From Jersey, With Love

Two years ago, I traveled to Nigeria to do a short documentary on my friend Dena’s organization The Nigerian School Project.

With Dena, I visited the public schools she built on an island of 350,000 people that is not labeled on maps. It has no running water or electricity.

Now, we are growing the film, “From Jersey, With Love” into a full length doc.

In order to complete it, we plan to bring a crew to film the island’s first high school graduation in June.

Last summer, I stayed on the island to get to know the students, teachers and the community better. And, I had the privilege to co-teach the students with a young Nigerian woman who Dena had sponsored through college.

The community embraced us. And, the relationships I built In Nigeria are a source of joy for me and an inspiration for the film.

In a couple of months we are going to start a Kickstarter (crowdfunding) campaign to fund the upcoming filming in Nigeria for the graduation and to capture stronger interview footage.

Please share our project, “From Jersey, With Love.”

Much Gratitude,



In the Key of Protomartyr

Protomartyr on Friday at Underground Arts in Philadelphia

Text and Photos by K. Cecchini

I just saw Protomartyr on Friday at Underground Arts, which is (I say) Philly version of Brooklyn’s Rough Trade  where we saw them in October. I wrote a piece after that show and never posted it, so I will do it now.

Protomartyr vocalist Joe Casey took to the stage October at Brooklyn’s Rough Trade in his standard business casual attire. Throughout the set, he alternated between nonchalantly standing with one hand in his pocket, suit jacket pushed back and the other holding the mike to his face and intensely stretching up to nearly wrap his mouth around the mike on the stand. And then, with his hand still on the microphone, he will often hang his head down until the next verse.

With Casey’s vocals, drummer Alex Leonard, Guitarist Greg Ahee and Bass Guitarist Scott Davidson brought their richly textured sound to life in Rough Trade’s intimate space. Not letting up on the music, Davidson played right through a bloody nose. It was also really fantastic to already hear their brand new album The Agent Intellect live. On its own, the track, “Why Does it Shake?,” was worth the midnight trip into Brooklyn.

Protomartyr appears to have gathered a slew of attention in the past year and I would love to interview them before they get too big.

I only had my phone at the Philly and Brooklyn shows, so check out my photos from the Protomartyr set at the 2014 year’s Seaport Music Festival here. 

Protomartyr guitarist Greg Ahee, vocalist Joe Casey, and drummer Alex Leonard
Protomartyr guitarist Greg Ahee, vocalist Joe Casey, and drummer Alex Leonard (October: Brooklyn)
Protomartyr bass guitarist Scott Davidson
Protomartyr bass guitarist Scott Davidson (October: Brooklyn) 




This post was originally published on MissCareerLess; an awesomely honest online magazine featuring ‘Women Who Change, Dare to Change and Dare the Change.’ Because everybody has a story to share!

Photos and Interview by Kimberly Cecchini

Bettina Peets is changing her life – one adventure at a time. And, with her new business Adventure Goddess Retreats and Events, she is also doing this for other women. In Bettina’s words,

“Adventure Goddess was created to bring women together to bond, to help women step out of their box, to give women adventurous experiences that help them reclaim themselves and help them dream again. I do all this by creating these amazing retreats that have physical activity, has bonding experiences, workshops. So it can be a five-day retreat, it can be a one-day excursion, but all of it is designed to help women connect with women and help women connect with themselves.”

As her friend, I have had the joy of witnessing and being a part of Bettina’s transformation because adventure has truly become her pride and joy. She has made it her life. (And – I admit – I sometimes think of Bettina as my Adventure Goddess…so what are we doing next, my friend?)

Although, Bettina and I often share our stories and support and share each other, I was excited for the opportunity to have a more formal conversation on Adventure Goddess, embracing change and living the adventure. On a Sunday night, I went over to Bettina’s home, and we have talked about inspiration for her business, representations of African-American women in adventurous activities and valuing ourselves as women. 

Kimberly Cecchini on behalf MissCareer/Less: Why did you start an adventure business for just women?

