Don’t Stop Believin’ – Formerly Homeless Journey Lead Singer and Harvard Student

5 10 2009

The early 80s Journey song “Don’t Stop Believin” was sung on the Oprah show today by their amazing new lead singer (and formerly homeless person in the Phillippines) Arnel Pineda, who was discovered by one of the band members in a video Arnel posted on YouTube. Arnel, who had to fend for himself on the streets after his encouraging mother died when he was 13, is a testament to the power of those words, now living a life he says is way bigger than he could ever have imagined.

The song provided a perfect setup for the story of Khadijah, an African-American young woman who was homeless from the time she was six and slept with her mother and sister in bus stations, on the streets, and in many Khadijah - Homeless to Harvard (Oprah website)shelters. She attended 12 schools in 12 years and was encouraged by her mother to better her life through education. She took this advice to heart, studying hard, and spending a lot of time in the Los Angeles Public Library reading every book she could.

When Khadijah was in the 10th grade, she was determined to finish out her schooling at Jefferson High School, and got up at 4:30 a.m. every day to make the two-hour trip from Skid Row in Los Angeles to school. In May she graduated with honors and is now a freshman at Harvard University. Here’s part of the essay she wrote as part of her admission process. You can read the entire essay at Oprah.com:

Being homeless has given me the skills I need to succeed on the pathway towards my higher education pursuits and life-long goals. My experiences have made me a dedicated student both inside and outside of the classroom. I do not let anything stop me from achieving my goals. Hearing such negativity where I have lived has enabled me to focus on my goals and remain optimistic, even when faced with grave adversity. Having to depend on myself for food has enabled me to take charge of my education. I have learned to be resourceful and diligent and I am confident in saying that I am a very self-motivated and determined individual that will stop at nothing to receive an education. When I go to college, I know that this acquired knowledge and skills will enable me to succeed in whatever I do.

Oprah was so moved by Khadijah’s story that she invited Khadijah to accompany her the next time she visits the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa and tell her inspiring story to the girls there.

Arnel and Khadijah…two formerly homeless people with little to hope for. They both had mothers who believed in them and encouraged them, they both believed in themselves, and they both were willing to work hard to achieve their dreams.

No matter what your situation, no matter how hard or hopeless it may be, don’t stop believing. You never know what miracle is waiting for you!

Here’s Arnel and Journey…

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Chris Gardner and The Pursuit of Happyness

14 06 2009
Chris Gardner, Jaden, and Will Smith

Chris Gardner, Jaden, and Will Smith

I heard the powerful, and formerly homeless, Chris Gardner speak at the Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration in Austin on January 20, 2007. His booming voice and charismatic personality filled the large hall during his talk and enthralled me when I shook his hand afterward.

Chris is best known as the subject of the 2006 $300 million+ grossing movie “The Pursuit of Happyness.” The movie, for which Will Smith won an Academy Award nomination and Golden Globe award, is based on Chris’ New York Times #1 best selling book The Pursuit of Happyness. Jaden Smith, Will’s Son, plays Chris’ son in the movie.

The book details Gardner’s remarkable life journey. In his early years, he had to deal with poverty, domestic violence, alcoholism, sexual abuse, and family illiteracy. He had a violent, physically abusive step-father who beat him and his mother frequently and nearly killed her. His mother was imprisoned twice…once for trying to burn down their house with his step-father in it. He was put in foster care twice and was eventually adopted by relatives.

He became a hospital corpsman in the Navy and afterward, went on to become a research lab assistant in San Francisco and a medical equipment salesman. He left his wife to live with dental student Jackie Medina, with whom he had his first child Christopher Jr. in January 1981.

One day he encounted a well-dressed man (Bob Bridges) with a red Ferrari and asked him what he did. Bob told Chris that he was a stock broker and at that moment, Chris decided that’s what he wanted to do. On the very day that he had an interview (which Bob arranged), he had just gotten out of a 10-day stay in prison due to $1,200 in parking tickets he could not pay. Jackie had accused him of beating her (which he still denies) and disappeared along with all of his possessions and their child. He showed up at his interview wearing the casual clothes on his back and with no formal education or experience, got into the training program at Dean Witter Reynolds.

Chris Gardner and Son 1984

Chris Gardner and Son 1984

Through hard work, he was the top trainee and got his license and a job at Bear Stearns. After four months, Jackie returned with his son and Chris gained custody of him. Still not making much money and without the knowledge of his co-workers, Chris and his son were homeless for a year. They spent nights in a bathroom at the transit station, his office, at flophouses, and at parks. Eventually they were allowed to stay at the Glide shelter for homeless women while he saved money for a place for them to live.

