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.”
Tonight at Dawn just reached its 1st year anniversary and 200th article on Sunday (2.22: “Tonight at Noon“). To celebrate, we are presenting our largest (& favorite) milestones from the last 365 days. Thanks for taking the ride and stay with us as we evolve!
Tonight at Dawn: Favorite Posts by the Month
February: TaD’s 1st live coverage “The Man Behind the Curtain: Covering the VH1 Superbowl Blitz”
March: Japanese rainbows “Shinjuku, Block no. 2 (新宿二丁目)”
April: Live wire Lews Black Rants On: 7 Pieces of Advice
May: Get educated The Nigerian School Project
May (Indecision!) Montclair Film Festival Series
June: What’s threatening our democracy? Justice Reform Series
July: International collaboration Economy Decoded: Kesariya Baalam, Padharo Mhare des!
August: Give me the RED Light…District
September: Eco-tacular Meeting the 1st female prime minister of Ireland at NYC’s Climate March
September: (Indecisions, again!): Meeting Senator Cory Booker
October: Music reviews from @kraltunes make our stats POP! Pearl Jam (& my favorite @kraltunes piece)
November: The doctor is in! One of Dr. Nina’s “What you to need to know…”
December: ART! Margeaux Walter Has Got Heart (or a FAMNIG HJÄRTA)
January: “One small step for (wo)man” Peeing in the Shower (& Other Eco-Friendly Moves I’m Not Ready For)
February: Armchair activism via John Oliver: #Jeff We Can! #Jeff We Can! #Jeff We Can!
What’s next for TaD? More of everything! More @kraltunes, travel, Dr. Nina, live event coverage and real, current social and environmental issues. The next interview piece will be a sobering but hopeful conversation with a TED Talks speaker.
Article reposted from Omaha.com with permission from mother and author, Tunette Powell.
Introduction by K. Cecchini.
I heard Tunette Powells’ story in This American Life a couple of weeks ago in an episode on school discipline entitled, “Is This Working?” and I was disturbed – but not shocked. I knew that her story of her son being suspended 3 times in a span of a couple of weeks from preschool is part of much larger conversations.
Yes, her son was suspended from preschool.
According to her radio interview, Powell blamed herself and her parenting before she stumbled onto the irrefutable evidence that her son had been disciplined in a manner that was unequal to that of his caucasian classmates.
Although, given Powell’s tenacity, she will do all that she can to ensure her son is not trapped in the undertow, it is still not difficult to see the link between her question, “Is my black preschooler just another statistic?” and justice reform.
Unfortunately, I am not drawing an imaginary line between school discipline and incarceration; experts have connected the dots and labeled it the “School to Prison Pipeline”. If our preschools are suspending kids – and focusing on African-American boys – than we really need to look upstream at how schools are addressing childhood. I am glad that Powell is standing up for her son and adding her voice to the conversation.
“Is My Black Preschooler Just Another Statistic?” by Tunette Powell (@TunettePowell)
My 4-year-old son JJ is the brightest preschooler I know.
And I’ve met everyone in his class.
He writes his name better than any other student. Not only can he spell his name, but he can spell his little brother’s and several of his classmates’ names. Earlier this month, he joined the church choir and has hopes of leading a song. If that wasn’t enough, he’s made home videos about heaven, Omaha’s weather and what he wants to be when he grows up.
That it is why I was shocked when I received calls in January and February asking me to pick him up from school. JJ was suspended from preschool three times in the past three months. My husband and I have sat in countless parent-teacher conferences trying to figure out what’s going on with JJ. The preschool staff thought it might be because I’m a working mom.
They also questioned our parenting tactics at home.
But after attending a birthday party where other parents, who were not black, shared stories of the horrific things their kids have done without suspension, I’m now a little skeptical. And now, after reading a story momaha.com published titled “Black preschoolers more likely to face suspension” I’m not sure what to think.
I would like to believe that the facts in the article are all leading to one big April Fool’s joke. But I can’t ignore the facts reported in the article: black children represent 18 percent of children in preschool, but make up almost half of the preschoolers suspended.
As a black mother, there are two things I have tried not to be: a black mother who plays the race card; and a loud and unreasonable black mother who defends her kid as if he can do no wrong. But even I admit it, I was shocked at the news of an unruly JJ each phone call.
JJ is a well-behaved child — for the most part. And he did what his classroom instructors accused him of… He threw a chair, refused to listen to his preschool teacher during nap time and he spit on another student. Believe me, JJ now understands the consequences of those things.
He’s been doing a lot better, and I was doing my best to forget about it. But earlier this month at a birthday party for one of JJ’s classmates, a few parents got together to discuss the preschool. Parents expressed their dislike and I agreed with them. I worked up the courage to tell them JJ had been suspended three times since the New Year. They were shocked.
