I Am Black Gold

I Am my natural resource.

I AM renewed by my heritage.

I AM enriched by my self-cultivation and rooted in my ancestry.

I AM the richness of the world. I AM Black Gold.

Shawndel Fraser 2014

Esperanza Spalding, Radio Music Society

This song and video remind me of my childhood in Harlem and my adulthood in Brooklyn New York. My New York childhood was full of teachers who embraced and espied the fullness of our African heritage. My family reveled in our Caribbean ways, and my adulthood is chock full of friends and peers who expertly interweave identity rooted in a self-love so deliciously chocolate that neo-soul is but a watery description of the depth and richness of our “Negritude”. I have gloried in Harlem sunrises, Brooklyn BBQ’s, mid-day Guyana rains,  Ghanaian Sunsets,  family dinners in Mexico and basked in Costa Rican love songs. In each place I was made aware of just how golden my Blackness is by immersion, contrast or just plain awesomeness. I adore this song and video for reminding me of my path, my people and my home-place. Thank You Esperanza and Algebra!


As I awaken from my multi-year cocooning, I emerge to Esperanza’s ode to and celebration of cultural richness and historic significance.


Heritage Wednesday::The Elevator Speech

A Heritage Elevator Speech? Yes. If you are a professional, a small-business owner, an academic, an artist or a dreamer, you have inherited a culture that is short on time yet ravenous for great ideas. The elevator speech is what bridges the gap between innovators and their supporters. If you are fortunate enough to encounter an interested or strategically placed person who can propel you on your path, you need a hook, a compelling and SHORT story to engage them in your vision. These interactions are often the result of chance social encounters with friends of friends, colleagues at professional conferences or all-staff meetings at work. At best, you may get a 1-4 minute audience with this person, so make it count!

Elevator Speech Opportunities

“So, what do you do for a living?”

I have heard it said a few times by artists and academic-types that the sales-pitch feels like the hardest part. “Why must I sell people on my idea when it is clearly something that: will inspire others / help the greater good / is intrinsically valuable”. Yes, your idea may be all of those things, but no idea is helpful without the support of other people. It’s a condition of being born a social being. The truth is, if you have a degree, a job, or you have friends who support your endeavors, then your inner-salesperson is alive and well. We sell people on ideas of who we are, what we are capable of, and even convince companies and institutions to believe that we are ambassadors for the best interests of an academic discipline, department or product line.

If you dislike the “sale” then that is an indicator that you approach the sales moment with the sensibilities of the inner artist, or academic etc, that is to say, you may be approaching the sales moment with the portion of yourself that prefers to be alone and simply do the work, rather than drum-up support for it. That frame of mind is good when creating or writing, but does not directly serve the proliferation of your goal, project or idea. You will need to free your inspired salesperson self to share your idea, or it will remain small and undernourished, and will eventually wither and die young, never having received support from those who could help it thrive.

Overlapping interests are the bounty of the elevator speech

“No kidding? I have always been interested in that! Let’ set up a meeting time to discuss this further. I’d love to help you in any way I can…”

Approach the following exercise with the passion of the artist, the honed expression of your inner academic, and the tact and extroversion of your inner salesperson.

Elevator speeches should be customizable on the fly, so this requires you to really think about your project, ideas or goals, and think of as many possible applications or collaborations that you would ENJOY pursuing. This refines your thought process about the project, and cultivates a flexible approach to describing your idea.

If your networking goal is to meet as many allied people as possible, then your elevator speech goal is to craft as many versions of an introduction.

Now that you know the “whys” of an elevator speech, let’s discuss the “how”.  There are five dimensions to the elevator speech. They cover the points most likely to interest the listener, yet leaves them enough time to comprehend the information and ask for more if they so choose.

  1. Who am I and what is my research / project / initiative?
  2. Why is this new fangled thing better that what already exists? What does your offering give that has never been offered before?
  3. What makes your approach/ project/ initiative/ research so important, notable or special?
  4. What are your desired outcomes / goals?  What is your vision?

 More on STEP 5

After the sales pitch, the rest is up to the listener / audience. You can make a quick introduction, but the buy-in cannot be rushed.  After you finish your elevator speech, make eye contact, smile, take a deep breath and relax your shoulders while counting to 5.  By the time you compose yourself, you will be ready to listen to their response, and answer any questions.

Remember, this is a conversation, and questions signify interest and active listening, not necessarily criticism (remember: critique is good); so receive their questions as guidance toward the clarification and manifestation of your goal. No idea is created in a vacuum.

Give the listener time to digest and respond to your “speech”. Let them begin to sense the greater implications and importance of your work. If you give them time to respond, inevitably, they will respond with thoughtful questions. Keep your answers concise. Less is more. The “less is more” speech is composed of the prize nuggets that makes listeners want to seek more information. This is salesperson-ship at its best! Your brilliant idea enhanced by a refined presentation does all the work!


