“Push Through”: The story behind Jasmyn Wright’s viral video

When I first heard Jasmyn Wright’s motivational video on Facebook, now gone viral, I wanted to hear more. After all, Jasmyn teaches at a Philadelphia public school. And her “mantra/rap” was picked up by The Gap and used in the mega retail store’s fall back-to-school campaign.

So I went to Frederick Douglass, at 21st and Norris, to hear the back story. Here’s Jasmyn. And here are links to:

Being a presence for grieving children

A few weeks before Christmas, Jack and I witnessed a horrific car accident on Lincoln Drive –an overturned SUV with a mother and two children as passengers. From what we could tell, the mother did not survive. First responders extricated the little ones from their car seats. The image that stuck in my mind was two Disney backpacks sitting by the side of the road. What will life be like for these two motherless children? I wondered.

The experience prompted me to do what I know how to do: tell a story. I approached The Center for Grieving Children, a nonprofit whose counselors help grieving children heal and grow through their grief, and asked if I could produce a story about their work. They enthusiastically agreed.

Interviewing several of their clients, who ranged in age from 8 to 21, gave me insight into their losses and the ways they’ve learned to cope. Not surprisingly, it helped me heal, as well. Here is their story.

Praying at Starbucks

Paul Adler is Rector at the (Episcopal Church) of St. Alban, in the Northwest part of Philadelphia. Once a week he shows up at the local Starbucks with his “Free Prayer” sign and waits for people to come. Given emerging trends across the country, this may represent a new direction for church growth and sustainability. Hear Paul and The Rev. Canon Betsy Ivey explore this idea.

Sensuality in the garden

As an independent audio producer, I am particularly attuned to the sound of things: early morning birdsong, the musicality of a voice, boots crunching in snow. Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I use my recollection of sounds to transport me to a place of serenity.

As part of a recent assignment for the Morris Arboretum, I interviewed horticulturists there to hear what garden features are their particular favorites. The experience heightened my appreciation for this magic place and also gave me a new “library” of sounds to which I can retreat when life gets too jangly and stressful.

What does “home” mean to a refugee family fleeing war in Syria?

On the night of December 14th, Pam Prell sat in her minivan in the cellphone parking lot at Philadelphia International Airport, waiting for the arrival of the Dahans, a family of four, refugees from the war in Syria. As a representative of the Refugee Resettlement Ministry at the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, she’d signed on to drive Sameer, Majidah, eight-year-old Ayman and Iman, almost 2, to temporary housing the church had found in Mt. Airy.

This story, told in images and music, documents the family’s first 90-days in the city.

The young, the involved and the hopeful

What happens when you bring dozens of students from an Ivy League university together with dozens of students from a Christian college to talk about the Presidential election?

As a producer for the Committee of Seventy’s popular podcast 20 by Seventy, I had the opportunity recently of listening in on conversations between students at the University of Pennsylvania and Cairn University, formerly Philadelphia College of the Bible. Gotta say it gave me hope for the future. Dialogue experts Chris Satullo and Harris Sokoloff provided the safety net that made civil conversation possible. Listen to this snippet from a recent podcast and see if you, too, come away feeling encouraged.

Lydia for President

Is it too soon to be thinking about the Presidential election of 2042? According to our Constitution, that’s when my 10-year-old friend Lydia would be able to run for President.

She and I spent time together on MLK Day pulling invasive vines off trees in nearby parkland. Afterwards we sat down and talked about the state of the world. It all starting by talking about trees.


Remembering Otto: the “second founder” of the Morris Arboretum

For the past three years I have been privileged to serve as interviewer and producer for Arboretum Voices, the oral history project of the Morris Arboretum. The project is a collection of audio vignettes, gathered, edited, mixed and posted on the Arboretum’s website, with transcripts of the full interviews saved to the museum-quality archive. I’ve traveled to Presque Isle, Maine to meet with the granddaughter of John Tonkin, Lydia Morris’s gardener. I’ve recorded Mintern Wright, who describes going to the “Big House” as a child to visit Miss Morris — a “forbidding, rather severe woman dressed entirely in black.” And I’ve marveled at Paul Meyer’s stories of plant expeditions to China, Japan and Korea. You can hear them all here.

Recently I was fortunate to meet with John and Janet Haas, who lovingly describe John’s father Otto Haas, referred to by many as the Arboretum’s “second founder.” Their memories reflect a gentle, unprepossessing man who left a rich legacy from his 17-year tenure as chair of the Arboretum’s Board of Advisors.


Using play to improve school culture

Twice a week during Independence Charter School West’s after-school program, Teacher Parrish teaches “junior coaches” games developed by Playworks parrish-hana , an organization that uses play to improve school culture.

In this episode of Growing Independence — the weekly podcast I produce for the school — we hear from Teacher Parrish; Coach Hana, the Playworks liaison; and students who are reaping the benefits.

Who knew play could build leaders?!!

Growing Independence: The story of a school

What happens when a successful, established charter school wants to clone itself in a new neighborhood, where the demographics and culture are entirely different? And what if the leader of the school is a first-year principal who has the job of hiring a whole new staff? What’s it like to get the project off the ground? Do parents buy in?

These are questions I wanted to explore in Growing Independence–a weekly podcast that documents Independence Charter School’s bold experiment in the high needs community of Southwest Philadelphia.

Every week I stroll the halls and playground looking for stories, told by staff, parents and, increasingly students, who this year span Kindergarten through 3rd grades. I’m learning a lot — Spanish, for one, since this is a language immersion school. Can you pronounce the Spanish word for the color yellow? Or sing the days of the week in Spanish? I can . . . now.

shannons-kids To listen to other episodes of this weekly story, check out Independence Charter School West’s Soundcloud page. Maybe you’re like me; you want to hear what happens!