T&T Student Math Phenom

For a large number of us the subject of Mathematics, does not hold a favorite spot in our educational memories .
It often brings to mind, anxiety, stress and one would even say painful thoughts of not being at our best.
The mortal I am, knows the feeling all so well. It is a subject that those that love it, seem not to understand, how the rest of us can’t seem to get it.
Well we just can’t it seem.
So when I had the privilege of meeting young Math genius Adolphus Daniel Jr, it was like wow. And wow again.
At the tender age of 10-years-old Adolphus got a perfect 800 score at the U.S College Board SAT Math Level 2 Subject test last year. Now this is a selective math exam used to determine the best of the best math students in the world. And yes, he became the youngest to ace it. His father Adolphus Daniel Sr told me a week ago that he wanted him to write it at 9-years-old but the SAT administration would not allow him because of his age. And according to him, the SAT administration said the restriction was to protect children from overzealous parents like him. But the restriction was removed after the family launched a campaign called The Dolphy Project to gather support for him to write the exam.
Before the SAT, he also aced the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) mathematics exam in 2015. And although he does not have his career path nail-down yet, he knows it with will be in the math and sciences. This eloquent and soft spoken Trinidad and Tobago student one can say is well on his way to making more history.

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Grace Jones, Shabba Ranks,Chaka Khan

 

Eccentric, groundbreaking, triumphant and tumultuous may all be words to describe Grace Jones, Shabba Ranks or Chaka Khan , at some point in their illustrious careers.

All have had long career breaks, but their enduring personalities remain a pull, and of recent all three are on the comeback.

When I saw Jones at JFK Airport this month, I did not immediately recognize her. She was dressed in all black, in an outfit resembling aviation pioneer Ameila Earhart – hat included.

It was true Jones. Whatever your views of her are, she knows how to make an entrance.  Immediately I thought of her movies ‘Conan the Destroyer’ and ‘Boomerang’. Of course I began to detail her movies to her and she was quite indulgent, repeating signature phrases from Boomerang. She told me to look out for her new documentary and to buy ‘I’ll Never Write My Memoirs’ her recent book and departed with a hand-shake.

And sometimes you have to pay your way to that celebrity access.

I could not pass up an opportunity to hear my feel-good song, ‘Through the Fire’ by Khan. So I paid the $60, after discount, for the May 13 fundraiser at Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts. Khan is currently working on a series of mixed media visual works and a new CD for release this year, says the Center.

Well, I did not get to hear ‘Through the Fire’, but ‘Everlasting Love’, ‘Naughty’, ‘Tell me Something Good’, ‘Sweet Thing’, ‘Ain’t Nobody’, and the powerful ‘I’m Every Woman’ made up for it. I cannot say if the two unexpected restroom breaks prevented me from hearing my feel-good song. Or her heavy emphasis on her 70s songs. But my friend and her mother who were enjoying a pre-mother’s day outing enjoyed the experience. And being serenaded by the legendary 10 time Grammy winner who can complain.

And in April on his way to Trinidad and Tobago I met Jamaican Artist Rexton Rawlston Fernando Gordon aka ‘Mr Loverman’ also at JFK.  It was a fleeting contact that I made the best of. “I love your music,” I said, as he passed with his wife Michelle. ‘There is more coming,’ he said. I remember 90s hits like ‘Ting-A-Ling’ and ‘Twice my Age’ hits that define dancehall at the time. Of course he had hits like ‘Bedroom Bully’ and ‘Mr Loverman’, the question now is what lyrics can we expect. The legendary Ranks was the first to win a Grammy for his genre.

And so we wait!

Jamaican Ballet and Moko Jumbie

By Nicosia Smith

A story of folk songs, reggae and dancehall music is wonderfully told through graceful and skillful dancing.

When watching the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica (NDTC) you get an authentic, down-to-earth Caribbean experience through dance.

Choreographer Renee McDonald, ‘Into The Blue’ (2015), revised 2016, reveals a beautiful mixture of Caribbean integration. Nineteen dancers in blue danced as if the ocean pursued. It was a scene of battles lost and won at sea. Their fluid movements created a lot of waves that took you through the waters with them. The powerful dance moves, although distinctly Caribbean got a twist with official soundtracks from the movies ‘Gravity‘ and ‘Kung Fu Panda‘. To become a ballerina it takes years of training, some dancers begin at 4-years-old. But after seeing this piece these dancers have what it takes for ballet. I believe it should be the next step the company takes.

However, this will take more than just will but on the ground support.

