Lessons Learned

I heard that night is the darkest before dawn.

Dear friends and fellow book lovers,
this is a bittersweet post. Bitter because of the way I stopped maintaining this website, without an explanation, while fading gradually away from the literary arena. Sweet because the passion that first drove me to start this blog is still there, despite the ongoing pain. Books don’t tell you how long it takes to grieve, or how deep the tears cut into your skin.

So what happened?
Life. Nothing more, with its load of treasures and trials. Even though we know that day will come, I’m not sure we’re ever prepared to witness our parents decline and leave, with the toll that sometimes follows; not sure we’re ever taught the words that will soothe them when the night approaches, the medical techniques that will steal some time for the present, make room for one more smile, one more joke, and one more hug. That was 2011 and 2012.

The blog etiquette.
Yes, there is a guide of good manners of blogging. Interestingly, none of those I read addressed what I need to add here, though I’m sure many of you would agree with me: Courtesy toward the readers and writers and the publishing team behind, requires that you let them know publicly of an upcoming hiatus, not just privately.

Thank you:
To the people who kept in touch, emailed to check in, to the strangers who even offered to help with Multiculturalism Rocks! for free – accepting was a bit more complicated than a simple “Yes,” without prior planning. Sincere and yet surprised thanks to the readers beyond borders who’ve kept visiting this blog pretty much every day.

The present
I’m blogging again, here and there. The posts will be up in their own time, I won’t give a schedule that I’m not yet sure to strictly maintain. I am resuming activities one step at the time, and one day at the time. I’m revising and writing new materials. My agent, Mira Reisberg, PhD, of Hummingbird Literary, is submitting an exciting picture book manuscript based on a true story, highlighting an aspect of life in an African village, seen through the eyes of an American girl.

I hope that you’ve all been well.
If you’re a writer or illustrator, I look forward to enjoying your work in the upcoming weeks. Please, be free to share about it in your comment and to leave a link to your website. It would be my pleasure to stop by and say, “Hi!”
If you’re a reader, I look forward to many conversations about books, cultural diversity and just life in general.

Wishing you a wonderful week, thank you for reading,

Nathalie
PS: My devotional website is bilingual, at least for the time being (note: it will always be multilingual). In the past, Multiculturalism Rocks! had posted a few bilingual posts (French/English) and even trilingual (French/Spanish/English), to honor the requests of some of our foreign readers and just because, well, it was fun and it’s the world we live in! ;-) Your input regarding that topic is much appreciated. Thank you.

Posted in Miscellaneous | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

SCBWI Debuts On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award

Dear readers,

Multiculturalism Rocks! resumes its activities after a much needed hiatus, and does so with great news from the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators–SCBWI. What follows is an announcement made Sunday August 5, 2012, during the Golden Kite Luncheon and Awards Presentation of the 41st Annual SCBWI Summer Conference, which I was fortunate to attend.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 5, 2012

August 5, 2012, LOS ANGELES­­­­­­­­­-­–The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) announced the creation of the On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award at their 41st Annual Conference in Los Angeles.  The annual award, established by SCBWI and funded by Martin and Sue Schmitt, will be given to two writers or illustrators who are from ethnic and/or cultural backgrounds that are traditionally under-represented in children’s literature in America and who have a ready-to-submit completed work for children.  The purpose of the grant is to inspire and further the emergence of diverse writers and illustrators of children’s books.

The work will be judged by an SCBWI committee and two winners will each receive an all-expenses paid trip to the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York to meet with editors and agents, a press release to all publishers, a year of free membership to SCBWI, and an SCBWI mentor for a year. Deadline for submission is November 15, 2012.  The winners will be announced December 15, 2012. The On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award will be presented at the 2013 SCBWI Winter Conference in New York.  Submission guidelines and information can be found here.

The award was inspired in part by the SCBWI’s increasing efforts to foster under-represented voices in children’s literature.  According to SCBWI Executive Director Lin Oliver, “Every child should have the opportunity to experience many and diverse of points of view. SCBWI is proud to contribute to this all-important effort to bring forth new voices.”

