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August 21, 2017

My Day at NJ DEP: Meet David Glass, Deputy Commissioner NJ Department Environmental Protection. BTW-NJ DEP Does Amazing Work; Who Knew? by Calvin Schwartz August 21, 2017

My Day at NJ DEP: Meet David Glass, Deputy Commissioner NJ Department Environmental Protection.  BTW-NJ DEP Does Amazing Work; Who Knew?   by Calvin Schwartz  August 21, 2017  

 

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post interview with Deputy Commissioner David Glass

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a view from OUR Rutgers Football seats

 

Do you ever wonder how interviews evolve; behind the scenes stuff; mechanics of commonality that bring journalist and administrator to a conference table? Actually, our (David Glass and me) time today was spent around a conference table on the seventh floor at DEP in Trenton. I believe one of mankind’s greatest inventions is the conference table.

Cut to fifteen years ago or so, at Rutgers Stadium, my son and I sat right next to David Glass and his extended family in section 103 for Rutgers football. We all became even a larger family sitting together for most of those fifteen special years. We watch football, talk football, cheer, lament, talk some basketball, alumni events and recent familial highlights like marriages and births and look forward to seeing each other for the Spring football game. No time for any other topical conversation or current events. It’s all Rutgers football.

 

 

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David Glass “hands-on”

 

Three weeks ago, David congratulated me on Linked-In for my six-year anniversary at NJ Discover where I practice journalism and broadcasting.  I thanked him and noticed what he does in real life. He is the Deputy Commissioner of NJ DEP. Imagine my overwhelming surprise as I’ve been somewhat of a conscious environmentalist since I participated in the very first Earth Day on April 22nd 1970.  This interview was born out of that discovery. We were both excited.

To be a good journalist, I spent a week studying NJ DEP, watching documentaries on planet Earth, and digesting as much as I could on air, water and the land we love here in New Jersey. I was accompanied in the elevator to the seventh floor of NJ DEP Building on East State Street, to David’s office and conference table with splendid view of Trenton straight ahead.

 

 

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State sponsored beach grass project

David graduated from Rutgers University then worked for Congressman Leonard Lance, in the 7th Congressional District. He started at DEP as a deputy chief of staff. He grew up in rural Warren County, where trout were stocked in rivers and his parents had wooded property with a stream. It’s where his love and respect of land was nurtured.

I had four pages of questions in no particular order except streams of consciousness.  I was curious about New Jersey’s policy akin to California and New York Governor’s statements about adhering to Paris environmental guidelines since President Trump pulled the United States out of those accords. David responded, “Governor Christie recently affirmed no new coal plants in New Jersey…. with SO2 (sulfur dioxide) emissions we were fifth lowest….NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) third lowest (in USA) …. And CO2 (carbon dioxide) ninth lowest.”  Frankly, I was amazed with the rankings, stereotypically thinking the worst about New Jersey air. David smiled at my enlightenment.

 

 

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at a lecture I attended on rising Sea Levels in New Jersey

 

Back in 2011, New Jersey filed a petition regarding SO2 emissions from the Portland Power Generating Station in Pennsylvania. David explained they were polluting our air here in New Jersey. “So, we filed a petition with EPA and were successful and the EPA mandated they clean up. They paid for environmental damage and the air and water are cleaner.”  It kind of reminded me of Erin Brockovich, making that Pacific power company pay for pollution.

David went further, “We pulled out of the Regional Greenhouse Initiative because we were the third lowest in the region with carbon emission.” Governor Christie signed Executive Order 60 where NJ works with private sector to try and reduce carbon emissions with construction equipment. Grant money is given to retro fit equipment to make it more environmentally friendly.

 

 

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125th Anniversary of NJ Fish and Wildlife

If you watch enough documentaries of doom, gloom and instinctive reality, the fact slaps you in the face, sea levels are rising alarmingly fast. I’ve joked on my NJ Discover LIVE TV Show that living inland 22 miles, one day soon, I’ll have beach front property and my house will be worth a fortune for two weeks until its under water. David laughed. I asked him about this new aspect of DEP, adaptation; Accepting the imminent changes to our world and adjusting to it.

“Humans want to live near water so now we have to better plan. There is a Blue Acres Buy Out Program for willing sellers where their property continually floods. They sell their home to the state for fair market value…. the state demolishes the property and makes parks or buffers….so far 600 homes have been purchased in Sayreville, Woodbridge and around Passaic River.”  There is a budget of $300 million to get out of harm’s way.  I never knew this.