Kudos to You!

Congratulations! This was a long post, so if you’ve made it this far, you’ve already primed your inner salesperson to do you proud. The hardest part is writing the speech, so once you’ve written the first draft. Say it aloud, practice it, test it on your friends and family, coworkers, and your boss (if appropriate). When you can improvise alternate versions and feel comfortable with the process, you’re ready to take it into the field…

I thought I’d share my revised elevator speech with you as an example, so here it is, in outline format:

  1. Who am I and what is my research / project / initiative?
    1. My name is Shawndel Fraser and I am an Environmental Psychologist. I am building a creative and healing arts retreat for women survivors.
  2. Why is this newfangled thing better that what already exists? Why is your project / goal / idea unique?
    1. Where most retreats cater to luxury consumers, yogis, or spiritual seekers, The Blue Dome is a retreat for women who wish to hone new emotional, physical, psychological, spiritual tools to transform limited and limiting beliefs about past intense experiences.
  3. What makes your approach/ project/ initiative/ research so important, notable or special?
    1. The Blue Dome is a restorative and safe place where women create community; they repose in physical, emotional and psychological comfort, and take part in creative and healing art activities that help them realize one thing: survivors don’t simply survive, they Artfully Transcend. Any survivor has the potential and ability to transcend all types of violence and circumstance.
  4. What are your desired outcomes / goals?  What is your vision?
    1. My goal is for the women to realize during their stay, that their past traumas were divine lessons in disguise.
    2. My vision is that they will come to learn that their survivor status is actually a call to contribute in global healing though their unique expression of leadership in their everyday lives.

I hope this is helpful, do share your elevator speech should you feel so inclined. I will offer constructive critique if you do!


Heritage Music Day: Evolution of Gospel

This is an oldie but goodie; this song “Optimistic” by Sounds of Blackness is from the “Evolution of Gospel” album, and it holds amazing memories for me. I was a camp counselor at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, the oldest (and most radical) Episcopal church in Harlem, New York City, and the self chosen spiritual home off my youth. It was there, on 126th Street and Old Broadway / St, Mary’s place that I took my first communion, I first interacted with live chickens and turkeys, served on the altar, and sang in the junior choir. I learned that it is good to be a P.I.T.A. (pain in the ass) to oppressive authority (thanks to then head priest Rev. Robert Castle, (Jonathan Demme’s cousin), and I learned to open my heart, mind and social space to people who live without homes, and with HIV/AIDS. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church taught me deep compassion for people, and each week I witnessed unconditional acceptance as people of many persuasions served on the altar, sometimes to the displeasure of the Cardinal. St. Mary’s Episcopal ushered me into a noble adulthood that I cherish to this day.

In 1993, I served as a summer camp counselor, and we created a closing ceremony for our campers that required all camp staff and students to take part. We all marched and danced to this song together, and it caused us to share and develop a deep appreciation for that moment in time with every replay of the song during our many weeks of rehearsal. The adult camp counselor with the greatest seniority, Tim Collins passed not too long after our summer camp, but I remember his humor, his candor, his loving family and well….his candor 🙂 He was the glitter on many of my summer moments. Although he left us, he also left an indelible mark that I remember every time I play this song.

I share this song with you almost 20 years later because it still moves me. I still sensorially reconnect with St. Mary’s altar, where I served as altar girl, choir member and camp counselor. Everyone has challenging and heavy days that seem endless and consuming, but the Sounds of Blackness tell us “You can win! As long as you keep your head to the sky!” I remember Tim chose this song. Although it seems difficult today, remember that tomorrow is a new day, and it holds infinite possibilities for happiness. “Keep, keep on…”

Sounds of Blackness was ahead of their time, with the video, the mixture of choreography traditions and their sound. They paved the way for many other interpretations of gospel music. I am lucky to have had them as a soundtrack to my early youth, I thank Tim for the timeless advice he offered us all through this song, and I am so grateful to St. Mary’s Church for being such a safe space in my early years. Even now when I read the blog or occasionally call the new head Priest Father Kooperkamp,all I feel, hear and think of is “home”. St. Marys was an incredible place to grow up back in the day! This song holds all this profundity for me, accessible via a simple mouse-click in iTunes. I hope you enjoy it, even half as much as I do.


Heritage Dance Day: I Heart ZUMBA!

Yes, I know that the word “love” is over-used and often mis-attributed, however in this case, it is true. I LOVE Zumba. Why? Because it offers me the present day soundtrack of my life and culture in a package that precludes the old need to go to the club to “get my groove on”. The music is current with reggaeton, calypso, bachata, salsa, merengue, cumbia and more! A zumba class allows me to dance and have fun with people who have a similar interest in dance and fitness, but instead of the club, we go to the gym. Nothing says clean, mature, generative fun like dance as exercise, then a detoxifying tour through the jacuzzi, steam room and sauna. No need to suffer the club where the focus is alcohol and other type of social interactions.

