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Raven-Symone Plans on Motherhood, Her Degree & Directing TV

THE AFRO —

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RAVEN’S HOME – Disney Channel’s “Raven’s Home” stars Raven Symone as Raven Baxter. (Disney Channel/Craig Sjodin)

By Allison Kugel

Raven-Symone’s alter ego, Raven Baxter, has been a staple on The Disney Channel since the child actor turned Hollywood renaissance woman debuted her famous character on the hit show, That’s So Raven, in 2003. Back then, Symone’s alter-ego played a teenager who could see into the future, and that extra-sensory ability often landed her in some comical hot water.

It’s anyone’s guess if a three-year-old Raven-Symone, who came to national attention as precocious Olivia on The Cosby Show, could have predicted this kind of career longevity? The character of Raven Baxter was given new life with Symone’s second Disney show, Raven’s Home, in which her character Raven Baxter is a woman with two kids, navigating all that comes with single motherhood and forging her own path as a fledgling fashion designer.

Now, going into its third season, Raven’s Home will be tackling some interesting twists and turns as the kids start their own music group, Raven Baxter continues with the launch of her fashion line and roommate and co-parenting partner, Chelsea, finds her niche as a life coach.

Aside from plenty of interesting guest stars in the third season of the show, Raven-Symoné makes her Raven’s Home directorial debut this season.

Allison Kugel: At the end of season two of Raven’s Home your character launches a career as a fashion designer. How does that storyline pick up in season three?

Raven-Symone: Raven Baxter has always been a fashion designer since she was in high school (going back to the series, “That’s So Raven”), and she had always been designing her [own] clothes. She did not feel that with her kids she could accomplish a line, and so now she decided to really sit down and make it about her. But as season three continues, the kids’ stories really shine, and Raven Baxter’s line is not as much of a main component.

Allison Kugel: In what way do the kids’ characters further develop?

Raven-Symone: The kids start a music group. They go into a type of judging competition for that. We start learning more about Nia (played by Navia Ziraili Robinson) and her woman-empowering mission, and how she feels as a teenager. We start to understand Booker (played by Issac Ryan Brown) and see him growing up in school and at home. And we start diving into parenting issues with stepfathers with the mothers and how that whole dynamic comes into play in such a new [un]conventional family.

Allison Kugel:  Did the success of That’s So Raven give you the cache to have a hand in developing the direction of Raven’s Home?

Raven-Symone:  I had a lot of input from creative to writing to visual. It’s also important, in my position as executive producer, to understand that when you hire someone, you hire them because they know what they are doing. I did not try and say, “I know everything because I was on That’s So Raven.” It’s also a learning experience for me. I’m allowing these masterful artisans to shine through the show with their writing. set design, and all these beautiful components. I directed an episode this season. I’m hopefully going to write an episode this season as well. It’s like a crash course.

Allison Kugel: Single parent families and blended families are becoming something of a new normal. There is no conventional family anymore. Was it your idea to play a single mom and to portray this blended family dynamic on the show?

Raven-Symone: It’s a combination of The Disney Channel, the creators of this new installment of Raven Baxter’s life, and myself.  We all had to agree on showcasing a family that is within the fabric of today’s society. It pushes forward the idea of positivity within any family structure, as long as it has love and respect for one another.

Allison Kugel: Are you going to explore weightier issues this season, of course in a way that is digestible for kids and early adolescents; maybe things from race to sexuality, or kids lamenting the fact that they don’t have a traditional family unit. Will any of these issues be covered?

Raven-Symone: It will touch on the kids’ feeling the weight of mom and dad not being together, and the kids feeling that maybe they want their parents together, or maybe they don’t; all those mixed emotions will be explored. The topics we deal with are within the fabric of society, but we deal with them in a Disney fashion. We want to make sure that we respect the viewers that are watching, and their age range.

Allison Kugel: You’re not yet a mother in real life, but you play one very convincingly on television. You play it with a lot of texture; a lot of interesting notes. Where does that come from?