In 1987, after just five years and with just $10,000, Chris started his own brokerage firm called Gardner Rich in Chicago. He sold part of his stake in the firm for several million dollars in 2006 and became founder and CEO of Christopher Gardner International Holdings.

Chris Gardner and Nelson Mandela

Chris Gardner and Nelson Mandela

Chris is a remarkable man who is making many positive things happen in the world. He met with Nelson Mandela and is working on a venture in South Africa that will bring hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars into the country.

Chris has helped out Glide, which gave him and his son shelter, and helped fund $50 million to build homeless low-income housing and provide emnployment to homeless people in San Francisco, where he was once homeless. He is involved in other philanthropic ventures, serves on several non-profit boards, and has received many awards, including the National Fatherhood Initiative’s Father of the Year honor.

Gardner’s second book, Start Where You Are: Life Lessons in Getting From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, was published on May 12, 2009. Today the 55-year-old Chris Gardner, who also has a daughter Jacintha who was born in 1985, is worth an estimated $165 million.

 Thomas Jefferson penned these words in the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Despite unbelievable odds, Chris Gardner has worked hard and lived his life by these words. You can find out more about Chris on his website at www.ChrisGardnerMedia.com.

See this bigger-than-life, charismatic man in action in this video of Chris giving the commencement speech about a new vision of the American Dream at UC Berkeley on 5/22/09.

I’m so glad I met him. He gives me hope for our country and inspires me.

 





Who Wants to Buy a Slumdog Millionaire Actress?

19 04 2009
That’s what 9-year-old Rubina Ali’s impoverished father Rafiq Qureshi is asking. He’s offering her for sale. An undercover team from News of the World, self-described as “Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper featuring the best news, showbiz and sport exclusives,” traveled to Dubai after receiving a tip from someone close to Rubina’s family and posed as a wealthy Dubai family interested in illegally purchasing the girl.
 
Uncle, Undercover Team, Rubina's father (to her left), Rubina Ali

Uncle, Undercover Team, Rubina's father (to her left), Rubina Ali

One Middle Eastern family has legitimately offered to adopt the girl, but her father has gotten greedy and wants 200,000 pounds for her now (equal to $294,880 in dollars).

The News of the World article points out the father’s utter lack of concern of what could happen to his daughter if she were sold:

Trafficking of poor Indian children to the Middle East, where they are forced to risk their lives as camel jockeys or subjected to sexual abuse, is common in the Mumbai slums. But that did not deter Rafiq.

Children are often seen as commodities in poor areas of India and other countries and parents are left with difficult choices. Rubina’s father said: “We live in one room, seven of us sleep on the floor. I earn £2 to £3 a day. I have to consider what’s best for me, my family and Rubina’s future.”

It is difficult to imagine living in such poverty as the people who live in the Mumbai slums. If you have seen the movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” you got a glimpse of how they live…and of how Rubina lives.

Rubina’s father is being an opportunist. He knows that she can attract the attention of wealthy people who can give her a better life. In that regard, he is no different from the father of Madonna’s Malawi child giving his son up for Madonna to adopt so he could have a better life. Rafiq Qureshi also sees this as his one chance in life to provide for himself and the rest of his family.

To raffle his child off to the highest bidder sends chills up my spine. It is to see a child as an object…something to sell to get money. I think of the preciousness of a daughter…the hopes for her future, the love she gives and brings to the family, the delight in seeing her grow up and develop into her own person, the pride in knowing that she came from you, etc….I cannot imagine under any circumstance selling her or giving her up.

Is this what poverty does? Harden people to the point that they don’t see children and women as precious? Or is there something in the character and genetics of people…people who are so callous and selfish and money-grubbing that they would sell their own daughter even in the face that she could be prostituted…that leads to their poverty? Can one be so bankrupt in morals and love and basic caring for a child and also expect to live in anything but poverty? Don’t the two go hand in hand?

To realize the preciousness of a child is to see oneself as abundant. All the riches in the world come with having a child. And to see a child only as something to be sold means that the poor cannot see true abundance when they have it and will never truly attain it.

UPDATE 4/21/09: The producers of the Slumdog Millionaire movie have now hired a social worker to look after Rubina after this happened. Rubina’s father has been arrested and there is a huge uproar about this in India. Rubina’s biological mother is demanding custody of Rubina.

UPDATE 4/22/09: Officials have released Rubina’s father and say they have no proof he tried to sell her.





Susan Boyle – A Wake-up Call

17 04 2009

Matronly, unstylish, shy, double chinned, unassuming. If you passed her on susan-boylethe street, you may not have looked twice. She would be invisible to most people. Middle aged. Looking older than her 47 years. Not beautiful. Ordinary.