The grant was made possible through the generosity of Sue and Martin Schmitt of the 455 Foundation who state: “While our country is made up of beautifully varied cultures and ethnicities, too few are represented in the voices of children’s books.  We hope to encourage participation by those not well represented, and look forward to having these stories widely enjoyed by all children.”

About Martin and Sue Schmitt

Martin and Sue Schmitt are the founders of We Can Build an Orphanage, sponsoring the Kay Angel orphanage in Jacmel, Haiti.  The organization was established in 2007 with the mission to provide a home and education for abandoned children infected with or affected by AIDS in Jacmel, Haiti.  The Schmitt’s generous and continuous efforts to support SCBWI’s long-term goals also co-sponsored the 2007 Global Voices Program, which highlighted Mongolian artists and authors. To find out more information about the Kay Angel orphanage please visit http://www.kayangel.org/

About SCBWI

Founded in 1971, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is one of the largest existing writers’ and illustrators’ organizations, with over 22,000 members worldwide. It is the only organization specifically for those working in the fields of children’s literature, magazines, film, television, and multimedia. The organization was founded by Stephen Mooser (President) and Lin Oliver (Executive Director), both of whom are well-published children’s book authors and leaders in the world of children’s literature.  For more information about the On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award, please visit www.scbwi.org, and click “Awards & Grants.”

Spread the word? :)

Wishing you a wonderful week.

Posted in Awards | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

From Child Soldier to Filmmaker Activist: Ger Duany’s Story

*Click on GER TO BE SEPARATE to watch the video*

Hi everyone,

It’s Friday! How are you doing? I’m excited about today’s post: it’s all about making history and recording it. ‘How?’ you might wonder? So glad you asked.

Allow me to introduce you to Ger Duany. Ger was a former child soldier and lost boy, who fled the war in Sudan, and walked to Ethiopia, then Kenya, faced trials most of us can’t imagine going through, before finding his way to America. GER: TO BE SEPARATE is a documentary filmed by award winning Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu (FROM A WHISPER, PUMZI). The documentary is in its final stages. A fundraising has been put in place to help cover the remaining cost. Please, please, spread the word… :)

Here’s more about the project, from the producer’s account–Again, PLEASE, spread the word if you can:

You’ve probably watched “Lost Boys of Sudan” or “God Grew Tired of Us” in theaters and you cried your heart out and subconsciously still wonder, how the hell are these lost boys from Sudan adapting to the American life-style?

Well, it’s your lucky day because they are doing fine, well, at least we know one of them is and his name is Ger Duany. No, he wasn’t in either films mentioned above, but, he was one of the child soldiers and lost boys who fled the war in the formerly united Sudan and walked for miles to get to a refugee camp in Ethiopia then Kenya, and after many struggles he was one of the lucky ones that made it out on a plane to America.

In America, he encountered many obstacles but fate led him to his debut on Hollywood’s silver screen where he played a refugee in the movie “I Heart Huckabees”.  Director David O. Russell said he wanted someone who endured the real life experience of being a refugee to play the role. Soon after, Ger met supermodel Tyson Beckford, who saw Ger’s modeling potential which opened doors to a modeling career and a shoot with photographer Norman Watson and many other photographers.

And so during all these years and the distance he lost touch with his family and land, but in January 2011, he hopped onto another plane this time back to South Sudan to vote for independence. And in July 2011, South Sudan finally got its well-deserved freedom and Ger was there to celebrate his new nation’s independence, search for his family, and help build South Sudan.

Awesome right?!? Don’t you think this story would make a heartfelt real-life documentary? The kind that would complete the Lost Boys of Sudan trilogy that we got going on here? Well, the good news is that award winning Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu (From a Whisper, Pumzi ) has been documenting Ger’s life for the past year and she has captured some wonderful footage and the documentary is in the final stage of production. We’re very close to completing this unique documentary and like any creatively awesome and life changing endeavor, we need moolah to finish this project. So we’re knocking at your door and hoping you’ll pledge and donate what you can to finish the editing of this unique story. We’re counting on you to help us see this through!

