February 23, 2009

Journey for Change: February

Posted: 05:27 PM ET

Editor’s Note: Thirty kids, ages 12 to 16, from Bushwick, Brooklyn, were chosen to participate in “Journey for Change,” a youth empowerment program created by Malaak Compton-Rock. In early August they traveled to South Africa with Compton-Rock and CNN Anchor Soledad O’Brien. The group returned to the U.S. on August 13.  Since their return, they’ve been fundraising and doing service project as “Global Ambassadors” for “Journey for Change.”   For three days in late December they volunteered at several locations around Brooklyn: a daycare center, a soup kitchen, an abused children center, and a homeless shelter. They also picked up garbage in the streets of Bushwick.   All of this followed a November trip to Washington, D.C. where, among other things, they met with Congresswoman Maxine Waters.  In late spring they’re traveling to New Orleans to help rebuild homes.  We’ve asked them to share their thoughts and experiences by blogging.  In July, the group’s journey will be featured in Black in America 2, a CNN Presents documentary hosted by Soledad O’Brien.


Some of the young women from Journey for Change. Front Row (left to right): Yolaine Calixte, Sadara Lewis. Back Row: Mariah Ralph, Jenee Lawson, Sayris Pallares, Queen Clyde, Imaan Williams.


As a Journey for Change Global Ambassador, it has been an honor to serve others globally and locally.  My mom and dad always remind me that we are living for the sake of others. I have learned the true meaning of the word compassion.  There are many people who perform acts of kindness to feel better about themselves or just to say that they have done a good deed for the day.  That's not compassion.  We do acts of kindness because we see a need and want to see that the need is met.  That is true compassion and I think that is what Journey for Change is all about.  I am grateful for the opportunity to serve our brothers and sisters at home and abroad.

–Joshua Hall, 15


Hello! My name is Queen Clyde. I am a Global Ambassador from the group Journey for Change. We went to South Africa and helped orphans and grannies in need. We also went to Washington D.C. and met Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Senator Chuck Schumer's aid.  I also want to talk about our new president, Barack Obama. It’s so great to have a Black president. But you can tell he won't use that to his advantage. I know this because not once during his campaign did he say you should vote for me because I’m Black. He is truly a man of knowledge and patience. I truly think he will make this world a better place.

–Queen Clyde, 13


Hi my name is Mariah C Ralph. I am 13 years old. I’ve been doing community service since I was 6  years old. I encourage people to do community service because it gives you this feeling… I can’t explain it. When you do community service for so long it becomes a natural habit. It’s going on 8 years that I’ve been doing community service in Manhattan. I love the thought of helping people who really need it. The most exciting community service or global service was when I went to South Africa. When we went shopping for that family who didn’t have anything I felt so good.  I felt even better when I saw the grandmother’s face when we gave her the stuff.  The best type of community service is when you go to orphanages and you know they haven’t been held in a while. To hold them and feel them grasp back is outstandingly breathtaking.  They call you mommy because they don’t know any better and when you put them down because you have to leave it’s heart breaking. So I encourage community service because there are people out there who need more than just the latest phone.  There are people who actually don’t need the newest pair of sneakers, but need a pair of sneakers.  After I came back from South Africa I realized that I don’t need anything besides a roof over my head for shelter, people who love me, and food and water to survive. 

–Mariah Ralph, 13



On this upcoming trip to New Orleans, I really expect for myself to look through other peoples’ perspective of life. When I wake up in the morning, I don't realize that I have a gracious life to attend to, compared to other people in this world. I could be now working at the age of 12, to care for my family, instead of worrying about my education. Sacrificing my meals almost everyday, to pay for my rent that is three months over due .Sitting down on the sidewalk because I have no bright future ahead of me. I want to catch myself from speeding my age to the point that my childhood has basically faded away as nothing. I'm starting to reflect and realize that twelve years has almost ended, and its time to begin a fresh year of teen hood. I remember at the age of seven thinking about what it would be like to be 18, basically holding the key to the rest of my life. When I go to New Orleans I would like to experience myself living as almost similar to a god, helping other people to become comforted and look forward to having a better life.

–Sydney Smart, 12


I feel so happy about Barack Obama.  I wish I was 18 years old so that I could have voted in the election.  He is going to change the country.  I want him to get us out of this economic crisis because too many people are losing their jobs.  I love Michelle Obama, too.  She is a good First Lady.  It's amazing to see the whole family.  And it looks like they are all supporting each other.  Journey for Change is a life-changing experience.  There are only 30 kids in the world who have had this experience and I am one of them.  I am so grateful.

–Yolaine Calixte, 17


The election of President Obama shows us that Black people can do anything and that everything is possible.  It also shows that people are not looking at color.  It is also good that he was elected because he is trying to end the war and help the economy.  Being a part of Journey for Change is really good for me.  I think it will open doors down the road.  The program has taught me to change myself and give back to my community.

