Registration Now Open for May 30th Coalition Meeting

The Spring Full Coalition meeting will be held on Thursday, May 30th from 2:30-4:30pm at Camp Apex! Here are a few details:

  • Hosted by Franklin County’s YMCA’s fabulous Camp Apex, a 10-minute drive from downtown Greenfield at 45 Peckville Road, Shelburne Falls, MA.
  • Our first-ever OUTDOOR coalition meeting! Dress for the weather: there’s no rain date…if the weather does not allow for an outdoor meeting under a pavilion, we’ll switch over to zoom, and let you know the day before.
  • We’re still working out the details of the agenda, but we’ll have a focus on Youth and Community Engagement and Leadership. 
  • We will be awarding the Sara Cummings Coalition Leadership Award.  It’s not too late to nominate someone amazing!
  • We’re working on a special treat of snacks made by Franklin County Technical School students…stay tuned!

Register now at:

Fall Full Coalition Meeting Oct 27, 11-1 at New Greenfield Public Library

Please join us for the Communities That Care Coalition’s Fall Coalition Meeting on Friday, October 27th, from 11am to 1pm at the beautiful new Greenfield Public Library, in their large community room..  Register at ASAP (by 10/18 if you would like childcare or Spanish translation) and join us! 

We will share the 2023 Student Health Survey Data (with a focus on screen time and social media), vote on our three-year Community Action Plan (check it out in advance HERE and send corrections to, and we will present our Mike Fritz Community Builder Award to the unstoppable Amy McMahan of Mesa Verde!

Lunch will be a combination of Mesa Verde and Chef Tina’s Haitian Food

While the meeting is old-school IN PERSON, masks are of course welcome and to-go boxes will be available for those who want to keep their masks on and bring food home.

Recording Available of June 9, 2022 Coalition Meeting at Greenfield High School

The Coalition had it’s first back-to-in-person meeting on Thursday, June 9th, from 3:30-5:00 pm at the Greenfield High School Cafeteria.  We had approximately 35 people present in the room and 15 by zoom – with 10 more in the childcare room! And thanks to GCTV, you can check out the video recording that is being broadcast several times on GCTV. 

In case you missed it:

The Brick House will also be holding a follow-up discussion for families on Wednesday, June 15th from 3:30-5:00 with stipends, childcare, transportation, translation, and more.  Please contact Stacey or 413-800-2496 for more information!

The coalition was proud to be able to offer childcare (thank you Greenfield High School), transportation (thank you Brick House and FRTA’s Access program), and Spanish interpretation (thank you Carolina) at this Full Coalition meeting! 

Black History 365: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

We are highlighting examples of Black excellence throughout the year! Feel free to send us suggestions!

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (born Ellen Eugenia Johnson, 29 October 1938) is a Liberian politician who served as the 24th President of Liberia from 2006 to 2018. Sirleaf was the first elected female head of state in Africa.[1]

Sirleaf was born in Monrovia to a Gola father and Kru-German mother. She was educated at the College of West Africa. She completed her education in the United States, where she studied at Madison Business College and Harvard University. She returned to Liberia to work in William Tolbert’s government as Deputy Minister of Finance from 1971 to 1974. Later, she worked again in the West, for the World Bank in the Caribbean and Latin America. In 1979, she received a cabinet appointment as Minister of Finance, serving to 1980.

After Samuel Doe seized power in 1980 in a coup d’état and executed Tolbert, Sirleaf fled to the United States. She worked for Citibank and then the Equator Bank. She returned to Liberia to contest a senatorial seat for Montserrado County in 1985, an election that was disputed. She was arrested as a result of her open criticism of the military government in 1985 and was sentenced to ten years imprisonment, although she was later released.[2] Sirleaf continued to be involved in politics. She finished in second place at the 1997 presidential election, which was won by Charles Taylor.

She won the 2005 presidential election and took office on 16 January 2006. She was re-elected in 2011. She was the first woman in Africa elected as president of her country. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, in recognition of her efforts to bring women into the peacekeeping process. She has received numerous other awards for her leadership. In June 2016, Sirleaf was elected as the Chair of the Economic Community of West African States, making her the first woman to hold the position since it was created.[3]

Black History 365: Jillian Hanesworth

We are highlighting examples of Black excellence throughout the year! Feel free to send us suggestions!

The residents of Buffalo are experiencing immense pain and grief, following the mass shooting at a supermarket in a historically Black neighborhood.

