Friday
Apr222016

Gabrielle Bryant: A Journalist With a Plan

Gabrielle Bryant is president of the Colorado Association of Black Journalists.On April 30, up-and-coming journalist Gabrielle Bryant will participate in an event honoring Colorado’s pioneering women in journalism.

More specifically, she will sit on a panel with veteran KCNC and CNN anchor-reporter Reynelda Muse and Rocky Mountain PBS executive producer Cynthia Hessin. 
“It is a huge deal to sit on a panel with people of that magnitude,” says Bryant, a staff producer at PBS affiliate, Colorado Public Television (CPT12), where she is responsible for producing the station’s flagship public affairs program, “Colorado Inside Out.” 

The long-standing program provides thought-provoking and in-depth weekly analysis of Colorado current affairs by a panel of highly-informed journalists, activists and professional pundits. Bryant, who sometimes serves as on-air talent, is also co-executive producer of “Street Level,” a fairly new series for the station that showcases individual streets throughout Colorado with a narrative that celebrates the communities we all live in at the street level. 

Bryant is very much looking forward to the April 30 event. In a way, it is an event that has been in the cards since she was in the 5th grade.

As a member of the color guard at McGlone Elementary, she was assigned to escort Dan Rather around the school. She doesn’t recall the reason the veteran news anchor from CBS Evening News, who also served as a contributor for CBS's 60 Minutes, was at her school. But she took her assignment seriously and as a result was introduced to the field of journalism. 
“I saw that it (a career in journalism) was tangible,” says the Denver native, who is about six years into her career in journalism and steadily advancing in the industry. 

From earning a degree in speech communications with an emphasis in journalism and sociology in 2010 to networking with the right people, her road has been intentional. Her goal is to host and produce her own national talk show like her hero Oprah. At the end of the day she wants to serve the needs of the community at-large by providing engaging, accurate and timely information. 

So when she connected with Denver-based, Emmy-award winning freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker Tamara Banks through a referral in 2010, she was well on her way. Banks is nationally and internationally known for her expertise in social justice and political issues, South Sudan and Darfur, and other parts of the globe where there is little or no news coverage. 

She had breakfast with Banks, who at the time, was also a co-host of the station’s Studio 12 program. She was invited to the station, whose mission is to cultivate an informed, energized community in Colorado by connecting diverse people through education, shared experiences, and reflective civic discourse. 

The Right Fit
“I literally never left,” says Bryant, the mother of two daughters. Having a front-row seat to Bank’s interviews “was validation that it could be done. She was doing exactly what I wanted to do.” 

Almost immediately, Bryant started as an intern, learning everything from creating chyron graphics for the screen to running the camera to researching possible guests and topics. Whenever the staff at the station asked her to do anything, “As long as I could find a babysitter, I said, ‘yes.’ ”

Earlier this year, she also said ‘yes’ to the station directors when they asked her if she had any ideas for Black History Month programming. She developed “The New Black Experience,” an interview project highlighting go-getters in the music scene, dance, community service and tech to discuss their unique experience as black people in today’s society. The interviews aired in February, and are still in the programming rotation. She is working on new interviews to air this summer. Jamari Hysaw, a marketing executive, was interviewed by Gabrielle Bryant for The New Black Experience earlier this year.

While she is happy with her career growth, she concedes that, as with any industry, she has to earn respect every step of the way. “When you are young, and you are working with people who’ve been in the industry for decades, you have to prove yourself time and time again,” she says. “As a broadcast producer, that means monitoring the environment, being on-point and doing a lot in a short amount of time.”
The former Montbello high school head cheerleader, who used to load up her teammates in an Astrovan, stays poised for the challenge for herself and also for those who look to her for guidance. As the current president of the Colorado Association of Black Journalists and former president of the Black Student Alliance at her alma mater, Metropolitan State University of Denver, Bryant understands the infinite value of her own legacy as she prepares to participate on this panel – part of the 75th anniversary of Colorado Press Women

“A lot of people want to be on camera only. I also want to produce, write and edit content,” says Bryant. “I know a few women in the business who can do all of it. That’s the way the industry is headed, and I know in order to be successful, I need to master as many of these skills as I can.” 

The Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame event “Celebrating Colorado Women in Journalism” will be held at the Central branch of the Denver Public Library on April 30 in the 7th floor classroom from 2-4 p.m. The name of the panel is “Breaking Through Barriers in Broadcast Journalism.” 

