Some Summer: Benin

Do you have druthers? You know, those things you’d druther be doing, but you failed to follow your heart? Well, Jocelyn will not have them! She kicked around the idea of joining the Peace Corps for a while and as I write this she’s pretty much on her way there. In the following post, she attempts to explain why she wants to go to Benin, to be part of the Peace Corps but it’s so deep in her that there really is no reason. I really look forward to reading about her experience in Benin and watching her grow and change over the years! I hope you’ll follow her, too! Her blog is Peace Corps Journey to West Africa.

The Peace Corps was brought to my attention by one of my biggest mentors. I was in the middle of my senior year in college, and my heart was really yearning for me to do some service work.


However, I wasn’t quite sure what that looked like. She told me that I should look into the Peace Corps, and I started to do my research. At first, two years seemed like such a long time, but then I realized that I could make that kind of commitment. In the scheme of life, two years is really a fraction of our lives. So I started my journey of applying for one of the most well-respected organizations in the United States. Along the way, God showed me so many signs that He was the one who had put this mission on my heart, and that I was really doing what I was supposed to be doing. I thank Him every day for that.

When people ask me what I am most looking forward to in Benin, the first thing that pops into my head is music. I have been singing since the age of seven, and I have ha d the opportunity to travel all around the world with truly talented choirs. I had the blessing of going to South Africa three years ago with my college choir, and we were able to share the our voices with them and vice versa. It was truly inspiring to see these wonderful people willing to sing for us that it brought me to tears multiple times. I am really looking forward to creating that kind of community in my new home in Benin.  It is truly going to be life changing.

I am excited about being able to serve in another country. I know that there are less fortunate people all over the world, but my heart is really drawn to somewhere overseas. I know that I am going to be able to use a lot of my knowledge that I learned in college towards this once in a lifetime opportunity. God has really showed me what is looks like to be His servant here on Earth, and I know that He is going to carry me through it every step of the way.

“Peace Corps Journey to West Africa”

Some Summer: Cuba Post

I’m starting a rather informal summer series. (By definition, shouldn’t all summer series be informal?) I’m finding people who are spending part of their summer exploring a new culture, learning a new technology or experiencing something new and unusual and I’m asking them to write about it and then share it here. I have a few posts lined up and am always looking for more!The series is starting here today with a wonderful piece from my dear friend, Susan Adams who recently had the opportunity to visit Cuba. She was excited to go and I was so excited for her! I know her well enough to know she would fully experience Cuba and all it has to offer and that she would come home with keen observations. I know she has stories too! I can’t wait to meet up with her in Indy and here her stories!!

 The following are her reflections.

I was recently privileged to travel to Cuba with a small group of faculty members from Butler University where I am a faculty member in the College of Education. I have long been fascinated by Cuba and have thought often of what I heard from 2 undergraduate professors, the first of which was a Cuban attorney turned foreign language professor and the second of which had been a young college student studying in Cuba as Fidel Castro rose to power in the 1950’s. The Cuban attorney was bitter, frustrated and angry about how his life in the U.S. had turned out; frankly he did a lot of ranting and raving about history and politics, most of which went over our heads, but seemed to soothe him because he generally would cease his rant with a cool smile. The other professor intrigued me even more because her eyes lit up and she smiled a dreamy smile as she described the charisma and intelligence of Fidel Castro, almost forgetting herself as she mentally relived the excitement of being in Cuba at such a momentous time in history.

What I learned from my professors clashed in contrast with my mother’s recollection of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the stark terror my mother remembers experiencing whenever my father went to sea as a young Navy soldier. My father was frequently on the ships patrolling the Caribbean; the uncertainty of his exact location and the daily news reports made her fearful she would be left a young widow with a baby. When I told my mother I was going to Cuba, she attempted to mask the flood of these old emotions (failing completely, of course) and tried to pretend she did not think I was crazy for wanting to go. I have a nasty habit of traveling to parts of the world that scare my mom (Mexico, Honduras, and most recently, Bangkok) but she tries valiantly to be happy for me in spite of her fears.

