Women and Black History Month

Women and Black History Month

I watched last night as Viola Davis accepted her best supporting actress Oscar for her performance in Fences. She is the first black star to win an Oscar, Emmy and Tony for acting. Bravo!

Oscar nominated film Hidden Figures star, Taraji Henson, who plays the role of Katherine Johnson, brought the real NASA physicist Katherine Johnson out on stage.  Johnson, now 98, made history as one of the first black women involved in the space race during the 1960’s. The film, an adaptation of Margot Shetterly’s book, tells the story of a group of NASA engineers, all black women, and how they computed the math that sent John Glenn into orbit. Henson, along with Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae did a fabulous job of making this piece of history finally come to life on the big screen. If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie you should do both. My favorite film this year.

Throughout time there has been a long list of black women who have fought for freedom, made political and business history, and continue to fight for their right to inclusion and diversity in society today. In this country and countries throughout the world, black women continue to play a critical role in the past, present and future of our history.

A few that come to mind for me:

Hattie McDaniel was a 1940’s actress and radio personality.  She was the first black woman to win an Oscar for her performance in Gone With the Wind.

Rosa Parks, one of the most influential women in the fight for racial equality, refused to give up her seat on that Montgomery bus, leading to the desegregation of buses across the country.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is the world’s first elected black female President and Africa’s first female Head of State. Liberia has continued to move in a better direction since she took office. Ms. Shirleaf helped my friend, Katie Meyler, build her first school for girls in Liberia.

Maya Angelou was an actress, screenwriter and director who became a legendary poet and award-winning author. Her book, I Know Why The Caged Bird Cries, remains one of the most inspiring autobiographies of all time.

Dame Eugenia Charles, better known as Mamo, was the first female Prime Minister of Dominica. She was a tough woman who survived a coup led by the Ku Klux Klan and went on to reshape her country.

Madame CJ Walker, born to slaves in Louisiana, became the first black millionaire businesswoman with her successful line of hair care products. Her philanthropic efforts included donations to the YMCA and NAACP.

Dorothy Height, one of the organizers of the 1963 March on Washington was the only woman seated on the speaker’s platform.  She spent decades working for racial equality and women’s rights.

Ella Baker held posts with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the NAACP during the Civil Rights Movement.  She helped to organize the 1961 Freedom Rides, fighting segregation and promoted black voter registration during the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964.

This is just a short, very incomplete list of the many black women who have made significant contributions in history.

In the United States, Black history month is an important part of our nation’s tradition helping to create awareness of the historic challenges African Americans have faced and continue to face today. But, should we only be reminded of this rich history during the month of February?  There are a number of museums and institutions that offer a year-round opportunity to learn more about our African American history.   As Morgan Freeman once said, “I don’t want a Black history month.  Black history is American history.” He makes a very good point.

Peace and Love,

Melissa

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks Zac

Thanks Zac

Making a film is an amazing experience. Sometimes I feel like I won the lottery.  To learn something new at my age is exhilarating and exhausting in a good way.  This past year has been a tremendous opportunity to test myself, make mistakes, correct them and feel a great sense of accomplishment.

I just got back last night from Arizona where we filmed the Sun City Poms, a rather famous cheerleading group, all between 55-85 years of age. It was a long trip with a major flight delay getting out of Philly, but we made it in time to get some sleep and wake up early for our first interview of the day. Actually a rooster woke us all up at 4 am, but that’s another story!

Traveling with an experienced crew is awesome.   I travel with a Director of Photography, a Second Camera person, a Sound Mixer and a Production Manager. Each plays an integral role in the filming of the subjects and uses multiple pieces of equipment to ensure we get exactly what we need. I can’t begin to describe the amount of equipment that goes into a film shoot like ours.  I wish I had taken a picture of it all gathered together in the many shipping containers, special cases, etc.  Hours are spent packing, unpacking, building and dismantling cameras and other equipment.  It is a major process for each crew member.

