tv Here and Now ABC January 31, 2016 12:00pm-1:00pm EST
>> "here and now," the program featuring the news and interests of the african-american community. here's your host, sandra bookman. >> coming up, recent acts of terror have triggered anti-muslim sentiments here and across the country. well, some of the women of islam talk about handling the hateful rhetoric. the nation's first volunteer pre-ambulance emergency-response service right here in jersey city. the acclaimed stella adler studio of acting putting rikers island inmates at center stage. and how oprah helped a former alvin ailey dancer realize a dream.
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>> recent mass shootings in california and paris, attributed to islamic terrorists, coupled with a politician's campaign proposal to keep muslims from entering the u.s., has left many in the islamic community bracing for backlash. joining us today to give us some insight on this important issue is aisha al-adawiya, the c.e.o. and founder of women in islam, and iman boukadoum, director of community partnerships for the interfaith center of new york. thank you both for being here and thank you for allowing me to nearly butcher your names. i apologize. >> thank you very much. >> we so appreciate you taking the time to talk about this with us. i guess the first question i'd like for you both to address is donald trump and his continued, as many people have described it, hateful rhetoric, basically insisting that muslims not be allowed into the country.
that, and how do you basically drown out that voice? you can start, aisha. >> well, first of all, mr. trump is really a very huge indication of the level of lack of knowledge in our country about what is permissible and what is not permissible, from a legal perspective. and it's also a resurgence of the kind of bigotry and racism that certain segments of the community, specifically the african-american community, has grown almost accustomed to, sadly. and although we thought that this had gone away sometime now, it's resurging, and i think it's a time now for everyone, whether they're muslims or not, to begin to amplify their voices that this kind of bigotry is not
>> iman, would you like to add something? >> i just wanted to say that i echo everything that sister aisha said. and i just think that there are real consequences to those words. those are not just empty words that he is putting out there for cheap political gain. there are truly real people on the ground that are suffering because of what he's saying. >> and when you talk about consequences, do you mean some of the assaults on people of the muslim faith? >> exactly. when mr. trump says bigoted, xenophobic, hateful things, it gives license to people on the ground to do horrible things to people who are perceived to be muslim or perceived to be latino or black or whatever. and it really is a terrible thing, because it breaks the fabric of america and it breaks our communities. so, i just want to say to him that, you know, what you're saying actually has real
>> and one of the things, in much of the reading and the conversations i've had, is that some of the fear and the uncomfortableness is -- and you touched on it -- is because of ignorance of the islamic faith? >> you know, i think that part of the issue that we have to bring forward in our society is that islam is not new in this part of the world. muslims have been here for centuries, starting with the transatlantic slave trade. so this is not a new phenomenon. we can question, where did it go, you know? and why are we now having this conversation about islam being this foreign entity, you know, in america? so, that's a conversation that we desperately need to have,
now having to tell our children, you know, how to protect themselves, how to spot danger, you know, something very similar to how we were taught as african-american children how to protect ourselves against certain forces that were really out to harm us and that were lethal, you know, to us, like the kkk, for instance. here. and education is key, always, in these kinds of situations. >> well, one of the pieces of this conversation is -- some folks have suggested that those of the islamic faith -- what's happened in the religion -- and we've seen it with others -- is that a small, very, very small segment of people have, in a sense, hijacked the faith. and a lot of people, perhaps because of their ignorance or exposure, whatever you want to
the faith, so as far as they're concerned, that small segment represents the entire faith. how do you deal with that? do you feel that you have any responsibility, as muslims, to separate yourself or make clear that these people have nothing to do with what the faith is really about? >> mm-hmm. >> i think that this is a very important question. so, after 9/11, everybody had a thousand questions about islam, as if muslims haven't been here since the beginning, as sister aisha just pointed out. muslims have been here since the beginning. but the reality is that there is a lot of ignorance about the middle east in general and politics in the middle east. what is happening -- what happened on 9/11 and what continues to happen in the middle east, with radical, violent groups who call themselves muslim is a political phenomenon.
