The reality of being 14-years-old, addicted to drugs, homeless and raising a newborn baby was an experience Harold Barrow will never forget. Now, 21 years have passed, and he credits the coaches from ACHIEVEability for helping him escape that bleak reality.
At 11 years old, he discovered drugs. Living in a domestically unstable household where his father was abusive and his mother was on drugs, Barrow dropped out of school in eighth grade. At 14, he was given custody of his firstborn child. The mother left the hospital in the middle of the night after delivery. Taking the few diapers and formula that the hospital could offer, Barrow and his daughter were left to live in an abandoned home. As he continued to battle with his addiction and to raise his daughter, Barrow eventually found a shelter, and at the shelter he learned about ACHIEVEability.
“When I came to the [program’s] interview, one of the social workers said to me, ‘Where is the baby’s immunization records?’ I said to her, ‘What’s that?’ It’s hard to describe the look on her face in words, but she had a kind of horrific look like, ‘You can’t be serious?’” Barrow recalled. “But I really didn’t know.”
ACHIEVEability, an organization that develops and manages affordable housing — mostly in West Philadelphia for single parent households — provided Barrow with the first step toward independence.
Participants like Barrow, who come from domestic violence and unsafe living conditions, who are unemployed and sometimes have minimal formal education, seek transitional and permanent housing. Since 1981, ACHIEVEability has developed 210 homes, sold 40 homes to its graduates, and currently manages 150 units.
After housing is secure, the Family Self-Sufficiency Program encourages participants to pursue their education by completing at least five classes per year toward a post-secondary degree, obtain employment by working at least 30 hours per week and develop the life skills necessary for self-sufficiency. In the past two years, 25 parents have graduated the program.
“The piece about ACHIEVEability that drew me is that every family that comes here, or parent who said, ‘I want something different for my child. I want something different for my life and I know I can do better,’” Jamila Harris-Morrison, director of Self-Sufficiency said. “They turn to us. And I love that this program is voluntary. It’s really a partnership between ACHIEVEability and the families to help them become self-sufficient.”
Once accepted into ACHIEVEability, Barrow was linked with programs at Temple University where he received his GED and employment. He said he felt so proud to be working and have a safe place to live. But once his coaches started to mention college, he wasn’t sure about the next phase.
“College wasn’t on my radar,” Barrow said. “It wasn’t in my vocabulary, but they said to me that I couldn’t live [at the residency] unless I was willing to go to college.”
With that motivation, he graduated from Community College of Philadelphia with a 3.87 grade point average. He received an academic scholarship to study psychology at Drexel University and got a GPA of 3.2. At this point, Barrow was clean, off drugs and maintaining a job.
After graduating from Drexel, Barrow spent the next 15 years working at ACHIEVEability. In addition, he was able to complete a graduate degree in human services and community development. Currently, he is the senior Self-Sufficiency coach and resident drug and alcohol counselor.
“Just that experience is when I came to terms that this program is life changing and impactful,” Barrow said. “And being a fist generation college graduate, it began to trickle down to my kids.”
Barrow did have other children, with whom he was able to reconnect during his transitional period. His son is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and another daughter graduated from Temple. His firstborn graduated college as well and every Tuesday night he has date night with her.
“ACHIEVEability afforded me those opportunities, and I really pride myself being able to do that for families,” Barrow said. “And just really investing myself in [their] process and seeing it happen for families over and over again.”
Valerie Gay, former assistant dean for institutional advancement for the College of Education at Temple University, has been selected as executive director of the Art Sanctuary.
“When I got the call I was absolutely floored,” Gay said at the Thursday press conference. “As I’ve gotten to know Art Sanctuary, what really excites me most about the organization is its enormous potential. Everything that the Art Sanctuary is doing is excellent and has the potential to be more deeply embedded in Philadelphia.”
While at Temple University, Gay was able to fundraise, direct alumni activities and build connections with communities by establishing the Making A Difference Project — an educational philanthropic gift registry which matches the needs of classroom teachers with donors’ interest.
