Category Archives: Entertainment

Go See “Rise of the Guardians” this weekend!!!

“Rise of the Guardians”, the latest animated film from DreamWorks, opens tomorrow, November 21st. This tale of how Jack Frost, Santa Claus, The Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny band together to save children everywhere marks the directorial debut of Peter Ramsey, the first African American director of a big budget computer animated film. In an earlier GCP post we described Ramsey’s unusual and inspirational journey to this point. (See, “Who is Peter Ramsey? You and Your Kids Are About to Find Out”, October 6, 2012) From early reports, this movie is poised to join the blockbuster ranks, with Ramsey at the helm.

As we all know, movies tend to sink or swim on opening weekend box office, so if you are planning to take your children to see this movie, by all means do it this holiday weekend. Treat your kids to a fun adventure, and support the brother in charge!!

Speaking of folks in charge at DreamWorks, it should also be noted that Mellody Hobson has just been named Chair of the Board of DreamWorks Animation. Hobson is President of Chicago-based Ariel Investments. Ariel, which manages more than $3 billion in assets, is among the largest African American-owned money management and mutual fund companies in the United States. Kudos to Mellody Hobson and DreamWorks.

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A GCP Dad Asks: Are Video Games OK for Young Kids?

Today’s post comes from Oliver C. Sutton III, father of two young boys and a loyal GCP reader. Great to have a GCP Dad’s point of view!

Over the past several months there have been a number of posts here at GCP that I have found enlightening, entertaining and not quite useful to me yet. You see, I am the proud father of two young boys. The oldest is four (going on 14) and the youngest is one and one-half.

A reference in a recent GCP post about video games got me to thinking: Is it ok for young kids to play video games? I was born in the ‘70s. I was one of the lucky kids to have an Atari (Thanks Mom and Dad). I grew up watching cartoons Saturday mornings, then Kung-Fu movies, then, if it wasn’t nice enough to go outside, I booted up the Atari and went to work zapping Space Invaders, navigating a highway for Frogger or avoiding all sorts of Pitfalls. All these years later, you can often find me on the weekends in front of a screen with a controller in my hand.

There have been loads of articles about video games, their effects on people and more importantly, on kids. I played video games growing up; I turned out pretty well (although perhaps my wife might want to weigh in here). Some of you may be wondering why I still play video games. There are loads of reasons; I’m competitive, I’m a bit of a nerd, I’m still a kid at heart and it’s how I like to unwind and clear my mind. There’s nothing like pressing a few buttons and then watching some bad guys go up in smoke. I also enjoy the feeling of tossing a Hail Mary on 2nd down just because you have that option. But seriously, I just enjoy the mental down time some games provide. Some of the games have some pretty tough puzzles to solve and that can be fun too.

But back to the question: is it OK for kids to be playing video games? I say yes. This is not an overwhelming endorsement for kids playing any video game they want; I feel wholeheartedly that there should be limits on what they can play, when they can play and with whom they can play. Like Seinfeld’s ‘Soup Nazi’, I will control my children’s video game interaction with an iron fist.

Take my oldest. He’s at the age where he recognizes video games on any number of platforms, whether it’s a Smartphone, tablet, console or PC. If he sees you playing a game or even just using your phone, he’ll ease over to you, watch for about 15 seconds then ask if he can play ‘Angry Birds’. I do not approve of this particular type of game play, especially on my phone. I’ll let him play a Memory game on my phone, which he seems to enjoy. You see, if I allow my kid(s) to play video games at this age, they will be games with some sort of learning or problem solving component. I know what you are saying (if you know anything about popular video games): ‘But Angry Birds is a problem solving game.” And you are right, but it’s a bit too much for my 4-year-old. He doesn’t get the challenge/reward part of it just yet.

Nor do I let my sons watch me play video games. My video games are not for them. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) has a rating system for a reason and I intend to follow it as best I can. I will not let my kids watch me play a First Person Shooter (FPS) like Call of Duty (CoD) or Black Ops (BO). I will not let them watch me play an excessively violent video game like the God of War (GoW), Darksiders or the Dead Space series. They can watch me play racing games and of course they can watch me play Madden. Go Big Blue! Parents, if you aren’t up on the lingo, rest easy. In my next post I’ll try to keep you up to date on some of the popular jargon.

I do let my oldest use the LeapPad to play games. Usually when we are taking a long trip or I need 30 minutes or so to get something else done. ‘What’s a Leap Pad?” you may ask. Check it out here. It’s a great resource. You can download educational and interactive games, short video clips of some of your kids’ favorite characters and even take videos with it!

