and had to round off the earth as I went
The hair from my head thinned and gold was laid across three continents

Another one of my favorites poems and recordings included in this book is Ham 'N' Eggs by A Tribe Called Quest. This poem has lots of energy, enthusiasm, and it rhymes. I especially enjoyed Ham 'N' Eggs as it is delivered in a banging way by A Tribe Called Quest. I also enjoyed the poem Ladies First by Queen Latifah. This poem reaches out to young girls, teens, and women. This poem challenges females to demand something of themselves and to reject stereotypes, especially those that limit us . My favorite line in this poem is “I’m divine and my mind expands throughout the universe”. And you know Queen Latifah delivers it in her singular way.

It's the rhythm and the rhyme that unites all of these poets and poems. I really gained an appreciation, from experiencing Hip Hop Speaks to Children, that poetry is a oral medium; it's meant to be delivered with the voice. I highly recommend this book. It can be enjoyed by all ages levels. My grandfather recited along with the recording of Langston Hughes voice, Langston Hughes' poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers. My mom, a teacher, shared the poem Doubtless by Steve Ericson, with her fourth and fifth graders. My girlfriends and I, middle school students, did our interpretation of Nikki Giovanni's Ego Tripping and each of us felt so uplifted and inspired. I guarantee that this book will do the same for you.

Now go out and treat yourself to Hip Hop Speaks to Children; A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Quilts As Messengers of Freedom

My mother is a teacher and I love going to work with her when I’m off from school. She works with first graders and they are always so adorable. I have encouraged my mom to share with her students information about Gee’s Bend; The Architecture of the Quilt. This exhibition of the most incredibly beautiful and intricate quilts is currently on display at The Philadelphia Museum of Art until December 2008.

My mom’s students are amazing. They know where Gee’s Bend is on a map. They know why women quilted and what materials were used to make quilts. And they can name different quilt patterns-Log Cabin, Crown of Thorns, Flying Geese, Bear Paw, Lone Star, Nine Patch…. These first graders, during a lesson on patterns and shapes, created their own quilt designs and displayed them in the hallway of their school. Not only are other students able to see the first graders’ quilt projects, but there is information displayed on the wall about the Gee’s Bend Exhibition as well.

But, what most inspired me that day was the book my mom read to her class. Each week she reads a book with quilts as its theme. The day I was there, she read Under the Quilt of Night by Deborah Hopkinson. From this book, I , a seventh grader, and the first grade students learned how quilts were used as signals to run-away slaves to convey to them which houses were safe for them to enter and seek refuge on their journey North, to freedom. Some white abolitionists would hang a quilt, over a fence, in front of their house. Run-away slaves had been instructed to look for a certain pattern in the center of a quilt. This particular pattern would indicate to the run-way slaves that this was a house full of kind people, who would give them food and shelter until they moved on to their next destination on the Underground Railroad. How amazing!!!

Again, I urge you to go and visit Gee’s Bend; The Architecture of the Quilt at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

For more information contact the museum at 215-763-8100 or

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Girls Going Places; An Entrepreneurship Award Program for Females

I was the typical kid always begging my mother for money to buy this gadget or those pair of jeans or the best Ugg boots this side of Australia. My mom always gave the same response, “These aren’t priorities for me. My budget can only accommodate priorities.” One day, after one of my long, desperate begging sessions for money to go to the movies, my mom said you’re an African, where is your entrepreneurial spirit? What? Long story short, at age 11, I started my own greeting cards company. I mainly sell my cards at fairs and home shows and I have regular customers who call on me to make cards for them for all occasions. I even have a few cards in local, independent bookstores.

With help from my mom and aunt, I developed a business plan. I opened a bank account. I’m learning to appreciate the importance of saving money. I’m learning about interest. I'm ready to take on the world. My card business is not a Fortune 500 company yet, but I’m working on it.

This is why I am excited about Girls Going Places, the 9th Annual Entrepreneurship Award Program celebrating the spirit of the young, female entrepreneurs. Sponsored by the Guardian Life Insurance Company, this program rewards enterprising girls between the ages of 12-18.

