Local Christian entrepreneur Shelena Broaster, an anti-bullying expert/certified life coach, is hosting a citywide teen girl empowerment conference entitled: “D.I.V.A. Academy: My BFF” on Saturday, May 18, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Calvary Christian Church, 6000 E. Roosevelt Blvd.
This event is free, but teen girls must register online at www.divaacademy.eventbrite.com.
Broaster, 34, is the founder of “Shalena D.I.V.A.,” an organization dedicated to the uplifting of middle school and high school girls.
Under the umbrella of Shalena D.I.V.A, the organization has a broad menu of female-driven empowerment workshops and conferences, mentoring initiatives, online motivational and empowerment tips, a call-in hotline and public speaking engagements, all designed, according to Broaster, to “Unleash the D.I.V.A. within!”
“D.I.V.A. is an acronym for Discover, Invest, Value, Appreciate your God-given gifts and talents. That four-step process is what helped me, starting at the end of 2009, to turn my life around,” said Broaster.
The “D.I.V.A. Academy: My BFF Conference” is designed to engage teen girls in interactive workshops: healthy self-esteem and self-confidence, positive self-image, self-awareness through artistic expression, effective decision-making skills, goal-setting skills, better study habits and basic etiquette.
“(In 2009), I was very depressed, despondent, hopeless, and I really needed to get back on track. I wasn’t praying like I used to, I was backslidden, and the D.I.V.A. process, my four-step process, helped me to get back into fellowship and commune with the Lord. And I felt God was speaking to me, that I needed to share this process with others to help them, to not only live their lives, but to please God and to serve him in the process.”
Broaster did not always have an easy life. “I grew up in the housing projects, Bartram Village in Southwest Philadelphia. I didn’t have any positive role models around me. I was the smallest of four children, my mother wasn’t into education — none of my neighbors, no one. But my father told me, ‘One day you’re going to go to college.’ He told me that when I was about 5 years old. He used to take me to the Philadelphia Public Library, where he used to work. And every time I finished a book, he would give me a 50 cent (coin), so, that really made me want to read more.”
It was that incentive that helped Broaster develop a reading level that was far beyond her peer group’s.
Broaster was accepted into the elite Julia R. Masterman High School, and when she graduated she was offered a full academic scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania.
Instead, she elected to attend Duke University on a full scholarship. She desperately wanted to get away from Philadelphia, to put her family and neighborhood drama behind her.
“My father, I found out years later, was on drugs. But he planted that seed of education in me when I was five. In the housing project, none of my friends, no one talked about college.”
Broaster admits that some members of her family were involved in the drug game, and that placed her and other family members at risk to the dangers of the street life.
“My oldest brother was murdered at a crap game. They robbed him and they took $20. My stepfather, he sold drugs, he put us into harm’s way. I remember he got kidnapped by a rival drug gang, and they held me and my little brother at gunpoint. My life flashed before me — I was only 12.”
These, along with other family and external dramas, pushed Broaster to leave Philadelphia to startcollege life in a fresh, safe environment. She graduated from Duke in 2001, earning her bachelor’s degree in political science.
It was approximately four years ago that Broaster began her mission to empower other young girls to succeed. Broaster attends Calvary Christian Church, under the leadership of the Rev. Robert Fontell.
“The parable about the ten talents (Matthew 25:14-30), that’s what being a D.I.V.A. is all about. You discover what your talent is. (The teens) discover what their talents are, that they are gifts from God, and then they are prompted to invest in them. The Scripture, it tells you what to do.”
D.I.V.A. Academy is presented in secular and Christian formats. Broaster runs many D.I.V.A. Academy programs in area schools, aiming to turn around the behavior of at-risk young girls.
She has been featured on the Dr. Oz program, Women’s World magazine, Philly Hot 107.9FM and a host of online television and radio shows. She is also a regular small- business contributor to the International Women’s Entrepreneur Association. Her clients include: Wharton School of Business/University of Pennsylvania, American Society for Training and Development, American Paradigm Schools and Career Wardrobe.