Raven-Symone:  I built [the character] from my own mother, from (actress and dancer) Debbie Allen, from the mothers that I have seen on TV; from the mothers that I have seen on TV that I don’t want to be, and based on who I want to be as a mother. I know that I am part of that generation where they say, “You are trying to be friends with your kids.” But I’m absolutely crazy and I want my kids to know that it’s okay to be your authentic self every morning, every day. I’ve been all over the world and I really want to take in a little bit of how they’re raising their children, and not putting such a stigma on certain things. It also comes from the way I was raised, knowing my manners, and saying “Miss” and “Ma’am” and “Mister.” Even today, my mom has to remind me, “Raven, you’re thirty-three. Stop calling someone who is forty ‘Mister’ or ‘Miss.’” I can’t help it. But I run into some kids and they’re like “Hi Raven.”

Allison Kugel: And you’re going, “Excuse me?!”

Raven-Symone: Yes! I’m like, “I’m thirty-three and you’re twelve. I am Miss Raven.” I am programmed to act a certain way. And then you encounter the new ways of living in our society, and you have to find a happy medium for yourself. I think I’m subconsciously practicing how I would react in certain situations, as a mother, while I am on television. That way, when I do become a mother, I can take some of what Raven Baxter does, what she deals with and how she deals with these kids and morph it into something I can be proud of as a parent.

Allison Kugel:  So, you do see having kids in your future. You do plan to become a mom?

Raven-Symone:  Oh, for sure. For sure! Being in the [entertainment] industry from the time I was a kid, you get pushed into only thinking about your career, career, career. And it’s a little bit more of a conscious effort, especially in my world being within the LGBT community, to plan out [motherhood]. It’s definitely in my future. I have a timeline-ish. But it is malleable because not everything can be planned.

Allison Kugel: You got that right! From my perspective, there are two things that make you an interesting public figure. Number 1: from the outside looking in, it seems like you have elegantly and seamlessly transitioned from child actor to adult actor, and quite successfully. Number2: you are 100% authentic about who you are in every aspect of your life, including as you stated, being a part of the LGBT community. You haven’t hidden behind your television image, and people have embraced who you are with open arms. Disney has embraced you for exactly who you are. I love that. What are your thoughts on those two things?

Raven-Symone:  I think that is a very kind assessment. Living in it, I don’t agree.

Allison Kugel:  Wow, okay. So, your inner experience has been different…

Raven-Symone: I really appreciate what you said. Sometimes you need to hear that. You’re in the eye of the storm and people outside of the storm are going, “But there’s a rainbow above you!” And I’m going, “Where? I don’t see the rainbow.” But I really appreciate that.  I think when you’re neck deep in a constant struggle between going outside and being recognized and trying to stay in and just live a normal life it can be tough. And you’re trying to make sure you don’t make the same mistakes that you’ve read about in the [National] Enquirer or on television since the 80s and 90s. I’m always tiptoeing around to make sure I make decisions I can be proud to put in my biography, later. It’s a little bit more consuming for me and I haven’t really been on the other side of it to see it. It’s interesting, because I still feel like I’m seventeen if that makes any sense.

Allison Kugel: It does. It makes sense because I just recently heard Paris Hilton say something about feeling stuck in this state of arrested development due to her celebrity that occurred in her late teens and early twenties. She said that for a long time she felt like she was frozen in time, like she was “forever twenty-one years old.” I think when you become famous at a young age, the ball just keeps rolling, and you are kind of living in this bubble. And the bubble was created a long time ago. I think that is what you are describing.

Raven-Symone: That’s exactly it.  Thank you, Paris! I will be the first to say that I’m going to quote Paris Hilton now. That is exactly how it feels.

Allison Kugel: Do you now feel like the thirty-three-year-old woman that you are? Or are you still getting your bearings with that?