Here’s more information from Guardian:
Guardian grants cash prizes to girls who demonstrate budding entrepreneurship; are taking the first steps toward financial independence; and making a difference in their schools and communities. Prizes are granted as follows: $10,000, first place; $5,000, second place; $3,000 third place; and twelve $1,000 finalist prizes รณ for a total of $30,000. Prizes are granted to help winners and finalists save for college and
continue their entrepreneurial pursuits. Teachers, parents, and community members are encouraged to nominate accomplished young female entrepreneurs between the ages of 12 and 18.
Adults can nominate girls — daughters, nieces, neighbors or students — by submitting a 750-word essay endorsing accomplished young female entrepreneurs. Nominees must also write a 250-word personal statement on entrepreneurship, leadership, financial independence, or giving back to the community.

Additional information about the program and nomination forms for the competition can be found at .

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Gee's Bend; The Architecture of the Quilt

I am from Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa. I am from the Baoule group which is a subgroup of the Akan people. If you know anything about Akan people, you know what great weavers they are. My house in Abidjan was full of weaved covers from my grandfather’s village.

My mother, who is American, had many Liberian friends while we lived in Cote d’Ivoire. Many of these Liberians were descendants of the African-American slaves who left the United States in the 1800’s and founded the country of Liberia. These former African-American slaves brought to Liberia their traditions, even the tradition of quilting and the tradition of passing the art of quilting down to another generation. So, the many Liberian refugees who were fleeing a civil war in their home came to Cote d’Ivoire with the skill of quilting. My mother had a friend, Mr. William, who made quilts for all of our beds in Abidjan. You could give him any design and he could do.

When I recently visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see its new exhibition, Gee’s Bend; The Architecture of the Quilt, I saw Africa. For us art is not art for its own sake. It’s functional. We wear it. We use it to keep our bodies warm. We use it to shield ourselves from the elements. We teach lessons of morals and history through it. And it just so happens what we create is absolutely, incredibly beautiful. The equally beautiful women, who created the quilts on display, used old clothing-jeans, cotton, and corduroy and looked at their physical environment and found inspiration from it and created these awesome quilts. Seventy-five of these quilts are on display at the museum until December.

I had the honor to meet some of the quilters from Gee’s Bend, Alabama, at the museum. Most of them learned how to quilt by watching their older family members quilt. They were great-grandmothers who had passed down their quilting knowledge to their children and grandchildren. They are highly intellectual women who believe the Lord sent them to do this work. You could tell these ladies felt uncomfortable being referred to as artists because what they do, like we do in many African countries, is create not for glory and applause, but because we have to- for survival.

The quilters from Gee’s Bend also have amazing voices. During the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s gala reception, these lovely ladies sang for us. It was truly touching. You could tell that their singing, like their quilt-making, belonged to their community.

I urge all my readers to tell your parents, grandparents and other family members about this amazing exhibition-Gee’s Bend; The Architecture of the Quilt. It will be at the Philadelphia Museum of Art until December 14, 2008.

Each week I will post a story related to events and programs connected to this exhibition as well as other quilting-related topics. I would like to thank the Philadelphia Museum of Art who showed amazing faith in me and allowed me to cover this exhibition as a member of the press. I want to give thanks to anyone who supported or sponsored Gee’s Bend and give thanks to the many people who believed in them!

For more information contact the Philadelphia Museum of Art at

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Parting The Waters-Swimmers of Color Making Waves

Did you know that less than one percent of competitive swimmers in the United States are people of color? Did you know that the drowning rates of people of color are three times higher than those for white children?

That’s why this past summer, my brother and I started swimming lessons with the Swim America program. Swim America is committed to giving the best swimming instruction to kids anywhere. I took lessons at an area university and I had a highly trained instructor. I will continue with my lessons throughout the year and you can, too. Have your parents contact Swim America to see where it is operating a program near you.

