Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I Got Nothing but Love for You
Heavy D

Did I read my Facebook page correctly? Heavy D dead at 44? I couldn't believe the news when I saw the "RIP" posts on my friends status. Not  Heavy D. The self-proclaimed "Overweight Lover"  had my little tween self doing the running man and snake in front of my grandma's TV when his videos came on BET's "Video Soul" and "Rap City." Not Heavy D.

I still love Heavy D's music. His beats drew you to the dance floor and his flows were nice.The Overweight Lovers lyrics definitely had a way with the ladies.  His rhymes about romance and relationships were fun. He could get a little steamy too. Is it good to you? I like it.  I was just reading on his Twitter page where he Tweeted on November 1, "I love the idea of love."

 As a black woman, I especially love and appreciate Heavy D for not climbing his way on the charts on the backs of black women by referring to us as bitches and hoes in his music. He is a prime example of how you don't have to disrespect women to sell record. Even during his recent performance at the BET Awards, his female dancers were fully clothed.  Another plus, Heavy D was a cutie! Sistas started giving the brothas with a little meat on their bones second glances after he debuted with his group Heavy D and the Boyz. Heavy D could work it in the dance department. He was a good actor too.

Heavy D's sudden death made me really sad. He was so young and had so much more to accomplish and see. I wasn't sure if it was weight-related, but I read somewhere he lost about 130 pounds. At the time I'm writing this post, TMZ is reporting he had breathing troubles and pneumonia. I'm also down because so many entertainers I loved during my teens are dying relatively young: Guru, Tena Marie, Bernie Mac, Luther Vandross, Gerald LeVert, Vesta, Michael Jackson and now Heavy D.  Hip Hop has changed so much since when I was a kid. So many of the new rappers are just so-so. Heavy D was creative and represented an era in hip hop when it was fun and songs weren't just about the club, money and killing. I feel like a piece of Hip Hop passed with him.

On his Twitter page,  Heavy D posted these final words, "BE INSPIRED." What a blessing to leave to your fans and loved ones. There were a few others I saw on his page during the past week, that lifted my spirits.

Nov. 6  All glory comes from daring to begin.

Nov. 4 Never stop believing.. Magic is just science we don't understand.. Every original idea was considered insanity at first..

Nov. 2  “If at first you don't succeed, find out if the loser gets anything.”

Nov. 4 Back in the USA.. I love my life.. Only because I always have!!! BLESS UP!

And what a life. We got nothing but love for you Heavy D.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Natural Hair and the Spa Experience


I had the best spa experience in my life so far. And it was mainly due to putting my straightening comb on sabbatical and went natural.  My life has been far from a crystal stair lately.  When someone treated me to a free massage anywhere of my choice, I booked an appointment at The Claremont Hotel in Berkeley with the quickness. My mind and body were crying out for some calm and release.  I’ve been to spas and enjoyed my experiences, before but this time was different. I packed a bathing suit in my tote bag and nothing else. No comb, doo rags, hair gel, grease, scruniches, brush or shower caps. Nope. Just my bathing suit and a worry-free hair attitude. 

I arrived to the gorgeous hotel and walked downstairs to a paradise of white terry cloth robes and cucumber water.  My massage was heavenly. I got the full body treatment. The masseuse massaged my scalp and I didn’t care. A few years ago I would have been concerned about her lavender-oiled hands messing up my straightened hair. I didn’t care this time and let her fingers rub through my fro. I think her hands got stuck in my kinks a few times, LOL. Hey it is what it is.  I don’t recall my scalp ever being massaged.  My God it felt goooooood. 

Next stop was the steam room. In my pressing days, I wrapped a towel around my head and stayed in the steam room for a few minutes.  I’ve always liked steam rooms but didn’t want to risk my straightened hair, that I spent $50 on at the salon, getting nappy. So I deprived myself of a simple pleasure.  Ahh, but it’s a new day.  I reclined on the stone tile steps in the steam room and loved every sweaty second.  The only towel I used in the room was to sit on.  Black natural hair loves water. My hair embraced the moisture and my skin left with a priceless glisten.

I put on my swimsuit and simmered in the whirlpool.  No black scarf on my head. No shower cap. My hair was out, wild and free.  But the best moment of the day, the moment I gave God a “thank you” was when I bathed in a majestic 6-head shower.  I turned on the ceiling dome head and warm water gently rained on me. There was no way in hell I would have done that a year ago. No way.  I spent at least 20 minutes in the shower, occasionally twirling under water drops.  I felt free and at peace.  A year ago I would have walked away from that shower, with a plastic cap on my head a little disappointment because I couldn’t enjoy the full experience.  God forbid I spend 20 minutes in a shower getting my hair wet, only to spend a couple of hours washing, blow drying, pressing and flat ironing it again.  Thankfully, I have freed my mind and hair.

I floated out of the Claremont Hotel that day worry free, smelling of lavender and a little ashy.  Next time I’ll pack body lotion in my tote and conditioner for co-washing in the shower.  Spas are meant to be relaxing.  My past hair worries took away from the full, relaxing experience. Ahhh, but it’s a new day for me.




Monday, September 12, 2011

Saving Our Girls from Oakland's Streets

Interview with Writer Harry Williams
'Straight Outta East Oakland 2: Trapped on the Track'

Rev. Harry Williams signing his book.
Photo Credit: Jenee Darden
Author and minister Harry Williams II knows how to do an author’s book reading. I have not yet read his latest book “Straight Outta East Oakland 2: Trapped on the Track” but he delivered on the theatrics when he read excerpts to the cramped room at the World Ground Café in Oakland when I heard him in the Spring. The non-profit MISSSEY hosted the joint authors showcase which featured Rachael Lloyd.  She gave a riveting presentation as well. She has so much heart. I’ll give a review of her book soon. Back to Williams,  his novel is about a reformed crack dealer named Firstborn. He returns to Oakland to take Crayon, 15 out of prostitution after her grandmother pleas for his help. Much of the energy Williams gave during the reading is rooted in passion for the atrocity going on Oakland streets, particularly the sexual trafficking of girls and young women. Again, there are CHILDREN, being sold on the streets of Oakland for sex.  Williams is working with MISSSEY to end the problem. There was a lot of activity going on after the readings, but I managed to sneak in a quick interview with Harry Williams. FYI: "The Track" is a street in Oakland where sex trafficking is extremely prevalent. 

CF: How did you get interested in the subject of child trafficking?
 I live here in Oakland. You can’t live in Oakland and not be aware that people are being bought and sold like chattel like in the 18th century. You can’t go to the supermarket and not see women and sometimes men caught up in human trafficking. Being that I live here, and I care about my community and as a person of faith it’s impossible not to have a concern for the world around us.

Talk about the main character of your book Firstborn Walker. Where did you get the inspiration for that character?
Firstborn Walker is several people that I know, myself included. When I was young, I was very naïve and made some very bad decisions that led me to make even more bad decisions. But I came to a place in my life where I realized that God loved me, He had a plan for my life. Not only my life, but for the lives of the people around me and I needed to give something back.