–Jeremy Baker, 15


On January 20, Barack Obama was sworn in and was officially President. Words cannot even explain how I felt. I was nervous and excited at the same time. It feels good to have a Black president, but not only because of his race. Barack Obama is such an intelligent man. He cares about us and this country. When he walked outside down the steps of the U.S Capitol my heart started to pound faster as I realized that it was real. The swearing in took place at 12:00 P.M. I was so anxious for them to announce that he was officially president. When they did I started to cry and scream with my friends. I knew that God was going to send an angel to help us and his name is Barack Obama, our 44th president of the United States. I love this man with all of my heart. His wife is a very educated and beautiful Black woman and his kids are so pretty and raised well. He has done a terrific job, but his real work starts now. I wish my President, Barack Obama all the best and good luck with everything.
 –Jenee Lawson, 15






Filed under: BIA2 • Journey for Change • Soledad OBrien

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Journey for Change: March

Posted: 11:20 AM ET
Editor’s Note: Thirty kids, ages 12 to 16, from Bushwick, Brooklyn, were chosen to participate in "Journey for Change," a youth empowerment program created by Malaak Compton-Rock. In early August the group traveled to South Africa with Compton-Rock and CNN Anchor Soledad O’Brien. Since returning to the U.S., they’ve been hosting fundraisers and doing community service projects as "Global Ambassadors" for "Journey for Change."  In March, Compton-Rock took the group to see the Oscar winning film, Slumdog Millionaire. She also asked the kids to blog about where they see themselves in the future. In July, the group’s journey will be featured in Black in America 2, a CNN Presents documentary hosted by Soledad O’Brien.

Journey for Change team, August 2008 in South Africa

Five years from now I will be 18 heading on to college. What my plan is to do is to finish up junior high, reach my goal of going to Townsend Harris High School or to Stuyvesant High School. Then I want to go to Temple University or even better. With participating in this program and excelling in school I want to reach my dreams and even go beyond. I know I could do it but it requires a bunch of hard effort from my self and sacrificing time for studying. If God sends me a message that I will make it, I will be willing to do it to pursue my dreams. After college I want to work in the medical field or in the law field and actually have a passion for it.

-Sydney Smart, 13

In five years I see myself in a specialized high school. Not just any specialized high school, but an engineering high school. I am also going to have very high grades and keep them up. I also see myself with a crazy, hot, cherry red car. In ten years I see myself in college with a beautiful girlfriend and a good education. I also see Malaak writing me a recommendation to get into the college. I would tell you what two schools I'm going to attend, but I'm not sure yet.

-Albert Brunn III, 12

In five years I see myself graduating from Clara Barton High School with a GPA of 90 and above. Then I see myself going to college to be a Registered Nurse. The colleges that I would like to attend are Spellman, Farmingdale, Harvard, Howard and Hunter College. This means that I have to work very hard and stay on task. After I graduate college with a nursing degree, I will get a job working in a hospital and in my spare time I will volunteer at the Salvation Army.
In ten years I see myself moving up in the medical field, and being a mentor to the upcoming Journey for Change kids. I will speak out to the community about the importance of staying in school and achieving your goals because knowledge is the key part of life and without knowledge you have nothing. I will help to guide them in being respectful and generous to everyone.

-Jenee Lawson, 15

I will be in college in five years studying culinary arts and business. In ten years, I will be running my own restaurant and starting a family hopefully living in the suburbs. I want four kids and to travel the world. I want to take my family to Hawaii. I will do an open kitchen at my restaurant every Friday night and people who are hungry can come and eat.

-Wayne Phillips, 15

In five years I will be a junior in college majoring in pre-law. I will be playing college ball and hanging out with my future girlfriend. I will volunteer at the Salvation Army in my spare time. And I will come back to Brooklyn to say hi and check on everyone. In ten years, I will be playing in the NBA, married with kids and living a low-key life. I will teach my kids not to make the same mistakes that I have. I want a close family.

-Jeremy Baker, 15

Five years from now I will be 20 years old and half way through college. I would love to go to Howard University so I am working hard to bring my grades up. I enjoy traveling and volunteering so I will probably continue to travel across the nation and internationally in service for others. I don't think I will ever stop volunteering my time, talents and service for others. Who knows I may become an activist for human rights, especially after seeing Slumdog Millionaire!

-Joshua Hall, 15

In five years I will have graduated from college and will be working as a fashion stylist. I will still volunteer giving my time to people who need it. In ten years, I will be living in Los Angeles, CA, married with kids, and working on great projects.

-Yolaine Calixte, 17

Omg!!! Slumdog Millionaire was an amazing movie. I loved it. I didn't know that the poverty was so bad in India. It's amazing what you can learn from a movie huh!? I was amazed at how all those children who played slumdogs in the movie were actually slumdogs. Like after the movie you would think they would have all the fame right in hotels and stuff. No, they're back in the slums. The way those children are treated! They do not deserve to be treated in this matter. It was very devastating to watch this movie because of everything that was happening. This is an amazing movie if you haven't seen this movie I don't know what you are waiting for because this movie is breathtakingly outstanding.

Love ~N~ Peace

-Mariah C. Ralph, 13

Slumdog Millionaire was sad because I started to feel their pain and put myself in their shoes. I cried. I was able to see how people live and it made me appreciative and thankful. Though the brother treated his brother wrong, he died for him so he could be with the girl he wanted.

-Sadara Lewis, 13

Slumdog Millionaire was inspiring because the main character was eager and anxious to find the girl that he loved. He stayed true to her and did not deviate from his mission until he saved her. I found the poverty very similar to South Africa, but the bathroom situation was different because they had to pay to use the toilets in the Mumbai slums.

-Donovan Rodgers, 14

Slumdog Millionaire was interesting because it had a lot of ups and downs. The two boys were together their whole life and saw a lot of things. And then one was in love and never stopped thinking of the girl. The poverty was really bad and striking and shocking. It was similar in South Africa but I think it was even worse, which is really bad.

