Thanksgiving is here and I am reflective.
God has been good to me.
1. My family is amazing. I am fortunate to be a member of such a diverse group of talented and gifted people. Our culture is unique and everyone in my family is an artist. The older I get the more I realize how unique we are as a group. I use to feel self conscious about it. I believe most people think we are weird. I love the fact that people think we are weird. We all have special talents and are excited to share those gifts with the “normal” people! Ha-ha-haa!
2. My friends are beautiful spirits who have seen me in them as I see them in me. Friendship is essential to the soul. I am fortunate to have people in my life that love me unconditionally, encourage me to be myself, and remind me of who I am when I lose my way. The older I get the more I rely on my friends to continue to be extended members of my family. I am now better able to discern who my friends are. “Every smile ain’t your friend”, my grandmother use to say that often. I know what she means now. I can smile at all of you-friend or foe, and keep it moving.
3. My experiences have been blessings to me. The good things help me remember the goodness of God. The bad things remind me to rely solely on God.

I am happy this Thanksgiving. I hope you are too.

Getting it together

So, I’m editing and revising-revising and editing. The first eight chapters have been in existence for 7 years. These chapters have been sitting on ice for a very long time. I left them alone so that I could work on my degree. Could not finish that because I ran out of money and time. Hey, life throws you lemons. I am squeezing them to make some lemonade. I am marinating the meat in what is left of them. I also put the book on pause to finish dealing with a HELLISH divorce that lingered for three years!!! Thank God that is over; now, the book gets a chance to flourish. I’m happy about that.

The trouble with writing a novel is that you will never stop writing it as long as no one stops you. I keep going back and forth nibbling at it here and there like it is a piece of cheese. It is my cheese. My cheesy little novel that I love so dearly. My characters are fleshing out and maturing faster than my fingers can type. I guess I can not keep them under wraps forever.

I like writing about about people & events for work. I also enjoy my time with the characters from this book. Excerpt 2 will be up tomorrow…

Passionate Pursuit

I am inspired by a quote I read yesterday. Rev Run posted this as his Facebook status, “Ladies::U can always tell if some1 is passionate about u.. The proof of passion is pursuit”. We have been conditioned to believe that as modern women we must take an aggressive role in the courtship dance. It appears that popular culture instructs modern women to chase after the man they want! It is suggested that we must approach the man we want, ask him out on and pay for the date. Additionally, it seems we may have to accept that the man we have chosen to share our bodies with may be in two or three other physical relationships with other women (and possibly even men) simultaneously, and we must work harder to keep his interest if we don’t want to be alone. There is information that suggests that we should accept that men have many choices in regard to dating, they don’t necessarily take every date seriously, and we should not take dating seriously either-we should behave like “men”!

Today’s women are bombarded with blogs, self-help books, articles, television programs, church sermons, songs, videos, and conversations with friends and family about what we must do to catch and keep a mate. The suggestions are laughable. I have read where one woman has done scholarly research to conclude that some African-American churches prevent African-American women from being in healthy “pre-marital” relationships. I have read articles about the treacherous single black female who seeks partnership by stealing away some poor woman’s man. I have seen an episode of 20/20 where comedian, Steve Harvey, “enlightens” single black women about their behavior before, during, and after courtship. While these entries provide interesting perspectives, they are not the last word in what a woman must do, think, or feel when selecting a partner. I’m laughing!

Author and radio host, Michael Baisden, discusses frequently as a topic on his daily show;that black women are not the only women who are having difficulty selecting and keeping mates. White and Latina women are struggling as well. There is a preponderance of sexist selfishness that is evidenced in modern dating. The roles of men and women have been reversed, skewed, and blurred by economic factors. When asked, some men are quite vocal about their availability of options and what those women are willing to do to keep them. Some men relish the idea of having women fawn over them, approach them, pamper them with gifts and baubles, pay their bills for them, and basically treat them as a dependent, not as a partner. That brings me great pause. Regardless if a woman makes more money than a man, owns property, has significant savings, and/or is self-sufficient; she still deserves to be respected and treated like a woman. The same is true for a woman on public assistance. A woman, wealthy or economically disadvantaged, should not be excluded from the practice of proper passionate pursuit.

Men, wealthy or economically disadvantaged, know what they like and what they want. It is in a man’s nature to hunt and gather. A man will pursue, with vigor anything that he truly desires because he wants to be able to present his prize to the world. Hence, moose heads hanging on a wall and a stuffed grizzly bear mounted and standing in the living room.