Dance, culture and the arts must become more meaningful to the Caribbean populous. Our love for dance must transform our focus to demand more from our entertainment than street corner parties. It means we must support formal dance projects.

But back to NDTC.

NDTC co-Founder Rex Nettleford choreographed ‘Gerrehbenta’ an all traditional Caribbean folk piece. The folk singing, dancing and drumming in Gerrehbenta is charged with traditions, namely African ones. This piece showcase’s to its fullest that part of the Caribbean culture that was adopted from Africa.

It reminds us of a people brought to the Caribbean against their will. And reflex the content of their minds and the fight in their spirits to survive. I like that even the cloth around the waist and necks of the dancers were interwoven into the piece, as skirts flared and pants waist were tighten. In the center of this dance is a long moko-jumbie like character, with a cow-like mask a-top the colorfully clothed stick frame. The NDTC noted that the dance takes its name from two of the major traditional rites practiced in Jamaica, ‘gerreh’ in Hanover and ‘dinky-mini’ which uses the musical instrument, the benta, in St. Mary.

We have some ways to go to have the Caribbean’s distinct cultural dance styles achieve global recognition but certainly the NDTC is doing their part. And the audience last month at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College felt the same, judging by the thunderous applauding.

 

A Tiger Woods experience

By Nicosia Smith

It’s Spring in New York City and I was going to meet Tiger Woods.

Yes, the Woods.

The occasion, a Barnes and Nobel Event at 33rd East 17th Street.

Excitement bubbling, I entered the book store, I was already late for the 12:30p.m. event, or so I thought. A poster declared, signing on the Fourth Floor, so I confirmed with the book seller.

However, with sincere firmness I was told the signing was closed. For a moment that sounded strange.

So I kept probing. I asked! So no one else is allowed into the event. A resounding ‘no’, I got. My heart sunk. I heard the bookseller vaguely saying – at 9a,m. the store began sharing wrist bands, 300 bands were shared, allowing Woods to sign two books per person.

How naïve can someone be, I thought. How naïve could I be? Could this really have been a free-for-all event, even on International Happiness Day.

I circled in the store. Pondering, strategizing, rethinking and planning my next move.

I was not the only one trying to get in. Others were too. I got as far as the entrance to the Fourth Floor. A wired security guard was checking for wrist bands.

I watched.

There must be a way, I thought. Seeing Woods may be off the table, but maybe, I can get a signed book. Determined, I went to buy a book. Selling the book, the bookseller reiterated, I will not get it signed. I bought the book.

I returned to the escalator, at the ascent of the Fourth Floor. But who can get it signed for me?

The first person I asked, did not hear me or so I thought. Another man I asked was willing but already had two books. I changed to the other side of the escalator.

it was getting closer to 1 p.m. The event was closing at 2p.m.

I was desperate and I needed a bathroom break. As a slender man came-by with one book in hand – I made a move. I reached out my book pleadingly. Looking at the security he wanted confirmation to take it. Sensing his agitation I yelled, ‘you are allowed to have two books signed’. Satisfied he took the book. “Are you going to wait for it,” he asked, ‘Yes I said’. trying not to shout, ‘are you kidding me, you bet I am waiting’. “Do you know him,’ a man looking on asked, ‘No’, I replied. He too was trying to see Woods.

I moved to the descending end of the escalator and waited. I waited, waited and I waited!

Children, parents, grandparents and entire families came down. Lawn chairs, lunch bags and blankets in hand. The press interviewed, photographers shoot and book scalpers sought to buy the signed books. By this time, I was painfully awear that I could not withstand nature’s call much longer. But not wanting to leave I prayed the wait would end. I kept trying to remember the exact description of the kind man – blue flannel shirt and tall. Panic stepped in, is that all! Should I be remembering something else I asked myself.

I hope he does not take off the flannel shirt, I hope he remembered me and I hope I am not going to be ‘stiffed’. One man shouted toward the escalator: “How does he look?” Holding his signed book, “buff,” the man respond. Descending, they gently hugged their books, some smiled, proclaiming Woods’ generosity. In my mind I though, Woods must be tired. By now he had signed hundreds of books. One hour had passed.

But where is my book? Where is my book?

Then I saw him, to say I was happy to see him would be an understatement. I was ecstatic, thrilled and kept smiling at him as he descended the escalator. Looking at me, a slender man in blue fannel shirt, he remembered. Thank you, thank you, I said. As I held the book, I realized that I do not know his name – I forgot to ask him his name, but I will always remember him – my Tiger Woods replacement.

“The 1997 Masters-My Story,” by Tiger Woods with Lorne Rubenstein, will always mark International Happiness Day for me.