There is also an elevation program for primary homes. New homes in prone areas must be elevated according to Federal guidelines. New Jersey added a foot more. The Army Corps of Engineers have $1.3 billion for shore replenishment. It takes the form of dunes and bulkheads. The Science and Coastal section of NJ DEP found wetland buffers fair better in protecting. I mentioned seeing in a documentary how even beach grass (roots) protect. “Material from dredging is even added at the surface of wetlands…. HUD and NJ got two grants for Weehawken, Jersey City and Hoboken…. $230 million for a flood control project is in the design stage…. $150 million is designated for flood protection at the Meadowlands.”

 

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with Environmental Justice Advocate Dr Nicky Sheats at Peoples Climate March Sept 2014

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Dr Nicky Sheats lecturing at NJ Environmental Conference in Newark

The next question/topic for David, as I explained, was very close to my heart and soul. For years, I’ve been going to NJ Environmental Federation and Clear Water Conferences and when opportunity, I’d go to workshops with Dr. Nicky Sheats who speaks about Environmental Justice.  What is that? For example, Newark, my birthplace, has a landfill (which means pollution) and a few years ago, they built an incinerator there. We know why. Then, they wanted to build a coal firing plant in Linden, already burdened with the highest rates of asthma because of the refineries next door in Elizabeth. I was at that conference which discussed that plant. I asked why Linden? Their response was that a coal firing plant needed railroad access/tracks to move coal and an ocean to dump waste. Linden had that. I reminded everybody that Rumson had the same tracks, ocean and probably more vacant land. There was silence. Yes, environmental justice.

 

 

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David Glass addressing audience for Millstone Dam Removal Project Completion

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the finished Millstone River project

David added, “We make sure now that we are plugged into permit decisions…. Has applicant engaged with local community…. We have 75 programs, 2800 employees and 800,000 acres of land to watch over.” NJ DEP is very concerned how to get better contact with urban areas.  This led to the Camden Kroc Center initiative, rehabilitating former landfills to park lands. “At the Camden waterfront, there was an abandoned gas station which was developed into a rain garden…. It’s about getting boots on the ground.” I love this expression.

There is the Camden Collaborative Initiative which is also now in Trenton and Perth Amboy. “It’s about making sure everyone is talking to each other.”  There is an Environmental Justice Advisory Council (EJAC). I didn’t mention this to David, so I’m doing it now. I was sitting there taking notes, asking questions, some rather difficult, but all the while, marveling at the depth, sincerity and knowledge of this environmental administrator.  I call it as I see it.

 

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In my studying up these last few days, I learned of the Millstone Dam Removal Project and saw a picture of David proudly speaking on the success of this project. “It was a combination of Federal, local, Millstone, US Fish and Wildlife looking at our past dams, some originally constructed over 100 years ago…. Because this project (Millstone River) opened up this old dam, American shad, river eel started swimming here again. “

I never knew this but NJ DEP has a radiation protection program where they do spot inspections of dentists etc. x-ray machines to make sure they are calibrated correctly protecting patients and techs. “And yes, they can take enforcement action.” It actually can even reduce misdiagnosis caused by faulty equipment.

Perhaps I surprised David when I asked about the Artificial Reef Program. I did see a picture online of a ship from the ‘Perfect Storm’ being sunk recently off Cape May.  There are two active reefs in New Jersey waters and thirteen in Federal waters. Much of program is funded by private sector. It determines what is best suited for fish congregating, concrete or sunken (metal) ships. “Rutgers University did a reef trap study to find what type of material attracts certain species…. They pulled the traps which were loaded with lobster three miles off the coast…. This ties into the party boat fishing industry which employs 65,000 people; recreation and commercial.”  I exclaimed, “Lobsters in Jersey!” I never knew this.

 

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The truck carrying a sofa to be illegally dumped at Allamuchy State Park CAUGHT on camera.

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the illegally dumped sofa caught on state camera.

I told David about my attending a rally in Asbury Park back in February to prevent ocean drilling off our coast. The rally hosted by Senators Booker and Menendez. “Governor Christie is opposed to the industrialization of the coast line. There are too many downsides.”

