A Cautionary Blog for Teachers, Directors, and those in Charge of any kind of Team

"Weary - Self Portrait" by Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All rights reserved.

“Weary – Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I can never forget one moment in a graduate History class that I took when I was working on my Master’s Degree. (FYI: My former professors at my alma maters need not worry about what I am about to say. I took this class on some other college campus.)

I remember the professor’s instructions. In a small class of no more than ten graduate students, the professor said something to this effect,

“You are to write a five-page review of this book. It must have one-inch margins, be double-spaced, and it must be EXACTLY FIVE pages. I don’t want FOUR and a half pages. I don’t want FIVE and one-fourth pages. It must be EXACTLY FIVE pages. If you do not follow these instructions, I will hand the paper back to you and you will have to do it over. This is an exercise to teach you how to edit with precision.”

Now, in all fairness, it was a good exercise. I edited and rewrote until I got that paper to exactly five pages. I re-read it to make sure that it still made sense and was clear. I turned it in. When the professor returned the papers, I anxiously turned to the last page. There it was, an A+. Now, this story does not exactly have a good ending.

Before I could tuck my paper away into my book bag, the professor stood before the class and said this,

“The only person that DOES NOT have to do her paper over is Leslye Joy Allen.”

I gasped.  Damn, I thought!  I did not mind the “A+.” I earned it. Yet, I did mind being singled-out! All of my classmates stared in my direction. A few of them gave me icy looks, others just looked embarrassed. On the way out, I asked the professor if I could speak with him privately.

When we arrived at his office, I told him “Please don’t ever do that to me again.” “What do you mean?” he said. “Single me out like that,” I answered. “But you’re a good student. Good students deserve praise,” he said.  “But not at the expense of making other students feel small,” I replied. I left his office.

At that moment, I understood what every student labeled a “nerd” felt like. I was ashamed of myself because there had been a few times in high school when, even though I made good grades, I had been guilty of calling a few super-brainiac students “nerds.”

Over the next couple of weeks in this graduate class, a few of my classmates barely spoke back when I said, “Hello,” and those that did respond, responded rather coldly. I cut back for a while on participating in class discussions. Eventually the chill thawed and I resumed my normal relations with my classmates and with the professor. Yet, I share this story to make a point.

While I did not deserve the coldness from some of my classmates, I also did not deserve to be singled-out in front of them as the only person who followed the instructions. It produced an unhealthy atmosphere where I appeared as the “favorite” of the professor. Even worse, it placed me in the unnatural and untenable position of being the “standard” by which all others were judged. I’ve never cared for that kind of attention. 

I hope all of the people who are reading this, those who have some form of direction over any group of individuals, will remember that if there is a high achiever in your group, that you can damage the morale of the whole group by singling out that achiever in a manner that denigrates or undervalues the others. Importantly, you can also dampen the spirits and isolate the high achiever(s), which could destroy the type of unity and the free exchange of ideas that makes for a great class, a great production, or a great team. This is a lesson I have never forgotten.

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.   Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

5 Memorable Comments Made to Me by My Teachers

by Leslye Joy Allen 

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

“Archive Joy!,” Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Trying to pick five favorite quotes by former teachers and professors is a real chore.  Blessed with some of the greatest teachers on this earth, I have no other choice but to acknowledge their intelligence and their wit.  It is also impossible to remember what so many of them said to me verbatim.  Yet, when I start to count my blessings, I can hear them.  We may not be able to remember who won the World Series in 1990 or what film won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2000, but we remember our teachers.  On so many occasions I hear their wisdom and humor, loud and clear.  So here are my favorite five; at least my “first” favorite five.  This one is short and sweet.  Enjoy.  

