AARP celebrates the joy of reading with community literacy festival

— AARP Experience Corps, Baltimore City will celebrate “National Make a Difference Day” by hosting their 6th Annual Fall Literacy Festival at Furman L. Templeton Academy on Saturday, October 25, 2014. The festival is a semi- annual event for children and their parents to promote the importance and joy of reading and to celebrate literacy achievement in the city elementary schools served by AARP Experience Corps. The festival included literacy games, guest readers, music, crafts, book giveaways and refreshments.

AARP Experience Corps volunteer member Doug Hebard reads to eight-year-old Raymond Bowman and seven years-old Tyon Matthews.

AARP Experience Corps volunteer member Doug Hebard reads to eight-year-old Raymond Bowman and seven years-old Tyon Matthews.

The Baltimore City AARP Experience Corps’ program is the largest in the nation, serving over 7800 Pre-K through 3rd grade students in 30 Baltimore City Title 1 schools. Experience Corps’ volunteer members are seniors over 50 years old that engage students in an evidence based, one to one and small group model to improve literacy, reading scores and attendance. AARP Experience Corps Branch Director Bill Romani noted literacy benefits the whole community. “We know that reading and literacy is so important to the development of children and the development of children will strengthen the community, so what AARP Experience Corps does with their literacy festival, is to celebrate the joy of reading.”

The Annual Literacy Festival kicked off a week of events to identify new Experience Corps volunteer members who will “Make a Difference” in their communities by serving in schools throughout Baltimore.

Children, their parents, and families gathered for the Literacy Festival at the Furman L. Templeton Academy beginning at 10:30 am. Tariqa Merrick brought her son to the festival, “This is a nice event, to let my son know that just because he sees mom reading, that it is good for him to read too,” she said.

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with a membership that helps people 50+ have independence, choice and control in ways that are beneficial and affordable to them and society as a whole. AARP does not endorse candidates for public office or make contributions to either political campaigns or candidates. We produce AARP The Magazine, the definitive voice for 50+ Americans and the world’s largest-circulation magazine with over 35.1 million readers; AARP Bulletin, the go-to news source for AARP’s millions of members and Americans 50+; AARP VIVA, the only bilingual U.S. publication dedicated exclusively to the 50+ Hispanic community; and our website, AARP Foundation is an affiliated charity that provides security, protection, and empowerment to older persons in need with support from thousands of volunteers, donors, and sponsors. We have staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Meet Bernadette Williams: The struggle beyond breast cancer

— Each story of a breast cancer is defined by the patient.

In all the years that I have interviewed survivors, one thing stands out— the bravery and the amazing determination of the women who have this disease.

Bernadette E. Williams’ story is one of those instances. Before her diagnosis, Williams, 52, was living the good life with a good job, an expensive apartment and all the trappings of a middle-class lifestyle. The single mother of four had no reason to believe her life would change until a diagnosis of breast cancer changed all that.

Williams worked for a large security firm, Dunbar, which was under contract with the state to transport prisoners. Through her hard work she reached the rank of lieutenant.

“I had an apartment in Millersville, which I could afford and the car and the insurance,” Williams said. What she didn’t see coming was the lack of health insurance, which was denied because of a previous thyroid condition.

“This was before ‘Obamacare,’” she said. To add insult to injury, she also didn’t have any sick time.

She admits to not having had a mammogram. “I was scared of mammograms. My breasts are tender and I didn’t do breast self-exams either, ” she said

Before her health insurance could be renewed, a lump was discovered. At first, she was prescribed an antibiotic then she agreed to a mammogram and ultrasound.

The mammogram found a tumor which followed by a biopsy confirmed a malignancy. One lump was measured at 8 cm (about 3 inches). Williams agreed to surgery, but underwent chemo first to shrink the tumor. Because of the size of her breasts, she opted for a bilateral mastectomy. After surgery, she was prescribed Tamoxifen and chose to have reconstructive surgery.

Despite the double mastectomy, pre-surgical testing detected the cancer had metastasized and spread to her spine. She has been diagnosed at Stage 4.

In spite of this diagnosis, Williams hides whatever worries she may have. Her conversation is concise, articulate and matter-of-fact. In spite of all this, the diagnosis of cancer isn’t the end of her story.

All the seniority at her job was for nothing. She has no income, no health insurance and, recently, no place to stay.

“I applied for medical assistance,” she said, “only to find out that I’m not even in the system. I don’t have health insurance from my job because it was contractual and the contract ended. I can’t buy my medicines because I can’t afford it.”

