“Why Weren’t You YOU?”

Happy Hump Day, All!

Watching the news and sometimes reading the newspaper is pure entertainment! Do you know what I mean? Now I am not asking you to agree with me, especially if you don’t, ’cause then you wouldn’t be YOU! You will see where I am going with this in just a minute ….

Obama’s uncle from the other side of the family got arrested in Massachusetts the other day for drunk driving and made headlines. Michelle Bachman was in Little Havana a few days ago saying that if she were president Obama ( wt … ) she would not have lifted sanctions nor opened trade with Cuba. The kids at the University of Miami’s football program got some stiff sanctions from the NCAA including suspensions and having to pay back the money they got from the shifty booster, Mr. Shapiro. Everybody has a take on everything, especially since we have “freedom of speech” in the American Bill of Rights! Some people take advantage of that, too . . .

A couple of days ago, last Friday to be exact, I got a call while at work from a person who has been doing an incredible job working with the youth here in Broward County and their program called “Mentoring Tomorrow’s Leaders”. Her name is Ms. Patricia Lesesne. I met her through a young man that I met while doing some workshops with the Project Embrace Program at the Urban League of Broward County. His name is Francois Louis, and he just graduated from Plantation High School this year. Ms. Lesesne, who works in a unique capacity at the Broward School Board, has organized a component of a program to reduce the dropout rate and increase the graduation rate at two specific high schools in Broward County, which includes purchasing a large number of copies of my first book, From the Projects to Princeton, and allowing me to be a part of this program by speaking with the youth and their parents in early December.

While I may have wanted to be a nice cup of tea sitting on someone’s pristine table in the suburbs, I am me! What about you?

“In the world to come they will not ask me, ‘Why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me, ‘Why were you not Zusya?'” – Zusya of Hanipoli

May I be true to myself in the choices I make today. I am becoming the man that I admire. (TOUCHSTONES August 31st)

Have a great day, celebrate the last day of August as if it were the first day of YOUR life . . .


John I. Cook, Director

To Tell The Truth ….

Happy Monday, All!

Now, today … in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, which hit the Atlantic States before the peak of hurricane season for us here in the Tropics, there is a lot of damage to be managed. There were friends on Facebook who showed photographs of trees uprooted in their yards in New York, on the news I saw swollen rivers from North Carolina, Virginia, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, even a photograph of The Bronx River Parkway connecting The Bronx to Westchester County that was welled up and the Parkway was covered in water! Power outages were in the millions for families in the North East. Yet, we were spared this time in South Florida since we got only wind and rain from the outer bands of the storm as it moved North on the Atlantic Ocean’s edge. While there were some hurricane related deaths, it seems most people were prepared as best they could . . .

I have enjoyed watching “60 Minutes” for years and enjoy their style and depth of broadcast journalism. I always wanted to get into radio and television when I graduated from Princeton after working on WPRB as a jazz disc jockey and newscaster! So, last night, they had two subjects that caught my attention. The first was Greg Mortensen, author of “Three Cups of Tea” and another book related to his travels and work in Afghanistan and areas nearby where he set up schools. His non-profit foundation has received millions of dollars in donations and monies from individuals as well as corporations to fuel his work. As “60 Minutes” uncovered his story, there were many discrepancies found, including details from his book regarding the Taliban capturing him as well as in his accounting procedures for the millions of dollars that go through his organization, Central Asia Institute. There were many many questions, some answers were uncovered in the program last night but more need to be answered by Mr. Mortensen himself.

The second subject was called “Teen Gospel Academy” out of Harlem, NY which is sponsored, created and developed by a well known New Yorker from my years enjoying radio there, Ms. Vy Higginson. This story actually brought tears to my eyes as I watched the youth of today, normally brought up in the “hip hop culture and music”, embrace and master the historically African rooted “gospel music”. Ms. Higginson’s dream has come true as she has attracted teens and parents, as well as a lot of money in donations, to help support her Gospel Academy, which is also staffed by many talented adults. Ms. Higginson’s dream is to preserve these gospel music roots, as she said, ” …. slaves were not allowed to read or write, but they could sing!” Watching the youth who come from many communities in Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens and Manhattan, shake off drive by murders of friends and health issues in their own families, some of them being raised by grandmothers or other guardians, embrace this historically rooted art was overwhelming for me! If you get a chance, view this portion from “60 Minutes” for a real shot of telling the truth!