NJ has a Wildlife Action Plan for endangered species. I started this topic off with the depressing notion of biological annihilation like the African elephant being gone in 20 years and the fact that our human species have wiped out 50% of Earth’s wildlife in the last 40 years. The math is scary. If citizens here in NJ see problems with wildlife, NJ DEP needs it reported. “We released a bobcat into the wild. To see it run into the wild forest was breathtaking…. There is an active forestry management. Nature needs help…. There is tree thinning, clearing…. We work on this all the time but not publicized.”

The best way to finish a heavy duty serious interview is to take a lighter (if environment can ever be light) approach. I’m still smiling about this. “There is a Don’t Waste Our Open Space Program. It watches people who illegally dump with hidden cameras…. Public also reports violations and there is a detective bureau. Seventy violators have been cited, some contractors.” I positively loved his story of a man who illegally dumped a sofa in Allamuchy State Park only to have detectives ring his bell the next morning.

 

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Deputy Commissioner NJ DEP David Glass; “an exceptional administrator”

 

I looked at my watch trying to be polite and not go way over our budgeted time. Ninety-three minutes had elapsed and we were way over. I got to ask about 1/3 of my questions leaving that open-door space for another interview perhaps on our NJ Discover TV Show. My head was swimming with so much input from this exceptional administrator. I thought about it being a brave new world. Since we’re both loyal sons of Rutgers, we hugged saying goodbye, with the joint stark realization that in the past 93 minutes, not a word about Rutgers football, kickoff in a few weeks. And so it goes.

 

 

 

Everything to know about NJ DEP:  http://www.state.nj.us/dep/

 

Also check out their podcasts: http://www.state.nj.us/dep/podcast/

 

 

http://www.nj.gov/dep/parksandforests/

 

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August 12, 2017

A Continuing Journey to Autism Awareness: My Day with “A Chance to Dance” Troupe at World Dance Championships. But There is so Much More Here. By Calvin Schwartz August 12th 2017

A Continuing Journey to Autism Awareness: My Day with “A Chance to Dance” Troupe at World Dance Championships. But There is so Much More Here.  By Calvin Schwartz   August 10th 2017

 

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photo op in the garden

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Awareness began 17 months ago when I interviewed an executive at The Graduate School of Applied Psychology at Rutgers University.  Rutgers was undertaking a program involving adult autism services. The first part would be employing special needs candidates at the university with a graduate student mentoring each person. Secondly, enrolling students that qualify and housing them in a special residential hall also with a mentoring roommate. My article from April 2016: http://bit.ly/2vtvaIr

My awareness process began. I was dispatched on a learning curve and spent time at Hope Autism Solutions in Basking Ridge. Journalism pulled me in different directions until a few months ago, when a special synchronicity put me together with Bob Salomon from ‘Beyond the Laces.’

 

 

 

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staging area near performance time

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trophies in waiting

Bob introduced me (social media) to Kimberly Pace Smith, the teacher and coach of a dance troupe in Charlotte, North Carolina called ‘A Chance to Dance;’ the group composed of ten children (six on the autism spectrum but with other special needs). What was so outstanding; ‘A Chance to Dance’ was featured on a Today Show video, which has garnered some 34 million views as I write this. Video: http://bit.ly/2hiafSj

Meanwhile, Kimberly’s dance class troupe was invited to compete in the World Dance Championships being held at the Meadowlands Expo Center here in New Jersey.  Perhaps this article is an excavation into intestinal linings to find the right words to express.  I was entering a special needs world; a world of love, caring, patience, relevance and determination. A journey began. People to meet and miles to drive.

 

 

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Its about the kids so Kimberly and I did a silhouette selfie

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up the ramp to the stage

A few weeks ago, we connected. I knew background info as I googled my way around ‘A Chance to Dance.’ Kimberly has a “differently-abled daughter” so with her love of dance, fierce determination to give children ways (arts) to express themselves and through ‘Reagan’s Wish,’ a charity inspired by her daughter, ‘A Chance to Dance’ became reality. Kim believes in never giving up.

I asked how the notion of competing at the World Dance Championship arrived. It was something originally out of the realm of financial practicality until “a woman handed us $10,000 and funded the whole trip.”  She explained, “We’re going for two reasons. Being in Jersey at the Worlds is a bigger platform to raise awareness for special needs. And other countries will be there and children with special needs are considered less than and all kids are just as capable.”

