Happy New Year!!!

Happy Friday, All!

And just in case you haven’t noticed, since people are already saying this, it is the last Friday of 2011! So … T.G.I.F.!!!

This year, my life has taken on some new dimensions and I anticipate other ones to be added this coming year, thank God. That is my plan . . . to allow more doors to open and prepare myself to enter them. All around us in the world today, we may recognize the true meaning of life, should there be such a thing. Interestingly enough, I am convinced that we each have a purpose, a mission, so to speak . . . should we decide to accept it. While I seek to be inspirational and motivational in general, I realize that I have my own issues to deal with, and that I need much help in dealing with them. I have found that I do not like to feel hurt … about anything. Yet, like the concept of good vs. evil or the Chinese philosophy of yin yang suggest, this journey is maintained by acknowledging that there must be a balance, and that these polar opposites are interconnected.

When I look at our physical world, and some of you might agree, that balance has been ignored oh too often! What to do?! Just knowing that there is a Creator and that there is a power greater than myself, and I am not talking about any human individual though there are many of those, too, I seek to move forward with a passion for peace …. yes, and love and understanding, humility and determination, as well as to allow my mission to unfold and yield to the positive energy of life!

To the friends I’ve been fortunate enough to make and maintain, and to those individuals whom I’ve lost along this journey, so to speak, I am deeply indebted. The experiences that have unveiled themselves to me, and to those that remain oh so clandestine, I too am deeply indebted. I tip my hat to this year that has passed and all I’ve been able to learn, and I open my arms, my heart and soul … and my spirit to the coming year, anxious for all that I have yet to learn and experience.

Finally, I thank each of you who are reading this for being a part of my life, and remember, just the fact that we know each other is no coincidence … It is part of the journey. In bringing in this New Year, may we have fun and give thanks to all creation, may we seek to “Stop the Violence”, and spread a bit more peace, love and integrity!

Amen,

John I. Cook, Director

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Seeing Is Believing

Happy Hump Day, Y’All!

Now before I write anything else, I just want to apologize for my typographical errors in previous e-mails. It seems that no matter how hard I try to be utterly perfect in these e-mails, I miss something …. some little thing …. like “Hapy Monday” on the message from Monday. I could read it over several times, make some changes, then even employ the spell check …. but I always miss something! Peace be still ….

Secondly, before I go any further, I want to thank Frank Jones, former timbale player for “The Whole Damn Family/Inner City Funk”, a band I played trombone in circa 1970 for making it possible for me to meet up with Armond Hill, assistant coach for the historic Boston Celtics! Thanks, Frank!

So, Tuesday, December 27th, 2011 was the first home game for the Miami HEAT this shortened NBA season due to the extensive differences between players and owners. Armond is a former room mate of mine from sophomore year at Princeton University circa 1973-74. He is also a former team mate from the freshman basketball team at Princeton 1972. We had a pretty cool coach but Pete Carril, who was the varsity coach, kept an eye on our team because we had some greats like Armond, Mickey Steuerer, Bob Slaughter and even Glen Christy who went on to play varsity basketball under Carril. So, in essence, Armond “Doc” Hill has been a friend for over 35 years if I am doing the math correctly. He also recently became a part of this e-mail family after Frank mentioned me to him recently at one of Doc Rivers’ Golf Events usually held here in Florida.

He, Armond, was kind enough to leave two tickets and Post Game passes for me at the Triple A Arena so that we could meet up and chat. While the game was “funtastic” though the real highlight was chatting with him there in the stands afterwards. Now, our game seats were not directly behind the Boston Celtic’s bench, which I thought they might be but even better, up a bit and to the right of their team’s bench enabling us to see the whole floor. Upon my arrival with the son of probably one of my best childhood friends from White Plains, Peter Zachary, I noticed a woman who looked liked Boston’s Ray Allen’s mother. I went over and shook the hand of this woman who was indeed, Ray Allen’s mother!! She had a green jersey on with words written in gold sparkling letters – “Momma Allen”. So we enjoyed the game in an area where there were various vociferous Boston Fans! But we were accompanied by several other HEAT fans of a similar level of appreciation for the Miami HEAT.