Bettina Peets: Because I think men do (adventure) so easily, from Little League to going to sports bars to sports. And once women start having children and families, it doesn’t happen so easily for us. We have to remind ourselves to have fun and support each other.

MCL: I know that you have received both positive and negative reactions to the concept. Can you please give examples of both?

BP: It’s so funny, once women come to an experience, and they’ve done it, afterward, it’s all positive. All positive. The hesitation I get from some women is that they think they should not go on trips or excursions without their husbands. And sometimes the price is an issue. Sometimes women easily spend money on their hair and their nails or spend money on their children and their husband, but won’t so readily give themselves an experience.

The hesitation I get from some women is that they think they should not go on trips or excursions without their husbands.

MCL: What do you say to (these women) then?

BP: I just put a question out there on Facebook: if women would (go on trips without their husbands) and I just kind of let the answers speak for themselves to those doubters. They were able to read other women’s responses and reflected on their own thoughts as far as alone time, and it’s value. And not just alone time, but time with other women.

MCL: Can you name one of those Facebook responses?

BP: One (response) was ‘We deserve it. We need it because we give our time to our husbands and our children. We need to recharge.’ And one woman even said ‘it makes me a better wife when I spend time away from my husband.’

Adventure Goddess Participant with Aerial Dance Instructor

MCL: Since creating Adventure Goddess, you have been very inspired to include more adventure in your life as part of your self-care. How do you make this happen for yourself within the constraints of having a full-time job and other obligations?

BP: Just like how we schedule our doctor’s appointments, our hair appointments, nail appointments. I just really started to manually schedule (adventures) and now it’s automatic. Like my car, the minute I turn it on, it goes to the beach. (Bettina laughed)

MCL: How has this changed you?

BP: Oh my god. I feel more content with myself. I’m happier. I enjoy my time alone, and I enjoy my time with other women. I think they enjoy me more because I’m happier with myself. I’m excited about life every day. And I don’t even have to be doing anything. I can be sitting still, and I’m freaking excited.

“I just really started to manually schedule (adventures) and now it’s automatic.

MCL: What are the primary elements you want to integrate into your retreats and what’re their purposes?

BP: I was actually working on something (today), in my retreat. I was trying to give it a name, and I thought about my favorite song, ‘Dream On’ (Aerosmith). I was thinking about the song and the name of the retreat is going to be ‘Reclaim Your Dreams Retreat.’

I want to create experiences that will help women realize all of their potential, the possibility of creating the best life possible. Realizing their own ability to create their own fun, realizing their ability to create excitement in their own lives and not waiting for anyone to do it for them – not waiting for a man to do it for them, not waiting for a job to do it for them. I’m hoping that out of these experiences; they realize that need for fun. I hope they realize the value of fun. And some of the experiences I’m creating are physically strenuous, and I’m hoping that they can push themselves past what they think their own limits are, and that will help them in their own lives.

MCL: Please give me examples.

BP:  Like (one woman) showed up for rock climbing after just having hip surgery and she didn’t think she would be able to do it. And she – after having hip surgery 60 days prior – she was able to go all the way to the top, and she was so happy with herself. So a better answer would be creating activities that help women reach their full potential.

Adventure Goddess Retreats and Events Founder Bettina Peets Conquering a Treetop Course

MCL: As an African-American women you have identified that such activities as hiking and boating are uncommon for many people of your ethnicity. Why do you think that is?

BP: I think, not so much, that it is uncommon, but people think it’s uncommon. Or maybe a little of both. I think because it could be simply economics; the way some people grew up. Because if you grew up in an urban inner city environment, no you’re not going sailing. You may not go hiking. Your parents might be too busy working to think even about those excursions. So some people need to be exposed to it, but some people of color are doing all of these amazing things; we just need to connect more and bring along our friends who aren’t doing it.

MCL: Although Adventure Goddess is for all women, you have purposely highlighted African-Americans engaged in activities that they tend to be poorly represented in. How do you envision this change?

BP: I’m hoping to have a bigger presence in social media, eventually have a bigger presence in some of the bigger hiking groups and maybe combine with bigger organizations who can collaborate.