She has applied for social security and social security disability which won’t be effective until January 2015.

She hopes that the medical assistance will be approved. She took the step of going through hospital social workers to apply because she learned that her local jurisdiction hadn’t even entered her application in the system.

As if that weren’t enough, she lost her apartment and moved in with her aunt, Doris Carberry. She feels grateful to Carberry, but like so many other survivors doesn’t want to burden friends and family.

William isn’t working; has no money, has lost her apartment, her insurance has lapsed and she has been frustrated at every turn.

“All I want is to be able to take care of myself,” she said. “[To] be a little more comfortable.”

She asked her oncologist how long she had: “Two years; five years; 10 years? I don’t know.”

What she does know is that her oncologist can “keep her comfortable,” and she knows what that means.

“Everything is pending,” she says, and you can hear the frustration in her voice.

“All I want is to have whatever I need to maintain a certain quality of life,” she said.

She ends with, “If it weren’t for Aunt Doris, I don’t know where I’d be. I am so grateful to her.”

Call for artists: Our Town Grant

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts, Baltimore City’s designated Arts Council, request proposals for the National Endowment for the Arts’ Our Town grant.

This is an opportunity to bring significant funding for creative projects to Baltimore. The program offers support for projects in two areas. Arts engagement, cultural planning and design projects that represent the distinct character and quality of their communities may receive matching grants ranging from $25,000 to $200,000. Projects that build knowledge about creative “placemaking” may receive matching grants ranging from $25,000 to $100,000.

Each city may enter only one application, submitted by the Mayor, which represents collaboration between the city and an artist and/or arts organization. All artists with an interest in the grant are encouraged to apply or contact the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts for additional information. The application and guidelines are available at, click “Arts Council.” The deadline for submissions is Monday, November 10, 2014 by 9 a.m.

All qualified Our Town applications will be forwarded to the Mayor’s Office for selection. Depending on the number of submissions, applicants may be contacted to make a presentation. Applicants will be notified of the Mayor’s decision by Monday, November 17, 2014. It is expected that the selected applicant will prepare basic information to be submitted to the Our Town program no later than Monday, December 15, 2014. A full proposal must be submitted to the National Endowment for the Arts by Thursday, January 15, 2015.

For more information on the Our Town grant, call 410-752-8632 or visit Additional information can also be found at

Entrepreneurs of the Week: Kimberley McDaniel, Denise Leonard Howard and Valerie Walker

Who says friends can’t work together? Three lovely women are not only friends but business partners and from speaking with them you can tell that they genuinely love and respect each other.

Their business is called The Rejuvenation Spot, with the slogan, “The Place People Go to Feel Better.” Located at 22 West 25th Street in Charles Village it’s a one of a kind business that specializes in alkaline water, therapeutic grade essential oils, liquid vitamins, as well as life and health coaching.

Co-owner Denise Leonard Howard said, “Our purpose is to offer people a way to feel better from a holistic standpoint which we do not talk enough about in the community, especially in the black community

“So many people are looking for ways to either become healthy or stay healthy. We want to be here for those people who are looking for something more natural. This is not just for older people, but even younger people want and are concerned about their health. What better way than trying the holistic approach” states co-owner Kimberly McDaniel.

Want to become more in tune with your body? Then checkout Indie Soul’s Entrepreneurs of the Week website:

Goucher College hosts leadership forum for area high school students

— The Greater Baltimore Urban League (GBUL) began the second year of its Saturday Leadership Program (SLP) on September 20, 2014. Most recently on October 4, the students, facilitators and volunteers were welcomed to Goucher College by admissions director Corky Surbeck and Cyndy Cowles.

At lunch, the students had a chance to meet Goucher’s president, Dr. Jose Bowen, as well as some current Goucher students. The Greater Baltimore Urban League, together with Goucher College, welcomed 65 new and returning students, nine parents, and many volunteers in the GBUL Young Professionals and the Guild.

This particular leadership session included discussion on finding their “spark,” or their motivation in career and academic pursuits. The first year Fellows in 10th grade and below did a series of activities including collages and group discussion about their career interests and motivations. Through an exercise called an “autovision,” students expressed who they are now, and how they see themselves in five years. This was designed to help them begin to focus their passions so they can start acquiring needed skills to be successful in life and career.

