Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Oklahoma Big Brother of the Year Scott Lesser

In case you missed the article, which is also posted at

(The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence and the Boren Mentoring Initiative would like to congratulate Scott Lesser, the 2013 Oklahoma Big Brother of the Year.)

Oklahoma City Man Named 2013 Big Brother of the Year

Scott Lesser, Big Brothers Big Sisters' Mentor of the Year, is joined by former Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor and his mentee Dezmond Finley in January during Oklahoma Mentor Day at the Capitol, sponsored by the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence and its David and Molly Boren Mentoring Initiative.
Big Brothers Big Sisters organization helps provide mentors for young people

By Kyle Fredrickson
The Oklahoman
April 23, 2013


Three years ago, in the offices of Big Brothers Big Sisters in Oklahoma City, a family and a volunteer sat together nervously. The future was uncertain.

That day Scott Lesser, a Big Brother, met 8-year-old Dezmond and his mother, Zakiyyah Borkins, for the first time. The questions were plenty. Would Lesser, a 2008 Oklahoma State University graduate, be the right fit? And would Dezmond...accept the mentorship of someone he just met?

Fast forward to April 16, and those questions would be answered with a resounding yes.

In a small banquet room at Nonna's European-American Ristorante and Bar, Lesser was honored as the 2013 Oklahoma Big Brother of the Year. He was selected through a nomination process that required Dezmond, now 11, and his mother to write letters of recommendation. Letters that expressed a deep appreciation for Lesser's impact on Dezmond's life.

“Just to see how his face lights up and Scott's face lights up when they see each other, knowing they have so much in common, I couldn't have asked for anything more,” Borkins said. “My son has blossomed. He's coming into his own identity. He's so outgoing, his grades have improved and his confidence has improved.

“Scott is well deserving of this award. I can't imagine anyone else deserving it more than him.”
But Lesser — who works at Life Church in Edmond — and Dezmond's connection didn't flourish instantly. It took years of support and interaction to develop their relationship. It began with watching episodes of “Dragon Ball Z,” a cartoon show Dezmond loves and Lesser grew up watching.

After breaking the ice, Lesser took Dezmond on adventures that brought him out of his comfort zone — like dinner at a sushi restaurant, scavenger hunts and bug spotting on summer afternoons. But the most important growth through their connection happened in the classroom.

“The true teachable and building moments were when we spent time at the library reading books,” Lesser said. “Those events were much more important in our relationship than going to a movie, getting popcorn and Coke.”

Monday, May 13, 2013

Inspiration: Sidney Poitier's Story

'Why read and share?  'Because this is an incredible story of stunning achievement by a young man who could barely read, had a thick accent and did not realize all against him.  Early in life, he decided upon responsibility and a behavioral code.  An elderly Jewish man, a mentor, taught him to read. 

This is one of those true inspirational stories that should be shared and discussed, especially between mentor and mentee or within a group. 

The CBS photo gallery has many photos of Poitier's career, which young people should see, but for the blog post, we have borrowed a current photo from the interview and also a gallery photo from 1965.  The link to the video interview and photos is below the verbatim transcript.

May 12, 2013 10:18 AM
The dignity of Sidney Poitier

(CBS News) The word "Legend" seems custom-made for actor Sidney Poitier, who has been making his presence felt on and off the screen for more than 60 years now. And he'll be telling Lesley Stahl this morning . . . his work is far from done:

Sidney Poitier's life has been a series of "firsts."
In 1958, he was the first black actor nominated for an Oscar as Best Actor for his role as an escaped convict chained to Tony Curtis in "The Defiant Ones."

He was the first black man to kiss a white woman in a movie, 1965's "A Patch of Blue."

And when he won the Best Actor Oscar in 1964, he was not only the first black actor to do so, he remained the only one until 2002.

After starring in more than 50 movies, Poitier says his career choices were less about being "first" and more about the image of his characters.