“My son threw something at a kid on purpose and the kid had to be rushed to the hospital,” one parent said. “All I got was a phone call.”
One after another three white parents told me about the preschool fights and disciplinary problems their children were having. The most startling thing they admitted was that none of their children had been suspended.
After JJ’s second suspension, my husband asked the preschool staff if any other students had been suspended. Of course, they couldn’t share that information with us, but it was a question worth asking.
Since then, JJ has been walking on egg shells. If he doesn’t sleep at nap time, they leave us a note. If he doesn’t feel like being the life of the classroom, they leave us a note.
I’m torn on what to do or if I should do anything at all.
But I do know one thing: JJ will not be treated the way I was treated in preschool.
I was expelled because they said I talked too much. I will be a race-card playing, loud-mouth black mother before JJ is just a another statistic.
About Tunette (From tunettepowell.com)
Nationally-known author and public speaker, Tunette Powell has received a host of prestigious public speaking awards, including being named the top persuasive speaker in the country in 2012, as she has traveled throughout the country motivating and encouraging young men and women at schools, colleges and universities, and nonprofit organizations. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, Powell has dedicated her life to being the change she wishes to see. Read more about Tunette on her site.
Follow her on Twitter: @TunettePowell and Facebook: Tunette Powell
You can read on Tuesdays on momaha.com
By (Anonymous) Guest Author
Views presented in the article are those of the author and may not be of Tonight at Dawn.
So there’s a new(er) app out called YIK YAK, which essentially works like a twitter account, with one small difference —the sender of the message is anonymous.
Using geo-fencing technology on your smartphones, the app works like a “virtual bulletin board” for any 1.5-mile radius, creating small pockets of communities. A couple of things to start off:
What the hell is the point of this thing?!
Anonymous tweeting in a designated area? That doesn’t open the door up for any form of faceless bullying to take place…now does it? (Well, it already has.)
Why would I want to post a message to a community of people, 90% of whom I do not know and will never know?
Does the town of ——— really need to know that “I took a sh– in the Iris Gardens last night” (at least the bowels of the village idiots are running satisfactorily), or “These ho– ain’t loyal” (apparently pimpin’ in “yakville”, just like the rest of the world, ain’t easy). These are actual yik yaks. I would cite them to avoid any plagiarism, but, of course, they are anonymous.
Defenders of the app will say that this was designed for college communities, and has been overrun by high schoolers and other juveniles with healthy excretory systems. To them I refer back to my talking points.
I enjoy social media like anyone else, and I don’t think I’m at that age yet where all these new-fangled devices are flying over my head, but this one seems totally pointless to me, especially in an age where cyber bullying is a large issue for teens. I mean, most of the bullying types weren’t afraid to gang up on a kid on Facebook or Twitter, where their identities were somewhat easily available. I’m sure that this is a territory that they would not dare cross into.
Parents and teachers, be aware.
Screenshot of a local Yik Yak feed.
Featuring Dena Floryczk’s photography; Nigerian School Project article by Tonight at Dawn founder, Kimberly Cecchini, as published in the June 2014 issue of Millennium Magazine (listed on the cover). Read the article and see more photos! : https://tonightatdawn.com/2014/05/04/the-nigerian-school-project-going-full-circle/Stay tuned for the posting of Cecchini’s other article in the issue, “Pig & Prince: Restaurant & Gastro Lounge”.
Text by Kimberly Cecchini/Photography by Dena Florczyk
To learn more about and support NSP at http://nigerianschoolproject.org and http://www.youcaring.com/other/books-for-tomarro/173201.
Dena Florczyk educates students in two hemispheres. The middle school teacher in suburban Teaneck, New Jersey has aided numerous education programs and has had a school built in Nigeria. Her recent exhibition at the Stable Art Gallery in Ridgewood celebrated a decade of work in Africa through the photographs she has taken during her visits. The show also served as a fundraiser for her nonprofit, the Nigerian School Project. The pieces are not only a reflection of her photographic talents, but also the evolution of her relationship with the country.
Through an opportunity with another nonprofit in Teaneck, Dena originally traveled to Nigeria’s commercial capital of Lagos with the interest of an educator. She was shocked by what she saw. The disparity between the wealthy and the impoverished is vast and obvious; “It is not an easy place to live.” Public classrooms typically overflow with sixty or seventy students and contain zero books. Among many things, she observed kids sharing pencils and as many as ten growing boys sharing seats built for three.
Dena initially met with local teachers and asked them to write a wish list of supplies, imported box loads of pencils, helped to sew uniforms, taught workshops to juvenile offenders and created a small yearly cycle of modest fundraisers at home. Friends and family have also joined her on some trips to engage and teach local students. In addition, she undertook larger projects such as building school libraries and orchestrating a book drive.