 

 

 

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Kimberly readying the team on stage

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the perfect performance

The date for their competition was Tuesday August 1.st Kim and I met in the hotel lobby at 9 AM. I was easy to spot in the lobby; my red Rutgers hat. We hugged with the emotion of first-time meeting and why we were there. Kim explained, “for the kids this is all about self-confidence and realizing social skills and that they have friends. There are ten kids-all with different special needs. Six out of ten on autism spectrum and with additional needs.”  Kim also thanked the volunteers who are always there, Miss Donna’s School of Dance and the kids and parents for making this all work.

Next, Kim introduced me to Sarah Nelson Conklin, an incredibly talented freelance photographer, travelling with the dance team who were assembling in the hotel garden for a photo-op. What I noticed as the kids got ready for a group picture, was a radiant smile on all their faces.

 

 

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Kimberly and special volunteers; a prideful moment watching

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improv dancing after performance

Kim asked me to say a few words to the parents; my special journey.  What I learned is that government services work for the kids until they finish 12th grade and enter adulthood. When they age out, there is little support structure. It’s like the government walks away. And parents worry about their kids. I was moved as parents came over to me, intrigued and hopeful that the initiatives I spoke about would be in place when it was time for their kids. This was their shared concern.

To the Expo center.  This was the World Dance Championships. Teams began congregating in an organized assembly line starting in the lobby filled with red-carpet backdrops for photos. A Chance to Dance team posed with parents, individually and as a team, all the kids still smiling. The wait was long and tenuous until the team finally moved inside and sat near the stage. The show hall was cavernous, intimidating and frighteningly loud with a few thousand spectators. But the kids maintained composure, still smiling and some, practicing their dancing moves.

 

 

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Best Performance Team of World Dance Championships

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Kimberly Pace Smith & photographer Sarah Nelson Conklin and some of team celebrating in NYC after competition.

The kids were spirited as they moved into the staging areas, slowly, inexorably moving closer to their walk on stage to perform.  I was part of this moment, hugely excited. And then I went introspective and realized how privileged it was to be part of this.

Backstage, I watched A Chance To Dance poised and confident. The music, ‘Singing in the Rain’ echoed and Ava strolled with her pink umbrella. They were costumed impeccably right down to the pink bows in the girl’s hair and pink ties for the boys. They were perfect. I watched Kimberly watch them on the other side of the stage. I took pictures; Kimberly’s pride and love evident.

Post-performance, the kids posed on the media platform.  And then the laborious waiting for the results, first inside the hall where the kids just started to dance again, improvisational, still filled with so much energy.  Kim told me that in 2015, they started A Chance To Dance, “with the seat of our pants. It took months for the kids to just trust each other and us. Then like a light switch, everything took.”

Yes, everything did take. The kids took Best Performance Award at World Dance Championships and I took home memories of one of the best days in a life. And those kids, indelible, precious and inspiring. I needed this.

 

FACEBOOK   A CHANCE TO DANCE:   https://www.facebook.com/AchancetodanceNC/

 

WEBSITE:   https://www.achancetodance.org/

 

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Calvin & friend

June 15, 2017

AN OPEN LETTER TO OPRAH WINFREY from Calvin Schwartz

AN OPEN LETTER TO OPRAH WINFREY from Calvin Schwartz

Oprah

 

Oprah

 

 

 

 

 

 

CALVIN BARRY SCHWARTZ

earthood@gmail.com

Twitter: Earthood

njdiscover.com         http://vichywater.net

 

 

 

June 15,  2017

The Oprah Magazine

Oprah Winfrey, Founder and Editorial Director

 

Dear Oprah:

The energy for this letter began on Tuesday April 18th when you were a guest on the Dr. Oz Show devoted to “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” (a wondrous film). I knew that I’d be sitting in the special VIP first row seats, close to the guest sofa. I wanted to get your attention so I wore my ‘loudest’ socks which you noticed. My legs were crossed and gyrating. You smiled at me and my socks. There was a reason for attention getting.

Last summer, I began mentoring two special recent Rutgers University graduates, Chisa Egbelu and Kayla Jackson. Chisa and I met four years ago at the Garden State Film Festival. He was a film intern and I was there to see a cutting edge film on Emmett Till.

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with Chisa Egbelu and Kayla Jackson at IDT headquarters in Newark

 

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with Senator Cory Booker along the Jersey shore

Two years ago, Chisa and Kayla conceived a company, PeduL (pedul.com) which would become an online crowdfunding tool that connects students with resources and support they need to pursue higher education. I always look at the whole planet earth and big pictures. Coming up with ways to help educate youth across the world, can change courses of history. Taking some of the burden away from financially strapped government is good stuff.