He would not, he told Lesley Stahl, play someone who was immoral or cruel. "If you go through my career, you'll find that I didn't. I didn't ever."

His typical character was dignified, proud, and ethical.

Take Virgil Tibbs, a Philadelphia homicide detective who reluctantly helps a small town police chief in Mississippi, played by Rod Steiger, solve a murder, in "In the Heat of the Night."

But before signing on to play the role, Poitier asked the movie studio for a major script change to one scene in which his character is slapped:

"I said, 'If he slaps me, I'm going to slap him back. You will put on paper that the studio agrees that the film will be shown nowhere in the world, with me standing there taking the slap from the man.' "

"God, you had this written into the contract?" Stahl said.

"That's right, written into the contract," he replied.

"And of course it is one of those great, great moments in all of film, when you slap him back."

"Yes, I knew that I would have been insulting every black person in the world [if I hadn't]," Poitier said.

One critic noted that the slap represented "the repressed wrath of the black man for his American bondage."

"I did not go into the film business to be symbolized as someone else's vision of me," Poitier said. He said he would not take any part "that reflects negatively on my father, my mother and my values.

"My father was a tomato farmer. There is the phrase that says he or she worked their fingers to the bone, well, that's my dad. And he was a very good man."

The youngest of seven children, Sidney Poitier was born three months premature while his Bahamian parents were in Miami to sell tomatoes.

Uncertain whether he would survive, his dad purchased a tiny casket, while his mother consulted a palm reader . . .

"The lady took her hand and started speaking to my mother: 'Don't worry about your son. He will survive,' " Poitier recalled. "And these were her words, she said: 'He will walk with kings.'"

And it came true: "Everything she said, including walking with kings, yeah."

Sidney lived in the Bahamas until the age of 15, when his parents -- afraid Sidney was on a path to delinquency -- sent him back to Miami to live with his older brother. But at 16, Sidney left for New York, where he tried his hand at acting, even though he'd had only two years of schooling.

"You couldn't read, you had a very thick Bahamian accent, and you decide to try and become an actor? Why did you go that route? It kind of makes no sense," said Stahl.

"I had no way of knowing that there is a madness to what I'm trying to do," he said.

After a disastrous audition with the American Negro Theater, where Poitier could barely read the script, an act of kindness at his job as a dishwasher changed his life.

"There was one of the waiters, a Jewish guy, elderly man, and he looked over at me and was looking at me for quite awhile. I had a newspaper, it was called Journal American. And he walked over to me, and he said, 'What's new in the paper?' And I looked up at this man. I said to him, 'I can't tell you what's in the paper, because I can't read very well.' He said, 'Let me ask you something, would you like me to read with you?' I said to him, 'Yes, if you like.'

"Now let me tell you something: That man, every night, the place is closed, everyone's gone, and he sat there with me week after week after week. And he told me about punctuations. He told me where dots were and what the dots mean here between these two words, all of that stuff."

"He took you through high school," said Stahl.

"Yes, he did. And it wasn't for long. I learned a lot. And then things began to happen."

Like landing an acting apprenticeship with the very same theater company that had laughed him out of his audition.

There, Poitier learned alongside actors like Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis and Harry Belafonte.

And then in 1950, he was cast in "No Way Out," as a doctor facing overt racism from a prisoner played by Richard Widmark.

Even at the beginning of his career, he was insisting that he portray men who were upright, well-educated, and often of stronger character than the whites around him.

"Well, that was my responsibility in terms of my value," Poitier said. "If the screen does not make room for me in the structure of their screenplay, I'll step out. I'll step back. I'd step back. I couldn't do it. I just couldn't do it."

By 1967, Poitier was among the top ten Hollywood moneymakers, and a top ten leading men. In that one year alone, he starred in "To Sir, With Love"; the Oscar-winning "In the Heat of the Night"; and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.

But that year he began to face criticism from some in the African American community, who labeled him an "Uncle Tom" for the "purity" of his roles.

