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Posts Tagged ‘baltimore’

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Photo: Ann Hermes/Christian Science Monitor
Men in need of a suit for a funeral, say, or a job interview can get one fitted to perfection at the nonprofit Sharp Dressed Man in Baltimore and Los Angeles.

When my daughter-in-law’s parents were doing spring cleaning one year, they donated boxes of clothes in excellent condition to one of the Providence agencies where I’m an ESL volunteer. Dorcas International has many services besides English classes, and one of them is a secondhand shop that provides household goods and clothes for refugees (if you are used to Africa, you definitely need a warm coat for Rhode Island winters) and for needy residents referred by other agencies.

I was glad to learn that there are similar services in other cities.

David Karas writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “On a frigid December afternoon, Tyler Freburger is standing in front of a set of mirrors wearing a suit picked out for him by a tailor. He sorely needs the attire for a funeral later in the week.

“A homeless veteran living in Baltimore, Mr. Freburger would usually have difficulty securing such an outfit, especially one selected for him personally. But in this instance, he was referred to the nonprofit Sharp Dressed Man.

“Since 2011, the organization has been helping men improve their lives by equipping them for job interviews and other occasions with well-fitting suits and accessories. …

“ ‘It’s a blessing that they are here,’ says Freburger, who notes that the organization has treated him well and has been working to supply what he needs – something he is not accustomed to in his daily life. …

The nonprofit was founded by clothing designer Christopher Schafer, who sought to give those in need an experience more like a visit to his custom clothing shop than stopping at a warehouse. …

“[Some years ago,] When Schafer was delivering some custom suits to a client, he was handed two bags of gently worn suits in return.

“ ‘He said I spoiled him with how I made his custom suits fit, and he couldn’t wear his old suits anymore,’ Schafer says. ‘They were still very nice, and he didn’t know where to take them.’

“Schafer found a nonprofit that would accept the suits and put them to good use, but as time went on, more of his clients did the same thing. At the suggestion of a friend, he decided to launch his own nonprofit, Sharp Dressed Man. …

” ‘Since those two bags of clothes, I believe we have dressed about 7,000 people,’ Schafer says. .. ‘If you treat a guy with dignity, he has a better chance of treating himself with dignity. … It is really powerful when you see guys when they are suited up and they are kind of glowing,’ he says. …

” ‘I had a battle with drugs and alcohol for 20 years, and if I wouldn’t have changed my life, I either would have been dead or I would have been in line asking for free soup,’ he says. … ‘That’s why I do it.’ ”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: John Waire/Washington Post
Richard Antoine White behind the scenes during the filming of “R.A.W,” a documentary about his life and musical career.

What is it about tuba players and altruism? Maybe I should say, What is it about Baltimore tuba players?

Not long ago I wrote a post about a Baltimore tuba player’s inspiring outreach to young impoverished musicians (here), and now I have a related story about a tuba player who grew up poor in Baltimore and now mentors kids.

Tim Smith writes at the Baltimore Sun, “Richard Antoine White looks back on his life — poverty and an unsettled family life growing up in [the Sandtown section of Baltimore]; tuba studies at the Baltimore School for the Arts, Peabody Institute and Indiana University; his current jobs with the New Mexico Philharmonic and University of New Mexico — and sums it up simply: ‘The American Dream is still alive and well.’ …

“White’s successful pursuit of that dream has been chronicled in the documentary ‘R.A.W.’ (White’s initials) by Baltimore filmmakers Darren Durlach and David Larson, co-founders of Early Light Media. …

“ ‘I feel honored and humbled that they wanted to do a film about me,’ says White, 45. ‘There was an awe factor when they showed up in Albuquerque. I thought, you guys are really going to follow me around with a camera? But I trusted them to tell this story appropriately.’

“Storytelling is a specialty for Durlach and Larson. They formed their production company not only to make a living (clients for their video work include companies and foundations, local and beyond), but also to give themselves an outlet for spotlighting worthy individuals and causes. … The duo decided to direct that interest into Invisible Thread, a venture they envisioned as a series of ‘people-driven stories.’ …

“[Their first film] had a screening at the Baltimore School for the Arts, where Durlach and Larson met the school’s director, Chris Ford.

