Tuesday, May 22, 2018

I Don't Want A Woman Teacher

Pan African History teacher, Obi Egbuna, Jr., and LionHeart at the first Sankofa Homeschool Graduation.

"I don't want a woman for my teacher," LionHeart said to me.  It stopped me in my tracks.  I'm a homeschool parent, his first teacher, but you don't want a woman for a teacher! When I turned around he could see the emotions in my eyes.  So he started trying to explain himself a little more.  "Well, mom, I don't mean it like that," he corrected.  "I just want Baba Balvin to stay.  Mom, he let us use a blow torch!"  It seemed the blow torch was symbolic of all the things that a man understands about what boys needs to do and experience.  So, instead of getting all in my feelings, I started to think about what he was really saying.  I knew he loved me to the moon.  But on Fridays, that was his day to be taught by what he would one day become, a man, a husband, a father, and perhaps, a business owner.  On Fridays, the Sankofa Homeschool Collective, meets for 20 weeks out of the school year.  We find people in our community who are passionate about what they do and we seek them out to instruct our children.  Along the way, something very unique happened.  More than half of our instructors are men! This is very unusual in an educational setting, even in homeschool cooperatives.  Then I thought a little further and realized that on Fridays every single one of  LionHeart's teachers is a man.  Wow!

Metals Works & Jewelry Making Class

Baba Balvin introducing the blow torch.

Baba Balvin, founder and owner of Balando Designs, teaches the art of metal works and jewelry making using techniques such as beading, wire work and copper etching.  On the very first day of class each child created a beautiful necklace.  His class was so popular, we had to offer it twice.  He quickly became a favorite teacher of the students.

Pan African History Class

Baba Obi making a point about the Bombing of the Move Organization.
Baba Obi has been teaching Lionheart since he was 5 years old.  From performing in plays with Mass Emphasis History and Theatre Company, to memorizing all 55 African countries, Pan African History has been weaved into his being.  This is not just a history class to check off the homeschool requirement box.  LionHeart is learning that he has an obligation to carry on the work of the great men and women leaders who came before him.

Junior Mastermind Class

This class was all about expanding the mind through brain games and critical thinking.  Baba MenaqAmurr is a professor of Psychology, founder of Mind on the Matter, and will be soon publishing his 5th book, Practical Psychology 101: A psychological manual for Black Loved Matters and all other movements.

Baba Menaq brain training with critical thinking tools.

Frederick Douglas Writing Club

Baba Got Bars, Baba Bomai,

This class was taught by Baba Bomani, founder of Baba Got Bars. He is an accomplished writer, poet, teacher and hip hop artist who understands boys.  He is the father of three, including twin boys and he gets them.  The boys learn to write through the study of the Autobiography of Frederick Douglas, boy-friendly literature, mind-mapping and other multi-sensory approaches.

Boys Construction Class

While this class technically took place on a Tuesday and was not a part of the Sankofa line-up, it was still an instance where he was being taught by a man with more than 30 years experienced as a tradesman.

African Drumming Master Teacher

Circa 2013 at the DC Watermelon Festival.  LionHeart is pictured with his teacher and mentor Baba M and his best friend.

Drum class has become a part of his soul.  It is the highlight of his Friday, the highlight of his week and the weekend when there is rehearsal for the performing companies.  I had to beg and plead with LionHeart to attend summer camp two years ago.  He didn't want to miss rehearsal.  Mountain biking, swimming, zip lining, it didn't matter. He didn't want to miss rehearsal. I couldn't believe it.  He has a special connection with his favorite teacher who gets him.  Baba Mahiri (or Baba M) knows how to pull the genius out of children.  As he recently said, after teaching them and getting to know them for years, he understands how their minds work.  Drum class is not just a class, but it is a place where young boys grow into men.

Prepping a drum

Here he sits, long after rehearsal has ended, hanging out with the older brothers and prepping a drum.

Birthright 2017 ~ One of the Lead Djembe players for Farafina Denu
For a young boy who lost his father at age 7, Fridays (and Tuesday) must represent something truly amazing to his spirit and I had no idea until that day.  Now, instead of being upset, I wanted to cry because I could really feel where he was coming from. He is truly blessed to have so many men as consistent teachers in his life. I know this is crucial for males.  I am even more grateful for the Sankofa and Farafina Kan community and the men who are a part of it.

A mural in Cambridge, Md., my hometown.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Normal Isn't Real

"The best part of school for me was being done with it."  That quote from the film Normal Isn't Real really stuck with me.  Imagine if you are a child and five days a week for seven hours a day you have to go to a place that makes you feel like crap and no one gets you.  Imagine what that does to a child's self-esteem and mental health.  According to Normal Isn't Real, 1-5 children have a learning difference and don't receive the support they need in school.  Instead, they are made to feel dumb, ostracized and full of shame.  Every educator, parent or anyone who touches the lives of children, should see this film.