Jillian Hanesworth’s advice to her community is to lean in to that pain. She’s Buffalo’s poet laureate, 29 years old, and born and raised on the East side.

“All the pain that we’re feeling is valid. The tears are valid. Anger is valid,” she said. “Yes, this happened. You’re right. I know it hurts. It’s OK for you to cry. It’s OK for you to not want to go to work today. It’s OK for your kids to stay home from school today. They’re afraid.”

She has been asked to speak around town several times since Saturday’s racist attack, and racked her brain to figure out what to say, because nothing could make sense of a senseless act of violence.

The poet’s job

She takes issue with the social media hashtag #BuffaloStrong, because it could trick people into thinking that survival is the goal, when they really deserve to exist and thrive without the fear of being hunted down in a grocery store.

“We don’t need right now to be told that we’re strong. We need to be told that we’re right,” she said, explaining that the hashtag doesn’t sit right with many Black people in Buffalo.

Hanesworth says her job right now – as a poet, community organizer and a teaching artist – is to validate people’s feelings, even if they’re angry, confused or grieving.

“Black people in this country have lived through so much. So many people hate us just because we exist and we experience that at different levels on a daily basis. So we’re strong. We know that,” she said. “My main objective right now is to validate emotions. This is real. We can’t let society gaslight us into thinking that there’s no racism. People need that right now.”

She understands the urge to turn to poetry for comfort. But she doesn’t want to gloss over the pain or to normalize this kind of hatred and violence.

“As a poet, I see my role as a way to bridge the gap between what we know and what we need. So we know that racism exists. We know white supremacists are real. We know that we have been targeted. Now we need change.”

What we’re not going to do, is pretend like Buffalo New York is not one of the most racially segregated cities in the entire country. The city was designed this way and no one did anything to protect us from it….— Poet Jillian Hanesworth (@SocJustice_poet) May 15, 2022

She says what her city needs right now is honest conversations about systemic racism, the history of segregation, redlining and highway construction that hurt Black neighborhoods.

When she spoke at a vigil on Sunday, she asked mourners who had used GPS to get to the site of the shooting to raise their hands. Most of the people who did were white, which she says is the nature of segregation in Buffalo.

Changing systemic racism

Many white friends have reached out to share support and sympathy and to offer to help. She asks them to be honest with themselves and with their friends and family about systemic racism.

“We need you to talk. We need you to stop sitting around the dinner table acting like everything’s great because it’s not. Just because you aren’t experiencing it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Your role in this is to help change the system,” she said.

Once there’s meaningful change, and elected leaders, law enforcement officials and educators hear the deep emotions running through her community, Hanesworth says she’ll be ready to talk about healing.

Instead of #BuffaloStrong, Hanesworth proposes the hashtag #BuffaloHonest, to encourage people to talk about white supremacy, racism and violence.

In the meantime, she’s comforted by the way her community is coming together to serve barbecue, to pray, and to grieve at the supermarket just a block from her office.

No one goes hungry. #BuffaloNY ❤️— Poet Jillian Hanesworth (@SocJustice_poet) May 16, 2022

“There are people giving away food and barbecuing and just trying to take care of each other because in this type of situation, it’s all we can even think to do,” she said.

Black History 365: Vanessa James

We are highlighting examples of Black excellence throughout the year! Feel free to send us suggestions!

Vanessa James (born 27 September 1987) is a Canadian competitive pair skater. With her former skating partner, Morgan Ciprès, she is the 2019 European Champion, the 2018 World bronze medallist, the 2017 European bronze medallist, the 2018 Grand Prix Final champion, and a six-time French national champion. They have also won medals in Grand Prix and Challenger Series competitions. James and Ciprès represented France at the 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympics.

With her previous partner Yannick Bonheur, James represented France at the 2010 Winter Olympics, placing fourteenth. She is also the 2006 British national champion in single skating.

In April 2021, James announced the formation of a new partnership with Eric Radford, representing Canada.[1] They represented Canada at the 2022 Winter Olympics and were the bronze medalists at the 2022 World Championships.[2]

Personal life

Vanessa James was born in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada.[3] She lived in Bermuda until age 10 when her family moved to Virginia in the United States.[4] She lived in the U.S. through 2007, holding an American permanent residence card, and then moved to Paris, France.[5] Her father is from Bermuda, which enabled James to hold British citizenship. She became a French citizen in December 2009.[6] Her twin sister, Melyssa James, has also competed in figure skating.[4] James’ hobbies include tennis, dancing, and reading.