After the game ended, Jordan and I sat and waited in an area designated for Post Game meetings. Soon I could see a handsome well built gentleman sporting a dark grey pin striped suit with a nice dark paisley tie walking from the locker room up towards the stands where Jordan Zachary, in his 20’s and sporting a HEAT jersey, and I were waiting. It was Armond! He waved and approached me after recognizing who I was and we opened arms and held each other and hugged tightly. This was a Kodak moment but a much more spiritual one for me so no pictures were taken with a camera …. only with the heart. What a moment, as well as the ones that followed, while we chatted about old times on the freshman team, at the Gauss dormitory at Princeton where we shared a six man suite and the late nights that he and I and Glen Christy and Bruce Puckett, Bob Slaughter and Randy French spent literally “growing up” together sophomore year!

We continued talking for another 20-30 minutes and even Jordan had a story to share since his Aunt Christie was a close friend of Moe Howard from DC and Armond was the best man in Moe Howard’s wedding. We talked about girlfriends and love, work and play, and before I knew it, we were like we were those late nights over 30 years ago at Gauss Hall shucking and jiving and laughing about everything, even the game he had just coached and we had enjoyed due to his kindness. We experienced some true quality time. I even gave him “shout outs” from all the crew from our Princeton days who know and admire him, as they all had asked me to do!

So …. seeing was believing! We hugged tightly again, promising to make efforts to stay in touch, gave high fives and fist bumps …. glanced at each other and said good night! I just wanted to share probably one of the best Christmas gifts I could’ve gotten all rolled into one!

Peace be with you!

John I. Cook, Director

Happy Kwanzaa

Happy Monday all …. yes, of course, and officially, “Happy Kwanzaa”!

One of the most important things I learned about enjoying and maximizing opportunities in life is being culturally diverse. Now, I must admit that I was the kid at a private boarding school who wore black nylon socks when I ran track and felt an affinity with the track stars of that era who, upon winning the 200 meter run in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City raised their black gloved clenched fist after receiving their medals to symbolize their pride in being African American and in support of the Civil Rights Movement. They were Tommie Smith and John Carlos who were later punished for that act of pride. In particular, Spanish fascinated me too back then since I was a kid growing up in The Projects and I also played trombone in the band and the orchestra in elementary school and jr. high school. I often stress to the youth today to diversify their school activities.

I remember some years back when first coming to South Florida, my sister and her peers in “The Sisterhood” had invited me to my first Kwanzaa Celebration. It was a wonderful display of traditional African garb, culturally diverse cuisine with an emphasis on typical African food and fruits, story telling in the griot style, not to mention a plethora of African music and dance, song and poetry! One can consult their community organizations for Kwanzaa activities in local libraries and museums as there are many here in Broward County.

Yes, indeed, so in conclusion today, I am suspecting that many of us had a nice Christmas Day yesterday as I did with a good friend, Peter Zachary and his family, and called my sister two times as well as wished as many friends as I could a Merry Christmas. One of the highlights in addition to some quiet time I spent in the morning “home alone” listening to Christmas music and remembering and honoring my parents for their love in teaching me and our family about the true meaning of Christmas was watching basketball on television. Two of my favorite teams – the New York Knicks who pulled out a tight one against arch rival Boston Celtics; and the Miami Heat who trounced a different Dallas team than last year’s NBA Champions – win as the NBA once again … is back in session.

Have a wonderful day and start getting those New Year’s Resolution’s in order!

Peace,

John I. Cook, Director

Merry Christmas!

Happy Friday, All!

And since I am still able to do so . . . T.G.I.F.!

For two cartons of cigarettes … that’s right …. two CARTONS of cigarettes, a man puts another human being’s life into a coma, and, puts his own life incarcerated for an extended period of time … for Christmas! Peace be still. Yes, the man who attacked the Asian store owner and changed that man’s family’s life forever has been apprehended riding a bicycle in Miami with multiple packs of Marlboro cigarettes and an empty spray can in a bag that he toted on his bicycle. Yet, the store owner’s life may never be the same …

Some of us may find it hard to be Merry this Christmas, and I have even heard stories of the “pagan origins” of Christmas being the reason some other folks don’t celebrate Christmas anymore. Now that reasoning is over the top for me, so I wish those people in particular . . . A Very Merry Christmas! May we pray for the peace that the birth of Jesus Christ represents!

