‘Colorblind: The Katrina Monologues’ now running at Arena Players

A natural disaster is no respecter of persons.Hurricane Katrina, the deadliest storm this country has ever seen, was no different; she did not discriminate.

Stories of survivors will be told on the stage at The Arena Players this month in a production entitled, “Colorblind: The Katrina Monologues.” A cast of nine will give voice to victims of Hurricane

Katrina and reenact vignettes of actual experiences around her devastation.

The drama queen of hurricanes uprooted thousands of families— leaving them displaced and homeless. Her wrath claimed the lives of more than 1,800 people. Black people. White people. Poor people. Rich people. Young people. Old people. Hurricane Katrina was colorblind.

Alabama, Mississippi and Florida were caught in the path of the storm’s ferocious winds.

However, news cameras zoomed in on the people in New Orleans, Louisiana. The city’s Ninth Ward, a historically underserved community of black folk, bore the brunt of Queen Katrina’s devastation. There, she left behind rising waters, broken levees, a flood, and thousands of survivors. Some were stranded on rooftops of dilapidated homes, while others waded the muddy waters of the Big Easy seeking refuge for their families at the Superdome.

George Oliver-Buntin, one of Baltimore’s native sons, portrays the character of an elderly man who refuses to leave his home in a monologue titled, “Hold Out.” He represents the seasoned

citizens who have endured countless valleys and mountains in their lifetime just for being poor, black, and a citizen of the Ninth Ward.

“He’s one of those people who has seen it all before,” said Oliver-Buntin. “While The circumstances may be different, these are the things that have been going on for years. It’s not that they don’t care, but they become so desensitized to it because they’re so acclimated to mistreatment and being treated as if they don’t really matter.”

Mari Travis, also a Baltimore native, directs the production. The arts educator and choreographer hails from Morgan State University’s (MSU) prestigious theater program, where she danced with theMSU Modern Dance Ensemble and is currently choreographing the “The Wiz.” “I remember Hurricane Katrina like it was yesterday. It was unbelievable that a natural disaster of its magnitude was happening so close to home. Furthermore,the manner in which the government mishandled the before and aftermath was completely inhumane.”

A college student at the time, seeing the horror of it on TV compelled Travis to rise to action and plan a road trip to New Orleans to distribute, the best and most economical thing she could think of at that time, water. She sought support from friends and got discouraged due to the lack of support. Directing “Colorblind” is her chance to finally make her contribution.

“It’s never too late,” said Travis, who spent time as a guest resident at Georgetown University, Morgan State University, Bryn Mawr School for Girls and Duke Ellington School for the Arts.

“The audience can expect two hours of heart-wrenching, true-to-life monologues from a skillful and, overall, out of-this-world cast of actors.”

Each monologue deals with a theme tied to the Hurricane Katrina experience, heavily touching on the role that politics played in the devastation that followed the storm. Also, interwoven in this production, are moments of choreographed movement and flashback portrayals of the survival tactics the public only heard about or saw vaguely on TV.

Theater-goers will find the performance powerful and sobering. There is a lot truth being told through these characters and their experiences with, and interpretation of, what they went through as a result of hurricane Katrina.

“The colorblind aspect really speaks to how we could have banded together and collectively, engaged in a healing process that would’ve benefited everybody,” Oliver-Buntin said. “But, because we, as a nation, were so focused on color, it was a serious discrepancy between how we responded to each other and how we took care of each other in the time of need.

“When it was young African Americans, [scrambling to find resources to maintain survival] it was called ‘looting.’ When it was young white folks who lived in those areas that were damaged

and affected; it was reported as commandeering necessary supplies,” Oliver-Buntin continued.

It’s difficult for anyone who wasn’t there to presume where he or she would be, or exactly what they would have or could have done to protect themselves and others from Mother Nature’s wrath. Actors, mostly residents and natives of Maryland, portray these characters with care and a powerful emotional quality, said Travis.

Dovecote Cafe: A Neighborhood Nesting Place

Walking into the Dovecote Cafe is like stepping into the future of Baltimore.Once across the threshold of this quaint nesting space, a playlist of classic hip-hop, R&B, and soul music lifts people off their feet, serenades them to the counter, where they are greeted by delightful Diamond, one of the cafe hostesses.