I have witnessed and experienced the behavior of a truly interested man in pursuit of what he wants. The behaviors are as follows:

1. He calls you (not texts) to ask you on a date.
2. He wants you to believe he is worth YOUR time.
3. He will offer to pick you up and is genuinely concerned about your safety.
4. He would like to expose you to new things and nice places.
5. He wants to be seen in public with you and wants the world to know he won time with you.
6. He wants to pay for a movie, dinner, a concert ticket, a vacation, or whatever your heart desires because, after all, you are his prize.
7. If he still considers you to be a prize, he will continue to call you and ask you to be seen in public with him.
8. He will be respectful and appreciative of your time.
9. His intentions will be clear.
10. He will want the world to see that he is capable of maintaining a relationship with a prize of a woman such as yourself.

Finally, ladies (of all racial and ethnic backgrounds) stop falling for the sexist propaganda that suggests that as a woman, who is financially solvent, educated, and still single that you are unworthy of proper passionate pursuit. If he is not putting forth the effort to make you feel like you are the woman that he wants then do not waste your precious time.

Domestic Violence: More than Just an Incident

In the news today there was a story about a single mother of two. She lives not too far away from me. Our neighborhood reflects a community of hardworking people; the affluent, business owners, athletes, doctors, nurses, lawyers. The domestic violence that we usually see in the news, “just does not happen” out here. Sadly, attitudes like that force women in to silence. An act of domestic violence does not begin and end with one incident. It is a cyclical chain of events that begins as a little secret then explodes in to a traumatizing display of pain, anguish, and despair. We spend so much time instructing our youth about bullies that they may or may not encounter at school; but, what about the bullies that live under their own roof?

The story involves a mother and her boyfriend. They were involved in an disagreement. The end result was that they both died. Apparently, police gunfire was also involved but not specified in the reports; it is still under investigation. When I heard the news, while I was driving down the very street where the incident occurred, I could not hold back the tears. This mother would not ever have another chance to kiss or hug her children again. This mother will never get another chance to see her children perform or achieve great things again. This mother will never get the chance to meet her grandchildren, or see them grow. This mother was stripped of her life because one man felt that he had ultimate control over her life and permission to take it away from her.

If you think that domestic violence begins and ends with one incident, you are mistaken. Domestic violence begins with the systematic breaking down of the victim’s self-esteem. It seems innocent or maybe even constructive at first but it has the intent of future manipulation, mental degradation, and physical domination. The aggressor may begin by picking at his/her victim, degrading the way that she (or he) looks, acts, speaks, walks. Also, the aggressor attacks the victim’s interests,friends, family. The aggressor will minimize the importance of or negatively criticize things that the victim does well. The aggressor seeks to isolate the victim from friends and family in an effort to obtain physical and mental control. The victim is unaware that the aggressor has the intent of exerting mental and physical dominance because she (or he) is in “love”. This is what the aggressor wants the victim to believe. Once the victim has fallen in to the trap of lies the manipulation begins: the yelling, the fighting, the shoving, and then the hitting. Often times, the victim blames herself (or himself). They will try to rationalize what role they played in the abuse, try to excuse it, or deny that it even happened. Unfortunately, the woman in the story from the news, was held in a full-nelson choke hold and shot in her head.

I am concerned that when a woman calls the police to report domestic violence [DV] (shouting, shoving, fighting, possession of personal items/having those items withheld) they ask the victim if she is bleeding? Are they not aware that those manipulative events are the precursor to more abusive acts? I am also concerned that some women feel that people will perceive them as being weak when they get up and take a stand. I believe that this is why so many women go inside of themselves and never tell anyone. They don’t believe that anyone will care or try to help them because they were careless enough to attach themselves to an abusive partner.

The woman, from my neighborhood, who has two children, died because of DV. The effects of DV linger and become a part of the psyche of the person who has endured it. It also effects the lives of other people; it has venom that poisons the lives of future generations as well. The effects of this case will linger in the minds of her two children for the rest of their lives. Domestic violence is clearly more than just one isolated incident.

What’s Really Cooking Overtown?

