Judging Others

I recently had the honor of adjudicating the ACT-SO New Jersey State competition*, a program founded by the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). The ACT-SO contest begins regionally, ultimately culminating into a national event, in which students compete at various levels in music, visual arts, sciences, business, oration, film, dance and poetry. The state level, in which I participated, took place in Newark this year. I was excited to take part, because I had never judged anyone before – not at someone’s behest anyway! I was curious about the judging process and eager to see, hear and meet today’s developing scholars and artists. I was also curious about the students’ varying levels of technical skill, dedication, artistry and so forth.Judges ACT-SO 2

Competition Day proved to be an exhilarating, if frenzied, experience. To my surprise – and relief! – several New York colleagues were adjudicators, as well, and I was immediately at ease in the knowledge that I’d be sharing this important task with capable, compassionate professionals.

As our day commenced, one by one the candidates came and stood before us judges to present their pieces; to offer up their souls. More than a few were overwrought. A few were underprepared. And still a few more shone brilliantly like small diamonds, only needing to be plucked out and polished.

I experienced many emotions while listening to and observing these green, hopeful contestants. The familiar butterflies of anxiety – wanting so desperately to be uh-MAZ-ing! The agony of imperfection. The barely containable anticipation of performing again.

As the competition came to a close, I ended my day there in New Jersey with a renewed vigor and passion for my craft and a profound respect for educators and mentors across this country. Theirs is not an easy road. I feel so fortunate to have been inducted into this society of leaders and change-makers, and I can hardly wait for the next such opportunity. A most worthy cause.blues

*For more information about ACT-SO New Jersey, visit their website at www.actsonewjersey.org.

Carrying Balloons

A few weeks ago, I purchased balloons for a small child’s birthday. I don’t really care for balloons – I’m a grownup, after all – but children appear to love them, so balloons seemed an excellent choice for a present. On the day I was to visit with my little friend, calamity upon mishap befell me, as my efforts to leave home were cosmically hampered, hindered and handicapped. Running woefully late, disposition now completely soured, I rush into my neighborhood dollar store for a bouquet of helium-filled balloons. They are NOT a dollar. After settling on the quantity of balloons, their various colors and ribbon tie-offs (UGH! C’MON!!), the vendor begins filling my not-a-dollar balloons one by one with what can IMG_1500only be described as magic, because the moment he hands me these bright, beautiful, air-filled happy makers, my spirit shifts, literally lifts. I feel myself beginning to smile. REALLY hard. And suddenly, MAGICALLY, I’m ten years old again. I feel the very happiest I’ve ever felt. In my whole life. Weird, wonderful and inexplicable. How can carrying silly balloons actually carry me back to my childhood?

So I’m skipping down Amsterdam Avenue, balloons knocking me in the face, wrapping around my neck (it’s been a while), small children stopping to point and stare at – and ultimately demand and beg for – my gorgeous bundle of princess balloons. My adult persona is a little uncomfortable with the spectacle I have created. But the kid in me doesn’t have a care in the world. How incredibly nice. Finally, I deliver the balloons safely into the arms of my precious little friend, who is more than happy to relieve me of my “holding” duties. I’m slightly reluctant to hand them over, but relent – because I’m a grownup after all. And I concluded somewhere between the dollar store and my final destination that I would now IMG_1490regularly purchase my very own gorgeous bundle of princess balloons. Because even though they weren’t a “dollar”, they’re infinitely cheaper than therapy.