“Black Women: Celebrating the Road Less Traveled” is a weekly online series published by Canady’s Corner to honor Black women who are making a mark in the world in their very own way. 

 

Thursday
Apr142016

EspeciallyMe: Unstoppable!

EspeciallyMe™ Founder and Executive Director Patricia Houston surrounded by conference volunteers. Archive Photo: Courtesy EspeciallyMe.EspeciallyMe is not afraid to address real issues as demonstrated by the people chosen to speak to its participants over the years. This year is no different. The keynote speaker for the 18th Annual EspeciallyMe™ High School Conference, focusing on African American high school girls is Kemba Smith-Pradia. The theme is “Unstoppable!”

Smith-Pradia gained national attention in 1994 when she was sentenced to 24.5 years in federal prison, without the possibility of parole, for a first time non-violent drug offense. She served six and a half years in federal prison. Her case drew support from across the nation and the world in a crusade to reverse a disturbing trend in the rise of lengthy sentences for first time non-violent offenders. She was granted executive clemency in 2000 by President Bill Clinton after he reviewed her case and determined that an injustice had been done. 

On March 30, 2016, the wife, mother, national public speaker and author met with President Barack Obama at the White House. She and other commutation recipients from the George W. Bush, Clinton and Obama administrations were invited to the White House by the president to discuss the reentry process and resources needed to lead a fulfilling, productive life.

Kemba Smith-Pradia“Kemba exemplifies what we are capable of doing when we are focused on a goal and believe in our capabilities. She continues to work for those who she feels deserve another opportunity at life,” says Patricia Houston, EspeciallyMe™ executive director and founder. “In 2016, Kemba Smith-Pradia is still sharing her story to help educate young people in the importance of making good choices and how easy it is to get caught up in the criminal system's ‘war on drugs.’”

Smith-Pradia also served as the EspeciallyMe keynote in 2006. For more information on the conference, which takes place on April 23 at Gateway High School, visit EspeciallyMe.

Below is an article originally published at Canady’s Corner in March 2012 that further conveys the mission and commitment of EspeciallyMe. 

EspeciallyMe Annual Conference a Year-round Affair for Founder

April 28, 2012 marks the day when nearly 150 volunteers and mentors will connect with an estimated 500 high school girls to teach them how to listen to their inner voice and understand right from wrong in their daily lives.

The 14th Annual EspeciallyMe High School Conference The conference aims to steer them away from peer pressure and the tendency to emulate stereotypical images in the media. Meeting the challenge requires year-round commitment from Founder and Executive Director Patricia Houston. 

“Every single day there is a thought, somebody to contact and something to be done” in preparation for each young lady that attends the conference, and for the countless people they will inevitably touch as they move throughout their lives. On the big day, it all begins with a smile.

“Nobody should stand off by themselves,” says Houston, who annually tours college campuses from Greeley to Colorado Springs training mentors (high school students to business women) on how to conduct the workshops and interact with the participants at the conference. “We are teaching young ladies to feel welcome and to feel special.”

The participants bring perspectives from a range of family dynamics, including two-parent homes, single-parent homes, homelessness and parental roles where they may be the ones raising their brothers and sisters.

“We know that the message resonates with all the girls,” she says. “You can be a millionaire today and broke tomorrow. Value comes from ourselves not the money we have.”

Through the years, the conference keynote speakers have included African American women from a broad range of backgrounds. The list, to name a few: Claudia Jordan, Colorado’s first African American female judge; Shoshanna Johnson, the first African American female prisoner of war, Laila Ali, professional boxer and entrepreneur; and Wilma Webb, former First Lady of Denver.

With the demand from parents and educators, in 2007, EspeciallyMe began a biennial conference targeting middle school students. An estimated 500 girls participate in that event every two years. Also to meet a growing request, both high school and middle school conferences feature workshops for parents who want to attend. The subject matter is coordinated so that when parents and children go home they can be on the same page when they discuss the day’s experience.

Houston started the conference when she saw that there were a lot of messages in the media and the community saying what not to do, but few showing young ladies what to do. Today, no matter where she goes in Colorado, she runs into participants or people who have heard of the program. “I love that EspeciallyMe has become a household name.”