-Jonathan Severe, 14

I thought Slumdog Millionaire was a good movie because it taught a lesson about being grateful for what you have because in other countries they don't have anything. I liked when the flashbacks happened so we were able to see the past. The main character didn't forget anything. We should be helping more countries with their poverty.

-Laura DiFilippi, 13

Filed under: BIA2 • Journey for Change • Soledad OBrien • Uncategorized

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February 21, 2009

Behind the Scenes: Cuba's Concert for Peace

Posted: 04:25 PM ET

By Soledad O'Brien
Latino in America

My trip to Cuba began on my birthday. After snarfing down a Duncan Heinz birthday cake made by my four kids and decorated with Red Hots, I headed to Miami first, then on to Havana.

It was hot when I arrived at Jose Marti Airport. Temperatures for the concert were well into the 90's. Hopeful concert-goers were lined up along the roads - hoping to hitch a ride or catch a wah-wah (the local bus) to Plaza de la Revolution. It's the same spot where Pope John Paul II said mass back in 1998.

But this was a concert and the "water station" in the tent for the performers served mojitos with Havana Club, a rum you cannot buy in the United States because of the embargo.

Our photographer, Orlando, arrived with a tent -– thankfully - because by midday young women were fainting from heat exhaustion and the crowd estimate had swelled to 600,000 people. At 2 p.m. sharp the concert began, with Puerto Rican singer Olga Tanon taking the stage and despite the heat, the crowd danced wildly to her music.

Cucu Diamantes (Crazy Diamonds) who is tall and willowy and never broke a sweat, told me she was happy - and that it was very emotional for her. A Cuban-American who left Cuba in the mid-80s, she hadn’t been back to Cuba for eight years and even then it was to visit her family.

We wrangled our way onto the stage - the security was tight but it was doable - and had a quick chat with Miguel Bose - who said he was energized by seeing so many Cubans waving flags. He, as all the performers consistently did, underscored the concerts focus - peace. And brushed off any questions of controversy by saying the people, the growing crowd, just wanted to be entertained.

We got to run "backstage," really the upstairs of the National Library, to interview Juanes. Making our way through the throng of mostly young people who were waiting outside to catch a glimpse of Juanes as he did a mad dash (about 100 yards) to the stage. Juanes was thrilled with the crowd, by that time estimated through satellite photos by the Cuban government, to be about 1.2 million people.

He sang me some of the lyrics to the duet he did with Bose, “Give me an island in the middle of the sea, named liberty.”

It sounded a little political to me but he said it was a song Miguel Bose wrote a decade before when this concert was impossibility and he sang happy birthday to me, which was pretty cool too.

With Los Van Van on the stage and more than an hour after the concert was supposed to wrap, the cloud cover cooled things down and the crowd was going crazy. The final song with all the performers on the stage to sing “Cuba Cuba Cuba” was a showstopper - it was nearly six hours of pure joy for the people who attended. The crowd dispersed for the slow trek home and we started packing our gear.

Back at the Hotel Nacional, I got to sit and listen as Juanes played guitar with local musicians. There was lots of drinking and celebrating a successful day. In spite of all the obstacles, some resistance and small protests in Miami, logistical challenges and surely political hoops to jump through, Juanes pulled off his second concert for peace - the first was on the Colombian-Venezuelan border. He was already talking about the next one in 2010 on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Latino population is set to nearly triple by 2050. This October, Soledad O'Brien journeys into the homes and hearts of a group destined to change the U.S. Witness the evolution of a country as Latinos change America and America changes Latinos. In Depth: Latino in America

Filed under: Latino in America • Soledad OBrien

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January 20, 2009

Journey for Change Notebook: November through January

Posted: 06:00 AM ET

Editor's Note: Thirty kids, ages 12 to 16, from Bushwick, Brooklyn, were chosen to participate in "Journey for Change," a youth empowerment program created by Malaak Compton-Rock. In early August they traveled to South Africa with Compton-Rock and CNN Anchor Soledad O'Brien. The group returned to the U.S. on August 13. Since their return, they've been fundraising and doing service projects. For three days in late December they volunteered at several locations around Brooklyn: a daycare center, a soup kitchen, an abused children center, and a homeless shelter. They also picked up garbage in the streets of Bushwick. All of this followed a November trip to Washington, D.C. where, among other things, they met with Congresswoman Maxine Waters. We've asked them to share their thoughts and experiences by blogging. In July, the group's journey will be featured in Black in America 2: Solutions, a CNN Presents documentary hosted by Soledad O’Brien.

Journey for Change participants traveled to Washington in mid-November. During the visit they briefed Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) about their South African trip.


"I just wanted to tell how you much fun I had today. For starters Barack Obama is the United States President. He finally did what most people said he couldn't do. Today, I managed to make it upstairs to my homeroom to see Obama's speech. He talked about bettering our country, but first all Americans need to come together to help each other out by rebuilding urban and vacant land back to what it is supposed to be. If we Americans can do that, and maybe even more, Barack can handle the rest. Seeing that just made my day. The second after Barack was sworn in, there was noise throughout the entire fourth floor. During lunch we had a huge celebration in the cafeteria!! Today was the best of many days to come. I have witnessed an historic moment today."

-Jordan Ratley, 12


"It has been fun. I liked working at the daycare center. The kids had a lot of energy and loved seeing us. I loved nap time and I slept with them for a while. Volunteering in my own community means a lot because cleaning up the community is like cleaning up our home. This is our home and having garbage around is nasty. Even though some of the garbage was covered with poop, we cleaned it up anyway and made our neighborhood nice."