Have a great week!


John I. Cook, Director
Educational Excellence
ps. – Happy Birthday to local activist, author and advisor, Deon Davis, as I had a chance to attend part of her celebration with her family and friends at the Pelican Bay Resort on the beach in FTL Saturday!

All Along The Watchtower

Happy Friday, Y’All!

Now take a minute and say with me, “Thank God It’s Friday”! . . . and believe it!

Since South Florida was spared by Hurricane Irene, I am awakened to a cool, summer breeze calm this morning. Yet, while watching the devastation inflicted upon the Bahamas in the news reports, I still recognize what wrath a hurricane can bring. Other states, points North of here including New York, are hunkering down now based on the forecast of the direction of the storm. All of this reminds me of the Jimi Hendrix tune from back in the day entitled “All Along the Watchtower” . . . ” …. two riders were approaching, and the wind began to howl ….”

Some of us here got ready while others in the Bahamas got slammed. I was off to work yesterday with my full riding gear and drove up I-95 from FTL to Boca Raton, FL amidst cars and traffic, yes … and wind and rain! At one point, the wind was so strong that I had to lean left in order to keep the motorcycle balanced and on the only two wheels I have! After a few “om shantis” coupled with “Thank you God”, I arrived at work and had a decent day. Peace be still … I try to be honest with myself more and more each day and, as I mature, I find it makes my reality a bit more manageable.

“Lying to ourselves is more deeply ingrained than lying to others.” – Feodor Dostoevsky

Today, I will accept my experience as a simple message of truth. (TOUCHSTONES August 26th)

Have a great weekend … and pray for safety all along the East coast!


John I. Cook, Director
Educational Excellence
ps – I hope things are okay for Michelle Hanna, friend and co-author in the Bahamas

How Great Thou Art!!

Happy Hump Day, Y’all …

Now, I don’t know about you, but methinks that the Power Greater than Ourselves is trying to tell us something. Not necessarily to repent, though that is not a bad idea, but to acknowledge the fact – as in the earthquake yesterday on the East coast from New York to North Carolina – there IS a power greater than anything we can put together, including a house on an island in the Bahamas! Hurricane Irene, as well as many other natural occurrences, was not “man made” and can put down anything that man can make … How Great Thou Art!!!

Personally, I have had many many edifications of the fact that there is a power WAY greater than anything I could imagine …. that has saved me time and time again from some near death experiences … and I KNOW that I am not alone in this testimony. To think that it is luck, like at casinos or horse races or card games, is fool hardy. One comment remains in the recesses of my mind, as it is too painful to let it sit in front and center, was from a very very dear person to me. This person told me that “Only weak people believe in God!” To this day, I reach out to this person even though I get no response, because I know that the Creator wants me to continue contacting this person even with no response. The positive energy that I wish to share with this person, including unconditional love, is far more powerful than the negative notions that one may conjure up.

“There is no greater weakness than stubbornness. If you cannot yield, if you cannot learn that there must be compromise in life – you lose.” – Maxwell Maltz

I will surrender my fragile stubbornness in exchange for the toughness I can learn in compromise. (TOUCHSTONES August 24th)

Know when to move . . . and know when to “groove”, so to speak!


John I. Cook, Director

On The Horizon

Happy Monday, All!

Weekends are designed for having fun, enriching ones social and cultural lives, doing what one didn’t have time to do during the week, and relaxing if one can find time! While my weekend was pretty busy, I sought a balance. When looking at the “state of affairs” worldwide, it is clear to see that even God has His hands full alongside of Mother Nature, if you will!

