Storycatchers Theatre in Chicago Pays At-Risk Youth to Write, Produce and Perform Original Musicals

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GBN volunteer Becky Schonbrun recently informed us about an inspiring program out of Chicago for at-risk youth called Storycatchers Theatre, which, according to their website, has been “preparing young people to make thoughtful life choices through the process of writing, producing and performing original musical theatre inspired by personal stories” for over 30 years.

While participating in storytelling, scriptwriting, and performance-skills residencies with Storycatchers artists, the youth participants not only get a chance to write songs, poems, stories and scenes inspired by personal experiences, they get paid to do so. The process reinforces their recognition of choices and consequences, enhancing the ability and desire of participants to make choices that lead to positive outcomes.

NAHYPA photoIn November of 2013, Storycatchers received a NATIONAL ARTS & HUMANITIES YOUTH PROGRAM AWARD in recognition of its work with detained and incarcerated youth. Founder and Artistic Director Meade Palidofsky traveled to Washington DC to accept the award from First Lady Michelle Obama. The National Arts & Humanities Youth Program Awards are an initiative of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH). The President’s Committee partners with the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to administer the program.

To see video of this inspiring program and to hear from the participants in their own words, click here.

“Flip For Your Fate?”, a staged reading of works in progress by Storycatchers Theatre at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, will be held on Dec. 5 at 6 p.m. Admission is free. Reservations are required.

To learn about other upcoming Storycatchers performances, click here.

article by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (follow @lakinhutcherson)

Carter Passenger, 1st African-American Principal at Beverly Hills High and Author of “Where A Man Stands,” Sells Film Rights to T.D. Jakes


The memoir-style book centers on Carter Paysinger, who became the first black principal in the 80-year history of Beverly Hills High School

Hot off the success of the faith-based hit Heaven Is for Real, producer T.D. Jakes has scooped up film rights to another inspirational tale, Carter Paysinger and Steve Fenton‘s Where a Man Stands: Two Different Worlds, an Impossible Situation, and the Unexpected Friendship That Changed Everything.

The memoir-style book centers on Paysinger, a black student from the wrong side of town who landed hard at the upscale, mostly white Beverly Hills High, and his friendship with Fenton, a Jewish kid with whom he had little in common. Years later, Paysinger became a coach, teacher and eventually the first African-American principal in the storied school’s 80-year history. That perch gave him the opportunity to team with Fenton to turn around the school and help the community that put him on the path to success.

Paysinger and Fenton collaborated on the book, which was published Nov. 4 by Howard Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

To see video of Paysinger’s story, click here.

The story, which sparked the interest of a number of production companies and studios, is playing well in the Hollywood orbit. In fact, Paysinger and Fenton started the Beverly Hills Athletic Alumni Association seven years ago and enlisted such industryites as Beverly Hills High alums Bob GershEric Tannenbaum (Two and a Half Men), Gary Newman (20th Century Fox Television), Alan Nierob (Rogers & Cowan) actor Corbin BernsenBrad Turell (Paradigm), entertainment attorneys David Weber and Darren Trattner, and manager Allen Fischer (Principato Young).

“When we announced the book deal, I received more inquiries on the movie rights than any other book I published,” Howard Books vp and publisher Jonathan Merkh said. “This is a story that is unique yet universal.”

Fenton and his wife, Leeza Gibbons, first connected with Jakes when they saw him give a sermon at the Potter’s House megachurch in Dallas. Jakes, whose recent producing credits include Black Nativity, enjoyed a breakout success with Heaven Is for Real, which was made for $12 million and earned $101 million worldwide.

Where a Man Stands is about human connection, rising above seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and seeing beyond what lies beneath the surface,” Jakes said. “It’s an uplifting tale that demonstrates what is possible when we take a stand for what we believe in.”

Derrick Williams, executive vp at T.D. Jakes Films & Entertainment, is overseeing for the production company.

article by Tatiana Siegel via

Former Star Center Jason Brown Trades NFL Career for Tractor to Help Feed Needy


Former NFL Player Jason Brown tends to his fields in Louisburg, N.C. (CBS NEWS)

LOUISBURG, N.C. - At one point number 60, Jason Brown, was one of the best centers in the NFL. At one point he had a five-year, $37 million contract with the St. Louis Rams.  And at one point he decided it was all meaningless – and just walked away from football.

“My agent told me, ‘You’re making the biggest mistake of your life,’” said Brown. “And I looked right back at him and I said, ‘No I’m not. No I’m not.’”

So what could possibly trump the NFL?


Jason Brown gets ready for a play against the New England Patriots in 2010. (ELSA, GETTY IMAGES)You wouldn’t believe. 

Jason Brown quit football to be a plain, old farmer — even though he’d never farmed a day a in his life.