issue that is now being framed, in various media outlets, as a muslim issue or an islamic issue. and that's really my biggest issue with the media, in many areas, is that they like to frame things in religious terms or in cultural terms, instead of saying, "oh, well, what's happening in the middle east? let's look at american foreign policy in the middle east. let's look at the realities of who we support, what the dictatorships in the middle east are fomenting on the ground and how the conditions on the ground are creating specific people that perceive injustice in certain ways and then are reacting against injustice," because that's really what terrorism is. the oxygen of terrorists is injustice. they perceive injustice and so they act out accordingly. and they don't have outlets -- and it's a very complicated situation there. there are other factors, as well. but the reality is that these
very complicated situation in the middle east and south asia and beyond, and we really need to do a better job of understanding those complexities and we really need to frame it as a political issue, not an islamic issue. >> and i think, for a lot of people in this country, what's happened is that they are fearful. >> mm-hmm. >> so you add fear to a lack of knowledge about the big picture, as i think you're pointing out, then you've got a really volatile situation. so, in the short term, what do you think the country -- and i guess we all -- need to do to really, essentially, say, "look, we're all in this together, and we don't want to find ourselves fighting each other and discriminating against each other, based on what these people are doing"? i mean, how do you -- >> yeah, yeah. you know, it's essential that
that narrative for a moment and talk about the fact that communities are being torn apart. neighbors are being turned against neighbors. family members are being torn apart and against each other. our children are targets in the their homes. so it's a very scary time. >> mm-hmm. >> and we are also americans. i fully expect to be safe when i walk outside of the door into any building. so i get, you know, the fear of safety. i also want to speak to the fact that, as a society, we have a responsibility to not only talk the talk but walk the talk, as well.
outside for their abuses of people's basic human rights, their human dignity, while we strip away those same dignities from our own citizens. so there is a cohesion that has to manifest itself. and, you know, we already know each other. human beings are inclined to want to live together. we already live together. so to allow this toxic brew to create a situation where we turn against each other is not an option that we can afford. so, i'm quite optimistic, actually, that we won't allow this to happen. and we just have to continue showing up as decent, moral, ethical human beings on the planet and condemn abuses,
by whomever they are committed. that's our charge. >> i am so sorry to end the conversation, but i'm out of time. thank you both for joining us this afternoon. we do need to keep talking about this. >> thank you. >> yeah. >> still to come on "here and now," a program that's giving first-generation college students the tools they need to
we're free, and here to guide you through every step of the way. starting with... attendance. [air horn] gary, financial aid forms... picking a college, man! you and us. we go together like tacos and tuesday. and i loooove tacos. narrator: go to getschooled.com landing a job can be daunting for anyone, but for some first-generation college students from low-income families, there's often an extra layer of stress. america needs you helps these students realize their personal and professional dreams. joining us this afternoon is the c.e.o. of america needs you and one of its founding members, kimberly harris, and a.n.y. alumnus felix navarro jr. thank you both for being with us this afternoon. you walked in here with big smiles on your faces, both of us, and that's got to be because
organization is doing. and i understand you are one of its big success stories, young man. >> oh, thank you. thank you. >> so, kimberly, i'll start with you. why did you feel there was a need for america needs you? >> absolutely. well, thank you for having us here today. and i've been involved with the organization, as you mentioned, since the very beginning. so, back in 2009, we really wanted to find a way to better support first-generation college students. only 11% of first-generation students are expected to graduate. and while there are so many really wonderful programs that help students to get into college, there's very limited support once they're there. i think the misconception is that once you make it to college, you know, that's the finish line. and it really isn't enough. in fact, getting a college degree isn't even enough. so we really wanted to create a robust program focusing on mentorship, transformative mentorship, and intensive career development.
