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 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, 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.” 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.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Black HERstory: Belva Davis
A Journalism Trailblazer

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 with your suggestions.

Belva Davis seems to have covered it all in her journalism career. In a span of nearly five decades, she has reported on the Black Panthers,  political conventions dating back to 1964, Vietnam protests, the assassination of San Francisco Supervisor  Harvey Milk, President Obama's historical presidential victory and a whole lot in between. Davis became the first African-American woman TV journalist in the Western United States in 1966. Not bad for a Louisiana girl born to a teen mother and raised in Oakland's projects.

Davis shares her struggles and triumphs in her memoir  Never In My Wildest Dreams: A Black Woman's Life in Journalism.  Breaking into mainstream journalism is not easy. As a woman of color navigating the industry in brutal economic times, I know the media path is rocky. Imagine the racism, sexism, and classism Davis endured to be on air back in the 1960s. According to her bio,  a San Francisco station manager told her during a job interview he  wouldn't offer her a position because he "wasn't hiring any Negresses."  Yes, even in liberal San Francisco -isms exist. The drama didn't stop after Davis made it to TV.  The pioneer overcame obstacles to stay on air.  While covering the Patty Hearst kidnapping scandal in1974, white supremacists threatened to take her daughter.  These are just a few examples of stories in her book.

I heard Davis speak at a nearby Barnes and Noble. I asked her what are some of the positive and negative changes she has seen in journalism. Davis says the internet has opened doors for journalists to independently create content and put themselves out there ( You know I understand). The problem, she says, with layoffs and cuts, is figuring out how to monetize journalism (Unfortunately, I understand this too well also). The negative changes she sees is slanted reporting and opinionated, so-called, journalism. This style of "reporting" doesn't bring other voices into the conversation on issues.

 At 78, Davis has not closed her reporter's pad yet. The award-winning journalist hosts "This Week In Northern California" on the PBS station KQED. She's not the only history maker in her household. Her husband, William Moore is the first African-American cameraman hired for a major California station. 

 I must say, hearing Davis speak recently inspired me. I thank her for paving the way for women of color in journalism.  Davis was a single parent of two, born during the Great Depression, grew up in a segregated society and still made her way to the anchor's chair. If she can persevere and live her wildest dreams, what's stopping you from reaching yours?

Click here for Belva Davis book-signing dates around the country.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Black HERstory: Mayme Clayton
Phenomenal Collector of Black Artifacts

Mayme Clayton
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 with your suggestions.

One of my favorite interviews of my career is with Mayme Clayton. I actually interviewed her when I was in graduate school for a class assignment but later used that audio for a public radio story.  Clayton had the second largest collection of black memorabilia in the world. These rare pieces, like a signed book by Phyllis Wheatley and vintage Oscar Micheaux film posters, were not stored in a museum. She kept all of these priceless gems in her South Los Angeles garage. There must have been some history angels protecting her collection because even during the heat and rain her things stayed in good condition. Someone broke into her garage and all they stole was a boom box. Idiots. See what happens when you don't pay attention in school kids?

I went into her treasure chest/garage and was in awe. I actually got to see Phyllis Wheatley's signed book! Wheatley, a former slave, was the first African American poet published.  For me, an African-American writer, I'll never forget that moment.

Avery Clayton

Clayton was a great interview. I admired her stories of travel and she loved life.  Clayton worked until the end of her life in 2006 to establish a museum and  research center for her collection. Her sons are now running the Mayme E. Clayton Library and Museum in Culver City, CA (near LA). The eldest son and museum's director Avery Clayton died unexpectedly in 2009.  The museum still needs more funding. How sad that Los Angeles is home to some of the wealthiest black entertainers, athletes, entrepreneurs in the country (if only I were rich) and the Claytons still need a hand. If you want to help, visit their website

Listen to the interview/obit I reported on Mayme Clayton for NPR back in 2006. You can read the interview as well, but you don't get the same feel as when you listen to the audio.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Right or Wrong?
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' Husband Will Go on Space Mission

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 4: Mark Kelly, astronaut and husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), talks about his plans for the upcoming shuttle mission at the Johnson Space Center February 4, 2011 in Houston, Texas. The Endeavour space shuttle commander plans to resume his training and take part in the mission, which is scheduled to launch on April 19. Rep Giffords was shot in the head by a gunman at an appearance in Tucson, Arizona in January. (Photo by Eric Kayne/Getty Images)
 Astronaut Cdr. Mark Kelley and husband of Gabrielle Giffords recently announced he will blast off for an upcoming  space mission this April that will keep him away for a few weeks.  Right or Wrong? I say WRONG. Before I explain why I disagree with Cdr. Kelly's decision, I must say that I admire his strength and composure since that horrible shooting in Arizona. I'm not arguing  Cdr. Kelly is a bad man. He's been with the congresswoman since the beginning of this tragedy. And my heart goes out to him. But do you mind if I keep it real?  This man's wife was shot point blank, close range in the head by a gunman popping of a 9mm Glock semiautomatic.  Miraculously Rep. Giffords survived, while six others did not. It has taken a team of good doctors and her fighting like hell to live. And she's still fighting for a full recovery. So why leave?

Kelly said in a press conference, "I know her very well and she would be very comfortable with the decision that I made." The public isn't fully aware of her condition, but saying "she would be" okay with the decision sounds to me like she doesn't know what is going on.

Cdr. Kelly is not new new to space.  He flown in space three times already. If I was laying in a hospital  bed recovering from a bullet soaring through my brain I would want my husband by my side. If the situation was reversed, I would be at my husband's bedside. Cdr Kelly said he wanted to go to ensure his crew has a safe and successful voyage. I understand he and the astronauts have been training for more than a year for this trip. What if Gabby's condition takes a turn for the worse and he's up in space?  Or what if she looks for him and he's not there?

SOUND OFF What do you think of Cdr. Mark Kelly's decision to board the space shuttle and be away from his wife for a few weeks?

I have to bring gender into this. Do you think a woman is just as likely to make the same decision as Cdr. Kelly?


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