I believed in these “kids,” so last summer I started mentoring them. Then I met with Senator Cory Booker here in New Jersey. I asked him for 44 seconds time. (same time to read letter). I explained the same thing. Three days later, his aide called me and I brought the “kids” from PeduL to meet with his top education aide at his Newark office.

A year ago, IDT Ventures in Newark, part of IDT Corporation, a billion dollar plus telecommunications, pharmaceutical, entertainment and energy company took PeduL into their incubator program.

 

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with Nick Clemons, Andrew Schuman and DR OZ from April 18th

 

Why did I wear those socks? To try and get your attention and talk those few seconds with you as I did to Senator Booker. I marvel at you, your accomplishments, humanitarianism and commitment to global education. I felt you should know about these special “kids” and their vision of a better smarter future and world.

If ever you’re floating around New York City and…………

Wishing you much success with the film and only good things always and all ways.

Warmly,

Calvin

PS:  I’ve enclosed pictures to aide in my story telling. They are my socks which you smiled at, with Kayla and Chisa in Newark, with Senator Booker and with Dr. Oz, Nick Clemons (son of Clarence Clemons) after the show.

May 5, 2017

It Continues To Be a Brave New World: First Annual IDT Hackathon April 22nd -April 23rd Newark NJ by Calvin Schwartz

Filed under: November 2009 — Tags: , , , , — earthood @ 9:20 pm

It Continues To Be a Brave New World: First Annual IDT Hackathon  April 22nd -April 23rd Newark NJ   by Calvin Schwartz  

 

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IDT HACKATHON EVENT

Thinking back over the past few years, I wonder how many times I’ve invoked references to a brave new world. I do know; I’ve been stingy. There has to be extant reasons and perfect celestial alignments. Several months ago, I was invited to attend IDT Corporation’s First Annual Hackathon by IDT Ventures head, Jacob Jonas. I sensed something special, brave, cutting edge(new) and cerebrally celestial.

So what is a Hackathon?  This was my first impulse to discover.  A hackathon is like a race (marathon) event where software developers, programmers, graphic designers, interface folks, project managers, all work together in an intensive collaboration over a relatively short period of time. The finish line is the creation of practical applications of software with a specific focus, in this case, the best messaging, payments, or communications related mobile app. There are teams put together, each member bringing an expertise to their cubicle of residence, where they spend those intimate hours competing against the other teams in their own field of dreams (cubicles).

 

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IDT Ventures Jacob Jonas hosting Hackathon

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with IDT CIO, Golan Ben Oni, two guys with hats.

A brief article departure. Watch how I develop this. For the longest time, I’ve worried about our planetary home (earth) with some indigenous problems like climate change, ocean’s rising and running out of fish, 300 million people in Asia without drinking water; all illustrative of things often running through my mind.  I am unsure if we, the species, can effectively solve these problems and save our aging planet. Then came my six hours in Newark at IDT headquarters, observing the energy and composition of the competing teams. I haven’t felt this earthly emotional in a while.

At IDT, I saw youth and exuberance. Some were in high school and college, representing wonderful diversity in culture, geography and sociology. All the participants were accomplished and focused.  After a few hours, I realized earth does have a better future with the likes of these kids competing here; they were dedicated imaginative thinkers.  What I saw was so uplifting and revolutionary; this is a brave new world of knowledge and youth. I was grateful to IDT for investing in youth, promise, tomorrow and for inviting me.

 

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Hackathon

 

On the fourth floor, around 5:30 PM on Sunday April 23rd, I met with Jacob Jonas who briefed me on the final stages of the Hackathon which would run to 11 PM. My mission as a journalist was to absorb. I looked over my shoulder; there was a large cubicle which served as home for one of the teams. The conference table was strewn with lap-tops, wires, water bottles, soda cans (some with sugar, some not), coffee cups and a vast array of back-packs. On the floor were several sleeping bags, visually depicting the hard reality of the event; the sleeplessness and urgency of the competitors. This was serious business. Teams stayed overnight working diligently to get to the finish line. I just remembered what Adrienne told Rocky Balboa, “Win Rocky Win.”