Lynne Milton, a local Gospel vocalist, will be in concert on May 18 at 4 p.m. at Mount Joy United Methodist Church, 455 Townsend St. in Wilmington, Del. Various Gospel groups from New York and Delaware will also be performing and ministering in song. It is a free will offering.
Milton, a local licensed pharmacist, is a member of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, located at 101 Washington Ave. in Twin Oaks (Delaware County). She’s been singing Gospel, R&B, and Jazz since she was a teenager. Gospel music is a huge part of her spiritual DNA. “As a child, I was born and raised in the church, Ezion-Mt. Carmel United Methodist Church, in Wilmington, Del. [During high school] I sang in the Youth Choir there,” said Milton.
Upon graduating high school, Milton matriculated at Hampton University where she earned her undergraduate biology degree. Hampton University is one of America’s top Historical Black Colleges and Universities. She later attended Temple University to earn her degree as a Registered Pharmacist. “When I returned home from [college], I really wasn’t [attending church]. I became one of those special occasion church people, because I really didn’t find a church that I wanted to go to,” she said. “I finally joined New Calvary Baptist Church in Wilmington, and was a member of various choirs there.”
Through various friends and her network of musical contacts, the frequent requests for her to sing started rolling in. “I just wanted to sing,” she said. “Gospel is what I know, but I love R&B, I like jazz.”
So she began singing at various events, expressing her musical gifts in diverse musical genres to uplift others. Milton got noticed by a member of the Gospel group Voices of Praise, and she was invited to audition.
“And that’s how I became a member of the Voices of Praise,” she said. “I auditioned for it. They needed a tenor voice, and that was me. I sing with them regularly.” Members of the Voices of Praise include Sharon Rose (founder), Tujuana Pearce, Regina Watson, Megan Menozzi, and Michelle Marshall. In addition, Milton also sings with an a-cappella group called Sisters In Song.
Milton admits being influenced by certain Gospel music titans. “I like the Winans – so many people in one family that have [musical] talent,” she said. “I love upbeat [music] from Tye Tribbet. I like current and I like old [Gospel music]. I love Albertina Walker. I love the whole spectrum. I love any type of music, as long as it’s not heavy metal.”
Her other musical favorites include Luther Vandross and Brian McKnight. One of Milton’s signature song is the classic “I Won’t Complain,” by the Rev. Paul Jones. She also likes “Take me to the King” by Tamela Mann.
“I’ve been through a lot in my life, you just get to the point where you say, ‘I’m letting this go.’ Whatever it is, however it happens, I’m just going to work with it,” she said.
Milton’s advice to up-and-coming Gospel music artists, “Take in open-mic events – go to venues to sing that you normally wouldn’t go,” referring to singing at non-African American events, too. Milton believes in the diversity of musical expression, although Gospel music will always be her primary love. Other Gospel groups performing on May 18 include The Johnson Brothers (New York), Chosen, Friends, MSI, and the Mighty Aires.
For more information about the concert, contact Mount Joy United Methodist Church (302) 655-7751.
The Rev. Eric Mason, co-founder and lead pastor of Epiphany Fellowship, has recently authored a book, “Manhood Restored: How the Gospel Makes Men Whole.”
The book, which is in national and international circulation, promulgates the conviction that “…in Christ, men are pointed toward the gospel as the vision for renewal.” It’s published by B&H Publishing.
Mason’s church has a strong youthful following and he also serves as president of Thriving, a ministry dedicated to supporting ethnic minorities to be resourced and trained for urban ministry service. Mason received his Master of Theology from world-renown Dallas Theological Seminary, and his doctorate degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He graduated from Bowie State University where he received a bachelor’s degree in psychology and is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. Mason and his wife Yvette have two sons, Immanuel and Nehemiah.
“I am still being shaped into what it means to be a Biblical man,” he said. “When I became a Christian, I was so inundated by other philosophies and ideologies.”
Prior to his salvation experience, Mason admits he did not view Christian men in a manly way and he did not necessarily “[view] the church as a breeding ground for men.”