Thank you.

Posted in Events, movie | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Guest Post Announcement: MY BIRTHDAY IS SEPTEMBER 11 AND OTHER SHORT STORIES, by Nicole Weaver

My Birthday Is September Eleven and Other Short Stories… A book for children and adults, so we never forget 9/11.

On Sunday, September 11, people across the country will pause to observe the 10th anniversary of 9/11. It’s important that we tell our children about that day, especially kids who were very small, and those who weren’t born yet, so we never forget. I want to make sure teachers, parents, librarians, and grandparents are aware of a new ebook, My Birthday Is September Eleven and Other Short Stories. This is an ebook dedicated to all children born on 9/11, 2001. The stories are for grades 6-8.

Here’s a recent review from a psychologist. “As a licensed psychologist with a specialty in children, parents often ask me to direct them to a book that they can read with their children. I have no problem sending parents to My Birthday is September Eleven and Other Short Stories. In this book, you will find stories about children with real-life struggles and how they find ways to cope with those problems. These stories present opportunities for parents and children to talk about what is happening in their own lives and possible solutions, while strengthening parent-child communication.”

Many children today know little or nothing about 9/11 or why it’s important to them. On a recent national news program, I saw some man-on-the-street interviews of young people in their late teens and early twenties. A few could explain what took place on 9/11, but sadly, most had no idea. We cannot allow this to continue.

My Birthday Is September Eleven and Other Short Stories will help teachers, librarians, grandparents, and parents with this issue. Additionally, the stories were written to help teach children about having compassion for others.

See description of each story below:

My Birthday is September Eleven- A story about a boy who was born on 9/11. When the reader steps into the world of Matthew, he or she will recognize the undercurrent of mourning that will help all to not forget 9/11.

Zebra Boy – A biracial boy is spared further teasing when his best friend comes to his rescue.

The Good Samaritan – A group of fifth-graders raise funds to help a fellow classmate that needs money for a life-saving surgery.

No More Hunger – Ronald, a Haitian boy whose village was virtually wiped out by a devastating hurricane, becomes a victim of abject poverty. He is later rescued when the well-respected Madame Wilson takes it upon herself to nourish him back to health.

A New Life – A biracial boy experiences many hardships before being adopted by a caring couple.

There is a special web page for My Birthday Is September Eleven and Other Short Stories. You are welcome to lift any material that might help you in communicating with your circle of influence http://mybirthdayiseptembereleven.blogspot.com

Reviews and Comments
Nicole Weaver’s latest collection of short stories is a great gift for any middle grader or teen to read about 9/11. While this date only reminds us of tragedy, the author has found a way to weave themes of friendship, loyalty and compassion in these stories which aren’t only educational but entertaining as well. Written in simple language and in an engaging style, My Birthday is September Eleven and Other Short Stories will make a great gift for that special child in your life.
Amazon- Mayra Calvani ( Brussels, Belgium)
***
Young audiences will love these short stories that teach young children to cope and overcome the many obstacles we all can face growing up. Young readers will learn about pain, suffering, compassion and the willingness to be more accepting of others.

Nicole Weaver introduces readers to Matthew a young boy who has to spend his birthdays celebrating the anniversary of the September 11th attacks. With no friends to celebrate and the sadness that surrounds that day, he really doesn’t want a birthday at all.

Another interesting story for readers is about a boy named Pascal. He is bi-racial and is faced with bullies at school. Two older kids Eric and Tommy spend their time on the playground threatening kids for money. Eric especially likes to tease Pascal by calling him Zebra Boy. Pascal and his friend Marcel must learn how to overcome these challenges and stand up to these kids.