 

1.  “It was a joy to teach you!” – Mrs. Doris Prather, 7th Grade English Teacher

2.  “You are too intelligent for this!!  If I catch you and Louis with Cliffs Notes again, I will call both of your mothers!!” – Sister Barbara Sitko, 12th Grade English teacher

3.  “The only good thesis and the only good dissertation is a finished thesis and a finished dissertation.” – Dr. Jacqueline Howard Matthews, Africana Women’s Studies Professor

4.  “You write very well. But relax, you won’t hit it out of the ballpark every time.” – Dr. Waqas A. Khwaja, English Professor (when I received a grade of “B” instead of an “A” on an English paper)

5.  “Scholars say that there was a heavy concentration of lead in the water back in Ancient Rome. They believe that the reason why so many of those old Roman Emperors went crazy was due to lead poisoning. But just between you and I, I think a lot of them were crazy due to all of that family inbreeding.” – Dr. Sally MacEwen, Latin Professor

Àṣé!!

 

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

Frank Wittow’s Legacy…Nevaina’s Dream

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

The late great actor-director-educator Frank Wittow remains one of my favorite figures in Atlanta’s rich theatre history.  His work with the late, great Georgia Allen was second to none—He placed this multi-talented Black woman in a non-servant role on an Atlanta stage in the early 1960s when the city and indeed the nation were still grappling with the idea that maybe Black folk were more than just the servants of White folk. Georgia Allen had appeared in numerous films and theatre productions throughout the nation and on the campuses of Spelman and Clark Colleges, and Wittow was wise enough to recognize Allen’s superior gifts.  He was simply a different kind of White man. There were no syrupy and useless White liberal platitudes about race relations spewing out of his mouth—he just did what he wanted to do.

Now, Allen predated Wittow’s arrival in Atlanta and she had a much longer career, and to fully honor her contributions to all of the arts and to education would require writing a tome. So, I will save that project for a later date.  Much like Allen, however, Wittow directed, trained, and mentored some of the best performers on the planet and took theatre performances into Atlanta Public Schools throughout much of his life.  He did this almost to the day he died in 2006.  One of his younger protégées had the benefit of his training…

Her name is Nevaina Rhodes—her first name is pronounced “Nih-Von-yah” like “lasagna.”  The first time I saw her perform, I did not know she had any affiliation with Wittow.  When she told me her basic philosophy about acting there was something refreshingly new about her approach to her craft, but also something rather familiar…Let me explain…

You see, when I was growing up in Atlanta, an actor, a musician, a poet, an academic, an intellectual, was simply part of the community in which we all lived.  Importantly, you had to participate in the arts and the humanities, and it did not matter if you had talent or an exceptional intellect or not.  While I adore and admire many younger performers and scholars—and by younger, I mean anyone born after the Baby Boom—I find an increasing number of them who are quite insular; they have fewer connections to each other or with the folk in the communities where they live.  Unlike the Atlanta of my childhood, in recent years I have attended far too many functions filled with musicians, actors, poets, filmmakers, and historians and I end up being the only person in the room who actually knows everybody in that room…

Well, to make a long story short, Nevaina’s conceptualization of Real Actors Workshop (RAW) makes it open to amateur and professional alike.  Her basic theory is that whether you are a professional actor or not, all of us humans act and perform in certain ways depending on the circumstances.  In other words, she insists that, we all are actors. Although she is a North Carolinian by birth, her approach feels much like the Atlanta of my youth, where the long theatre traditions on the campuses of our Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and people like Georgia Allen and Frank Wittow made certain that theatre reached who it was supposed to reach—the people. We were not a community of strangers…everybody knew everybody, which is the way it should be.

I should add that I am writing this to inform you that Nevaina is not only a dazzling performer and an amazing drama coach, but she is also a real survivor. Native Atlantans, in particular, love people with a strong work ethic and those who bounce back when things do not always go as planned.  Less than five years ago, Nevaina miraculously and fully recovered from a stroke that could have easily killed her; and she remained positive while she also endured some personal losses that probably would have destroyed some weaker souls.