in their second and third year of college, just as they're thinking about their majors and their internships, and we help them to select, to secure, and to succeed in careers. so, we cover everything from r\sum\ writing to elevator pitches to cover letters, interview skills, as well as the softer skills that really make you successful once you enter the workforce, like public speaking and confidence-building. it's a really holistic approach. >> and it's like a two-year fellowship is my understanding. >> it's a selective program. we work with students, typically, at community colleges and other four-year under-resourced public schools, and we help them as they kind of navigate their career journey. but it is a selective program. we want to make sure that students can be committed to the program because it is so intensive. our students are required to come out every other saturday for about six hours. >> and, felix, i'm teasing you, but i actually meant every word. >> okay. >> you were one of the first students to go through the
tell me about it. what was so special about it for you? and what do you think you gained? >> sure. so, as you mentioned, it was in 2010 when i joined the program, and i think the first thing that struck me was being in an environment that surrounded you with people who really cared and were completely invested in your success. and that had a huge impact on me, because then i, myself, felt the confidence and the drive to do well. so, you're in college. you're trying to figure out where you want to go, what you want to do after school, and you're just floating. but new york needs -- america needs you -- we're formerly new york needs you. but america needs you really connects you to that career and gives you access to people who are in those careers that can tell you about what you need to do and what you need to know to get there. >> and is this assistance and help that you -- first, did you know you needed it when you first came out of school? and do you think you would have gotten it if america needs you
aid? >> i knew i needed it because it was a pretty tough time in my life, actually. i was actually considering joining the military and dropping out because of circumstances in my life. i mean, i was living on my own, and even with my family's help, it was hard to take on the responsibilities. >> i know your father was ill. >> right, right. and, you know, they moved to florida. and i've been lucky to have great parents and extremely supportive parents, but i needed that extra push. >> mm-hmm. >> and i think that america needs you did that for me. now, would i have graduated? i think so, if i hadn't joined the navy. but would i have been where i am today? probably not. and if you told me if i would be working where i am now five years ago, i would have laughed. >> so, tell us about where you're working now. >> well, i'm currently at goldman sachs, in the compliance division. so, it's been a great tide and it's been a great first job out of school. >> and just to say, you're no slouch. you graduated valedictorian. >> yes, i did. [ laughter ] >> but there are all these other factors that i think you pointed
consideration when we're talking about succeeding. >> absolutely. so, if you think about the 11% of first-gen students that end up graduating and, more importantly, the 89% that end up dropping out, they're not reasons. they're really dropping out for financial reasons and because they don't -- many students don't understand the long-term potential in school. so, one of our students who recently graduated and now is in graduate school -- she said, even though she's a straight-"a" student, it was a struggle every day for her to wake up and go to school because of the pressure in her home. you know, school, for her, was an opportunity cost. she worked a retail job, she made minimum wage, but she was providing significant income to her family. all of our students are first-gens, first in their families to go to school, and also from low-income families. so we have to kind of really think deeply about all of the opportunity costs that they're making by persisting. >> i have so many questions. how do the students come to the program? >> sure. so, right now, we're in
illinois. and, in new york, we have a partnership with the cuny system, so we only recruit students out of cuny. we have liaisons on all of the campuses. but what's been really, really inspiring to see is that our fellows are actually doing the recruitment for us. they see the value in the program and they're going out and they're telling their younger peers to get involved. and i think that, you know, what is probably one of the most impactful thing -- it's really that mentorship relationship. our mentors are young professionals. we're trying to recruit felix to be a mentor to our program now. they're young professionals and they dedicate over 200 hours of support over the program. so the fellows see that they have one person that they know that's completely dedicated to their personal success, academic success, and professional success. >> and how do you get -- you obviously need corporate involvement. >> absolutely. >> you know, how do they come to be involved with the program? and was that a struggle at first or did you find companies sort of lining up to be part of this?