LeDerick Horne, myself and a fellow homeschool mom at the DC premiere.

LeDerick Horne

Imagine intentionally putting yourself in situations that could result in the loss of your life.  That was what LeDerick Horne did to escape his feelings of torment about being different in school.  Today, Horne, who is featured in this film, is a successful author, poet, public speaker and disability advocate.  He earned a BA in mathematics with a Fine Arts minor from New Jersey City University and also studied mathematics at Middlesex County College.  He has also written a book Empowering Students with Hidden Disabilities:  A Path to Pride and Success.  Horne said that something that would have made a huge difference in his life -- having a successful mentor who also had a learning difference.  One of his biggest issues was struggling with low self-esteem.  But, his life changed when he had a shift in perspective and began to embrace his differences.  He learned the importance of self-advocacy and positioning himself in places that played to his strengths.

The Director

Krys Kornmeier, the Director of Normal Isn't Real, discovered her own son had learning differences and ADHD 20 years ago.  What she discovered along the way to finding the resources that her son needed is that many children with the same issues as her son are often highly creative and some of our most successful leaders in every field. "But these same issues can result in early school failures that spiral into a loss of self -esteem and derail a bright future. A disproportional number of youths in correctional facilities have been diagnosed with LD and ADHD issues."

Vision for the Film

The vision for the film was not about scientific brain research, but to allow a window into the everyday life experiences of four people who struggled with learning differences and ADHD, yet grew up to be successful. The four unique individuals in the film talk about their lives, their talents, their frustrations and the strategies they used to become successful. Through their unique stories the film aims to promote understanding and most importantly acceptance through real life examples of successful people with learning differences and ADHD.

Mastering Yourself

One of the keys to success as pointed out in this film is the mastery of self.  You have to know yourself and your strengths.  When children are younger, they need parents, educators and the community to advocate for them.  This gets easier as you get older.  Embracing your weaknesses is just as important as knowing your strengths.  Horne said it took him 5 years to finish community college.  But he did it! Confronting challenges, managing them, seeking help and utilizing disability resources is key.  Finding support from others who learn differently is important as well.  A recurring theme in the film was that finding something that you are really good at positively impacts everything else you do.

Support the film and host a screening.  For more information, click here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

No You Can't Have a Tattoo!

His father's name in Adinkra symbols that personify his essence.

He knew I was opposed to tattoos and so was his father.  Where was this coming from? I know, those darn rappers, basketball players and football players.  Peer pressure too, that's it.  Why in the world do you need a tattoo, I asked over and over again? I want something to represent my father, he replied repeatedly.  I'm thinking that a picture should be enough.  Besides his father and I had many conversations about our disdain for tattoos and pierced ears on men.  But he wanted it for his 17th birthday.  I had no intention of giving him permission, but I went along for the ride.

The Research

In 2015, KingMan completed a rigorous 6-month rites of passage that included the study of African proverbs and Adinkra symbols.  Adinkra symbols originated in Gyaman, a former kingdom in today’s Cote D’Ivoire.  In the 19th century the Asante people began painting symbols of Gyamans (former king) on a cloth.  Adinkra means goodbye or farewell in the Twi language of the Akan people.  These cloths are worn during special occasions.  These Adinkra symbols express themes that relate to history, beliefs and philosophy of the Akan people.  Adinkra symbols have a rich proverbial meaning.  In doing his research he pulled out his Rites book and began researching the symbols and selecting specific symbols that personified the essence of his father.  Okay, so now KingMan was not  playing fair.  He was appealing to my intellectual, love of history, African cultural and meaning weakness.

The Artist

Unbeknownst to me, he had already asked his childhood friend, who was like a sister to him, to start creating the art for his tattoo.  These two grew up together.  The only time he played with his art supplies that I kept stocked in our home was when Yetunde came to visit.  Today, Yetunde is an amazing artist who was accepted into one of the nation's top art schools.  Now there was layered meaning to his request.  I felt my knees wobbling.

The artist all grown up.

Yes, this is one of Yetunde's creations.  She is amazing, creative, smart, athletic and humble.  All of this is important when choosing an artist who will create something so meaningful.  You can find her work on Instagram at Yesap. I digress.