I look at Rachael Lloyd from GEMS and Nola Brantley of MISSSEY. There are lot of women involved in trying to get girls off of the streets. What do you see is your responsibility as a man in trying to end this atrocity on Oakland’s streets?
Each one of the women is our daughter. If you have a movement that has no men, it will lose its impact. I believe we have to have men who women can see as a real man, who’s not there to take advantage of them but to love them as a brother or sister. Also, we need to go back and tell our brothers that the exploitation is not the perfect male-female relationship. So much of the problem comes from the way that men see women that has been perpetuated for many years. You need to have some men that say “I own that. I’m changing and I want you to change with me. “

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Life

Photo by Sung Sook
The last year of my life have been hectic to the 10th power.  I've been helping my grandfather as he battles cancer, getting used to a new job, had to sue someone and so much more I don't want even want to get into. I missed CocoaFly.com a lot. I felt like had abandoned a child.  When I first moved back to the Bay Area I had so many ideas for this blog, but then life put some those plans on hold. I did a few book reviews over the past months, but I miss blogging. As things start to settle I will be slowly getting back to my habit of blogging regularly.

Going through trying times has made me again think of people who have it much harder than me. I have great respect for people who are ill and get up everyday to fight for their life. I admire those who have been out of work for years, yet they hit the pavement and send out resumes daily. And I'm in awe of people who have lived through atrocities (i.e. families of 9/11 victims, victims of crimes, survivors of abuse, etc.) and still have the heart to give, live and keep going.  

With all that has been going on in my life I'm so thankful for good friends. You really know who your friends are when you're having tough times. Thankfully, God put great people in my life. They know who they are. I'm just thankful that through all of this I'm still thankful for some things: family, friends, job, food, shelter, good health and "Two- and-a- Half Men" reruns that keep me laughing through all of the bad days.

Life is beautiful. Life is hard. Life is what we make it. Life is out of our control. Life is to be lived.  Life is a b*tch. Life is a lesson. Life is a blessing. 


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

BlogHer Book Club Review
If You Think Push was a Tough Read, Brace Yourself for The Kid

Don’t be fooled by the title of Sapphire’s latest novel, The Kid. There’s nothing childish about this follow up to her first novel Push. I’m woman enough to admit it that it took me 12 years to read “Push” because I was scared. I didn’t know how I would handle reading the story about Precious Jones, an illiterate, obese, black teenager pregnant by her father and abused by her mother as well. Push is a brilliant novel and emotionally challenging to read. But The Kid makes Push look like the minor leagues when it comes to the graphic scenes.

The story starts with nine-year-old Abdul Jones preparing to bury his mother Precious. Our Shero, who left an abusive home and sought education, lost her battle to AIDS at 27. The health care system failed her by not providing her medication she couldn’t afford. But Push fans will be happy to know that Precious grew into the woman and mother we hoped for. Precious became literate, wrote poems, went to college and exposed her son the arts. She encouraged Abdul to always ask questions and protected him. She reared a bright boy. I loved the character Precious and was so proud of her. It hurt to read that Abdul was going into foster care -- another system that would ruin all his mother hoped for. Although he’s The Kid, Abdul’s childhood dies when his mother’s coffin closes. He grows up brutally fast. 

Read the rest on BlogHer.com. Warning,the remainder of the review includes content that discusses child abuse and rape.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Getting to Happy Takes Work
My Blogher Book Review of Terry McMillan's Novel

Another Blogher Book Review from yours truly. This time I give my spin on "Getting to Happy," Terry McMillan's sequel to "Waiting to Exhale." The book received mixed reviews. I like the novel. McMillan's story shows that happiness is not easy to attain. You could be rich, have a fine ass man, angels for children, nice clothes and be praised all of the time. But, that doesn't equate to happiness. For some of us it may. I don't want to give away too much of my review, but read on here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I Couldn't Put It Down
'Girl In Translation' by Jean Kwok

I have two words to describe Jean Kwok's "Girl in Translation" -- Fly Read.  This is such a good book for not just adults but teens as well. If you like heartfelt, honest stories of survival and mother-daughter relationships, girl you need to pick this one up.  I know you're wondering what the story is about. Read my review for the BlogHer Book Club here to find out.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

FemTech: Alicia 'Kat' Dillman Blends Romance, Art and Technology for Her New Book

Entrepreneur, artist, techie and  writer
Alicia Dillman poses with
 an image from her novel.
Photo Credit: Michael Pleasent
Alicia “Kat” Dillman of KatGirl Studio describes herself as a “Do It Yourself” kind of girl. That’s my kind of girl. We met at WonderCon this year. Alicia is a freelance illustrator for children’s book covers, proficient with computer coding and has her eyes set on taking her art and tech skills to video gaming. But for now she’s pushing her book Daemons in the Mist. I haven't read the novel, but  the cover looks juicy, dramatic, and romantic. Alicia said the book is a young adult paranormal romance that is “spicier” Twilight. “Daemons is a word that existed pre-Hellenistic Greece. Their world exists within ours in a spectrum we can’t see,” said Alicia.  The story takes place in San Francisco where a teen named Patrick gets sucked in the paranormal world of a beautiful girl named Nualla.

The image of a woman doesn't usually come to mind when discussing technology. An engineer I spoke with at another event told me she mentors girls and they find computer technology boring. The mentor thinks the girls don't see a way to put their own stamp and identity into technology.  Alicia is an example of how you can combine feminine interests with technology. I asked her a few more questions about her craft. Aspiring writers and entrepreneurs should take note because the publishing and book marketing game has changed.

You have a trailer for your book. I’ve noticed authors are doing this now.
There are a lot of companies that offer either limited or zero-cost technology that allows you to be able to do it yourself or hire someone to do it for you. I made it myself using a software called Animoto. They take your images and your text and they time with a mathematic algorithm to the music that you select so that it looks like a movie trailer. It took me a day.

Are you self-published?
I am a partner in a publishing company. We’re going to be publishing a few other books. We’re partnered with a game company called CWS Software and they make kinetic visual novels which are popular in Japan but not really here yet. The only one I know of that’s an English one would be the Phoenix Wright for the Nintendo DS. It’s kind of like our old Indiana Jones games that we had back in the ‘90s, that kind of choose your own adventure [game]. This one is a singular storyline. My other books have more branching and video games.
I did the art and the writing. I do all of the printing and matting. I do everything.



CocoaFly interviewing Alicia Dillman at
WonderCon 2011 in San Francisco.
Photo Credit: Michael Pleasent

When you say drawing do you mean on the computer or with pencils and paper?

I used to do it on paper but I switched to 100 percent digital because it’s much better for the environment and a lot faster for my clients. I’m a freelance illustrator so the faster I can get things to people the better.

