Category: Youth Written by CNN
‘BECOMING MEN’--In this photo taken Feb. 15, in Chicago, President Barack Obama speaks about the nations struggle with gun violence at an appearance at Hyde Park Academy.
by Gregory Wallace and Adam Aigner-Treworgy
CHICAGO (CNN) -- To these young men, President Barack Obama is a model of what they could become -- if they can avoid violence, unemployment and other pitfalls that have derailed some residents in their communities.
High school students enrolled in the Chicago schools' "Becoming a Man" program sat down with the president Friday in their school before he delivered a speech about the blight of gun violence on communities and the economy.
Student Vontate Stewart said Obama described his own struggles of the past and how he overcame them.
"He told us how he grew up and the situations he had been in and how he handled them," Stewart told CNN after their meeting. "And he just gave us ideas how to handle situations and let us learn from the situations he had been in. "
Their conversation "was helpful and very motivating," Stewart said.
His peer, Ronald McCormick, joined this program after a conversation with a teacher when he landed in detention. He was not a chronic troublemaker, but has seen his grades improve and said the conversation with Obama resonated with him.
"I got good advice about how he talked about how he dealt with his anger issues, his problems. So we had a good experience with him today," McCormick said.
That teacher, Marshaun Bacon, said Obama gave the young men in his program an "example of the power of hard work, self-determination."
"So now I'm going to challenge the group to say, now that the president has spoken to you, now that you have seen the best in what you can do, how are you actually going to go out and do those things?" Bacon said. "Each man will have that challenge and will work at it individually, but also as a group. 'What is our next move?' 'How do we continue to exemplify the best of what we can do?'"
Obama was born in Hawaii but raised his own two daughters within a mile of the Hyde Park Career Academy where he spoke.
"That's really what I've come here to talk about today -- raising our kids," Obama said. "I'm here to make sure that we talk about and then work towards giving every child every chance in life; building stronger communities and new ladders of opportunity that they can climb into the middle class and beyond; and, most importantly, keeping them safe from harm."
The president spoke about the "hole in that child's heart" that comes from gun violence. In neighborhoods across the country, "it can feel like for a lot of young people the future only extends to the next street corner or the outskirts of town -- that no matter how much you work or how hard you try, your destiny was determined the moment you were born."
Chicago saw more than 400 gun deaths last year and just last month, 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was gunned down near her school a week after she participated in the festivities around Obama's inauguration. His wife, first lady Michelle Obama, attended the teen's funeral and two men have been charged with her murder.
Obama introduced the "Becoming a Man" program students in his speech and called them "exceptional young men" -- especially so, he said, because of their own struggles.
"What I explained to them was I had issues, too, when I was their age. I just had an environment that was a little more forgiving," he said. "So when I screwed up, the consequences weren't as high as when kids on the South Side screw up.
"But these guys are no different than me and we had that conversation about what does it take to change," Obama continued, later adding that "for a lot of young boys and young men, in particular, they don't see an example of fathers or grandfathers, uncles, who are in a position to support families and be held up and respected."
Student Allen Ester said Obama told the group, "if we gonna change it's gotta start within ourselves."
"I had lost a couple friends due to gun violence and you know to the streets, or whatever, so I really think it's time for a change -- not just me but with a lot of people ... in Chicago," he told CNN. "It really ain't safe out here right now."
Bacon, the teacher, said he hoped the students who met with Obama would carry the conversation with them.
"He talked about the fact that he had to make a commitment to stay the path that he was on. He talked about times where he was discouraged and he thought about giving up but it stuck to it, and he's done pretty well for himself," Bacon said. "So I'm hoping our guys can emulate that same example, and who knows what is in store for them.
"Maybe we're looking at one of the next presidents."
Last Updated on Monday, 18 February 2013 18:35
Category: Youth Written by Courier Newsroom
FROM THE MOUTH OF BABES—Paige Vannoy reads her award winning speech to the attendees.
by Abdul Al-Nakhli
(Beaver Falls)—Dr. Martin Luther King’s mission was remembered, as The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee held their annual Oratorical Banquet Sunday evening at the Holiday Inn.
“Dr. King’s vision lives through the youth and in the community,” said Eugenia Waldron Priest, coordinator. “Our annual banquet is our way of showing our appreciation and support for the youth and members who continue to live what Dr. King always dreamed would come to fruition.”
This year’s festivities began with the introduction of the student winners and their parents, followed by the Negro National Hymn, conducted by Teresa Massey from First Baptist Church in Freedom, and a youth welcome and prayer from Destiny Smith and Niko Amir Simmons.
Following an entertaining puppet ministry from Second Baptist Church, Minister Bobby Jones, who served as the student leader, welcomed each of the student winners to give their winning speeches to the attendees. Through the speeches, it was apparent not only did they understand the importance of King’s vision, but realized it is far from fruition.