 

 

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Jacob Jonas handing 1st place prize to Shaoliang Zhong with Jonathan Hyman (CTO of Appboy and a judge for Hackathon)

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with PeduL execs Chisa Egbelu & Kayla Jackson with downtown Newark in background

 

The commonality of two people wearing hats in a place where most were hatless brought me to Golan Ben Oni. Of course I was wearing my Rutgers hat. Golan was much more fashionable. If he was here on a Sunday evening, it must be for a reason. We leaned on a desk to chat.

Golan is the CIO of IDT Corporation; that’s chief information officer and he’s been at IDT since 1995 when he arrived and planned on staying only a few weeks. His father was a food scientist for Planter’s and Fleishman’s Yeast.  The family arrived from Israel and soon settled in California where Golan enrolled at University of California at Berkeley when he was sixteen.

He’s been asked to teach at Rutgers Business School and help with the executive program. He is captivating and actually disarming, leaning on a desk and chatting, wearing a hat; his knowledge, brilliance and depth are on a proverbial other planet. His teenage son, busy on a lap-top, did our photo-op. Golan was thrilled to school me on the mechanics of the Hackathon.

 

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IDT Ventures Showcase – PeduL execs presenting

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3rd place Man Cave Sharing Mark Annett, Tejas Shah, Mosies Cordero, Samuel Lebreault, Ivan Quan and Patrick Needham holding their Raspberry Pis. Hackathon Judge Zev Green far left.

 

 

Next, Golan introduced me to Tom Brennan, OWASP(owasp.org) Board of Directors. More brave new world for me. OWASP has 55,000 members in 110 countries and their function is to raise visibility for software security. Who knew this kind of organization exists? Tom was a judge in the first round of Hackathon presentations along with Zev Green, IDT’s Director of Emerging Technologies; Nathaniel Ritholtz, IDT Software Engineer; Jonathan Hyman, CTO of Appboy; Anthony Delgado, CTO of FOWNDERS; Sharon Ptashek, Senior Manager, Mobile & Emerging Platforms at CBS Interactive. Each team had five minutes to present their projects to the judges followed by five minutes of Q&A.

 

 

 

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IDT Ventures Showcase Judges

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Hackathon coders at work

 

First place was awarded to ‘Chill’ which is an app where you and your friends stream videos over your phones while still being able to talk to each other. The first place prize they received was an iPad Mini 2 for each winner.  The winners, Shaoliang Zhong and Xiaohang Su grew up together in China and now attend Stevens and NYU respectively.Second place winners won: Discovery HD+ Drone and third place won 32 GB Rasberry Pi 3.

Winners of the AI competition (team that best incorporated artificial intelligence into their Hackathon project) received an Amazon Echo sponsored by FOWNDERS.  And speaking of FOWNDERS, (fownders.com) based in my birth city of Newark, they are doing amazing things to “educate, inspire and empower the next generation of leaders” as a social impact accelerator taking on qualified startups who have proven market fit and display modern innovation; more brave new world applications for me to absorb.

One of the other teams, finishing in third place, developed ‘Man Cave Sharing’ which is like Airbnb for Man Caves. With my own proclivity to special sports Sundays, I was fascinated by their entry; more brave new world and personal visual projections of great places to hangout, shoot pool and watch a professional sport final on a giant TV screen far from the maddening sounds of homeward bound interruptions.

 

IDT VENTURES SHOWCASE EVENT:

But the Hackathon was not the only tech-friendly event that happened this weekend. Before the final Hackathon presentation and the awards ceremony, IDT also hosted a Ventures Showcase event for six local startup companies that have synergies with IDT Corporation’s core businesses: Payments Tech, Messaging Apps, Communications Tech, and Technology that Serves Unbanked and/or Immigrant Communities. The Ventures Showcase companies (including the three teams in the IDT Ventures incubator program: PeduL, UpChannel, and ImaliMobile) all have strong synergies with IDT’s core businesses and/or target markets.

 

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more coders at work

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2nd place: Supernova Tasker with Nicholas Feuer, Alben Kalambukadu, and Stanimir Stoychev (All students at SUNY Purchase) holding their Drones. Zev Green, IDT Director of Emerging Technologies and a Hackathon judge ( left).