Go to Alicia's website to see the process of how she makes her work.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

'Switch It Up' Workshop at the Delta Sigma Theta Women's Empowerment Conference in Vallejo, CA

My Saturday was filled with inspiration.  The Delta Sigma Theta Vallejo, Calif.  Alumane Chapter hosted their 23rd Women's Empowerment Conference. The event was free and open to the entire community. For those wondering about my outfit,  yes I wore my Sigma Gamma Rho blue and gold (*smile*).  I presented my "Switch It Up to Live It Up" workshop, which I based on a series I launched on CocoaFly.com a few years ago. The workshop is about women switching up their thinking of themselves and how society defines them to live their own life. I talked about changing my own thinking, reinventing myself to thrive in this tough economy and shutting out negative definitions society has tried to impose on me as a woman and person of color.  I even used some of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou and Bon Jovi to plant empowerment seeds in the attendees. I sure did. I enjoyed this and if anyone is interested in booking me for this talk, contact me.

 I met so many dynamic women of all ages in numerous professions. The conference was more than an event, but a space for women to connect and bond. Women openly shared their stories of surviving abusive relationships and war-torn countries, overcoming illness, life after divorce,  their secrets to success, healthy eating and I could go on. New friends were making plans to attend Chicago Step classes and entrepreneurs swapped business cards. You know I loved it.  I sat on a morning panel and presented my workshop in the afternoon. During the panel I shared the importance of saying "NO" when you're feeling overwhelmed with duties and someone asks for "a favor." I learned this early. NO, NO, NO. But on the flip side, literally, when someone tells you no, and you need a yes, invert the word. What's "no" spelled backwards? ON. When you hear "no," think "Okay it's ON and I'm going to shoot for the stars." I'm telling you, these ideas got me through this economy.  Women told me I inspired them and I learned valuable life lessons from the 150+ attendees.  Barbara Walden, owner of Barbara Walden Cosmetics made 80 look like 40 when she spoke on stage. She proves that age is in the mind.

Thank you to the ladies of Delta Sigma Theta's Vallejo Alumnae Chapter. I had a great time.  A very special sister-soror thank you to Valerie Gray, the event's chair. I'm sure she's getting much needed rest that she'll need for next year.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Carol's Daughter 'Diverse' (wink, wink) Campaign and Why Colorless Marketing Excludes Black Women


By now you’ve probably heard about the paper-bag “diversity” campaign Carol’s Daughter recently launched. Black women of all hues are voicing out on the web, “Where are the brown-skinned faces?” Hopefully cocoa-cutie and Disney Princess Tiana will keep her kids line even though she doesn't have a  polyethnic look the company is pushing. “What’s ‘polyethnic?” you’re thinking. Here’s a quote from marketing guru and company CEO Steve Stoute from the campaign's press release:
What we’re doing now is moving into a polyethnic space. We want to be the first beauty brand that truly captures the beauty of the tapestry of skin types in America. When I say polyethnic, I mean women who are made up of several ethnicities. If you ask them what they are, they’re going to use a lot of different words to describe themselves. That’s in line with the Census data coming out — people are checking much more than two boxes. We believe we’ve put together a shoot that celebrates many different ethnicities, to become a mirror of what America’s really becoming.[...]“They will serve as cultural ambassadors in bringing forth this acceptance that the definition of beauty is now colorless.

Singers Solange (Black and Creole), Cassie (Black, Filipino and Mexican) and Victoria’s Secret model Selita Ebanks (Black, Irish, Native American) are the new spokeswomen representing diversity. All three ladies identify with multiple cultures. All are without a doubt gorgeous. My disappointment with this campaign has nothing to do with their beauty. Nor do I have a problem with founder Lisa Price expanding her brand. Curly heads of various ethnicities use Carol’s Daughter. The company should take advantage of their growing diverse pool of customers. But brown-skinned women buy Carol’s Daughter products too. I mean come on. Chrisette Michelle, Anika Noni Rose, Kimberly Elise, Brandi, Maybeline model Tomiko Fraser—women like them don’t represent diverse beauty? According to the press release, Lisa Price “designed the new campaign ad to reflect the recent demographic shift reported by the U.S. Census.” Lisa designed this? That stings. If it weren’t for black women, of ALL hues, Carol’s Daughter would not be sitting in Macy’s shelves, on HSN, online, etc. Black women backed Lisa Price from the days she was selling oils and creams out of her kitchen. Mind you, her stuff is expensive. Launching a campaign solely with a calablansian,  racially-ambiguous mainstream image excludes many women, especially the customers who first supported her.

It’s no secret that darker-skinned women have always been deemed as “unmarketable” and not beautiful. But why is polyethnic marketing in general so focused on women? Even CEO Steve Stoute said, “When I say polyethnic, I mean women who are made up of several ethnicities.” Why this deterrence away from black women’s features, especially in black media? Of course this marketing doesn’t impact black men. Think about it. If there were a hair and skin line for black men do you think Mr. Stoute and Lisa Price would hire Tiger Woods, Boris Kodjoe, Jessie Williams ("Grey’s Anatomy") to be their ONLY spokesmen? I’ll answer for you. HELL NAW. Black men would have a fit. You know some celeb like Tyrese or Romeo would be up in the campaign mix too.   Nearly every time I see or read something about multicultural marketing, the models are usually mixed-race women. Or when people get upset over a celebrity’s skin being lightened in an ad or magazine cover it’s a woman. Males are rarely the subject of these controversies. Companies using images of biracial people in their marketing is a great thing. Biracial people want to see reflection of themselves just like anyone else. Unfortunately this is happening at the erasure of brown-skinned women. God knows, there are barely a handful of brown-skinned beauties in the media at the moment.

Radio One founder Cathy Hughes said in April’s issue of Ebony Magazine (which is really good by the way) that this type of multicultural marketing is becoming a trend in black media:

If you look on television, look at ads, in print, everything is interracial now. Everything is a Black woman and White man or a Black man and a White woman. There’s this emphasis on a ‘colorless society.’ Why should we give up our Black culture? Are the Asians?... Do you think the Latino/Hispanics are going to give up being Latino or Hispanic because they have married other people? So why are black folks the only culture being called upon to be colorless? That trickles down, [and] greatly impacts African-American media.

What’s next? Women who look like Solange, Selita and Cassie will be considered too dark or too black for cultural products? I’m not saying the three ladies should not be spokeswomen. If Carol’s Daughter is going to push diverse beauty then be diverse. Show a range of colors and hair textures. The only differences I see in the spokeswomen are their hair styles and fashion tastes. Good marketing doesn’t alienate the customers who helped propelled the company. Many women online have said they’re not buying Carol’s Daughter products anymore. It will be interesting to see what kind of impact this may have. CEO Steve Stoute is supposedly a marketing wiz so the company may do very well. Until then, I’ll take my rich, brown skin and dark green dollar bills elsewhere.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Easter Bunny Event for Kids With Special Needs

Can you believe it's Easter already? I'm sure your kids are ready for their eggs, bunnies and baskets.  The folks at the special needs advocacy site Abilitypath.org told me that they are joint-hosting an Easter eggstravaganza where kids with special needs are getting V.I.P. treatment. The Caring Easter Bunny event will be held at Stanford Shopping Center  in Palo Alto, Calif.  this Sunday April 17th from 9-11am, before the mall opens. I told you it was V.I.P The setup is designed just for special needs children.  Here are more details from the release:
“This is an amazing opportunity for families of children with special needs to come out and
enjoy a day that has been specifically designed with their needs in mind,” said Sheryl Young,
CEO of AbilityPath.org, a partner in the program. “Having the event during closed mall hours provides a calmer sensory friendly environment, a number system allows for children with special needs the opportunity to explore other things while they wait for their photo to be taken and simple tweaks to the photo set allow for children who might be sensitive to a camera’s flash,
to still enjoy that special age-old tradition of having their photo with the Easter Bunny displayed on the mantle!”