“Even though Dr. King accomplished, his dream is not quite complete,” said Joziah Council, the first place winner of the 8th grade category. “He (King) is not present to stand up for these things, and this means we have to take a stand for these things and approach it with the same willingness and courage as Dr. King did. We should make it our own responsibility to complete his dream.”
Continuing the dream of King was a shared theme amongst the winners, and carried to those honored with awards of excellence from Sen. Elder Vogel and State Representative Rob Matzie. For Stacey Brock, who was honored with the Teacher of Excellence Award, it is vital for the vision to continue on.
“Dr. King said you don’t fight darkness with darkness, only light. I hope that I can continue to be a light as a teacher,” said an honored Brock.
Other members honored were Gospel quartet the Sons of Thunder with the Spiritual Song Bird Award, and Mayor Dwan Walker, Aliquippa, with the Coordinator Award.
It was a night of remembrance and continued building of the future. There was a room filled with hope, love, and encouragement. In a night that honored the oratorical contest winners from last November’s competition and leaders of the community, the essence of Dr. King’s dream was very much alive.
Last Updated on Monday, 18 February 2013 08:35
Category: Youth Written by Associated Press
BEST ACTRESS NOMINEE--The film Beasts of the Southern Wild actress Quvenzhané Wallis smiles in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Feb. 13, attended by middle and high school students from the District of Columbia area and New Orleans taking part in an interactive student workshop with the cast and crew of the movie, hosted by first lady Michelle Obama. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
by Christy Lemire
AP Movie Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — "Beasts of the Southern Wild" star Quvenzhane Wallis is an actress of talent, poise and maturity well beyond her years.
She was only 5 years old when she auditioned and 6 when she played the part of Hushpuppy, a little girl of fierce strength and resourcefulness living with her daddy in a squalid slab of Louisiana swampland known as The Bathtub. She was just a regular kid from nearby Houma, La. — she'd never even acted before, and actually pretended to be a year older than she was to be considered.
Now, at only 9, Quvenzhane (Kuh-VAHN-zuh-nay) is the youngest-ever actress nominee at the Academy Awards. Altogether, "Beasts" has four nominations at the Feb. 24 ceremony, including best picture.
While her presence is undeniable, Quvenzhane's nomination raises the question: How young is too young to compete for an Oscar, the film industry's highest honor, which has eluded performers with decades more experience and acclaim? Is a child really capable of acting, with craft, or do these performances reflect uncanny instinct?
Director Benh Zeitlin doesn't think 9 is too young for such an honor. Zeitlin, who is up for a best-director Oscar himself with just his first feature, praised Quvenzhane for the incredible sense of self she displayed from the beginning. But he also recalled one day when she seemed to be struggling on set, and he took her aside to ask what was wrong.
"'I know. I can't snap it today. Normally I can snap it,'" he remembered her saying. "The fact that she had an internal sense of when she's in character, when she's getting the emotions right and feeling it, is really special even in experienced actors, but especially someone of her age to have that sort of self-awareness."
Justin Henry, who remains the youngest-ever Oscar nominee in any category for 1979's "Kramer vs. Kramer," said that in some ways it's a purer form of acting at this age.
Henry was just 6 years old and had never acted when a casting director came to his Rye, N.Y., school looking for someone to play Billy, the little boy at the center of Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep's custody battle. He was 7 when he shot the film and 8 when he was nominated for best supporting actor; he lost to 78-year-old Melvyn Douglas for "Being There." (Tatum O'Neal is still the youngest Oscar winner in any category; she was 10 when she earned the supporting-actress Oscar for 1973's "Paper Moon.")
A voting Academy member, Henry said he thought it was "awesome" to see Quvenzhane get nominated for the acclaimed Fox Searchlight indie drama, which he called the best movie of the year. Now 41 with a 7-year-old daughter of his own, he looks back at his own nomination and acknowledges: "I didn't even know what it meant. ... I just remember being nervous as hell about having to give a speech in front of 3,000 people."
"That's the great thing about acting: In some ways, it's a child's game," said Henry, who went on to play Molly Ringwald's wisecracking younger brother in the John Hughes classic "Sixteen Candles" and now specializes in web video distribution. "You're just pretending, so sometimes it's easy when you're a kid. You just kind of follow your instincts."
Tracy Tofte, who was only 11 when she was chosen to play daughter Heather Owens on the 1980s sitcom "Mr. Belvedere," agreed that she didn't understand the enormity of what she was doing. She'd started acting at 9 under the stage name Tracy Wells and booked 17 national commercials in her first year, including a Pepsi ad in which she danced with Michael Jackson.