 

 

Hi Misty

 

By Nicosia Smith

Her glorious stresses spilling over her shoulder, did not hide that signature smile.

Prima, Ballerina.

Misty Copeland.

Standing behind a packed seating area on the Fourth Floor at the Barnes and Nobel Event, I listen.

American Ballet Theatre’s (ABT) first black principal dancer, was enthralling all with her eloquence. It is an astronomical achievement for Copeland, who accomplished what many before her did not. And even she admitted, during conversation with Damaris Lewis, her struggles. ‘It’s hard to accept that people can judge you base on something you have no control over’, Copeland said, speaking on her skin color.

Nevertheless she stressed, ‘I think it is important for me to represent’.

One cannot deny that ballet companies are very white. It took 75 years for ABT, one of three major companies in America, to make that ‘principal move.

It was a joy to see the numerous kids and parents in the audience. Their smiles and giggles of excitement could not be hid. As they held ‘Firebird’ dolls and books. Neither did they shy away from the microphone, asking a barrage of questions.

One wanted to know when she will take the stage again. Copeland in her signature “Hi,” before every response explain, ‘It’s so hard…I needed a year off’. Next month, she is set to perform ‘Giselle’, in Mascat, Oman. And the follow up, how does she remain motivated to continue dancing?

“I love what I do, I love going on stage and performing.”

Debbie Allen Dance Academy dancer enquired when she met the iconic Allen. At around 14-years-old, Copeland recall, she worked with Allen in the Chocolate Nutcracker playing Clare, while Allen played Oz. That was in her second year as a classical dancer. Allen is a pioneer in the field of contemporary dance.

On March 20, I attended the Tiger Woods signing, and Copeland’s the next day. At the first, scalpers were trying to buy books, wired security guards blocked the Fourth Floor entrance, suits milled around with strict wrist band enforcement.

No such thing at Copeland’s signing, even at 7p.m. – opening time, I could still  purchase a book and get a wrist band. What a difference a day makes.

And then it was time.

  • “Hi Misty,” I said, and there was that signature smile saying with a raspy slightly hoarse voice, “Hi.”

Signed “Ballerina Body,” by Misty Copeland in hand, I walked off the stage with a satisfied feeling.

 

 

From Jukebox to Haitian Jazz

Emeline Michel speaking with fans after performing at the Brooklyn Public Library. (Nicosia Smith photo)

Emeline Michel speaking with fans after performing at the Brooklyn Public Library. (Nicosia Smith photo)

 

By Nicosia Smith

In great weather, what does an art and culture lover do, get out.

Howbeit my umbrella was necessary towards the end of the day.

My first stop was at the Schomburg Center in Harlem to view ‘Motown: The Truth is a Hit’. It was like treading on familiar territory.

Last year I attended Motown, the Broadway musical, which is the same name of the label founded by Berry Gordy Jr., in 1959. This exhibit traces, chronologically, the growth of the Motown sound, complete with songs playing in the background. While the musical gave a much wider spread of the events leading up to the creation of Motown, the exhibition gives snippets. Life size photos of the Supreme, Marvin Gaye, Jackson 5, Mary Wells, the Temptations and many others told this Motown story.

However, the exhibit did delve into the latter years of Motown. That is, showcasing pop singers like Vanity and Lionel Richie. If you can, it’s best to see the musical and also view the exhibit which runs through July 26.

Then it was off to Brooklyn.

To an evening of intoxicating lyrics, that took me from the American Jukebox, to the Caribbean island of Haiti.

International Haitian Jazz singer Emeline Michel kicked off the Central Brooklyn Jazz Festival at Brooklyn Central Library. Jazz is not her only genre; she combines Haitian compas and rara, in pop, samba and bossa nova.

Michel sings in French and Haitian Creole combining these rhythms to create her unique sound.

It is an intoxicating soulful infusion of instruments (piano, guitar, and drums) that gives a powerful yet smooth blues/jazz feel. This is complimented by Michel’s voice – that takes you up to a high or simmer you down low. And at times leaves you within yourself to contemplate. It’s the type of sound that makes you want to sing, dance and listen all at once.

And if you do not know Haitian Creole or French, no problem, you will feel as if you know what is being said. Michel is also very good at explaining the concepts behind her songs, which covers from the personal, social to the political. And moving to her lyrics comes natural, as I found out.

Both the Schomburg and Central Library have continuing events and I will be keeping my ears to the ground.

It’s a blessing when you can absorb your surroundings and learn from things around you.

 

 

The beauty of a black and white drawing

A portrait by Morgan Sparks Smith (Image of his brother Marvin according to Swann Auction Galleries records.)

