Coping Thru COVID-19

During these unprecedented trying times we all are experiencing some level of worry, concern, stress and anxiety. YOU ARE NOT ALONE, we are all in this TOGETHER.  The CJA-Emergency Response Team seeks to suggest some ideas on coping methods by giving you information of APPS and a weekly on-line meditation class…. MEDITATION SOUL SUNDAYS to help you to manage and get through the days ahead.

The CJA/DST Emergency Response Team reminds you to look to our State and Federal Government agencies for up to date information on the continuing fight of the COVID-19 virus.  

  •  Smiling Mind (iOS and Android) is free – no subscriptions, no in-app purchases – and is built specifically for children and adults seeking to deal with daily stress. The app is based on mindfulness courses that train people to deal with stress in the classroom or workplace.
  • Stop Breathe and Think (free on iOS and Android with subscription content). This was one of the first and continues to be one of the most popular mindfulness and meditation apps available. It’s available on iTunes and Google Play. The app works in several ways that could benefit people looking for some stress relief.  It features a daily check-in to get a gauge on your stress level and how you’re feeling physically.
  • Ambi Pro (iOS). Ambi Pro specializes in ambient music, using algorithms to change tracks instead of recordings that are looped. The app also blends tracks together so one doesn’t end abruptly. For those who relax with music or the sound of nature, this is considered a top app.
  • Stop, Breathe and Think Kids (free on iOS with subscription content). This app is much like Stop, Breathe and Think except it’s focused on children, with less time juggling the interface and the daily check-in is less complicated. There’s little instruction involved and simplicity is a plus.  There’s not much in the way of explanation, it gets to down to business with the exercises. 
  •  Headspace (free with subscriptions available iOS and Android): Headspace has free specific sessions for moments of panic, anxiety and stress. There are also quick 2-3 minute meditation sessions and special animations that teach skills and answer questions about mindfulness. 

Sorors stay safe, stay healthy, stay positive. . .. THIS TOO SHALL PASS

CJA-DST Emergency Response Team

Heart Health and You!

February was heart health month and the Central Jersey Alumnae Delta’s Physical and Mental Health Committee hosted an informative presentation titled Heart Health and You! Held on Thursday, February 6th at Saint Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick, attendees first heard from Pamela Coleman and Dr. Avonia Richardson-Miller. Coleman was born with a congenital heart defect and is a Survivor Ambassador for the American Heart Association. Richardson-Miller, a member of the sorority, is a heart survivor who underwent surgery in 2017. Both spoke about their personal experiences and shared stories of strength and survival. 

Thereafter, the featured speaker was Registered Nurse Lisa DiGiovanni, Ed.D. Her presentation, With a Healthy Heart…the Beat Goes On, featured the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 to improve heart health:

  1. Get active. Walk 30 minutes, five times each week. Set a goal and start gradually.
  2. Control cholesterol. The low density lipoprotein (LDL) is the “bad cholesterol” that should be lowered. To do so, avoid trans fat and saturated fat. 
  3. Eat better. Maintain a balanced diet and consider eating more whole foods.
  4. Manage blood pressure. The goal is to have a normal blood pressure of 120/80 (heart at work/heart at rest).
  5. Lose weight. Losing 5-10 lbs. can drastically improve one’s health and BMI should be between 18-25.
  6. Reduce blood sugar. A normal level is 80-120 mg.
  7. Stop smoking. Over time, cessation of smoking reduces the risk of heart attack, stroke, and lung cancer

Free health screenings were offered at this event throughout the evening. Dr. Giovanni did blood pressure screenings, tested blood sugar levels, and encouraged attendees to follow up with their physicians as necessary. It was a thought-provoking evening and one that potentially saved a life.

Use Sports To Change Your Life

Use Sports to Change Your Life. That was the title of a workshop hosted by the Education Committee of the Central Jersey Alumnae Chapter (CJA) of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. on Saturday, January 25th at Franklin Middle School in Somerset. Because a disproportionate number of black students become incarcerated due to increasingly harsh school and municipal policies, the goal was to show how they can use sports to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline and change their lives. This is the fourth year the workshop has been offered. Event chair and CJA member Brenda Edwards Miller welcomed visitors, explaining that the purpose of the session was to enrich and expose student athletes to collegiate sports opportunities and athletic careers, motivate them to academic excellence, and afford them the chance to have a dialogue with others who’ve used sports to advance themselves. Chapter President Karen Wade Culp also greeted guests. As the parent of two student athletes who used sports to pay for education, Wade Culp encouraged everyone to take advantage of and absorb the information that would be presented today.