Early years

Vanessa James began skating with her sister after watching the 1998 Winter Olympics.[4] She originally competed domestically in the United States and represented the Washington Figure Skating Club.

In 2005, James began representing the United Kingdom internationally. She won gold at the 2006 British Championships and silver in 2007, becoming Britain’s first black figure skating champion.[7] She competed for Britain on the 2006 ISU Junior Grand Prix and at the 2007 World Junior Championships. Her last event as a singles skater was the 2007 International Cup of Nice, where she won the bronze medal.

In late 2007, James switched to pair skating, partnering briefly with British skater Hamish Gaman.[7] She teamed up with French skater Yannick Bonheur in December 2007, after a three-day tryout in Paris.[5]

2008–2009 season: Debut of James/Bonheur

Making their international debut, James/Bonheur placed seventh in November at their Grand Prix assignment, the 2008 Trophée Eric Bompard. They ranked tenth at the 2009 European Championships, which took place in January in Helsinki, Finland.

In March, James/Bonheur finished twelfth at the 2009 World Championships in Los Angeles, California, United States. Due to their result, France qualified a spot in the pairs’ event at the next Olympics. In April, they competed at the 2009 World Team Trophy in Tokyo, Japan.

2009–2010 season: Vancouver Olympics

James/Bonheur opened their season at the 2009 Nebelhorn Trophy, where they placed 6th. They were invited to two Grand Prix events, the 2009 Cup of China and 2009 Trophée Eric Bompard, and finished eighth at both. At the 2010 French Championships, they ranked second in the short program and first in the free skate. They won the title, outscoring the silver medalists Adeline Canac / Maximin Coia by 3.69 points.

In January, James/Bonheur placed seventh at the 2010 European Championships in Tallinn, Estonia. In February, they represented France at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; they placed fifteenth in the short program, fourteenth in the free skate, and fourteenth overall. James/Bonheur were the first black pair to compete at the Olympics.[8] Their final competition together was the 2010 World Championships, held in March in Turin, Italy. They placed tenth in the short, thirteenth in the free, and twelfth overall. They ended their partnership in spring 2010.[9] James later recalled that they “weren’t progressing, and we weren’t able to work well together anymore.”[10]

2010–2011 season

In May 2010, James had a successful tryout with Maximin Coia and the two agreed to train in Germany with Ingo Steuer, but several weeks later Coia decided to end his amateur career.[11]

In September 2010, James began a partnership with Morgan Ciprès, until then a singles skater.[9][12] They made no competitive appearances in their first season as Ciprès learned pairs elements.[13] Eight years later, James recalled the beginning of her partnership: “I remember our 3-day trial and it was so fun. He was so funny, because he had never done pairs before, so he was really nervous and saying ‘oh my gosh, oh my gosh’ every time he threw me. I knew that we were going to be good friends.”[14]

2011–2012 season: Debut of James/Ciprès

James/Ciprès made their competitive debut in late September 2011, finishing fifth at the 2011 Ondrej Nepela Memorial. After placing fifth at the 2011 Coupe de Nice, the pair finished eighth at their first Grand Prix together, the 2011 Trophee Eric Bompard. At the 2012 French Championships, they ranked first in the short program and second in the free skate. With a total score 8.92 points lower than Daria Popova / Bruno Massot, James/Ciprès received the silver medal.

Finishing sixth overall, James/Ciprès were the best French pair (outscoring Popova/Massot by almost 12 points) at the 2012 European Championships in Sheffield, England. They were granted France’s lone spot in pairs at the 2012 World Championships in Nice, France. In Nice, the two qualified to the final segment and finished sixteenth overall.

2012–2013 season

James/Ciprès won the bronze medal at the 2012 Nebelhorn Trophy—it was their first international medal as a pair.[15] Their 2012 Grand Prix assignments were Skate America, where they placed fourth, and the Trophee Eric Bompard, where they came in sixth. James/Ciprès won another international medal at the 2012 NRW Trophy and followed that with their first national title, in December.

In January, James/Ciprès came in fourth at the 2013 European Championships in Zagreb, Croatia. After taking gold at the 2013 International Challenge Cup, they placed eighth at the 2013 World Championships in London, Ontario. Due to their result in Canada, they qualified a spot for France in the pairs’ event at the Sochi Olympics.