Today her Real Actors Workshop (RAW) is headquartered at Dream Café, Atlanta’s first cafe and empowerment lounge, which is owned by Nevaina and her partners, Jay White and Stevie Baggs.  Dream Café‘s premise is simple.  It is designed to be a place where artists, intellectuals, young and old folk can meet and greet and talk and achieve their dreams, over coffee and healthy food.  This concept and these young owners have my support not only because it feels familiar to me, but because it feels right…and it also feels rather cyclical…

Now, I am aware that my hometown has changed.  Nothing stays the same, nor should it stay the same.  Yet, there are some core elements that we must never lose—namely, the ability to connect with each other and exchange ideas.  Not even a semblance of community can survive if we lose this ability.  So, I am proud to call Nevaina a friend. It has been a great privilege to watch her perform; and I have been encouraged by her intellect, her big smile, and her big spirit…I am also certain that Wittow (and Allen) are watching her from that place where great souls go when they leave this earth…So, in honor of them and in honor of future generations, go visit the Dream Café, and write your dream on the wall. Àṣé!

To learn more about Real Actors Workshop (RAW), and Nevaina’s distinguished career as an actor, drama coach, and public speaker, click here: Nevaina Rhodes Inspirational Speaker and Drama Therapy Specialist.

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

Mama’s Garden

by Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Doctoral Student

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

cherry-tomatoes-plant

Cherry Tomatoes Plant (available from: Public-Domain-Image.com)

 

“If you plant it in the earth, give it just enough sunlight, just enough water, and just enough nurturing, it will yield something.” – Syble Allen Williams (1921 -2013)

Now, when I think of teaching, I think about my Mama’s gardens and the first time I read the quote by author Gail Godwin who said that, “Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths pure theatre.”  A while back, I did not exactly understand the connection between teaching and theatre or any connection to my Mama’s conceptualization of gardening.  After all, was it not possible to be a gardener or agriculturalist without being an artist?  Even further, when I thought of theatre or any performance art, I thought and continue to think of people trained to act, sing, dance (or all of the above), and who are on stage for the sole purpose of entertaining and enlightening a receptive audience.  The idea that a teacher and students were engaged in any kind of performance art escaped me until I stood in front of a classroom and gave a lecture without reading from any notes.  My Mama, Syble Allen Williams, understood the performance element in teaching the first time she set foot in a classroom to teach.  Only after she died, however, did I begin to understand some other things about the “pure theatre” or the creativity of teaching that was not readily apparent to me when she was alive.

I remember how she would begin to count to ten in order to get her kindergarteners to take their seats.  “One…Two…Three…” she would say slowly and deliberately.  The objective was to have all of her students seated BEFORE she reached the number ten.  They would scramble to their chairs, each one determined not to be the last child to make it to his or her seat.  Then there were Mama’s famous gold stars that she posted next to the names of those kids who ate all of their lunch—they were the fabulous members of the “Clean Plate Club.” Many children decided to sample a vegetable that they really did not want to eat in order to earn that gold star.  Yet, she was at her most creative with her classroom gardens and her trips to the farm.

After Mama’s funeral service, our cousin James—who served as one of her pallbearers—told me that before her funeral began, four of her pallbearers were discussing their trips to farms and the gardens they helped to plant and tend when they were mere kindergarteners in her class.  Four of Mama’s pallbearers were her former students.  I remember when she made the switch from teaching third grade to kindergarten.  I also recall her comments about children who grew up in the city.  While she loved city life, she noted that children in cities rarely got much, if any, exposure to farm life.

Mama was born on a working farm in a tiny Georgia hamlet about forty minutes away by car from Atlanta.  She lived there until she was about nine years old.  Around her ninth birthday, her family migrated to Atlanta, as did so many Black rural families during and after the Great Depression.  The beauty is that Mama’s appreciation for her agricultural roots ultimately became a wonderful lesson for her students.

Back in the 1970s when she started teaching kindergarten, she told me one day that too many of her students really did not know anything about where their food came from or the teamwork required to run a farm.  Eventually she located a nice man—whose name escapes me now—who had a small working farm in McDonough, Georgia complete with crops, chickens, pigs, and cows.  I only remember him as a middle aged, brown-skinned man who seemed tickled to death that the work he did as a farmer had some intrinsic value to Mama and her young students.