Published in Success Magazine, October 2010

“What’s Really Cooking Overtown?”
By, Ascellia Arenas
“A community plagued with abandoned homes, vacant lots, homelessness, and despair” is how one native Miamian describes the village community of Overtown in Miami, Florida. This is an unfortunate description of the once vibrant village of Overtown. Perhaps he does not remember the glorious past of the once thriving community that was Overtown. Historically, Overtown is one of the oldest communities, dating back to 1890, named “Colored Town”. It has served as home for African Americans who worked on the Flagler railroad, when in the City of Miami, segregation was the law of the land and integration was not yet a dream. It was a place where blacks owned homes and businesses, took pride in the beauty of the architecture and the rich cultural history of the members of the community. Many evils have since plagued the community, especially with the introduction of crack cocaine in the early 1980’s. Then there was the coupling blow of severing of the community due to the construction of highways. The highways dismantled neighborhoods and scattered family and friends throughout metropolitan Dade County with the disengaging promise of urban renewal. The community of Overtown suffered a tremendous loss to its unrelenting grip.
With the dedication and desire to rehabilitate and reinvigorate the luster of the Overtown community, St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church, strategically faced the challenge of drying the tears of their fallen community, for “charity begins at home”. Serving as a pillar of hope to this disenfranchised community, St. Johns Missionary Baptist Church set out to rescue Overtown. In 1985, a 501 (c)(3) not- for-profit, community based organization was founded by, Rev. Henry Nevin and concerned community members to rescue the poorest city in Miami-Dade County. This group was named the St. Johns Community Development Corporation (SJCDC). The mission was to: rehabilitate housing, stimulate economic growth, and attract new businesses and residents. In an effort to expedite the growth and of the financial revitalization in Overtown, the SJCDC gained the leadership Mr. David Alexander, as President, and the financial expertise of Steven Graziani, Community Development Consultant.
“It was clear that no one wanted to live Overtown because the market was not there”, states Graziani. Rental properties were dilapidated and or abandoned. The revitalization of Overtown called for three primary objectives: obtaining and implementing the vision, creating a working budget proposal that can execute the task, and obtaining HUD funding to create a pool of local funds to assist the program initiative. “Federal funding is obtained in several ways”, says Graziani. The SJCDC strategized a plan to form a consortium that consists of 6 not-for-profit groups and submit an application to bid for the sorely needed government funds. This would provide the SJCDC with the “competitive edge” needed to obtain the goal of receiving grant funds. Through the concerted effort of the consortium, that includes: Neighborhood Housing Services of South Florida The City of North Miami, The Little Haiti Community Development Corporation, Opa Locka Community Development Corporation, The Urban League of Greater Miami, and The St. John’s Community Development Corporation, the goal of property acquisition was solidified in a 89 million dollar grant to split amongst the consortium.
“The impact of that St. John’s Community Development Corporation now has is the ability to acquire property with the use of the funds”, state Graziani. They were recently able to acquire a 26 unit vacant abandoned property to rehabilitate and provide low income housing that will be affordable to the core demographic that currently resides in the Overtown area. The goal of the SJCDC is to invest in the residents of Overtown by providing affordable housing. The St. John’s Village 1440 project is an example of the agreement made between the consortium and The City of Miami. In addition to the funds received through the grant on behalf of the SJCDC, The City of Miami infused an additional 1.8 million dollars to complete the renovation of the 26 unit apartment complex. “The St. John’s Village 1440 Apartment rehabilitation is a model of how we will work together with neighboring communities and what we will continue to do “, says Graziani, the Community Development expert. There is an expected trajectory of growth anticipated here as well. As the village is revived, the natural progression is that the residents will earn more and the village will continue to grow and thrive to be the bustling community it once was.
Graziani is no stranger to community re-stabilization. With a career in community development that spans 30 years, he has done great work. He began consulting with the City of Miami in the early 80’s, worked with national non-profits in Washington DC, and was hand-picked by the SJCDC to assist in bringing the village of Overtown back to life. Steven Graziani will receive “The 2010 Community Development Award”, bestowed upon him by Alexander, for his efforts in helping to obtain the 89 million dollar grant that will be divided equally among the consortium. The village of Overtown was awarded a healthy 12 million dollars to spend over the course of five years to help bring Overtown back to its original splendor. “I remember when I was a little girl, my mother use to dress us up and take us Overtown to look at all the people. They were dressed in their finest, walking around through the shops… there was a lot of hustle and bustle”, says Mary, a Miami native. Those glory days will be here once again, very soon. Things are definitely cooking Overtown.

Figure 1-SJCDC was allocated 12 million of the 89 million dollar HUD grant funds, awarded to the consortium, in February of 2010. The grant specifies that 50% of the funds are to be used within the first two years and the remaining must be used in the last three of the five year time allotment. SJCDC projects spending 7 million dollars on the purchase of vacant lots and foreclosed/abandoned properties: and, spending 5 million dollars on redevelopment.

Jon Saxx & Endless Possibilities

::click here to see the full length article:: Jon Saxx and Endless Possiblities

Published in MIA Magazine Fall 2010

Passion Drives Endless Possibilities…

By, Ascellia M. Arenas

He is a dapper fellow, streamlined like his saxophone. His presence is heralded by the sensual sound of his horn.  He stands close to her, not close enough to touch her; but close enough for her to hear the wail of his horn and see the strength of his hands as he controls the air flow from each note.  He does not need to look at his fingering, he is looking at her and drawing her in to him.  She blushes, she swoons, and she falls for the Saxx man.  Jon Saxx is more than just a saxophone player; he is an astute businessman with a five year plan to take his stardom worldwide.