it has been really interesting to kind of see the evolution of our corporate partnerships. we rely heavily on corporate partnerships for not only financial support but internships for our students, for volunteer opportunities. we recruit many volunteers from our corporate partners. and also in-kind support. so, we have -- the workshops that we host every other saturday for about 6 to 8 hours -- we host them all around the city at corporate partner sites. so students walk into a beautiful skyscraper, where they've seen it on the outside but never thought that they would belong on the inside. so, we rely on corporate partnerships a lot. and in terms of the evolution, it really started out -- when i my employer. time. went to my employer and begged them to hire a fellow. i said, "hey, we have this new and innovative idea and model. will you take a student?" and they said, "sure. we'll do it as a favor." then we found out that corporate partners were coming to us and saying, "wow. we had a chance to meet one of your amazing students. we want more." and, so, we've really -- that
our corporate partnerships as we expand in new york and nationally. >> because they saw the value in the program. felix, i want to ask you -- you know, what would you tell another young person that you see right in the position you're in? what would you tell them about this program in terms of what it would do to change their life? >> and life-changing is exactly the way to say it. i definitely think that -- they need to realize that they have potential that's untapped. and what america needs you will do for them is tap into that potential and help them realize it and build that confidence. and once they hit that, you'll you. as long as you put in the work, america needs you will connect that gap and put you towards your passion. >> okay. americaneedsyou.org. you can find out information -- how you can help, how you can get involved? >> absolutely. yes. please visit our website. there are so many different volunteer opportunities. we are always looking for mentor coaches who can commit to two years, but even if you want to come out and visit a
you should want your banking to be too. stop into td bank and we'll help set you up with picture perfect banking. new customers, open a checking and savings account and you can get a polaroid cube+ video camera on the spot. times average between 9 and 11 minutes. because every second matters in an emergency, united rescue jersey city is working to bridge that gap and save lives. it's the nation's first volunteer pre-ambulance emergency-response service. here today is rick sposa, operations coordinator for jersey city medical center ems, and united rescue volunteers francis clerie and albert kwimi. thank you all for joining us this afternoon. >> thank you. >> good afternoon. >> rick, you read about united rescue, and it's like, "oh, my goodness. a no-brainer." how did this idea come about in jersey city? >> it truly is a no-brainer.
just before the holidays last year by the leadership from united rescue u.s., who had been in contact with mayor fulop in jersey city. and we were thinking about how we could better improve on our performance. while the average response time is that 8-to-9-minute mark, we were well below that average in jersey city, running about the 6-minute mark, actually a little bit below of the 6-minute mark. but we're never afraid to innovate. we always want to look to what's next. what's the new program? what's gonna bring us to the next step? and this idea really -- it fit quite well with our break-the-mold attitude in jersey city. so we really thought that we could impact those response times and, in turn, patient survivability by reducing it even more, by getting a volunteer brigade of people out there before the ambulance gets there. >> and, to be clear, these are trained volunteers it's not just people showing up, saying "give me a bag," and running. they've been trained to do this. >> absolutely. all of the
we provided them with a 60-hour emergency medical responder course. they spent time in our ambulances, in our dispatch center. they've been credentialed, background checks, you know, and really vetted quite well, and uniformed, as well, and equipped to get there in the early stages of an emergency and make a difference. >> now, francis and albert, you are graduates of this first class, i guess, of volunteers. francis, why was this something that you felt like was a good fit for you, and you were a good fit for this volunteer brigade? >> well, i go to school in jersey city university and i'm a biology student. so, my dream is to be a doctor. so this is just, like, a first step or milestone that is great for my career field, as well, because i'm learning to get interaction with people and learning to help people more, since it is in my field. so it's just more of a passion
so when i first heard about this in my campus, angie -- she had a table at my campus, trying to recruit people. and right when i saw it, it just called to me just to help people, volunteering, just give a little bit. and it just came natural. >> and, albert, what about you? >> well, i am from a christian background, and the ideals of united rescue fit right into being a universe-keeper. it offers us the tools and the capacity to be able to watch for our neighbors, to be able to assist in case of need. so it was a no-brainer in terms of, "why should i get in?" it was quite a no-brainer. and, also, my background -- i'm also a nurse, so i have the skill available and i can put it at a service for those who need it. >> now, but you don't have to -- both of them seem uniquely qualified to do this kind of volunteer, but you don't necessarily have to be someone that has, you know, a background -- he's a student, wants to be a doctor. you're already a nurse. you don't necessarily have to