She adds, “We get a lot of emails and requests for information from other organizations on how to start similar programs. That’s great. We can’t have too much for our girls. If one person goes to two things, that’s a double blessing.”
“Black Women: Celebrating the Road Less Traveled” is a weekly online series published by Canady’s Corner to honor Black women who are making a mark in the world in their very own way. 
Friday
Apr082016

Dr. Allison Cotton: A Passion for Politics 

Allison Cotton, Ph.D. Photo: Karrie Davis Family Photography. Long before she earned her bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D, Allison Cotton was a daddy’s girl. That meant learning to hold her own in a political discussion about local, national and international issues.
She hails from a family of life-long, active Democrats, but it was her father who stirred her passion for politics.  

“My dad was always active, always going to meetings and watching political talk shows,” says Cotton, who officially registered to be a Democrat when she was a sophomore in college, and is currently seeking to be a Hillary Clinton delegate. 

If elected at the convention/assembly on Sunday, April 10, it will mark her second go-round. She served as a Barack Obama delegate at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. Tears of joy flowed a lot for her during that convention, but no more than at the very moment when she became the second delegate to sign the petition to nominate him for president of the United States. Her name will be forever connected to the first African American president of the United States.
So, how do you top that? Rather, how do you come close?

Perhaps a repeat performance, but this time for the candidate who might stand in history as the first woman president of the United States. As she prepares for the Sunday vote, she is reflecting on her first journey as a national delegate. 

Being her father’s daughter, she naturally duplicated his habit of attending local political meetings, including city candidate forums, on a regular basis. When she saw the opportunity to be a delegate and have a more active role in nominating Obama, she jumped at the chance and was willing to fight for it. But she didn’t know how. She inquired, asking questions all along the way.

The process, lasting a couple of months, required completing lengthy paperwork, successfully passing a background check and attending meetings – some open, some closed. Though the process itself was not a secret, she chose to only tell her father of her mission.

“It was hard on him because he was proud of me and wanted to brag,” says Cotton, who holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1991, a master’s degree in sociology from Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1995, and a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2002. But he respected her wishes, and was a partner in her mission. After every update to him, “he would say ‘Okay, what are we going to do next?’ ”

As a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., she also turned down a number of social and civic engagements. They noticed her absences. But she stayed her course, realizing that she was navigating a new process and really wouldn’t know how to answer their questions about it when asked.

“It is very competitive to run for a national delegate position,” she says of the many levels from caucusing to the actual election to national delegate. “You have to go through the motions.”

Becoming a delegate also required campaigning among other delegates for votes for the coveted position. She recalls, “A lot of people had campaign materials like candy, hats that lit up and all kinds of gimmicks to promote themselves. I just had a poster and handed out fliers.”

She also had years of being politically active. People already knew her. If not from that arena, they knew her as the author of publications ranging in subject from issues related to the death penalty, eye-witness identifications, lethal behavior and expert witnesses to issues around race class gender and crime. Some knew her from her regular attendance at spoken-word sets around the city, soaking up the poetry scene. Or maybe it was seeing her drive by with the windows down, music blasting and top open as she likes to do.

Dr. Allison Cotton at the end of the convention after Barack Obama had officially been nominated by the Democratic party. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Allison Cotton.Long story short, she made it to the congressional district level, where she was elected as a national delegate but then still chose to attend the state convention in Pueblo because she had been elected to serve as a state delegate as well. Each delegate had to give a two-minute speech to hundreds of participants at the congressional district convention. The professor of criminology did a variation of Obama’s slogan “Change We Can Believe In,” the chant “Yes, We Can,” and spelled out her name. She found out the next day that it worked!  Her name appeared on the Colorado Democratic Party’s website as one of the chosen few. 

Her mission was near complete, and now public. A Denver Post article announced the 70 national delegates and included a photo spread. She began receiving emails and calls from everywhere. 
“I was a celebrity for about two weeks,” says Cotton.

Sightings
Once on the floor of the convention, she settled into the fourth row listening to speeches and fielding calls from friends and family, namely her dad, who had told everybody to watch her on TV. He was calling to get updates, and also to report sightings of her on TV. She remembers, “On one call he said, ‘I think I saw your arm.’ ” 

The Second Time Around
Last month, Cotton was elected to serve as a delegate to both the Congressional District Assembly and the State Assembly. On Sunday night, she will know if she has advanced to serve as a national delegate again.

But if she is unsuccessful there, she may also have a chance to be elected at the state convention in Loveland next week. As she prepares for the final vote, she knows that her journey has not been in vain. Though attending political meetings is natural for her, there was a time when she was one of a few black women in attendance. In recent years she has noticed more black women and black men in the room. 