“ ‘We were talking with him about an idea we had for a feature film about the arts, specifically arts education, in our culture,’ Durlach says, ‘how the arts are misunderstood, underfunded, and underutilized. And Chris said, “You know who you need to talk to is Richard White.” …

“ ‘The second we met Richard, we fell in love with him and were inspired by him,’ Durlach says. … For several days, the filmmakers shadowed White to chronicle his life in Albuquerque, where he is principal tuba in the New Mexico Philharmonic and associate professor of tuba/euphonium and associate director of the Spirit Marching Band at the University of New Mexico.

“The action then shifted to Baltimore, where more filming took place at the Baltimore School for the Arts and Peabody. The filmmakers also accompanied White to places in Sandtown, where he spent difficult years as a child and had largely avoided revisiting.

“ ‘Family members would sometimes let my mom and I sleep on a couch,’ White says. ‘Sometimes I slept under a tree or in an abandoned house. My mom had problems with alcoholism and finally gave me up. Her foster parents took me in. …’

“After White’s life smoothed out with the help of his foster parents, he found himself drawn to music — first the trumpet, then the tuba, which he learned partly with the help of a self-teaching tape. That gave him the confidence to go to the Baltimore School for the Arts, ready to audition for admission. … White gained admission.

“ ‘That proved to be a good decision on our part,’ Ford says. ‘He was an incredible worker. Through sheer grit, he was pushing past everyone. And he was a delightful individual throughout. ….

“ ‘Richard moved from someone who needed a handout to someone who now puts his hand out to help others,’ Ford says. ‘He’s been really powerful mentoring some of our kids.’ ” More at the Baltimore Sun, here.

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Photo: Mary Carole McCauley, The Baltimore Sun
Tuba player Dan Trahey has helped make OrchKids a national model for lifting up kids. “We’re all interconnected,” he says. “We’re bad at this in America, where we’re all bred to be soloists. We create our own little worlds, and that’s really dangerous.”

When I was in second grade, my mother convinced the school principal to show a movie for children that I think came from the United Nations. It involved hand puppets who were enemies. And what I remember most was that in the end, each puppet felt its way up the arm of the puppeteer and discovered that they were connected.

That message, the message about human interconnectedness, is always having to be retaught, but people who understand it often get involved in initiatives that help disadvantaged children. Consider this story.

Michael Cooper writes at the New York Times, “From the outside, Lockerman-Bundy Elementary School looks forbidding, a tan monolith built in the 1970s. Some of the rowhouses across the street are boarded up — reminders of the cycles of poverty and abandonment this city has struggled with for years.

“Inside on an afternoon [in April], though, it was a different story. Music echoed through brightly colored halls lined with murals. Classes were over, but school was not out: Young string players rehearsed Beethoven in one classroom, while flutists practiced in another and brass players worked on fanfares in a third. Also on offer were homework tutors, an after-school snack and dinner. …

“It was just another afternoon at OrchKids, the free after-school program that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and its music director, Marin Alsop, started a decade ago with just 30 children in a single school. The program now reaches 1,300 students in six schools; its participants have gone on to win scholarships to prestigious summer music programs; play with famous musicians, including the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the trumpeter Wynton Marsalis; perform at halftime at a Baltimore Ravens game; and win accolades at the White House.

“The program was the idea of Ms. Alsop, who began thinking about how to forge closer ties to the city soon after she became Baltimore’s music director — and the first woman to lead a major American symphony orchestra — in 2007. …

“The first student to enroll in the program was Keith Fleming, then a first grader. ‘At first I didn’t really like music,’ he recalled recently. ‘I just thought, I’m going to do this because I didn’t really have something else to do. The first day came, and I started to learn music — and I started to like it.’

“He is 15 now, and his tuba skills have taken him to Austria and London and helped him win an audition to the Baltimore School of the Arts, where he is a sophomore. …

“From the very beginning,” [Nick Skinner, the OrchKids director of operations], said, ‘it was very important that we were immersed in the school, and in the community.’ ”

More at the New York Times, here. And there’s a nice article at the Baltimore Sun about tuba player and OrchKids volunteer Dan Trahey, here.