Zac, one of the owners of Expressway Productions, is our Director of Photography, or DP. He has been with me since the beginning of the project and truly understands what I am looking for when interviewing the women.  He manages the rest of the crew to ensure lighting, sound and alternative film shots are capturing all possibilities.  Aside from that he is the “King of B-Roll.”  That stands for background footage.  No matter where we are, or who we are shooting, there is ample time set aside to capture film footage related to the subject we are covering.  A most recent example: picture me driving a 12-Passenger van/bus (the kind that almost needs a ladder to enter) slowly through the streets of Sun City, AZ with a huge camera set on a tripod, touching my right shoulder and completely blocking my view to the right.  The lens is pointed out the front windshield and is capturing the neighborhoods, the orange trees and the senior citizens on golf carts.  This goes on for an hour or two until Zac feels we have enough footage. On occasion he asks me to stop and he hops out, grabs another camera for a close up shot of a sign he likes.  Little pieces of this footage will make it into the film.  I love waiting to see what catches his eye.

Zac is a perfectionist.  He does not quit until he gets the lighting just right or the shot framed exactly as he wants it.  I watch him.  He’s watching the light fade to night and he is springing into action to go outside and secure a light panel against a picture window.  That amount of light coming in through the blinds keeps the lighting consistent and we go on. By the end of the filming, forgetting about the panel,  I am tricked into thinking it is still light outside.

We ended our second day of filming in AZ with the Wickenburg Rodeo Days Parade.  Two and a half miles. Zac, Ian and Sean walked, jogged and ran the distance getting shots of the Sun City Poms from every possible angle. Sometimes they wore harnesses that held their heavy equipment, sometimes not.  They kept up with the 80 year old baton twirler and the rest of the Poms, with an average age of 74, performing to the tune of Achy Breaky Heart. It was quite a sight. I don’t know who amazed me more, the Poms or our camera crew.

I have no doubt that when I begin editing the many hours of footage from Sun City it will all be good and once again I will have trouble choosing what to use in the segment. Stay tuned!

Thanks Zac, for being a great partner and a truly exceptional DP.

Have a great day!

Love, Melissa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is Something About Vermont

There is Something About Vermont

I have lived in a number of states and climates throughout my lifetime. I have been fortunate to have visited all but two states in the U.S. and several different countries. That said, I feel justified from an experience standpoint to say “there is something about Vermont.”  Those of you who know me have often heard me say I wished I was still there.

My family moved to Vermont when I was entering 10th grade.  I wasn’t happy about it then as you may imagine. Coming from a more urban area it was an adjustment. Walking into a new high school, (Go Rutland Raiders!), not knowing anyone, registered about a 7.5 on my anxiety scale.  Luckily I have the kind of personality that allows me to walk up to strangers and introduce myself.  Luckier was the fact that the first people I approached were kind and curious about the new kid.  It did not take me long at all to form friendships and get introduced to my new town.

At some point during this introduction I looked up.  I can’t remember the exact moment but I stopped thinking about what 15 year old girls think about and I noticed something. I saw the staggering beauty of the mountains that formed a circle around the town.  It was foliage season and the colors were spectacular.  The air seemed cleaner than what I had been used to and there was a slowness that existed around me that felt comforting.  It was like my breathing became slower there.  I actually recognized that at age 15, so there must have been something special going on.

Life went on, as it does, and I left Vermont for other places but came back twice and not because my family was there.  The second time I returned they had already moved away themselves.  I came back because I could breathe better.  I say that as a state of mind, not that I have breathing issues! It always felt safe and was a place where I could collect my thoughts and figure out my plan.  The combination of the natural beauty, the people and the simplistic way of life still suits me well.

Why then didn’t I stay?  Lack of opportunity for me back then was the real kicker.  I had two children I was going to have to put through college someday and the prospects of advancing my career were limited.  Add to that long, hard winters.  I was not financially equipped at the time to have the appropriate vehicle to live where I was living. Being semi-off the grid (only wood heat) in a drafty old farmhouse at the top of the mountain is a challenge in both winter and mud season.