People were worried that President Obama was taking a vacation in Martha’s Vineyard while the economy is still struggling and many many Americans are out of work. I wonder what you or I would do if we were president and if we may need a break from the White House and spend some time with our families . . . for that is what he is doing! A friend on Facebook did an extensive research comparing the number of “days off” taken by past presidents, and, in comparison to Reagan, Clinton and Bush, Obama has taken less days in the same amount of time that each spent in office during similar or worse economic conditions! He even made time during his vacation to comment on Kaddafi’s forced departure and the rebels arrival in Tripoli, Libya! So, maybe we can “shut the front door” on that criticism of Mr. Obama! lol!

Saturday was an incredible day for H.E.R.O. and Educational Excellence, too! My friend and co-worker and super community organizer, Marie Achille (we worked together with ACORN some years ago), organized a “Back to School Book Bag Give Away and Supper” for nearly 100 parents and children from the Oakland Park, FL area and some points beyond. As usual, her family and friends and community members put together a festive spread of snacks, mac and cheese, juices, hot dogs, cakes and several boxes of book bags donated by the Baptist Church Diagnostic Center, which were filled with supplies like notebook paper, Elmer’s school glue, numerous pencils and pens, markers, highlighters and other supplies. I was the emcee for the program and opened with events planned by H.E.R.O. followed by a presentation of the journey I had taken from elementary school in White Plains through to my years teaching at City College in Fort Lauderdale, FL. I also emphasized the need to stay clear of trouble during these formative years (and always if possible!), especially fights in school and to focus on the purpose of school – to further ones education. It is the teacher’s job to stop a child from hitting another, and I encouraged them not to take on that task themselves.

I also utilized the poster board that accompanies my presentation of “From The Projects to Princeton” with photos of “little Johnny”, my Mom and Dad, my daughter, my sister and nephews, students from City College and even one ex-wife! The youth enjoyed the “journey” I took them on and I reminded them that I was not bragging but just trying to show them that they can do it, too! They had questions and some even provided answers to their peer’s questions, which is the way I prefer to do my workshops anyway! A good time was had by all, especially when the girls received their pink book bags and the boys their green book bags when Marie passed them out personally to each child at the close of the progam!

The weather reports nationwide, including New York City, have been fierce and as the kids in South Florida and other points return to school today, there are warnings of Hurricane Irene on the horizon.


John I. Cook, Director

Why Does The Caged Bird Sing?

Happy Friday … and … Thank God It’s Friday!

Yes, yes I am very grateful today … for many many reasons. How about you all? I hope you are feeling the same way, om shanti (peace)!

So, the University of Miami has an issue … a BIG issue … to handle in regards to the convicted panzi schemer who bilked people of hundreds of millions of dollars – Mr. Shapiro – whom one critic says has a Napoleon complex! On the news last night, a gentleman who is obviously a supporter of the football program there at The U of M said he was “three foot three”! There were pictures of him, Mr. Shapiro, amongst some of the football players and he looked child-like with them! He brings a new meaning to “Why Does the Caged Bird Sing?”, a line from the original poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar, later inculcated as the title of a poem by the esteemed author, Maya Angelou, right?! Now that Mr. Shapiro is in prison … for 25 plus years … he is singing like a bird! May we not forget the young players who succumbed to his “game” to “have all, know all and provide all”! There will be some trouble at the University of Miami’s athletic program due to this “bum of a booster”!

I must mention the event of the Rakhi Celebration which was held at the Hillcrest Community’s “Playdium” in Hollywood, FL Wednesday night, which was nicely done by the sisters from the Brahma Kumaris from Miami, Hollywood and Miramar. Sister Ganga, who gave me personal classes in Raj meditation, touched our foreheads with a drop of oil as we went one by one onto the stage, and then placed the traditional bracelet on our wrists in silence. Then, Sister Marianne, who was next to Ganga, sat with each of us a moment in peace and silence until she gave us a card and a sweet bread. Finally, Sister Roz, the Public Relations person for the Hollywood group and other Brahma Kumaris centres, meditated a moment and gave brief inspirational words to each of us personally as we stood near her until she gave us a piece of fruit before we each departed the stage. There were maybe 100 of us more or less … festive and peaceful … two hours of meditation and quiet music as well as tiny lights and incense filled the air! Om shanti!