>> no. the only background you need is the desire to help your neighbors. that's what we're looking for. and if you can have that desire, we'll make you the responder. >> and have either of you responded to an emergency yet? >> yes. >> so, tell me about that. >> so, i had a call where there was a woman that had chest pain. so, i was with the medical center already and i was working with them, training-wise. and we went there. she had a seizure and she was on the floor. so, of course, we went hands-on. we flipped over. we let her go through the seizure. then we went through the whole qprs, which is the system that we learned to go through to make sure that the respiratory, the abcs, everything was going all right. we got her stabilized, we brought her to the hospital, and everything was okay. but it was the first eye-opening experience, because you see firsthand, like, all of these things are going on behind closed doors. and we just learned to do it and
>> and the beauty of this is that they -- it's bridging. it's just bridging that between getting no assistance until the ambulance gets there, which is really crucial. >> absolutely crucial. high-quality cpr being performed in the early minutes when a patient goes into cardiac arrest is the difference between life and death. and as quickly as an ambulance gets to a building, let's say, we lose time getting up an elevator or getting through security or those things, where people in the buildings are there already. they're gonna beat us and bridge that gap and start that cpr. >> and you connect with the volunteers. you guys all stay connected. there's an app. tell me about that app and what you're able to do with that. >> sure. so, the nowforce app interfaces with our computer-aided dispatch system. so, in real time, as we take calls and process them into our system, it geo-locates -- it actually uses the gps in our volunteers's phones to figure
and then alerts them that there's a call going on. they can mark themselves responding to the call. they can mark themselves off at the scene. and we're able to keep in touch with them. we expect to expand that, actually, to a full radio system in the very near future. but the app gets them to the scene quickly. >> so, kwimi, you're a nurse, so a lot of this you probably are familiar with -- what you learned in this class, you probably already knew a lot of it. so, you see the need for a service like this -- getting to people that might otherwise not have somebody with any kind of training near them. >> absolutely. in fact, it takes about 4 to 6 minutes for brain cells to start dying, and that's paralysis in some cases. and that's the time it takes for ambulances to get through the traffic to get to the scene. so if you have somebody who can get there early enough, we have the chance to prevent brain
preventing catastrophic outcome for the patient. >> and people are -- the volunteers -- walking, running, using bicycles? >> so, we're starting with walking and hopefully no tripping or running. but we're starting with walking. we're going to expand, in the very near future, to bicycles. and down the road, we'll perhaps get some motorized means of transportation, as well. >> and -- i'm sorry. >> sure. >> how large is this initial group of volunteers? >> so, we were -- a pipe dream for us in year one was 100 volunteers. >> mm-hmm. >> the response was overwhelming. i believe, right now, to date, we've had over 700 applicants. we've trained our first 50. right after the holidays finish up, we're gonna put our next 50 into the next set of classes. and we're gonna keep going in groups of 50 as we get them out there on the streets. >> okay. and, honestly, like i said to start this, a no-brainer. >> it really is. >> best of luck to you and great job. >> thank you. >> great job, men.
information about united rescue, unitedrescue.us. >> yes. >> and find out how to volunteer. >> how to volunteer, all the information. >> all right. thank you guys for being here. >> thank you for having us. >> thank you. >> still ahead on "here and now," actors behind bars, a performing-arts program that offers classic training to inmates at rikers. meet the moore's! we're the moore family, and we're always looking for ways to enjoy more. so we called time warner cable and got even more than we expected.
more speed. like, 300 meg. more tv shows and movies on demand. more places to make more unlimited calls. call now. for $89.99 a month, you'll get 100 meg ultra fast internet, hd channels included, and unlimited calling to international destinations. we find more good things every day! more ways to watch more shows. on more wifi connected devices in our house. time warner cable made switching easy with a one hour arrival window. they even made sure all of our connections were up and running before they left. why settle for less, when you can get more! call now. get free installation with a one hour arrival window. and ask how you could get a $300 reward card.
