Julius St. John of West Oak Lane doesn’t want to be just another statistic.
St. John wants to prove he can be among the minority of African-American males who start and finish college on time. The recent George Washington High School graduate believes he will attain this goal through Community College of Philadelphia’s Center for Male Engagement.
St. John was among the 50 African-American, incoming students at CCP’s fall class who attended the opening orientation session for the CME initiative.
“I think that educating African-American males about the college culture is important,” St. John said. “The information I got so far is helping me to understand how to be a better student. It’s important for me to have a place to get referrals and to ask questions. I am looking forward to one day owning my own business, so coming here will help me stay on that goal.”
The facilitators of the program are Daryl Bright, Derek Perkins, Richard Newell, Kevin Covington and Jules Thomas. They are all young, African-American, male college graduates. Some of the things they discussed in the opening session were classroom decorum, the importance of punctuality and being present for class, time management, a college work ethic and resources for those needing help.
The young men avidly shouted “I belong here!” as the facilitators urged them to stand up and chant. They did this enthusiastically before watching the “Bring Your ‘A’ Game,” a video moderated by Mario Van Peebles. In the video they were taught about the importance of education and the ways African-American males can use the educational system to avoid trouble with the law, or prison, and becoming chronically unemployed. Among those speaking in the film were Ice Cube and Spike Lee.
The CCP initiative recently won the prestigious 2012 Noel-Levitz Retention Excellence Award which recognized four programs that were innovative in creating student success programs. The other recipients were the “Course Signals” program at Purdue University in Indiana, the “CCC2NAU” at Coconino Community College in Arizona and the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education’s “Project Graduate.”
“Each year these awards recognize the most successful, state-of-the-art retention programs in use today,” said Tim Culver, Noel-Levitz’s vice president. “This year’s honorees have made great strides in student retention, and we are pleased to recognize them in their efforts. The winners demonstrated measurable institutional outcomes, [and] originality and creativity, as well as excellent use of resources and adaptability for use at other institutions.”
CCP freshman Lindell Low of West Philadelphia believes the program will assist him get the foundation he needs to transfer to a four-year college.
“They have already given me a sense of direction and can serve as role models for me,” he said.
Teaching students about the dangers of bullying is continuing in Northwest Philadelphia during the summer months.
First, the Northwest CommUnity Coalition on Youth (NCCY) is hosting its first Basketball Challenge “Hoops Against Bullying” at the Imhotep Institute Charter High School, 6201 N. 21 St. from July 19 to 21. These games are free and open to the public.
The challenge will feature students from ages 8 to 17. They represent many local leagues and even those from out of town.
Thursday will be the kick-off event. Game times on Friday are10 a.m. to noon and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. There will also be games on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“The youth will use the game of basketball competitively and respectfully, using skill and expertise rather than intimidation or harassment to win,” said Troy Allen, the chairperson of NCCY “Hoops Against Bullying.” In addition, there will be college tours and a mini basketball clinic offered by NCCY.
The mission of “Hoops Against Bullying” is four-fold. It involves respect, sportsmanship, team work, and leadership. Organizers stress that these are the key characteristics to building character and confidence—the qualities that counteract bullying behaviors.
“As we all know the element of bullying has permeated our schools and many other places where young people are gathered,” said Isabella Fitzgerald, NCCY chairperson. “We hope that through this effort we can show that even though playing to win, respecting others and good sportsmanship is paramount.
“By providing tools and resources we can help strengthen the most powerful entity in our communities, our children. By providing tools and resources we can help strengthen the most powerful resource in the children’s lives, their parents,” Fitzgerald said.
Over in Germantown youngsters are also engaging in the “Pick up the Pen” effort to offset violence and bullying this summer. The sessions will take place at the Happy Hollow Playground. It is hosted by the Black Writers Museum and being sponsored by the Make a Way Foundation and the Mitchell and Ness Nostalgia Company.
“When someone is bullying they are taking advantage because they are either bigger or have something over the other person,” said Bernard Hopkins, the program’s ambassador. “Instead of picking up their fists or [a weapon] we want them to pick up the pen and express themselves that way.”
The program will run throughout the summer with a culminating ceremony in late August, according to Supreme Dow, executive director of the Black Writers Museum. For more information about the program call (267)297-3078 or visit blackwritersmuseum.clear.net.
NCCY is a nonprofit organization formed in 2004. It is sponsored by Safe Corridors, the No Bullying Zone Hotline, School/Merchants Truancy Institute, and Address Safety. For more information visit www.nccy.org.