After the Olympics in Beijing, I am more excited than ever to improve my swimming and it’s not because of Michael Phelps. (I do like Michael.) It’s because of Cullen Jones, the African-American swimmer who won an Olympic gold medal in the 4X100 relay race. Check out Cullen’s video where he’s thanking his mom for supporting him over the years. Cullen is an incredible swimmer and he is using his Olympic fame to encourage children, especially children of color, to learn how to swim. Through the Make a Splash Foundation, he hopes to save many lives by persuading children of the importance of knowing how to swim.

There are a few swimmers of color on the scene who are truly inspiring. Besides Cullen Jones, there is Maritza Correia. She is the first African- American woman on an United Sates Olympic team. She won the silver medal at the Games in Athens in 2004.

Jenny Levison and Josh Waletzky are the producers and directors of an upcoming documentary called Parting the Waters.
“More than 50 years after landmark civil rights decisions opened schools and voting booths, fewer than 1% of competitive swimmers in the U.S. are black and Latino. Parting the Waters is the story of African-American championship swimmers Maritza Correia and Cullen Jones, and the young black and Latino swimmers coming up behind them –– as they challenge old myths, fears, and stereotypes to break down the last vestiges of segregation.”, is how they summarize this great project.

For more information, see the following sites and go out and make a splash.

Parting the Waters-
There's an interview with Jenny and Josh, the filmmakers of Parting the Waters ,on Participant Productions blog:

Swim America

The Make a Splash Foundation

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Path To My African Eyes -Q&A Interview

My regular readers know that I did a review of a great book, Path to My African Eyes, not too long ago. Well, the publisher of this book, Just Us Books, arranged for me to send my questions about the book and the writer to the writer herself. How fabulous is this? Her name is Ermila Moodley and this in my Q&A interview with her.
Questions=Sojourner Ahebee
Answers=Ermila Moodley

1. How closely is Path To My African Eyes based on your own personal experiences?

In Path to my African Eyes the narrator, Thandi Sobukwe, is a product of educated parents in a newly democratic country, whereas I grew up in poverty in apartheid South Africa. So my life has been quite different to hers. However, in the story Thandi confronts similar issues that have troubled me. The main one being finding one’s place and identity in a White dominated society.

2. When did you leave South Africa and why?

I left South Africa in my early twenties to experience living in a free society.

3. When I studied about Mahatma Gandhi, I learned about the Indian Community in South Africa. Tell me a little about this community.

Indians started arriving in South Africa in 1860 and were brought by the British to work as laborers in the sugar cane plantations. These Indians came willingly because they wanted to escape famine in India, and they were promised great opportunities. Once they arrived Indians were essentially treated as slaves. Living conditions were awful and many committed suicide. Later, wealthier Indians from India arrived in South Africa to set up businesses. These folks would not tolerate dehumanizing treatment from the ruling white population and fought hard for basic services for all Indians. When Mahatma Gandhi arrived in the early 1900’s he joined in the struggle for just treatment. Because of him Indians were better off than blacks under apartheid.

4. How do you feel about South Africa today? Do you think the country is moving forward?

I feel a tremendous sense of pride when I go to South Africa these days. Even though there are still a lot of problems to sort out, it’s great to see that every human being is expected to be treated with respect. It’s wonderful to walk into public libraries and parks and see a mix of races. It’s great to go to whichever beach you like, or to walk into any restaurant and know that you are welcome.
The country is definitely moving forward. In the past, most black kids dropped out of school before their teens. Today, most kids go all the way to high school. In the past, most of the universities had predominantly white students. Today, the great majority of students are black. That in itself is a reflection of the country moving forward. In a few years these students will join the workforce, increasing the number of university educated black adults in society. Isn’t that an obvious indicator of the country moving forward? I can name other examples too, such as the vast improvement in infrastructure in the poorest areas, etc. But I’ll leave it at that.