He didn’t start out making the ladies swoon from the sound of his alto sax; he was only in the fourth grade.  He grew up playing in church and eventually graduated to the soprano sax. Jon learned how to play while attending school in Cincinnati, Ohio. He says, “Arts combined with education creates a diverse portfolio.”  Influenced by the sounds of Stevie Wonder, Gerald Albright, Grover Washington and Kurt Whalen, young Jon developed a passion for music and began to develop his signature sound from playing sounds he liked by ear and applying his own personal feelings . Jon believes that “God didn’t give everybody everything but He did give everybody something and with that something, you can do anything.”

Jon attended Miami University at Ohio, where he earned a degree in Engineering. He also played basketball, ran track for the Redhawks, and became a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated, as well.  His degree led him to South Florida as a managing team leader for Johnson and Johnson where he worked for CORTIS, a company that makes cardio vascular devices.  It was there he learned how to structure and create systems for success. Jon knows how to navigate the business end of the music.  His stint at Johnson and Johnson ended: however, the experience he gained there helped him develop his best product, which is Jon Saxx.

Jon knows his own self worth. That enables him to get great jobs as an artist.  He states, “[I’ve] worked for free at certain gigs; but, I choose the right type of gigs to do…that allows me to network and follow-up on those connections.”  He has created musical magic at events for the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce, Johnson & Wales, the Florida Tourist Board, Jazz in the Gardens, the Miami Dolphins Organization and for the Miami Heat Organization.  Jon currently markets his CD’s on his website ( and is preparing to go on tour in Europe. He is excited about his band, Endless Possibilities, and spearheading a charitable cruise to the Bahamas, February 11-14, 2011. The Saxx at Sea cruise is a benefit for the Kids in Harmony and Moms 2 Moms Organizations (visit for more details).

Jon is no stranger to community service.  He frequently amazes students at career day events. One of his favorite lessons is called “The IPod Challenge”, students provide a song for him to play from their IPods: and Jon shows them how he can play any song he hears by ear!  He says, “I made an impact on them: now they think jazz is cool.”

Russell Benford

Success Magazine, September 2010

::click here to see the full length article:: Professional Profile: “A Man of Vision”

Russell Benford

By, Ascellia M. Arenas

Russell Benford, City Manager of North Miami, has a strong presence that commands attention and respect. He conveys approachable warmth that makes him the type of leader that people are naturally drawn to. He first became interested in leadership through a close mentoring relationship with high school Principal, Locke Beachum, who was also a city councilman. At East High, in Youngstown Ohio, Beachum spent time mentoring Russell. With nurturing and support from his mother, Rose Benford, and his grandmother, Henrietta Young, Benford earned a Bachelor’s of Arts degree at Oberlin College, and a Master’s Degree in Public Affairs at University of Texas at Austin.  While at Oberlin College, in Ohio, he applied for the Woodrow Wilson fellowship.  He attended graduate school as a Woodrow Wilson Public Policy and International Studies fellow. Benford developed a passion and a plan that would guide him through 16 years of Public Administration and Leadership.

In 2000, Benford was the first black employee for the Village of Hawthorn Woods in Chicago, Illinois where he served as Chief Administrator.  While vacationing in South Florida he became enamored with the tropical breezes and rich cultural diversity.  He desired engagement in a wider range of cultural diversity: and, that lead him to pursue leadership opportunities in South Florida.  In 2005, he was hired by the City of West Park to be Chief Administrator.  Benford states, “West Park was a chance to help a community that needed [his] leadership.”  He became aware of the position of City Manager for North Miami through public posting.  He credits his success to preparedness and established relationships with recruiters who were working to fill the position with the most qualified applicant.  Benford states, “It is important to develop relationships with recruiters so that they can get to know you and find the right position for you”.  Benford recommends that anyone seeking high level positions should research and involve themselves with reputable recruitment firms.

In fulfillment of the mission statement to enhance the quality of life for the citizens of North Miami, Benford happily calls himself a “work-aholic”.  He actively mentors by including the Interns from the Youth Empowerment Program in meetings and demonstrates how networking can bring them closer to their dreams.  He believes in the stabilization of the city of North Miami through purchasing foreclosed homes and providing first-time-homebuyers the opportunity to buy refurbished homes in the city. He says, “Homeownership instills pride in the community”. Beyond the ribbon cutting, supporting camp programs, community activities, and meetings Benford credits his successful leadership style with including the community and all of the people he works with when making tough decisions.  He states, “I seek input from my co-workers”, this he believes, also empowers his staff.   He relies upon his support system of City Mangers, for input as well.  Russell Benford meets quarterly with City Mangers of South Florida to discuss planning and implementation.  In regard to future aspirations he states, “If I work hard today, the future will take care of itself”.