Parents are encouraged to RSVP on Facebook here. If you can't make it this weekend the Caring Easter Bunny will also be available on Monday, April 18 from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. for private photo sessions for children with special needs. Or just hop on by anytime between April 12 and April 23.  Mention AbilityPath.org to receive the Caring Package.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Saving Our Girls from Oakland's Streets

Busting Prostitution Myths and Who’s Pimping the Pimp?

Melissa Farley
Photo Credit Jenee Darden
“It takes a village to create prostitution and it takes a village to stop it,” Melissa Farley argued in her presentation. She was one of the speakers at Allen Temple Baptist Church’s community meeting on the sex trafficking crisis in Oakland. Farley is the executive director of Prostitution Research and Education in San Francisco. I applaud her work. I'm sure some of you are surprised that such an organization exists. But someone has to do it to inform and help save lives.  Farley has interviewed johns and women in prostitution all over the world. She changed my stance on legalizing prostitution when she dropped some info about Nevada, where the “oldest profession” is legal.

“Nevada has some of the highest rates of rapes in the U.S. because boys there are taught to see women as natural prostitutes,” said Farley.

Another light bulb moment for me was when Farley asked us what does a pimp look like. Think about it. What face comes to mind when you see a pimp? Is he young? Is he black? Does he rock a gold chain, a cane and walk with swag? Farley showed us a picture of an old white man with a plain collared shirt from Washington state. He ran a prostitution ring through his strip clubs throughout the state. “Prostitution is organized crime a lot of time,” said Farley. She explained to us that mafias partner with local thugs who monitor the girls on the streets. Are the small-time pimps being pimped by the crime bosses? Regardless, Farley said the sex trade is a billion dollar industry, especially in light of the weak economy (Hmmmm...reminds me of when Nola Brantley of MiSSSEY spoke about selling girls on the street has become more profitable than pushing crack)

We know that pimps are bringing in the dollars, but what about the girls and women? Think about the images of prostitutes. Some are high class, others are in poor neighborhoods. According to Farley, there is a hierarchy of prostitution. She said only 2% of women and girls are “high-class prostitutes.” You know the ones whose clients shell out the big bucks like Richard Gere’s character in “Pretty Woman.” “They’re doing it voluntarily. Usually they’re not women of color, they have backup options, class and race privilege,” Farley said. Well Farley killed that “Pretty Woman” fairytale, because that’s not reality for most women and girls. She reported that 48% of women and girls in the trade are those who can’t provide for their families. Often they are victims of molestation and incest as children, they’re trying to escape a violent relationship. I was surprised that some of these women have children with special needs and they need the money for care.

Sadly 50% of women in prostitution are in captivity. On average, a prostitute is raped once a week. It’s a lot to take in. I felt somewhat overwhelmed as I drove home because I had some idea of the story behind those children standing on the corner in tight pants and wigs looking for sex to survive. Little girls are supposed to be going to the mall with their friends and shopping for Justin Beiber posters. We MUST save our girls Oakland. We MUST save our girls.

Saving Our Girls from Oakland's Streets

OPD Officer Says City's Sex Trafficking Crisis Tougher than Duty in Iraq

Officer Jim Saleda
Photo Credit: Jenee Darden
“I spent 14 months in Iraq. That was easier than doing this job on the streets of Oakland, ” Officer Jim Saleda said at community forum on child sex trafficking in Oakland. Allen Temple Baptist Church hosted the event. That’s how dire this problem has become. Serving in war is easier than battling pimps on Oakland’s streets. Officer Saleda has been with the Vice and Child Exploitation Unit for 10 years. The weariness lives on his face. The night before the summit,  he was up until 1am arresting Johns. It doesn’t help that Oakland’s police force is severely understaffed because of budget cuts. There are only five cops in his unit.

Officer Saleda said when he started in the youth services division 10 years ago, officers encountered about 100 girls in trafficking. Now the numbers are approaching thousands. THOUSANDS.  Remember I told you about guerilla pimping, or forcing a girl into prostitution? Here’s one tactic the policeman shared with us:

“These guys were chasing girls down the street with pit bulls, cornering them, terrorizing them with the dogs and beating them into submission. Prostitution is not a victimless crime.”

Why isn’t the situation under control? One reason are the weak laws. Officer Saleda says getting caught with a prostitute is only a misdemeanor. Cops are “stacking” charges against perps. So johns may be charged with buying sex, and lewd act with a minor, and other violations.

A major problem with the law is that these girls are being criminalized when they’re in fact victims. “I hate sending them there but that’s the only place I know they’ll be safe for a little while,” Officer Saleda said. According to him the pimps tell their girls in group homes and juvenile hall “they better” bring another girl into the fold. Even after separation from the pimps, some get back into the trade. Officer Saleda identified Stockholm Syndrome as one factor for returning to their pimps.

But this story about a young woman he tried to save really got to all of us.
She was a missing person at risk. We brought her back to YSD [Youth Services Division]. We called her mom. She said, ‘It’s too far to drive to come get her.’ We couldn’t take her to the [juvenile] hall so we took her to the assessment center. Two weeks later this girl was brutally, horribly murdered and left displayed in Mosswood Park. I’m going to carry that with me for the rest of my life.
This is what is happening to OUR girls. Our daughters, our nieces, our sisters, our cousins, our neighbors, our sisters, our fellow American women. On a good note, something is getting done. Officer Saleda’s testimony in a recent case helped land a slave owner pimp a 25-to-life sentence.

Saving Our Girls from Oakland's Streets

Nola Brantley Explains How Pimps Recruit Girls


Nola Brantley speaks to concerned
public at Allen Temple Church
Photo Credit: Jenee Darden

“When you been molested your whole life, sometimes these girls be hoes. They do it to cover up the pain of what happened to them. “ --Former prostituted teen


Nola Brantley wants you to keep one word in mind when talking about the girls traded on Oakland’s streets, “children.”

“We don’t realize they’re children because of the word ‘prostitution'” said Brantley, executive director of MISSSEY (Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting, and Serving Sexually Exploited Youth). The non-profit helps victims of sexual exploitation transition to stable lives. More than 70 people from the community packed the meeting room at Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland on Saturday morning for a summit on human trafficking. Brantley, 35, can personally relate to the girls she helps because she is a survivor of child trafficking.
“My exploiter was a police officer and so my exploitation experience is unique,” Brantley told me after her presentation.