Raven-Symone: In some ways I feel a lot older because I do own property. I have financial and personal responsibilities, and I’m helping to run a television show. But sometimes I feel like I’m pretending, because [in some ways] I feel like I’m still between the ages of seventeen and twenty-five, but a smart seventeen to twenty-five. It’s because I’ve been captured in so many different age brackets. And I’ve had to exaggerate that age behavior for such a long time, while slowly growing to accommodate the way people see me in my career. As I slowly grow, they slowly grow. On the other hand, I grew up a lot faster. I knew how much my taxes were and how much I was getting paid at the age of three, at age six, at age seven. I knew that if I didn’t work stuff wouldn’t get paid, when normal seven-year-olds were worrying about who stole their lollipop. You know what I mean? So, in that respect I do have an older mind frame. It’s a dual mind and it’s weird.

Allison Kugel: I get that. Speaking of being a child actor, because you lived the experience, I would assume the kids in the cast of Raven’s Home come to you for advice.

Raven-Symone: They’ve been very open with me and talked to me about things, and I’ve given advice. I appreciate that they respect what I have to say, but they still have to go through that journey on their own. They are starting their journey in the entertainment industry, so they don’t want to say “no” to anything. They want to take every opportunity possible. I tell them they need to take a break. Of course, my journey was different from theirs; I grew up in a different time period. Now, there are so many more rules regarding child actors, and people who are looking out for their safety and well-being. Back in my day, I’d be working Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; and then I was told I was speaking somewhere on Sunday. It was just a hot mess. Hopefully, what I’ve earned in the industry will settle into them, and they will grow up without having that arrested development… aftertaste (laughs).

Allison Kugel: When you started in the business as a small child, there was no social media. Can you imagine the schedule you had back then, plus posting content to Instagram and Snapchat?

Raven-Symone: One good thing is that cell phones are banned from sets. Disney has a great policy of not posting anything prematurely. Instead of taking a break, I see people posting and Instagramming all day. I remember when I was on That’s So Raven and there was a break; I took naps. Now there’s this extra element of having to stay current in the eyes of the consumer, and you get even more depleted. Taking needed breaks is healthy for the sanity of the human being, rather than the “celebrity.”

Allison Kugel: Will there ever be a Raven’s Home episode where you delve into the topic of kids overdoing it with video games and social media?

Raven-Symone: We touch on that topic, and it comes with a spoon full of sugar. What sets us apart from other shows like ours is we deal with these topics, but we deal with them with a realistic view, so both the parents are learning, and the kids are learning. Everybody learns on our show.

Allison Kugel: Can you share any special guest stars coming on, or any other surprises this season?

Raven-Symone: We have a friend of mine, Jaleel White (of “Family Matters,” Steve Urkel fame), coming on the show.  He has a nice little story arc with Raven Baxter and the kids. We also get to meet Chelsea’s (played by Anneliese van der Pol) ex-husband, who has been incarcerated.

Allison Kugel:  That’s heavy.

Raven-Symone:  Yes, and he finally comes out [of prison] and he starts designing a family that involves him, which I think is wonderful.

Allison Kugel: Where do you see things going for you in the next five to ten years? Would you love to be behind the scenes more, producing and directing for a company like Disney? 

Raven-Symone: I see myself creating more content with Disney where my face is not in the front, but behind the scenes. I see myself creating more feature length content as well. I see myself graduating from school. I just want to graduate; I am the slowest student!  I can only take one class per semester, and my mom would have a fit if I turned in anything less than a B-. So, it’s hard with my schedule. I want to take more classes in directing. I got to direct an episode for Raven’s Home, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Allison Kugel: Could you see yourself at some point directing a theatrical release film or producing?

Raven-Symone: Most definitely. That’s the goal. Another goal of mine is to be a musical director. I love the Disney musicals and I love theatre. At fifty years old, I would love to direct in the capacity of feature lengths and musicals for sure.

Season three of “Raven’s Home” premieres Monday, June 17 (8pm ET/PT) on Disney Channel and DisneyNOW. Follow Raven-Symone

Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment columnist, author of the book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record, and owner of communications firm, Full Scale Media. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugel and AllisonKugel.com.

