Genma Speaks

Entrepreneur/ Writer/ Radio-Host

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Christmas Connections: Santa You Look Like Me

"Santa You Look Like Me" featured is featured in the in Christmas Connections Winter 2019.    
Ms. Santa photo by C-Suite Photography Pics

 As a little girl growing up in rural Mississippi, my grandparents were the ultimate lovers of Christmas and I inherited their love for the season, year round. Their spirit of giving to and serving others were their calling cards in my small community. On merger means, my grandparents taught their grandchildren how special the most wonderful time of the year is by the lives they lived daily. When I became a young adult, I ventured off to New Orleans where I fell in love with the sights, sounds and palates of a city rich in cultural at every turn. It is in Crescent City where I had my very first Christmas experience away from my rural upbringing. I encountered the Christmas legend, the Seventh Ward Santa, Fred Parker; an experience that left me filled with awe and wonderment!

Seventh Ward's Chocolate Santa, Fred Parker.
 Fred Parker, ‘Nawlins’ world famous "Chocolate Santa," took my breathe away when I stumbled upon him at an event. Even now, I can visually recall his beautiful brown skin and silvery silky beard in a red Santa suit as if it was yesterday. I stared at him for hours it seemed watching one young child after another sit on his lap and smile for a photo with the Seventh Ward’s Chocolate Santa. I literally wanted to get in line as well but I was all too aware that most of the children were not much more than seven years old. With me standing at 5’10, I would never be able to explain myself to the mother and her children behind me I thought to myself. As I continued to stare from my perch, I wanted to touch his suit and tell him how much he reminded me of my grandfather with his kind words and sincere laughter. My world view of Christmas and Santa Claus had just expanded several galaxies at the point. I could not wait to tell my grandparents about the man in the red suit who looked like me.  

The heart stopping exhilaration I felt that momentous day is how I feel each time I don my red Christmas suit in the timeless tradition set by thousands of Santas who have helped usher in Christmas with countless children as they pose for photos and hear their wishes worldwide. As Ms. Santa, I live for each opportunity to share the goodness of mankind that can be seen during the most wonderful time of year. And beyond. 

Santa Larry (North Texas Larry Jefferson) with Marines.
Santa Larry leading a Christmas Parade.

Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza's Santa a.k.a Langston Patterson
Like many children who have sat on my lap for nearly two decades and stared at me in amazement, I, even as Ms. Santa, swell with pride and get goose bumps whenever I see Texas’ Larry Jefferson, California’s Langston Patterson and several others in the news for being Santa Claus. I know the story is about being a Santa Claus but the focus is on the rarity of being a person of color in the high profile role. I share often with my media friends what I have learned from my travels as Ms. Santa...there are diverse Santas throughout communities visiting schools and churches sharing the joy of Christmas with children; they just may not be on the evening news. Thankfully, through the lens of social media, the national narrative of who is portrayed in the red suit (or green, blue,and even pink) in the media is beginning to change because we are visually seeing Santas from various backgrounds in the spotlight for doing good deeds in and out of their red suits. 

8th Guest Appearance on Urban Outlook with April Eaton.
 Whenever the spotlight is on me, I am usually asked what is it like to portray Ms. Santa. I always share there is nothing like trying to make a difference in someone’s life at Christmastime. Uplifting the spirits of a family of a deployed member of the Armed Forces or creating a memory for a family that will have more meaning in years to come is truly soul stirring. It IS a blessing to be a blessing. And, I cherish the experience of a melanin child looking into my eyes while touching my red suit and breathlessly saying, “You look like me Ms. Santa.” I know all too well what that child is experiencing especially when it is a first photo with me. 

"I am Santa Too" Christmas Photos 2016.
I also love to encourage little girls that they too can grow up and wear a red suit whenever I am asked if she can be a Ms. Santa or a Mrs. Claus one day. “You can be whatever you want to be when you grow up. As a matter of fact, I cannot wait for you to apply for my job as Ms. Santa. I am going to retire when you get your red suit,” was my response to a little blonde blue eyed five-year-old with a pony tail who could not stop hugging me at one of my school visits in December. After our photos were taken, she whispered with glee to her grandmother, “I am going to be Mrs. Santa Claus when I get real old.” Children really do say the darnedest things!