According to Brantley the children being pimped are between the ages of 11 and 17. Guess the average age a girl starts prostitution in the U.S.A. Give up? The average age a GIRL enters prostitution is 12 YEARS OLD. Most of the girls sexually enslaved are poor, prior victims of sexual abuse and black or Latino. Brantley told us that there are girls of all races out there but nearly 100 percent of her clients are African American. Half of all the girls they help are in foster care. Brantley thinks the boom began in Oakland seven years ago.

“The influx of child trafficking in Oakland probably dates back to 2004,” she told me. “We can look at lots of factors in society. What I attribute to it closest are two things. One is 9/11. All of our national resources targeted towards homeland security and away from social services and mental health. Number two is the increased penalty and sentencing around crack cocaine. That made it too risky and less profitable to sell crack and less risky and more profitable to sell little girls.”

I gained so much from Brantley’s fiery and moving presentation. One component of her talk that especially struck me was the process of how pimps recruit and brainwash the girls. It starts off with the girls thinking they’re in a romantic relationship with the pimp. Brantley broke it down in 5 stages that I HIGHLY recommend for parents and guardians to read:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Child Sex Trafficking Outside My Front Door


Photo by Mike Linksvayer  
Prostitution in my Oakland childhood neighborhood is nothing new. I remember seeing the same, few women working corners near by for years. My neighborhood was no Beverly Hills, but for the most part the streets stayed quiet and the working-class families all knew each other. But the neighborhood has changed since I returned and not in a good way. Those women who worked the corners when I was kid have been replaced by children. You read right, CHILDREN. Just the other day I saw two girls in miniskirts, looking no older than 13, standing on the corners peeking inside cars driving by. One was black and the other I believe may have been white or Latina. Girls like them and a bit older are sprinkled throughout a 40-block stretch of International Blvd. known as “The Track.” How did my neighborhood, where I learned to ride my bike and attended Catholic high school, become a hot spot for child sex trafficking? It makes me sick that as I type this, a young girl who should be doing her homework or going to softball practice, is selling her body to make money for some pimp. And it disgusts me that some man or men are exposing these girls to STDs, rape, malnutrition and God knows what else. Many of these girls are forced into the trade through a tactic called “’guerilla pimping.” Girls are kidnapped, gang raped and beaten in prostitution. The children are in fear of their lives and don’t leave. And even if they “chose” to go that route, it doesn’t matter. They’re kids and from what I’ve been told by experts, don’t have family. Pimps prey on kids in foster care and group homes.

Pimp culture has always been a strong stitch in the fabric of Oakland’s ghetto culture. Rappers like Too $hort and Dru Down often had some sort of "pimps up, hoes down" theme in their songs. The whole situation makes me sad, but there’s hope. People have held protests. This weekend I went to a community summit on human trafficking at Allen Temple Baptist Church. I could write a dissertation on all of the information I learned. Three people spoke: Nola Brantley, executive director of MISSSEY; Melissa Farley, executive director of Prostitution Research and Education and Officer Jim Saleda. My mouth hit the floor when Officer Saleda said serving in Iraq paled to what's happening to girls in Oakland's streets. Our society finds money to pay athletes and reality stars. But when it comes to our women and children, especially those who are poor and minorities--it's a battle. We MUST save our girls from Oakland’s streets. WE MUST.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

WonderCon 2011
How Jeremy Love Went From Self-Publishing to DC Comics

Jeremy Love creator of Bayou at WonderCon
Photo by Michael Pleasent

Jeremy Love. Sounds like the name of a late night DJ taking song dedications. Jeremy is no DJ, in fact he is down with DC, as in DC Comics. Superman’s publisher carries Jerry’s comic series Bayou. I read a sample of it online and it is really good. I mean really, really good. Jeremy tells me how a little luck and a lot of hustle made his self-publishing dreams come true.
How did you get into comics?

I’ve been drawing all my life, making little comics when I was in elementary school and selling them so it just became natural. Once I found out I could make a living do it, it made me happier. So I kept practicing and kept my skills up.

How did you figure out you could make living doing it? there are artists out there trying to do the same thing but haven't made it.

It’s all about the initiative, the drive you put into it. I self-published my first book and that got me the notice I needed to start this professionally.

When you self-published, how many copies did you sell?

I only sold 600 or 700 copies but it got into the right people’s hands.

Bayou is about a black girl named Lee and her white friend Lilly. There’s some kind of Loch Ness Monster type character who lives in the swamp water. But he’s good?
Bayou is a benevolent, good swamp dweller. He helps Lee as they look for her friend Lilly who’s lost in this fantasy world that is set in 1933 Mississippi. It’s kind of like Alice and Wonderland with a voodoo and African-American folklore flavor to it.



Photo Credit: Michael Pleasent



What is Gettosake?Me and my brothers have an art studio and that’s our studio name.

Where did the name come from?

I had a friend when I was in high school who did graffiti and that was his graffiti name. When he retired I asked if I could use it because I liked it so much.

When I see Gettosake I’m thinking the hood and booze. What does the name mean to you?

It has a number of different meanings. People bring their own meaning to it.

What's next for you?
Bayou volume 3 comes out next year.

WonderCon 2011: Super Artists Couple Beth Sotelo and Joel Gomez


Joel Gomez and Beth Sotelo
Photo Credit: Michael Pleasent

It must be nice when you and your hubby are in the same line of work. Joel Gomez is a freelance artist for DC Comics but you'll learn more about him later. He had great advice for people trying to get through the door. Let's shift the spotlight to his wife Beth Sotelo.  Just as I was on my out of WonderCon Beth Sotelo greeted me with the biggest smile from her table. I can't turn down a friendly face and I'm so glad we got to chat. Beth is a colorist for Aspen Comics and is working on "Fathom: Volume 4 which is set to be in stores this month. "Fathom" is the company's best-selling series. Beth is ten years in the game, but it took super drive and thick skin of steel before an employer told her to paint on. Get it? Like when Johnny Storm of the Fantastic Four shouts, “Flame On!” …… Well, I thought it was cute. For anyone trying to make it any field, Sotelo's story will motivate you.

Cocoa Fly: How did you break into this industry?
Beth Sotelo: My background is in painting. I was doing murals, nothing like storytelling or comic books at all. My husband knew about coloring comics and when I was introduced to the whole industry I just fell in love. He got an internship at Top Cow. I got a job in production and I just started begging any artist to let me color any pinup or trading card they had. I practiced. I asked everybody with any sort of knowledge to look at my work. Nobody cared. You just have to keep bugging and have a thick skin because you’ll hear a lot of no's. I just listened to everything they said when they told me to correct. Ten years later I’m working on “Fathom” which is the book that I thought I would be working on. It’s a really a nice kind of book end.