This article originally appeared in The Afro

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Bill Introduced to Improve Maternal Healthcare

THE AFRO — Expectant mothers face challenges when seeking quality prenatal care in the District of Columbia.  Economic and transportation barriers contribute to the District’s infant mortality rate which is amongst the worst in the nation. In 2018 there were an average of 36.1 deaths for every 100,000 live births while nationally the rate is 20.7.

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D.C. City Council member Charles Allen wrote a bill in support of expanding maternal health care opportunities to expectant mothers. (Courtesy Photo)

By Mark F. Gray

Expectant mothers face challenges when seeking quality prenatal care in the District of Columbia.  Economic and transportation barriers contribute to the District’s infant mortality rate which is amongst the worst in the nation. In 2018 there were an average of 36.1 deaths for every 100,000 live births while nationally the rate is 20.7.

The D.C. City Council is pondering a bill that pushes for better maternal health care services that would be covered under all forms of insurance in an attempt to provide better prenatal care for expectant mothers in the District.

Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen introduced legislation that proposes expanding the list of medical care provisions for expectant mothers. The Maternal Health Care Improvement and Expansion Act of 2019 would also create a Center for Maternal Wellness and includes a travel stipend to aid in transportation so patients can reach their preferred health care provider consistently during pregnancy.

“We know women need more access to health care during and after a pregnancy,” Allen said in his statement. “We know community-centered health care can improve outcomes.”

However, Black mothers are facing more dangerous outcomes during their pregnancies.  Figures reported by Allen’s office state Black women are dying at a rate that is three to four times higher than White expectant mothers.  Low income mothers are struggling to gain consistent regular preventive, prenatal and postpartum care which is contributing to the D.C.’s high maternal mortality rate also.

“Last year, this Council created a Maternal Mortality Review Committee, but we don’t have to wait for results to make improvements,” said Allen.

The bill, which was co-sponsored by Councilmember Vincent Gray, would require private insurers, Medicaid, and the D.C. Healthcare Alliance to add pre and post natal services to it’s benefits.  It would cover at least two postpartum health care visits and home visits for maternal care and fertility preservation services. Currently, Medicaid only includes one postpartum visit after six weeks and ends postpartum medical coverage at 60 days.

Allen’s proposal addresses the barriers facing patients who find it difficult when traveling to their health care provider by offering financial assistance for travel to and from prenatal and postpartum visits.  Transportation availability is seen as a vital cog in the hope of improving infant survival rates in D.C.

“We know for some women transportation is a barrier,” Allen stated. “That’s why this bill also includes a travel stipend to get to their preferred health care provider. If we can’t get people there, none of these other changes will make a difference.”

This bill would extend coverage to one full year for extremely low income residents who are living well below the federal poverty line.

The bill also calls for establishing a Center on Maternal Health and Wellness. Allen wants to build community among women who are pregnant and would consolidate a portion of services to be conveniently available in one location.  The Center would offer childcare onsite while making its services available through telehealth and online.

At the Center, a group of maternal care coordinators would advise pregnant mothers on how to navigate through the services available in the District during pregnancy and postpartum.  It will promote maternal support groups and provide health and nutrition counseling, and distribute prenatal vitamins. Group counseling services would also be available for individuals or family members who have been impacted by an infant’s or mother’s death. This is similar to the District’s comprehensive breastfeeding center. 

“We know a sense of community can help pregnant women and new mothers talk through challenges,” said Allen.

This article originally appeared in The Afro

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Larry Young Does It Again

THE AFRO — Larry Young, former State Senator and venerable Baltimore talk show host has again been named one of the top talk radio personalities in America. The Talkers Magazine, one of the most important publications in the world of talk radio, named Young one of its “Heavy Hundred,” the 100 “Most Important Talk Show Hosts in America.”

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Larry Young, host of the Larry Young Morning Show on WOLB 1010AM, was once again named one of the best radio talk show hosts in America, by Talkers Magazine. (Courtesy Photo)

By AFRO Staff

Larry Young, former State Senator and venerable Baltimore talk show host has again been named one of the top talk radio personalities in America.

