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.”
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.
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.’
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.
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?
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.
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).
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Text by K. Cecchini/Production Stills and Series Image Courtesy of Think Ten Media Group
After spending a total of 18 months in solitary confinement during multiple prison stays, William Brown – who has been a free man for five years – willingly reentered the ‘hole’ last summer.
This time, though, he went in with cameras.
Brown plays the fictional role of prisoner Marcus Williams in the scripted web series “The wHOLE.” Think Ten Media Group filmed the first episode in the inactive Wapato Jail in Portland, Oregon during August 2014 and released it in March. The 15-minute pilot episode focuses entirely on Brown’s character contendng with solitary confinement.
In order to provoke the intense emotions of being trapped in solitary, Brown said Director Ramon Hamilton asked him to “go to a dark place.” Brown went there; he said he recalled the day he was last released for parole on June 24, 2010 and his aunt told him his good friend had been murdered a couple of weeks prior on June 9 when he was sitting in solitary.
“It really tore” at him when he originally heard the news, Brown said. And when he recounted the story to Hamilton, he said he cried.
For Brown it was healing. For Hamilton, the effect was authentic. Hamilton said from that exercise, Brown improvised something “nobody can write.”
Hamilton, co-founder of Think Ten Media Group with partner Jennifer Fischer, was on tour for their 2012 film “Smuggled” when he heard about the 2013 Pelican Bay Prison hunger strikes in California. He wanted to understand the conditions that the inmates were protesting.
However, Hamilton’s research on prisons quickly led him down a “proverbial rabbit hole,” he said. Therefore he said he and Fischer felt that a single movie could not adequately address the issues. Hamilton said they decided to create a web series and pattern it after HBO’s “The Wire” (2002-8) by dividing it into “parts of the machine” or focusing on different aspects of the prison setting.
Brown inadvertently started to prepare for his role in “The wHOLE” less than two months after his 18th birthday when he was sent to a federal penitentiary for bank robbery in 1995.
For the next 15 years, Brown was in and out of prison -and the Solitary Housing Unit (SHU).
“You’re in jail, but you’re in jail again,” Brown said about his time in solitary. With only one hour a day outside of the cell to shower and exercise, “You lose your mind; it’s like a 23-hour-hell-hold.”
Brown said, “you got to stay real sharp” because with little other stimulation, the soundtrack of the SHU can get to you. The guards’ keys jingling and prisoners screaming and banging are part of the incessant noise.
Sometimes, Brown said, the library would come around with a book. But once you returned it, he said, “you were left alone.”
To stay sane in the SHU, Brown said he would play songs in his head and mentally write beats. The other thing that kept him lucid he said is “knowing that someone on the other side of that wall loves you.”
His time in the real SHU informed Brown’s performance in “The wHOLE.” As Marcus Williams, Brown contends with social isolation within the space. For example, he improvises ‘playing’ piano at the edge of the bed. But he eventually starts to bang on the walls and the commode in response to the guard ignoring his plea and sounds like a persistent faucet drip and buzzing lights.
“How perverse is it that we put people deeper into prison?” Glenn Martin, founder of the justice advocacy organization JustLeadershipUSA, asked.
Martin reflected on his own experiences in the SHU with Tonight at Dawn; he said, “The first day you start reading every scratch on the wall, and by the second day you start talking to yourself” because you are so isolated.
And by the third day? Martin said you can’t tell the difference between ”which voice is yours and which is the one in your head.”
Martin, who will be a co-producer on the second episode of “The wHOLE,” feels like the series compliments his organization’s model because it “amplifies (the) voices” of people who have been in the criminal justice system.
ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BARS
From Brown’s perspective, “The guards don’t look at (prison) as rehab, they look at it as ‘fuck you,’” because, to them, “you’re just a number on the door”.
Brown said, it’s “eight (hours) and the gate” for the officers.
Dasha Lisitsina wrote about the experiences of correctional officers for The Guardian. The article, published on May 20, has a telling title; “‘Prison guards can never be weak’: the hidden PTSD crisis in America’s jails”.
In the article, Lisitsina writes about how Correctional Officers handle the stress of their job, “Corrections wisdom dictates that you deal with trauma by not dealing with it at all.” According to Lisitsina’s reporting, “‘Eight and the gate’ is the unofficial motto.”
Lisitsina also wrote about the results of an anonymous 2011 survey of correctional officers conducted by Caterina Spinaris founder of Desert Waters Correctional Outreach, a nonprofit based in Colorado, “Corrections officers suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder at more than double the rate of military veterans in the US.”
Reflecting on this study, Hamilton told Tonight at Dawn, “Our prison systems are no good to anyone involved.” He said future episodes of “The wHOLE” will explore perspectives of other people involved in prisons such as the guards.
‘I GET TO BE WILLIAM’
Sometimes, though, there is something positive to be found in prison.
During Brown’s last prison sentence at the California’s Men’s Colony San Luis Obispo, he learned of the Arts in Correction program and approached the prison’s facilitator Deborah Tobola in 2007 about creating music.
At the time, Tobola needed to replace one of the actors and she had Brown read for the role in a play written by inmates, “Yesterday’s New Arrival.”
Brown was not an actor, but Tobola said she insisted that he had significant talent.
Happy he took the role, Brown still works with Tobola who has since resigned from her government job in 2007 and developed “Poetic Justice Project” in 2008 in Santa Maria for formerly incarcerated youth and adults.
If it weren’t for Tobola, Brown said, “I would not be acting, she saw something in me I did not see.” In fact, it was also Tobola that recommended Hamilton audition him for “The wHOLE” in 2014.
And now, thanks to acting and fatherhood, Brown said he is focused on doing the right thing. He said, “I won’t even jaywalk.”
Since his early teens, William Brown has been called by a lot of names: he was nicknamed Day Day on the street in his early teens and in prison he was called by just his last name or his inmate number. But as an actor today, he is called to stage by his full name.
“The difference for me now,” Brown said, “is I get to be William.”