Charles S. Dutton is the first to admit that the recently released “The Obama Effect” is a pro-Obama motion picture. Yet the former star of “Roc” insisted that the 90-minute comedy/drama is not a political film. For the co-producer, director, screenwriter and lead actor in the flick that opened at AMC theatres last Friday, this was his way of capturing history in a unique context.
“The Obama Effect” is the story of insurance salesman John Thomas, played by Dutton. He becomes passionate about the 2008 Obama campaign after a health scare. The cast includes Katt Williams, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Meagan Good and Glynn Turman as well as boxer Zab Judah and other new faces to the silver screen.
The film, produced by entertainment executive Barry Hankerson of Blackground Records, is now in its first run. It opened in select cities, preceded by premiere showings. Locally, the film opened to a full and enthusiastic house at Lowe’s AMC Theatre in Cherry Hill, N.J., on July 11.
“This chronicles one of the most important moments in history, when this country elected its first Black president,” said Dutton, who is making his directorial debut. “It’s a satirical look at the 2008 election. This is about a man who becomes obsessed with the Obama election. This captures a moment in time when many people never thought they would see in their lifetime.
“For him this is a kind of non-negotiable madness. He puts this election before his family, friends and job. Then there’s his alter ego, and he really thinks he is talking to Obama. There’s also the divisiveness and polarizing that took place in 2008 (reflected) right in his own community,” said Dutton.
The film took more than three years in the making. It began in January 2009 on the heels of the presidential inauguration with what Dutton called a “triple duty” operation. First, he and Hankerson came together with the idea to make an independent film about the 2008 presidential race from a pro-Obama perspective.
Then, they created a character who “had tunnel vision” on his conviction that President Obama was the only candidate who should win the election. Finally, there was much rewriting and retaking scenes throughout 2009 and 2010 until the current version emerged during 2011 and received its final edits this year.
“The original cut was too tragic,” said Dutton. “It was like a page out of King Lear. So, we had to go back and make it lighter and more fun. There are serious moments but with the addition of Katt Williams as the super-rich nephew by marriage and a Black Republican, that made it more satirical.”
Yet just because the movie has many jovial moments, doesn’t mean there is no conflict or serious scenes. There is. For example, the main character is at odds with his Latino next-door neighbors who he feels should make an immediate commitment to support Obama.
At the same time, the sons of the two families compete in a boxing match. Additionally, there is a clandestine affair between another Latino neighbors’ son and the protagonist’s daughter. “This movie clearly multi-layered,” said Dutton.
Furthermore, Thomas tells his fellow organizers that, “Anyone involved in the Obama campaign is going to be alright.” Ironically, Dutton himself did not get thumbs up from the official Obama campaign camp. This was a result of the producers’ effort to keep the independent film truly independent, according to Dutton. That is why rather than scout major investors, he and Hankerson opted to finance the venture themselves.
“This is unabashedly a pro-Obama film but we didn’t want Chicago, the White House or anyone else censuring the script and looking over our shoulder,” said Dutton. “I think this is a classy movie that you could bring your family or church group to see. We tried to keep capture the euphoria of 2008 while mending fences in a way that is uplifting. I think the story is still electrifying in a new way now that it’s 2012.
“Some of the (sentiments) expressed back in 2008 reflect the vehement resistance we see in Congress and from the tea party. We started filming before (some) Americans took off their sheets or rolled by the hoods. So, there’s much relevance in a 2008 story speaking to this upcoming election,” said Dutton.
Dutton anticipates that the First Family will request a screening during its early run. He admitted that he hopes that he can give the Obamas their own edited version of the film. There are choice phrases he would like to delete so as not to offend President Obama, the first lady or their daughters, he said. Other than that, he feels that the Obamas would appreciate that its release is well-timed and tastefully done.
Now, audiences across the country can also see the initial AMC theaters exclusive run and make their own assessment. Besides Philadelphia and Cherry Hill, the select market cities include Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, New Orleans, Dallas and Houston.
Dutton said his requests for reviews to be broadcast on stations like Fox News, or for an interview with Bill O’Reilly about “The Obama Effect,” were ignored. Yet Dutton is taking that in stride.
“I am not naïve,because I understand that half the country may not be interested in seeing this movie, but there’s the other half who will,” said Dutton.