Older students took the Myers Brigg personality test to learn more about their career personalities. Fellows learned about their personality and proper career matches for their personality. They also learned more in depth about specific skills needed for their career paths along with taking a look at skills they currently possess and how to build on them. SLP students also learn about notable Baltimoreans every session, and this time the Notable People of discussion were Wes Moore, Dayvon Love, Vernon Dobson and Kevin Liles.

Additionally, this year GBUL introduced parent leadership sessions because parent and guardian involvement is pertinent to the development and lifelong success of their children. The SLP fellows’ parents and guardians have joined in on the leadership skill building, volunteering and community engagement in sessions led by Arnetta Bryant, the Program Management Intern with the GBUL. Already the fellows are exhibiting their leadership potential, and we look forward to seeing how they grow.

Indie Soul Spotlight: Saxophonist Craig Alston

“I just want to make music. I want to leave a legacy for my children so that they know who I am and what I was about” –Craig Alston

Soft-spoken jazz saxophonist Craig Alston is a very deep thinker who cares about his surroundings and his music. Music is his therapy as well as a way to connect with an audience.

“People come to hear me perform, I want them to relax and just enjoy. People have problems and they need a release from whatever it is they are going through,” Alston said.

The multi-talented Alston does not want to be placed in a box as a musician, “I want to be able to make music that people will feel good about. One minute it could be jazz, classical, dance or even country. I enjoy music. It’s as simple as that.”

His love of music came from attending music events with his father in Baltimore, like Artscape and the African-American Festival. “I knew from that point I wanted to be a musician, Alston said.

He has traveled the world performing with some big names in the music business including: Fertile Ground, The Four Tops, and The Temptations, just to name a few.

Now the time has come for Alston to do something for himself and he hopes listeners will enjoy his musical journey.

“At the end of the day, you have to be honest with yourself and what it is you do and ask yourself why you are doing it” said Alston who is currently working on a soon to be released CD.

On Sunday, November 2, 2014, the Craig Alston Quartet will perform at the James E. Lewis Museum of Art (JELMA) inside Morgan State University’s Murphy Fine Arts Center located at 2201 Argonne Drive. The peformance is part of the series Jazz at JELMA—the first set begins at 4 p.m. During intermission enjoy a Gallery Stroll Tour of the JELMA Exhibition: Ed Towles-Black Enterprise & Art.Tickets are available through Murphy Fine Arts Ticket Office, 443-885-4440.

LETTER: Protect Maryland’s Waterways


Re: Protect Maryland’s Waterways

On the 42nd anniversary of the Clean Water Act, a new report from Environment America, “Waterways Restored,” highlights the success the law has meant for the Anacostia River, taking it from a state of horrific pollution to giving some hope that it will be safe for swimming and fishing in little more than a decade.

All of Maryland’s waters deserve a success story, but right now, a loophole in the Clean Water Act has left over 10,000 miles of our state’s waterways, including those that feed into the Anacostia river, vulnerable to pollution.

Thankfully, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed closing this loophole to protect all of the state’s rivers and streams. The agency is taking public comments on its rule until November 14, but polluters like agribusinesses and big developers are waging a bitter campaign against it.

The Clean Water Act has meant progress for the Anacostia River, but its promise isn’t yet fulfilled. That’s why it’s so important for EPA to stand up to the polluters and restore safeguards to all of the rivers and streams that crisscross our state.

T. Aurelie Konin

Wheaton, MD

Making college completion mandatory, Part II

Undereducated, poor and middle class high school graduates are the cannon fodder of higher education. Each year, colleges routinely accept large numbers of students, knowing most will not make it to the finish line. I believe it is time to hold colleges and universities more accountable to the students they accept.

A recent Pew Research survey finds that less than one out of three people aged 25 to 32 have earned a four year college degree. The percentage is even lower for black and minority students. These findings are puzzling. At a time when an increasing number of students are attending college, the study shows there has been a dramatic drop in the four-year graduation rate. In other words more kids are going to college, but fewer are finishing.

What accounts for this growing disparity, who is responsible and why as a society we must identify and implement steps to reverse the trend?

To build my case for “mandatory four-year college graduation” I begin by addressing why a college education matters. The Pew study offers an alarming fact: “The education gap is higher than any other time in history. Young college graduates are ahead on virtually every measure of economic well-being, earning an eye-popping $17,500 more per year than those with only a high school diploma.”

“Poverty” the researchers found “is one of the biggest threats to young people without college degrees. Nearly a one out of four (22 percent) of young people ages 25 to 32 without a college degree live in poverty today, whereas only six percent (less than-one- out-of-ten) of the college-educated fall into this camp.”

