Author Archives: Sam Fiske

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End Bullying Panel At Comic Con

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On the final day of the San Diego Comic Con 2014, a special, second annual panel titled “End Bullying!” capped off a circus like weekend at the downtown Convention Center. Although much of the four day Con’s festivities revolved around massive panels on TV shows, long lines and comics, there were a few salient panels addressing issues pressing in entertainment and our society.

The panel discussion, was spearheaded by the Pop Culture Anti-Bullying Coalition, represented by Chase Masterson. Masterson, a longtime actress known for her roles in Doctor Who and Deep Space Nine, enthusiastically introduced the members of the panel and the topics to be discussed. As the title of the panel makes clear, the discussion covered issues such as geek bullying, cyber bullying, LGBT bullying, and analyzing how the entertainment and media industry “affect our attitudes toward bullying and aggression.” The panel consisted of authors, writers (Brad Brown and Jane Espenson, writers of the show Husbands), a psychologist (Dr. Andrea Letamendi), actors, representatives from the United Nations Association, the Anti-Defamation League, and Cartoon Network. Each panelist got an opportunity to  speak on their occupation and how they are utilizing their role to affect change.

One of the first panelists to speak was Ashley Eckstein of the animated series Star Wars: Clone Wars (2008-2014). Aside from her role as Ashoka Tano on the Cartoon Network owned show, Eckstein runs a successful clothing line site called HerUniverse. The idea of the clothing line is to promote fashionable apparel and accessories for fangirls of science-fiction and comics. However, the feature of her clothing line she emphasized the most was something surprisingly difficult to find on clothing sites: plus sizes. In a country where 68% of all adults are either overweight or obese, society seems to continue to turn a blind eye to the necessary plus sizes on most retail goods. Eckstein’s point that the lack of clothing for plus size women can have drastic effects on a person’s psyche, and encourages eating disorders simply to fit into a desired pair of clothes. Conforming the woman to the clothes, and not the way around is the problem Eckstein wants to address, understanding that largely ignoring plus sizes is essentially another form of bullying against a certain demographic of women.

Anthony Breznican, a reporter for Entertainment Weekly, discussed his advocacy to end bullying in reference to powerful testimony to his own personal experience and in the form of his debut novel, Brutal Youth. While the book itself is a dark, fictional reversed coming-of-age story, the events that take place and the bullying that is inflicted from administrators to students were influenced by Breznican’s own childhood experiences and people that he knew. Breznican expressed that the bullying comes down to having the friends and strong support be there to influence any kind of bully’s potential actions. From his perspective, the best way to make those friends that you want to have is to be that friend to other people. That way, you are making positive and meaningful steps to building strong relationships and that support system down the road.

Alice Cahn emphasized the role of the entertainment industry to change attitudes towards bullying

Alice Cahn emphasized the role of the entertainment industry to inspire people to change their behaviors.

The last panelist to speak was Alice Cahn, the Vice President of Social Responsibility for Cartoon Network. Despite the stigma of being the representative of a larger body of network executives, she expressed gratitude and happiness to be associated with a network that she feels is acutely aware of its role in affecting attitudes towards bullying in society, especially with regard to children. “Cartoon Network is about great storytelling, great characters and great animation. We work very closely with the writers, animators, and show runners to make sure they know exactly who young people are. We would be foolish to ignore 50 percent of the audience.” Alice Cahn spoke at length about Cartoon Network’s Speak Up campaign,  focused on stopping bullying and “giving kids the confidence and the competence to speak up when they see someone get picked on.” She characterized the campaign as a microcosm of what the Cartoon Network brand is trying to do as a whole, making social-emotional learning fixture as one of their goals and objectives. “Our work is really to take that realm of social-emotional skill, those things that kids really need to be kind, good people, and put content on the plotline. What I really love about our brand and about the creatives that we work with is that those goals have become a part of our branding.” While acknowledging her network’s efforts in teaching children how to deal with bullying, she recognized the significance entertainment can play in facilitating change overall, “Our industry really can create a change. The entertainment medium has the ability to inspire and motivate people to change their behaviors and learn new behaviors.”

The panel concluded with a final heart breaking question from a bullying victim in the audience, a twelve year old girl who having got no help from school administrators or teachers, asked what is she supposed to do when she felt that she had no friends. Several panel members including Brad Brown and Anthony Breznican replied with emotional responses advocating the importance of turning the bully’s actions on them with empathy and using that hurt to help someone else you see being victimized. In Breznican’s words, it’s “easier, I think, to stand up for somebody else, when you are hurting as bad as you are,  than it is to stand up for yourself…but if you stick up for them, stick your neck out and take some of that heat, you’ve made a friend”

As routine as it may have seemed for the panelists to respond in kind to the bullying victim’s inquiries, the seriousness with which they treated the situation reflected awareness that comes with genuine passion for a subject that has manifested itself in so many ways that generally go unheeded. While the panel was in a room that was less than half attended (compared to the TV panels that had thousands packed into the rooms), I couldn’t have felt luckier to be in attendance and was proud that such an incredible panel was held at such a massive event that Comic Con has become. There are real people and real efforts being exerted to stop bullying, all we have to do is stick our necks out and be the change we want have.

Watch the video in the link here to see the Speak Up special video, along with links to the rest of the Speak Up series.