5. Though my mother is American, I am originally from Cote d’Ivoire, so on several levels I really understand Thandi. I am constantly telling people that Africa is not a country, but a continent. How can we as Africans in America, help to change the image of Africa from being only a bleak place?

That’s a tough one. I wish I had a simple answer. I guess my approach has been:
a) Just correcting people whenever the topic comes up;
b) Through my books.

6. Are you a teacher? If you are, how does being a teacher help you as a writer?

Yes, I’m an elementary school teacher and this year I have third grade. Teaching gives me a lot of insight into what kids know and what their interests are. Seeing and interacting with my audience everyday helps me connect with them more easily in my writing.

7. Is this your first book? How are you enjoying being a writer? When did you start writing?

Path to My African Eyes is my first book with Just Us Books. I’ve also written a middle grade book called Under the African Sun, which is set in South Africa, and was published in 2003.
I love writing because it provides me with a creative outlet. I started writing about ten years ago.

8. How do people feel about your book in the United States and South Africa?

There has been a lot of excitement about my book in the US. Kids at my school come up to me and tell me how much they enjoyed reading it. I was pleased with the reviews it got in Booklist and School Library Journal. It isn’t available in South Africa yet, unfortunately.

9. What projects are you working on?

I am working on a book set in the early 1960’s in South Africa. It tells the story of the political awakening of a young teenager. The Rivonia Trial, which is the trial that resulted in Nelson Mandela’s life sentence, is the backdrop to the story.

I’m a 7th grader and my blog-Sojo’s Trumpet- is for young people. What advice can you give me and my readers who are interested in becoming a writer like you?

Well, I think you are already on the road to success. My advice is, exercise that writing brain everyday. Keeping a blog is one great way to do this. I also suggest you keep a notebook with you at all times. Whenever you observe something that gets your attention, or when ideas come into your mind, you should write it down. I can’t tell you how precious your impressions as a teenager are. When you are older you won’t remember the exact emotions and thoughts you have now. Try your best to record these.

Another piece of advice: Read lots of good books. Read with a writer’s eye. Take note of how good writers communicate ideas and information.

Other than that, just enjoy the process.

Good luck to you!
And thanks for your wonderful review on your blogspot.

Ermila Moodley

Monday, September 8, 2008

Making Art in the Big City

Some people are afraid of big cities, but I’m not. I love living in the city because where there are lots of people, great things are happening and there are many opportunities for young people to do amazing things.

For example, how many of you think you have artistic talent? Are you into painting, printmaking, sculpture, pottery, murals…? Well, if you live in a big city, there are many programs and art schools and museums that can begin to train you as an artist right now. In Philadelphia, the following places have great art programs for young people, between the ages of 5-17. Check them out. Some are free like the Fleisher Art Memorial, some require a fee and others like the Moore College of Art offer scholarships through your schools. Be Proactive!!!

One of my brother’s favorite illustrators is E.B. Lewis. Lewis has illustrated many books and is one of the most popular book illustrators of all time. He began his art career as a little boy going to Saturday art classes at Temple University. Just imagine and do it!!!!

1. The Samuel Fleisher Art Memorial
719 Catharine Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147

2. The Moore College of Art and Design
20th Street and The ParkwayPhiladelphia, PA 19103-1179

3. The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
118-128 N. Broad St.Philadelphia, PA 19102
Children and Family Programs- 215-972-2061
Art Program for High School Students-215-972-7632

4. The Philadelphia Museum of Art
26th Street and the Benjamin Franklin ParkwayPhiladelphia, PA 19130
Children and Family Programming

Monday, September 1, 2008

A Young Preacher From Georgia

I watched Barack Obama’s speech last Thursday during the National Democratic Convention. I watched the speech with my family, including my grandparents. We were very proud of Senator Obama and we thought he gave a great speech.

My family and friends, though, are still debating about whether it was right for him to only refer to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as that young preacher from Georgia, especially since Senator Obama gave his acceptance speech on the anniversary of Dr. King’s I Have A Dream Speech.