CJA member Myra Mitchell facilitated icebreakers for the students and their parents. Thereafter, she assigned all attendees to various labeled tables:  compassion, competitiveness, confidence, determination, focus, honesty, integrity, mental toughness, respect, and self-discipline. Attendees were asked by Mitchell to relate the assigned word to their experience in sports or in life and explain how the word helped them become the people they are today. A representative from each table group then had the opportunity to summarize their group discussion.

Edwards Miller had the honor of introducing keynote speaker Dana Brown, Vice President of Scouting for the Atlanta Braves. A proud product of New Brunswick, Brown, who played multiple sports in high school, commented that he grew up in a single parent home with 11 siblings and that he “used baseball to get out of the inner city.” He attended Seton Hall University on a full baseball scholarship and was ultimately drafted by the Phillies organization. Because of his experience as a player and his role in scouting, Brown encouraged more people to take advantage of baseball, stating that only 8% of black people play the sport. He stressed, “There is lots of money to be made,” and encouraged participants to seek athletic scholarships because “every dime helps.” He told students that they also had to be champions socially and academically.

CJA member Lori Grier introduced the panelists. Each shared information about themselves, allowing attendees to hear a little about their backgrounds in preparation for the next portion of the workshop.

  • Shaaliyah Lyons, Director of Basketball Operations for the women’s basketball program at Seton Hall commented that she was from Jackson, NJ where she played basketball and was also on the AAU circuit. She was being recruited by Seton Hall, but ultimately chose to attend on an academic scholarship. Because of her love for and knowledge of the sport, she managed the basketball team during her time there and then parlayed that into her current career. She is continuing to use sports as she works on her Masters degree, also at Seton Hall.
  • Michael Scott, founder and CEO of the PCP Network and father of Philadelphia 76er Mike Scott, admitted that he “was the guy who didn’t want to go to class” when he was growing up. However, he wanted to make sure his son was more focused and had every opportunity afforded to him. Scott’s support and guidance helped Mike achieve his dream of playing in the NBA. Scott then started his network to provide assistance to parents of student athletes.
  • Todd Sherman, owner of TCW Tennis Academy, played tennis in Miami where he grew up. He was ranked #2 in Florida, #10 in the country, and was the highest ranked black player in the sport. His mentor was tennis great Arthur Ashe. Sherman had multiple scholarship offers until he was severely injured in a tragic motorcycle accident. Although he healed and continued to play tennis, “People began to doubt me,” Sherman, said and his scholarship offers were pulled. South Carolina State “took a chance on me. I got a full ride and a degree in electrical engineering.” He played professionally for a while, then opted to teach tennis and started his own academy. “There were plenty of days I wanted to give up, but I’m still here!”
  • Rebekah Solomon, Vice Principal of Franklin High School, has direct experience in helping student athletes get recruited. Solomon urged participants to not only use sports to change their lives, but said, “Bring someone up with you and change your community.” Solomon had athletic options, but chose an academic opportunity. She promised to impress upon students the importance of academics.
  • Tiffany Thompson, an adjunct professor at Kean University who helps freshmen transition to college life, encouraged parents to continue to assist and be available for their students as they struggle with issues like time management. She was prepared to discuss areas of struggle and share strategies with students.
  • Finally, Shy Williams, a 2nd Lt. in the US Army National Guard, opened by reminding attendees ”student comes before athlete.” She suggested that when choosing colleges, students should ensure that the coach is someone who cares about them on and off the court as her coach did when she was recruited by Montclair. Williams explained that during her first semester of college, she focused solely on basketball and it impacted her grades, resulting in academic probation. She then secured tutors, focused, and ultimately made the dean’s list after saying to herself, “I am more than an athlete.” Williams subsequently had a successful collegiate basketball and academic experience.

The panelists then engaged in intense discussions with anxious parents and students. Parents participated in the Parent Athletic Circle with Scott where they discussed how to support encourage, and safeguard their student athletes. The students were broken into smaller groups and rotated around the room spending time separately with Lyons, Sherman, Solomon, Thompson, and Williams. Questions were asked, personal experiences shared, and advice given.

Dr. Jennifer Durham, Education Committee Co-Chair, closed the session by having a brief wrap-up of the day. Determination and commitment to both academics and athletics were resounding summary comments. Student athletes left prepared to explore their options and parents left with a plan to support them.

Enjoy the video of the event!