Last summer, I spent the day at IDT interviewing Chisa Egbelu and Kayla Jackson from PeduL for NJ Discover. PeduL is an online crowdfunding tool that connects students with the resources and support they need to pursue higher education. That article can be seen at: http://bit.ly/2aVGwJb

Each team had ten minutes to present and five minutes for Q & A with the panelist judges consisting of Shmuel Jonas, CEO of IDT; Jacob Jonas, Director of IDT Ventures; Scott Smedresman, Partner at McCarter & English; Aaron Price, Founder and CEO of Propelify.  The other companies presenting were Debitize, Stellar Employ and Modern Lend. Listening to all six ingenious presentations continued my yellow brick road journey to that brave new world. I did manage to remark to one of the team members, in keeping with my article theme, that when I grew up in Newark, my world of knowledge came from seven black and white television stations that went off the air at midnight followed by test patterns (remindful of ‘Poltergeist’) until the next morning. “They’re here.”

 

 

 

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The AI Winners Christopher Tan, Timothy Goltser, Zeynep Akpinar, Curtis Mason. All 4 are High School students at Staten Island Tech. They won a side prize for the best use of artificial intelligence in their project. This prize was sponsored by FOWNDERS. Anthony Delgado, CTO of FOWNDERS and a Hackathon judge, is also in pix (far right).

 

Before the actual finals began, a splendid buffet of Chinese food and cold beer were presented to the assembled. I indulged, then explored and pinched myself (which I do only in moments of disbelief) that I was witness to this wondrous display of future think, exuberance, youth, imagination and earth hope. And I hope the decision making folks, if liking this article (expression) invite me back next year (2018) for my brave continuing new observations at IDT’s  2nd Annual Hackathon in my birth city, Newark.

January 13, 2017

A Journey to Awareness When You Least Expect It: Appreciating Latino Culture by Calvin Schwartz Jan 11th 2017

A Journey to Awareness When You Least Expect It: Appreciating Latino Culture   by Calvin Schwartz     Jan 11th 2017

 

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Ricardo Fonseca’s ‘Act of Love-Trumpet’

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Jose Rodeiro ‘Picnic at Bath Beach’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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setting up at Monmouth Museum with curator Monica Camin

 

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announcing exhibit at Monmouth Museum

This article title is aptly constructed. You go through life in Central Jersey and it seems sometimes you’re a million miles away from relevance and meaning. But it’s the same everywhere. Five years ago, when I was just beginning my journalism career, I happened upon Tent City, a plot of forest land in Lakewood, New Jersey where up to 100 people (humans) were living in tents for up to ten years, homeless and without electricity or running water. I least expected homelessness 20 miles from my home in comfortable Monmouth County. Ocean County had no provisions for homeless. Spending time there, I was changed irrevocably; I became aware of the devastating hopelessness of homelessness. Awareness is a gift.

The gifts were many as a journalist these past five years. I also learned about hunger, musicians, autism, bipolar and PTSD. Then suddenly last summer, in August, I received an email from Monmouth Museum, actually while I was reclining on a beach chair at the Dead Sea in 111-degree temperature. I was invited to attend the September opening exhibit of an emerging artist, Dion Hitchings. It was mid-September when I found myself at the museum checking out a fascinating exhibit. The artist used Cheerio and donut boxes instead of canvas. When I finished, museum public relations head, Laura Oncea, asked if I’d like to see a new exhibit that was being set-up in the main hall; Neo-Latino: Critical Mass. The curator, Monica Camin and assistant, Nicole Sardone were busy setting up. I walked in, looked to my left and saw Ricardo Fonseca’s “An Act of Love -Trumpet!” It was captivating and riveting and made me think. I love to think.  My wife and I absorbed the exhibit. I was hooked and engrossed but turned down an invitation to attend the exhibit opening reception on September 16th.

 

Latino

group shot with guests at NJ Discover LIVE TV Show October 2016

Latino

TV Show in planning stage with Monica Camin & Dr. Jose Rodeiro

 

Driving home, perhaps less than a mile from the museum, my friend, epiphany, helped me reverse my decision. I called and accepted the invitation for the reception. Epiphany reminded me that at the reception, there would be a gathering of some of the most prominent Latino artists in the country; some were PhDs and professors; all accomplished and successful. But present, beneath my soft cutaneous surface, were old and new stereotypes, many stuck in the current political climate. I hate stereotypes and falling into traps without being open minded. I’m confronted by my own lack of awareness of Latino (Hispanic) culture and that frustrated that it existed in me. I never want to be on an ignorant bus driving along a Gulf of Mexico highway. I keep seeking understanding, relevance and diversity as I go through the maturation process. In thirty years or so, minorities in America will be a majority. Isn’t it a good time to absorb, appreciate new vistas of culture?  Challenge your own assumptions.