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Photo: Sean Scheidt
Boys in Baltimore are being given an unexpected opportunity and are giving back to the school that makes it possible.

Something unusual is happening in Baltimore. Boys offered free ballet are loving it.

Gabriella Souza reports at Baltimore Magazine, “The audience seated in folding chairs stares curiously at the dancers in front of them. Perhaps, the performers aren’t what these families and elderly couples think of when they hear the word ‘ballet.’ After all, there are no tutus or pink-ribboned shoes in sight. Instead, seven boys of varying heights, ages, and races stand before them on the carpeting, barefooted and wearing khakis and bold-colored T-shirts. …

“ ‘What are we in for?’ the audience seems to be wondering this day in April. When the boys begin to move, it all makes sense. Their motions are controlled, graceful, and musical, and their bodies appear weightless as they fly through the air or lift high up onto their toes. Their artistry combines strength, vivacity, and masculinity. …

“The dancers are part of the Estelle Dennis/Peabody Dance Training Program for Boys, which gives young men ages 9 to 18 tuition-free admission to Peabody Dance, the after-school dance training program that is part of the community school affiliated with the lauded Peabody Institute. …

“In 2009, as a way to attract boys to the program, advisers and instructors decided a scholarship program could encourage families who couldn’t afford training, or who otherwise might be hesitant. The small proportion of boys to girls in ballet has been noted nationally, and though statistics on the subject are hard to find, for years teachers have reported that they often only have a single boy in their classes, if any.

“ ‘There has always been this underlying thought from fathers — and mothers, too — that they didn’t raise their boys to be ballet dancers. It still exists to some degree, but much less,’ says Barbara Weisberger, who is Peabody Dance’s artistic adviser. ‘This program is helping to remove that stigma, because these boys are wonderful talents. They’re a joy to watch.’ …

“Barbara Weisberger still remembers the first auditions she oversaw for the Estelle Dennis program in May 2009. Walking into The Mount Royal School and Roland Park Elementary/Middle School that day, she drew her breath in amazement as she saw dozens of boys, 60 total, who were black and white and of all ages, waiting to show her what they could do.

“Though most of them were hip-hop dancers, it didn’t matter to Weisberger — their enthusiasm was contagious — and it didn’t seem to matter to the boys that she was showing them a completely different style of dance. They were just excited to move. ‘They enjoyed themselves so much. They were so musical, they were such fun.’ …

“ ‘There’s a different, masculine culture that they’ve brought,’ says [Melissa Stafford, Peabody Dance director and department chair], who became director and department chair in 2013. … ‘When you step out for a five-minute rehearsal break, you’ll come back to the boys doing three pirouettes and trying to outdo each other in a friendly, competitive way. That camaraderie they have with the other guys has changed the energy of the school.’ More here.

No question that ballet is demanding and athletic enough to satisfy many boys. Case in point: this football player’s comment, “Ballet is harder than anything else I do”!

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Photo: Atlanta Black Star

CBS News recently had a story on how a Baltimore school and its children are benefiting from meditation.

“During the morning rush,” CBS reports, “Robert W. Coleman Elementary School is as bustling as any other school. But after the buses arrive and the kids pour in, the usual classroom chatter comes to a complete stop.

“The students here learn to seek their inner peace. Every day begins with what the school calls a ‘mindful moment’ – a 15-minute blend of yoga and meditation.

“It’s not what you’d expect from a school in West Baltimore, but it’s the dream of two brothers from right here in the neighborhood, reports CBS News correspondent Tony Dokoupil.

“Twice a day, more than 300 students take part in the ‘Mindful Moments’ program. They learn to breathe, stretch and block out distractions.

“Principal Carillian Thompson said this has made a ‘huge difference.’ … ‘We’ve had zero suspensions,’ Thompson said.

“When students fight or misbehave at Coleman, they aren’t sent to the principal’s office. Instead, they are sent to the ‘mindful me’ room, where they’re taught to resolve conflicts peacefully and teach each other what they’ve learned.