Each year it took 9 cords of wood to heat the house using two woodstoves and I became adept at helping to split and cut wood. It was hard living but it was glorious.  Our view, all the way to the New Hampshire White Mountains, was breathtaking in every season. The kids could cross country ski out the door for as many miles as they wanted to.  The four room school house they attended had some of the best teachers they would ever have. My friends were the best.  There were locals and those who had come from all over the country because they too had felt that special something. I felt pretty rich then even though I had no money.

But it wasn’t to be forever given my nagging desire to grow and expand my future opportunities.

My last exodus from the Green Mountain state was 33 years ago. Seems I have lived a couple of lives since then.  I still go back, not nearly as often as I would like, and still dream of having a little house there that I can escape to.

Each time I go, as soon as I cross the border into Vermont, I take a deep breath and feel the same calmness wash over me that I felt 51 years ago when I was a sophmore in high school. It’s pretty magical and I have met others who say they have that same experience.

I get to have the feeling again this week as I drive north, entering into Vermont on Wednesday.  This time I will bring my work with me as I will be filming a woman in Lamoille Valley for the Beyond Sixty Project.  I can’t wait to get up there with the crew and hang out on Lake Elmore for a couple of days and take in the winter scenery.  Anticipating the feeling I will get is already making me smile.

I hope you have a place you can go to that gives you peace and calm.  Sure is worth the journey. If you haven’t tried Vermont I highly recommend it!

Love and Peace,

Melissa

 

 

 

A Look Back

A Look Back

2016 was quite a year. Unless you were hiding away all year in your safe place you know it was not a particularly good year.

In the United States we had a historic election. The battle to the White House was the nastiest in history. We had our first woman on the ballot.  She lost after securing the popular vote by more than 2.5 million votes.  I will not elaborate.   It has all been said.

Europe saw continued focus on terror attacks with the worst assaults in Istanbul and Brussels.

In Orlando a mass murderer opened fire inside the Pulse Nightclub, our deadliest mass shooting of the year.

Britain voted to leave the EU, a real shocker to folks across the pond with rippling financial consequences. There are efforts underway to block Brexit so we will have to stay tuned.

Cyber hacks and WikiLeaks contined to make regular headlines.  The Russians have been accused of hacking into the Democratic National Committee’s email server, attempting to sway the election in Trump’s favor.  WikiLeaks may have conspired with them by releasing thousands of the hacked emails.  Data breaches at many of large US corporations may have put your personal information at risk.  Yahoo just announced this past week that their system had been hacked…..again.

Aleppo. A humanitarian travesty of epic proportions. Pray for these people if you pray.

Fake news.  Apparently it is everywhere.  Will 2017 give us a guide to help us find real news?

_______Lives Matter.

I will stop with this list.  It is not nearly complete but certainly highlights some of the top issues we have faced as humans during this year, 2016.

However, good things happened in 2016 too.

A woman was acutally on the Presidential ballot.  We have to remind ourselves of that milestone. The thick glass ceiling was shattered by Tammy Duckworth, Kamala Harris and Catherine Cortez Masto, when they were elected to the Senate. Pramila Jayapal and Stepahnie Murphy grabbed seats in the House of Represenatives.

The US women’s gymnastic team took home some gold!

Sexual assault survivors got a Bill of Rights ensuring their cases will be regulated fairly.

Friends of mine were married.  New babies were born. There is healthy food on my table. My family unit is well and working hard at their life interests.

I have hope for 2017.  Even though I consider myself a realist, I am also optimistic.  I have seen countless tragedies unite people to improve common causes.  I have a feeling we will see more of this in 2017. I will certainly continue to do my best to be a part of something larger than myself.

I was supremely fortunate in 2016 and for that I am very grateful. I hope you can say the same. Thank you for following my blog and reaching out to me with ideas and suggestions for my new venture. Your kindness and support is a part of what keeps me grounded and moving forward.  I appreciate each of you and wish you all good things in the year to come.