"And it didn't hurt you?" asked Stahl.

"Hurt me for what?" he replied. "I have no objections to the other people, even though I disagree with their point of view, and I don't disagree with their point of view and chastise them - I just simply say, 'I live by a certain code.' I have to have a certain amount of decency in my behavioral pattern. I have to have that. That is my responsibility.

"So what those people say, they have to speak for themselves. They don't have to speak for me, particularly speak for me, 'cause I've been speaking for myself."

In the 1970s, Poitier turned to directing. And surprisingly, the actor who so often personified elegance, grace and earnestness, directed comedies, with slapstick, including "Uptown Saturday Night" and "Stir Crazy."

In the 1980s, he turned to writing books, producing three autobiographies about himself and his family of six daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

And now, at age 86, after a lifetime of accolades, Poitier has written a novel, called "Montaro Caine."
He spent years writing in long hand and on the computer. "Wow, it took me a very long time."

It's two genres mixed together: mystery and science fiction. For Sidney Poitier, the novel is a chance to reflect on life and all its meanings.

"I was not intending to make an impression on the people who would read the book," he explained. "I was finding release for myself within myself. I was looking for who I am at this point in my life."

"Did you find out?" Stahl asked.

"Somewhat, yes."

"Who are you?"

"I'm a good person," Poitier replied.   Ret. 5-13-13

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sir Richard Branson's Inspiration

Sir Richard Branson's Inspiration

Eric Schurenberg | staff

Mar 11, 2013

Branson's first hero was one of the most determined men of the 20th century. It tells you something about Sir Richard's own approach to business.

Popperfoto/Getty Images

Group captain Douglas Bader, pilot in the RAF during the Battle of Britain in World War Two, 1950.

Last month, I was lucky enough to spend an hour with one of the greatest entrepreneurs of all time, Richard Branson. Among much else, I learned one little-known aspect of the Branson origin story--namely, his boyhood inspiration.

That was one Douglas Bader, a Battle of Britain hero, Branson family friend, and possibly the most determined man of the 20th century.

Bader lost both legs in a flying accident in the 1930s. He not only taught himself to walk on artificial legs, without so much as a cane, but also to play scratch golf and to fly fighter planes well enough to become a top British ace. When Bader was finally shot down over German-occupied France, he lost one of his prosthetic legs. After his captors allowed a replacement to be airdropped to him, he rewarded their chivalry by promptly climbing out the third-floor window of his prison hospital and escaping.

It may not be exactly a straight shot from Bader's tin knee to the Virgin Group boardroom, but every founder needs inspiration. Branson took his from a boyhood idol. Many Inc. 500 CEOs tell Inc. that they got their inspiration from their father or close male relative. Cosmetics queen Bobbi Brown, for example, says she learned everything from her grandfather Sam Shatten, a Russian immigrant who became one of the most successful Cadillac dealers in Chicago."My grandfather taught me always to have your eyes open," she says, "because you never know what oppportunities are going to come your way."

For many entrepreneurs, of course, the inspiration comes from Sir Richard himself. No wonder: To launch his first successful company at the ripe age of 16, Branson overcame dyslexia, shyness (a problem he has clearly outgrown), and a doubting father who wanted young Richard to stop talking rubbish about entrepreneurship and become a lawyer like him. "Whenever you have an idea," Branson told me, "99 percent of people are going to tell you it won't work." In the end, young Branson decided, "Screw it; just do it," his five-word audible for making a leap into the unknown, as every entrepreneur eventually must.

Branson's history should remind you that even he once had nothing to go on but chutzpah and the example of a hero so indomitable that he refused to let a crippling injury keep him from what he loved. May that give you the inspiration you need--as we all do, from time to time--to screw it, and just do it.