“Oh my god, he wants me to build him a school.”
Following a friend who was working on malaria clinics in the region, she took a boat out to Tomarro. Upon reaching the shantytown “suburb” of Lagos, she was overwhelmed with a cacophony of noises and smells. There she discovered that the fishing community’s children are counted as fortunate if they had at least been enrolled in one of the area’s few elementary schools. Unfortunately, that’s also where their education usually ended; it is too expensive for them to take a boat over to the commercial capital.
Soon after her arrival in Tomarro, the bali (the tribal king’s brother), who had learned of her work in Lagos, led her out to an open lot. Standing on top of a heap of dirt, he asked her to build the community’s first middle school. She was not prepared for this daunting request, “I’m just a little school teacher from New Jersey.”
Despite the immensity of the task, the Nigerian School Project embarked on its grandest venture with the help the help of a financial benefactor and a local pastor. On that lot now stands the “Ibadan Public School,” a six classroom block with her name inscribed on the plaque beneath the school’s name.
“On the Map”
Tomarro’s people, who had felt ignored by their state, are truly proud of the establishment; they celebrated the opening with lively masquerades, drumming and dancing. Locals spoke about how the school put them “on the map” and legitimized their community. Now they can envision new opportunities for their children.
Even though the government shuffled its feet to fulfill their obligation to fund the operation of the school for two years, the school did not remain idle during this time. The townspeople formed committees and hired teachers to ensure that the prospective pupils did not have to wait to enroll.
Going Full Circle
Dena is currently awaiting updates and pictures of The Nigerian School Project’s newest endeavor. The high school will provide an opportunity for Tomarron children to have a complete education and, along with university scholarships, it will represent a full circle for Dena’s work in Nigeria.
In such a tough environment, scholarships don’t necessarily mean success, but The Nigerian School Project has already been able to help one young man, Suru, to complete his education with a college scholarship. You can see her motherly pride as she speaks of Suru who she has known since he was a young school boy. Now a Nigerian naval officer, Suru is also one of her trusted Nigerian connections when she is in the States.
The Dance You Do
“I don’t have that edgy, aggressive behavior because I don’t want to step into a situation like that,” Dena refers to the dance that she does between wanting to capture a situation and not wanting to be intrusive.
Although she loves to photograph, it is not Dena’s priority when she is in Africa. She accepts that some people consider her images to be too pretty; she’s simply attracted to the lines and colors of a scene and does not seek to exploit the rawest moments.
One of her favorite photographs is one she took in Uganda; she loves the movement of the potter’s wheel and the playfulness of the children within the composition. Smiling, she remarks how “they just want to play.” Her photographs do not ignore the poverty and difficulties that plague these areas, but they do not dwell on them either. “People are very proud regardless of their circumstance…they are very proud of who they are and their culture, fiercely proud, and I don’t want anyone feeling that I’m judging that.” As an intimate observer, she elevates the youth she photographs and conveys what she sees in them; engaging, smart motivated students and sometimes, just simply, children.
Whether its her photography or the schools that she has had built, this little school teacher from New Jersey empowers the voice of the young through sincere portraits and the civil right of literacy.
To view more of Dena’s photographs and to learn more about or support the Nigerian School Project, please visit http://nigerianschoolproject.org.
Text & Photo by Kimberly Cecchini
It may seem as though Tonight at Dawn is on a bit of a hiatus, but I am feverishly working on new posts. This weekend, in addition to covering the festival for Millennium Magazine, I am also a proud member of the Montclair Film Festival photo and blog teams and am running around the town to cover incredible films and fascinating conversations. Here are some of the posts that you can expect over the next week or so:
-Reposts of my photos and blogs on the Montclair Film Festival from conversations with new late night host, Stephen Colbert to Kevin Smith to an incredibly diverse array of inspiring documentaries and entertaining films.
-Interview with my colleague, Dena Floyrzk, who is an incredible photographer and now the founder of two schools in Nigeria.
-Interview with Indian author, Vinay Rai, on his book, Think India, and the state of his country’s progress as a developing economy.
-Interview with a New Jersey chef on his beautiful and ecologically inspired restaurant, Pig & Prince, as will be printed in Millennium Magazine.
Interviews to be slated for the rest of spring:
-Dr. McCabe, graduate professor and autism expert.
-Australian author of proposal for the rehab of orcas in captivity
John Lugizamo at the Opening Night if Montclair Film Festival 2014.
As I said, Tonight at Dawn will be a variety magazine (as I add the variety) because of the different opportunities that are currently in my life. I am hoping, as I develop it, that I will be able to focus more entries on issues that are closer to my heart such as the environment, social issues and education. I know some folks (perhaps it is you) that I already hope to interview, but if you know of anybody that has an interesting story to tell or are simply a great source for research, please share!