Before her work at Temple University, Gay served ten years at PNC Financial Services Group where she ended as vice president and portfolio manager with PNC Advisors managing investment portfolios of high net-worth individuals and family trusts.
An artist herself, Gay is a singer. She performed in operas, musical theater, solo concert recitals and conducted ensembles in special events. In 2008, she sang in the world premier of Grammy-nominated trumpeter Hannibal Lokumbe’s “A Shepherd Among Us” and his 2011 preview of “Can You Hear God Crying.”
“I know the idea of having Black art as the basic foundation for connecting where everything is,” Gay said. “I believe it is a missed opportunity if people of all ethnicities don’t see their connection to Black art. And Art Sanctuary [can] actually be that bridge — and that’s very exciting.”
Gay said her goals are to connect more Philadelphia youth to the organization’s programs and use social media to help, as well.
Founded in 1998 by author and artist Lorene Cary, Art Sanctuary is an African-American arts organization devoted to presenting outstanding regional and national talent in literary, visual, and performing arts.
“It’s always been my vision to create an organization that would grow behind me,” Cary told the Tribune. “If we build institutions, Black institutions, and we’re super careful with them, [and] we pass them on to careful management, they will be here to strengthen our communities.”
Cary will continue teaching at the University of Pennsylvania and writing.
“Valerie Gay is the most extraordinary candidate for this job,” Cary said. “It’s hard to follow a founder,” Cary said at the Thursday press conference. “Founders are notorious of sabotaging a process that let’s somebody come in and do better than they did. That was my vision. I wanted someone to come in a do better than I. Otherwise, what the hell has the 14 years been about.”
Such an inquiry as, “What if Abraham Lincoln had survived the assassination,” is the driving force of Stephen L. Carter’s latest novel, “The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln” (Knopf, $26.95).
In this thrilling courtroom drama, the 16th president is entangled in an Impeachment trail, charged with several counts of violating his Constitutional authority during the Civil War. The story is fictional, yet Carter uses real life political players of that time who interact with the book’s young, Black female heroine, Abigail Canner. The firm defending Lincoln hires Canner, but the lead counsel is murdered. Canner ambitiously defies racial assumptions and sifts through conspiracies to discover the truth in a divided post-war government.
“My story is told through the eyes of an outsider who wants to be a lawyer,” Carter said. “At this time, there are no female lawyers in America, no more than 10 Black lawyers. I wanted to tell a story in addition of being a thriller and a mystery and in addition to introducing us to these big historical figures, but also to tell us something about how Black people lived in that era. Free Black people, middle class in her case.”
As a professor of law at Yale University and as a bestselling novelist of “The Emperor of Ocean Park,” “New England White” and “Palace Council,” creating Canner’s character was critical to illustrated the existence of a Black middle class and their important perspective on American history.
“It’s funny isn’t it that when we think of the 1860s, we tend to assume that every Black person in America had been a slave just a couple of years ago,” Carter said. “And of course, for most Black people that was the true horrific history, but there were some people who had been free and made lives in freedom. Difficult lives to be sure, but they raised their family, they provided for them, and I wanted to look at it through the eyes of someone like [Abigail]—a real outsider in society. Those are the characters that are more interesting to write about.
“There are a lot of novels you can find about Lincoln where the main character is a senator or cabinet secretary, but I really, in all of my novels, am interested in the outsiders. I’m interested in the people whose lives we don’t know much about. That for me is the fun of writing.”
Carter has written four novels and nine nonfiction books. He acknowledge that this—his fifth novel—was the most challenging.
“The more research I did, the more I realized how complex Lincoln was and how complex his challenges were and how complex his decisions were,” Carter said. “For example, you had someone who is willing to shut down opposition newspapers when he thought they were hurting the war effort. Now someone of today might think that was outrageous, but in the context of time, when Lincoln believed that the survival of the United States was threatened, I think it’s perfectly reasonable that he came to that conclusion. I may have not reached that conclusion, but with the challenges he faced, it was certainly a plausible and interesting conclusion to reach.