2013–2014 season: Sochi Olympics

James/Ciprès were again assigned to Skate America and the Trophee Eric Bompard. Ciprès, however, underwent surgery after a wrist injury and had to avoid lifts for a period, causing the pair to withdraw from Skate America.[16][17] They were able to compete at the Trophee Eric Bompard and placed fifth. The pair then successfully defended their national title.

At the 2014 Europeans, James/Ciprès set personal best scores in both segments of the competition and came in fifth. They were named in the French team to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, where they placed tenth in the pairs event and sixth in the team event. They repeated their results at the 2014 World Championships.

2014–2015 season

James/Ciprès finished fourth at the 2014 CS Nebelhorn Trophy and fifth at both of their Grand Prix assignments, the 2014 Skate Canada International and 2014 Trophée Éric Bompard.

They placed third in the short program, earning a small medal, their first, and fifth overall at the 2015 European Championships in Stockholm. They placed ninth at the 2015 World Championships in Shanghai. The two later competed at the 2015 World Team Trophy in Tokyo where they placed fifth individually and sixth as a team.

2015–2016 season: First Grand Prix medal

James/Ciprès began their season with a bronze medal at the 2015 CS Nebelhorn Trophy. They placed second in the short program at the 2015 Trophée Éric Bompard before the event’s cancellation due to the November 2015 Paris attacks. The ISU deemed those placements to be the final results, awarding James/Ciprès their first Grand Prix medal, silver.

The pair finished fourth at the 2016 European Championships in Bratislava, and tenth at the 2016 World Championships in Boston. At the end of the season, they concluded that they needed a major change if they were to continue competing.[18] James said “either we improve, or we stop. There was no point in anything else.”[10]

2016–2017 season: European bronze medal

In June 2016, James/Ciprès relocated to Coral Springs, Florida, to be coached by John Zimmerman and Jeremy Barrett.[19][20][21] After taking silver at the 2016 CS Autumn Classic International, the pair competed at two Grand Prix events; they finished fourth at the 2016 Skate America and won the bronze medal at the 2016 Trophée de France.

In January 2017, James/Ciprès won the bronze medal at the European Championships in Ostrava, Czech Republic,[22][23] becoming the first French pair in fourteen years to medal at the event[24] (since 2003, when Sarah Abitbol / Stéphane Bernadis took silver).

In March, James/Ciprès placed tenth in the short program, sixth in the free skate, and eighth overall at the 2017 World Championships in Helsinki, Finland. The following month, they competed as part of Team France at the 2017 World Team Trophy in Tokyo, Japan; although their team finished sixth overall, the pair scored personal bests and placed first in both segments of the pairs’ event, ahead of Russia’s Evgenia Tarasova / Vladimir Morozov.

Reflecting on their progress as a team, James said, “Our main problem [before] was that we were two different people on the ice. We needed to change that and to increase the connection between the two of us.”[25]

2017–2018 season: PyeongChang Olympics and World bronze medal

James/Ciprès began their season with gold at the 2017 CS Autumn Classic International. They then won medals at both of their Grand Prix assignments, taking bronze at the 2017 Skate Canada International and silver at the 2017 Internationaux de France. They finished as the first alternates for the Grand Prix Final. At the 2018 European Championships in Moscow, the pair placed first in the short program, fourth in the free skate, and fourth overall—0.01 shy of the podium. They received a small gold medal for their short program.

James/Ciprès were named to France’s delegation to the 2018 Winter Olympics, which took place in February in Pyeongchang, South Korea.[26] During the team event, they placed sixth in their segment and Team France finished tenth. In the regular pairs event, they placed sixth in the short, fifth in the free, and fifth overall. In March, they became the first French pair in 18 years to stand on the World podium (since 2000), winning the bronze medal at the 2018 World Championships in Milan, Italy. James, reflecting on the start of her partnership, remarked “I’m so glad I made that choice because we’re a really good team today. It’s been bumpy, but amazing with Morgan.”[14]

2018–2019 season: Grand Prix Final and European Champions

James/Ciprès’s programs were both choreographed by ice dancers, with fellow French Olympian Guillaume Cizeron developing the short program and 2014 Olympic gold medalist Charlie White developing the free skate.[10]