"From the adults around me, I took off their energy that it was a big deal," Tofte, now a 42-year-old real estate agent in Santa Clarita, Calif., said of being cast in the series. "As an adult, I look back and I totally get it but as a kid, no. You're just, 'Wow, my mom and dad are happy and my agent's happy and this'll be fun.'"
Tofte hasn't seen "Beasts" but said of Quvenzhane: "I'm sure this young girl did a phenomenal job and deserves the nomination, but there are veteran actors and actresses who have never had those accolades and they've been working their craft and dealing with the ups and downs of this industry."
Intriguingly, Quvenzhane is up against the oldest-ever best actress nominee, 85-year-old French veteran Emmanuelle Riva of "Amour." Rounding out the field are Jessica Chastain for "Zero Dark Thirty," Jennifer Lawrence for "Silver Linings Playbook" and Naomi Watts for "The Impossible." The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences declined a request to comment on Quvenzhane's youth.
Thelma Adams, contributing editor at Yahoo! Movies and a longtime awards prognosticator, points out that Shirley Temple was already well on her way to a career by the time she was 6, the same year she earned an honorary juvenile Oscar.
"There was a lot of craft to what she was doing," Adams said. "With (Quvenzhane's) performance, it's kind of a life force. They've captured this wonderful little girl ... but it's not an acting performance."
"I've seen her at parties," added Adams, the mother of two teenagers who perform. "I know she can get up in her party dress and charm, but I also saw a little girl who'd rather be riding a pony at a kids' party. ... To have her nominated, it's not good for her, no matter how great she was in the movie — and she was terrific — but this red carpet thing is a grind."
But it's exactly that kind of passion that drives such extraordinary kids, said John West, headmaster at The Mirman School for highly gifted children in Los Angeles, whose alumni include actors Crispin Glover, Masi Oka ("Heroes") and David Dorfman ("The Ring" movies).
"I'm not sure they fathom the importance of the honor. They fathom the importance of the work they do — that's far more important," he said. "Any of our students who have been engaged in the arts don't do it because they're looking for approval or glory. They're doing it because the work itself in some unique way touches them in their own lives."
West has no problem with Quvenzhane's nomination: "People throw around all the time that someone is an old soul packaged in a very young body, and as cliched as that may be, it's true."
But Zeitlin said Quvenzhane was still very much a little kid on the set: "She would say things to me like, 'Benh, I'm only 6 years old, you need to use smaller words,' or 'I'm gonna get cranky sometimes.' She had this awareness almost like an observer of a child."
He also points out that Quvenzhane is nothing like the girl she played.
"Hushpuppy as a character is going through unbelievable circumstances. She's damaged, she's morose, she's contemplative, she's quiet, she has this great burden on her shoulders," Zeitlin said. "Quvenzhane Wallis is the most carefree, fun-loving, goofy, playful person you can imagine, and she had to put herself in that skin on a consistent basis."
Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 February 2013 20:03
Category: Youth Written by Courier Newsroom
PROUD WINNERS—From left: Ruthanne Pilarski, 8th grade winner and Dyonna Hall, 7th grade winner of the Martin Luther King Jr. essay contest. (Photo by J.L. Martello)
The Girls Coalition of Southwestern Pennsylvania honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by holding its first annual Martin Luther King Essay Competing of girls in grades 6-12 in January.
Entrants were asked to write a 300 to 500 word essay that answered one of the following questions: How can I change the world? What does it mean to be a part of the beloved community? And How am I a leader for justice, equality and fairness for all people in Pittsburgh and beyond? Winners and finalists were given a chance to read their essays at the Union Project’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration on Martin Luther King Day. In addition each winner was awarded a gift basket and gift card.
“The Girls Coalition looks for meaningful ways to engage girls in our work; giving girls an opportunity to think about how they might change the world,” said Girls Coalition of Western Pennsylvania’s Program Director Heather Mediate. “Putting that into words seemed like a great way to hear from the girls about the challenges they see today and how those challenges might be overcome. Using the work of Martin Luther King, Jr, as a prompt for this contest was a natural fit because of the vision he had for the future and his fight for equality in this country.”
The Girls Coalition of Southwestern Pennsylvania strives to build a strong group of providers that serve girls to address and remedy the issues that face all girls in the areas of education, physical and mental health, violence and crime, economics, and essentially help organizations connect, collaborate and create a better place for girls to grow up in.
Winners of the contest were 12-year-old Pittsburgh Carmalt seventh grader Dyonna Hall and 12-year-old Pittsburgh CAPA eighth grader Ruthanne Pilarski.
“Our hope for this contest was to hear not just about why girls are inspired by the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., but what they are inspired by on a daily basis and ways in which they are already changing the world,” Mediate said.
Essay winner Dyonna Hall is changing the world on a local level by volunteering at recreation centers in her Brookline neighborhood and working with youth and teaching them about being positive and giving one another respect regardless of race, gender or age.