-Queen Clyde, 12

"Helping to clean up the community and seeing the results and how we made a change was my favorite part."

-Jasmine Figueroa, 14

"The best part was maintenance around the Salvation Army. I liked going into each block cleaning the blocks. It was nasty but worth it. Some people thought we were doing community service because we got in trouble. When we told them we didn't but were just doing it, they said we had good hearts."

-Zuliana Burnett, 14

"My favorite part of volunteering was in the nursery school because I like playing with little kids. I can relate to them because I have a baby sister who is five. I didn't think that I was going to like cleaning up because I thought I was going to see people that I know. But I held my head up and got to cleaning. I felt good about giving back to the community. I know it is not a lot but it is something. And all of this can go on my resume."

-Jeremy Baker, 15

"I liked cleaning up the neighborhood. I had a lot of energy and was a leader. I kept everyone going and made sure that they did not miss a spot. It made me feel excited to clean up my own community."

-Jonathan Severe, 14

"I liked picking up the garbage because it felt good looking at a block and seeing how dirty it was. After cleaning it up, to look at how clean it was gave me a good feeling."

-Albert Brunn III, 12

"I have enjoyed helping the needy and my community. I was able to see a different side of us. I liked my first day in the food kitchen the most. I liked giving people a hot meal."

-Sadara Lewis, 13

"I liked cleaning up the neighborhood –- sweeping it and picking up the garbage. I liked that people appreciated our efforts. It helps to communicate to everyone around that we care about our own environment and lives."

-Sydney Smart, 12

"I liked volunteering at The Salvation Army Center that helps children who have been abused. I worked as an administrative assistant and I filed papers and made copies. The filing was fun because it was challenging. It also made me realize the other side of helping people. I did not think about the office work that needs to be done."

-Imaan Williams, 12

"I enjoyed cleaning the neighborhood because people said thank you to me. They really appreciated what we were doing. I liked helping the kids in the daycare because we helped them to do arts and crafts and make gingerbread houses. It was fun. I also got to experience how to work in an office at shelter for kids. That was a fun place to volunteer at even though it is for a sad reason."

-Tasheema Fulmore-Walker, 14

"I had fun playing with the kids. I ran relay races with them. I also helped to clean up the Community Center. It was a nice thing to do because now the kids have a clean place to eat and play."

-Shawn Todd, 16

"It was really nice to see how happy we made people when we were cleaning up the neighborhood. I liked working in the day care with the kids. They were so cute and fun."

-Dasia Carr, 12

"My favorite part was helping out in the day care because I liked playing with the children. It was good to know that I was able to help them. I liked the community clean up as well. It was nice to know that I was giving back to the community by keeping it clean."

-Shaquille Cadougan, 14

"I worked with the after-care kids and we went on a scavenger hunt with them. That was a lot of fun. I like kids and it was nice to be able to help them have a nice day. That was my favorite part of volunteering."

-Malik Stanford, 12

"I liked cleaning up the streets because it was fun and nice to get compliments from people saying that we were doing a good job. I liked playing with the babies in the day care and doing the administrative work at the center that helped abused kids. It was nice to give back in my own neighborhood."

-Latoya Massie, 14

"Helping people with their jobs has been nice. It felt good to be useful and to take a load of work off of their hands. I liked babysitting the kids in the daycare the best."

-Donovan Rodgers, 13


"My experience to Washington, D.C. was fun. While we were there, we visited the Lincoln Memorial, The Holocaust Museum, and other places. The best part of the trip was going on a college tour. I got to see Howard University and Georgetown. I think that was an excellent thing, going on a college tour, to have an idea of what college we might want to go to later on in the future after finishing high school. When we went to Howard University I felt so welcomed because the students who went there, and the director, were absolutely friendly to us. They gave us gift bags with a Howard University hat, shirt, application, and a bag. That was a nice and generous thing that they did for Journey for Change. Another college that Journey for Change visited was Georgetown. It was huge and it's a Catholic college. The tour for Georgetown University was nice. I thought the college was beautiful.

The saddest part of the trip was when I went to the Holocaust Museum. It was so hard to see that all of the Jewish people were tortured and killed.

The restaurants that we went to had great food. Like at America, the food was good. There was another restaurant that we went to called Busboys and Poets, and the food was great there too. I was grateful that we were able to choose a book from the gift shop there and keep it.

Going to Senator Schumer's office was interesting. I got to learn about what a legislative aide does for a senator and how you can get that job. I went to the Capitol for an advocacy meeting and Congresswoman Maxine Waters was hosting it. I got to learn about the Capitol and some of the laws.

The last day of the trip, we went to the Newseum. It was so fun. When we watched the movie, it felt so realistic when the mice ran across the floor. Queen, Jenee, and I had jumped and were scared the whole time. I really didn't want to leave yet because it was getting better and better. But for the most part, I had fun staying in the hotel and during my whole experience in Washington, D.C."

-Zuliana Burnett, Age 13

"Just came back from Washington D.C. and it was great. We visited many sites: The Lincoln Memorial, The Jefferson Memorial, The Holocust Museum, The Newseum, and we toured two colleges –Howard University and Georgetown. I really enjoyed the Newseum. It's unbelievable that one place can store so many news articles going back to the 1800s. Howard University was great. I have to start thinking about colleges soon, and I told my folks that I would really like to attend Howard University. They even have their own hospital in the college!!! Meeting with Congresswoman Maxine Waters was great. She spoke about how she got to where she is and what she does. Staying in school pays off in the end. Just to think, we were in the same room where laws are made! That was a good feeling. Bye for now."