Panelists:

Tina Malka
Chase Masterson
Carrie Goldman
Brad Bell
Anthony Breznican
Ashley Eckstein
Jane Espenson
Dr. Andrea Letamendi

 

 

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Kevin Durant Honors His Mother

 

Last week Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder was awarded the Most Valuable Player trophy for the 2013-2014 NBA season. While Durant winning the MVP comes relatively unsurprising, winning a third straight scoring title, the humility and graciousness he exuded in his MVP speech was what rounded out his all-worldly form. Tearing up throughout the speech, Durant addressed God, his friends, family and teammates; giving genuine thanks and personal anecdotes for each.

It was telling when he addressed Caron Butler, his teammates of only a few months, that this was no ordinary cliche filled speech.

Caron, even though you just got here a few months ago we’ve grown so close over these last few weeks and I can remember when you first got here you wrote a piece of paper in my locker … I don’t know why I’m crying so much, man … you wrote a piece of paper in my locker and it said, “KD MVP.” And that was after we lost two or three straight. I don’t really say much in those moments, but I remember that. I go home and I think about that stuff, man. When you got people behind you, you can do whatever. I thank you, man. I appreciate you.”

Yet, the longest and most endearing tribute went to the cornerstone of Kevin Durant’s life, his mother Wanda Pratt. Here is the full text:

I don’t think you know what you did. You had my brother when you were 18 years old. Three years later I came out. The odds were stacked against him. Single parent with two boys by the time you were 21 years old.”

Everybody told us we weren’t supposed to be here. We moved from apartment to apartment by ourselves. One of the best memories I have is when we moved into our first apartment. No bed, no furniture, and we just all sat in the living room and hugged each other because we thought we made it.”

“When something good happens to you, I don’t know about you guys, but I tend to look back to what brought me here. You woke me up in the middle of the night in the summer times. Making me run up a hill. Making me do push-ups. Screaming at me from the sidelines at my games at eight or nine years old.

“We weren’t supposed to be here. You made us believe. You kept us off the street, put clothes on our backs, food on the table. When you didn’t eat, you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry. You sacrificed for us. You’re the real MVP.”

The tribute to his mother was heartfelt and moving. It was filled with a level of depth you don’t often hear in an acceptance speech for an award that recognizes an individual’s talent for achieving incredible results. Kevin Durant has always been known to be the humble, quiet superstar, fitting in with the modest Oklahoma City culture. Still, it is remarkable for a man with this much attention and gravitas worthy of celebrity icon status, at the top of his field, to express thanks to those closest to him in such a sincere, personal humble manner. There are few better ambassadors of the game than Kevin Durant, who set the example for what the game is all about and someone that can set a great example for kids and adults alike.

Only 25, KD has a lot left to prove. Yet, his words should stand as a seminal moment in NBA history, reflecting a man that merits the accomplishments of the individual while embodying the values of the selfless. The NBA is lucky to have an icon who continues to carry himself as man who only dreamed of growing up to be a recreation league coach.

If you havn’t seen it already, check out Kevin Durant’s full speech below in the video. It’s worth your time.

 

 

 

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Fixing Mexican Education through Play

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Recently our parent organization, Deportes para Compartir, was covered by Univision 34 Los Angeles in an ongoing program series on the Mexican education system. The plight of the Mexican education system is no secret, but is perhaps accentuated by the first ever education census taken in Mexico just last year, and released last month. Some of the results are rather astonishing, with at least a third of the schools having infrastructure problems, and 39,000 teachers and school faculty either missing or not identified. When such basic problems exist, it is not hard to imagine the effectiveness of the core curriculum suffering, leading to many students dropping out of the education system altogether. While systemic change has a ways to go, there are several programs, like our own Deportes para-Compartir, that are already hard at work changing the attitude and instilling innovative ways to keep children interested in their education. It is inspiring organizations like Deportes that are the focus of Univision’s series on Mexican education, “Desaburrame!” hosted by Unvision 34’s Felicidad Aveleyra. (Disclaimer: All videos are in Spanish)

Part One:

Breaking apart from the traditional repetition and memorization of information mold, Deportes para-Compartir focuses on encouraging student creativity and self-awareness. Deportes allows students to understand their own identities, and through sports and games teach them important civic values such as tolerance, respect and empathy. By having students learn these concepts through collaborative play and team-building games, students learn to become better learners, better group workers, empowering students to become responsible, active citizens. These are lessons that are valuable for the rest of their lives.

Part Two:

In the third part of the program, Felicidad describes that Deportes para-Compartir wants children to become better citizens, aware of social issues and actively thinking of solutions. The games we incorporate always place broader meanings into the learning environment.  A key to the success is the motivation the program instills in the teachers and parents to be involved equally (they enjoy playing the games too!). Cultural exchange across Mexican state and international borders is a large part of the program. The biggest example of this exchange is the Treasure Box, in which kids demonstrate their diversity by making “treasures” or symbols of their culture with arts and crafts and putting them into the treasure box. These treasure boxes are then sent and exchanged with another school in a different region for the students at the participating school to open.

Part Three:

Felicidad Aveleyra has a point: children are not just the future, they are the present and can play an important role in breaking down social barriers in our society today. They can do much more than we give them the capability to do, and think of solutions to our global problems through creativity and collaboration. It is up to us to give them the keys to drive social change, and form better citizens from childhood through the universal language of play. Thank you to Felicidad Aveleyra for covering our parent organization, Deportes para-Compartir, and be sure to check out the video series embedded in this post and Univision’s photo slideshow on the exclusive report.

(Photo: Univsion 34) Desaburreme!