Breakfast with Ms. Santa 2015.
Ms. Santa @ Tulip Grove Elementary 2017.
5th Annual Holiday Visit to Nia House Montessori School 2018.

I can hardly wait to see where she will be in a few years and I look forward to the next generation of Santa Clauses, Mrs. Clauses, and Ms. Santas in their red suits with great expectation. I know they will come from diverse communities from around the globe so every child will be able to say with awe and wonderment, “Hey Santa, you look like me!”

Saturday, March 9, 2019

HERstory: Dr. Sylvia Whitlock, UN Global Citizen and Humanitarian

Photo by Alyce Henson

Dr. Sylvia Whitlock was born in New York City but was educated, through high school, in Kingston, Jamaica. After returning to New York City she earned a B.A. in Psychology from Hunter College. Sylvia worked for the United Nations, as a Statistical Clerk, at the Secretariat Building in New York, before moving to California to start a career in Education. In California she went on to earn a Masters Degree, cum laude, in Education from Cal Poly, Pomona, and a Ph.D., cum laude, in Education, from Claremont Graduate School. Subsequently, she earned another Masters Degree, in Marriage and Family Therapy, from Azusa Pacific University, and began a second career as a therapist. She is licensed by the Board of Behavioral Sciences in California.

In 1982, while an Elementary School Principal in Duarte, CA., she was invited to join the history-making Ex-Rotary Club of Duarte. Dr. Whitlock became President of that club in 1987, the year the United States Supreme Court ruled that the club be reinstated, thus making her the first woman in Rotary International to head a club as President. She has served as President twice, Secretary, Treasurer, and Foundation Representative. At district level, she chaired the Four Way Test Speech committee for six years, the Ambassadorial Scholarship Committee for six years, receiving a Service Award from DG Don Aikin, and Simplified Grants for two years. She has been an assistant governor, presenter in Governors Institutes, and speaker in Rotary Clubs conventions and meetings, here and overseas, including South Africa, Jamaica.

Other community activities have included being a member of the Board of the Spanish Trails Girl Scout Council, volunteer at Pomona Valley Hospital, Recorder for the Blind and Dyslexic, and Commissioner at TriCity Mental Health Agency. In 2000, she was named Woman of the Year by NAACP and in 1998 she was named Distinguished Alumna by Cal Poly, Pomona. She chaired Western Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation teams and was, for eight years, a member of the Committee on Credentialing for California State Department of Education. She attends Trinity United Methodist Church where she is often a lay reader.

 Dr. Whitlock considers Rotary to be the best vehicle she knows for humanitarian ventures in service to mankind. Some favorite club projects, while in Duarte, have included sinking water wells in Nigeria, setting up an AIDS Center in Jamaica, supporting an orphanage in Mexico, and raised almost $90,000 for Education for Girls in India. She received the Global Citizen Award from United Nations Association. She continues to be inspired by the many Rotarians who have taken the organization to the edge of tomorrow and is committed to using the opportunity she has been given to further the cause of Rotary, in her community, in her country, and in the world.

Dr.Whitlock is a multiple Paul Harris Fellow and benefactor. She is the mother of three children - Meredith - a Paul Harris Fellow, BG is a deputy county counsel in San Mateo County, and Arlan (deceased).  She considers raising her children the most satisfying and enjoyable job she has ever had. She is now a proud grandmother of three who bring her much delight.

The 1989 Council on Legislation vote to admit women into Rotary clubs worldwide remains a watershed moment in the history of Rotary. Dr. Whitlock chronicled her journey as the first woman President in Rotary International in the world in her book titled WOMEN ALSO SERVE, PDG Sylvia Whitlock, USA. 9 March 2015.

Filled with facts and personal anecdotes, the first woman president in Rotary International shares a fascinating glimpse into the journey of the Duarte club. Dr. Sylvia Whitlock, who was present as the club enlisted help from the American Civil Liberties Union and took the case through the California court system until a landmark decision in May 1987, details the circumstances of the case as women struggled to attain equal rights, her role in the process, conversations with participants and onlookers, and the benefits she has gained personally through her own membership.

Proceeds from the sale of the book supports the Rotary Foundation. Dr. Whitlock supports schools for girls in Nigeria, Mexico, India and Jamaica.
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