Carter is an enthusiast of the president, having four bookshelves full of Lincoln books.
“I’ve always been a big Lincoln fan,” Carter said. “Even as a child, I was always fascinated by his life. I think he’s our greatest president. I’m a great admirer of Lincoln. I’ve always read everything I could get my hands on about him. He really did some things that are really questionable, [but] through all of that my admiration of him only grew.”
Regardless of asking tough questions and thinking of the complexity of post Civil War politics, Cater said he wants to entertain his readers.
“Now, I want to make clear,” Carter said. “I write for fun. I write books that people will enjoy. But, at the same time, I’m quite interested in history and its lessons. On the other hand, I am not saying that I think Lincoln should’ve been impeached. I’m not saying Lincoln would’ve been impeached. I’m just saying it’s an interesting question to wonder what might have happened.”
Carter’s book tour comes to the Philadelphia Free Library, 1901 Vine Street, July 17.
Yesseh Furaha-Ali, a 16-year-old jazz saxophonist, is spending his summer at the Berklee College of Music Performance Program on July 7 through August 10. During this prestigious five-week program, Yesseh will study under Berklee percussion professor, Terri Lyne Carrington, who has toured for more than 20 years with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Dianne Reeves. Carrington was also the house musician for the Arsenio Hall Show, Quincy Jones late night TV show and VIBE hosted by Sinbad.
Recommended by his teacher, Lovett Hines of the Philadelphia Clef Club, Yesseh was accepted to play with other young musicians from across the country and from 70 countries around the world. He will also have the opportunity to audition for the approximately $3.5 million in scholarships that are awarded to the five-week students.
“We have a partnership with Berklee,” Hines said. “Each year there is a search from all the partners around the country to recommend students who are persistent in our program, shown a steady growth and development and have strong improvisation skills. Yesseh met all those criteria. He takes lessons here on a steady basis, he’s a part of our ensemble program and over the years he has developed.”
The summer program—which is in its 26th year—offers a comprehensive study of performance in jazz, pop/rock, funk/fusion and pop/R&B instrumental and vocal styles.
“I just want to learn how to be more independent,” Yesseh said. “I want to know the business of music. And as a person who wants to pursue music as a career, I want to know how it will take me even father in my career.
Yesseh is a 2012 recipient of the Young Artist Study-Grant Program—which is a partnership of The University of the Arts and The Marian Anderson Award. In May, he was selected for membership to The National Society of High School Scholars.
His musical interests began at home. While his mother jammed to the large collection of jazz tunes in the house, his father played the djembe drum, flute and harmonica, and his siblings participated in the school band playing drums and other woodwind instruments.
“All the musicians I knew, I introduced him to,” Nashid Furaha-Ali, Yesseh’s father said. “He’s been around music all his young life.”
“My first influence was jazz,” Yesseh said. “The first jazz recording I listened to my father hooked me onto it. John Coltrane’s ‘Love Supreme.’ ”
As the youngest of seven children, Yesseh is an avid jazz enthusiast. He said his favorite musicians include Coltrane, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Webster, Dexter Gordan, Sunny Stit, Sunny Rollins, Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adleigh.
“I used to listen to a lot of Ray Charles when I was little,” Yesseh said. “And what really got me playing the saxophone was that I saw the movie ‘Ray’. I saw the saxophone playing. I thought it was a beautiful instrument to play. I thought that sound was really mellow.”
At eight-years-old, Yeseeh picked up one of his brother’s saxophones and began playing. Now as an 11th-grader at Upper Darby High School, Yesseh plays the soprano, alto and tenor saxophone, bass and B flat clarinet and piano. He also sings and writes music.
“He plays a little bit of funk, but his specialty is jazz,” Nashid said. “From my perspective, jazz is the African American classical music. If you’re going to play music, you’re going to play the classical music. He can play other genres, but jazz is what he likes.”
Yesseh has played at LaRose Jazz Club, Tuttleman School of Music, Kimmel Center for Performing Arts, Chris’ Jazz Café and West Oak Lane Jazz Festival.