Every year she taught kindergarten she included a trip to that farm in McDonough, Georgia so that “her children” could witness the interaction of farmer and crop and cows and chickens.  The cows’ manure fertilized the soil that yielded the crops.  It was all organic and interactive.  Every year, she would have her five-year-olds plant a garden in their classroom.  She would gleefully remark how they would become mesmerized when they would see something that they had planted in the soil begin to grow.  “Their eyes just light up at the first sight of the smallest bud,” she would say.  For me, the strongest memory was her garden at our house and her household plants.

Each year she grew tomatoes, cabbage, collards, and squash on a strip of land in our backyard.  I also recall one year she grew the hottest jalapeño peppers ever grown in the history of humankind—I remember it well; I ate one of those peppers and needed a couple of pitchers of ice water to cool the heat.  Then there was her endless sea of green plants that lined our porch and windowsills.  She often noted that the tomatoes might not grow as big as you wished, but if you nurtured those seeds, you would still get tomatoes.  This was her lesson to her kindergarteners and to me: you always get something back if you plant something and nurture it.

Mama’s gardens and farming adventures were lessons in sheer creativity.  In these activities were a science lesson, another lesson that taught respect for animals’ contributions to our welfare and an appreciation for our natural environment, a lesson in how any one of us who had patience could nurture a plant from a seed or seedling to full bloom.  Even further, when I think of how many people never want to revisit their childhoods, I am comforted.  Mama found beauty, resilience, and lifelong lessons in her own childhood, a childhood that she spent helping her parents and grandparents tend to plants and animals on the old family farm.  Her students got a chance to share in a part of her upbringing.

On a nearly cloudless, sunny day in February of 2013, Mama had six pallbearers: one was a dear cousin, another was a family friend, and four were her former kindergarteners.  These six dignified, hardworking, respectable, responsible, and well-educated Black men—all now over the age of forty—donned white gloves, and hoisted Mama’s coffin and took her to her final place of rest in the soil—soil she respected.   Proudly, I watched them, as I am sure she did.  And then I thought, “If you plant it in the earth, give it just enough sunlight, just enough water, and just enough nurturing, it will yield something.”

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.

“Syble’s Poem” by Charles Reese (guest blog)

My friend Charles Reese wrote this poem in honor of my late mother Syble Allen Williams (March 1, 1921 – February 9, 2013).  Thanks Charles for this rare gift; it makes her passing a little bit easier to bear.  — Leslye Joy Allen

Syble Allen Williams in 2007 at age 86.  (Copyright © 2007-2013 by Leslye Joy Allen)

Syble Allen Williams in 2007 at age 86.
(Copyright © 2007-2013 by Leslye Joy Allen)

Syble’s Poem

by Charles Reese

Today feels like a poem for Syble

Syble’s poem is moving

Syble’s poem is taking action

Syble’s poem is moving toward something unknown to man or woman

Syble’s poem is moving beyond the limits of state apparatuses, struggling to control freedom outside its natural formation

Where poems are her songs

Holding us up

Keeping us together

Walking in the Spirit

Shouting

Hallelujah

We are moved

We are changed

Because today feels like a poem for our newest Ancestor…

Queen Syble Allen Williams.

Welcome to the fold.

And so it is.

Ashé.  Amen.

(Charles Reese is an Audelco Award-nominated Actor, Writer, Curator & Founder of The James Baldwin Project; and original actor & editor of the late Howard B. Simon’s Stage Play James Baldwin: A Soul on Fire, published by Glover Lane Press.)

Charles Reese: James Baldwin

Copyright © 2013 by Charles Reese.  All Rights Reserved.  No portion of this poem may be reprinted without permission from the author.

Creative Commons License

This Guest Blog by Charles Reese featured by Leslye Joy Allen is protected under U. S. Copyright Law and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Charles Reese clearly stated as the author and Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the owner of this blog.

Leslye Joy Allen and http://leslyejoyallen.com is proud to support the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!