Zumba clothes are “tropi-colorful” (have you ever seen a pink home with a blue fence, green plants and colorful flowers in the Caribbean…you can’t help but feel happy!). It is heartening to learn from so many instructors who are people of color, and many participants already love to dance or learn to dance because of Zumba. Culturally, I think Zumba is doing amazing work: it gets people to loosen up, to move their body, to have fun, to appreciate Latin and Caribbean music, and it teaches the formerly “rhythmless” that dancing is for everybody!

I find all this to be soooo very appealing. It makes sense, my parents hail from Guyana, South America which means I inherited a soca, calypso and reggae musical heritage. I grew up in Spanish Harlem with Dominican and Boricua / Puerto Rican neighbors and friends, so Bachata and Salsa is part of my New York cultural landscape right through to adulthood. I’ve even studied Portuguese and Spanish, taken Capoeira from a master teacher, and rocked out in Salsa, Samba, (waltz, swing, Foxtrot etc) ballroom dance lessons. And hey, I grew up in the inner-city, Harlem, the Bronx and Brooklyn, so urban chic is alright with me!

Zumba for that A**!!!

I’ve lived in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, and Colima, Mexico where I was introduced to Cumbia and Mexican “polka”, and I have always been an avid and talented dancer by training and by culture, though I always disliked the club scene but wanted to DANCE! Lastly, I am a teacher, and by necessity have lived my life as an ambassador, always representing “the other” everywhere I go, because, well, I am usually the only one like me wherever I go. Zumba IS an ambassadorial project and it really  resonates with my experience. I think it is amazing how many people have lost weight and learned how to dance with Zumba, including a friend of mine who shed 100 pounds this past year Zumba-ing her way to svelte-ness (Congratulations KW, you inspire me!)

So, I include Zumba in Heritage Dance Day because I claim it as my own. I spent $90 on the Zumba set and I am going to Zumba my hind-parts until the DVDs wear out. I love it, i enjoy it, and I wanted to share a fun Zumba video with you that captures the excitement and enjoyment of just dancing to music close to my heart!

Lastly, the video is to inspire you to move. Try the moves, that’s the whole point. This video can bring you 4 minutes and 4 seconds closer to the body you desire and the fun you crave! And if you make it all the way through, I won’t tell anyone if you go have a Caipirinha despues que bailas conmiga!

ZUMBA. Brazil. Caipirinha. Baila!!!

Heritage Dance Day: Guinean Music pt. 2

This song and video is called “Anagnan, and the artist is Dousouba Diabate. It makes me miss Guinea although I’ve never been there. Seriously. Once upon a time I would sit and dream with my stepfather about visiting his homeland. I imagined the sights, the sounds, the smell, the feel of the warm ground under my feet, the tickle of the breeze near the sea-shore, and the wax-cloth dress next to my skin. When I hear Dousouba’s voice it calls forth a yearning that makes me want to call my stepfather…let’s just say that after more than a year of silence between us, well to inspire that within me is the mark of a GOOD SONG!

I also love that the rhythm and guitar remind me of calypso so it feels really familiar on a cellular level. The dancers dresses are beautiful, color, tailoring, the sheen that marks a good wax-cloth. they are all clearly having fun. The male dancers are the color of life itself, all of them are muscular, gorgeous, and have amazing skin. The women are so confident and beautiful, confident in their dancing, and not concerned with how they “look”. I LOVE THIS VIDEO and SONG. Can you tell? They are beautiful black people, and they are showing us how to dance and have fun outdoors!!!!! No studio set here, enjoy life OUTSIDE of four walls.

This song inspires me to dance, and dance I shall. Won’t you join me?

Heritage Dance Day: Guinean Music and Dance


“Ankanoum” by Dousouba Diabate Music from Guinea, West Africa.

My stepfather who hails from Guinea, West Africa introduced me to music from the region. I love to dance, and am a born soca and calypso dancer, so I took to this style of music and dance like a fish to water. I LOVE IT! I love it so much that it inspired me to start the Heritage Day music series on think. Feel. Grow!

This video is a real treat. The people dance in a lovely yard with trees and giant agave. We can still read visual cues that convey the attitude of the performers with knowing the language. Everything is purposeful in this video – the costumes are intentional, and planned to complement each another. The women have different body types, they reflect the real women of their country, and all of them can DANCE!

Enjoy the dance, the guitar melody and the vocal harmony. Notice that men dance differently from women, almost physically specific: men gyrate and thrust, women roll their hips, shoulders and make elegant hand movements, each to a different rhythm in the music. Whatever moves you choose, the feel is graceful. Just flow, roll, bounce and sway and pick your feet up off the ground slightly with each movement. It’s a great way to get your cardio sweat “on” while learning new rhythms and ways to move your body!