MCL: Based on the pictures you have posted (in which) you’ve highlighted some of these activities with women of color, have you received any reactions to them?

BP: Yes. I’ve received a lot of positive reactions and feedback to my pictures. It gets people excited; more people want to go. I get responses like ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe you did that; I’ve always wanted to try it.’ And that’s another goal of this business; there’re so many things that people want to do, but they don’t have anybody to do with it and they always wanted to try it, so the biggest response is ‘Oh, my God, I’ve always wanted to do that! When are you doing it again?’.

“…creating activities that help women reach their full potential.

MCL: Do you see Adventure Goddess within a larger social movement or connection?

BP: I do see (Adventure Goddess) connected to the bigger movement of women living their best lives. And women valuing themselves outside of their children, outside of their marriage, outside of their career.

MCL: Can you name other examples you’ve seen this in?

BP: I see it in all the different organizations on social media. The 21-Day Meditation Challenge with Oprah Winfrey and more women in sports.

Bettina Peets at the Adventure Goddess Launch Party with Participants and Rock Climbing Instructors

MCL: Do you think extend we use technology is supporting all these in some ways; you know, because we can see ourselves in other women?

BP: That could be. But take technology away – spiritually, women are evolving, and we have a desire to connect more. Maybe because of technology and because of the work- force; we’ve become so disconnected that today spiritually, we just want to connect with each other.

MCL: Do you feel like you’re valuing yourself more through these experiences?

BP: I do! Every time I climb to the top of a mountain, I feel so freaking awesome. Every time I just sit still in the mountains, I feel awesome. Every time I give myself permission just to drive to the beach by myself, I validate myself. Every time I create an event and I see women bonding, and women pushing themselves, it’s the most awesome feeling in the world. So the more I create experiences for myself, the more I have the energy to create experiences for other women. And it feeds my soul that I can feed others’ souls.

MCL: And how does that carry throughout your day – not just the moments that you’re having adventures – but other moments?

BP: It carries through my day because I know that I’m bringing meaning to my life and I’m bringing meaning to other people’s lives, and that gives me a sense of this deep fulfillment and a sense of contentment that I know what my mission in life is.

MCL: Is there anything else you want to add?

BP: Adventure on! (We both laughed)

A Hungry Caterpillar & a Blue Horse

Eric Carle’s illustrations are easy to identify. My husband did not recognize his name, but recognized his artwork as soon as he saw it at the Montclair Art Museum (MAM).

A kid-painted blue horse in at the Montclair Art Museum for the Eric Carle exhibition.
A kid-painted blue horse in at the Montclair Art Museum for the Eric Carle exhibition.

Carle’s books are well-known staples in the world of children’s books. His writing is simple and he created his colorful illustrations by hand-painting tissue paper collages. Among the original collages on display at the MAM exhibit, are his sketches and book dummies/mock ups.

And, appropriately, there is a space in the exhibit that has been dedicated as a child-friendly book nook with carpeted steps, bean bag chairs and, of course, Eric Carle favorites such as his 1969 title, “The Very Hungry Catepillar.”

The exhibit will be open until January 3, 2016. Click here for museum and event information.
My husband and I were excited we were able to take our six-year-old niece to the MAM Lawn Party on Saturday. I think we enjoyed it as much as she did. (But, admittedly, I was disappointed our niece did not want to paint the almost life-sized horse – blue – in Eric Carle fashion.) In addition to being able to check out Carle’s exhibit, Parents Who Rock featured a great line-up of local bands including Thee Volatiles.

If you missed the festivities on Saturday, the MAM’s Eric Carle Family Day for more hungry caterpillars and blue horse celebrations on November 15, 2015.

Words with Musician Lydia René 

Interview by K. Cecchini @tonightatdawn

Lydia René:
Lydia René: “Vintage Heart” (album cover)

I happened upon singer and pianist Lydia René during my first visit at a more unusual venue. Hosted by Ghana Hylton, the Adinkra House in Montclair, NJ is an invite-only, intimate performance space nestled in Hylton’s home.

Although, I am sure René’s voice can fill a much larger venue, she connected with the thirty or so people in the audience by sharing personal stories that have informed her songwriting.