James/Ciprès won the gold medal at their first event of the season, the 2018 CS Autumn Classic International and obtained their first victory at a Grand Prix event, at 2018 Skate Canada International, setting a new world record in the free skate. James said that they “gave so much emotion, and at the end, it was just magic for us.”[27] In mid-November they competed at the 2018 Internationaux de France where they won their second Grand Prix gold medal of the season, albeit with a somewhat rockier performance in the short program that left them in third place before placing first in the free skate. These results qualified them for the 2018–19 Grand Prix Final, their first appearance at the event.[28] In fourth after the short program at the Final, they again set a world record to place first in the free skate and win the gold medal. James expressed the hope that “having this long program so solid and strong will just help when we have a good short program. I know we have to fight every time after our short program to make up the points, but feeling more free and not having to try and try to make a comeback, I think will just liberate us a little bit more, I am hoping.”[29]

After winning another national title, their sixth, James/Ciprès went to the 2019 European Championships in Minsk. They got a first-place finish in the short program, ahead of Tarasova/Morozov.[30] They won the free skate as well, taking the European pairs title, only the second French team to do so, and the first since Andrée Joly and Pierre Brunet in 1932. She called the result “a dream come true”, while Ciprès called it “a dream when we were children to be here one day.”[31]

In March at the 2019 World Championships in Saitama, during the short program warm-up, James had a collision with Italy’s Matteo Guarise, in which both skaters fell onto the ice.[32] James/Ciprès placed a very unexpected seventh in the short program after unusual mishaps, James had an uncharacteristic fall on her throw triple flip, while Ciprès doubled his planned triple toe loop. In the free program they placed third, and fifth overall. They finished off the top of podium for the first time of the season, but took a small bronze medal for the free program. At the end of their free program, James/Ciprès announced that they would continue to keep skating until they won the World title.[33] To finish off the season, they competed at the 2019 World Team Trophy in Fukuoka, Japan, where they earned a new personal best in the free skate to earn first in the pairs event and fourth overall as a team.[34]

Hiatus and Ciprès scandal

Following the 2018–19 season, James/Ciprès were initially given two assignments on the 2019–20 Grand Prix circuit, the 2019 NHK Trophy and 2019 Internationaux de France. At the same time, it was announced that James would be appearing on the revival of the Canadian CBC skating competition program Battle of the Blades in the fall of 2019, partnered with retired NHL player Brian McGrattan. James/Ciprès subsequently withdrew from their Grand Prix assignments, concluding it was unfeasible to do both. James and McGrattan were the second team eliminated from the program.[35]

On 10 December 2019, USA Today journalist Christine Brennan reported that Ciprès was under investigation for having sent a picture of his penis to a 13-year-old girl who was a student at their training center; and further, that coaches Zimmerman, Silvia Fontana, and Vinny Dispenza were accused of having known about this and attempted to cover it up in the runup to the 2018 Olympics.[36] James/Ciprès would not compete again during the remainder of the season, and the allegations against Ciprès would subsequently factor into the scandals that forced the resignation of controversial FFSG chief Didier Gailhaguet in the spring of 2020.[37][36]

On 25 September 2020, it was announced that James would be returning to Battle of the Blades for its sixth season, this time partnered with Akim Aliu.[38] Four days later, the FFSG announced that James and Ciprès would both be retiring from competition.[39] Ciprès was subsequently charged with a third-degree felony.[40][41]

2021–2022 season: Debut of James/Radford

In April 2021, rumours began to circulate that James was training with Canadian pairs skater Eric Radford, who was also a contestant on Battle of the Blades. It was reported on April 20 that James had been released by the FFSG.[42] The following day, Skate Canada announced that James and Radford would compete as a pair in the upcoming season, coached by Julie Marcotte and Ian Connolly. James said that following the end of her former partnership she “still felt I had something to give to skating, like unfinished business.”[1]

James/Radford made their competitive debut at the 2021 CS Autumn Classic International, where they won the silver medal. James struggled on her jumping elements at the event.[43] At the 2021 CS Finlandia Trophy, they were third in the short program, but a seventh-place free skate dropped them to fifth overall. Radford called it “a disappointment because we’ve been skating better than that in practice.”[44]