-Joshua Hall, 15

"I learned a lot in Washington, D.C. I mostly enjoyed touring the colleges. At Howard University, I learned that the Power Tower Clock is the highest point in D.C., not the Washington Monument. I also learned that the chapel there is where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X first met. There we also met with the University President's wife and had a tour guided by some of the students who attend Howard. At Georgetown University I found out that they can actually pay your tuition for you. They also have cannons that are the only weapons that can point at the White House.

While we were in Washington we also met Congresswomen Maxine Waters and saw the work place of Barack Obama when he was a Senator. Besides that we did things that people would normally do when they visit Washington, D.C. like going to monuments and museums. We also had an excellent driver, Al. He informed us about many sites in D.C. that most likely we wouldn't have noticed or known if he hadn't told us."

-Dasia Carr, 12

Filed under: Journey for Change • Soledad OBrien

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October 15, 2008

Raising Money: “Focus” and the “Car Wash”

Posted: 04:01 PM ET

Editor’s Note: Thirty kids, ages 12 to 16, from Bushwick, Brooklyn, were chosen to participate in “Journey for Change,” a youth empowerment program created by Malaak Compton-Rock. In early August they traveled to South Africa with Compton-Rock and CNN Anchor Soledad O’Brien.  The group returned to the U.S. on August 13th.  Since their return, they’ve been fundraising and doing service projects. We’ve asked them to share their thoughts and experiences by blogging. In March,  the group’s journey will be featured in a CNN Documentary.

At the FOCUS event, for City Harvest, I had lots of fun. When I arrived, I felt excited about going to this special event. Inside were people dressed all fancy and a whole bunch of photographers surrounding us. I went to the area where all of our pictures were displayed. When I saw my pictures on the wall I felt so happy because the pictures that I had actually taken in Africa were on the wall. Steven's, Latoya's, Joshua's, and Keyon's pictures were up too. I felt so proud of myself and I felt like I did a really good job. There were people at the event that I didn't even know coming up to me and telling me how my pictures came out beautiful and I should think about becoming a photographer. The best part was that I even got to go on the red carpet. I felt like a superstar posing for the cameras. For the rest of the night I was just dancing and getting to know new people. Then all of a sudden, I heard that Rachael Ray had just entered.  I immediately took my camera out and asked to take a picture with her. Later on that night, Yolaine and I were going around taking pictures. Before you knew, it was time to go home. I wasn't ready to go home because the producer had told me and Yolaine that Danity Kane was supposed to be stopping by. But we had no choice but to leave because school was the next day. One of the mentors Keith even came!!!!! That night was the best night of my life. The FOCUS event was so fun, but I wish I could've stayed longer.  The food was also good and the event helped to feed hungry people.

Zuliana Burnett, 12

The FOCUS event for City Harvest was a memorable experience because I have never gone to an event like that. I have gone to art galleries but nothing compared to that. That art gallery was huge. It had a big stage for music, some show cars, and there was a big auction going on. I liked the event because on exhibition were some pictures from when I went to South Africa. I also saw some pictures that I took for Times for Kids magazine. I was filled with joy when I saw those. The whole time there was great because I saw and mingled with different people that I probably would have never met if I didn’t go to the event.

Kenyon Aigle, 16

Going to the photo gallery was an excellent experience.  I touched and looked inside of a million dollar car.  There was also another car there and it had Lamborghini doors.  This car was red and it went faster than 200 miles per hour.  I sat in it and I felt like I had trillion dollars in my pocket and bank account.  There were lots of famous people there.  I took pictures with Rachel Ray.  I was looking around for Whoopi Goldberg.  I didn't find her because it was time for me to go home.  There were many cool pictures there.  The Journey for Change pictures were also posted.  These were pictures that were taken by a couple of Journey for Change participants.  I had lots of fun and it was a really great experience.  Some of the photos that were there were being auctioned off.  The money is going to City Harvest.

Albert Brunn III, 12

The car wash was a great day and I had a great time. We were doing the car wash to raise money for a little girl in South Africa. Her house burned down and her mother was in the hospital because she was burned badly. At the beginning of the Car Wash, Mrs. Malaak-Compton Rock stopped us and called over all the participants from Journey for Change. She told us that the little girl's mother had passed away and that we weren't going to be raising the money to rebuild the house, but that we were raising money so that the little girl could go to school and have food. After hearing the little girl's mother had passed, I was sad because that was my motivation for the whole car wash. I had been telling drivers that we were raising the money for the girl and her mother to rebuild their house in South Africa. But at the end of everything it all worked out.  We raised $1340 for the little girl to go to school and to eat!!!!!

Steven Pallares, 15

The car wash was very fun.  We had people on the sidewalks handing out fliers and holding up signs.  We also had people walking up to cars and asking them if they wanted to buy candy.  The car wash was to raise money for a little girl who we met in South Africa.  On the day of the car wash all of the Journey for Change participants were informed that her mother died in the hospital a week before.  Her mother was in the hospital with burns from the neck down.  The little girl was burned too, but not as badly as her mother.  They received these burns when their shack burned down.  When her mother died the woman had only paid for three months of school.  The little girl is currently living with her uncle.  The uncle is unemployed and he has his own kids to support.  He can't afford to take care of her. The focus of the car wash was changed.  We wanted to make sure the little girl eats well and is able to go to school.  Any extra money will go towards new clothing.  Maybe any extra money could also be used to start a savings account for her.