How to describe what I saw and experienced was constantly on my mind as we traveled to Havana, Santa Clara and Varadero, spending hours and hours aboard an old 1970’s Thomas school bus imported from Canada. It is easy to describe the lush, green, tropical beauty of the island. Yes, of course, it was very hot there (one day the temperature reached in excess of 97 degrees Fahrenheit with 100% humidity)so being sweaty even when you are doing nothing at all is normal. Eating beautiful and sometimes unfamiliar fruits and vegetables (malanga, a tuber sort of like the potato, was a favorite discovery) was a great adventure-mango for breakfast almost every day makes me SO happy! Visiting Che Guevara’s mausoleum was deeply touching and strangely inspiring. Swimming in the ocean at Varadero was amazing and beautiful on the white sand beach under the blazing sun and at night under a full moon, waving our hands to see flashes of phosphorescent microscopic creatures.  These are the easy things to describe.

What is more difficult is to characterize the beautiful, resourceful, inventive and generous people that we met. Each day we listened to an expert in some field (economics, social sciences, folklore, education, organic farming, etc.). As I listened, it was impossible to miss the immense pride and sense of accomplishment that permeated each lecture and discussion. I began to sense the significance of the collective Cuban commitment to revolution in all of its iterations, beginning with the overthrow of Bautista in 1959 and extending all the way to the present struggle to prosper under the U.S. embargo and blockade. How could a tiny little country do what so many other countries have failed to do in the onslaught of multinational corporations taking root in so many other parts of the world? Could it be that the embargo and the blockade have served to protect Cuba and to maintain its identity?

As I turned on the beach to view the few buildings scattered along the curves of the coast, I had a horrific vision of what would happen to this pristine place if multinational corporations got their hooks in it. Like mushrooms, Hiltons, McDonalds and Starbucks would

Susan’s photo of Old Havana

spring up and vacationing Americans would populate those white sand beaches seemingly overnight. What a nightmare that would be! I do understand the economic implications and struggles that are direct consequences of the embargo and blockade for Cubans, but I cringe as I imagine stately yet playful Old Havana converted into a Disneyesque caricature of itself as I recently heard a Venetian complain that Venice, Italy has been taken over by the tourist industry and has pushed out many of the residents. I thought of the huge changes I have witnessed as Wal-Mart, Taco Bell and KFC have moved into México where distinctive, unique towns and villages are transformed into ubiquitous, predictable and ordinary sprawling landscapes that look like any interchangeable Midwestern town. I have grieved over this destruction in México, which has helped me in turn understand the destruction and damage has been done all over Indiana (and the rest of the country, for that matter) over the course of my lifetime; I would hate to see this happen in Cuba.

So, what did I learn? For starters, I realized anew how we have been framed by our own government to see only the negative side of socialism and the way this gets lived out in Cuba. I did not expect to hear Cubans speak of Fidel (and that is ALWAYS what they call Castro) with open love, respect and genuine appreciation for what he has done for the country. I did not fully understand the immensity of the impact of the Soviets pulling out of Cuban in 1991 and how this has resulted in scarcity and economic hardships, but neither did I know that the Cubans choose to see this time as an opportunity to grow and mature as a nation that is confident in its leaders’ wisdom and its collective willingness to sacrifice for the sake of this growth and continued autonomy. Never before had I seen with my own eyes a countryside decimated by the sudden ceasing of sugar production, but neither had I seen a nation working together to dramatically recover and reverse courses in agriculture so quickly and with such unity of purpose. I did not realize the punitive nature of the blockade, which prohibits from docking at any U.S. port any ship which has docked in Cuba in the past 6 months. I was startled to see propaganda openly and blatantly displayed on billboards and in the state-run newspapers, causing me to reflect upon the more sophisticated, insipid, carefully phrased delivery of news through U.S. media sources and our own government officials.

What is the “truth” about Cuba and the U.S and who gets to decide? How do we as Americans feel about the U.S. as a world power infringing upon our neighbor Cuba’s sovereign right to self-determination? Cuba is certainly not perfect, but neither is the U.S. What we do not know about each other would fill many books. What we fear about Cuba might no longer even be true, but perhaps Cuba has good reason to be suspicious of us. I am humbled by the fact that Cubans who spoke to me on the streets, in restaurants, community arts centers, universities and the neighborhood where we stayed were able to separate me as an individual from the politics of my country. I was welcomed, greeted with gracious welcomes and interested curiosity about what I was doing there. Sadly, I think this is more than the average American would be willing and able to do if the situation were reversed. For now, I remain hopeful that the U.S. will continue to allow small numbers of citizens to visit and learn more from our neighbors in Cuba. As Mark Twain says in Innocents Abroad, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Thanks, Susan!