More stories follow that will teach triumph and the celebration of div adversity and helping others. These stories can be a great tool for parents, teachers and homeschoolers.
Teaching children about friendship, forgiveness, and to stand up for themselves as well as others, will help them become better human beings.
Kristi Bernard (Overland Park, KS)
***

This collection of short stories touches on many different subjects from dealing with tragedy to bullying to giving to self-sacrifice to adoption. Each story has a child main character or characters that have to deal with real-life situations that readers may have or will experience personally or through a friend sometime in their own lives. For those who never have to experience some of the tougher situations like a natural disaster, it offers the reader a glimpse of this tragedy on a more human level rather than just a list of faceless statistics of fatalities and damages.
Lessons learned from the stories are far-reaching. Such as that the way we begin our lives in not always how we are destined to lead them. These stories show how we are all socially connected to the world at large even though we may physically be far away. Sharing these stories with your children will open their minds and hearts to living and thinking beyond themselves.
By having the characters come from many different walks of life, this book will appeal to a wide variety of juvenile and older readers. As the U.S. has always been a diverse blend of peoples, cultures and languages, this book reflects that diversity showing that what we may consider different is actually familiar.
Amazon-Auto mom
***

These stories provide a great springboard for classroom or parent-to-child discussions on bullying, adoption (infant adoption, older-child adoption) and the world history tragedies of 9/11 and the Haitian earthquake. The stories themselves are tangential to the worst of Ripped from the Headlines news, so they are more palatable to middle schoolers and young adult readers. The stories center around children and are relatable–as children and their families work through problems, not all the way to Hollywood endings but to a place of compassion and understanding. The story about 9/11 is especially telling in this strategy. A boy happens to have a birthday on 9/11. He wants that day to be one of celebration for himself, but always there is this undercurrent of mourning. Thought-provoking for the boy, and for a reader
Amazon-Vicki Gundrum (San Francisco)

Biography
Nicole weaver was born in Port-au-Prince Haiti. She came to the United States when she was ten years old. She is fluent in Creole, French, Spanish and English. She is a veteran teacher of French and Spanish. Her second children’s trilingual book titled: My Sister is My Best Friend will be published by Guardian Angel Publishing fall 2011. She is also the author of a children’s trilingual picture book titled: Marie and Her Friend the Sea Turtle. She has a third book currently under contract with Guardian Angel Publishing titled: My Brother is My Best Friend.

Posted in Guest Blogger, Non-Fiction | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

SISTERS OF THE SARI Giveaway Winner

Congratulations to Suzanne Kamata, for winning a copy of SISTERS OF THE SARI, written by Brenda L. Baker.

Here’s Suzanne’s entry:

“I’ve wanted to visit India for a long time, especially since my brother married a second generation Indian-American. Since I have a daughter with disabilities and not a lot of money, my trip to India is a dream, for the moment, attainable through reading books like SISTERS OF THE SARI. The details in this passage made me feel as if I were on the streets of Chennai, jet-lagged, in need of a shower and a change of clothes, and yet eager for adventure. It reminds me a bit of my first trip abroad. I went to Paris at the age of 18, purposefully without a hotel reservation because I thought it would be more fun to track down a hotel when I got there using my Let’s Go France! book. When I arrived, jet-lagged, dragging a huge suitcase, with my basic French, I found that most of the hotels and hostels were already booked. I sat down on a curb and resisted the urge to cry. Ultimately, I figured out the metro, had a great time visiting museums and sipping cups of coffee in sidewalk cafes. My passion for travel was ignited (and is currently fufilled by books like this one).”

Dear Suzanne, I thank you for sharing your experience with us. I hope that you enjoy SISTERS OF THE SARI as much as I did.

Suzanne Kamata is the author of Losing Kei (Leapfrog Press, 2008), editor of Love You to Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising a Child with Special Needs (Beacon Press, May 2008, and Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering (Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing, 2009). If you are raising a multicultural family, I hope you will check her books out.

Have a wonderful day and thank you for reading. :)

Posted in Contest | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Guets Post: Dr. Mira Reisberg, PhD, on the Invisibility of People of Color

From Nathalie

Hi everyone,

hope this post finds you well, reading a ton, writing and illustrating even more, if you’ve embarked on a publishing journey. Talking of which, allow me to briefly introduce you to Mira Reisberg, who is a friend and has been my art teacher this year. Mira has a way of stirring up students’ creativity. She will challenge you, encourage you to give it your all, and you’d be glad she did. Mira and I talked much about her workshops in the past, and I wish I could take credit for her finally offering online classes. *grin* Anyway, through Mira’s Hero’s Art Journey, people anywhere finally have the opportunity to explore art through various media and why not, even give it a try at illustrating. If you are a picture book writer, I hope that you consider Mira’s e-course. Having a glimpse at the thought process of an artist might be helpful when you write your next story…

Without further ado, I’ll let you enjoy the following post. Thank you once again, Mira, for your help with Multiculturalism Rocks! logo and for your contribution to this blog.