>> it's a casting call like no other, and it's not only giving inmates on rikers island a chance to showcase their talents behind bars, but it's so much more. it's run by the critically acclaimed stella adler studio of acting. tom oppenheim, artistic director and president of stella adler studio of acting, and yolanda gonzalez, youth manager with the program. thank you both for being with us this afternoon. >> thank you so much. >> thank you. >> what is the goal of this program in rikers? >> well, to give our students there the opportunity, through theater, to connect with the
i guess that's how i'd put it, in a nutshell. so, we're out there really trying to train actors. we're utilizing acting, we're utilizing theater to give them an opportunity to connect deeply with themselves. >> and how receptive are inmates to the idea of participating in this, usually? >> you know, i mean, i think extraordinarily receptive. typically, the ones that come -- it's voluntary, so they're not mandated to be with us. so they volunteer to be with us. but once they get there, they're receptive and enrichening. and, you know, we learn from them through their courage and through their humanity. >> now, yolanda, you got introduced to the program while you were at rikers. >> correct. >> and were you open to it, initially, or... [ laughter ]
have to have an open mind in order to be able to participate in a program like this -- such as this one, anyway. there was a lot of people who didn't want to participate, and it was hard to sign up. and i said, "eh, let's give it a chance. let's see what it is about." and my life has forever been changed. >> from participating in -- and how long was the program that you participated in? >> well, i partook for about three of their shows. >> mm-hmm. >> so i'm just overwhelmed, enjoyed, because in rikers, you tend to lose your humanity, who and what your worth is. and they just brought it right back. finding my voice was one of the things that was most astounding to me. >> now, tell me -- how did this program help you find that voice? >> i started writing again. i used to write poetry. and i'm able to write my poetry again. i'm about to finish my book.
>> yes. >> and you now work with the studio outside of rikers. okay. >> one of the things that they offer us is that there's an inside-outside program. >> mm-hmm. >> so i'm forever training and acting there, finding who and how i feel, which is one of the things that is beautiful about this program. and they offered me a job. >> mm-hmm. >> i forever am very grateful to them. >> you don't expect you to ever be going back to rikers. >> absolutely not. >> okay. >> absolutely not. only to help them perform over there. >> mm-hmm. >> right. and to train other people over there and find their humanity and their spirit and their sense of worth. >> what yolanda is saying -- that's exactly what you hope for. >> exactly. yeah. we discuss it all the time -- through our impact and through
we reduce recidivism? how can we guide our students there to believe in themselves, to commit to living positive lives? that's what it's all about, absolutely. >> now, the thing i found interesting, reading about your program, is -- you're not going into rikers and you're getting a cast together and you're doing -- >> that's right. >> you are actually -- they're the writers, they're the performers, and you put together a show with their own words. >> that's right. and, you know, we're there, you know, every week of the year. i mean, i have this incredibly courageous group, a passionate, dedicated group of faculty that go in there all the time. yeah, and then we offer texts, some of the texts. like, for example, we just did a piece with the women, and we relied heavily on the great american poet sonia sanchez. we used her poetry as an example
but we also elicit their own work and their own movement. that's right. that's correct. >> well, when you say "stella adler studio of acting," you are talking marlon brando... >> right. >> pacino? >> well, not pacino, but robert de niro and benicio del toro and so on. >> salma hayek. yes. i mean, these are big names. >> yes. >> so, i think it really means something that you -- there's something else, other things you could be doing, but to spend the time at rikers with people that a lot of folks have written off... >> right, right. >> well, you know what? everything stella lived for could be summed up in the idea, the insight, the growth as an actor, and growth as a human being are synonymous. and our mission is to create an environment that nurtures theater artists and audiences so that they value humanity --
first priority, while bringing art and education to the community. there's no reference in our mission to being a professional actor, though, as you say, we've produced many and gifted ones. but, really, it's about the quality of your humanity, your capacity to nurture your own humanity, and to understand yourself as a servant to other people, to the humanity of others, that the theater is a powerful tool to uplift, edify humanity. >> and touch lives. >> yes. yes. >> and have you had the chance to go back as part of the -- >> not at this given point, but in the near future, i hope to endeavor in that. >> and you plan to share your story with them. >> absolutely.