Recognizing a Hero

“In 1962, Fannie Lou Hamer decided she wanted to try to register to vote after attending a SNCC voter registration meeting at William Chapel Church in Ruleville, MS pastored by the late Rev. J. D. Story.  It would turn out to be just another way of asking to die.
After returning home, Mrs. Hamer was ordered to go and take her name off the registrar’s book. If she refused to do so, she would have to move. Refuse she did and move she did.
I didn’t go register for you sir, I did it for myself”, replied Fannie Lou to her boss. Mr. W. D. Marlowe.  She was kicked off the plantation where she had lived for the past eighteen years.
Sixteen shots were fired into The Tuckers home over the bed Mrs. Hamer slept where she had fled for safety. “God had already told me to move on, so I wasn’t there that night,” Fannie said.
Fannie Lou Hamer, June E. Johnson, James West, Euvester Simpson, Annelle Ponder and others were jailed in Winona, Mississippi.  Two black prisoners were ordered to beat Mrs. Hamer.  She was beaten so badly she no longer had feelings in her legs.
Mrs. Hamer’s passion for her people and her interest and understanding of how powerful the political process was in America led her and others to create the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to challenge the Credential Committee in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1964 to be seated rather than the regular Democrats who they exclaimed were “illegally elected” based on discriminatory practices against blacks statewide.
“We Will Not Accept The Compromise”, stated Mrs. Hamer”.  read more

A life-sized (all of her 5’4”) bronze statue of civil rights great Fannie Lou Hamer will be unveiled at her burial site in Ruleville, MS, on October 5 at 10AM.  This will be the very first statue of a civil rights activist in the MS Delta. The artist has been selected and is working on the piece at the moment.  The statue committee has raised almost $70,000  and is still trying to find the remaining $30,000 The artist has agreed to work on the installment plan if necessary.

From the Fannie Lou Hamer Statue Project Committee:

We invite you to join us in helping to assure that the life contributions of Fannie Lou Hamer will be forever recognized by placing a much deserved statue at the heart of the City of Ruleville to pay homage to one of the great-est civil rights leader of our time. Please make your contribution today.

Donations are tax deductible and all contributions will be made available to the public. Credit card payments can be made at Please make checks payable to NBUF in care of Fannie Lou Hamer Statue Fund.

Mail to:

National Black United Fund

40 Clinton Street – 5th Floor

Newark, New Jersey 07102.

Updates on The Fannie Lou Hamer Statue Project are available at You can find us on Facebook


Tuesday Tidbits

Happy Tuesday!

Back in January, I mentioned that rather than make a traditional New Year’s resolution, I’d take the word ‘tenderness’ and wrestle with it, embrace it and more fully incorporate it in my life. To simply read about it and to make the work my new “word’ (i.e.,’ that’s so tender’; ‘how tender’ ) would have been a big step for me, but somehow it wasn’t working. Thanks to dear Oprah, I realized I had to work on gratitude first; had to truly appreciate everything in my life before tenderness was even possible.

It’s June, how’s your resolution coming?

I don’t always reveal a lot about myself here, but I do see that I leave enough of a trail to measure personal and professional growth, and to wince at pitfalls along the way! I guess that’s one reason why I like blogging.

Another reason is the librarian in me! I like sharing information!

Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award 2013~ submissions accepted until Dec 31, 2012, United Kingdom

2012 South Asia Book Award~ submissions accepted until Dec 31

SingTel Asian Picture Book Award 2013~ submissions accepted until Dec 31, 1012, Singapore

(originally posted on PaperTigers)

Second Story Press has developed a site call Social Justice Stories which inspires young people to think critically, build responsible citizenship, and light the spark to take action against injustice in their classroom, their community, and the world. Current book series are on Kid Power; First Nation Stories and Holocaust Remembrance for young readers.

Bridging Cultures: An NEH Bridging Cultures Bookshelf

The Muslim Journeys Bookshelf is a collection of 15-20 books selected to help public audiences in the United States become more familiar with the people, places, history, faith and cultures of Muslims around the world, including those within the U.S. The Bookshelf will be awarded to 1,000 public, community college and academic libraries across the country in December 2012, for use in presenting public programs in 2013. Advisors to the project include distinguished scholars knowledgeable about Muslim worlds, librarians, and other cultural programming experts.  A companion website will expand the resources available for reading, understanding, discussing, and going beyond the limited scope of the books. Book titles will be announced in June 2012.


Well, the unpacking continues! Too many boxes left and too little wall space! I can look at it as too much stuff or signs of a life well lived. I got it together well enough to finally start cooking, now to get it all done and be settled enough to start reading again!