P.S: Sisters of the Sari giveaway’s winner will be announced tomorrow, September 08, 2011. Several people emailed telling me how much they enjoyed reading it. If you’re looking for a great read, check it out. :)

From Mira Reisberg: author, illustrator, Educator
When I began preparing to teach my first online art, mythology, and personal growth course, I started taking lots of online art courses – many of which were wonderful. But I began noticing how few inspiring art examples there were from “artists of color” and how lacking in “diverse” subject matter most of the courses were.

I’d written and published quite a few articles about ”the invisibility of people of color” critical race theory and critical multiculturalism and taught many courses incorporating this subject matter, but it was all so academic. I realized I wanted to create something for the art fearful, beginning and experienced artists that was really magical and experiential for people all around the world, that included world mythologies, and diverse artists, and that was loosely based on Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” where everyone is a hero on their own journey, complete with obstacles and hardships to overcome. I hope you check this material out on my website out at www.herosartjourney.com

During that process, I started reflecting on my own work and journey as a cultural and social justice worker and decided I wanted to write about it. I apologize for the slightly academic tone of this blog post and promise that my e-course is much lighter-hearted than this, if you are adventurous enough to take it. So anyway, here goes…

I’m “white”, or that’s my official designation. The difficulties of language and race politics have gotten us to this point where the language of culture, race, and ethnicity have become fraught with fear, anxiety, and resentment. As a Jewish woman, the working-class daughter of Holocaust survivors, and the direct recipient of violent racism and sexism, I’ve struggled with owning my “whiteness.”

Nevertheless, as a white person, I have all sorts of privileges. In stores, people don’t watch me suspiciously. I’m less likely to be pulled over by police or have to grow up in a poor neighborhood or go to lousy underfunded under-resourced schools making higher education and with it higher status/higher paid jobs less of a possibility.

If I were a white American, I would have been more likely to come from a family that owned their home and/or had been to college because of the GI Bill following WWII. The GI Bill provided free higher education and super low cost housing loans to returning soldiers. Unfortunately, because of the virulent racism of the time (slightly less virulent now), many of the returning soldiers “of color” (another clunky, awkward, alienating term) were shut out of this process so any possibility of an “even playing field” or “colorblind” society was nipped in the bud. Generational wealth accrued with home ownership/property value escalation and the benefits of job training or higher ed. and were passed on. But, not all white Americans benefited from the GI Bill and working class folks continued struggling generationally.

With the Civil Rights movement, the advent of “multiculturalism” in educating against racism/for inclusion/appreciation, and “affirmative action” attempts to encourage racial equity in hiring policies and scholarships etc. big dents were made but racism continued (check out schools and housing in primarily poor/”minority” neighborhoods and the wildly different levels of incarceration for drug and other crimes among different racial groups, or ask a dark-skinned friend their experiences of racism).

Issues of class, were/are also totally ignored creating further alienation, resentment, fragmentation and further reinforcing a lack of any kind of class unity that could address a social system that reinforces wealth for the wealthy (with the occasional exception to give lie to the concept of a “meritocracy” where everyone can pull themselves up by their boot straps – if they try hard enough). Affirmative actions did not include class as a criteria in their attempts to change “all-white” looking environments in many jobs and universities but of course this created great resentment from working-class people who felt shut out without truly understanding why.

In education, because of a desire to compensate for a near absence of images and stories of “non-white” (another ugh term) children in children’s picture books and curriculum – multiculturalism came to mean “pretty much anyone except white people”, creating alienation and resentment for those who felt excluded without understanding why multicultural inclusion was so important and creating the ridiculous concept that white people a) have no color and b) have no culture.