The Talkers Magazine, one of the most important publications in the world of talk radio, named Young one of its “Heavy Hundred,” the 100 “Most Important Talk Show Hosts in America.”

Young, host of the “Larry Young Morning Show” on WOLB 1010 AM, was ranked number 41 in the 2019 edition of Talkers Magazine It is the silver anniversary, 25th edition of the magazine. This year Young moved up in the national rankings, going from number 50 in 2018 to his current ranking at 41.

According to the magazine, the rankings are compiled based on several criteria: effort, courage, impact, longevity, potential, recognition, service, talent and uniqueness.

Congratulations LY!

This article originally appeared in The Afro

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Baltimore Black Engineers Celebrate 30 Years

THE AFRO — The chapter had a black tie gala fundraiser to support for their work to support collegiate and pre-collegiate students, as well as professionals in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The event included an awards ceremony, which honored individuals and organizations recognizing outstanding achievement in various areas in support of the NSBE-BMAC mission.

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(L to R: Mrs. Steffanie B. Easter, Director, Navy Staff, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations; Mrs. Earnestine Baker, Executive Director – Emerita Meyerhoff Scholars Program, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Legacy Achievement Award Honoree; Dr. Eugene M. DeLoatch, Dean Emeritus Morgan State University School of Engineering, Legacy Achievement Award Honoree; Dr. James E. West, Inventor, Professor, Johns Hopkins University, Legacy Achievement Award Honoree; Mr. William S. Redmond, III, President, NSBEBMAC) (Courtesy Photo)
By AFRO Staff

On June 22, nearly 200 people gathered at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African American History and Culture, in downtown Baltimore to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the National Society of Black Engineers Baltimore Metropolitan Area Chapter (NSBE-BMAC).

The chapter had a black tie gala fundraiser to support for their work to support collegiate and pre-collegiate students, as well as professionals in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The event included an awards ceremony, which honored individuals and organizations recognizing outstanding achievement in various areas in support of the NSBE-BMAC mission.

Steffanie B. Easter, director of Navy Staff for the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, was the keynote speaker.

This article originally appeared in The Afro.

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Howard Leads HBCU Awards

THE AFRO — Howard University is leading with 12 finalist nominations in the 2019 HBCU Awards.  Presented by HBCU Digest, the HBCU Awards are the first and only national awards ceremony honoring individual and institutional achievements at history Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

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Howard University led with 12 finalist nominations for the 2019 HBCU Awards presented by the {HBCU Digest}, including President Wayne A.I. Frederick, pictured in the suit, who was nominated for Best Male President. (Courtesy Photo)

By Micha Green, AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor, [email protected]

Howard University is leading with 12 finalist nominations in the 2019 HBCU Awards.  Presented by HBCU Digest, the HBCU Awards are the first and only national awards ceremony honoring individual and institutional achievements at history Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

Known as “The Mecca,” or “Black Ivy” some of Howar’s nominations include College of the Year, Male President of the Year, Best Student Government Association (SGA) and Best Board of Trustees.

“It is fitting for Howard University to lead this year’s sterling panel of nominees,” said HBCU Digest Founding Editor Jarrett Carter according to a press release.  “They had an extraordinary academic year highlighted with several individual and collective accomplishments that represented the best of America’s flagship historically black institution, and the spirit of the HBCU mission at large. The Howard community and the District of Columbia should take great pride in HU’s work this year.”

All winners are selected by a panel of previous winners, journalists, HBCU executives, students and alumni.

President Wayne A.I. Frederick, who is nominated for Best Male President of the Year, weighed in on the accomplishments.

“It is an honor to receive 12 nominations in the 2019 HBCU Awards,” he said.  “HBCUs produce many of the best and brightest scholars and these nominations reflect the hard work of our students, faculty, staff and alumni to embody Howard University’s mission of Truth and Service.”