Dovecote Cafe is a connection point for Baltimore’s creatives, academics, grassroots organizers, civic leaders and neighboring citizens of all ages to connect over coffee and conversation.

Strangers become friends. Friends become colleagues or vice versa and by the end of the day, in many cases or by the end of a single conversation, something

great has transpired.

“I feel like we have a great team,” said Aisha Pew, Dovecote’s co-owner and general manager. “I feel like we have some great programs. And I think what we are trying to do is clearly understood and being received with such love–wow, talk about supply in demand.”

“Community first, cafe second,” is the cozy cafe’s mantra. Since the doors opened a year ago, Dovecote has been a hub for community resources and site for outreach initiatives. Every Thursday is food day; people come by to pick up free, fresh produce. Each month a local culinary artist takes over the kitchen, providing patrons with dinner and recipe cards of the night’s menu item to promote healthy eating.

Local writers, independent organic food producers, and visual artists are supported with shelf space and organizations like the Black Pearl Project, a charitable organization dedicated to

strengthening the bonds of sisterhood among inner city youth, and the Black Books Baltimore book club have hosted events there.

A team of self-proclaimed dream makers are responsible for the dream child located in the 2500 block of Madison Avenue in historic Reservoir Hill. “The way that we all converged to Dovecote Cafe is that we shared our feelings, our wants, our dreams with each other,” Dovecote’s management team stated on the company’s website.

“By sharing, freely and openly [with] the people that we trusted and loved, we began to give ourselves permission to believe beyond the present; to believe inthe possibilities of our desires; to believe that we were deserving of our dreams. It allowed the Universe to hear us, and

begin charting a path.”

Meet Cole, another co-owner of the cafe, and Pew’s life partner. Her dream for Dovecote, mirrored her desire to combine a trilogy of passions: food, real estate and community development.

“What I love about all three is the sense of home and place that each evoke,” said Cole, the daddy’s girl,whose young imagination would run wild at the site of vacant homes and

abandoned buildings. For Cole, community development “is about taking a metaphorical band and wrapping it around current neighbors and drawing everyone close. It’s all about conversations and laughter. It’s about parks, bike lanes, bus stops, street light, block parties, an open living room— cooperative engagement,”according to her debut blog post on the

cafe’s website, entitled: “Dinner with


Meet Gilda, Pew’s mother. She is one of the cafe cuisiniers and co-owner. After raising her only child, Gilda thought life was over after retirement,

until she realized that two decades of social work had taken her time energy away from the things she loved. “With my path, mind and schedule clear, off the culinary school I went,”

said Bain-Pew. “Six a.m. classes; kids young enough to be my grandchildren; homework but I kept going. I fancied creating an environment where my customers were as happy as the friends and family members who have eaten around my dining room table.”

Meet Uncle “The Pie Man” Butch, the cafe’s other cuisiniere, culture keeper and Bain-Pew’s brother. He is the team member who keeps a smile on all the ladies’ faces when he stops by with kind words, catchy compliments and a teddy bear demeanor. Uncle Butch is responsible for the Pew Family’s infamous peach upside down cake making the menu. “I can’t believe this place has only been open for a year. It just went from zero to 100 in just six months,” said Uncle Butch.

According to Uncle Butch, Pew has more intelligence and talent than corporate America knew what to do with. Tired of feeling trapped by the luxuries of a successful six-figure salary, Pew cut ties with her paycheck in pursuit of personal freedom.Under Pew’s leadership, the cafe’s business is growing like wildfire. She carries a beautifully subtle spirit that envelops the place in love.Her team feels it, and so do the customers.

Commitment to peace!

— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man of impeccable word. He preached what he believed and lived like he believed every word he said.

Long before that fateful day, April 4, 1968, when he was killed on a balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, King committed his life to demonstrating to the masses that peace was possible.

Dr. King was a man who spent countless nights alone in jail paying for the injustices he fought against, all the while praying for his people and writing letters of encouragement to the entire nation.

Courtesy Photo

Here was a man who, when his home was bombed [with his family inside] by segregationists in retaliation for the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, used his voice to calm a crowd of black folk who gathered on his lawn angry, armed, and ready to fight back.

This was a man who took a stab to his flesh, just inches away from his heart, and turned the other cheek.