 

 

Latino

with Mario Tapia, Dr Carlos Hernandez & Monica Camin at Nuyorican Cafe NYC for Poetry Anthology

 

Latino

with Newark’s renowned artist, Hugo X Bastidas, Monica Camin, Dr. Carlos Hernandez and Anthology moderator & poet Alan Britt.

The exhibit at Monmouth Museum,’ Neo Latino: Critical Mass’ was conceived at this pivotal time for the Latino voice, in the midst of an historic election and would stress the Latino cultural and socio-political experience. A collective of diverse artists was created to express a Latino voice in this new century. For me, that time has arrived; long overdue. Artists with roots or ties to Argentina, Columbia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, Portugal and Spain were represented.  Before the reception, I sat in the garden (It was a late summer warm night) with the collective creators and curators, Raul Villareal, Dr. Jose Rodeiros, Monica Camin and Olga Mercedes Bautista. And then my favorite lightbulb went on; their energy lit my fire and I suggested doing an NJ Discover LIVE TV Show to further bring awareness to their work, culture and art. It was agreed and we did the show in October. Here is the link to “Neo Latino Artists Come to NJ Discover Live TV.” Please check it out. You’ll get a chance to see and hear about some of the representative art.  It was a great show. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMzmocQpu5s

 

 

Latino

with Duda Penteado, multimedia artist & anthology creative force

Latino

Iconic George Nelson Preston who founded Artists Studio in 1959 reading his poetry

A few weeks later artist (his work combines design, digital manipulation, digital art illustration, photography and sometimes animation and sound) Ricardo Fonseca invited me to attend the ‘We Are You Project’ Poetry Anthology Reading on October 27th at New York’s Nuyorican Café on the lower East Side. Another evening, this time with some of the country’s most prolific, prominent Latino poets. For me, it was a continuance of my recent journey to Latino cultural awareness. A commitment to mind expansiveness and learning. This notion securely etched in the stone of my determination. I let Woodstock in 1969 and Dr. King’s March on Washington and “I Have a Dream” speech in August, 1963 pass me by. No more moments in life would be unattended. Even though that night produced a cold heavy rain storm, I trained into the city with Monica Camin, curator of the “Neo Latino-Critical Mass” exhibit.

Indeed, so well worth the drenching trip. The café was alive with Latino artists and poets, dramatically reading some of their works. I had a chance to meet and chat with Dr. Carlos Hernandez, former President of New Jersey City University, Mario Tapia, President of the Latino Center on Aging and Duda Penteado, artist, poet and Brazilian-American. All three, so instrumental in putting this night together and more importantly, developing new, transcultural tools to help the emerging modern Hispanic population. Represented this night was work from the Beat Generation with George Nelson Preston. I was a happy guy. It brought me home to where/when I came from. There was so much more words/works that harvested emotion, diversity, passion, freedom and justice. I could write pages now about what I absorbed. I felt so elevated being there. I was alive again. I love the feeling of input and knowledge and involvement. Best if you all catch a flavor of the individual works that night, Go to:

http://www.weareyouproject.org/

and visually journey into the culture. Their culture is part of our American culture. It’s who we are; a nation of immigrants and a melting pot of diversity and creativity. I marvel at the universe for lighting my fire and bringing me here to awareness. There is a purpose to things; an order in the universe. Earlier this summer, I had a chance to interview Laurie Hernandez, a 16-year-old American- Latino gymnast just before she left for the Olympics where she won a Gold and Silver Medal. A few months ago, she dazzled America winning ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ Then in November, I went to an evening of Comedy at the Headliner in Neptune Township featuring Peaches Rodriguez, a well-known Latino comedian.

 

 

Latino

early in summer with Laurie Hernandez, Gold Medal Olympian Gymnast & winner of ‘Dancing with the Stars’

 

My journey these past few months has been very special absorbing Latino culture as part of the promise of America. I’ve also done serious work with education and the promise it affords our future. I feel like I’m on that mountain top, looking down, beyond my long white beard which touches my knees. I understand things better now. I know education is what can help so many problems of the world. It’s a gift we need to share. I’m on a wonderful path. I love awareness and Latino culture. For me, it’s all a wondrous beginning; a new world; and an expected lot of miles yet to travel. And so it goes.

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