Anyway, all of these discussions led to other discussions about Dr. King. Though I’m almost 13, I thought I knew a lot about Dr. King. I learned that I don’t. My uncle was visiting this weekend to repair my computer and he shared with my mother some of the sites which have speeches by Dr. King. I heard and watched some of his speeches against war-against the war in Vietnam. I am against the war in Iraq-any war. I had to leave my country of Cote d’Ivoire because of war. I saw the Vietnam Memorial when I visited Washington, D.C. this past spring. All of those names of the dead soldiers made me so sad. I am so proud of Dr. King and of how he took a stand. Dr. King quotes the Italian poet Dante in one of his speeches.

The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality.- Dante

Please listen to a part of some of Dr. King's speeches on war.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Path To My African Eyes By Ermila Moodley

Author: Ermila Moddley
Publisher: Just Us Books,Inc.
ISBN: 978-1-933491-09-7
Price: $10.95
Reviewer: Sojourner Ahebee

Path To My African Eyes by Ermila Moodley, published by Just Us Books, deals with the issues of cultural identification and self- love. I thought these were interesting topics to write about because of the global movement of people.

The main character, in Path To My African Eyes, is Thandi Sobukwe. She is a fourteen year-old high school freshman from South Africa. She had to move from Cape Town, South Africa to Buena Vista, California. The reason that Thandi and her family had to move was because her father, who is a professor, got a job to teach in California. Thandi is excited about her new school, country, and culture.

When Thandi first arrives at her new school, some of the students ask her ignorant questions about Africa. She makes it clear that she is from the country of South Africa and that Africa is a vast continent. Also two of her male classmates tease her because she has short hair. They comment by asking Thandi if she is a boy or girl or male or female. She also doesn’t quite fit in with the African- American students either. Her discomfort about herself is both cultural and racial.

Once she arrives in California she meets two friends, at her new school, named Chrystal and Jennifer. These girls are white Americans whose physical features Thandi wants and admires. After one day with them, she completely wants to change her image. She urges her parents to buy her a bike, new clothes, a boogie board, a surfboard, and she sneaks out and relaxes her hair. Her hair is initially short and kinky and her mother preferred it that way for political and cultural reasons.

This book is about the discovery of loving and cherishing yourself, especially when you are in an environment that doesn’t always affirm who you are. I think teens all around the world could relate and enjoy this book. Ms. Moodley extremely connects with the reader not only because the book is written in first person but because these cultural issues of identity are issues many teens face in life. I urge anyone to read this book because I’m sure you will love it and learn a thing or two about yourself and a little about South Africa.
I plan to interview the author, Ermila Moodley, in the near future.

Here's the link to Just Us Books. Check out their other great books.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

High School Student Philip Hayes Wins National Debate and $150,000

Last night at the National Constitution Center, in Philadelphia, the Now Debate This! competition was held. As I shared yesterday, this was the final round and the finalists were Malik Neal of Pennsylvania and Philip Hayes of Texas. It was so exciting to witness a live debate and in one of the grand auditoriums of the National Constitution Center.
The moderator of the debate was Professor Robert George of Princeton University. He was quite impressive. Also there were Dr. Josephine M. Templeton and Dr. John Templeton, who first envisioned the whole idea of young people learning about historical figures like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and debating about their contributions. Ms. Mary Hagy, the executive producer of Now Debate This! gave a warm welcome.
Malik argued that Lincoln was the greatest president and Philip argued that George Washington was the greatest president. I was amazed at how articulate they were and how much knowledge that had managed to keep in their heads. They were both inspirational to me and my friends-Daniel, Gideon, Brandon and Kiera and my brother Auguste. We are all 13 years old or younger and we might just be a participant in Now Debate This! in the future.

Today on Fox News and Friends it was announced that Philip was winner of the debate. He won a$150,000.00 in scholarship money and Malik won $50,000.00 in scholarship money. Here is the link to the Fox News and Friends show with Malik, Philip and Dr. John Templeton. Remember, if you know someone who will be a junior in high school this year, they too can try to participate in this great debating program.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

High School Debaters Compete to Win $150,000.00 in College Scholarships

This past Saturday, I went to an event-an reenactment of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass speeches-at the famed Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia. This was the church started by Richard Allen. Anyway, at this event ,I met Malik Neal ,who is 16 years old and a senior at West Catholic High School.