Just Mercy

On Sunday, January 11, 2020, the Central Jersey Alumnae Chapter (“CJA Deltas”) presented a sold out, Red Carpet event at the Reading Cinemas Manville. Hosted by the Arts & Letters Committee, the chapter held a private screening of the movie Just Mercy and over 200 guests were in attendance. Viewers were immediately impressed by a personal, on-screen welcome from cast member Karan Kendrick to CJA members and guests. Kendrick portrays Millie McMillian, the wife of Jamie Foxx’s character, death row inmate Walter McMillian. Viewers subsequently experienced a range of emotions as they watched the movie - laughing, clapping, and crying at various portions. At the conclusion, a thoughtful post-movie discussion was facilitated by Arts & Letters tri-chairs Denice Ware, Nicole Rogers, and Sheyreese Sayers. Guest panelists included attorneys Douglas Mitchell and Cathleen Price. Mitchell, a social justice advocate who specializes in criminal defense and bankruptcy law in his private practice is also Conflict Counsel for the State of New Jersey, Office of the Public Defender, where he represents both juveniles who are criminally charged and adult defendants. Price was personally sent to the screening by Just Mercy author Bryan Stevenson to represent the grassroots organization he started in 1989, the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). She has worked for EJI for 27 years and knew many of the characters represented in the movie. 

Topics during the discussion were thought-provoking. We learned that racial disparities exist everywhere, but the United States has the most prisoners of any country. In fact, approximately six million Americans can’t vote due to felony disenfranchisement. Mitchell commented that although there is no death penalty in the state of New Jersey, there are life sentences with no eligibility for parole due to issues of mass incarceration and racial injustices. Price spoke to the prosecutorial misconduct seen in the movie and suggested that the movie can teach lawyers how to hone their craft. It can also teach others what to expect, and help people ensure the right questions are being asked and that their cases are handled properly by counsel in their own personal matters. She noted that there has been a 500% increase in incarcerations since 1970 and an increase in the use of the death penalty. Price stated that as community members, we should be calling elected officials to express our outrage. While prosecutors in some states are elected, they are appointed by the governor in New Jersey. It was stressed to attendees that we hold our governor accountable for who he appoints and the actions they take. Price challenged us to educate people on the prosecutorial function and to advocate for which crimes should be prioritized. She added, “Cruelty never helps us get to a better place, and that one in 10 cases are exonerated. Price said that we would never get on a plane with such odds and wondered why we accept this with regard to death sentences. A viewer asked what we can do to ensure that persons who abuse their power, lie, and violate the legal rights of others don’t remain in power. Sadly, Price explained that the government is held to a higher standard of proof when it is accused of misconduct, but she and Mitchell concurred that we must vote and engage in voter facilitation.

Delving deeper into the issue of convicted felons, Price stated that a problem with the right to vote is that the administration of it is left to the states. In Massachusetts, one never loses the right to vote and machines are brought into the prisons to allow prisoners to vote. Some states allow felons to have the right to vote after a period of time such as five years, and still others strip the right completely. Price said, “It’s a disenfranchisement technique related to the mass incarceration of black people.”

An attendee identified herself as a teacher and referenced the school to prison pipeline, commenting that schools often mimic law enforcement in their treatment and criminalization of students. Mitchell explained that schools have special authority and some autonomy. As such, consulting with law enforcement doesn’t have to be the first response of schools in many incidents. He also discussed programming designed to show what it feels like to live under martial law and bringing in trauma specialists who can raise the discourse. Another guest asked what can be done to decrease incarceration for minor crimes. Mitchell said lawyers should listen to their clients because often there’s a rush to judgment. He added that we should push for diversionary programs and look at alternatives to incarceration, that we must be educated about the process, and that we must engage our elected officials. Price stated that we must begin to show up in court if we have the space and time because “our presence in he courtroom changes the dynamic.”

Overall, it was a wonderful event and viewers left with strategies to make an impact. It is important to note that Bryan Stevenson, whose mother is a member of Delta SigmaTheta, was invited but could not attend. He sent his regrets and provided a 2020 EJI calendar for each attendee titled “A History of Racial Injustice.” Each guest left with a calendar in hand.Chair Denice Ware thanked Mitchell and Price for their participation and assured them that the CJA Deltas are heavily involved in social action. She affirmed that we try to ensure a social action component to most activities in which we engage such as this Arts & Letters Red Carpet event. Ware and President Karen Wade Culp gifted Mitchell and Price with a signed copy of She Came to Slay: The Life and Time of Harriet Tubman by Erica Armstrong Dunbar and gratitude was also expressed to attendees for their support of this event. The CJA Deltas left with the understanding that we have a lot of work to do…and we are ready. See our press release by clicking here.