The Finished Art

KingMan had really been working on me and I was teetering, but still not there.  Tattoos are so permanent.  He wanted it on his forearm and I'm thinking about the company picnic.  What will your boss think? He replied, "Mom I'm going to be an engineer and have my own firm."  Ouch.  He really knows what to say.  He could be a politician too because he's such the negotiator!  I'm not going to lie, when he revealed the art work, I paused in mid-sentence and could not keep my mouth from dropping open. How could I say no? It was absolutely divine.  It was unique.  It was meaningful.  Yetunde had spelled out his father's name in Adinkra symbols that personified the essence of his father.  I was done. I was a complete knock out.  He had won me over.  Until we reached the tattoo shop.

The Big Reveal

Of course there was one more debate to be had.  This time it was over the size of the tattoo.  KingMan wanted 10 inches and I wanted 4 inches (smaller of course).  This debate raged on for about an hour in the tattoo shop while he waited his turn.  So we decided to allow Baba Mahiri to decide what size.  Baba M (as he is affectionately known) a master West African percussionist, is his drum professor and mentor.  He's known him since he was 7 years old.  We trusted his wisdom.  Baba M replied to our text with 6 inches - a compromise, right in the middle.  Then I played myself.  I sent Baba M a text of the art work.  He thought it was breathtaking and asked what it meant.  When I told him, he replied, well make it 12 inches!! The battle was officially lost.  I lovingly gave in because in truth, I could not really be upset about something that meant so much to KingMan.  More importantly, it would be a daily reminder of his father whom he lost at the tender age of 13.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Olokun of the Galaxy - A Book Review

Olokun of the Galaxy is a poetry and visual arts book written by award-winning author Esther Iverem.  The book centers around an African spirit of the ocean who protects the ocean and honors the Maafa (middle passage) and all those millions who died during the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade.

When I initially picked up the book and started reading, I had no idea what was going on and neither did my son.  However, after reading the background, it all made sense.  Context is everything.  The opportunity to review this book is quite divine.  As a part of our homeschool we are studying world religion and African spiritual systems.  So it was no accident that I received this book.

Olokun is no ordinary children's book.  It's history, astronomy, oceanography, science fiction, art and religion all rolled into one.  One reading will hardly scratch the surface.  So vast are the layers, that Olokun must be read once for visualization, again for vocabulary, then history and so on.  It's so rich that a unit study around the book could last a week or a semester.  Olokun will have  readers thinking deeply about the earth and our responsibility to it.

Olokun, African Spirit of the Deepest Ocean

I'm not sure I would read this with a younger child because of the graphic descriptions around the Maafa.  I'd say middle school and up.  Esther Iverem, who is also an artist and curator, developed Olokun to feature a series of art figures she creates from reclaimed pants (pictured above).  These award-winning "pant dolls" have been exhibited across the US since 2012.  It is difficult to find African American literature for young children that weaves African history, nature and fantasy, says Iverem. "I am excited to see Olokun of the Galaxy be a story that gives children a narrative that combines historical fact and fantasy, educates about protecting Earth and explores mysteries of the universe."

This review is a part of the 5th Annual Multicultural Book Day.  See more information below:

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/18) is in its 5th year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.  
Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2018 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. 
2018 MCBD Medallion Sponsors

2018 Author Sponsors
Author Janet Balletta, Author Susan BernardoAuthor Carmen Bernier-Grand, Author Tasheba Berry-McLaren and Space2Launch, Bollywood Groove Books, Author Anne BroylesAuthor Kathleen Burkinshaw, Author Eugenia Chu, Author Lesa Cline-Ransome, Author Medeia Cohan and Shade 7 Publishing, Desi Babies, Author Dani Dixon and Tumble Creek Press, Author Judy Dodge Cummings, Author D.G. Driver, Author Nicole Fenner and Sister Girl Publishing, Debbi Michiko Florence, Author Josh Funk, Author Maria Gianferrari, Author Daphnie Glenn, Globe Smart Kids, Author Kimberly Gordon Biddle, Author Quentin Holmes, Author Esther Iverem, Jennifer Joseph: Alphabet Oddities, Author Kizzie Jones, Author Faith L Justice , Author P.J. LaRue and MysticPrincesses.com, Author Karen Leggett Abouraya, Author Sylvia Liu, Author Sherri Maret, Author Melissa Martin Ph.D., Author Lesli Mitchell, Pinky Mukhi and We Are One, Author Miranda Paul, Author Carlotta Penn, Real Dads Read, Greg Ransom, Author Sandra L. Richards, RealMVPKids Author Andrea Scott, Alva Sachs and Three Wishes Publishing, Shelly Bean the Sports QueenAuthor Sarah Stevenson, Author Gayle H. Swift Author Elsa Takaoka, Author Christine Taylor-Butler, Nicholette Thomas and  MFL Publishing  Author Andrea Y. Wang, Author Jane Whittingham  Author Natasha Yim
We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.
TWITTER PARTY Sponsored by Scholastic Book Clubs: MCBD’s super-popular (and crazy-fun) annual Twitter Party will be held 1/27/18 at 9:00pm.
Join the conversation and win one of 12-5 book bundles and one Grand Prize Book Bundle (12 books) that will be given away at the party! http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/twitter-party-great-conversations-fun-prizes-chance-readyourworld-1-27-18/
Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta
Free Empathy Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teacher-classroom-empathy-kit/