Albert Brunn III, 12

Filed under: Journey for Change • Soledad OBrien

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August 21, 2008

Return to Bushwick

Posted: 02:56 PM ET

“I don’t want to leave,” Tasheema Walker told me as we walked onto the plane at Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. The bubbly, pony-tailed 13 year old had spent two weeks in South Africa meeting new friends and helping to deliver supplies to grannies and orphans living in shacks with no utilities, no mattresses, limited food and lots of trash. There was mud and garbage and evidence of extreme poverty everywhere you looked, and yet the people who lived there were happy and joyful. They were also grateful for the attention and supplies Tasheema and her friends brought to them.

Soledad OBrien consoles Tasheema Walker, 13, in the Tambo International Airport before leaving South Africa for home. Tasheema told Soledad “I don’t want to leave.”

The “Journey for Change” experience touched Tasheema and the other 29 participants deeply. Almost all of them returned to Brooklyn convinced they were permanently altered by the trip. “I am really happy that I came because this trip has changed me a lot,” writes 15 year old Jeremy Baker. “I learned how to do better service work and I also learned how to stop cursing.”

Their Global Ambassador contracts require them to continue to talk about their experiences, and to continue to do service. They are all eager to do that. Twelve year old Queen Clyde wants to have a bake sale to raise money for a South African family who lost their home. Sixteen year old Yolaine Calixte would like to help out at granny led homes here in the U.S. Malaak Compton Rock, the founder of the program, would like some of the children to speak before Congress to advocate for better resources in the inner cities and for better resources for South African orphans. Many of the Journey for Change participants – Donovan Rogers, Joshusa Hall, Shawn Todd and Tasheema Walker among them – are eager to do that.

The day after the trip, nearly all 30 of the Journey for Change kids showed up at the Salvation Army in Bushwick, Brooklyn to discuss how they will share their experiences in their community, and how they will continue to do service work back here in the United States. It’s all very impressive, but the goal of this program is to take these ‘at risk’ kids - children raised in a poor neighborhood with plenty of drugs, a high teenage pregnancy rate and struggling schools - and make sure they stay in school and make good choices for their lives. Will they do it? We plan to stick with them and find out. Eventually their experiences will be turned into a documentary here on CNN. In the meantime, they’re sharing their thoughts here on our blog.

Filed under: Journey for Change • Soledad OBrien

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August 20, 2008

Journey for Change Notebook: August 19, 2008

Posted: 04:10 PM ET
Editor’s Note: Thirty kids, ages 12 to 16, from Bushwick, Brooklyn, were chosen to participate in “Journey for Change,” a youth empowerment program created by Malaak Compton-Rock. We’ve asked them to share their experiences by blogging about the changes they expect to bring about in others and hope to see in themselves. The group returned to the U.S. on August 13th.
 Queen Clyde, 12, proposing the idea of a bake sale to her Journey for Change friends.
Queen Clyde, 12, proposing the idea of a bake sale to her Journey for Change friends.

 When we got back from South Africa I was so excited. We landed in Dulles Airport in Virginia on the 13th of August.  It was a long ride up back to New York, N.Y.  When we actually got to New York we had a meeting at the Bushwick Salvation Army. The meeting was mainly about how we're going to continue this journey in America.  

So there's a shack that burned down in Diepsloot. Malaak wants to rebuild it before the woman who lives there comes out of the hospital. She has burns from her neck down and won't be coming home for a while.  So to support her I'm having a bake sale. Its going to be on the 23 of August. All the money we raise will go towards rebuilding the shack.

-Queen Clyde, 12

   The hotel we slept in the last night we were in South Africa was absolutely beautiful. Sharing a room with Zulianna was interesting. I can’t believe how fast the trip went by. Everyday was full with visiting houses, schools, and families. I loved being with the kids. It was interesting learning about other kids my age from a different culture. I loved the gumboot dancing. It kind of made me understand where stepping came from.

 -Dasia Carr, 12

  My experience in Africa was wonderful. The saddest part of leaving Africa was the farewell to Soweto. I was happy that I made a difference in the lives of families but I didn’t want to leave them.  It was so nice when we went shopping for them; I just felt so good picking up things for them.

 This trip has made me a better person. Now I am more grateful for what I have and I learned to appreciate all the things that my parents do for me. When I hugged the granny from the house visits she was full of joy. The kids were playing and running around with stickers.  I was watching them and saying, ‘WOW I never knew it takes so little to make someone happy.’ I am going to continue to make a difference in people’s lives because I feel that it is the right thing to do.

 Leaving Zama and Cornelius (the South Africans who helped to organize the trip) was also sad. They helped us all the time. We should reward them because they are so amazing.  Also Malaak, she is so beautiful and caring. If it wasn’t for her none of us would be here and the trip wouldn’t have even started.

-Jenee Lawson, 14

 “Wow” is all I can say about this journey of a life time. The two weeks are finally over and I’m back to reality. I have to say South Africa is way different than America. It took me awhile to get used to the American ways. The sleeping time –for some reason I’m getting tired at about five o-clock eastern time. The Rand- when I write the money symbol I end up writing the “R” symbol. I admit it will take me about four days to get my head straightened. So the plane ride was shorter coming back. I was less worried than before. Most of us sat in the same row, row seventy three. I guess it was shorter for me because I was sleeping and I was listening to Shawn’s mouth and Jonathan’s mouth the whole time. On the plane I reflected on my time in South Africa I and tried to think about what I can do now that I’m a Global Ambassador. I feel really important calling my self a Global Ambassador, and when I say it I feel full of confidence.    