Howard’s full nominations include:

Best Research Center– Howard University Data Science and Cybersecurity Center

Best Business Program – Howard University School of Business

Best Social Work Program – Howard University School of Social Work

Best Student Newspaper – The Hilltop

Best SGA– Howard University Student Association

Female Student of the Year – Jaylin Paschal, immediate past editor of The Hilltop

Female Faculty of the Year – Keneshia Grant, Ph.D., assistant professor of political science

Alumna of the Year – Ezinne Kwubiri, H&M head of Inclusion and Diversity, North America

Alumnus of the Year – Charles D. King, MACRO founder and CEO

Male President of the Year – Wayne A. I. Frederick, M.D., MBA

Board of Trustees of the Year – Howard University Board of Trustees

HBCU of the Year – Howard University

The actual awards ceremony will be held on Friday, August 2 at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in downtown Baltimore.

This article originally appeared in The Afro

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2018 NNPA DTU Journalism Fellowship

Church Ministers Through Little Library

THE AFRO — St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church/ Iglesia Episcopal San Mateo in Hyattsville, MD. is using books as a means of bringing education, entertainment and hope to the community.

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St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church/ Iglesia Episcopal San Mateo in Hyattsville, MD. officially dedicated the first Little Library solely for children on June 30. (Photo by: Micha Green)

By Micha Green

St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church/ Iglesia Episcopal San Mateo in Hyattsville, MD. is using books as a means of bringing education, entertainment and hope to the community.

Two days after St. Matthew’s church member Bernard Jarvis, 25, was gunned down in nearby Brentwood in Northeast, D.C., the parish unveiled a Little Library for children in the neighborhood between services on June 30.  While the planning of the Little Library had been in the works for months, Rector Rev. Vidal Rivas and Associate Priest Sister Elena Thompson remembered Jarvis during the Little Library dedication.

As the community mourned the loss of Jarvis, the birth of the Little Library brought a clear sense of joy to those who attended its unveiling.

“I think this is a little hope, to say as we remember the member that passed away, we can still continue to support those little kids that are growing up and contributing to this Little Library in his memory as well,” Hyattsville City Council member Edoard Haba (Ward 4) told the AFRO.

Haba shared that he felt the creation of the Little Library was important to children’s education and thus kids’ overall growth.

“Education is important in youth and kids’ development,” he said.

The City Council member is so inspired by the Little Library concept that he is working to have more built throughout Hyattsville.

“As part of my vision for the community, I also plan to install a couple more of these Little Libraries throughout the community.  We have three that are slated to be installed by the end of this month,” he said.

While Hyattsville already has a Little Library, according to Sister Thompson explained that the St. Matthew’s location is the only one solely dedicated to young people.

“The Little Library is a movement that is all across the country now, and they’re about a dozen Little Libraries already in Hyattsville, but this is the first one specifically dedicated to books for children,” she told the AFRO.

Thompson shared the logical and historic reasons why having a Little Library made sense for the neighborhood surrounding St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church/ Iglesia Episcopal San Mateo.

“We got the idea to put the Little Library here in two ways. One of which is that we have many children, when school gets out, walking right past our building. And the second is that this parish has a history of providing library services to the community, that goes back to the years in which the Hyattsville library was racially segregated,” she said.

According to Thompson, parish families worked to create an inclusive library.

“There was a family here named Hotchkiss who wanted to be sure that reading and books were available to all children. And so they and others established a parish library.  The family of Owen Thomas gave a large grant, when this building was built in 1953, to make sure that there’d be a dedicated library space to which everyone could come,” she told the AFRO.

However, overtime, the demand for an inclusive library affiliated with the church became less as the public library eventually integrated.

“So we still have some of those old books, and we got into a discussion about what we should do with our old books from our old library and the children who are here in our church, in our day school and in the public school who come walking past us,” Thompson said. “And we brought up the idea of a Little Library and the Junior Warden immediately said, ‘I would like to build that.’  His name is Jose Ramirez. Jose went to his workshop, and over the next three months, built this library from scratch, and last Monday installed it.”