I have to thank Colleen at Chasing Ray for inviting me to be part of the SummerBlogTour where I was able to feature Ashley Hope Perez, L. Divine and Randa Abdel-Fattah and to read really wonderful interviews on other participating blogs.

The 2012 International Latino Book Awards were announced at BEA. The YA winners:

Best Young Adult Fiction – English

FIRST PLACE The Last Summer of the Death Warriors, Francisco X. Stork; Arthur A. Levine Books; Mexico

 SECOND PLACE Diego’s Dragon, Book One: Spirits of the Sun, Kevin Gerard; Crying Cougar Press;  USA

HONORABLE MENTION Dancing Home, Alma Flor Ada and Gabriel M. Zubizarreta; Atheneum Books; Cuba, USA

 HONORABLE MENTION You Don’t Have a Clue: Latino Mystery Stories for Teens, Sarah Cortez; Arte Público Press;

Best Young Adult Fiction – Spanish or Bilingual

 FIRST PLACE El Soñador, Pam Munóz Ryan & Peter Sis; Scholastic Books; USA

SECOND PLACE The Monster in the Mattress, Diane De Anda; Arte Público Press;

HONORABLE MENTION El encuentro: coleccion alhambra joven, Rita Wirkala; Pearson Educación; Argentina

HONORABLE MENTION El Vendedor de dulces, R. K. Narayan; Editorial Bambú; India

Best Young Adult Non!ction – English

FIRST PLACE El Caracol: The Story of Alfonso, Labor Camp Child, Yolanda Espinosa Espinoza; Mill City Press, Inc.; USA

SECOND PLACE Latinnovating: Green American Jobs and the Latinos Creating Them, Graciela Tiscareno-Sato; Gracefully Global Group LLC; USA

 Best Young Adult Non!ction – Spanish or Bilingual

 FIRST PLACE Vademecum Mujeres: Para que la vida no se te vuelva de cuadritos, María Villegas y Jennie Kent; Villegas Editores; Colombia

Congratulations to all the winners!

I won’t be attending ALA this year, but if you are don’t miss the Diversity and Outreach Fair on Saturday 23 June. Also on Saturday, will be the premiere of the short documentary “got book? Auntie Helen’s Gift of Books”.

GOT BOOK? profiles Helen Agcaoili Summers Brown, founder of the Filipino American Library. Auntie Helen, as she is widely known in the Los Angeles Filipino Community is interviewed by one of her sons, George Brown, tracing her upbringing in the Philippines as a mestiza (half Filipino and half Caucasian American). Reputedly the first Filipina to attend UCLA, Helen married her UCLA sweetheart, Bill Brown, became a teacher and raised a family. Her collection of Philippine books from her father became the basis of her dream, the Filipino American Library, a community based non-profit in the Los Angeles Historic Filipinotown district.

Earlier in June, Carleen Brice brought attention to information on how few books by authors of color are reviewed in the NYTimes.

We looked at 742 books reviewed, across all genres. Of those 742, 655 were written by Caucasian authors (1 transgender writer, 437 men, and 217 women). Thirty-one were written by Africans or African Americans (21 men, 10 women), 9 were written by Hispanic authors (8 men, 1 woman), 33 by Asian, Asian-American or South Asian writers (19 men, 14 women), 8 by Middle Eastern writers (5 men, 3 women) and 6 were books written by writers whose racial background we were simply unable to identify.

 We’re looking at a number of books published each year by authors of color that is in no way proportional to the number of people of color in this country and these would be people who do read, do read to their children, give books as gifts, belong to book clubs, own ereaders and have library cards. Of this small number, we don’t always find faces of color on the  covers of books by these authors or that feature characters of color and even fewer are reviewed in major publications that review books. Essentially, these people who do read, read to their children, give books as gifts, belong to book clubs, own ereaders and who have library cards are given the message that

1. they really aren’t important enough for there to be a wide selection of their stories published

2. their stories deserve to be marginalized, pushed away from mainstream space

I’ll fuss when I see marginalization in books for teens and I say books for teens and not just for teens of color because the books with teens of color are meant for all readers!! And I say fuss because I am not a power player, but I will make noise to create change where I can! I want kids to know that they matter, that their stories, their lives matter. I want them to want to read. I want books to open the world to kids in Podunk, IA, the Mississippi Delta and the Big Apple. And its not just that I want it, but kids need it. I know that it’s part of a sickness in this country, one that can’t  even enough give our president his due and that’s what makes this a never ending, larger than life battle. And, I fuss because what if I didn’t?