The judges of Britain’s Got Talent – Simon Cowell (also judge on American Idol), Amanda Holden (actress), and Piers Morgan (also judge on America’s Got Talent and winner last year of Celebrity Apprentice) rolled their eyes. Surely this frumpy looking woman had nothing to offer. They judged her on her looks.

And then she opened her mouth and it was as if an angel was singing. The looks on the judges’ faces said it all…shock, awe, delight, sheer joy. The crowd went wild. After she sang, judge Amanda Holden summed up what everyone was feeling by saying:

I am so thrilled because I know that everybody was against you. I honestly think that we were all being very cynical and I think that’s the biggest wake-up call ever. I just want to say that it was a complete privilege listening to that.

We know now that Susan had oxygen deprivation at birth and had learning disabilities. That helps to understand the simple mindedness of this woman who kept her cheeriness despite the obvious initial jeers against her.

It’s a reminder not to judge a book by its cover and that sheer magic can come from people in all kind of packages (bodies).

Of course, it should come as no surprise to anyone that there is still a double standard in what people will accept in a woman’s looks vs. a man’s. The New York Times has an article today about how there are many heftier men stars now and they still get roles in movies. Not so for women.

While most of the comments left on YouTube of her singing are overwhelmingly positive, there are those that show the cruelty and prejudice of people:

  • “bitch u ugly as fuck! u ugly as sin! ur ugly!”
  • “she ugly”

Why do people feel a need to hurt people like that and judge people by how they look? Was it a wake-up call to you? Did you judge the never-been-kissed Susan Boyle before she opened her mouth?

Here she is…a total YouTube sensation, featured on the Today Show, Oprah, and so many other shows. Enjoy!





Chris Brown: A Witness to Violence, A Perpetrator of Violence

11 02 2009

As a child, Chris Brown says that he witnessed his mother being beaten. Now he’s the one who did the beating.

REUTERS

Chris Brown and Rihanna Performing - Photo: REUTERS

Less than 24 hours before mega R&B 19-year-old star Chris Brown was to be one of the featured acts at the Grammys, he allegedly (and there doesn’t seem to be much alleged about it) punched his equally mega star girlfriend Rihanna (who was also to perform at the Grammys) in the face, bit her, and caused some horrible damage to her after an argument. Both cancelled their Grammy performances on the biggest night in music when they were both going to have the chance to shine with millions of people watching.

Here is strong example of how violence against children or in a children’s presence takes a toll on them. Yesterday I wrote a post about corporal punishment in schools and the affect that has on children. In 2006 the United Nations published a study on violence against children. In it, they state that:

Studies from many countries in all regions of the world suggest that up to 80 to 98 percent of children suffer physical punishment in their homes, with a third or more experiencing severe physical punishment resulting from the use of implements.

Think about it. 80 to 98% of children across the world are physically harmed in their homes. DISTURBING. The report discusses the affects of this violence:

Physical violence is often accompanied by psychological violence. Insults, name-calling, isolation, rejection, threats, emotional indifference, and belittling are all forms of violence that can be detrimental to a child’s psychological development and well-being— especially when it comes from a respected adult such as a parent. It is of critical importance that parents be encouraged to employ exclusively nonviolent methods of discipline.

In addition to the physical and emotional damage done to children from being abused themselves, the report states that 133 to 275 million children worldwide are estimated to witness domestic violence annually and this takes a toll:

The exposure of children to violence in their homes on a frequent basis, usually through fights between parents or between a mother and her partner can severely affect a child’s well-being, personal development, and social interaction in childhood and adulthood. Intimate partner violence also increases the risk of violence against children in the family….

This is what Chris Brown says he experienced for years as a child…watching his mother being beaten by his step-father. He said it made him scared, timid, and he wet the bed. A child never forgets having witnessed or experienced abuse. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that it stays in your mind, in your emotions, and in your body.

When will people…and especially parents…all over the world wake up and learn that you can not be violent toward a child and expect it to have no affect on the child? Violence begets violence and/or anger, withdrawal, sadness, depression, and much more. Why are so many people in the world so angry that we take it out on a child or hurt each other in a child’s presence? When will it stop?

UPDATE: Today Chris Brown was charged with two felonies in conjunction with this: that of assault and of making criminal threats. CNN has a report of the extent of the assault and it’s shockingly worse than anyone thought. I really like Chris Brown as an artist and he seemed like a decent guy. This is totally unacceptable. He really needs to get some serious help and serving jail time would send a loud message that it is not okay to assault someone…even if it is your girlfriend.





Mike Farrell: From B.J. on M*A*S*H to Caring Activist

10 11 2008

Mike Farrell was B.J. Hunnicutt on M*A*S*H from 1975 to 1983. The series, which gave us insight into the difficulties of a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in the Korean War and how the surgeons and nurses used humor to deal with the grim realities, premiered on 9/17/72 and ended 2/28/83.

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