But his ideas changed.
“God just brought some really, really Godly, manly men my way,” he said.
Mason began discipling men and teaching them about God, and eventually was urged by various congregants and ministry leaders to write a book about his work with men on the topic of manhood.
“Ephesians 2 talks about being made into one new man; of course that’s talking about new men and women in Christ, but I wanted to emphasize [the development of the new man in Christ]. I wanted that to be the building ground for the idea of manhood restored; basically, men being restored to God’s original intention for what He wanted man to be,” said Mason.
In his book, Mason discusses the pandemic issue of fatherlessness in America, in the chapter entitled, The Impact of Daddy Deprivation.
“Daddy Deprivation is a huge issue…it’s pandemic in cities like Philadelphia, and inner cities. Even guys who have fathers in their life, but they’re not present. And even if men have a father that’s present, the question is, ‘Is he a viable presence? Or is he just a physical presence?’ And so, what I wanted to do was, to basically get into the scriptures and get into the mindset of what manhood looks like.”
“When you look at hip-hop culture, or when you look at the pantheon of the most phenomenal artist out there, many of them grew up without fathers,” he said. “So, they’re able to connect, in their story, with a lot of young men who don’t have fathers. And so, I wanted to write a section that talked about the impact of Daddy Deprivation on manhood development and how the Gospel, through Jesus Christ, can restore men, if they dealt with Daddy Deprivation. And, not just dealing with it, but to stop the cycle of Daddy Deprivation” for the glory of Jesus Christ.
Other chapter topics include: The Life and Death of Manhood, The Restorer of Manhood, Restored Worldview, Restored Sexuality, Restored Vision, Restored Family, and Restored Church.
The foreword of the book includes comments from nationally- acclaimed pastor, the Rev. Tony Evans, senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship and president of The Urban Alternative ministry.
“In a day when the definition of manhood is up for grabs by a culture that has exited from the Creator’s intent, [Mason’s book] Manhood Restored gives anyone who is seriously desirous of knowing what real manhood is supposed to look like a solid place to go.”
During his early ministry years living in Dallas, Texas, Mason served under Evans as co-youth pastor and prison ministry coordinator at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship.
Sickle-cell disease is a disease that primarily affects the African-American community. It’s painful, and it can be deadly. Some staunchly believe that sickle-cell research, public awareness and funding are anemic compared to other diseases because sickle-cell is restricted to the African-American community.
Jonathan Nelson, president of the Sickle Cell Parents Network at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, is trying to change that.
Nelson’s activism is bringing greater public awareness to the disease and he and his parent team offer a great support group for area parents of children suffering from the disease.
According to the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America, Inc., “Sickle-cell disease is an inherited blood disorder that affects red blood cells. People with sickle-cell disease have red blood cells that contain mostly hemoglobin S, an abnormal type of hemoglobin. Sometimes these red blood cells become sickle-shaped (crescent shaped) and have difficulty passing through small blood vessels. When sickle-shaped cells block small blood vessels, less blood can reach that part of the body. Tissue that does not receive a normal blood flow eventually becomes damaged. This is what causes the complications of sickle-cell disease. There is currently no universal cure for sickle-cell disease.” More than 100,000 Americans are afflicted with the disease, millions globally.
Nelson, a 20-year U.S. Marine veteran, is a parent of two children (a son, 15, and a daughter, 7,) suffering from the disease. He moved from Texas to Pennsylvania to live closer to CHOP, a renowned medical facility known for its medical research and care of children.
“My son was diagnosed with the disease, unbeknownst to me and my wife, we had the [sickle cell] traits. So, upon getting [military orders to] transfer to Pennsylvania, we of course went to the best hospital in town – the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia,” he said.
Nelson, a logistics service representative with Sikorsky Helicopters, said he and his wife made close alliances with the hematology staff at CHOP, “in regards to what we needed to do going forward.” This led him to affiliate with a support group of parents of children with sickle-cell disease.