These days Dutton just is eager for the nationwide and possibly worldwide distribution of “The Obama Effect” in October. However, he’s not resting on those potential laurels either. He is already preparing to film his next movie in Philadelphia. This is about Stevie Gordon, a fictitious music mogul who is stuck in the 20th century still saying statements like “Let’s go and make the record.”
This is slated for a Memorial Day release.
If you live in Northwest Philadelphia, expect to see busy volunteers with clipboards and voter registration forms asking, “Do you need to update your voter registration?”
The reason this question is pivotal in neighborhoods such as Mount Airy, West Oak Lane and Germantown is simple: Some of the city’s most ardent voters live in Northwest Philadelphia, but many neglect to re-register to vote when they move or change their name.
Now with the new Voter ID law, some just need to update their voter registration so their name, address and other personal information on the IDs match the voting record.
Among the groups who will be trekking through Northwest Philadelphia commercial corridors and knocking on doors will be the nonpartisan Pennsylvania League of Women Voters.
“The new Voter ID Law passed by the legislature this spring raises onerous new barriers to the ballot box,” said B.J. Phillips of Northwest Philadelphia.
Phillips serves as the Voter ID coordinator for the Philadelphia League of Women Voters. The group is basing their grassroots Voter ID headquarters at 310 W. Chelten Ave. in Germantown.
“We are pulling together an ambitious plan to educate our fellow citizens about the new law,” Phillips said. “The Voter ID rules have changed almost weekly as the Secretary of State’s office tries to implement a sweeping and inherently confusing new law. So, we plan to carry our educational message to the large majority of voters who already have valid IDs as well as helping those who need to acquire the ID the need for Nov. 6.”
Already on the group’s agenda is finding out where the summer block parties and neighborhood festivals will be located. They will be making guest appearances at community organization meetings and before church groups. They are also visiting long-term and personal care homes to provide photo IDs for residents.
The Voter ID Coalition’s Germantown office will be active this summer. At the West Chelten Avenue location they are offering training sessions on the new Voter ID legal requirements that help prepare people to speak to the groups or congregations they belong to.
“This is an excellent primer for those who volunteer to handle phone calls for help, advice, media support and other demands at the new coalition headquarters,” Phillips said. “Our goals are high, but they are within the reach of an organization that was born of the struggle for the right to vote. Above all others, this newest battle for universal suffrage is ours to fight.”
Just before the spring primary race the Northwest Philadelphia Coalition held their Voter ID session in partnership with KeepingMyVote.org. The event was held at the New Bethel AME Church, 6153 Germantown Ave. It was sponsored by state Sen. LeAnna M. Washington, state Reps. John Myers, Mark Cohen, Dwight Evans and Cherelle Parker, as well as Councilwoman Marian Tasco.
This summer several Pennypacker Elementary School students from Northwest Philadelphia are considering attending Cheyney University.
Even though school ended on June 14 and won’t reconvene until September, these youngsters vowed to keep reading, writing and thinking during the hot summer days of July and August. Why? The students want to wear a cap and gown when they earn their college degrees in about a decade.
In a classroom discussion with the school’s extracurricular group Leaders of the Pack, teacher and advisor LaTwyne Wise realized that many of the students had never been to a college commencement. In fact, some had never seen any graduation ceremony. That’s when she decided to write most of the Delaware Valley colleges and universities asking if the Northwest Philadelphia students could attend their graduation.
“Cheyney University was the only one who responded,” Wise said. “Not only did they give the students a chance to see a graduation, but they rolled out the red carpet for us. I was able to take 15 students, and they put us in the reserved section right up front. We were up in the front of the tent where we could see the Rev. Jesse Jackson up close.”
Students such as Tiana Fitts of West Oak Lane and Rayaina Green of Mount Airy readily admitted one event changed their lives. For Fitts it was the words of the commencement speaker, Terrence Howard, that she will remember this summer.
“He said while relationships are important, we all still have to work hard to reach our goal,” she said.
What stood out was the message to keep moving forward, according to Green. “Sometimes we might mess up, but we can’t go through life looking back at what you should have done,” she said. “I will remember that.”
Aaliyah Simmons of West Oak Lane said though she has been to college graduations for various family members before, but it was special to go to one with her classmates.
“Going to Cheyney, and the way they treated us, made me think I might want to go to college there,” she said. “I like the campus and it was fun to make it a class trip.”
Wise said the Cheyney administrators said they would welcome Pennypacker students at their commencement again.
“They are taking this experience with them into this summer,” Wise said of the students. “And what an experience, because it was absolutely phenomenal.”