Eric Schurenberg is the editor-in-chief of Inc. Before joining Inc, Eric was the editor of CBS and and managing editor of Money Magazine. As a writer, he is a winner of a Loeb and a National Magazine Award. @EricSchurenberg

Ret. 5-6-13

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Tulsa Public Schools & Mentoring Programs

Tulsa Public Schools board OKs mentoring programs for at-risk students

By ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer on May 7, 2013, at 2:23 AM  Updated on 5/07/13 at 7:47 AM

Students at nearly a dozen Tulsa schools will have new academic support systems in place this fall.

The school board approved agreements with two national nonprofit organizations on Monday to increase mentoring in the schools where students need it most.

Reading Partners will recruit and train local volunteers to provide literacy-intervention tutoring twice a week at Anderson, Cooper, Eugene Field, Jackson, Kendall-Whittier, Mark Twain, McClure, Mitchell and Sequoyah elementary schools.

The board approved using as much as $135,000 in federal funding for program expenses. Member Lana Turner-Addison recused herself from the vote without giving a reason.

Meanwhile, Tulsa has been selected as the 25th city in the nation for a partnership with City Year, an AmeriCorps program. Two yet-to-be-named sites will share 20 City Year corps members in 2013-14, with 30 more slated to arrive for 2014-15.

City Year corps members are considered "near peers" in that they are 17-24 years old but they receive intensive training to be full-time tutors, mentors and role models.

Their work is designed to help prevent dropouts by focusing on three risk factors - poor attendance, behavior, and academic performance in math and English.

There is no cost for the program during the pilot year, but if Tulsa Public Schools continues with the partnership, it would have to fund 25 percent of the annual cost - estimated at about $500,000 - in subsequent years.

Superintendent Keith Ballard said the school district could "reprioritize" its use of federal funds to cover costs.

"This is all part of an intense effort to improve reading achievement in our schools, and the sites will be very carefully selected," he said. "We are also working on districtwide initiatives, but I am so excited about these partnerships."

Leadership resolution: In other business, the board voted 5-1 to approve a resolution to show its support for a "leadership sustainability" plan for Tulsa Public Schools. Board member Lois Jacobs voted no, and President Ruth Ann Fate was absent.

Plans include an administrative restructuring and salary adjustments to bring the district into alignment with other urban school systems.

Vice President Leigh Goodson said the plans are based on analysis by an independent firm. They are designed to improve support services to schools and to keep the district competitive in recruiting and retaining top academic leaders, she said.

"If we can't support principals and teachers out in the district, they can't do their job," Goodson said. "This exercise isn't for the central office; it is to better support principals and teachers in their work."

Original Print Headline: TPS mentoring pacts OK'd

Andrea Eger

Ret. 5-7-13

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Robin Hood Foundation Requires Data and Business Principles

Gathering data is important to learn if an organization or business is making a difference.  How money is spent matters.  Outcomes from programs--whether service or business paradigms--count.  Except in the nebulous yet often powerful world of emotion, how does one justify the funding of a failing or mediocre program?

We know that throwing money at a problem, especially a social one, does not yield positive results.

Below is an excellent example of philanthropy or spending without positive results as well as the lesson learned from the failure and the dramatic systematic change for future philanthropy.  For example, money can be withdrawn if results are not met, traditional business plans and supports are required, and starting with younger children works more effectively.

Education, government and nonprofits are often not held accountable for the results of their expenditures and frequently have neither clue nor inclination to change. Change, however, can produce unexpected dividends.

Modern-day Robin Hood applies business skills to philanthropy
May 5, 2013 4:00 PM
Billionaire Paul Tudor Jones' charity - the Robin Hood Foundation -- fights poverty with the hardnosed, business sense of Wall Street. Scott Pelley reports. 

Top photo from the CBS story, right photo from

Friday, May 3, 2013

Studio 222 After School Art Program

"I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way—things I had no words for.”
                         Georgia O’Keeffe

The Studio 222 model now has its one successful middle school program and two elementary ones.  Studio 222 can be scaled up or down, depending upon size of the sponsoring community and its resources.