it is a program that should be delivered in every jail, because it helps bring down the walls, it helps gratify one's soul, and it helps overcome obstacles that -- this is a tool that you can use in any spectrum of life. and it should be shared and used. >> and just, you know, the work we do at rikers is part of a bigger organization, the stella adler outreach division. yeah. and we are virtually at every station on the school-to-prison pipeline. so we're in middle schools in the south bronx. we're in high schools. we have an after-school program for inner-city kids that come to us. and that's what yolanda's the manager of. >> okay. >> we work with phoenix house, which is a drug-rehabilitation program. tonight, we'll be at rikers working with young adult males. next friday, the 18th, we'll be presenting work in the
l.a. county jail. so, it's a vast -- >> network. >> it's a vast network, yeah. and the point of it is to say, "you matter," and i feel like theater does that in an extraordinary way. it's like an ancient technology. "you matter. you count." and when you bring it to people who have lived lives where they've gotten the exact opposite message in their neighborhoods, in their schools, and so on -- "you don't matter. your voice doesn't matter." you feel its power in a way i think stella would have been absolutely delighted by, as, by the way, would marlon and benicio del toro and all those people. >> as equally gratified. >> yes. yes. >> thank you both for joining us this afternoon. and you can go to stellaadler.com to find out more information about some of your other outreach endeavors. >> yes. yes. >> thank you both.
what started as an invitation from oprah winfrey turned into a half-million-dollar donation to a dancer's dream. eyewitness news anchor sade baderinwa has more. >> oh, my goodness, what a journey -- from greene avenue down the street to right now? it's been an extraordinary journey. >> one that took dwana smallwood from the streets of bed-stuy to performing around the world as one of the premier dancers for alvin ailey's elite dance company for 12 years. she is considered one of the best modern dancers since judith jamison and mikhail baryshnikov. her power, her grace electrifying. >> even though alvin ailey is, like, the biggest company in the world and that was the only place i wanted to dance, but i was thinking, "is that my life's purpose, to perform?" >> and that could be enough for some, but not for dwana. so when life came knocking at her door once again, she did as she always did. she danced her way to the next
on "the oprah winfrey show." but that performance morphed into so much more. >> i said, "please, would you go to my school in south africa and teach my girls what you know?" >> and she did, her passion taking new form as a teacher. but what was supposed to be a one-week stay at the school... >> first, i was begging for a week and then i was begging for a year. >> ...turned into a four-year odyssey with lessons that extended far beyond dance, even for dwana. >> i could reach young people. i could figure out what was going on with a young woman and i could help her to recognize the brilliance within her. >> she came in to teach dance, but she taught them about life. >> with her mission accomplished in south africa, home was calling her back. >> 'cause i truly love brooklyn and i love bed-stuy. >> but she returned with a gift... >> and chest. and ahh. and hold. >> ...opening the
center in the very neighborhood where she grew up, a neighborhood long battered by crime, poverty, and drugs. >> there is another choice. there is another way. you know, there are other options. >> people who care about me and i know can protect me. >> joining us now to tell us more about her performing arts center, dwana smallwood. what a pleasure to meet you. >> oh, thank you so much. thank you for having me. >> you have truly turned that passion into dance into a life's work. you've got to feel blessed, lucky. >> i feel blessed, lucky. blessed and lucky times five. yes, i do. >> is it what you expected? i know that you wanted to have that school in brooklyn, where you're from. is it as a wonderful a thing as you expected? >> it is, actually, and so much
so much more. didn't realize how quickly it would metamorphosize into something magnificent and bring joy to so many people and so many families. >> 4,000-square-foot space? >> yes. >> how many students now? >> right now, we have about roughly 102 students. >> mm-hmm. what is it about dance that so captivated you and makes you believe that it can be life-changing not only for young dancers, but also for your community? >> yes, for my community -- well, for me, personally, i felt like dance was that thing that helped me to block out the noise of the world. as i was growing up, there were so many influences that weren't necessarily positive. and i needed a way to distract those things so i could stay focused on what i wanted and what i needed, because it was so far-fetched from what i was actually experiencing in my