She says, “I feel and I hope that I have contributed to the participation of more Black women in the political process, those who care about the country and government, reflecting our values.”
If she is not elected this time around, she hopes the spot opens up for someone who has not experienced being a delegate so that yet another person can be introduced to a new experience. 

The tenured, full professor of criminology at Metropolitan State University of Denver, didn’t feel equipped to answer questions on the first go-round. “Now I have the answers. Now I know.” 

Her experience has only added to political talk with her father. “We have spirited discussions about the candidates and the issues. But it’s a more mature discussion that we have now,” says the author, who has traveled as a two-time Fulbright scholar to conduct research in both China and Egypt, and holds a packed calendar of speaking engagements on campus and at community events. 
She can certainly hold her own. 
“Black Women: Celebrating the Road Less Traveled” is a weekly online series published by Canady’s Corner to honor Black women who are making a mark in the world in their very own way. 
Tuesday
Apr052016

Press Release: Reps. Watson Coleman, Kelly, Clarke, Announce Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls

Congresswomen (l-r) Bonnie Watson Coleman, New Jersey, 12th District; Yvette D. Clarke, New York, 9th District; Robin Kelly, Illinois, 2nd District.
 On March 22, Congresswomen Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Robin Kelly (IL-02) and Yvette D. Clarke (NY-09), announced the creation of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls, the first caucus devoted to public policy that eliminates the significant barriers and disparities experienced by Black women.

Despite more than 430 registered congressional caucuses and Member organizations, no group on Capitol Hill has sought to make Black women and girls a priority in the policy debates that occur here. The Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls will fill that gap, and provide the same attention for women that President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative has given to Black men and boys.

“From barriers in education, to a gender based pay gap that widens with race, to disparities in both diagnoses and outcomes for many diseases, our society forces Black women to clear many hurdles faced by no other group, and asks them to do it with little assistance,” said Rep. Watson Coleman. “Black women deserve a voice in a policy making process that frequently minimizes, or altogether ignores the systemic challenges they face. This caucus will speak up for them.”

"Black women and girls are disproportionately affected by myriad socioeconomic issues that diminish their quality of life and threaten the wellbeing of their families and communities,” said Rep. Kelly. “The Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls gives Black women a seat at the table for the crucial discussion on the policies that impact them while also providing a framework for creating opportunities and eliminating barriers to success for Black women."

“In many ways, 23.5 million Black women and girls are consistently left out of the national discourse on a variety of policies that will affect their lives,” stated Rep. Clarke. “This caucus will be purposed to ensure that the infrastructure of inclusion fully incorporates the varied and unique needs of Black women. Our experiences must and will inform the direction we take as a nation and we can no longer afford to be excluded from important conversations.  I am proud to stand with my colleagues at the inception of this caucus to be a vehicle for change and look forward to the great work that we will do.”

The Caucus was inspired by the #SheWoke Committee, a collective of seven national women leaders with a shared vision of advocacy, equity, and sisterhood.

"In January, we launched a petition asking our national leaders to create a space that prioritizes Black women and girls, and here we are in March with a platform that will serve as a vehicle towards change,” stated #SheWoke member, Sharon Cooper, biological sister of Sandra Bland.  "We lift up all the Black women and girls who have lost their lives without press coverage, all the Black women and girls who are fighting for our collective liberation, and the Chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls, who responded in the way all elected officials should: with urgency. #SheWoke looks forward to supporting the efforts of this Caucus, and empowering Black women and girls through policy and advocacy."
                                                                           -30-
“Black Women: Celebrating the Road Less Traveled” is a weekly online series published by Canady’s Corner to honor Black women who are making a mark in the world in their very own way.  

 

 

Tuesday
Mar292016

Donna Mejia: Dancing Through it All

Donna Mejia is the first professor of tribal/transnational fusion globally. Photo: Steve Balderamma.A mom’s response to bullying tactics against her child has no bounds. It can be vengeful or it can be graceful.

One day at a Boys & Girls Club in Colorado Springs, 12-year-old Donna Mejia was cornered by other girls, being berated because of her mixed heritage. It was not the first time, but this time her mother walked in and witnessed the harassment. She pulled her out of the hornets’ nest, so to speak, when other adults did nothing to intervene. 

Following this incident, “She put me into ballet to improve my self-esteem,” says Mejia, who has since danced her way around the globe, and currently holds an assistant professorship in the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

When recalling life before ballet or “structured training,” she describes herself as an introvert, yet physically expressive child, finding all kinds of ways to use her body: roller skating, running track, skiing and back flipping off things in the yard. “But all of those activities fell away,” she says, once dance was introduced into her life, becoming her sole extra-curricular activity. 