Malik is a finalist in Now Debate This!, a national competition where students have to debate American history topics. Students from all over the country entered this competition and there were several rounds of competitions, but now the contest is down to Malik from Philly and Philip Hayes from Texas.

The final debate is tonight at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia at 7:00 p.m. Malik will argue that Abraham Lincoln was the best US President and Philip will argue that George Washington was the best president. The public decides the winner. You can attend the event live and for free at the Constitution Center or watch online and vote. The winner gets $150,000.00 in scholarship money and the runner-up gets $50,000.00 in scholarship money.

Malik Neal reminds me a lot of James Farmer, Jr., the youngest debater in the movie The Great Debaters.

Now Debate This! is produced by Pinnacle Performance. Mary Hagy is the President of this organization which specializes in heritage education.

For more information and to see videos of Malik and the other contestants
go to
* Portrait of Lincoln by Robert Shetterly

The National Constitution Center
525 Arch Street
Philadelphia, PA

Monday, August 18, 2008

Massive and Majestic; The Paintings of Kehinde Wiley

New York is fabulous and Harlem is vibrant ! As you know, I was planning to go to New York to see the Kehinde Wiley exhibition-The World Stage:Africa Lagos-Dakar. –at the Studio Museum in Harlem. It is absolutely magnificent. All the paintings were created in 2008, so this is his most recent work. For those unfamiliar with Kehinde Wiley, he is the master of blending the new world with the old. He does these massive paintings of contemporary black and brown men in their urban clothing.

My favorite paintings of his are Hunger, Rubin Singleton and Three Wise Men. Kehinde Wiley’s work is very large and very detailed. In Hunger, you feel the pain of the young men in this painting. You feel this through their eyes. One thing about Kehinde Wiley, his paintings are full of strong looking, powerful males of color. They look majestic.
According to the Studio Museum “Wiley is known for his stylized paintings of young, urban African-American men in poses borrowed from eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European figurative paintings, a practice he started in the early 2000s while an artist in residence at the Studio Museum. Over the last two years, Wiley has expanded his project by living and working abroad; he temporarily relocates to different countries and opens satellite studios to become familiar with local culture, history and art. His “The World Stage” series is the result of these travels.”

Born in Los Angles in 1977 and educated At Yale University, Kehinde Wiley is based in New York City. His work has the feeling of old master portrait painters such as Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough , Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and Titian. The style of Kehinde Wiley’s work is both contemporary and traditional and the black male if always his focus; black males that are commanding.

Kehinde Wiley will be at the Studio Museum, to speak ,sometime in October. You may contact the museum to get more details. I want to thank Amanda, from the Studio Museum, and other staff members for the warm reception they gave me and my Aunt Mona. And I thank my aunt for thinking that it was important that I see this museum and this artist. Thanks ,Tante Mona.

Do try to visit this museum and see Kehinde Wiley because seeing his artwork is an opportunity you don’t want to miss. The exhibition runs through October 26, 2008.

The Studio Museum in Harlem
144 west 125th Street
New York, New York

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Ain't Love Grand

When I started this blog, I had decided I would stay away from politics,even though my mom always says that everything is political. Though I am not old enough to vote, I am an Obama supporter. I also like the image of Barack and Michelle. I like to see a couple of color who just oozes togetherness. I think this is a needed image. Have a look at this video of Barack and Micelle. Just click on the link.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The African Presence in the Americas