Now I’m in America home of the ‘Free and the Brave,’ ready to fulfill my Global Ambassador Contract, and ready for all the obstacles life throws at me.

Post Script. I really miss my mentor and can’t wait to see her soon and also everyone else.

 -Sydney Smart, 12


 Sydney Smart, 12, addresses her Journey for Change friends at a meeting in Brooklyn on August 14.
Sydney Smart, 12, addresses her Journey for Change friends at a meeting in Brooklyn on August 14.

 Right now I miss being back in Africa.  I feel sad because I left all the kids there.  I really want to go back.  I wish we could have stayed a little longer.  I’m happy to be with my family but I feel like I left another family in Africa because I got so connected to them.  I’m excited about the Global Ambassador program because there are a lot more ways I want to serve in the community and globally.  I would like to have a clothing drive, and raise money for kids who don’t have a home.  There are a lot of ways I’d like to make a difference.  Being in Africa changed me a lot.  I feel like I wasn’t grateful for what I had.  It really changed me.

 -Zuliana Burnett, 13


 Ever since I got home, my friends and I miss the fun and want to go back to Africa. Unfortunately we spent only two weeks in Africa.  I really enjoyed the time we spent with the families we visited and the kids in the orphanage.  It was fun experiencing how the culture is and how the school system is compared to what we have here where we live.  Before we left Africa, we had farewell ceremonies in Diepsloot and Soweto .  It was hard to say goodbye because we will miss everyone we visited.  We have drawn close to them and showed them a lot of love. They showed us love as well. 

I’m happy to be a Global Ambassador so I can show everyone else my experience and maybe one day they will be able to experience what I have.  I’m excited.  I’m looking forward to speaking in public even though my nerves get to me.

 -Latoya Massie, 14

Filed under: Journey for Change • Soledad OBrien

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August 11, 2008

Journey for Change Notebook: August 10, 2008

Posted: 04:59 PM ET
CNN Special Correspondent Soledad O'Brien shares a photo with Jonathan Severe, 14, a Journey for Change participant.
CNN Special Correspondent Soledad O'Brien shares a photo with Jonathan Severe, 14, a Journey for Change participant.

Editor’s Note: Thirty kids, ages 12 to 16, from Bushwick, Brooklyn, were chosen to participate in “Journey for Change,” a youth empowerment program created by Malaak Compton-Rock. We’ve asked them to share their experiences by blogging about the changes they expect to bring about in others and hope to see in themselves.

Today was a very good day. First, we went to church, which was very inspirational. At first I was not happy about going to church, but then when I heard my favorite song I was as happy as ever. Then after a few songs it got boring. I think it’s because I don’t go to church so I don’t know what church is about.
- Vandesha Walker, 12

Today it was a simple plain day to me. First we went to church. After, we came back to Heron Bridge (the place we’re staying) to have lunch. Then we went shopping at a flea market and I bought some fabulous items. I bought jewelry, key chains, and two mini female and male warriors. Later I have to go pack my suitcase because we are going to a hotel tomorrow night. I am sad this is my last night in Heron Bridge but I am glad that this is my beginning for Journey for Change.
- Imaan Williams, 12

Today I had an interview with CNN. It was a good interview. I had fun in the interview. They asked me some good questions. It was one of the best interviews I ever went to. I really liked it a lot. Next I went to a big mall. It was the first mall I went to in South Africa. Then I went to a basketball game. It was so fun. We won.
- Jonathan Severe, 14

Hello, my name is Laura DiFilippi. I am twelve years old. I live with my mother and two brothers. I got introduced to the Bushwick Community Center by Lt. Miranda. He brought us to church there! I was involved with Bushwick for two years when I heard about a trip where thirty kids could go to South Africa. I wanted to go so I could help some kids in South Africa! So I had an interview. Everybody told me I did a good job with my interview. Later, like a couple of weeks, I went to the orientation where Captain Locke read the list of people who were going to South Africa with Malaak Compton-Rock. As soon as I heard my name I was excited!!!
- Laura DiFilippi, 12

Leaving New York was the hardest thing for me to do to come to Johannesburg. I had to leave my family behind and a lot of my music. The eighteen hour flight, I would say, was the most nerve racking part of this trip. The people around me made it easier to rest, even though I barely slept. Every day was something new, but with the same routine. Wake up at six, be at breakfast at eight, and be ready to board the bus around nine. During the two weeks we visited homes and schools in Soweto and Diepsloot. Seeing the families was pretty hard. We visited granny led homes and orphan led homes. The first house was granny led. The last two were orphan led. The second house we visited was easiest to put myself into their situation. The house had an older brother who was around eighteen and two younger sisters who were around my age and eight. Their mother died from, I believe, arthritis and they don’t know where their father is because he left them a long time ago. In my situation there are three of us. My older brother who is eighteen, my younger sister who is seven, and me at age twelve. My parents are separated, so suppose my mother passes and my father resents the responsibility. It made me think that I should be grateful for them even when I’m angry with them. After visiting the homes the next day we went to Mackro (big bulk store) to buy supplies for the families. The first house, the granny led was a three room shack where twenty-three people lived. I absolutely loved the granny’s expression when we gave her the supplies. It made me happy to know that I can make someone else smile and give them hope. Earlier we had visited an orphanage where I had played with the zero to six month old babies. They were so adorable. I enjoyed making them laugh, but there was this one baby who wouldn’t smile. Katelynn and I tried to make him smile but he just wouldn’t. When he FINALLY smiled it made me so so so happy. It turned out that he was the baby who had a twin. I didn’t realize that they looked alike and they were complete opposites. His sister was so sweet and she smiled like there was no tomorrow. When we had to leave it was almost impossible, but when we all finally left the babies cried as if it was the first and last time that they were ever held and cared for in that way. If it was up to me I would definitely adopt them and bring them back with me. If only it were possible.
- Dasia Carr, 12