Video games are an intrinsic part of our society. Whether you play them or not, whether you let your kids play them or not, video games are here to stay and their role in society will likely continue to grow. For example, did you know that the pilot of your plane most likely learned to fly by playing flight simulators? Check out a flight simulator here. Did you know that some surgeons are training on simulators? See this video of surgery simulator here. And those guys that put the rover Curiosity on Mars, did you know they practiced with space training simulators? Check out their space training here. (Only one of these examples isn’t serious, I’ll let you figure out which one.)

I do believe video games have a place in our homes. They can be used to help get a child ready for school by working on basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills or even help develop problem solving skills. They can inspire your sons and daughters to dream about new and exciting worlds, which may spark their interest in the sciences.

GCP readers, what do you think? Are videos games something that we should embrace as a potential learning tool, or avoided? How do you monitor your child’s video play? If you play videos, do you let your children watch?

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The Latest Lesson from Hip-Hop…Science!

Today’s news item, courtesy of The Wall Street Journal, will impress even the most anti-hip-hop parent: GZA, founding member of the renowned and revered rap group The Wu-Tang Clan, is busily working on his next album “Dark Matter”, which is designed to get his fans as excited as he is about science. Yes, science. According to the article, found here, GZA has been meeting with top physicists and cosmologists at MIT and Cornell University, and been hanging out at the Hayden Plantarium with its director, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, researching principles of physics and the origin and development of the universe. GZA marvels at how science is involved in so much of our daily experience, from the creation of an ice cube to the structure of a soccer ball, and how little people know about it. He hopes to change this with “Dark Matter”, and plans to package it with an illustrated book which may also include lyrics and a glossary, his version of “an epic textbook”.

“Dark Matter” is just the first of a series of science related albums GZA is planning. Next on his list is an album about the science of the sea. He has already started his research on that project, meeting with marine biologists and environmental scientists. The scientists appreciate the attention and the mission. MIT professor Penny Chisholm, who met with GZA last year, noted, “He could play an important role in getting various messages out through his art form–about the earth, and science. That’s why I’ve become a fan”. GZA hopes his long time fans will be excited about this new project as well. While he acknowledges that some of them will think an album about physics is “boring”, he believes that they will put aside this prejudice and allow his album to spark their curiosity. “I don’t think people have ever really been in touch with science” he notes, but that could change with “Dark Matter”.

Parents who are wary of letting their younger children listen to hip-hop can rest easy with respect to “Dark Matter”. As GZA explains, “There’s no parental advisory, no profanity, no nudity,” he said. “The only thing that’s going to be stripped bare is the planets.”

Way to go GZA!! If this gets our children and their parents thinking and learning about physics and the cosmos while bopping to a funky beat, we are all for it!! Can’t wait to hear it. What do you think? Will you buy or download “Dark Matter” when it comes out in the fall?

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The Great Debates 2012

You may have known that the film “The Great Debaters”, in which historically Black Wiley College’s debate team beat Harvard University’s debaters, was based upon the true story of the Wiley College debate coach and his team. But did you know that actual Great Debates are being held annually, and that you and your children may be able to attend one?

The Connecticut NAACP recently hosted its fourth annual formal parliamentary debate between teams from one of the historically Black colleges and an Ivy League university. This year’s matchup was between Morehouse College and Yale University, both of whom have very strong debate teams. Moderated by news commentator Marc Lamont Hill, the debate was held in front of a packed house in New Haven’s Schubert Theater. One of the topics debated was the validity of the “Stand Your Ground” laws that have been in the forefront of the news after the Trayvon Martin killing.

The theater was filled with an attentive and enthusiastic audience which included many students from the tri-state area. In the New Haven Register’s article about the debate, found here, moderator Hill was very impressed to see young people in the audience “excited not just about sports, not what someone did on Twitter or Facebook, not just some celebrity gossip, but to see people excited about ideas.” In an exchange with GCP about the Yale event, NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous noted, “It is quite something to see 1600 6-12 graders on the edge of their seats for hours of debate. Most had never seen a debate before, many had never visited a college campus before, and the entire audience was thoroughly engaged.”

Building upon the big success of the Connecticut debates, which are the brainchild of Connecticut NAACP State Conference President Scot Esdaile, the NAACP national office is expanding this program across the country. They hosted a debate in Washington, D.C. last year between Yale and Howard and are currently planning the next debate, which will be held in early July in Houston. If you will be in the Houston area at that time and would like to attend this debate, you can contact NAACP South Western Regional Director Carmen Watkins at cwatkins@naacpnet.org.