I’m back on the block! I’ve been away at camp. This was my first overnight camp experience and it was great. I’m ready to roll with the info. My city of Philadelphia, like many cities in the United States, has a growing and diverse Spanish-speaking community. I find this fact very exciting. I play kickball with a couple of boys from the Dominican Republic. I use to go to school with a boy from Costa Rica. I love that I can easily get tamales wrapped in corn husk (Mexican-style) or have tamales wrapped in plantain leaves ( Honduras-style). I love that The Philadelphia Art Museum just had a major exhibition of Frida Kahlo’s paintings. Frida Kahlo was a great Mexican painter. You already know some of the Spanish-speaking music I listen to. ( Check out the sidebar on the left and listen, again,-Lila Downs and the B-Side Players.)
I am slowly getting an appreciation of just how diverse these communities really are. For example, I don’t think most non-Latin Americans know that there are communities of people of African descent in Mexico, Central and South America. On of my favorite writers is Veronica Chambers. She is an African-American of Panamanian descent-her family is from Panama. Veronica Chambers writes about everything including Latin communities in the U.S. Give a read-out to Marisol and Magdalena: The Sound of Our Sisterhood, Quinceanera Means 15 and Celia Cruz; Queen of Salsa. These are great books that feature African-Hispanic characters.

Also, The African-American Museum in Philadelphia is featuring a special exhibition called The African Presence in Mexico; From Yanga to the Present. This exhibition celebrates the African legacy in Mexico and the Americas. The exhibition closes October 25th.

The African-American Museun

701 Arch Street

Philadelphia, PA 19106


Friday, July 25, 2008

Pump Up The Violin

When I played the violin, all I played was Bach, Beethoven, Schuman, Mozart – the old heads. Which was great, but a lot more can be played on the violin. Damien and Tourie Escobar, the two brothers who formed the duo Nuttin’ But Stringz, are showing just that and are attracting young , urban kids to violin music and violin playing.
Damien and Tourie are from New York City and started playing the violin when they were 7 and 8 years old. In their tough neighborhood, it wasn’t easy moving through the streets with violins. Despite great obstacles , they ended up getting accepted to Juilliard-how about that. Juilliard is one to the best music schools in the world. They played in New York City subway stations for pocket change.
“We would play the trains and we had a captive audience. We broke down the trains on a marketing level. Damien chose the C train for its demographic and I tackled the A train. We raked in over $300 each in 2 hours and we did it 3 times a week.” Damien adds, “The subway is the equivalent of playing several performance hours each week and we were able to refine our technique before a live audience.”
It was their subway playing that got them noticed. They were able to get a manager and a record deal. Nuttin’ But Stringz plays classical music, hip-hop, jazz and R&B. Please listen to Broken Sorrow and Thunder to hear how amazing they are.
Vanessa-Mae is another young violinist whose style of playing is attracting young audiences to the violin. Click on the sidebar to the left to hear Nuttin’ But Stringz
and Vanessa Mae.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Stone Soup; The Magazine By Young Writers and Artists

Hey you guys………! Did you know there are a lot of magazines for young people which are looking for your poems, short stories and artwork? One of my favorites is Stone Soup Magazine for Young Writers and Artists. It’s a favorite because I had one of my poems published in Stone Soup. And guess what, you get paid on top of having your work published in an international magazine. When my poem was published, I got a kick out of going to bookstores and libraries and picking up a copy of the Stone Soup Magazine in which my poem appeared.
Stone Soup Magazine has been publishing the writing and artwork of young people, up to the age of 13, since 1973. You can go into any major bookstore and public library and find a copy. Stone Soup Magazine is published six times a year and is distributed throughout the world.
Do check out its website. It’s amazing. You can read many stories and poems
from children who come from many places. You will see incredible artwork. You can even hear some writers read their work.
All the information you need about how to submit your work can be found on the website. So, go have a look and get started now making your voice heard.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Kindred Cool-A Photo Exhibition by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn

In about a week, I'll be going away to camp. But, when I return, I'm heading straight for the Big Apple-New York-to see Kehinde Wiley's paintings at the Studio Museum in Harlem(*see previous posts on Wiley and Studio Museum )and the photography of Laylah Amatullah Barrayn.

