This Blog has been a “work in progress” over several weeks, bits and pieces pulled together from Istanbul, Tanzania, Uganda, Cairo and, finally, on a train from Braga, Portugal to Lisbon. I am now at home in Virginia after an adventure that I still haven’t had the time to fully process. For 8 weeks, I traveled through 20 cities in 8 countries on 4 continents speaking at conferences, teaching educators, and working with vulnerable children in developing countries (extensively in Uganda). I’ve been struggling to find the words to describe this entire experience…and each time I try, I am completely overwhelmed by emotion. I do know this, there’s no way I could return to the USA and be the same person I was before I left. Those 8 weeks had a profound impact on me as a person, an artist and a member of our global society.
I wasn’t working alone in Uganda. A group of seven artists and educators formed a team we call SHOTS – taking a shot at changing the world through Service, Hope, Optimism, Teamwork, and Sustainability. This is a remarkable group of people and I’m proud to be associated with each one of them. Thank you Susan for your vision!
Over a period of 4 weeks, I was privileged to team up with Susan O’Rourke (Carlow University, PA) and participate in Professional Development training for literally hundreds of educators instructing them on arts-integrated techniques for teaching students of all abilities in their classroom. I also had the privilege of connecting with more than 10,000 children…I can’t even begin to describe the experience!
The month of June started in Akita, Japan with a presentation on the impact learning magic tricks can have in the development of pragmatic and social communication skills with English Second Language (ESL/ELL) learners. This presentation was based on an on-going research project being implemented in Ogden, UT within the city school district. Using the Hocus Focus curriculum, we are determining the potential benefits that using magic tricks can have on increasing language skills in ESL students.
Educators in the field of Language Studies gathered from all over the world for this conference. I joined a colleague from Weber State University, Melina Alexander, and our presentation was well received. As a result, we are exploring other possible research projects to develop this aspect of Hocus Focus more fully.
July ended in Braga, Portugal at the Division of International Special Education and Services (DISES) Conference. Working again with Susan O’Rourke from Carlow University in Pittsburgh (and immediate past-president of DISES), we made two presentations – one on The Magical Benefits of a Technology-mediated Arts Curriculum and another on Working with Vulnerable Children in Post-Conflict Uganda.
In the weeks between Japan and Portugal, I traveled thru Asia, Europe, and Africa. The experience was life changing, overwhelming, and emotional.
One of the many highlights of this trip was sharing it with one of my special friends, Mike Thompson – and the opportunity to meet and work with Kyle Holbrook. He is an amazing artist and the founder of Moving the Lives of Kids Forward Community Mural Project (the MLK Mural Project). His work can be seen all over the world in some of the toughest neighborhoods in major urban areas. Kyle designed a mural for the Bright Kids Uganda orphanage in Entebbe. Combining his mural with a little bit of magic, we spent three days giving a voice to vulnerable children that can still be heard through the images they created on this mural and the stories they told through their magic. It was a time of teamwork, creativity, and expression. Ultimately, the experience was about empowering vulnerable youth through art education – whether it’s visual art (the mural) or performance art (the magic).
Another memorable moment was working with the Teso Tribe in the village of Opucet, literally translated “the village of peace.” The SHOTS team worked hand-in-hand with the tribe to lay the foundation for an inclusive school that will educate all children in the area. Check out this welcome dance!
At the end of our time together, they brought me before the elders of the tribe and gave me a new name, Emural. In the Ateso language, it represents “the one who is a symbol of our clan and expands our borders.” There is a lot of responsibility connected with a name like that!
If you want to “experience” a portion of my UGANDA ADVENTURE, you can watch this presentation:
POWERFUL MEDICINE: SIMPLY MAGIC
The world premiere of my short documentary – POWERFUL MEDICINE: SIMPLY MAGIC – took place in Portugal on July 17 at the DISES Conference. There wasn’t a dry eye in the theatre as an audience of more than 400 watched and responded with a standing ovation.
Powerful Medicine: Simply Magic explores the transformational benefits of the art of illusion in bringing about authentic and meaningful changes in the lives of individuals with different abilities. The film gives a compelling voice to those whom are “different” reminding all of us that they are remarkable people capable of doing extraordinary things. These voices urge us to acknowledge that their futures are often molded by our attitudes and perceptions about them. As a global society, we must start appreciating what they can do and stop focusing on what we believe they can’t do. You can check out the trailer HERE:
In September, I am planning a national media blitz with several appearances on the FOX News channel in NYC. And I have already begun submitting the film to various international film festivals.
Everyone who supports people with disabilities is, in some way, an advocate for their best interests. The international conversation about disability issues has been taking place for years but change – real change – must happen in the hearts and minds of ordinary people, not merely in policy and law. You and I can raise awareness of international disability issues, change people’s perceptions and attitudes, and provide opportunities for individuals with different abilities to share in the global society. If you agree that we can’t stay where we are on this issue, then I hope you’ll be a part of looking for a better way forward. You can start by joining us on Facebook!
FLINT HILLS SUMMER MAGIC CAMP
During the months of June and July, more than 80 kids enrolled in the Flint Hills Summer Magic Camp in Manhattan, KS. This was the pilot program for an on-going research project to evaluate the benefits of learning magic tricks on executive function and communication skills of children on the autism spectrum and with ADHD.
As August began, Eli and I drove to Oxford, Ohio to conduct Magic Camp at the Miami University of Ohio – more on that camp next time!