“ ‘When I was breathing, all the things that’s been happening, I passed that on — all the problems, I passed that on and worried about… what’s more important,’ Sierra said.

“The program is the vision of Ali and Atman Smith, who grew up nearby in one of Baltimore’s most volatile neighborhoods.

“ ‘There’s violence going on in the neighborhoods, there’s drug abuse in the neighborhoods, so it’s just, there’s all these things just getting dumped on these kids and they need a way to kind of deal with it,’ said Ali Smith, co-founder of Holistic Life Foundation. …

“ ‘We’re teaching kids at a young age to try to really make a change in our community as far as how conflicts are resolved,’ said Atman Smith.”

More at CBS News, here.

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I read this NY Times article with relief. It seems that educators are returning to (or perhaps being heard about) the importance of play in learning.

Reporter Motoko Rich says, “Call it Kindergarten 2.0. Concerned that kindergarten has become overly academic in recent years, this suburban school district south of Baltimore is introducing a new curriculum in the fall for 5-year-olds. Chief among its features is a most old-fashioned concept: play.

“ ‘I feel like we have been driving the car in the wrong direction for a long time,’ said Carolyn Pillow, who has taught kindergarten for 15 years and attended a training session here on the new curriculum last month. ‘We can’t forget about the basics of what these kids need, which is movement and opportunities to play and explore.’

“As American classrooms have focused on raising test scores in math and reading … even the youngest students have been affected, with more formal lessons and less time in sandboxes. But these days, states like Vermont, Minnesota and Washington are again embracing play as a bedrock of kindergarten. …

“Still, teachers like Therese Iwancio, who works at Cecil Elementary School in Baltimore’s Greenmount neighborhood, where the vast majority of children come from low-income families, say their students benefit from explicit academic instruction. She does not have a sand table, play kitchen or easel in the room. …

“Traci Burns, who has taught kindergarten for the last five years at Annapolis Elementary School, said she was looking forward to retrieving previously banished easels.

“ ‘With the Common Core, this has been pushed and pushed and pushed that kids should be reading, sitting and listening,’ she said. ‘Five-year-olds need to play and color. They need to go out and sing songs.’

“At Hilltop Elementary, a racially and economically diverse school in Glen Burnie, Melissa Maenner said she had found that teaching kindergartners too many straightforward academic lessons tended to flop.

“ ‘They are 5,’ Ms. Maenner said. ‘Their attention span is about five minutes.’ ”

Read more here.

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Even if, like me, you never got into the TV show “The Wire,” you may know that it was about a troubled section of Baltimore. You also may be interested in a new school there, intended to serve as a real community gathering place.

New York Times design critic Michael Kimmelman has the story.

“In many ways, public schools are gated communities, dead zones,” writes Kimmelman. “They’re shuttered after dark and during the summer, open to parents and students while in session but not to the larger community.

“A new public school in one of the poorest neighborhoods in East Baltimore wants to challenge the blueprint. Designed by Rob Rogers, of Rogers Partners in New York, Henderson-Hopkins, as it’s called, aspires to be a campus for the whole area — with a community center, library, auditorium and gym — as well as a hub for economic renewal.

“This is the neighborhood where parts of ‘The Wire’ were filmed. In 2000, when the city’s mayor convened local business leaders, the vacancy rate was 70 percent. Poverty was twice the city average. Crime, infant mortality and unemployment were all through the roof.

“The idea that emerged — of making the school the centerpiece of a major redevelopment project — is a grand urban experiment. Operated by Johns Hopkins University in collaboration with Morgan State University, the school, which opened in January, belongs to a $1.8 billion plan that also includes new science and technology buildings, a park, retail development and mixed-income housing. While gentrification might threaten to displace the poor, the school is to be the glue that helps bind the district together.” Read more here.

Photo: Matt Roth for The New York Times
Henderson-Hopkins, which shares its library, gym, auditorium, and other features with the surrounding area, is designed to catalyze change in a blighted section of Baltimore.
 

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