Asked how he learned to even know what to do, Brown said:

“Get on the Internet. Watch YouTube videos.”

He learned how to farm from YouTube.  Thanks to YouTube and some good advice from other farmers here in Louisburg, N.C., this week Jason finished harvesting his first, a five-acre plot of sweet potatoes.

“When you see them pop up out of the ground, man, it’s the most beautiful thing you could ever see,” said Brown. He said he has never felt more successful.

“Not in man’s standards,” said Brown. “But in God’s eyes.”

But God cares about the NFL, right? There are people praying to him on the field all the time. “Yeah, there’s a lot of people praying out there,” said Brown. “But, when I think about a life of greatness, I think about a life of service.”

See, his plan for this farm, which he calls “First Fruits Farm,” is to donate the first fruits of every harvest to food pantries. Today it’s all five acres–100,000 pounds–of sweet potatoes.  “It’s unusual for a grower to grow a crop just to give away,” said Rebecca Page, who organizes food collection for the needy. “And that’s what Jason has done. And he’s planning to do more next year.”

Brown has 1,000 acres here, which could go a long way toward eliminating hunger in this neck of North Carolina.  “Love is the most wonderful currency that you can give anyone,” said Brown.

To see video of this story, click here.

article by Steve Hartman via

Five Savvy Books by Successful African-American Entrepreneurs

Successful entrepreneurs understand that the way to success is to be a lifelong learner. From staying abreast on latest trends to reading up on tried-and-true strategy, leaders win by seeking knowledge.  Here are five books that will help any entrepreneur do just that:

The Man From Essence by Edward Lewis

Written by Edward Lewis, co-founder of Essence magazine, this book tells the story of how he started his company with three partners, eventually reaching and impacting millions of people with a landmark publication for women of color. He became the last man standing by the time it was sold to Time, Inc. Lewis details the motivation behind his drive to succeed, her personal triumphs and challenges and insights on management, startup strategy and perseverance through the ups and downs of the publishing world.

How to Succeed in Business Without Being White: Straight Talk on Making it in America by Earl G. Graves

In a society where white men dominate the top seats at major corporations, this book serves as motivation and mentorship for African-American innovators. Being one of the most prolific executives in business, Graves tells us his own story of how he  became a multimillionaire, the director of several of America’s Fortune 500 corporations, a philanthropist and entrepreneur, how he built the legacy of Black Enterprise. The business icon touts: “Economic power is the key to success in a capitalistic society.”

Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun?: How Reginald Lewis Created a Billion-Dollar Business Empire By Reginald F. Lewis

Lewis’ first successful venture was his $22.5 million-leveraged buyout of McCall Pattern Co., where he sold it for $65 million in 1987, and made an astounding 90 to 1 return on his original investment. He re-branded the corporation as TLC Beatrice International Inc. As the CEO and chairman, Lewis increased the company’s worth in rapid time,an with revenues of $1.5 billion, TLC Beatrice made it to the Fortune 500. It was also the first company on the Black Enterprise List of Top 100 African-American owned businesses. This book details how all of this happened and will inspire many bosses for generations to come.

Success Never Smelled So Sweet: How I Followed My Nose and Found My Passion by Lisa Price

Lisa Price, founder of Carol’s Daughter, tells the story of her life, starting from the beginning with her childhood days in Brooklyn, N.Y., to the moment her business was created and how it bloomed. The innovator provides motivating and enticing stories and explains how she went from bankruptcy to grossing over $2 million yearly while working from home. Price believes that life will guide each and every one of us until we realize our own inner truth, regardless of the challenges we faced to reach to our destination. She also shares with us advice her mother gave her and recipes for her best-selling products.

Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of A Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins and Elizabeth Gardner Hines

A.G. Gaston was the grandson of slaves and was born penniless. At his death, he was worth more than $130 million and helmed several businesses. This is the story of his life through the eyes of his niece and grandniece. Gaston was determined to make a difference for African Americans during the time of slavery. When he passed away in 1996, he was one of the richest men in America. Black Titan is the story of a man who changed the future for all black businesspeople in our country.

article by Cristie Leondis via

NYPD Deputy Chief Juanita Holmes, Formerly Abused by Husband, Rises to Top Spot of Domestic Violence Unit

Deputy Chief Juanita Holmes (left), seen at the 81st Precinct in Brooklyn, which she led with Capt. Vanessa Knight (right), is now in charge of the NYPD's Domestic Violence Unit.

Deputy Chief Juanita Holmes (left), seen at the 81st Precinct in Brooklyn, which she led with Capt. Vanessa Knight (right), is now in charge of the NYPD’s Domestic Violence Unit. (LINDA ROSIER/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

An NYPD chief who made headlines when she was beaten by her husband is the new head of the Domestic Violence Unit, the Daily News has learned.