In reference to We Are All The Same by Jim Wooten, a known author who wrote a book inspired by Nkosi Johnson, a boy who died at the age of twelve and only weighed twenty pounds. He had the AIDS virus which he had from birth. His mom died when Nkosi was only two years old. He also had a lot going on in his life, and at age eleven he spoke at an International Conference on AIDS held in Durban, South Africa. Well, Nkosi as a young child impacted a person like me at age 14. That he inspired me to talk about him many years later after he passed is a great thing for me. Nkosi Johnson mentions that, “We are all human beings. We are normal… We can walk. We can talk. We have needs, just like everyone else… we are the same.” I also think that any child with AIDS should always live a healthy life and people in general should always: “Treat everyone the same as they would like to be treated.” That’s my favorite saying.
- Latoya Massie, 14

Filed under: Journey for Change • Soledad OBrien

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Journey for Change Notebook: August 9, 2008

Posted: 04:58 PM ET


15 year old Jeremy Baker shows off his moves at a school in Soweto, South Africa.

Editor’s Note: Thirty kids, ages 12 to 16, from Bushwick, Brooklyn, were chosen to participate in “Journey for Change,” a youth empowerment program created by Malaak Compton-Rock. We’ve asked them to share their experiences by blogging about the changes they expect to bring about in others and hope to see in themselves.

Today was a very fun day, because first we went to an amusement park. Then, we went to the Apartheid Museum. After, we went to Constitution Hill were we learned about different things that happened in the prison cells. After that we went to this beautiful court house were we learned about the difference between the South African Bill of Rights and the U.S. Bill of Rights. After we came from the court house, we saw Nelson Mandela’s jail cell. There were a lot of interesting facts inside. Then we had a nice barbeque. The food was delicious. I can’t wait until tomorrow for another exciting day. We are going shopping tomorrow!
- Vandesha Walker, 12

Today was very fun because we went to Gold Reef City and the Apartheid Museum, and we went to a place called Constitution Hill. We had a fabulous South African barbecue at Constitution Hill.
- Tasheema Walker, 13

Today we went to a place called Gold Reef City. It was an amusement park and I got on this ride called the Tower of Terror. After, we went to the Apartheid Museum to learn about my history and my ancestors. After we went to a prison called Constitution Hill. There we saw Nelson Mandela’s jail cell and other people’s jail cells who I really don’t know. After that we went to have a barbecue at the entrance of Constitution Hill that was fun. Now I’m leaving and I’m having fun back at Heron Bridge (the place we’re staying).
- Benjamin Goode, 11

Today we experienced many things. We saw one of Nelson Mandela’s cells. It’s located in a prison called Constitution Hill. It was a very unique moment. At the prison we also met a lady who was imprisoned there. She gave us a tour. She was very detailed and she showed us her cell also. As we walked around we noticed how cruel things were in the prisons back then and how they have changed for today. When the tour was over, we had a barbeque. At the site we were able to look around and see the whole prison. As we left we noticed how the prison was in the shape of a fort.
The day before, we went to an African village and we had a tour guide. We went around to different parts of the village and we greeted them and experienced how they lived. They love to eat fried caterpillars. My opinion was that they tasted like salty shrimp. When we finished the tour of the village, they put on a show for us. And then we ate. And that ended a full day.
- Albert Brunn III, 12

Filed under: Journey for Change • Soledad OBrien

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August 7, 2008

Visit to a Shantytown

Posted: 06:30 PM ET
CNN's Soledad O'Brien plays with children in Diepsloot while Journey for Change participant Laura DiFilippi takes her picture.
CNN's Soledad O'Brien plays with children in Diepsloot while Journey for Change participant Laura DiFilippi takes her picture.

Soledad O'Brien
CNN Special Correspondent

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - Diepsloot is a massive shantytown on the northern edge of Johannesburg, about 30 minutes from the city center.

Cornelius Xulu, a project coordinator with Hope Worldwide points over a low hill to show me the scope of these thousands upon thousands of shacks, made of tin and wood and brick. Many are collapsing, with gaping holes and sagging ceilings.

Cornelius guesses the shack-city goes for 3 miles one direction and several miles the other - an indication of how entrenched the poverty is in this section of the city.

In the shantytowns the poor often pay rent for four tin walls, a mud floor and no utilities.
Here a shack can cost about 350 to 700 rand per month ($47 – $93 USD), which means many families are often too poor to buy food or clothing.

It is in Diepsloot where we start our fifth morning in South Africa, delivering bags of rice, boxes of soup, and packages of toothbrushes to the grannies - women who are raising their grandchildren because their own children have died.

The kids from Bushwick are excited. They've quickly grown to love the act of giving, and there are playful tussles over the soccer balls and toys to hand out to the small children who line the narrow and dusty streets.

Filed under: Journey for Change • Soledad OBrien

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