Tomorrow afternoon, here in FTL, I will be working with H.E.R.O. who is providing local needy youth with book bags and supplies to go in them for their “Back to School” program. I intend to speak with them a bit about keeping in mind the “Stop the Violence” campaign that many groups, including my own spiritual entity known as Educational Excellence, are advocating as the youth prepare for another exciting school year.

In addition, Ms. Tanya Simons-Oparah, Director of Community Outreach for the Broward County Libraries, informed me that tomorrow, Saturday at 6pm, at the Joseph C. Carter Park on Sunrise Blvd. near I-95 in FTL, there will be a celebration for historical icon Marcus Garvey, whose birthday was Wednesday. We expect to have a blood relative of Fredrick Douglas there as well as Marcus’s son, Dr. Julius Garvey, to be a part of the celebration.

Have a fine weekend … and send the kids back to school with class and style … and … peace!

Om shanti,

John I. Cook, Director

Thinking Thoughts . . .

Happy Monday, All!

Here’s to hoping your weekends went well! While Friday eve was a bit festive as I met a few friends for the evening and retired late, I headed into work on Saturday morning anyway. It was a productive day so I have no regrets . . . There is one issue that has been plaguing me for a few years now and it is hard to contain myself from feeling disappointed in the circumstances though they are way beyond my control. Besides, it is a family matter and would involve TMI … you know, too much information!

So, after a quiet somewhat stormy Saturday night when I took a cruise in a very light rain that followed the storm, I woke up early enough for the 10:15 service at Calvary Chapel. Pastor Bob shared stories of how, when he was coming to Fort Lauderdale over 25 years ago, he was met with obstacles that challenged his faith. He had a much smaller vision back then, but through his faith and works, has been able to achieve much more than his earlier visions. He is truly a talented individual with multiple gifts which he gives non-stop. The service lifted my spirits, as the woman who sat next to me got up during the altar call, so to speak, and dedicated her life to God! While the afternoon was calm as I rode to the beach and enjoyed a few hours of meditation and the warm tropical weather as well as a couple of friends who work at an establishment there, I got home and took care of some cleaning, washing clothes, even cooking to retire my restless spirit. I wanted to write some but felt a bit melancholy …

“A man’s (person’s) life is what his (her) thoughts make it.” – Marcus Aurelius

Today, I accept my thoughts of weakness and self-doubt as part of life. (TOUCHSTONES August 15th)

Have a wonderful day . . . and a great week!


John I. Cook, Director

Being A Best Friend . . .

Happy Friday, All!

Que chevere que hoy es viernes! T.G.I.F.!

Many of us have best friends who would not hesitate to come to our aide if we needed them. Others of us may wish we had such people in our lives. I was watching the news story yesterday about the woman in London, England who was from like Czech Republic or another eastern Eurpean country who was trapped in her apartment when a fire was consuming the building she lived in. Now, she had come to England in search of a better life, and, then found herself stuck in the second or a higher floor during the riots that have been taking place there. People below coaxed her to jump … and they were waiting to catch her! So … she did … and they did as they said …. caught her! A nice gesture from one human being to another. Not just a gesture either, this was a LIFE saving gesture, needless to say.

As the school year begins, I am planning to participate in a “Back to School” book bag giveaway next Saturday with H.E.R.O., the local group here in Broward which has been growing in an effort to fill in the void in certain areas that was left when A.C.O.R.N. here in Broward and nationwide was closed down due to lack of funding. There are such programs going on all over the place …. Calvary Chapel has been holding a special offering for their “Back to School Book Bag” program. May we remember that the children are our future, and sometimes I wonder where that will be in light of so many human failures on this planet. Try to keep in mind that the violence they may see going on all around them may eventually penetrate their beings. When looking at them, try to see yourself, for they truly are a reflection of ourselves. Give to them as if they are your best friend. Encourage them to take that “jump”, so to speak, into the arena to inherit our troubled world. Needless to say, catch them …. when they fall …. for we all fall short at some point or another.