So as you can see, I’m very passionate about all this. I was lucky enough to illustrate some of the earliest multicultural picture books (Uncle Nacho’s Hat, Baby Rattlesnake, Where Fireflies Dance, Just Like Me, etc.) which I would now find problematic because I’m not of those cultures (that’s another huge issue that is too deep to go into right now) and to have majored in art and cultural studies while doing my PhD in education. From my own background and what I’ve learned throughout my life, I have a deep and passionate commitment to anti-racism and cultural appreciation of all cultures (including “Caucasian”).

Now I’m hoping that all kinds of people from all over the world will join me on this incredible adventure, learning to draw and paint, learning about ourselves, each other and about some of the many incredibly rich cultures on our planet. I hope this guest post has been helpful both individually and on larger levels. If I’ve piqued your curiosity do think about taking my course and help me get the word out by sharing this link www.herosartjourney.com

Here’s a sneak peek of some of the artists I’ll be featuring but before I do I’d like to share a quote that applies to all the terms I’ve put in “quotation marks” by either Laurie Anderson (or William Burroughs) “Language is a virus from out of space.” I love how elliptical, fantastical and yet strangely true sounding it is – when the limits in language make it even more difficult and sometimes poisonous to communicate about challenging things.

Fore more information on the Hero’s Art Journey, click on the following links:
Hero’s Art Journey Website
e-course registration

Posted in Guest Blogger | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

GUEST POST: Poppa Was A Rolling Stone, by Torrey Maldonado

Note: Heartfelt thanks to Torrey Maldonado, whose article inspired me to start the Father’s Day series. This is a bit longer than a regular post, but you will be glad you read. FatherLESS Days is also featured on The Latina Book Club blog.

“Your father is dead. He’s gone.”

That’s what my mother told me over the phone.

Her words swirled a tornado of emotions and I couldn’t grab one feeling to feel. My father was absent for so much of our lives. Wasn’t he already “gone” to us? Yet, here I was experiencing his real death. The kid in me suddenly wanted him back to give us what he never had: his full and fully positive presence.

True to the song, my “poppa was a rolling stone.” He regularly disappeared for years and, during his absence, I didn’t know him. When he returned, my mom let him stay with us and I didn’t know him. He often disappeared into the streets, came home, and disappeared into his bedroom. From my first day of daycare to my first gray hair, my father spent more time outside with guy-friends and almost no time doing “fatherly” things with my sisters and me. He wasn’t just a “rolling stone”, he was what Latinos call “muy macho”, all people call “hard”, and my students call a “hard rock”.

At some point, my mom told me about my father’s rough upbringing filled with close relatives being more distant, “hands off”, and cruel with him than loving. She said he fathered me how he was fathered; he loved me the best way he knew how. Whatever the reasons he cut out, his absence produced two reactions: first, I searched for father-figures with mixed results; next, there was an empty father-seat that my mom worked overtime to fill.

Before I knew about Oprah, I knew a quote she loves: “It takes a village to raise a child.” During my Vassar College freshman summer, I taught in the Harlem Freedom Schools for Geoffrey Canada and “It takes a village” was our mantra. It sums up my life: a village-effort set up by my mother had raised me to be the first in our immediate-family to attend college. Within my village, two villages of men shaped me.

During the early years of my life, Red Hook projects was the safe place for kindergarten kids to play late outside. It was a Brooklyn community where Carmelo Anthony (the half-Puerto Rican NBA player) was born and raised until age eight; people looked out for each other. Then drugs ripped Red Hook apart and, by 1988, LIFE magazine did a nine-page photo spread calling Red Hook “The Crack Capital of the U.S.A.” and “One of New York City’s Worst Neighborhoods.” The crises in Red Hook created a crisis in the guys around me and in me: I call it “the boy crisis” ON STEROIDS. In 1992, my elementary school principal, Patrick Daly, was shot in the chest and killed in Red Hook. As boys, the two males charged with his murder and I briefly ran wild together.