The rising cost of earning a degree accounts for the reason many students do not complete their studies. Without question higher education is expensive, but the study shows it is a good investment.

According to the Pew study, “It’s more costly not to have a college education than ever before. The typical high school graduate’s earnings dropped by more than $3,000, from $31,384 in 1965 to $28,000 in 2013. The Pew study concludes its report with a thought-provoking list of questions and few, long-term, definitive answers.

“How much is this trend going to cost America as a nation? It’s too early to say for sure, but young adult underemployment, which is directly linked to under education, is already costing $25 billion a year, largely because of the lost tax revenue.”

There are a host of other costs associated with the challenge of accommodating large numbers of under educated, under employed citizens. Should society be prepared “to see increased rates of alcoholism and substance abuse? Broken relationships? Depression? The long list of physical ailments that go along with the stress of not being able to gain and keep a financial foothold?”

There are a several of factors responsible for the decreasing number of students earning four-year degrees. In my opinion the root cause of this failure rests within the broad spectrum of our educational system. Fueled by an enormous money grab that pours billions and billions in education reform dollars into a broken system that yields little success and even less accountability. The result, our grade schools fail to adequately prepare far too many high school graduates to meet the academic demands of college level work.

There are billions more in borrowed money easily available to help finance a college education for students who are not remotely capable of completing. With all that money on the table, higher education finds itself unable to resist accepting kids they know have little hope of earning a degree in four years, or any other length of time.

After nine years of writing about school reform measures, I see little evidence public schools are doing a better job of educating our children. In fact, the Pew reports offers proof the rate of failure is increasing. Harnessing my frustration with the public school system, I am shifting my focus to ways to eliminating higher education’s financial incentives to accept poorly prepared students. Given their tremendous resources my hope is colleges will take on more responsibility for helping grade students get ready to complete their college degrees.

Since I raised this issue last week I have received feedback that merits further discussion. I shall explain in a future column a legitimate basis for these recommendations. Reader feedback is particularly welcome on the subject of mandatory four-year college graduation.

Jayne Matthews Hopson writes about educational matters because “only the educated are free.”

Meet Don W. Lucas: A male breast cancer survivor’s story

— Sitting in a waiting room full of women at The University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center, Don Lucas waits patiently for the next name to be called. The women are all there for scheduled mammography appointments. Some of the women are by themselves, while others are accompanied by a spouse, another relative, or a friend.

“When the doctor’s office says, ‘Mr. Lucas you are next’, everyone sitting in the room looks at me,” said Lucas with a chuckle. “They are shocked. They all thought I was there waiting for my wife, but I am there for my annual mammogram appointment.”

The Newark, NJ native is a breast cancer survivor. The Greenebaum Cancer Center located on Greene Street in Baltimore diagnosed his breast cancer in May 2009. At the time of his diagnosis, Lucas was living in Pennsylvania.

“I found the lump myself when I was taking a shower,” recalled Lucas. “I ran the soap across my chest and felt a lump. That was on a Friday, and by that Monday, I was at the doctor’s office. Well, they told me not to worry about it, but I told the doctor I was going to get a second opinion.”

He added, “A good friend of mine was being treated for a different type of cancer at the Greenebaum Cancer Center, so I decided to go there for the second opinion. I’m glad I did.”

Lucas who is now 79-years-old, was 74 at the time.

“The folks at the Greenebaum Cancer Center thoroughly checked me out. I cannot speak highly enough about all of them. They are wonderful, beautiful people. As soon as I walked in the door, I felt comfortable there. As soon as they checked me out, they wanted me to get in right away for surgery. They didn’t want to wait. They removed my entire right breast.”

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is about 100 times less common among men than among women. For men, the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000.

The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2014, about 2,360 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in men, and that about 430 men will die of breast cancer.

“Males need to know they can get breast cancer too,” said Lucas. “I am a little disappointed that with this being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there isn’t more noise being made about men having breast cancer. Many things I read and see about breast cancer awareness don’t mention men. We don’t get it that often, but we do get it. Males don’t think it can happen to them, but oh yes it can. I know because it happened to me.”

According to Lucas, his mother, and two of his aunts all had mastectomies.

“Breast cancer runs on my mother’s side of the family, but I never thought it could happen to me until I was diagnosed,” said Lucas. “Men have to pay attention to their family history. If you have breast cancer in your family and you feel something suspicious, get it checked. In my case, I thought it was just a lump in my chest. It was hard, about the size of a nickel, and was on the right beside my nipple.”