James/Radford competed on the Grand Prix at the 2021 Skate Canada International, where they placed fourth. James said afterwards “we are definitely getting stronger each time we go out there. We are trying not to have expectations, but just goals. There is a lot of pressure on the outside, but we are trying to stay in our bubble.”[45] At their second Grand Prix event, the 2021 Internationaux de France, the pair skated a clean short program to clear 70 points in that segment for the first time. In the free skate they landed all of their jumps and throws for the first time competitively with just a small two-foot landing on one throw, but aborted one of their lifts and lost their pair spin, as a result of which they dropped to fourth place.[46] Despite this, James said it was “the most confident we have felt since we started skating together. We lost about 13 points on easy elements today, that we usually never miss, but we are proud that we got the hard ones done.”[47]

James and Radford both tested positive for COVID-19 and quarantined for a period before the 2022 Canadian Championships. They opted to compete initially, placing fourth in the short program, and then withdrew, citing a need to “continue their training and preparation for the remainder of the competitive season.”[48] Despite the withdrawal, they were named to the Canadian Olympic team over national silver medalists Walsh/Michaud.[49] This was controversial, with many arguing Walsh/Michaud had earned the spot.[50]

Competing at the 2022 Winter Olympics, James/Radford were the Canadian entries in the pairs free skate segment of the Olympic team event. A day prior to competing, the two had had a collision in practice with Italy’s Matteo Guarise, but were still able to perform.[51] They placed fourth in the segment, while the Canadian team finished in fourth overall.[52] In the pairs event, James doubled her attempt at a triple toe loop, and they had movement on the side-by-side spins, resulting in them placing twelfth in the segment.[53] In the free skate James fell on their throw triple flip. They placed twelfth in that segment as well, finishing twelfth overall. She said “the flip didn’t go, but we’re still a very new couple. To go out there and skate our hearts out is a huge accomplishment. And to have enjoyed it and trust our training, ourselves and each other is huge within 11 months.”[54]

Days after the Olympics concluded, Vladimir Putin ordered an invasion of Ukraine, as a result of which the International Skating Union banned all Russian and Belarusian skaters from competing at the 2022 World Championships. As well, the Chinese Skating Association opted not to send athletes to compete in Montpellier. As those countries’ athletes comprised the entirety of the top five pairs at the Olympics, this had a huge impact on the field.[55] James/Radford placed fifth in the short program, with James putting her free foot down on their throw and Radford putting a hand down on his triple toe jump.[56] In the free skate they delivered a strong performance, but for Radford underrotating a double toe loop, and unexpectedly placed second in the segment, rising to the bronze medal position overall. This was the first World medal for Canada in pairs since Duhamel/Radford’s title defence six years before. Radford called the season “one of the best years of my life.” Both said they were undecided about competing further.[2]

Black History 365: Makiyah Hicks and Jonetta Harrison

We are highlighting examples of Black excellence throughout the year! Feel free to send us suggestions!

These Students Grew Up Around Gun Violence. They Decided It Was Time To Talk About It.

When Makiyah Hicks was young, her uncle, Jamal Hazel, was killed in her District Heights neighborhood in southwest Maryland. Her father lost a brother and her grandmother, Darlene Hazel, lost her youngest son.

Every year since, on her uncle’s birthday, Makiyah and her family visit his grave.

Despite the traumatic loss, she says her family and community members mostly avoid conversations about gun violence.

“It was always something we were around, but not something that was talked about,” says Hicks, who graduated this year from Washington’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts. “Especially with regards to my grandmother. That was her youngest son. It’s a bit of a touchy subject.”

So Hicks, along with her classmates Jonetta Harrison and Quin Wells, decided to talk about it. The students, all recent graduates of the Duke Ellington School, made a podcast about gun violence in D.C., and how families of victims are shaped by the loss. Their teacher, Thom Woodward, entered it in NPR’s Student Podcast Challenge, and their story is one of 10 high school finalists, chosen by our judges from more than 2,200 entries.

As part of the podcast, Hicks interviewed her grandmother, and they talked about the death of Jamal Hazel for the first time. “It’s all for a cause when things occur in life that you don’t anticipate or expect to happen to you,” her grandmother tells her.

The conversation, Hicks says, was a breakthrough after so much silence: “It’s hard to find a light at the end of the tunnel,” she says of her grief. But when she spoke about it with her grandmother, “for a second, it was there. It was something.”

D.C. has long struggled with one of the highest rates of gun violence in the country. The district saw 198 homicides in 2020, a 16-year-high, and the 2021 homicide rate is already outpacing 2020.