Monday, April 4, 2011

New ThunderCats Cartoon Trailer

Thunder, Thunder, ThunderCats! HOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Those who grew up in the '80s know what's up. Here's a sneak peek at the new ThunderCats cartoon premiering on the Cartoon Network. Warner Bros. debuted the trailer Sunday at WonderCon. Cheetara has extensions and Lion-O looks really young. Actually, they all look really young. Where is Panthro and Snarf? Mumrar looks like his creepy self. I hope the series is good. Watch and tell me what you think.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Cocoa Fly Takes Over WonderCon

Cocoa Fly & The Hulk
Photo by Michael Pleasent
You're looking at the newest member of  The Avengers--Cocoa Fly. Armed with her secret Afro powers, kinetic energy gold hoop earrings and sorority tote bag loaded with indestructible weapons, the Hulk and Cocoa Fly are ready to fight evildoers and kick some boo-tay. Don't mess with Green and Black. 
Oh my goodness, I had soooooo much fun at the 25th WonderCon in San Francisco this weekend. Twenty-five years for them, and a first for me. You don't understand. I love comic books, super heroes and fantasy stories. It was fun meeting people who share my borderline obsession. I was with my people this weekend LOL.  With all of the activities, panels and vendors I was overwhelmed. There was so much to see and do. Thanks to my intern Michael Pleasent, I was able to cover a lot of things. You know I'm always on the hunt for influential women. The comics biz seems like a boys club. I wanted to meet women bringing their own color to the industry. I interviewed really cool women, including Batwoman and Supergirl DC Comics artist Amy Reeder. Of course I was a Cocoa Fly on the wall and got you the latest on what's happening on upcoming films like the Green Lantern and Immortals.  I take back what I said about Ryan Reynolds, he's much cuter in person. Oh and peep this, I was at a press event for Immortals which stars Henry Cavill, also the next man to play Superman. He's a cutie too. That's an understatement. He is hella fine.  I don't know what's with me and men in tights possessing super powers. Look at a few photos below from my adventure and check back throughout the week for interviews.


How does Supergirl fight crime in that top?
Photo by Michael Pleasent

I couldn't let Supergirl have all of the fun.
Photo by Michael Pleasent

"Cocoa Fly, I told you to stop acting up."
Photo by Jenee Darden

"Hey Mr. J!"
Harley Quinn and Cocoa Fly
Photo by Michael Pleasent


Deadpool posing at a Marvel costume contest. He also
does a mean running man. Seriously, he did the running man on stage.
Photo by Jenee Darden
Bishop of the X-Men visits from the future
to chill with Spidey.
Photo by Jenee Darden


How does Elvis concentrate with all of Catwoman's cleavage?
Photo by Jenee Darden


But the queen of cleavage and horror outsizes Catwoman.
Doesn't Elvira look great?! Watch those claws Wolverine.
Photo by Jenee Darden


Friday, March 18, 2011

My Childhood Friend, His Mental Illness and Halle Berry's 'Frankie and Alice'

Halle Berry in "Frankie and Alice"
Photo Credit: Sergei Bachlakov
“I want to go home,” Kareem* said wearily over the phone from a mental institution about 15 years ago. That conversation from my high school days in Oakland rushed back to my mind during a scene from Halle Berry’s film “Frankie and Alice.” Berry plays Frankie Murdoch, a black exotic dancer in Los Angeles suffering from dissociative personality disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder) the 1970s. Frankie’s mind retreats to other personalities when buried memories from her youth in Georgia resurrect. The film is based on a true story. I’m still surprised Berry wasn’t nominated for an Oscar because she gives one of her best performances in this movie. Berry convincingly switches from Frankie, to a helpless 8 –year- old child, and then to a white, racist, Southern Belle named Alice. Frankie’s therapist Dr. Oz (not to be confused with Oprah’s Oz) tries to figure out the mysterious tragic memories his patient is running from. It’s a good film about coping with mental illness and how secrets come out even when we’re not ready.

The first shot of Frankie’s room triggered memories of my childhood-friend Kareem. Sterile white walls and an uninviting gray twin bed stuffed in the corner of Frankie’s new home made me wonder. Was his room like hers? Did he have a decent view from his window? Kareem was one of my closest friends during middle school. We became friends during our tweens in the early 1990s. Kareem and I talked on the phone about things like wrestling, Tupac, girl-group TLC, roller coasters and our class crushes. He played the dozens with sharpness and schooled me on the art of wit. A lot of black kids our age weren’t into “Seinfeld,” but Kareem loved it. Kramer’s signature stumbling entrance cracked him up. Kareem was persistent in getting me to tune in and I was stubborn. I loved “Martin” and didn’t think “Seinfeld” could compare. “Just watch it!,” Kareem would say. I finally gave in after months of persuasion and was hooked.

Things changed during high school. Kareem changed. He moved about 45 minutes away from Oakland and began getting in trouble at school a lot. That was not like him. He called me a number of times and said he was hearing voices. I thought someone laced his marijuana. I called his mother. I didn’t want to get Kareem in trouble but he needed help. His mother told me she knew about the voices and doctors had diagnosed Kareem with schizophrenia. My stomach dropped. Schizophrenia? I didn’t know much about schizophrenia then. All I knew was that schizophrenia was a mental illness and this situation was serious.

The first time I ever heard cool-kid Kareem sound vulnerable was when he said, “I want to go home.” Kareem told me he didn’t belong in a mental institution. I replied that he was sick and there to get better. During our other conversations he wanted to know about my life in high school. I told him things and we still laughed like in our prior conversations. He tried to keep his spirits up. Still a part of me felt guilty. Kareem was supposed to be hanging out at football games and getting girls’ phone numbers at the mall. That was how we envisioned high school, not this. I couldn't do anything to help him.  You think you’re grown and know everything when you’re a teenager. I realized how young we really were as I saw Kareem’s life change so drastically.

Eventually I lost contact with Kareem and his family. He moved around to different facilities and his mother didn’t return my calls. I understand. She had other children, a husband, and a job to juggle in addition to Kareem. I commend her for being strong and taking care of her son. Even before “Frankie and Alice” I never stopped thinking about Kareem. Every time I catch a “Seinfeld” rerun, and watch Kramer fling open a door, I remember Kareem’s laughter. The upside to all of this oddly is Kareem was one of the lucky ones. He, like Halle Berry’s character, had access to mental-health services. Many people today aren't so fortunate. But that’s another post.