Kudos to the NAACP for reviving this great tradition! If you’d like to support them in these efforts, you can contact Moneese DeLara, Senior Vice President for Development, at mdelara@naacpnet.org.

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The Importance of Being Disconnected

While walking down a busy city street a few days ago, I overheard a mother and her young teen son fussing with each other. The son was complaining that his mom had been on her phone rather than watching him play during a recent game. The mom barked, “Of course I was watching! I saw that every time they threw the ball at you, you couldn’t catch it. Why couldn’t you catch the ball?” Even as I cringed at this mother’s remark, I knew that her response was more a defensive reaction to his criticism about the phone rather than a desire to belittle her son’s athletic ability. I shook my head at her insensitivity, but I have to admit that her tone sounded familiar, as I too have been defensive about this issue on more than one occasion.

“Mommy, get off the phone! Stop checking your blackberry!” I cannot be the only person who regularly hears this from a middle schooler. (My college sophomore and high school junior don’t complain as much, since texting is our primary mode of communication.) In our technology filled universe, where you have the freedom to be anywhere but everyone you know is always able to reach you, it can be pretty tough to remember to turn off the outside world when it is time to focus on your children. I see examples of this everywhere: mothers pushing strollers down the street chatting on the phone rather than talking to their toddlers, families out to dinner bringing the conversation to a dead halt while they check their buzzing devices, and yes, parents at sporting events with their eyes flickering between the action on the court and on their small screens. It is so tempting to be able to accomplish two or more things at once. But is it really a better way to operate?

Recent studies and articles suggest multitasking is not the best use of brain power. A study conducted by the Institute of Psychiatry found that excessive use of technology reduced user’s intelligence. According to this study conducted for Hewlett-Packard, people distracted by incoming email and phone calls saw a 10-point drop in their IQ – more than twice that found in studies of the impact of smoking marijuana. (Really bad news for marijuana smokers who multitask.) A Harvard associate professor of Psychiatry recently noted in an article on the Harvard Business Review’s blog found here that multitaskers are more prone to making mistakes, more likely to miss important information and cues, and less likely to retain information in working memory, which impairs problem solving and creativity. Studies by Gloria Mark, an “interruption scientist” at the University of California, show that when people are frequently diverted from one task to another, they work faster, but produce less and report significantly higher stress levels, frustration, workload, effort and pressure.

Although the effects of parents excessively multitasking around their children have not been widely studied, experts suggest that this behavior could have a negative impact. Manhattan speech pathologist Shari Harpaz suggests in a piece found here that toddler’s parents who are too focused on their devices can interfere with their children’s language development. Learning social language requires stimulation and the back-and-forth of talking to someone, most often a parent, she notes, and that happens far less often when mom or dad stays on the phone while pushing the stroller. Child psychiatrist Michael Brody, a professor at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, laments the fact that parents’ cell phone use can prevent them from keeping up with what’s going on in a child’s life. “Five years ago, parents would bring a child to see me, and I’d know at least they had spent 15 to 20 minutes together in the car. It’s a great opportunity to talk to a kid,” said Brody, who chairs the television and media committee of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. “When you drive through the streets [now], everyone is talking on the phone.” We may complain that our teenagers are incessantly texting or talking on the cell phone, but can you blame them if we are always checking email as well?

OK, so a case can be made that our obsession with staying connected may be diminishing our parenting skills. What can we do about it? Well, there is an obvious answer: make a conscious effort to put the phone away when we are spending time with our children. Or at least vow to spend a certain period of time with your children smartphone free. If they are old enough, you can discuss with them what that time should be.

This advice is so much easier to give then to take. Ask my twelve-year-old son, who believes that I am the last person who should advise anyone on curbing smartphone use. I am getting better, however: I now put the phone away while we walk a few blocks together towards his school each morning. I won’t check emails when I chat with him in the evening about how the school day went. He’s asked that I go email and text free on his birthday, and I’ve agreed. In any event, being conscious of the importance of being disconnected is a big first step. I invite you all to take it with me.

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“American Promise”: A Work In Progress

When husband and wife filmmaking team Michèle Stephenson and Joe Brewster enrolled their son Idris in a prestigious NYC private school twelve years ago, they did so knowing that he was entering an educational system which critically underserves young black males. In an effort to understand and shed light on the challenges young black men face in schools, they began filming their son, his best friend Seun (who enrolled in the same kindergarten class) as well as themselves, when the boys entered kindergarten. They have followed the boys’ twelve year journey from elementary through high school, capturing their year to year ups and downs as well as the distinct growing pains they experienced in pursuit of an education. The boys are now high school seniors, Idris still in the same private school and Seun in an Afrocentric public high school, and the filmmaker/parents are now in their final year of shooting.