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Mindshift - Dr. Barbara Oakley

As the mother of a Right-brain, non-traditional learner, I knew that I had to see Dr. Barbara Oakley lecture. She flunked out of math in elementary school.  In fact, she said in third grade that she just gave up on trying to learn multiplication tables.  But here's the twist, despite her late arrival to the mathematical scene (she enrolled in remedial Algebra at age 26) she now holds a PhD in Systems Engineering from Oakland University and teaches the largest Massive Open Online Courts (MOCO) in the world:  Mindshift Learning How to Learn.  This course has been taken by 1.8 million people in more than 200 countries, according to an article in the New York Times.  This course takes the science of neurosciences and shows viewers how to use it to "learn how to learn."  I plan to enroll myself for the new year.

I was fascinated by the proposition that you have the ability to learn anything if you learn it in a way that makes sense to your brain.  Just sit with that for a minute.  YOU CAN LEARN ANYTHING.  Homeschoolers intuitively know this and do not accept, "your child can't do x, y or z."  We have the luxury of taking as much time that's needed to master the material without rushing or wasting precious times for standardized tests.  I digress.  As I sat in the lecture sponsored by the Smithsonian Associates, I wondered to myself, "What if I had learned math in the way that made sense to my brain?"  When I was a little girl, I thought math and science were for boys.. I was actually annoyed whenever I had to do "boy work."  It was not until I became a homeschool mom and taught math to my sons using Singapore Math that I fell in love with math.  I realized that doors are closed to learners unnecessarily simply based upon how a subject is taught and how they learn.

Dr. Oakley didn't take the traditional route to engineering.  In fact, she joined the Army right out of high school to help pay for college.  While in the Army, she studied Slavic languages, mastered Russian and even worked in Antarctica.  She said she loved to see the world through different eyes.  It was this curiosity that led to engineering.  She wanted to learn about the machines she used on the ships where she worked as a Russian translator.

Your Brain - Focused Mode v. Diffuse Mode

When Dr. Oakley explained that the brain has two modes, focused and diffused, a light bulb came on immediately.  This concept explained why after reading something particularly profound or complicated, I have to marinate or meditate on it for a minute.  My brain is actually diffusing the information and finding ways to connect it to something I already know.   Makes Perfect Sense!
Dr. Oakley said that having young people discuss new material after learning it is a great technique because it puts the brain in diffuse mode. In other words, your brain cannot be in focused mode (learning new material) and diffuse mode (processing new material) at the same time.

Your Brain - Neural Reuse

Of course I didn't truly understand this concept until I was able to relate it to something in my own life.  My oldest son has recently become a Bitcoin investor.  I could not wrap my brain around this whole Cryptocurrency business until I was able to relate it to the stock market.  Only then did it make sense. Neural Reuse does the same thing.  Metaphors and Analogies are powerful techniques that help the brain acquire new material, according to Dr. Oakley.  Scientifically, the metaphors will travel down the same lane (neural circuits) as the new material.  It's kind of like using the same path to reach a new destination.

New Book - Mindshift

Dr. Barbara Oakley said in an interview with Daily Bits Of that she wrote her latest book Mindshift “to show what science is revealing about how we can best change and grow far beyond the boundaries we often unwittingly set for ourselves. Until neural imaging started to become more powerful, which has really only happened in the last few decades, we had little idea of how our brains actually worked.  So a lot of educational theory and practice that teachers have been trained with are, frankly, out-of-date, or not really all that helpful.”  Imagine that.  If we have the time and the determination we can do just about anything with our brains, including rewiring!

I am looking forward to the release of her next Mindshift book aimed at 10-13 year olds.  I imagine this will find a place on the shelves of many educators. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Trouble With Travel Sports

KingMan at sports camp in Massachusetts

When I fall asleep early, I wake up early.  Way too early.  So on this morning I decided to watch an episode of Real Sports with Bryant Gumble.  One of the topics was Kids Travel Tourism.  Whoa! After watching the segment, my mouth dropped open.  I wonder if the family featured in the segment will look back at the interview and be mortified that they admitted to spending $150,000 on travel sports for their children.  There goes the college fund.  It is amazing how we parents get caught up in the frenzy without being realistic about the numbers.  In fact, Travis Dorsch, founding director of Families in Sport Lab at Utah State University thinks families are working backwards by spending a couple of hundred thousand dollars pursing a college scholarship through travel sports when they could have put that into a college fund.  Only 2-4% of high school athletes go on to play at the top level of college sports, the NCAA Division I, and even less make the pros! 