*Name changed

Fly Review and GIVEAWAY: Dove Shea Butter Cream Oil Body Wash

Shea butter has become the Betty White of skin care. It’s good and has been around for a long time, but all of a sudden is the “new thing.” Dove got hip to the shea program and released their Shea Butter Cream Oil Body Wash.  Warm vanilla and brown sugar scents accentuates the body wash. I gave the new Dove product a try and it smells as good as it sounds. Shower time is my special time to relax and get a spa feeling without going to the spa.  The creamy lather felt smooth against my skin.  Soft vanilla and brown sugar aromas mixed with the steam made for great showering experience. I left my bathroom with clean, moist skin. However, the body wash’s fragrance did not leave my bathroom. I used the body wash for three days straight then stopped. I didn't use much but my  bathroom smelled like brown sugar and vanilla for four days straight after I stopped bathing with it. I’m surprised the smell lingered for days because the frangrance doesn't last too long on the skin. It’s not strong when you apply it on your body, which is a good thing. Even my roommate noticed the fragrance emitting from my bathroom. Overall, I liked showering with Dove’s Shea Butter Cream Oil Body Wash because it left my skin clean, smooth and smelling good. But the vanilla, brown sugary scent overstayed its welcome. I have an extra 24 oz bottle of the Shea Butter Cream Oil Body Wash. If you want to give it a try, tell me why your skin is like brown sugar or vanilla or shea butter. Maybe your skin is like all 3 put together. I'll send a bottle to the fly reader who gives the best answer and a few other fly treats. Email me your answer at cocoaflyblog@gmail.com. You have until Monday March 21st 11:59p.m. PST to win!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Revealing Hattie McDaniel
An Interview with the Star of the Play 'Hattie...What I Need You To Know'



Actress. Activist. Fashionista. Innovator. These descriptions apply to a number of Hollywood divas. But would you link them to Hattie McDaniel? Yes, the Hattie McDaniel who was the first black actor to win an Oscar. Don’t judge Lady M for her mammy characters. When the cameras were off and the head rag removed, Miss Hattie was a stylish entertainer with an interesting love life and fine taste. She loved her sorority, my sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho and believed in service. McDaniel successfully took legal action to end raced-based restrictions in real estate ownership. Actress and Philly-native Vickilyn Reynolds gives voice to the late and misunderstood actress in the musical play “Hattie... What I Need You to Know.” Reynolds, more like a vessel for McDaniel’s spirit, portrays the late actress telling her story. Reynolds wrote the play (the first she has ever written) which has traveled to New York City and Denver, McDaniel’s birth city. The play is running in Los Angeles at the Stage 52 Theater every Friday-Sunday until March 20th( go here for ticket info). Reynolds talked to me about learning self-love through Lady M, understanding her struggles and lesbian rumors surrounding the iconic actress.
Oscar Winner Hattie McDaniel. Notice the
resemblence between Miss Hattie and Vickilyn Reynolds.

You have performed all over the world and acted in film, television and theater. What inspired you to create this production?
Well I didn’t want to do it. I was ignorant to Hattie McDaniel because I thought all she did was play mammies and was a discredit to the race. Besides that, while writing this I found I had a truckload of self-hatred. People from time to time, even when I was younger, would say I look like Hattie McDaniel. I didn’t take that as a compliment. Before my brother passed away in ’95 he said, “Vickilyn, you should do a story on Hattie McDaniel.” … So I said let me do a little research on this lady. I fell in love with this woman. She was a pioneer. She was ahead of her time. I found I started loving myself through the process. I really believe this is one of my destinies.

Red Pumps & Rubbers

Photo Credit: duygu
He can't rock my boat without a life jacket. Or ride in my Benz and not wear a seat belt. He definitely can't drive my luxury car without a license and insurance. I won't accept his gift unwrapped. He's not allowed entry into this country without a passport. And he can't eat dessert without a napkin. You feel me?  No condom. No lovin'!

Today is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NWGHAAD).  CocoaFly.com is participating in the Red Pump Project, which is raising awareness about the disease with over 1,000 bloggers. Women all over the country are rocking red pumps in this campaign. I don't have red pumps but if I did, the picture above would be on my feet.  I'm not going to get too deep into the stats because we know they're dire. According to stats posted on the Red Pump Projects site, "women still represent 27% of all new AIDS diagnoses, with African-American women accounting for 66% of that group." And every 35 minutes a woman tests positive for HIV in the United States. I don't know if this is an issue of education or loyalty to the church, self-esteem or all of the above and more. I lost an uncle to AIDS so my family and I know first-hand this disease is real. But I want to encourage women reading this to put yourself first. Put your body first and think about it. I love good sex just like anyone else, but ain't no wee-wee better than my life. NO MAN is worth more than my life.   Here are a few things on my heart I want you to keep in mind (brace yourself because I'm going to keep it real):

    
    Photo Cred: Holly Williams
    
  • Talk to your daughters about sex. Break out the sex ed books and show pictures. Be forward and open to her questions. Talking to her about sex is not going to make her have sex. Trust me. She has hormones and is going to screw one day.  Would you rather she learn about sex from you or the guy who's been checking her out in homeroom? If you don't know what to say to refer to parenting books or your doctor. My mother and aunts were very honest about sex and I think that's one of the reasons why I wasn't sexually active until my 20s.
  • Carrying condoms does not make you a hoe. That shows you care about your body.
  • If he doesn't want to use protection you better re-think letting him rock the boat. Think about it. There's a possibility he's had unprotected sex with his ex-girlfriend in his dorm building, the woman he dated who works at the bank, that girl he told you he had one-stand with the one time in his life he had a one-night stand, and whomever else.  Which also means if any of those women had an STD, then he contracted it and could pass it on to...
  • When he says condoms are uncomfortable or don't feel good, think about how good you would feel if you tested positive. Or, if you contracted some other disease from him so he can feel "good."
  • For those of you into church I love the Lord but I'm also a realist. If premarital-sex is a sin but you're falling weak to abstinence, I'd rather you "sin" and be safe with a condom, then "sin" and be sorry. The church needs to step on this issue but that's another post.
  • If you suspect your man is cheating on you with another woman or man, consider closing up shop down there. I don't want to be lonely either, but I'd rather be alone than have him and an STD.
  • Go the OBGYN for regular checkups.
  • Get Tested.
I wish everyone reading this happy, healthy, fun SAFE sex. For Red Pump gatherings near you go here.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Black HERstory:
Sherley Anne Williams
A Literary Rose

Writer Sherley Anne Williams
In honor of Black History Month, Cocoa Fly is recognizing  black women who blazed trails, kick down doors in their heels and are making a difference in the Black HERstory series. I'm open to profiling women who made remarkable differences on a local and global scale. If you know of a black woman in your town or city who made history, email cocoaflyblog@gmail.com with your suggestions.

Sherley Anne Williams was an accomplished writer and poet. Shirley Anne Williams was the first black woman I ever called “professor.” Williams grew up the scorching fields of Fresno, Calif. where she picked fruit and cotton. Her family also toiled in the fields and lived on government assistance, according to the Los Angeles Times. At 8 years old she lost her father to tuberculosis. By 16 she was parentless when her mother died from a heart attack. *

So how does a poor, orphaned black girl from rural California eventually become a revered writer and college professor? Thank God for good teachers and, I assume, the audacity to dream. Williams loved books and was encouraged by her eighth grade and high school teachers to pursue college. A master’s degree, Emmy award and published books later—she was soaring in the literary world.

I met Prof. Williams in the spring of 1999. I was a sophomore at UC San Diego and enrolled in her Intro to African American Literature class. Whew, she and her TA ripped my papers up. I clearly remember a B- on one paper. I was going through some things at the time so I admit I wasn’t the best student. Still, I learned a lot from her. Prof. Williams introduced me to authors I never heard of like Nella Larson. She showed our class one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen in my life, “Daughters of the Dust.” And she left an impression on me when I read her groundbreaking novel Dessa Rose. The book is about a pregnant black slave on the run for killing a slave trader. A white plantation mistress who keeps her in hiding and they develop an interesting friendship. Dessa Rose was her most popular work and this year marks the 25th anniversary of its publishing.