Growing up, we saw our fathers—good men who got caught up in unfortunate situations—jailed, killed, waste away from drug or alcohol addictions, run away; it all left damaging impressions on us. A huge chunk was cut out of our community and a whole existed and that void was quickly filled with one-sided images of men from the media and our streets. During my pre-teen and teen years, a lot of guys and I spent countless hours absorbing and following “hard rocks”—real or Hollywood-created. I’d race to see Hulk Hogan on TV rip his shirt apart, brag about his twenty-two inch pythons (biceps and triceps), and body-slam anyone who disrespected him. I couldn’t watch enough Iron Mike Tyson fights where he knocked guys out in early rounds of boxing matches. If I wasn’t imagining I was Arnold Schwarzenegger terminating people in The Terminator, I pretended to be Darth Vader bullying the universe. I held onto these men because, in some way, it felt like I had a constant male-presence and, in imitating their tough-guy attitudes, I was becoming my father. Males around me (both younger and older) were slowly splitting into two groups: positive Gs (Gentlemen—who only worked to increase the peace) and Gs (what my students call a guy if he gets money, power, and respect—especially on the streets. They say, “He’s gangster.”). My father, like so many males, spent time being both Gs that it made it tough to tell which G was he, but most people agree he was a G.

A G could be a great guy but, like Anakin Skywalker, sometimes falls victim to the Dark Side. What makes a man a G?

First, they have money, power, and respect (and my friends and I wanted that because our families sometimes didn’t have what we needed, experienced powerlessness, and often were neglected or abused).

Second, Gs on a daily basis were seen or heard talking about fighting other males, disrespecting them, killing them, or helping them down destructive paths.

Third, these guys often lived fast—fast cash, fast everything—and sadly died young.

As sure as the sun came up, one of those things was seen in my neighborhood, in the media, or in our videogames, before sundown.

“Like father like son” isn’t what my mother wanted so she convinced the positive Gs from Red Hook and beyond my neighborhood to walk me from boyhood into manhood.

No “bom chicka wah wah” ever happened between my mom and these positive Gs. They respected my mom, how she raised me, and they sat in my father’s empty parent-seat every now and then.

I didn’t immediately bond with them. They weren’t like the “hard rocks” my friends and I admired. But they had my back.

Some just watched me from their hang-out spots to make sure I behaved. Others invited me to pay daily visits to their jobs so they could quickly hand me coins or (when times were better for them) bills so I didn’t watch with hungry eyes as my friends ate ice cream cones paid by their two-parent allowances.

A tug of war began in me. Picture me as a little boy, clipped to the center of the rope that both the positive Gs and Gs yanked in opposite directions. My small feet dangling over a yellow line on the floor and my white t-shirt asks a question in bold, black letters “Where Will I Stand?” Both pulled me toward their crew.

Not all Gs felt this way, but many Gs disagreed with the positive Gs on one subject: education.

I needed real thrills to distract my young mind from drama in my home and neighborhood. Reading and writing helped. Yet where I’m from, female-readers get called “geeks” and male-readers get called the other “g word” since people feel school is a “girl’s thing.” So I hid how much I read and wrote to avoid being bullied. Why did my mother have to tell the positive Gs that I had writing-talent and honor-roll potential? That just made them remind me at every chance they got that an education was my “magic carpet-ride” out of poverty and my most powerful life-tool. As for the other Gs, people had convinced them that school was either soft or shouldn’t be their top-priority and they passed that message on to me. Did my father see the value in education? Was he proud and knew my good grades would get me ahead in life? Yes. But he grew up in a home that said guys who read books and did well in school weren’t “real men”. I still remember times he told me I’d grow up to be a “gay” if I kept spending so much time studying at home. I worshiped him and almost followed his advice to chase street-thrills instead of chasing my dream to be the man my mother wanted me to be.

My mom, my village of positive G’s, and others in my village kept guiding my hands to put the pieces of the puzzle together until I saw the big picture: men like President Obama are “real men” too and I could read, write, do well in school, and still be a “real man”. As I started to look at this picture more closely, I realized these men weren’t “hard rocks” but maybe rare diamonds because they had more developed and polished sides; the President Obamas of our world had more to offer their families and worlds.