Peace and love,

Melissa

“You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will be as one”

John Lennon

 

 

 

 

I Met Santa Claus: He is Real

I Met Santa Claus: He is Real

Santa Claus.  You may know him. He is also known as Saint Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas or just plain Santa.  Our modern Santa is based on the traditions of old St. Nick, a fourth century Greek Bishop and giver of gifts, as well as the British version Father Christmas.  Santa’s place in history is well established.

I know him as very jolly, with a white beard, small spectacles and wearing a red velvet suit with beautiful white fur trim.  He lives at the North Pole and has a workshop there where he employs elves to help him create and assemble toys and games.  I am pretty sure he keeps a list of all children that tracks their naughty and nice behavior throughout the year. All well-behaved children receive gifts from him each Christmas morning. He seems to be a forgiving man.

This year at Thanksgiving I was having a conversation with my oldest brother.  We were talking about Christmas Eve 1957 or 1958 when we lived in Fairfield, CT.  I was shocked to learn that he too saw Santa Claus flying through the air with his sled and eight famous reindeer that night.  I have known since then that I saw him.  For sure.  I don’t bring it up much. Who would? But now I know it’s true.  It’s like when two people see the same UFO. You can confirm it!  We saw Santa Claus.  It made me feel vindicated and happy.

This weekend I took my youngest grandson, Owen, to Rodale Institute in Kutztown, PA. They were having a winter festival and we thought it would be a nice drive to the country, away from the holiday shopping crowds.

When we arrived we parked the car and talked about how it seemed cold enough to snow. No sooner had we finished our short conversation and little flurries started falling from the sky. It felt kind of magical and we looked at each other in that knowing way, where you don’t have to say anything but your thoughts tumble out. Magic!

As we walked toward the little shop we noticed Santa Claus sitting in an old sleigh out in the yard.  Owen grabbed for my hand and slowed his pace.  He said, “Hey Grammy, let’s go in the store first.”  I sensed his hesitation about going to meet Santa and we headed into the store to browse.  When we had browsed thoroughly we headed out. Once again he grabbed my hand and steered me in the opposite direction of Santa.  We found ourselves at the organic hot chocolate table and ordered one.

Looking for a place to sit we found benches around a roaring fire pit, situated about 15 yards from Santa.  Owen made it clear that he wasn’t interested in going over to the sleigh to meet Santa but he was enjoying watching him from a distance.  Occasionally a small child would be lifted into the sleigh to sit with Santa and we watched as he talked with them. He seemed very interested in what they had to say, spending a good amount of time with each child.

Soon the short line was empty and we watched as Santa climbed down out of the sleigh. He started slowly walking in our direction and stopped at the fire pit, warming his hands. Not looking at us he said, “sure is cold today, isn’t it?” Owen stiffened a little next to me and I answered that yes it was cold.  We started a little conversation and eventually he asked if it was ok if he sat down on the bench with us.  Owen, eyes averted, nodded yes.  Then there we were. The three of us sitting on a bench by the fire talking about Christmas, the weather, about friends and elves and favorite toys, especially Legos.  Owen told him all about his friend Roman and they both agreed Roman might make a good elf someday.  As Owen and Santa continued their conversation I noticed a few children lining up at the sleigh to meet Santa.  Santa saw them too but he hadn’t finished his conversation with Owen yet and seemed in no hurry.  He was busy telling Owen how he had made a birdhouse out of Legos that was later destroyed by squirrels!  They have squirrels at the North Pole!

When it was time to leave and let Santa get back to his sleigh and the waiting children, we wished each other a very Merry Christmas and then Santa winked at me. He had a real twinkle in his eye. I saw it. Owen was silent on the walk back to the car.  When he was all buckled in he said, “Santa Claus is real Grammy, and he is very nice.”

I met Santa Claus on Saturday and he was as real as real can be.

I hope your holiday season is filled with magic!

Love, Melissa (aka Grammy)