Dr. King was a man who knew that peace, true peace, comes from within. He also knew that peace was what he had on the inside. Knowing this, he marched with courage, lived boldly and spoke with conviction:

“Within the best of us, there is some evil, and within the worst of us, there is some good. When we come to see this, we take a different attitude toward individuals. The person who hates you most has some good in him; even the nation that hates you most has some good in it; even the race that hates you most has some good in it. And when you come to the point that you look in the face of every man and see deep down within him what religion calls “the image of God,” you begin to love him…” — Excerpt from the sermon Loving Your Enemies, delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, AL on November 17, 1957

King had tapped into a realm of peace that many of us have trouble wrapping our minds and hearts around. Something spiritual. Something that can’t be won by waging war or inciting a movement. Something that can’t be achieved by marching and “acting” peacefully. Something that can’t be attained by forcing our opinions and judgments on others about what is right, wrong, good or bad in the name of one god or another. There is nothing peaceful about living an exhausting existence fighting to make the world understand and accept that black lives matter, that all lives matter, that your life matters.

It’s not head knowledge the world needs right now; there’s enough intellect aimlessly floating around, about how to increase the peace. What the world really needs is more heart knowledge. What Dr. King did was cast a light on the possibility of peace with words of wisdom from his heart. He once said, “forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” The same is true for peace. It is a way of being— a lifestyle.

We are so quick to demand it, but are we even qualified to do so? Are we demanding peace in your own homes. With the people we come in contact with from day to day, especially the ones who share the same skin as us— like, the young lady at McDonald’s who was unpleasant and messed up your order; the person that cut you off on the road; the young man walking in front of you literally showing his behind because he bought his pants two sizes too large; the person who stole your purse; or robbed your house; or shot your son.

Part of the problem is we think we can strategize our way to peace, force it even without taking a look into our own souls and actually living that which we seek. Are we forgiving the father or mother we think abandoned us? Are we communicating respectfully with people we don’t understand? Are we letting go of past hurts? Are we removing judgement from our perception of people and why they behave the way they do? Are we peaceful with our neighbors? Do we speak peace into the lives of every person we encounter everyday, or are we still gossiping calling it “tea” to make it socially acceptable?

Peace is more than a word; it’s a commitment. A commitment to good all the time.

Before we can stand for peace in our social and worldly affairs, we must first stand for peace right where we are— in our own minds and in our own hearts. The protesting and marching we do to change the public’s perception about black folk and poor folk should be mirror images of how we we treat each other and ourselves when no one is looking.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man who had a dream that one day the collective consciousness of peace among the people would rise up and cast light on the chaos caused by what he called the “the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man who embodied the peace he wanted to see in the world. Do you?

A Lesson in American Government: C-SPAN visits Frederick Douglas High

— Students at Frederick Douglas didn’t know what to expect when they followed their American Government teacher out of the classroom to a tour bus parked outside.

They didn’t ask many questions either. What for? They were only evading a lecture and some class work. It was a Friday. Never mind that the school day had just begun, the weekend was on their minds— Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook too. That wasn’t surprising. They are teenagers.

The young people’s indifferent faces lit up with curiosity once aboard the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network’s (C-SPAN) award-winning, 45-foot customized tour bus fully equipped with a sound-proof live broadcast studio and a mobile newsroom that showcases the network’s programming and resources on social networking and mobile apps.

Once students realized they were more familiar with their surroundings than not, they were comfortable enough to ask Doug Hemmig, a C-SPAN marketing representative, “What’s all this for?”

Frederick Douglas was one of the last stops on the nonpartisan news organization’s country-wide tour visiting middle and high schools, and universities, encouraging students to think critically about the nation’s political climate and issues that affect the communities where they live, work and play. The tour was a particularly unique experience for this group of students. Just two days before, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States of America. And in just two more years, this class of students will graduate from high school and be of age to exercise their right to vote. It is their participation in the political process that will impact how the consciousness of this country is reflected in the White House moving forward.

“They need this,” said Rene Armstead, a long-term substitute for an American Government class at the school. “A lot of the students don’t understand the way our government works, the role of a president. If they did, we wouldn’t have a lot of the anger that we have today. “

Armstead recalled what it was like the day after the election in his classroom. Some students were angry, he said. Many of them expressed their thoughts about the voting process and how they felt their vote doesn’t count for much.

“Its very important that our students understand the nuts and bolts and try to get the whole picture so they can formulate their own opinion,” said Armstead. “Right now they are feeding into the frenzy. And right now we have to get political. Sometimes we get emotional and personal but we have to realize what candidate is going help us politically.”