CodeRED

CJA Introduces Coding to Delta Academy Using Robotics

The third annual CodeRED event for Central Jersey Alumnae Chapter (CJA) was held on December 14, 2019 at Washington Community School in Plainfield, NJ. The event was quite a success! What made it especially exciting this year was that robotics were used as an application to teach about computer coding.

The CodeRED Day of Service is part of a global initiative to introduce millions of students worldwide to Computer Science. Taking place on the "International Day of Code", CodeRED aims to expose, inspire and motivate more children of color, especially girls, to the world of computer coding and technology. There were 29 girls, ages 11-14, from the Delta Academy program who participated in the activity, supported by over a dozen sorority members from the CJA Technology and Delta Academy committees.

The session started with a fun video highlighting computer science and the purpose of the Hour of Code activities. Computers are such an integral part of our lives whether it’s the computers in our smartphones, cars, games, appliances or even robots. All of these computers have to be programmed. The girls also learned about Dorothy Vaughn, an African-American "hidden figure" who taught herself the FORTRAN computer language to program NASA's computers.

In the coding exercises, the young girls coded a pocket-sized, app-connected robot called an Ozobot. The Ozobot is able to understand two programming languages - a unique color-code language and a block-based coding language called Ozoblockly. With the color-code language, the young girls had to code instructions to make the robot travel a path to a specific location and navigate around roadblocks. The girls worked collaboratively to code, test, debug, and test again…multiple times. With the Ozoblockly language, the young girls used donated laptops and the Ozobot app to code the robot and run their programs which the made their Ozobots dance. Some went as far as to make their robots say a word or two! Their victory cheers and applause each time they accomplished a task were priceless. EVERY young lady was engaged and showed an interest in the technology. Click here to watch the video.

Each girl received a certificate of achievement at the conclusion of the activity. The hope is that they will continue to learn more about and build interest in computer science. Learning about computer science can be the opportunity for someone you know to change the world!  We join #TheEast in saying "Be Empowered to be #FirstInTech"!

 

World AIDS Day

Social media followers of the Central Jersey Alumnae Chapter (CJA) of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. experienced a media blitz on Sunday, December 1st for World AIDS Day. The chapter’s International Awareness and Involvement Committee (IAI) partnered with its Public Relations Committee to create 13 public service announcements to bring awareness to the community about HIV & AIDS. The number 13 is significant to CJA because the organization was founded on January 13, 1913. Accordingly, the goal was to post a total of 13 videos on the 13th after each hour for 13 hours. Videos were posted every hour from 7:13 AM through 7:13 PM and included an explanation of the history of World AIDS Day, the difference between HIV and AIDS, New Jersey statistics, avoiding stigma, a description of HIV medications, tips on taking medication, determining one’s risk for HIV, interpreting one’s HIV test results, encouraging loved ones to get tested, how to support a friend with HIV/AIDS, and the importance of knowing one’s HIV/AIDS status. These original videos were created by CJA from reputable sources that included, but were not limited to, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Joint United National Programme on AIDS, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and HIV.gov. All videos are viewable on the chapter’s YouTube channel under CJA-DST. CJA is exceptionally proud of its PSA titled Why Is it Important to Know Your Status? which features video clips of its members. Please view the video here: CJA-I-Know-My-Status.

 

Arts Forum for Youth

On Saturday, November 2, 2019, the Central Jersey Alumnae Chapter (CJA) of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. held an Arts Festival for Youth at Franklin Middle School located in Somerset, New Jersey. Hosted by the chapter’s Arts & Letters Committee, the festival provided a unique opportunity for 25 artistic students to be inspired by six local visual and performing artists. The artists included: Cliff Ward and Autin Wright, resident sculptors at Grounds for Sculpture (Hamilton, NJ) who brought examples of their work for students to experience and reviewed sketch drawings from aspiring illustrators/architects; actor JD Williams, actor/producer/host Steve Strickland, and recording artist April Harris-Holmes who candidly shared their personal stories and journeys to success in the entertainment business; and dance educator Susan Pope Gaddy who shared how dance transformed her from a shy little girl to a confident dance expressionist, a sentiment that was shared by a promising student. 

The open discussion session was moderated by CJA Member Kristine Smith and owner of Inspira Performing Arts & Cultural Center in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Smith contributed her own stories of a passion for dance and operating a dance studio. The students demonstrated their engagement by asking their own questions and sharing their own artistic journeys. The youth received invaluable practical strategies, suggestions, and motivation from the professional artists. These young attendees were encouraged and coached on promoting their work, building resiliency, and understanding divine purpose and that power of enjoying the passions they pursue. The participating parents and young artists enjoyed the opportunity to network with each other and exchange ideas on nurturing talent.  At the conclusion of the session, the guest artists were thanked by the Arts & Letters Committee and gifted a “Precious Moments” print commissioned by local artist Alonzo Adams, furthering noting CJA’s support of the arts and local artists.