I used to feel jealous when I heard someone say they had read this or that book as a youngster that changed their life. As a middle and high schooler, I didn’t find that book. Growing up, I discovered something else. Comic books pumped me up the way sports, video games, and movies did—not chapter-books. I’m approaching my tenth year as a public school teacher and each year I see the same thing. Lots of kids don’t like to read chapter-books and, second, most of the books they do love give them a quick escape from their reality but return them to their realities without tools to solve their daily problems.

A couple of years ago, two of my “hard rock” male-students—both boys growing up with deadbeat dads and more negative male-influences than positive—had life-changing incidents. One admired the thug-life, lived it, and went to another neighborhood and was murdered. The other one’s father stopped flirting with leaving his family and fully abandoned my student and his mom. The boy came to me in tears and his change in grades reflected how much of him was taken away when his dad left. He soon graduated and I don’t know what’s become of him. Those boys made me say, “If I could go back in time, I would have done more as their teacher.” The boy in me who experienced similar losses wished I also could time-travel back and help all the Gs of my upbringing.

In reality, there’s no time-machine. I can’t rewind time and rewrite history to maybe save the life of my one student and strengthen the other. I can’t have my father back and if he was alive, I couldn’t change him. But I can practice another quote that Oprah often repeats: “When you know better, you do better.

A couple of years ago, I reminded myself that I knew how to write and I knew one thing to be true: if we want better men, we must get more boys reading, period. Reading set my mind, heart, and soul free to be the best I could be. It polished me.

So I pumped myself up: “Torrey, write the book that you, your dad, and Gs needed as a teen. It has to amp pre-teens and teens the way comics gave you a rush—the way sports, video games, and movies did.” So I laid out a plan to write a novel so real that A students, alpha males, Darth Vaders, and everyone in between couldn’t put it down. “It’ll show the roadmap that your mom and the village made that led you to become the man they dreamed you could be,” I thought. “It needs the exact balance of kindness and toughness of Red Hook projects and your schools. Make it an outpouring of your Red Hook life and the lives of New York students and families. It has to give readers a quick escape from reality but arm them to return to solve their daily problems.” It was from the fire that I forged Secret Saturdays.

This year:
• It became an American Library Association 2011 Quick Pick for Young Adults (12-18),
• NBC, ABC, the NY Daily News, and more have showcased it,
• The Kansas National Education Association put it on its annual recommended reading list for Junior High/Middle Schools, and
• Colleges assigned it as required-reading in Education Departments alongside S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders.

These are dreams coming true and magic happened during a school trip. Two fatherless students who remind me of middle-school versions of my father came up to me. They both hate to read and are “hard rocks” with capitals—H-A-R-D R-O-C-K-S. One boy said, “Mr. T., I know one of the raps from your book by heart.” Then, he lit up and looked into the air and quoted my book so perfect that you’d think he read it from a cloud. The other student started competing and said, “That’s nothing. Mr. T, listen to this.” Then he rapped another verse. Here are young males who weren’t showing the side of them that loves school or books yet they love Secret Saturdays so much that they show it. These males look to me and tell me “You’re gangster” for positive reasons. I am filling the holes in their lives with positivity. My teaching and writing is polishing them, maybe, into rare diamonds.

My father wasn’t around to see me make this lemonade out of the lemons he gave me. All my positive Gs and Gs aren’t around to see how they helped sweeten that lemonade. Yet, the two villages of men that shaped me influence my teaching, writing, and parenting and both male-examples help me to show boys that a lot influences their choices and they can make better choices: to evolve, to shine, and develop future generations of better men and fathers. I think of those two fatherless, middle-school boys who are 2011 versions of my father. They came from behind everything dumped on them to show positive emotions about education. Through them, it feels as if my father is alive and there is a chance for him to “know better and do better”.

o Torrey Maldonado’s Website
o His middle grade novel, Secret Saturdays

Posted in Guest Blogger | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments