I have lived in Manhattan for 20 plus years. My formative years started in Western New York, specifically Buffalo, New York and then my father set up a dental practice in a rural town east of the city of Buffalo.
I am an Assistant Professor at Touro College & University System where I teach in the Graduate Division of General and Special Education. Primarily I teach Arts Education courses for teaching candidates seeking an initial certification for grades 1 through 6.
My hobbies include writing, reading, and creating project based-arts curriculum. I am passionate about art education and have been creating marionettes, dolls and puppets since I can remember.
2. Can you tell us about We Are All the Same Inside: How it came about, and where it has led you since?
We Are All The Same Inside (WAATSI) came about when I was at a cross-roads. My pursuit in the fine arts at first was fiery, then it became ice cold. Somewhat by choice, I switched gears and blended my passions for curriculum development and arts-based learning with doll-making. Soon I was a master at over-lock stitching and patented a doll that could teach diversity. Manufacturing was not an option due to my finances, so I opted to write and publish a picture book instead using the prototype Sage dolls in the vein of children’s author / photographer Dare Wright to illustrates the pages.
We Are All The Same Inside (WAATSI) came about when I was at a cross-roads. My pursuit as a fine artist at first was fiery, then it became ice cold. Somewhat by choice, I switched gears and blended my passions for curriculum development and arts-based learning with doll-making. Soon I was a master at over-lock stitching and patented a doll that could teach diversity. Manufacturing was not an option due to my finances, so I opted to write and publish a picture book instead using the prototype Sage dolls in the vein of children’s author / photographer Dare Wright to illustrates the pages.
WAATSI is pretty much my “Doris Troy“. Doris Troy is soul singer known for her one hit record, “Just One Look” (#10, circa. 1963). She recorded a demo version in a basement studio for another recording artist to replicate and Atlantic records the record company opted for her version and she was signed immediately. No hits followed. But she prayed that this song would be her passport and key to do what she loved – sing. So there you have it.
WAATSI has afforded me the opportunities such as traveling overseas to meeting politicians to pop singers all the while creating socially conscious project arts-based learning curriculum through doll-making and other medias.
3. Please talk about being diagnosed with skin cancer and how that led to WAATSI.
I omitted the C word. Most people either jump to conclusions when I bring it up or don’t want to talk any further when say that word. In 1998, after years of beach days and tanning bed parlor residencies, I was diagnosed with stage 1 melanoma. Skin cancer. I was a meager 26 at the time of the seemingly cold diagnosis at Sloan Kettering. The dermatologist stated, “if cancer is black and white is non-cancer, you’re charcoal dark grey”. I was at a loss and have five invasive biopsies in one scheduled visit. Ironically, the surgeon argued with me upon what area to remove. I stated: “Remove this area. Look at the photos.” And sure enough that was the area that was positive and further surgery was needed. I called my Aunt Anne immediately. Her turn on the Planet C happened a few years later.
It had never occurred to me that our skin is an organ. I thought it was just pigment on our bodies really. Clearly I didn’t like myself or my skin pigment, thus I darkened it through UV rays natural or synthetic.
While healing, I was also wounded by a dismal failure of an artistic venture that led to my vision of the WAATSI Sage doll. This workshop or doll making curriculum would show participants that our skin divides us; but essentially we are the same inside.
4. Please talk about religion and how its members have shaped you.
Religion? I don’t think I’m religious or spiritual. But I can never run away from either. I have faith. Perhaps I am in denial? Let’s say I have the WWJD (what would Jesus do?) permanently embossed in my consciousness.
The parts of Jesus, religion or spirituality that I embrace are the loving parts. There is nothing like going to a temple, church or any place where people are gracious, loving and non-judgmental. I can sadly count on one hand personally where I have experienced this in organized religion. For example, I remember walking into chapel in college and peers of mine were pointing at me and talking through glass stating derogatory words of my apparent (effeminate) affect. The shock still marinates inside of me to this day. “In a church?” I thought at the time.
Religion to most means they are cleansed by their faith externally. To me, it is always about the internal parts. The parts that only you and a higher power can see. It is a human experience of western civilization where religious zealots of sorts have tried to reshape people in their version of what G*d wants for you. I have had people state to me, “I love you, G*d loves you, now change”. In essence, I have never been able to be anyone but my authentic self. I have never ever been able to pass. Though, I think is G*d is OK with me at this point.
5. Select a creative work: a novel, a film, a poem, a musical piece, a painting, or other work of art that has influenced the way you view the world and the way you view yourself. Discuss the work and its effect on you.
Hands down, Harper Lee‘s “To Kill A Mockingbird“. In a sense we are all mockingbirds, be it what we learn, believe or say. It takes a special person like Atticus to see beyond the external. This book is incredible and also was the first Pulitzer Prize winning novel I read as a teen. A far cry from the celebrity bios I craved at the time.
6. Describe a risk you have taken and discuss its impact on your life.
I have been a risk-taker my whole life. Be it in my adolescence choosing gender-specific colors to sport in my unisex attire or losing myself inside my dreams and making them into realities. Leaving my comfort zone of New York City a few years ago and traveling to Sierra Leone is up there in high-risk behavior. It was almost a life-defining risk. Everyone said, “don’t go! or “it’s dangerous”. Like most pivotal experiences in my life, I wisely listened to my internal voice. What I experienced is to never let my external discomfort (or surroundings) dictate my internal feelings.
7. Tell us about a situation where you have been bullied and what you have learned from that experience.
There are just too many situations. “No.” is a compete sentence. Perhaps being bullied is making a stand and not pleasing the other person or persons. Bill Cosby made a statement about not knowing the secret of success, but he did know the keys to failure. He went on to state that if you try pleasing everyone you are going not to be successful or happy as person. Perhaps what I learned in all the situations of “being bullied” is to simply to try to be my truest self, and know when to dust my feet and walk away. Or run. Fast.
I would want to grant peace and kindness between people. A bully-free world. I would want the power to be sped up; so I could do things faster. That way I could make more dolls, do more lectures or workshops and research, etc.
9. As a child, you became enamored with Diana Ross. What void did she fill in your life? What did she represent to you?
Wayne Koestenbaum wrote a book called “The Queen’s Throat” which is a dissertation on gay men and their obsession with singers; particularly opera divas. “The diva chooses you,” Koestenbaum wrote, and pretty much that’s it. I was obsessed and for whatever the reason, be it her drive, longevity, unconventional Black beauty – it all struck a nerve with me. She got out of her dismal situation and lived prosperously – despite a lot of racial turmoil and intolerance. She made a lot of people happy with her talents regardless of their race, religion, creed, orientation, etc.
10. If you were to describe yourself by either a quotation or song, what would that be?
This is a difficult question as I identify with so many songs and quotations. Lately on my iPod it has been, “No One There” (circa. 1972) by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. Or “My Destiny” (circa. 1986) by Chaka Khan. Neither recording received their due via radio play or record sales, yet the lyrics are so powerful and both songs paint pictures of being isolated. The later song is more upbeat and has a sprinkle of the EST philosophy. Chaka sings: “I’m the ruler of my destiny, I determine what becomes me.”
I was able to meet both recordings artists at the 24th HAL Awards in L.A. thanks to songwriter Janie Bradford‘s amazing annual gala that afforded me the opportunity to create WAATSI Sage dolls in the likeness of the famous recipients. At one of the after-parties I sang back-up parts, surprising Martha Reeves as she sang “No One There” with Grammy-winner Thelma Houston, make-up artist Rudy Calvo, and Sherlie Matthews watching. In short, G*d was smiling down upon me, I didn’t feel alone, and ironically was charged and looking forward to the future. My destiny.
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