Upset by the canceling of the West Oak Lane Jazz Festival this year, Yesseh said it was his favorite venues.
“It meant a lot to me because I started playing at the [festival] when I was 11,” Yesseh said. “And ever since then, I’ve been playing at it every year. How many places in the city have a good jazz vibe? To not have the West Oak Lane, it breaks my heart.”
He has also traveled to several venues in Washington, D.C, Baltimore, New York and New Jersey.
With plans to attend Temple University, Manhattan School of Music, New York University or Oberlin College, Yesseh encourages other young musicians.
“Be patient,” Yesseh said. “If you’re trying to keep going, you can’t rush things. Just do you and feel you. Just stick with [music] because at the end of the day, it will help you out and it will take you somewhere.”
The International Visitors Council (IVC) of Philadelphia is hosting eight young African leaders from Burundi, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Zambia as part of the Mentoring Partnership for Young African Leaders. Through this engagement, The African Bureau of the U.S. Department of State, along with the Meridian International Center, Washington, D.C., will bring 62 young African leaders for leadership training and networking opportunities on June 26.
Among them is 24-year-old Pennifer Sikainda, who is a driving force of political engagement and social entrepreneurship in her Zambian community. She will travel to different cities, and talk with administrators from the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr about her developing organization Uplift the Girls. This nonprofit will have personal and skills development programs for young women and girls.
Sikainda is the senior business reporter of Muvi Television — Zambia’s first private television station whose primary reporting focus is local news. While running the business desk at the station’s headquarters in Lusaka, the county’s capital, Sikainda covers economic stories from public and private sectors and contributes political and environmental stories.
“I’ve realized that I can make a difference in my community in the most simple way,” Sikainda said.
As lead anchor at the station, she interviewed Secretary Hillary Clinton. She also speaks four languages and has a keen understanding and passion for politics.
“For me, issues of legislation that deal with the people interest me the most,” Sikainda said. “I look at social issues, matters that deal with social protection, and what are the leaders doing about making sure everyone has access to good healthcare, and issues of education.”
The Patriotic Front, lead by Michael Sata, currently spearheads the multi-party system in Zambia. There are approximately 20 registered parties. In 1990, there was advocacy for a multi-party democracy — which was previously banned by the one-party system of the United National Independence Party. Through this movement, Sikainda said there have been an increased number of political players.
“Before last year’s election, they had been really actively advocating for better standards of living for the people,” Sikainda said. “The expectations right now of the people are really high, because they are aware of many of the promises that came with the election. It’s only eight months down the road and the issues of job creation, one of the main highlights of the campaigns, is something that is [important].”
As a member of the press, Sikainda said she has seen a growing trend. Similar to America, Zambian people are becoming more politically engaged through social media, pop culture, creating music based on campaign issues, and access to the Internet.
“Social media is really becoming big for discussions on whatever is happening in the country, be it current affairs or anything else,” Sikainda said.
Currently, there is a bill being drafted that will provide access of information and free media.
“I think the election last year was one of those key highlights where you notice that people wanted information,” Sikainda said. “[They] hunger for information to the extent that during the election process, we had a situation where the previous government was actually telling us not to publish or continue to give results when we got them. We had live updates from the tally center and we were following the activities. It seemed to have angered some people. They wanted the information to be released when they wanted. But it turned out that the people were able to notice when we had relatively reduced the updates. If something that is being propagandized by some officials, then it’s better we take action so people can know that we want to drive this information, because we need to know what is happening.”
And when she isn’t covering breaking news, this young leader is very passionate about helping young women.
“I would like to help other female young Zambians to really see how best they can use their talents,” Sikainda said. “If they are not able to identify them, I would like to work with professionals who can help them do that so that they can know how to use what is in themselves. I would like to put into place skill centers that will see a number of girls converge, and we can have motivational talks and hands-on skills and developmental activities that will focus on helping the people to be able to fend for themselves and be self-sufficient.”