My little LionHeart enjoying recreation basketball with his favorite coach.

Here's the other secret, they said in the show that most of the players who are on the rosters of professional teams learned their sport without parental supervision and played multiple sports.  I'm not a big fan of Michael Jordan, but after reading his book Salt In His Shoes a million times to KingMan when he was younger, I learned that Michael honed his skills on the neighborhood courts and he didn't even make the high school basketball team, initially!!!!  

Since I banned football, LionHeart was thrilled to be able to wear pads and a helmet for hockey.

The Changing the Game Project reports that so much is lost in the athletic version of the "Race to Nowhere" and serves mostly the needs of the adults and not the children.   The mission of the Changing the Game Project is to "ensure that we return youth sports to our children, and put the ‘play’ back in ‘play ball.’  We want to provide the most influential adults in our children’s lives – their parents and coaches – with the information and resources they need to make sports a healthy, positive, and rewarding experience for their children, and their whole family."  Here, here! When LionHeart briefly played ice hockey coaches were already eye-balling him for the travel team because he took to the ice so quickly.  No thank you! I felt assaulted.  I just wanted him to enjoy the game and I was taking advantage of an anomaly in an urban community - an ice rink! 

LionHeart following in his brother's footsteps.
What disturbed me most about this segment on "Travel Sports Tourism," (get a load of that made up name will you) was the impact on family life and the athlete.  The family featured in the segment said they travel 30 weekends out of the year and that more than 50% of their family time is devoted to sports.  Even worse, the family has to be split up on the road because one plays baseball and the other runs track.  Way too much and way too soon.  Early specialization of a sport also greatly increases the chances of injury.  The American Journal of Sports Medicine in a 2015 survey found that 60% of all "Tommy John" surgeries were teen patients! The fact that a surgical procedure is named after a baseball player is another topic altogether.  Are we parents that delusional? Forbes magazine reports that one-sport specialization is more likely to lead to "pain than a scholarship."  How's that for a reality check.  A study by Loyola University (Chicago) says that if your child is spending more time playing sports than his age, the likelihood of him suffering a sports-related injury increases by 70% - WOW!

KingMan didn't start baseball until age 11, but he made up for lost time.

Time Magazine wrote in the September 4, 2017 issue, that the $15 billion (yep, B) has all but dried up local and community baseball leagues that used to bond families and communities.  Guess who owns plenty of stock in this industry, top owners of professional sports teams.  In the written vernacular of the youth:  SMH.  The article further says that there are families spending upwards of 10% of their income on travel sports.  A baseball family in New Jersey spends $30,000, a volleyball family in New York spends $20,000 and a mom from Springfield, Missouri travels 7.5 hours round-trip to take her son to travel basketball practice.  Some families skip car payments, house repairs, weddings and birthday parties all in the name of travel games.  What in three worlds?!

KingMan during his travel soccer days.

I will admit that I drank the cool-aid too.  I was an AAU basketball mom for a split second (worst experience ever!)  They really do expect you to give up EVERY SINGLE WEEKEND to one sport and not develop any other aspect of your child's life.  I was also a travel soccer mom for many years.  I did it because KingMan loved it and I dragged LionHeart out of bed at the crack of dawn to sit in the cold bleachers with the equally cold parents.  When KingMan was done with soccer, I felt like we had our life back.  Interestingly enough, neither one of my children play soccer anymore.  Their father encouraged me to enroll them in soccer.  He said he never played and he thought it was good conditioning.  He was old school and believed playing sports was good for physical training of the body and not just a pathway to a scholarship or the pros.  I wonder if they had only played soccer for fun, would they still play.  Both still love basketball.  Their father LOVED basketball.  Both of my sons play basketball every season and I don't get caught up in the rapture of coaches asking me to allow LionHeart to play with their AAU teams.  He has been invited twice and already made a travel team this year.  I'm not interested.   I will allow him to play with 3 teams this season but only because when the season ends, we are done!  They both have drumming.  KingMan is hitting the weight room and music studio.  Last summer LionHeart was on a swim team and he's about to join an all-boys step team.  There would be no time for any of that if I allowed travel sports to dominate our lives again.

 Here's the full clip of the episode that inspired this article.  Thank you insomnia!