“I believe that everyone is put on this earth for a reason and can possess a special gift,” explained Hall, a 12-year-old Pittsburgh Carmalt seventh grader in her essay entitled “I Was Chosen to Change the World.” “Although Dr. King suffered by the hands of his fellow man, I believe he lived his life to the fullest by doing what he believed was right and still continuing to move forward by raising his family. He did not let the fact that man will always fall short of the glory stop him, for he knew that work and determination could make this life better for everyone.”
Pilarski believes that improving one’s self is a step in the right direction in making the world a better place for all to live in.
“I believe that everything big starts from something small. I believe that if we want to achieve greatness, it’s not about one big thing, but about everyone doing their individual part to change what they can,” Pilarski said in her essay titled “How Can I Change the World?” “It may be about working together, but if we start small, and if we start with ourselves, the rest will come easily.”
Mediate said the passion with which Hall and Pilarski wrote their essays spoke to the judges of the contest.
“The winning essays were passionately written and really spoke to how MLK’s legacy can be lived out today and how important his commitment to nonviolence was, especially in light of everything going on in the world today,” Mediate said.
“We felt this was a great way to connect with a historical figure that young people often learn about, but may not be given the opportunity to apply to their own life,” she continued. “Plus, the work started by MLK remains unfinished in our country and it is important for young people to become the next generation of change makers.”
The parents of both girls are proud that they entered and won the contest.
“I’m so very proud of her,” said Dyonna’s mother, Natasha. “I don’t think I could have asked for anything else in a daughter. I thought she did a very good job of going by the guidelines of the contest and explaining how she would be able to carry on the legacy of Dr. King.”
David and Colleen Pilarski agreed with Hall.
“I think this is fantastic. She is a good writer and I am excited to see her getting awards for it,” said Ruthanne’s father, David Pilarski. “I found her insight to be remarkably mature for a 12-year-old young lady. Perhaps if more adults followed her simple philosophy, the world would truly be a better place.”
Last Updated on Monday, 18 February 2013 08:35
Category: Youth Written by Genea Webb
YOUNG CARTOONIST—Dante King with some of his comic strip characters. (Photos by Erin Perry)
by Genea L. Webb
While most 14-year-old boys are enamored with video games and girls, Dante King loves drawing comic books and cartoons.
“I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pen or pencil,” said King, an eighth grade Shadyside Academy student, who resides in Plum. “I like creating the story, the characters and the places.”
To date, King has created approximately 80 comic book characters.
One of his comic book characters, Jet, appeared in a “Sonic” comic book last year.
“I reached out to the editor of the ‘Sonic’ comic book and told him about my son and his drawings,” said King’s father, Steven King. “He told me to send him some of Dante’s drawings and I did and one of them was chosen and appeared in the fan section of the comic book. I just wanted people to know that something good was going on here. I’m a proud parent and he’s really a special kid.”
King has created his own comic book series, “Amazing 8’s Amazing Adventures,” tells the tale of super heroes defending the world against evil.
“The characters are super heroes and super villains. I really enjoy drawing and creating the characters and the story,” King said. “I especially like the characters because they’re unique and I can make them who I want. It takes me a little while to think about how I want the good guys and the bad guys to do. Sometimes the bad guys fight among themselves because they are not always on the same team but eventually the good guys will always win.”
King gets inspiration from a lot of different places including his classmates.
“Some of my characters are based on the personalities of my classmates and some are made up out of my head. My classmates know that some of the characters are based on them and they are excited about it. Some of them ask me to do it,” he said.
The talented young artist has no formal art training.
King’s mother, Cheryl King, knew her son had something special when she saw the unique way he held his pens and pencils—his thumb and the top of the writing utensil and the rest of his fingers at the bottom.
“We just let him draw but after a while we’d have to stop him because he just kept on drawing,” explained Cheryl King, a stay-at-home mom. “I tried to get him to hold his pencil the right way but when I saw what he was doing I let it go.”
The peculiar way King holds his pencil has become his signature and is called “the grip.”
“Ever since I’ve been writing or drawing, I've held it that way,” he said. “This feels comfortable to me. Teachers have tried to change it, but I had good penmanship so they left me alone.”
King has created baseballs, T-shirts, mugs and notebooks with “the grip” logo on them. The notebook is for sale on King’s website.
In addition, he enjoys reading, playing video games, the high honor roll student is currently practicing for the school’s version of “The King and I.” He will play the lead role in the musical. He has had parts in other school musicals including “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Annie.”
Ultimately King would like to get his comic book published and into stores.
“We’re looking for some help to get an agent and get his comic book published because he wants to share his book with other kids,” Steven King said.
(For more information on Dante King's comic book or characters, visit www.dantethecartoonist.com.)
Last Updated on Thursday, 31 January 2013 10:02
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