The need for a Little Library was further emphasized once installed, as community members began using it  before the formal dedication.

“The community already responded- brought books, taken books and we are looking forward to a big outreach as well as an internal ministry for the Parish,” Thompson explained.

Using the ministry of education, the Episcopal Church Women (ECW) group at  St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church/ Iglesia Episcopal San Mateo will be sharing the Little Library idea.

“Our ECW is going on a visit to another parish that has another school, and we hope to be able to tell them our story, and help them to begin a Little Library ministry of their own.”

This article originally appeared in The Afro

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Bodden Foundation to Address Mental Health

THE AFRO — Former NFL defensive back and Prince George’s County native Leigh Bodden knows all too well about dealing with pain and putting on a brave face.  Most of Bodden’s contemporaries hid behind the mask on the field and in the locker room, as it was recognized as a sign of weakness if there were moments of vulnerability that exposed mental health issues.

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The Leigh Bodden Foundation in partnership with Lauryn’s Law, is collaborating to raise awareness about the causes of suicide and mental illness in Maryland. (Courtesy Photo)

By Mark F. Gray

Former NFL defensive back and Prince George’s County native Leigh Bodden knows all too well about dealing with pain and putting on a brave face.  Most of Bodden’s contemporaries hid behind the mask on the field and in the locker room, as it was recognized as a sign of weakness if there were moments of vulnerability that exposed mental health issues.

Bodden has also seen how the effects of not dealing with mental health issues can have fatal consequences.  So as he did during his eight-year pro football career, he’s attacking the unspoken killer of so many people in his community head on.

The Leigh Bodden Foundation in partnership with Lauryn’s Law, is collaborating to raise awareness about the causes of suicide and mental illness in Maryland.  It will kickoff during a charity kickball game August 4 at Bowie Baysox Stadium. A group of local celebrities and former professional athletes will compete following the Baltimore Orioles Minor League affiliate’s game.  Their goal is to address these very personal issues that plague so many Americans and raise money to help those who have been affected.

“There are stresses in life that affect people in different ways,” Bodden told the AFRO.  “People need to understand when they need to talk to someone about their problems they shouldn’t be ashamed.  Suicide is not like cancer or HIV, its a silent killer.”

Bodden personally understands the devastation of mental health issues leading to suicide.  When he played for the New England Patriots, two of his former teammates would ultimately take their lives prematurely.  He recalls how Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau was one of the most gregarious and fun loving players in the locker room.  However, after he retired his life spiraled downward to the point where he committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest in 2012.

Former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez also led a destructive life, which ended his career as he appeared to be on the cusp of greatness.  After signing a massive free agent contract he was convicted of killing Odin Lloyd and sentenced to life in prison in a well publicized case. He also ended his life by committing suicide while in jail.

Those deaths were attributed to chronic traumatic encephalopathy

known as CTE. CTE is a degenerative brain disease that has been linked to repeated hits to the head and is common in former NFL players who have taken their lives.  The onset of CTE developed because of brain damage that began while Seau and Hernandez were playing football.

However, the game changer for Bodden was the death of his best friend Barry who committed suicide after struggling with personal issues that he never talked about.  Barry never opened up about the feelings that were beneath the surface after he had been bullied. Bodden still recounts how he could have been an ear to listen for his fallen friend.

To honor that relationship, “Barry’s Game” is what the charity kickball game will be known as, and it also served as the impetus for his foundation to partner with Lauryn’s Law.  Lauryn’s Law requires that school counselors receive proper training to spot warning signs of mental illness, trauma, violence or substance abuse.

The law was passed in 2013 after Lauryn Santiago took her own life at 15 years-old. In the months leading up to Lauryn’s death, her mother Linda Diaz, was aware that her child was facing difficulty at school. Lauryn’s mother reached out to the school and asked for the counselor to set up a meeting with Lauryn about being bullied but it was too late.

This article originally appeared in The Afro

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