Harrison, Hicks and Wells wanted their podcast to show that it’s not just about the numbers. Real people are impacted by every life lost to gun violence, so the students talked to three of them: first, Darlene Hazel, Hicks’ grandmother. Then one of Harrison’s friends, Jayla Faust, who lost her stepfather to gun violence.

Through the podcast, Harrison explains she wanted to give families a chance to speak.

“It’s important for the people who are affected by it to be able to speak because I feel like a lot of times the government is speaking for them,” Harrison says. “These are the people that actually have to go through this.”

The final interview in the podcast is with RuQuan Brown. Now a football player at Harvard University, but in the podcast, he says he didn’t always know if he would make it to college.

“I would walk down Florida Ave on my way back home and I would cry some nights because I was afraid I wouldn’t make it to college because I’d be killed,” he tells Harrison.

His fear of whether he would survive in D.C. is a very real fear among his peers.

Harrison thinks about 18-year-old Richard Bangura often these days as she starts her first semester at Temple University. Bangura was shot and killed in northeast DC last summer, days before he was supposed to move into the same university.

Losing a loved one to gun violence is painful, but Harrison says the podcast is about what community members take away from that pain, too. “You have a loss, but because of this loss, you have transformed to a better person or have a better view of life.”

Brown, for example, dealt with the grief by creating art.

He owns a clothing brand, Love1, which donates to communities affected by gun violence. Brown is currently looking to fund therapy for students in D.C.’s public schools. He has also donated thousands of dollars to the One Gun Gone project, which repurposes guns into artwork to raise awareness about gun violence.

“I created this brand because I wanted to live,” he says.

Harrison, Hicks and Wells are starting college this fall and hope the lessons they learned from the people in their podcast will help them handle loss, and challenges, in their own lives.

Black History 365: Wendell Oliver Pruitt

We are highlighting examples of Black excellence throughout the year! Feel free to send us suggestions!

St. Louis, Missouri native Wendell Oliver Pruitt, a pioneering pilot of the 15th Air Force, was born to Elijah and Melanie Pruitt on June 20, 1920. Pruitt graduated from Sumner High School, briefly attended Stowe Teachers College (now Harris-Stowe State University), and later transferred to the historically black Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri. At the time, Lincoln University was one of the three Negro colleges that conducted civil pilot training and is the institution that laid the foundation for Pruitt’s short-lived career.

While a student at Lincoln, Pruitt obtained his private pilot license from Jefferson City Airport. He graduated from Lincoln in 1941 and was accepted into the U.S. Army Air Corps Flying School at Tuskegee, Alabama. Upon completion of pre-flight training and gunnery school as well as primary, basic, and advanced flying, Pruitt was commissioned second lieutenant in December 1942. He was assigned to the 302nd squadron, which was designated as the 332nd Fighter Group. He teamed up with Lt. Col. Lee A. Archer Jr., a member of the Tuskegee Airmen who piloted aircraft during WWII, to form the “Gruesome Twosome” in the 332nd Fighter Group.

During his brief years as a Tuskegee Airman, Pruitt flew 70 combat missions overseas. He is credited with permanently disabling a German destroyer, shooting down three enemy planes in the air, and destroying several others on the ground. His air victories earned him the rank of captain as well as several awards and honors, including the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with six Oak Leaf Clusters. Because of his exploits, his hometown of St. Louis proclaimed December 12, 1944 as Captain Wendell O. Pruitt Day. In April of 1945, just five months after celebrating his day of honor in his hometown and returning to Tuskegee rather than Europe, Pruitt and a student were killed in a plane crash while in training.

Though Pruitt is not well remembered today, his legacy continued for decades after his death. In 1952 the city of St. Louis named the federally subsidized, high-rise Pruitt-Igoe Housing Project after him. Pruitt-Igoe was originally segregated with the Wendell O. Pruitt apartments reserved for African American residents, and the William L. Igoe apartments reserved for white residents. Endless problems, including crime, drugs and rodent infestations, led to the demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe complex beginning in 1972. In 1984, the Pruitt Military Academy was established in St. Louis.  American Veteran posts in Michigan and Missouri honor Pruitt’s name today.

Black History 365: Gabourey Sidibe

We are highlighting examples of Black excellence throughout the year! Feel free to send us suggestions!

Gabourey Sidibe (/ˈɡæbəˌreɪ ˈsɪdɪˌbeɪ/ GAB-ə-ray SID-i-bay; born May 6, 1983)[1] is an American actress. She made her acting debut in the 2009 film Precious, a role that earned her the Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead, in addition to nominations for the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Actress. Her other film roles include Tower Heist (2011), White Bird in a Blizzard (2014), Grimsby (2016) and Antebellum (2020).