Lucas has two sons and one daughter.

“The hardest part of my diagnosis was telling my kids because they had just lost their mother to another form of cancer a few months before,” said Lucas. “My daughter had never had a mammogram before, but started getting them regularly. They are more alert because of what happened to me.”

Lucas works part-time, and resides in Pensacola, Florida with his wife. He recently traveled to Baltimore for his annual mammogram at the Greenebaum Cancer Center.

“They diagnosed my breast cancer and took good care of me,” said Lucas. “I have never met so many wonderful people at one place. I wouldn’t go anyplace else.”

The University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center is a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center and one of the top cancer treatment and research centers in the country.

“Until this day, I have no idea why I moved as quickly as I did once I felt the lump,” said Lucas. “But going to the doctor when I did made things easier on me. The breast cancer was confined to that one area. I got my mastectomy done, and was out of there the next morning.”

He added, “Men don’t like going to the doctor, but I did. I want men to know that not only can their wives get breast cancer, they can get it too. The key is to catch it early. If you feel something that shouldn’t be there, don’t wait. Go to see a doctor.”

Ravens Hold 15th Annual Goodwill Gridiron Halloween Event

The Baltimore Ravens hosted the 15th Annual Goodwill Gridiron Halloween event on Monday, October 27, 2014 at Dave & Buster’s in the Arundel Mills Mall. Ravens Tight Ends Dennis Pitta and K. Justin Tucker, and Defensive Tackle Brandon Williams were joined by the newest member of the team, long snapper Kevin McDermott and more than 600 guests at the festive party.

The event featured a night of bowling, billiards and video games along with a silent auction of assorted music, sports and movie collectibles. Guests with unique costumes took part in a costume contest that was judged by the Ravens players who attended.

The event benefits Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake, Inc., with all proceeds to be put toward training and employment programs to help the disabled and underprivileged secure and retain jobs. Last year, Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake provided services for over 39,563 individuals with disabilities and other barriers to employment, placing 2,532 people into jobs.

Ravens Community Relations manager Emily Scerba was a part of the host committee for the event. She was very excited to be able to roll out this event that allowed the fans to interact with the fans.

“The Ravens always pair up with Goodwill to make it such a fabulous event. A few players host each year, we’ve had Arthur Jones, Michael Oher, Vonta Leach and even Ray Lewis host this event. The players mingle with guests and play games.” Scerba said. “This is my third year working with this event and it’s a lot of fun. The guys really get into it and they all come dressed some way.”

Brandon Williams had on an interesting costume he said was inspired by Shaquille O’Neal’s character from the movie Shazaam. The event is something that hit home for Williams because of his tough upbringing.

“Goodwill is for the kids [and] for everyone who was at one point down in tough times. It’s definitely a soft spot in my heart because there were tough times and we had to go to the Goodwill to get coats for school or whatever. It’s something that’s near and dear to my heart.” Williams said. “It’s all about providing hope. Coming out here gives the kids something to look at, they see us doing things and it also gives me a good feeling. They see that we do these things and have their backs just the same as they do for us when they come out to watch on Sundays.”

Dennis Pitta attended the event with his family despite being injured. He says that it was important for him to be there.

“It’s a great event, something I have been involved with over the last three or four years. It’s always fun to come out and support the Goodwill and be able to reach out to the fans at a great venue and event like this. Even though I am injured, I still wanted to come out here and be able to support. The injury works well with my costume! Our little boy Decker is 18 months and he’s dressed up as my doctor, he’s the one taking care of me. My wife is our acting nurse which is pretty fitting because she has really been taking care of me while I am injured.”

Justin Tucker was at the event with his fiancé. They had a couples costume inspired by the movie “Grease.” Tucker was glad to be able to spend more time with his teammates. “It’s really cool to get with teammates outside of the facility and play some games, enjoy each other’s company. This thing is put on for a great cause to support the Chesapeake area.”

Kevin McDermott is a new member of the Ravens but the importance of having an impact on the community is not lost in him. “I am having a blast. I’m dressed as an undercover cop tonight. You can’t be a cop unless you have a mustache. It’s fitting because that’s just like a long snapper. If no one notices you, you are doing your job!”

He spoke more seriously about the event when he said; “In the world that we live in as part of the NFL, we are a symbol of the community. We need to do something to help out our local community and that makes a world of a difference to everyone that looks up to us. No matter what the event is or the charity is, it’s good to come out and be in the community at events like this.”