Hemmig gave an interactive media literacy lesson using mobile devices demonstrating C-Span resources and in-depth public affairs programming and educational resources through touch-screen quizzes on flat-screen monitors mounted to the walls of the bus.

“The best part of my job is representing a network whose mission is to provide citizens unfiltered access to their government,” said Hemmig, who has worked for C-SPAN for 16 years. “I hope students walk away with a resource they can use to follow their government.”

Hemmig navigated C-SPAN’s Campaign 2016 App and the network’s searchable, video-rich site modeling for students how to access every C-SPAN program aired since 1987. The public can access this extensive online collection— over 220,000 hours of public affairs programming— for free, and share user-generated video clips by email and social media.

Rene and other instructors who boarded the bus with their students learned about C-SPAN’s free comprehensive online educational resources including: C-SPAN.org; C-SPAN Classroom; and C-SPAN’s nationwide documentary contest, StudentCam; open to students in grades six to 12.

StudentCam encourages middle and high school students to think critically about issues that affect our communities and nation. This year, students are being asked to create a five to seven minute documentary on this year’s theme, “Your Message to Washington: What is the most urgent issue for the new President and Congress to address in 2017?”

The tour officially ends this month and will gas up and hit the road after the 2017 Presidential Inauguration to do it all again.

The Baltimore Times Positioned For 30 More Years

— Jocelyn “Joy” Bramble laid out a vision for her life’s work on the kitchen table of her West Baltimore home at 1800 Madison Avenue. It was a plan to publish a weekly newspaper that informed citizens of Baltimore and its surrounding areas of the good news happening around town.

That was 30 years ago.

These days, The Baltimore Times newspapers herald as a beacon of light amidst the swarm of unbalanced media coverage of people and communities of color. It is the longest running, black-owned news organization that exclusively covers positive stories about positive people in this city.

“A teacher and a priest, what did we know about newspapers?” said Bramble of her and her husband’s pledge to publish a newspaper that would immortalize the achievements, events and proud moments in the lives of everyday people.

“Absolutely nothing, except that we knew that wonderful things were happening in our community and we wanted to highlight and share them. One thing we knew for sure was that we were going to publish positive stories that would uplift our readers.”

Armed with a PC, $732 and a passion to tell the real stories—the positive stories—Bramble launched The Baltimore Times as a monthly publication that soon became weekly as it grew in popularity and gained unwavering loyalty and respect among its readership. Over the course of three score years, the Baltimore Times has circulated several editions of the publication around Maryland: The Annapolis Times, The Shore Times, The Prince George’s County Times, and The Baltimore County Times.

On Saturday, October 22, 2016, Actors Nicole Ari Parker and Boris Kodjoe hosted a jam-packed ballroom of The Baltimore Times’ readers and supporters at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum for a gala celebration to kick off the publication’s 30-year anniversary. Sandra Pinckney, former anchor for WJZ-TV was mistress of ceremony. Members of the City Council, President Jack Young, Councilwoman Sharon Middleton, Rochelle “Rikki” Spector and the 7th District’s Nick Mosby, who attended with wife Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and Adrienne A. Jones, Speaker Pro Tem of the Maryland House of Delegates, were among the 200 plus attendees.

Among the moving accolades bestowed up Bramble and The Baltimore Times’ staff for their dedication to the community was a presentation from Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md).

“Thank you for having a dream,” said Cummings before presenting Bramble with the Congressional Achievement Award. “What you did was you took it and made something of it. And you remind us of how great we are. Too often we are reminded of our weakest links. But we come from strong stock.”

Bramble says the success of The Baltimore Times has been a community effort.

“We had no idea where [this] would lead or even if it would fly. [But] we were quickly embraced by the community. Stories were sent by folks who wanted to write but had no outlet. We became their outlet. The newspapers were eagerly picked and delivered by strangers to friends, churches, and businesses. And as they say, the rest is history.”

Although the staff is looking forward to 30 more years of leadership from Bramble, they thought it was essential to preserve the history of positivity The Baltimore Times has covered thus far. Dr. Joanne Martin, co-founder of The National Great Blacks in Wax unveiled the profile of a wax figure of Bramble to be constructed for display at the museum.