“It is a terrible, an inexorable law that one cannot deny the humanity of another without diminishing one’s own: in the face of one’s victim, one sees oneself.” – James Baldwin

God, help me engage in the brotherhood of my own family and with all people – and to see my own face, even in my enemy. (TOUCHSTONES, August 12th)

I am glad to see that the woman from Miami’s DCF is stepping down as director, and, that new measures are being put into place after the loss of the young girl to a mad man and his wife that had adopted her, though her brother lives on to keep her dream alive. Remember the children . . .

Peace always,

John I. Cook, Director
Educational Excellence
Ps. – I would not be here today if it were not for some of you. I hope I have been a light in some of your lives as well …. Love always, John ….

Those Bloody Brits!

Happy Hump Day, All!

May we step out into the world today seeking peace and understanding in all of our encounters . . .

Not really sure … but wasn’t it just a few months ago that Kate and William got married in “Lovely London”? What has happened since then? Or was there always something brewing underneath that “pomp and circumstance”? Apparently, the event that triggered the rioting that has been going on nearly a week there now was the arrest of a local man, Matt Duggan, who was ultimately shot and killed!!! How … and WHY did this happen? I have searched the internet a bit and googled stuff too and have not seen any detailed accounts of the event that triggered this apparent “Mini-Revolution” …. and it continues to spread.

Now last time I was there, which was over twenty years ago, police in London did NOT have guns! I think I remember when they became armed but the transition was so quiet that I didn’t notice anything . . . until now. As a sociologist by education, and, a continued fan of social science, it seems that all of the decor and tradition of Great Britain has some hidden under currents, at least to the naked eye, of unrest …. and it is now being unleashed! May the people there seek safety and somehow … God willing … bring this unrest to an end!

Today, the Boys and Girls Club of Broward County is having their monthly network mixer and volunteer forum at “Big City Tavern” on Las Olas Boulevard in lovely downtown Fort Lauderdale! If the weather is permitting … and no unexpected change of events occurs like in London … I plan to attend!

“According to the teachers, there is only one thing that all people possess equally. This is their loneliness?” – Hyemeyohsts Storm (TOUCHSTONES August 10th)

Have a peace-seeking and filled day, please ….

Om shanti,

John I. Cook, Director

You Gotta Want It!

Happy Friday, all!

As often as I can, while I can, I must say, T.G.I.F.!

Still, with all of our technology and advancements in science, our society is ill in many ways. Now, it is not necessary to always focus on the negative, as I used to say to some of the students I have had over the years, but I also try to highlight the positive so that the negative stuff remains in the shadows where they belong. There are young men still killing their mothers, as another murder by a son has been discovered in South Florida. Some of the guys I work with told me one of their friends was killed in West Palm Beach, FL this past week. Yet, I have still another co-worker whose wife just delivered a baby after he had one of the biggest days ever in our office in educational sales! Yesterday was the President’s birthday and I have another friend who is expecting a baby across the waters in Czech Republic any day now! Hurricane Emily has sizzled out before it could wreak havoc on the struggling nation of Haiti … and so on … and so on … and so on! Thus, the cycle of ying and yang, good versus evil, the devil versus God, death versus creation … peace be still.

This week has been very developmental for me as I had to put into practice many of the formats of and the motto for Educational Excellence: “Know Thyself!”. Others were trying to define me based on their needs, inadequacies, difficulties – which we all have, and I had to rise above the norm to handle the situations so it did not get blown out of proportion. I had to employ a bit of self-communication amidst the plethora of negative noise that was being emitted from hostile forces. On one occasion, I just had to ignore the negativity until it went away . . . which defies the laws of nature and led me to a state of spirituality. Om shanti . . .

“The whole problem is to establish communication with one’s self.” – E.B. White

Today, I will use my lines of communication with myself and become more self-accepting and more honest. ( TOUCHSTONES August 5th)

Have a great weekend!


John I. Cook, Director
Educational Excellence
Ps. – I want to wish my former coach and still friend, Maurice Blake, a Happy Birthday tomorrow! He is 80- something! lol!

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