“They met bi-monthly, and they talked about issues regarding sickle-cell and other issues,” he said.
CHOP has a Sickle Cell Parents Network that includes Tracey Johnson as vice president; Sharon West and Tracy Medley-Ali as treasurers; Keesha Whitaker (out-going), Shakoya Trego, Julie Nelson as secretary; Medley-Ali, Judi Forth White, and Shirlene Boone are head of fundraising while Shirlene Boone is in charge of special events. According to Nelson, some local political leaders have been supporting and promoting awareness about sickle-cell disease. Two staunch supporters he said are State. Rep. Vanessa Lowery-Brown, the new chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, and State Rep. Stephen Kinsey.
Nelson and his wife are members of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, 2800 West Cheltenham Ave. where the Rev. Alyn Waller is senior pastor. Nelson is extremely proud of Enon Tablernacle’s support of CHOP’s Sickle Cell Parents Network.
“We have a great church,” he said. “Pastor Waller is a great man of God, a great man of faith. Our faith is what has gotten [my wife and I] through.”
Raised by Christian parents, Nelson’s father was a “Southern Baptist minister,” and he credits being raised in a Christian home with deep biblical values as his pillar of strength. When he and his wife were given the news of their children being diagnosed with Sickle Cell, “We were [spiritually]ready,” he said. “ We had our moments, we had our pity-party, but we knew that we needed to be strong for our children. We’ve taught them that, it’s not all about [mom and dad] praying for you, but you got to pray for yourself. But not only pray for yourself, but pray for others, don’t be selfish, pray for others who are living with the disease. And, so, our faith has really been a key element,” in helping us deal with the disease.
According to Nelson, Enon Tablernacle Baptist Church has raised money towards research, hosted health fairs with information tables about the disease to create greater public awareness, and has raised money for “camps that our kids go to every year.”
He added that, “the church has held health moments (during service), where they talk about Sickle Cell disease…our church has really been a key element and a key role in,” financial support and public awareness about the disease. “I want to thank Pastor Waller and [the] Rev. [Leroy] Miles in bringing [greater local] awareness to this disease.”
One of Nelson’s goals is to increase male participation in CHOP’s Sickle Cell Parents Network.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of males coming out supporting us, as I would like to see it,” he said. “ But this is one reason [as president] that I’m championing this cause.”
Duke Lewis is an active parent in CHOP’s Sickle Cell Parents Network. His son Austin has the disease.
“I’ve been a part of the [Sickle Cell Parents Network] for about three years now; my son Austin has the disease, I try to get him involved as much as possible.”
It’s helped me tremendously. From the day [Austin] was born, we had so many [medical] difficulties and obstacles with him.”
Lewis has found great solace interacting with other parents and having his son interact with other affected children. The interaction has allowed him, his wife and son to benefit greatly from the information and personal stories about how others are coping with the diseases. Being a part of CHOP’s Sickle Cell Parents Network, “has took a big load off the backs of me and my wife, Jennifer.”
For Lewises, CHOP’s Sickle Cell Parents Network provides valuable up-to-date medical information about the disease, legal resource information, fundraising opportunities and fun social events for the parents and children affected by the disease.
“So, we’re pretty much like 15 to 20 steps ahead [of uninformed parents]…so, when certain things happen, we know what to expect…from what we’ve learned here. [The Sickle Cell Parents Network] has helped us tremendously.”
“Austin [now 7-years-old] had his spleen removed when he was 18 months, he said. “ Pretty much, the first 3 or 4 years of his life, he lived in a hospital – one week here, two weeks there. Since the spleen has been removed, he’s been put on his medication [to help with his blood circulation]. God has been good, He’s been very good! We are happy.”
Lewis has visited and met with medical teams at Duke University, The University of Louisville and plans to visit medical experts in Europe for treatment and medical recommendations for his son.