Deputy Chief Juanita Holmes, 50, was picked by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton to replace Deputy Chief Kathleen O’Reilly, who was put in charge of Patrol Borough Manhattan North.

In 2011, Holmes was beaten by her husband on the front lawn of the home of an NYPD detective he accused her of having an affair with.

Holmes, who suffered broken ribs in the attack, told authorities her husband, retired Hempstead, L.I., Detective William Fowlkes, was mistaken.  Fowlkes later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault.  An order of protection was also issued, but he avoided jail time under the condition he attend domestic violence classes.

Sources said the incident did not play much of a role in Bratton’s decision to transfer Holmes, a 27-year veteran.

CHASE; ray;

Juanita Holmes (far left) and her sisters have all been cops. (MICHAEL SCHWARTZ/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

“Does being a victim in a domestic incident give you perspective that might help?” one source asked.  “Of course, but it’s not why she got the job.”

After the unseemly incident, some NYPD insiders predicted Holmes, then a deputy inspector, would not advance much further in her career.  But she returned to her Brooklyn station house, the 81st Precinct, which she ran after her predecessor was transferred following corruption allegations by whistleblower Officer Adrian Schoolcraft.

While there, she testified on the city’s behalf during a civil trial over the NYPD’s controversial use of stop-and-frisk, which she said “can be used to deter a crime that’s about to happen.”

For a time, Holmes’ second-in-command at the 81st was Capt. Vanessa Knight. It’s believed to be the first time two black women ran an NYPD precinct.  Holmes was subsequently promoted twice more and is now a deputy chief.

She took over the Domestic Violence Unit on Monday after a short stint as the No. 2 officer at the Training Bureau.

article by Rocco Parascandola via

Black-Owned Food Trucks Give New Meaning to Meals on Wheels



Once a month from April through October, in a vacant Washington D.C., lot near the famed Nationals Park, about 20 food trucks convene for an evening of music, food and dancing. Hundreds of D.C. locals have the opportunity to purchase everything from lobster rolls to Korean tacos, from homemade ice cream to gourmet hot dogs.

One thing you quickly notice while trying to figure out which 20-minute line to endure for your next culinary experience is the demographics of the food-truck owners. Food trucks have become a big business—some may even refer to them as the next big thing in culinary fads—but if you’re attempting to find food trucks owned by black people, it’s similar to seeking the figurative needle in a haystack.

But not impossible.

Nnamdi J. Nwaneri is one of the owners of NeatMeatDC, and his food truck is one of the few black-owned trucks in the D.C. area. NeatMeatDC started in 2007, when Nwarneri teamed up with his Howard University law school classmate Na’Im Moses. The two men realized they had similar goals outside the law profession.

You’d be mistaken if you thought NeatMeatDC served your average sloppy joe sandwich. With a menu that includes such masterpieces as a pulled spiced pork joe in a cerveza chipotle sauce, it’ll make you think twice about pulling a Manwich can from your local grocery store’s shelf.

When asked why he wanted to start a food truck, Nwaneri waxed poetic about his intentions. “‘A lawyer’s either a social engineer or he’s a parasite on society’ is a quote from Charles Hamilton Houston. We reference this quote many times, as it is interconnected to our legal education as well as our life’s mission. We believe that creating a viable business allows us to become social engineers to benefit ourselves, our friends and families, and, most importantly, our society,” Nwaneri says.

It’s this enterprising spirit that has motivated other black food-truck owners, too. But starting out in the food-truck business isn’t something that can be done overnight. The NeatMeatDC team took 18 months from conception to launch, and it’s still a growing endeavor.

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Tree Planted at the U.S. Capitol in Memory of Emmett Till

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The Capitol building sits on a 59-acre park that includes hundreds of trees.  The newest, a sycamore, was planted Monday, in memory of a black teenager who, nearly 60 years ago, was murdered for whistling at a white woman, helped spark the civil rights movement.

imagesHis name was Emmett Till.

On August 28th, 1955, the Chicago teen was taken by a group of white men from his great-uncle’s home while visiting Money, Miss. His shot and battered body was found three days later in a nearby river. Two white men were acquitted. At Till’s funeral, his mother Mamie proclaimed: Let the world see what they did to my boy.

Fifty thousand people filed by his open casket.


A plaque is seen at the base of a tree planted in honor of Emmett Till on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, 11/17114. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson says Till’s murder served as a catalyst for supporters of civil rights.

“All those people who are about his age, you are about 14 in 1955, then became the front ranks of the civil rights movement,” said Nelson.

Perhaps this young American Sycamore Tree will help keep Till’s memory alive.

article by Elaine Quijano via