Tonight at Dawn was grateful for the opportunity to speak with Ms. René at this moment in her burgeoning career. She said that a high school friend, Makeda Mutema Newton, connected her to her husband and co-producer of “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” Tejumold Newton. René now works with Tejumold and his partner and twin brother Johari Newton. Since then, she has released her first studio album, “Vintage Heart” and her voice is featured in a Hollywood movie trailer for “The Perfect Guy.”

You can connect to René through her website,

Cecchini (KC): You said you write love songs because you “love love” and that you are a positive person despite the ups and downs of life – which I did perceive through your performance and interaction with the audience at Adinkra House – why do you “love love”? 

Lydia René (LR): Love is a beautiful thing and I’ve always been a romantic person. But I really believe that Love is such a powerful thing. It changes us and shapes us, and we need it. I’m also someone who thrives on relationships. All of my relationships are extremely important to me-especially romantic ones. Those relationships inspired me to begin writing songs in the first place.

KC: Your parents not only shaped your musical background, but they also seem to be a great influence in many aspects of your life. Can you explain? 

LR: I’m an only child so I’m very close to both of my parents. They were essentially my first mentors in the music industry and my father taught me how to play the piano. Also, my mom helped me get better at writing my songs and lyrics. They have always been very supportive of my choice to be a singer and always encourage me. I’m blessed to have that because not everyone has supportive parents.

KC: Are your parents full-time musicians? 

My Father is, yes; he’s a music teacher, professor and music pastor. My mother isn’t a full time musician.

KC: You said your message to your fans is: “Real love exists and they can have it.” You also said real love does not always mean romantic love. Can you please tell us about different ways that “real love” exists in your life? 

LR: I’m constantly on a journey to love myself more. I think next to God and your spouse, it’s one of the most important relationships to have. I think that when we love ourselves we are able to love others better. I love my parents and my family very much and that means a lot to me. Also I’m blessed to have found my amazing fiancé (Brian) who has shown me nothing but real love since the first day we met.

Lydia René:
Lydia René: “Vintage Heart” (Track Listings)

KC: Please tell us about one song that was inspired by circumstances in your own life.

LR: Well, every song is inspired by circumstances in my own life, lol! One song that I wrote called “Feels So Nice (Wasting Time)” is specifically about Brian. So many times we are both so busy, we have been since we first met, so when we finally have time to chill and relax by ourselves, it’s an extremely valued and precious time. When we have time to do what we want to do even if its stay in our Pjs and watch cartoons all day or binge watch Netflix all day we really enjoy that because we don’t get a chance to do it often. He’s the type of person that I can “waste time” with and its not a waste of time at all.

KC: Which of your songs is on the movie, “The Perfect Man”? What is it like to hear your music in a major film? 

LR: Just to clarify: the song I’m singing for “The Perfect Guy” is “I Put A Spell On You”. I was originally hired to sing just a 30-second clip of the song for the TV trailer which is on TV now. The editors and movie production company liked the 30 seconds so much they asked me to sing a full version of the entire song for a very special Movie Trailer. That trailer has been showing in movie theaters before the movie “Straight Outta Compton.” “I Put A Spell on you” is a cover song originally performed by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and later Nina Simone. I was asked to re-create Annie Lennox’s version.

When I finally saw the trailer in the movie theater it was really a surreal moment for me. The whole experience happened so suddenly i never really had a chance to process it. Honestly, it really is a dream come true and I’m truly blessed and also excited for what’s next.

KC: What’s on the horizon for Lydia René?

LR: Right now, I’m working on concepts for a future Christmas album. I’m also writing for my second studio album. I’d love to work on more Movie Trailers and I plan to, as well as have my original material licensed for TV, Commercials, Movies etc. I’m always performing and trying to branch out to different states for my next tour.

KC: Anything you want to add about yourself-quirky, interesting, fun? 

LR: Hmm, lol. I like to laugh a lot in general but especially when I’m nervous. I laugh so much people usually can’t tell the difference! I’ve been performing for 5 or 6 years and i still get nervous before every single performance no matter how big or small.