“I’ve done a lot of research. Parents should do as much research as possible,” he said. “ You have to have multiple options, especially with this disease. There’s so much going on with [Sickle Cell] and there’s not enough help. I don’t think this disease is acknowledged so much within the government system, because I guess it’s pretty much a minority type of disease. At times, we get put on the back burner [of research, public awareness, and funding]. That’s how I feel personally. Yup.”
Lewis recommends to other parents of children suffering from Sickle Cell to, “find a group like [this], because the support is strong. It’s given us so much strength, and so many ways to [deal with the disease effectively]. Get involved.”
Monica Allison is a busy Philadelphian. High on her list of life priorities are her faith, community activism and education. She is the founder of Virtual Tutoring and Mentoring Inc., serving youth and parents of cyber charter schools. The topic of charter schools is one of the hottest political debates among local and statewide legislators.
“Virtual Tutoring and Mentoring got started about seven years ago when our daycare parents started asking us to private school their children,” said Allison, who assists her mother in managing a daycare in West Philadelphia. “And so we created Virtual Tutoring as a non-profit to allow parents to be able to cyber school their children and still continue to work full-time.”
“Cyber schooling is basically online schooling for kids in K-12th grade. The cyber schools allow children to stay home and do all their work on a computer. A lot of working parents don’t want their children home alone on their own computers. And so we were developed, or we were kind of born out of that need for working parents that want to take that option for their children.”
For a parent to engage Virtual Tutoring and Mentoring’s services, “The first thing is, you would have to choose from one of the 16 cyber charter schools in the state of Pennsylvania,” she said. Once a child is officially enrolled in one of the cyber charter schools, parents can approach VT&M to enroll their child in its learning center.
VT&M’s website states that its goal is to “level the playing field for underserved youth and extend to them and their parents a productive learning environment, through tutoring and mentoring and virtual charter schools…There are 16 cyber charter schools within the state of Pennsylvania, PreK-12th grade, and there are no learning centers in Philadelphia that provide a place for children of working parents who choose to cyber school their children, until now. VT&M Inc. fills in that gap. The center is open for schooling from 7a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday,” serving youth from Kindergarten to 12th grade.
Allison worked about 23 years in corporate America with Colonial Penn, and other major insurance companies, until she eventually found her calling in education. “The last company I worked for was United States Liability Co., which was owned by (billionaire) Warren Buffet. He was probably one of the most phenomenal boss ever.”
In addition to providing stellar academic support and tutoring services, VT&M provides cultural and social enrichment experiences.
“We go out, we do things,” she said. A sampling of VT&M’s field trips include visits to the New Jersey Aquarium, the U.S.S. New Jersey Battle Ship, the Please Touch Museum, a Day on Capitol Hill in Harrisburg.
Allison’s faith in God motivates her to do what she does career wise, but religion wasn’t always high on her priority list.
“I grew up in a religious association, but I didn’t really have an appreciation for God,” she said.
She admits during a tumultuous life experience, that she once burned a Bible.
“Probably the teaching that I’ve had over the last seven years or so, has really taught me that church is not inside of the building,” she said. “I have such an issue with us continuing to preach to the choir, instead of going out finding people that need us to preach [and teach] them. In order for us to show God, we have to go out to the people. And we have to show them who God is. But if you’re out and you’re doing things for people — picking up trash with them, and you’re helping them fix their house up, and those kinds of things, I think that’s what shows people who God is.”
Allison, a member of Greater Enon Missionary Baptist Church, 1854-56 N. 22nd St, is also President of Pennsylvania Families for Public Cyber School.
“We are advocating with legislators not to cut our school funding. They are trying to cut [cyber charter] school funding by 50 percent,” she said.
Pennsylvania Families for Public Cyber School was founded in 2006 to help preserve and protect the public education choice for families.
The organization works to educate policymakers on the importance of cyber charter schools and their success, and to dispel any myths and misinformation surrounding cyber schools that exist in the state.
For more information about Virtual Tutoring and Mentoring Inc., its enrollment and fees, contact Allison at: Virtual Tutoring and Mentoring Inc., 6015 Baltimore Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. 19143 or call (215) 921-2404.