A portrait by Morgan Sparks Smith (Image of his brother Marvin according to Swann Auction Galleries records.)

“The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper from a passing shape, ” P. Picasso

By Nicosia Smith

A seemingly simple art form, yet exquisite in its detail, form and simplicity.

It’s always an amazement how equally griping black and white images are. That is, when we take a break from color paintings.

So I considered it a good contrast when Swann Auction Galleries,

104 East 25th St, this month featured the black and white images

along side full color paintings.

In Swann’s, Shadows Uplifted: The Rise of African-American Fine Art, noted black and whites included:

  •  Charles White (1918-1979) Pensive Lass, Charcoal on illustration board, 1936
  •  Allan Rohan Crite (1910-2007) The Last Super
  •  Aaron Douglas (1888-1979) Snow Storm, Charcoal on woven paper, circa 1950-1955
  •  Morgan Sparks Smith (1910-1993) Portrait, Charcoal on thin laid paper, 1934

In Douglas’s, Snow Storm, the light and soft strokes beautifully depicted a snow storm, as the wind churned the snow toward the nearby trees and homes.

And even from the lone visible figure in the image, one can see the distress, as they battle the strong winds.

As I confront the current brutal winter in NYC, I have a greater appreciation for this piece.

There is just something about a natural clear image, laid bare with raw emotions. Truly a pleasure.

The self portraits are a beautiful example of this. So one and all, bring on the black and white selfies, as well.

Charles White, Pensive Lass (Head of a Woman)

Charles White, Pensive Lass (Head of a Woman)

Now, the exhibit had other noted big hitters in African-American contemporary art. Whose works include bronze sculptures, oil on masonite board and watercolors like :

  •  Claude Clerk (1915-2001)
  •  William H. Johnson (1901-1970)
  •  Augusta Savage (1892-1962)
  •  William A. Harper (1873-1910)
  •  Hale Woodruff (1900-1980)
  •  William Edouard Scott (1884-1964)
  •  Hughie Lee-Smith (1915-1999)
  •  William E. Artis (1914-1977)

It’s sometimes good to enjoy the simple and uncomplicated, just a thought.

Remembering Brooklyn Abolitionist Ties

Frank Decker (Nicosia Smith photo)

Frank Decker (Nicosia Smith photo)

By Nicosia Smith

Black history month is here and with it a long list of programs and events.

So, of course, I am not going to miss out.

My first event was the Brooklyn Abolitionists/In Pursuit of Freedom discussion at the Brooklyn Historical Society.

Frank Decker, Author of “Brooklyn Plymouth Church in the Civil War Era: A Ministry of Freedom,” and Lois Rosebrooks, who assisted Decker, spoke on the book.

At 75 Hicks Street, Brooklyn, stands Plymouth Church at its original location from 1847.

Decker explained how Plymouth Church under the leadership of Henry Ward Beecher, stood behind abolitionist and the abolition movement.

Plymouth had major support from its congregation, like Member Harriet Beecher Stowe author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

This breakthrough novel on slavery explain the conditions of the enslaved and helped to garner support.

The church’s involvement in the underground railroad, gain Plymouth the name, “Grand Central Depot.”

Escaped slaves went to Canada (where it was illegal to return salves) and to Northern states like New York, and to Brooklyn.

Between 1860-1865, Brooklyn was the third largest city in the US.

Plymouth Church basement hid many fugitives (escaped slaves).

Not to say that slavery sympathizers did not have their way as well. Escaped slaves risk being kidnapped in the North.

So all was not well in Brooklyn or the rest of the North. (As seen in the picture below.) As the popular film 12 Years a Slave testifies to.

The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act allowed federal marshals to cross state lines and arrest suspected fugitives. Exhibit at the Brooklyn Historical Society (Nicosia Smith photo)

The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act allowed federal marshals to cross state lines and arrest suspected fugitives. Exhibit at the Brooklyn Historical Society (Nicosia Smith photo)

Brooklyn’s diverse population also brought its own problems. As the civil war raged, tension grew between the marginalized groups in Brooklyn,

That is, the Irish and Africans.

The tensions lead to violence, like the Tobacco Factory Riots in Brooklyn in August 1862 and the Draft Riots in Manhattan in July 1863.

Then Union victory came in 1865 and the Thirteenth Amendment ending slavery, followed by the reconstruction period.

There is much to learn about that period, and to what I like to say, deconstruct how it all went down.

The Historical Society throughout February will host an exhibit and review short films on civil rights and slavery, in an attempt to do just that.

So if you can try to attend a few.