Ms. Barrayn is a photojournalist and her new exhibition is called Kindred Cool . It will be shown at the MoCADA-The Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts. What a mouthful, huh? Kindred Cool is a series of portraits inspired by three friends who loved jazz-the artist Romare Bearden, the novelist Richard Wright and the essayist Albert Murray.
I know the work of Romare Bearden. I haven't read anything by Ralph Ellison. My mom said in the next couple of years I will definitely be reading his book Invisible Man. (Has anyone read it yet? And I have not read anything by Albery Murray. I put both writers on my Future Reading List. These are books I'll read sometime in the future.)
"I've known the works of these giants individually. However, I was introduced to the friendship between Bearden, Ellison and Murray through Horace Porter's book Jazz Country: Ralph Ellison in America," recalled Barrayn, who discovered the book as a student while at NYU in 2002. “I've always been moved by jazz, particularly as it relates to the Black experience in America. I wanted to make a contribution to the ever-continuing conversation on jazz."
"It was important for me to show the diversity of what I like to call the ‘jazz society - not only musicians who create the music, but those individuals who engage the music and perpetuate the culture through an array of ways: writing, visual art, dance. I also wanted to highlight people who are inspired by the music,” explained Barrayn.

Kindred Cool opens August 3rd and closes September 14th, at
The Foyer Gallery
80 Hanson Place
Brooklyn, New York 11217
(Around the corner from the
Brooklyn Academy Of Music)
Check it out if you can with your family and let me know how you experienced it.
*Look to the left for some of the work of Romare Bearden.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Speaking Me; A Youth Anthology

Osbey Books, Inc.



Teen Poetry/ Short Stories

5 Stars

Speaking Me, edited by Pam Osbey, is an anthology primarily of poetry and a few short stories and full of the exuberance of youth. Many of the writers in this unique collection are teens and they share lessons and explore very honestly some of the difficult realities teens,regardless of class or ethnicity, deal with daily.I had such a strong emotional response to the short story "A Single Shard" by Ericka Dickerson. It deals with some of the family hardships teens face like the deterioration of the family and teen suicide. The author's style of writing is simple, yet very direct and powerful."Red Black Green" by Gabriel C. Tyler is one of my favorite poems in Speaking Me. This poem addresses issues of racism, stereotypes,expectations and self-love. I love reading this poem aloud because it speaks a personal truth to me, but it is full of rhythm and energy.Here are a few lines:…

So we refuse to be labeled by stereotypes

And seen as just crack heads and hypes

Just babies raising babies

We will not be limited to being boxed up and locked up,


For we transcend limitations

We are intricate revolution

We are notes in the key of jazz….

Other poems like "Bruised Heart" by Tamasia Johnson which address physical abuse by a loved one or " You Say Sorry… Little Girl" by Marah Langellier ,which challenges readers to see a homeless girl as their child, are just a few examples of talented young people voicing their concerns using the power of poetry and other literary forms.

The book is available online:

Friday, July 18, 2008

Writing in Paul Robeson's House

I'm having the most awesome writing experience this summer. I'm taking an intense writing workshop sponsored by The Teen Writers Academy. ( Click link to learn more about this program ) My writing instructor is Valerie Harris and she is amazing because she is making me feel more empowered as a writer. But the most wonderful thing about this writing academy is where it takes place which is Paul Robeson's House, in West Philadelphia. Paul Robeson is a hero of my grandfather and I'm appreciating his legacy more and more.
Please check out the link to this video. You may get a sense of his power. Mr. Robeson was a real Renaissance Man. He was a respected athlete, Columbia Law School graduate, actor, concert singer, and a political activist. (You have to scroll down to down to video.) Because of the positions he took in support of people who were oppressed in the United States and around the world, some members of the US government punished him. They said he was unAmerican. They took away his passport and he couldn't travel to perform and make a living. He was loved around the world
The house I have been writing in, was his sister's house and his last residence before his death. His spirit is still here and I use it as my muse.
*The painting at the top is by James Marcellus Watkins.