Their documentary film “American Promise” is scheduled to premiere in film festivals in January 2013 and will be broadcast on Public Broadcasting System’s “POV” series in 2013 as well. Stephenson and Brewster are currently raising funds to help with post production costs. Through the fundraising website Kickstarter, they have until March 14 to reach their campaign goal of $50,000. At this point, they are more than a third of the way there, so if you are interested and able, you can help them reach this goal. You can read about this ground breaking project on their website, found here, and support their efforts to finish the film through their Kickstarter page, found here. Information about the larger multimedia project designed to help parents support their sons’ education, which will launch in conjunction with the documentary’s release, is available on their website as well.

This is a fascinating project that is examining many of the issues that are at the center of GCP‘s focus. We wish them well, and will be following their progress. Check out their website and their Kickstarter page!

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Help Our Sons Learn Our History: Watch “Freedom Riders” TONIGHT!

Tonight PBS is airing “Freedom Riders”, Stanley Nelson’s award-winning documentary about the 1961 Freedom Rides, when more than 400 Black and white Americans risked their lives traveling on buses and trains throughout the south challenging the Jim Crow laws. This is a powerful, inspirational story of an important part of American history. Check your local listings for show times, watch it tonight with your sons and daughters, or record it so that you can all watch together at a later time.

You and your children should also explore the PBS companion website, found here, which includes a teacher’s study guide chock full of in-depth information about the Freedom Riders.

Our children need to know and understand our history, and it is up to us to ensure that they do.

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Help Our Sons Learn Our History: Watch “Slavery By Any Other Name”

It’s February. Black History Month. While many of us wonder why only one month out of the year (and the shortest one at that) is designated for paying national attention to African-American contributions to American history, let us put our cynicism aside, and embrace the many opportunities available this month to help our children learn about our history.

Our children are growing up in an era where our President is African-American and in many instances African-American culture is the dominant culture (e.g., hip hop). This “Tanning of America”, as supreme marketer Steve Stoute calls it, can lead some children to believe that it is no longer important to focus on race or understand our unique history in the United States. It is up to us as parents to disabuse them of this notion. We need them to understand that knowing the triumphs and the tragedies of our history and understanding the critical role that Black people played in the shaping of America is important, inspirational and essential. They may hear more about Black History in school in February, but they should hear about it from us all year round.

One offering this month that you and your high school sons (and daughters) should not miss is “Slavery By Any Other Name”, a documentary airing on PBS on February 13th at 9pm. This film, directed by Sam Pollard (Eyes on the Prize) and based on the book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Douglas A. Blackmon, challenges the belief that slavery in this country ended with the Emancipation Proclamation. It tells how decades after 1865, thousands of African-Americans were pulled back into forced labor with shocking force and brutality. This was a system in which men, often guilty of no crime at all, were arrested, compelled to work without pay, repeatedly bought and sold, and coerced to do the bidding of masters. Narrated by Laurence Fishburne, the film features interviews with historians and descendants of both the enslaved and those doing the imprisoning.

“Slavery By Any Other Name” received a rousing ovation at the Sundance Film Festival, and has been shown in screenings in several cities across the country to similar acclaim. Be sure to watch it when it airs on February 13th!!!

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Red Tails Flies High

Hope you got a chance to see “Red Tails” this weekend. What an inspirational, action packed ride! The aerial fighting scenes are incredible. The good news is that lots of folks went on opening weekend. As Box Office Mojo reports, “Red Tails cruised in to second place with a very respectable $18.8 million”, which is more than several other comparable fighter pilot movies have earned in their first weekend. The movie received an “A” CinemaScore, which improved to a fantastic “A+” score for those below 18 and above 50. Red Tails marks distributor 20th Century Fox’s best opening for a non-franchise title since last April’s “Rio”.

This is a good old-fashioned war movie, wonderfully corny and patriotic, enhanced by modern special effects. For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, go as soon as you can! If you enjoyed it, go see it again!! Take your parents as well as your children, especially your sons.

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“Double Victory”: Real Life “Red Tails” on the History Channel

While you are making plans to see “Red Tails”, the film about the Tuskegee Airmen produced by George Lucas (try to go this weekend!), also make a note to check out “Double Victory”, Lucas’ documentary companion to “Red Tails”, on The History Channel. Originally aired earlier this month, “Double Victory” will be shown again on The History Channel as part of their History Classroom series on February 6th and 13th. More information about this documentary, including an informative education guide which will help your children fully understand this important part of our nation’s history, can be found here.

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