From 2010 to 2013, she was a main cast member of the Showtime series The Big C. Sidibe co-starred in the television series American Horror Story: Coven (2013–2014) as Queenie and American Horror Story: Freak Show (2014–2015) as Regina Ross, and later reprised her role as Queenie in American Horror Story: Hotel (2015–2016) and American Horror Story: Apocalypse (2018). From 2015 to 2020, she starred in the Fox musical drama series Empire as Becky Williams.

Early life

Sidibe was born in Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York City, and was raised in Harlem.[2] Her mother, Alice Tan Ridley, is an American R&B and gospel singer who appeared on the fifth season of America’s Got Talent, on June 15, 2010. Her father, Ibnou Sidibe, is from Senegal and is a cab driver.[citation needed] Growing up, Sidibe lived with her aunt, feminist activist Dorothy Pitman Hughes.[3] She holds an associate degree from Borough of Manhattan Community College and attended but did not graduate from City College of New York and Mercy College.[4] She worked at The Fresh Air Fund‘s office as a receptionist before pursuing an acting career.[5]


In Precious, Sidibe played the main character, Claireece “Precious” Jones, a 16-year-old mother of two (the result of Precious being raped by her father) who tries to escape abuse at the hands of her mother. The film won numerous awards, including two Academy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Award.[6] On December 15, 2009, she was nominated for a Golden Globe in the category of Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture Drama for her performance in Precious. The next month she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.

Her next film, Yelling to the Sky, was a Sundance Lab project directed by Victoria Mahoney and starring Zoe Kravitz, in which she played Latonya Williams, a bully.[7] In 2011, Sidibe was in the film Tower Heist and voiced a “party girl[vague] character in “Hot Water”, the first episode of season 7 of American Dad! She appeared in the season 8 American Dad! episode “Stanny Tendergrass” early in 2013, and starred in the music video for “Don’t Stop (Color on the Walls)” by the indie pop band Foster the People. Sidibe also appeared in the Showtime network series The Big C as Andrea Jackson.

Sidibe said in 2012 that before she was hired for the 2009 film Precious, she was advised by Joan Cusack not to pursue the entertainment industry, advising Sidibe to quit the business since “it’s so image-conscious.”[8]

By April 2013, Sidibe had joined the cast of American Horror Story season 3, portraying Queenie, a young witch.[9] She returned to the series for its fourth season, American Horror Story: Freak Show as a secretarial school student, Regina Ross.[10] From 2015, she stars in Lee Daniels‘ Fox musical series Empire as Becky Williams alongside Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson. Sidibe portrays the head of A&R in the Empire company.[11] As of April 2015, Sidibe was promoted to a series regular in season 2.[12] She also starred in the Hulu series Difficult People as Denise.[13]

In 2015, publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced Sidibe would be writing a memoir set to be published in 2017.[14] On January 6, 2016, Sidibe appeared in the penultimate episode of American Horror Story: Hotel, reprising her Coven role as Queenie, marking her third season in the series. After sitting out subsequent seasons Roanoke and Cult, Sidibe returned to American Horror Story in 2018, appearing once again as her character Queenie in its eighth season, Apocalypse.

Personal life

In March 2017, Sidibe revealed that she had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and that as a consequence she underwent laparoscopic bariatric surgery in an effort to manage her weight.[15]

In November 2020, Sidibe announced her engagement to Brandon Frankel, a talent manager with Cameo.[16][17][18]

Black History 365: Vashti Harrison

We are highlighting examples of Black excellence throughout the year! Feel free to send us suggestions!

Part author – Illustrator – filmmaker Vashti Harrison is an artist originally from Onley, Virginia. She has a background in cinematography and screenwriting and a love for storytelling. She earned her BA from the University of Virginia with a double major in Media Studies and Studio Art with concentrations in Film and Cinematography. She received her MFA in Film and Video from CalArts where she rekindled a love for drawing and painting. Now, utilizing both skill sets, she is passionate about crafting beautiful stories in both the film and kidlit worlds.

Her Experimental films and videos focus on her Caribbean Heritage and folklore. They have shown around the world at film festivals and venues including the New York Film Festival, Rotterdam International Film Festival and Edinburgh International Film Festival. Find out more