“I thank our sponsors who have supported us and our readers who pick up papers weekly and our staff who labor every day to produce a newspaper of we are proud of,” said Bramble.

“Although we face challenges with the digital age, I want to state publicly [that] we are here to stay. We are embracing the digital age with excitement. And to steal a thought from Mark Twain: ‘the news of the death of newspapers is greatly exaggerated.’”

Princess Tiana Follows Her Heart To Baltimore

— If Hope Alexander hadn’t followed her heart, she’d probably be working for some government agency putting her degree in international studies to work. Instead, she tours the world bringing Disney’s Princess Tiana’s character to life on ice. As a figure skater with the infamous Disney On Ice show, the Wilmington, Delaware native has performed before audiences in Japan, China, Macau, Philippines, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, among many other destinations, with the Treasure Trove tour. This month, Alexander is set to perform at the Royal Farms Arena in Disney On Ice’s latest production— Follow Your Heart— playing the role of her dreams.

Tiffany: What does the theme of the show “Follow Your Heart” mean to you personally? In what ways have you followed your heart to be who and where you are today?

Tiana: “Follow Your Heart” is a motto that I try to live by everyday. I think it’s important to always go after your goals and try your best to achieve your dreams, and being on Disney on Ice is definitely a dream come true. When I was younger and competing I never imagined that I would someday be a professional figure skater, and now I’m so grateful for where I am in life.

Tiffany: Can you speak to what it was like growing up pursuing your interest in skating? How did it develop?

Tiana: My mom took me skating when I was about two years old. She had fond memories of going skating with her friends when she was younger and she wanted me to have some of the same memories.The second I stepped on the ice I fell in love with it immediately. A little later down the line I started taking groups lessons and eventually private lessons at my local skating rink. I started competing when I was seven years old and stopped when I was 16. Skating takes a lot of sacrifice. Once I got to a higher level I would have to wake up before school to skate and once the school day was over I would head back to the rink for more skating sessions and off-ice training. It was stressful at times but completely worth it.

Tiffany: You mentioned you suffered an injury early in your career and took a break from skating for a while. Did you always know you’d return? What was that experience like? What did you do in the meantime?

Tiana: When I had to stop skating because of my injury I was heartbroken and I honestly didn’t think I would really pick it back up again.I started running track at that point and actual ended up getting a track scholarship for college. Even though I was sad about not being able to skate anymore, I was very grateful that I was able to find something else that I really enjoyed doing.

Tiffany: What brought you back to the ice?

Tiana: Once I graduated from college I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and I decided to audition for a couple smaller ice shows. I really liked being a part of those shows so I decided to apply to Disney and 5 years later, here I am.

Tiffany: How did your studies in college help you in your profession as a figure skater?

Tiana: I double majored in French and International Studies, and I think both helped to open my eyes to different people and cultures. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to so many different countries, since I joined Disney on Ice, and I think my studies in college really helped me to appreciate those experiences even more.

Tiffany: What do you enjoy most about your job and touring with the show?

Tiana: I enjoy so many things about this job. Skating has been my passion since I was a little girl, so to be able to do it as a profession is amazing! I love performing for the audiences. It’s always really fun to watch everyone’s faces light up when they see their favorite characters come to life on the ice. I also really enjoy the travel aspect of the job. When we’re on a domestic tour we go to a different city every week, and it’s nice to be able to visit cities I’ve never been to before. I’ve also been able to tour overseas and I love that because I’ve been able to go to so many countries that I probably would have never gone to otherwise.

Tiffany: Until Tiana, African American princesses didn’t have a place in Disney’s movies. How does feel to represent for girls of color in that way?

Tiana: I feel really honored to be able to portray such an important character. I think it’s important for little girls to see themselves represented on the ice and I’m so excited to show them what they are capable of achieving.

Tiffany: What do you and Princess Tiana have in common?

Tiana: Princess Tiana is a very hard worker. She sets a goal and even though she faces challenges and obstacles she perseveres and eventually realizes her dream of owning her own restaurant. I like to think I possess the same hard-working qualities. Growing up I had to work very hard at skating and learning how to manage my time between skating and school. And once I decided to pick skating back up again I had to really focus and relearn skills that were once second nature to me. It’s really exciting to be able to portray a character that really resonates with me!

Disney on Ice Presents: Follow Your Heart is coming to Royal Farms Arena October 27-30, 2016.