How special would you feel if your art were published in a book and/or displayed in a gallery along with a reception and sale? (Look online for inexpensive ways to "publish your own books.")

Besides some of the obviously exciting art featured from the author's two visits, the earned self-esteem of the young artists, the exploration through different media and the consistent support of adult volunteers and instructors are priceless. Many students who did minimal, if any art, in school or at home become emboldened to experiment with each medium and artist-in-residence.

 The canvas on the right was created by filling balloons with paint, attaching them above the canvas and throwing darts to burst the balloons. 

Artists-in-residence demonstrate and teach their passions. For example, Nathan Pratt, who became director of Studio 222, taught sculpture in October during our first visit.  Note the papier-mâché Homer Simpson.

At the end-of-year reception, showing and sale of their art, young artists as well as family members beamed with pride in accomplishments.  Some youths expressed what a difference the program was making in their lives and how they had no idea they could joyfully create such work. 
From the website:
Studio 222 is an after school program that engages professional artists from the Oklahoma City area to provide a positive environment where children can develop a strong, healthy self-esteem and resilience against at-risk behaviors.
Studio 222 began in 2004, focusing on middle school youth of Taft Middle School. In 2010, a high school program was added to help students through mentoring, internships, college preparation and life skills. In 2013, Studio 222 is expanding to serve elementary children by creating Studio 222 East and Studio 222 South.
Studio 222 is facilitated by St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, which provides financial and in-kind support through the use of facilities, busses, staff expenses and administration. All programming costs for Studio 222, including art supplies, food and artist stipends, are raised through individual donations, corporate donations, fund-raisers and grants.
  "Studio 222 has given me confidence. Everyone makes me feel special."
- Micah, Three Year Student              

The heart in the center photo is made from painted straws. Like many of the other gallery items, it sold almost immediately.
Tips: Arrive early, select and buy upon sight. Buyer competition precludes all hesitation. One must be really fast--perhaps, if possible, even visiting the studio days prior to the sale to reconnoiter--so much quality and so many patrons! Also look up and all around! A magnificently detailed blue sculpture hung above a sign, and we buying it.

Although the above photo is the only one that shows the amount of glass allowing natural light, the studio also has display lighting.

One particular young photography student, brilliant in composition, takes a long time to find and plan the perfect shot often with amazing juxtaposition of elements and/or unusual close-ups. His art sold quickly also! 
We, falling in love with this breathtaking collection of "bugs," actually acquired it, although it was one of the studio's earliest works, begun by one young woman and then contributed to by the group.

Members of the Oklahoma Afterschool Network met at Studio 222 on October 11, 2012. The directors of various organizations within the network meet at different facilities to learn about the programs. Pictured are Leah Thompson, Nathan Pratt (behind Leah), Julie Robinson, Jasmine Vasileva and Tina Lewis. Julie Robinson is Studio 222's executive director and co-founder. 

At the reception, show and sale on April 18, 2013, are Sonia Johnson, Jasmine Vasileva and Jasmine's daughter, Josephine.
The show and sale was a fun and educational social event replete with artists--professional and amateur, friends, families, patrons, plentiful and beautifully arranged food and drink, upbeat and professional entertainment and inspired conversations. In toto, it was definitely equal to similar adult events.
Applause for Studio 222!


Lisa Phillips, in The Washington Post, discusses the top ten skills children learn from all the arts--visual, performing, dramatic and others.  See the link below for the entire article, or search "what children learn from art" online. ('Not to mention art as therapy for all ages!)                                     

Although Phillips writes to keep art in the school curriculum, this blog's intention is to support and increase after school and weekend art programs by sharing this model.

Phillips mentions in this order: "Creativity, Confidence, Problem Solving, Perseverance, Focus, Non-Verbal Communication, Receiving Constructive Feedback, Collaboration, Dedication and Accountability."
* The source of Georgia O'Keefe's quote and a resource:  Learning in a Visual Age - The Critical Importance of Visual Arts Education  Ret. 5-3-13