Basking in the Spotlight

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As an entrepreneur, you don’t get many pats on the back.

Employee/subcontractor appreciation is something you do…not necessarily something you receive. You are your own “wind beneath your wings.” Your back pats are new and repeat business. (I’m not complaining!) But there are times when you just want to hear the words “good job,” and that’s exactly what I heard the other night.

Last week, I received the 2015 Giving Spirit Award from the National Association of Women Business Owners, which recognized my volunteer work on behalf of The Children’s Center, and Cranbrook’s Horizon Upward Bound SISTERs program. Most notably, I was singled out for my work as a volunteer reader for the last two years in public schools where I have read my two children’s books–Taj Cleans the Garage and Malcolm Mows the Lawn–and encouraged young children to choose books for imaginative fun and adventure!

The likes, shares, retweets, views, favorites and comments that followed the award announcement all felt like a warm, cuddly blanket that wrapped me up in praise and congratulations. I heard from friends and collegues, clients and family, all filling me up with their kind words and expressions of love. Now, I am passionate about all of the work I do in the community, and while I don’t do it for recognition, my heart swelled with gratitude that someone had noticed.

Thank you, everyone, for your good wishes and for your awards night support. I think it meant so much because even a self-starting, go-getting, everyday is a new opportunity to shine entrepreneur like me, needs a little recognition sometime.

Congratulations to all of the 2015 NAWBO awardees:

Breakthrough Award, Samantha White,  Founder, Shakespeare in Detroit; Diversity Champion, Siham Jaafar, President & CEO, 3D Consulting & Communications; Global Business Award, Kay Douglas, President, Douglas Marketing Group; Pinnacle Award, Barb Hendrickson, President, Visible Communication, LLC; Rainmaker Award, Belinda Jefferson, President, Hercules & Hercules, Inc.; Red-Tape Buster Award, Sheila Konanur, President & CEO, Naadee, LLC; Up-and-Coming Award, Robin Cole, President & CEO, Professional Medical Centers; Warrior Award, Cassaundra Sims, Vice President, Universal Solutions Management; Words of Wisdom Award, Melanie Duquesnel, President & CEO, Better Business Bureau; Greater Good Award, Rhonda Walker, President, Rhonda Walker Foundation.

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When Thunder, the Flying Horse Came

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When you tap into a child’s imagination, you’re likely to hear them say anything. That’s what happened this week when several volunteers from Chrysler joined me to read my new children’s book, Taj Cleans the Garage, to about 900 kids in celebration of National Reading Month. The automotive giant also provided a copy of the book to each child in Kindergarten through third grade at Burton International Academy, Sampson Webber Leadership Academy, and Thirkell and Chrysler Elementary, all Detroit Public Schools. It was a heady week for this new author who is passionate about helping to close the achievement gap.

Taj Cleans the Garage is the story about a little boy who does a chore that turns into a magical adventure. He takes off on a flying horse named Thunder who soars high into the air and almost gets captured by pirates. At the conclusion of the story, I always ask, “Where would you want the flying horse to take you?”

“Grandma’s house!” “The beach!” “Disney World!” were the most popular answers.

But geography and everything else became fair game too as the children told me about places that embedded warm memories of family, friends and fun. Just about every state in the union was mentioned with Hawaii at the top of the list. When it came to world travel they wanted to go to Africa, Mexico and Asia. They also wanted the flying horse to take them to Cedar Point amusement park, Lego Land, Santa’s Workshop, McDonald’s, the bank and then the mall, the park, Dad’s house, their cousin’s house, and to the hotel swimming pool. Ms. Naster’s Kindergarten class at Thirkell–who I had read to earlier in the month–presented me with a book titled, Thunder Takes Us… It was full of drawings of all the places they wanted to go to, including many of them here.

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I truly feel like I have been flying with Thunder all week. The children’s excitement was contagious. They were so energetic, so full of wonder and curiosity, so creative and responsive to questions that invited them to stretch their imaginations to the sky, and so attentive too, which was great for my ego!

I said this before (or something like it) and I’ll say it again. Pick a school and go in and read to the children. It reinforces that reading is a fun activity that should be shared. Children see the world with fresh eyes and have an uncanny ability to help adults lighten up and see things differently too. I think you’ll find that reading a  story to a child is one of the easiest ways to give back to your community, and the most rewarding too.

And now, the awards…Renee, Taj, Thunder and Jackson want to thank the following for making this week one of the most exciting times in our lives!

Chrysler, Daphne Harris and Chrysler volunteers: You have made our dreams come true!

Beyond Basics, Ellen Sellstrom and Pam Good: You guys are scheduling genius’s and have one of the best literacy programs ever!

Detroit Public School Principals John Wilson, Burton International Academy; Anthony Houston and Asst. Principal Trina Lee, Sampson Webber Leadership Academy; Dr. Clara Smith, Thirkell Elementary School; Wendy Shirley, Chrysler Elementary: For your unwavering commitment to educate the children in Detroit.

Detroit Public School teachers: Thank you for teaching and preparing the future leaders of tomorrow DAY IN and DAY OUT!

Detroit Public School Students: Thank you for being so full of possibilities and for sharing Taj Cleans the Garage with me. Keep reading!

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Let Their Imaginations Run Wild with Great Stories

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I’m having a good time reading Taj Cleans the Garage to young kids. I’m learning a lot in this reading and literacy process, namely:

–Make sure the children know what the words reward, allowance and lasso mean. I specifically put these words and others into the book to initiate discussion and help to develop their language skills.

–Engage them with “What if?” questions. I usually ask, “If you could go anywhere on a flying horse, where would you go? Aside from the occasional playground and Disney World, the top of the list is “Grandma’s house,” “the store,” and “Chucky Cheese,” all reflections of a child’s own world, and their exposure to things within their comfort zone. Still, I get some outer world answers like “The Black Hole.” (But, aren’t you afraid of getting lost in there? Nope!). I also hear “All over the city,” and “Outer space,” as well as “Deep, deep outer space!” Now, we’re getting somewhere!

That’s what I’m really trying to do by reading my book about a little boy whose chore turns into an adventure. Yes, I want to promote responsibility, but I also want to tap into a child’s imagination. In addition to the required 3 Rs: ‘reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic, I want to say that I helped to turn on that endless flow of creativity that allows children to soar to heights never seen before, especially if it’s on a flying horse!

Maybe you want to do something like this too. Just call up your local school and tell them you want to read a book to a class. They’ll be glad to host you.

My First Book Signing!

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Last week, I had a book signing at Eastern Market

The sun was blinding, the music was hip and bluesy, and the conversations were peppered with words like containers, hotels, reading, and oh yeah, Taj Cleans the Garage, which is not just a book, it’s my platform to inspire young boys to read more and to learn to love reading. I also want to encourage parents to engage their children in more reading activities.

The book signing/conversational event brought people together who purchased signed copies of Taj, and heard me talk about a study that has been making its rounds in efforts to close the achievement gap:  

·         The Kansas study showed that many low-income and minority children learn 30 million fewer words by age 3 than their higher income counterparts

·         This study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley says that this is a predictor for low achievement and ongoing academic challenges.

There is a way that each of us can do something about this: We can read earlier and more often to children, and talk to them more about everything.

Lots of pre-school programs are already on board. In addition, there are several programs that are advocating the “earlier and often” mantra, including The United Way of Southeastern Michigan, that gives newborns through five year olds a book each month http://www.liveunitedsem.org/pages/imagination-library

It’s going to take a village to turn things around, and tag, we’re it. Join them and others you will hear more about in the weeks to come.

Tags: Eastern Market, First Container and a Book Signing

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