Arts & Letters Red Carpet Event – “Harriet”

On Sunday, October 20, 2019, the Arts & Letters Committee of the Central Jersey Alumnae Chapter (“CJA”) of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated hosted a red carpet event at the Reading Cinemas located in Manville, NJ. The theater was filled to capacity as approximately 200 members and guests gathered for a private screening of “Harriet,” in advance of the much anticipated nationwide release date of November 1st. This movie tells the story of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, beginning with her escape from slavery to the numerous missions she led through the Underground Railroad to free a multitude of slaves.

The post-movie discussion was as engaging as the movie and was facilitated by award-winning historian, Rutgers professor, and 2017 National Book Award finalist Erica Armstrong Dunbar. Dunbar is author of the book She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman. The book was made available prerelease and signed by Dunbar at the conclusion of the event. Among other accomplishments, she is the National Director of the Association of Black Women Historians (ABWH), an organization dedicated to continuing the advancement for the study of black women’s history. The Committee awarded door prizes provided directly from the producers, Martin Chase Productions, to those who contributed to the discussion.

Attendees were amazed that there was so much about Harriet Tubman they didn’t know and disappointed in how little is taught about her in schools. One middle schooler commented that the big discussion in her class was simply “that [Harriet] looks like a man.” We discussed that Tubman dressed as she did to disguise herself, as it was uncommon for women to travel alone. This led us to identify her as a true heroine as we discussed in depth the challenges and dangers she faced during her missions and serving as a spy during the Civil War. Equally important, we saw Tubman as a complete person - a woman. We learned that she loved and lost, but loved again. We saw how deeply she loved husband John Tubman, who took another wife after her escape; and how she mourned that relationship’s demise. Dunbar shared that later in life, Tubman married a man 20 years her junior named Nelson Davis and became Harriet Tubman Davis. Given the gasps from the audience, it was evident that some present were not aware of this. Additionally, many were astounded to learn that Tubman was an activist in the struggle for women’s suffrage.

There were a few “firsts” that were discussed as well. “Harriet” is the first biopic of an African American woman produced and directed by African American women. Also, Dunbar is the first person of African descent to author a book about Harriet Tubman Davis.

Viewers were grateful for this experience to learn about the many facets of Harriet Tubman Davis which sadly are not universally known. As such, the movie “Harriet” is an important story that must be told. This was a valuable cultural learning experience for all present.

CJA Awarded at 54th National Convention

The award winning Central Jersey Alumnae (CJA) Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. was recognized at the organization’s 54th National Convention held in New Orleans, Louisiana from July 10th through 14th. The Chapter received a National award for Excellence in Social Action. The chapter’s Social Action Committee (SAC) has focused on nonpartisan voter registration, engagement, and empowerment; and topics such as black maternal health, juvenile justice, gun reform, and expungements. Its “Meet the Mayors” roundtables enabled members to visit a mayor and other key administrators on a prescheduled, mutually convenient date in one town in each of the three counties it serves. The goal of said meetings was to better understand the needs of the communities in an effort to provide continued support and service. CJA is currently preparing to help ensure a full and accurate count in hard-to-reach communities for the upcoming 2020 US Census and has been designated as a Complete Count Committee.

The Chapter also received the national Exemplary Delta Academy award for educational development. Delta Academy is a program in which the sorority members provide yearlong mentoring, leadership development, STEM based activities, and community service opportunities for girls between the ages of 11-14. Additionally, in June, the Chapter was awarded the Eastern Region Cutting-Edge Technology Award for a variety of accomplishments that included E-Attendance and E-Voting initiatives, active social media platforms, and support of the Eastern Region CodeRED initiative for introducing young girls to coding.

Click here for the press release.

Literary Cafe’ 2019

On Saturday March 30th, Central Jersey Alumnae chapter held their second Literary Cafe' at the Basking Ridge Country Club in Somerset County.  This event featured the published works of seven Delta authors, including 4 members of Central Jersey Alumnae Chapter!  Two authors featured last year returned to add reflections on their publishing journey.  The panel discussions focused on telling our stories in an authentic voice, albeit self-help, financial literacy, or the life story of our families.  Of particular note was the reflections of an adoptee, Soror Joi Fisher, as she discovered herself thru finding her birth parents and support groups for adoptive rights.  The perfect tie in was a brief social action presentation highlighting the importance of being counted.