It wasn’t until 1996 that the business administration graduate of CU-Boulder realized that she could make dancing a career.

“I was in an education-corporate type job, but spending discretionary income and vacation time on dance opportunities,” says Mejia, who has been teaching dance at private and public institutions of higher education for nearly 20 years, including Colorado College in Colorado Springs and Smith College in Massachusetts, where she earned her Master of Fine Arts degree on fellowship. “It was pretty obvious all of my energy was going into dance. The most honorable thing to do was to get out of the way so that someone less distracted, than I, could fulfill the job.”

Though she found her career path, traveling it has not been without challenges. At various times in her career, congenital health issues have threatened to bench her. “It was difficult to maintain a dance career. I had to learn self-care at an extreme level. I had to become my strongest advocate with the doctor. But all of the hard work has paid off. I’ve now been pain free for years.”

Confusion about her mixed heritage has also followed her throughout her career. “It has been difficult to get casting in both white and non-white communities. Producers always wanted to know my heritage,” she says. “It is this overlapping identity and cultural ambiguity that stalled my professional career for so long.”

Mejia, whose heritage, for the record, includes Ghanaian, Spanish, French, Jewish, Native American and Scottish, adds, “I think my mixed heritage can be disruptive to people who’ve not workshopped their own assumptions about (and reliance on) social categories.” 

A Self-Defining Moment

Donna Mejia, a professor, dancer and scholar, has taught in higher education for nearly 20 years. Photo: Steve Balderamma.At the age of 35, she realized that she was “banging on doors that were not going to open for me. It had nothing to do with my talent. I was nailing it. I knew it,” she says, noting one particular audition. “My appearance was not what they were looking for.”

They actually said it to her at the same time they were telling her that the performance was perfect.  

She did not mask her disappointment and said, “Screw this!” to the choreographer’s face. At that point, she “stopped trying to fit the mold and started self-defining by cultivating an inner dialog between the collective dance genres in my years of study. Ultimately I landed comfortably in my art-making as a transnational fusion artist.”

Today, she is the first professor of tribal/transnational fusion globally. One promotion for her transnational dance immersion program in New York last year stated: “Donna has galvanized a personal practice that defies categorization but aesthetically highlights common denominators between North African/Arab rural dances, yoga, ballet, American hip hop, and Brazilian Silvestre Contemporary technique.”

These words validate her choice to blaze her own path. But more importantly, she wants to be recognized for empowering her students and helping to guide them as they refine their own skillset. “Some institutions can be toxic, hierarchical systems that abuse their authority, leaving broken souls instead of developing artists. I try to inspire students’ hunger for self-improvement and perpetual learning.”
She credits Letitia Williams, CU dance instructor emerita, for this approach to teaching. 
CU Assistant Professor of Dance Donna Mejia leading a class. Photo: Salwa/Art2Action“She became my reference point for what good education should look like when approached with integrity,” says the dance scholar, who early in her career served for 12 years as managing director of the award-winning Harambee African Dance Ensemble of CU-Boulder under the leadership of Williams. The ensemble performed for President Bill Clinton and Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu. 

Overall, she enjoyed stable success in her dance career, but catapulted to international status in 2006 when an anonymous audience member bootleg filmed and uploaded one of her recital performances to YouTube, which at the time was in its infancy. She has since taught and performed as a soloist throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. Today, she balances her time teaching and touring, appearing in at least 12 dozen cities per year.

The next Colorado date for Mejia includes a 3D collaborative animation/interactive performance at CU-Boulder's Conference on World Affairs on April 8 at 1p.m. The performance, to be held at the Atlas Black Box Theatre, is a collaboration with Kenji Williams, founder of BELLA GAIA, recognized for demonstrating how humans and nature are connected, and how art and science are connected.

From April 14-17, she will debut two new works in CU Boulder’s annual faculty concert titled, “The Current.” Her new solo benefits from the design work of Oscar-winning designer Jim Doyle and multimedia artist Teri Wagner. In late April, she will join other international talents performing at the Elevations Tribal Fusion Dance Conference in Golden.

Learn more about Donna Mejia’s regional instructional classes and upcoming touring dates at https://donnainthedance.wordpress.com/. 
“Black Women: Celebrating the Road Less Traveled” is a weekly online series published by Canady’s Corner to honor Black women who are making a mark in the world in their very own way.