Sherley Anne Williams was the first black woman I called “professor.” And I was one of the last students she taught at UCSD. I visited her office a few days after taking the final. Her room was filled with special mementos, pictures and literary conference posters from all the people and places she visited in the world. She told me about her travels and how she has given talks in different parts of the world. I had no idea her work was so revered in the African-American literary world. She never bragged about her accomplishments in class like some professors do. We had a great conversation. I explained how her teachings excited me about writing and literature. And I told her I was looking forward to taking more classes with her because I was going to minor in literature. Prof. Williams’ face changed. She gently cupped my hands. Her eyes softened and she gave me a weak smile. I thought it was sincere, but a little strange.

A few days later I went home for the summer. I got a call from my literature classmate. Prof. Williams had died from cancer in July. We didn’t know she was sick. Prof. Williams missed quite a few classes, but TAs filling in for professors at large public universities was common. I was upset when I heard the news. She was only 54. Her behavior during her office hours made sense to me. The woman was dying, but she took the time to answer all of my questions about her background, achievements and literature in that meeting. She cared and that’s what good teachers do. My love for literature began to mature after listening to Prof. Williams’ lectures. Life is interesting. She grew up a fruit picker, but planted seeds of knowledge through her writings and teachings.

Sherley Anne Williams was my professor.



*Facts are from LA Times

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Special Needs Kids ‘Disable Bullying’ and Why Adults Need to Step Up

 
Lauren Potter from "Glee" and
 Mom Robin Sinkhorn in
"Disable Bullying" PSA
Geneva Biggus says that her 8-year-old daughter with cerebral palsy, Shaniya Boyd, tried to jump out of a window at school. Shaniya told her that “she just wanted to get away” after she was teased, kicked in the forehead by a boy and knocked off of the crutches she needs to walk.
“Three people were fighting me; two girls and one boy. The boy kicked me in my forehead for no reason, and then they hit me,” Shaniya said. The abuse had been going on for some time and Geneva stated that “the school did little to stop it.”


--from Walk A Mile in Their Shoes Report

Last week I listened in on a press conference held by AbilityPath.org, an online resource for families and educators of special needs children. They are partnering with the Special Olympics and Best Buddies International to launch a campaign that brings awareness about special need kids being bullied. "Glee’s" Lauren Potter is the celebrity spokesperson for the campaign and has battled bullies herself. View her PSA video below.

I read Ability Path’s “Walk A Mile In Their Shoes” report, and the quote above is just one example of the cruel things these vulnerable kids endure. According to the report, special-needs children are two times more likely to be bullied then non-disabled kids. If you follow this blog, you know that I’m passionate about anti-bullying. Kids picked on me in elementary school and I had my bouts with “mean girls.” Also I was an elementary school TA.  Sometimes I worked with kids with disabilities and I have relatives with special needs. Something is wrong in our society where you have kids beating up a child on crutches. The report also cites an incident where children forced a boy to eat dog food. Then there’s the story of how  a 14-year-old boy with a developmental disability was taken to the hospital for intoxication. Bullies were spiking his drink behind his back. What’s happening in classrooms now pales to my era where a bully took the nerd’s lunch money and pushed him against the lockers. I call it Bullying 2.0. Add to that the use of social media as a form of attack. Bullying 2.0 is extremely violent. Like California Superintendent Tom Torlakson said, “We really have child abuse by other kids and that has to be recognized by all responsible adults.” Sadly, some children can’t handle it and they take their lives.

Best Buddies International Founder Anthony Shriver made a comment that struck me. “One of the problem groups is the adults...who are denying the problem and are users of degrading language,” said Shriver. One of the “degrading” terms he referred to is “retarded.” Shriver’s point is valid because kids do follow examples from home. And if teachers aren’t stepping up to stop the bullying, it keeps going. I remember when I was TA and noticed how some parents of kids with behavior issues were in denial about their children’s actions. “No, not my child.” Or the parents vowed to work on their kid, but you could sense in their voice, they didn’t mean it.

I asked the panel how they expect this campaign to reach adults who are old-school in their thinking. You know those parents who see bullying as a part of childhood and people should just get over it. Shriver replied that once students learn that special-needs children are kids too, then they can influence their parents to think differently. Timothy Shriver, CEO of the Special Olympics added that bullying takes away from both the bullies’ and victims’ education and socialization. He urged adults to step up “…if they want children to learn, if they want children to come out differently than the 50 percent of kids today who are chronically disengaged; meaning they don’t belong to any student organization. They don’t feel any strong affinity to family, church, school or community organizations.”

CocoaFly.com will keep following this story. If we allow kids to bully and ridicule others because of their disability, sexual orientation, race, etc, imagine what kind of society we will have in the next 20 years. Sure bullying is not new, but when kids are killing themselves and each other (Remember Columbine?) things have gotten out of hand. For those with special needs children, friends, students, or relatives, read the “Walk in Their Shoes” report for information. It features tips on how to monitor your kids’ use on Facebook, signs of bullying, legal steps you can take if you feel your school didn’t fulfill its duty of protecting your child. I also think it’s a good source for parents whose children are bullies.

Are you the parent or teacher of a special-needs child? As I cover this topic throughout the year, what kind of coverage would you like to see on Cocoa Fly that has been missing in the mainstream?

Monday, February 21, 2011

What Are They Thinking?
Happy Presidents' Day


Presidents G.H.W Bush, Obama, G.W. Bush,
Clinton and Carter
source: Beverly & Pack
 And you thought getting into a Hollywood club during NBA All-Star weekend was hard. No club is more exclusive then the Presidents Club.  This photo was taken around the time of President Obama's Inauguration in 2009. Notice all of the other presidents are smiling except Pres. Obama.  I wonder what they're thinking.

Pres. Bush: I'm going to have a long talk with my son when this is all over.

Pres. Obama: I gave this country so much hope. All I have to do is fix the economy, establish a health-care bill, develop an exit strategy for two wars, save Wall Street, get the girls a dog...Wait, what the hell am I getting myself into?

Pres. Bush: I am so outta here.

Pres. Clinton: Ahhh, yeah I still got it.

Pres. Carter: I'm the smartest guy in here. That new guy is gonna need all the luck in the world. Glad he isn't me.

What do you think was going on in their presidential minds? 



Source:Official White House photo
by Pete Souza
Taken Jan. 16, 2010
 I am so tired of the nasty partisanship
that has emerged in the last 10 years.  Pundents on air and online are reaping serious $$$ from stirring political tension. While everyone is giving the finger pointing fingers to the left, right and in-between look what's happening in the photo to the right. I remember times when they all took shots at each other during elections. But if  those three can be civil and work together, why can't Americans?

Enjoy your day off. Go to
the spa, get your nails done and take advantage of the good sales.  Or just spend the day in your pjs and don't do a darn thing.

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