and, so, dance was that thing that gave me a voice, that gave me power, that made me feel like anything was possible. i could just go away and exist in another place, in another body, in another realm. and, so, i felt like my community, when i returned back to brooklyn from living in south africa -- they needed something to block out the noise of the world, 'cause right now, what's going on in the world, there's a lot of noise and distractions from our true divinity, our true calling as individuals. and, so, what is it in our individual lives that helps us to, you know, block out that noise? and, for me, it was dance, and so what greater thing to bring to my community was that gift that i received. >> now, oprah is fond of saying, you know, "you got to find your passion." >> mm-hmm. >> and i suspect -- it's proof, i think, of the fact that she's supported you and hired you,
done that and that you were using your passion to transform other lives. >> yes. i like to call it my oxygen, the thing that allows you to breathe. it challenges you. it motivates you. it dictates, you know, where you're supposed to be in your life. and, yes, she truly is supporting more than just the dance, but the need to reach into a young a child and help them to see their own gifts and their own possibilities. >> now, you said that being -- you spent four years in south africa -- that that changed your life, as well. >> oh, it did. it truly did change my life. you know, you think you're giving, you know, and then, all of a sudden, you are immersed with young women who need so much more than just, you know, holding their hand or giving them a big hug. they actually need, you know, your advice, your guidance. they need direction, they need answers, and they need to be told the truth and they need to
and, so, in south africa, i really learned how to give of myself without receiving or expecting anything in return. >> and you did get a lot of return, not knowing it, a generous financial gift from oprah that allowed you to realize that dream in brooklyn. >> yes. i had no idea. now, i did not go there expecting that at all. i went there giving and giving and giving, because what she was doing in south africa requires a great amount of people, and people with the same type of passion and understanding that education could possibly -- is the tomorrow for so many young women to be seated at the table of change. and, so, that's why i went there. so to come out of it with her saying, "you know, i believe you. here's my stamp of approval." >> a half-million dollars? >> more than a half a million dollars, actually. >> do you want me to get out of your business or are you gonna tell? >> i won't tell. >> [ laughing ] okay.
but it was beyond generous, because it goes far beyond the dollar. it's about the belief, someone believing not just in me, but in my mission to use dance as a tool to help bridge the gap between knowing who you are and knowing what your purpose is. and my community is in desperate need of some type of not saving, but reconnecting to theirselves and their purpose. >> and how do you become a student at your performing arts center? >> you can call us at 718-443-9800 or you can go on our website, at dwanasmallwoodpac.org and you can register for classes, you can enroll, or you can come for open classes. we have classes for ages 3 to 18. we have a youth ensemble, who do not pay. >> mm-hmm. >> we also have classes for adults. >> okay. now, is it because of
donations that you can offer these things to these young people? >> well, the young people that are enrolled, most of them -- they do pay. and we do have fundraisers so we can raise money for scholarships. so, we've given out about 16 scholarships so far, you know, which is amazing to me, 'cause i remember what a scholarship did for me when i attended the alvin ailey american dance theater. so to now be able to give out a scholarship because of other donors, you know, people giving $20, $50 -- you know, $50 goes along way. >> yeah, it makes a difference. >> it makes a huge difference in a young person's life. >> now, has oprah had a chance to visit the school yet? and are you looking forward to it? >> no, not yet. i am very much looking forward to it. i want to make her proud. i want her to know that we are, you know, changing this cultural desert that we exist in now into a cultural mecca and we are doing right by her principles and her money, donation.
to dwanasmallwoodpac.org. >> yes. >> you can find out more about the performing arts center and how to donate? >> yes, and how to donate. you can go on -- we have a global giving campaign running to raise money for books and for more scholarships for youth in the community. we also have a paypal account. we have a "donate now" on every page. so there are ways, and when in doubt, you can always mail a check. >> all right. dwana smallwood, best of luck, but i think luck is on your side. a whole lot of hard work, as well, though. >> thank you very much. thank you.
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