With so many different things going on from massive unemployment to stupendous Secret Santas, may we still seek the real meaning of Christmas … to give rather than to receive! There are many people I want to thank, especially those of you reading this message, for your kindness and your friendship, for your good fortune and your fame, as well as those reading who share some of life’s most precious moments with me, your families and your loved ones. And in addition, I thank you for keeping my dream of Educational Excellence alive! I must say that it is nice to see “Big Mamma” here in South Florida still doing her thing to bring presents to the less fortunate children here in SoFlo. It also is a heart warming feeling to know that Don King, boxing promoter, has given, so to speak, around three thousand turkeys to humble families for Christmas in Deerfield Beach, FL; New York City, NY; and even as far as Chicago, IL. While the truck in West Palm Beach, FL had been hijacked a week ago, he, who has been doing this for several years now, still delivered on his promise of turkeys for needy families with assistance from donations of others! Now that’s the Christmas spirit!

In closing, it might be fair to say that Melanie Amaro and her hard work and faith in God has had her dream come true for Christmas this year, too! The program that much of America witnessed for the first time called “The X-Factor” captured the hearts and homes of many many Americans, and I’ve friends abroad who communicated it’s magnificence in comparison to the original one that began in England. While all of the last 12 contestants (and others!) were hard working and had their talents nurtured by this show, it couldn’t have happened to a finer person, from what we can tell, than Melanie Amaro! The program even hooked up Justin Bieber and Stevie Wonder on one Christmas Classic that brought a smile to my face.

May each of us count our blessings this Christmas and keep the spirit of giving alive in our hearts for Christmas and everyday, if possible!

Merry Christmas!

John I. Cook, Director
Educational Excellence
http://www.excelwitheducationalexcellence.wordpress.com
PS – If you ever need a speaker, and you know who I am talking about, just let me know! Peace!

Life Changing Events

Happy Hump Day, All!

This week is pretty unique in that it is the week before Christmas 2011. There is so much in the air – both positive and negative – that sometimes it is hard to keep ones course of action steady. While there are lots of “Secret Santa’s” going around paying off people’s lay away accounts, there are also “Grinch-types” breaking into homes and stealing presents and anything else they can get their hands on inside someone else’s home! One nut case even went into a store in Little Havana in Miami last weekend and sprayed something in the store owners eyes, then went behind the counter and took out a little sledge hammer and starting hitting him in the head until he was unconscious and then ran off with two cartons of cigarettes! Is something missing in that thief’s life? You bet!

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to be in the company of some pretty interesting people. Not Hillary Clinton or Jimmy Carter but people like Armond Hill, now coaching with the Boston Celtics. Some of my college buddies have stellar careers like Monica Dweck and George Branche – both doctors and educators; Adonis Hoffman and Glennon Threatt, Esq.; Lee Blair, entrepreneur and his wife, Toni Blair, high level executive; and Vetalle Fusilier, writer and entrepreneur. And there are many many more I could name but I can’t write a book here! While I may not have achieved their levels, so to speak, they still consider me “worthy”, if you will. I have always wished the best for them and others, and have encouraged others in general to be the best that they can be!

In watching “The X-Factor” and seeing the three finalist – Melanie Amaro originally from The British Virgin Islands but representing South Florida; Chris Renee, recovering addict, father and son of a musician; as well as Josh Krajcik from a town in Ohio whose father gave him his first guitar – I see something magical as these artist transform as a part of this life changing event. I admire their determination, their guts and desire, their “chutzpa”, if you know where I am coming from, and wish them all well! Many of the runner ups who have been eliminated will still have tremendous opportunities in the music industry like Rachel Crow with Disney and Astro with the Brooklyn connection of Jay Z and P Diddy.

While one may not soar as high as one would like, notice and make the best of your life changing events …. be they good ones or challenging ones!

Be at peace!

John I. Cook, Director

Keeping It Real

Happy Monday, All!

Here’s to hoping your weekends went well. One thing I try to do is “change” my topics and titles from day to day or at least NOT use the same one in these e-mails. So, if by chance you’ve seen this title before, I can guarantee you that the content of the message will be different. Just sayin’ ….

Tradition has always played a big part in most families, and I can attest to that fact for my family at Christmas time as I was growing up. Now please don’t take this wrong ’cause I am NOT complaining. Today, for the most part, I am my nuclear family. My only child – a daughter – is all grown up and we don’t stay in touch (I e-mail her but she doesn’t reply), I have not been in contact with any of my ex-wives and there is no “girlfriend” or significant other that I hang around with on a regular basis. This used to cause me a bit of discomfort; yet, I promised myself that I would work on that discomfort, seek understanding and guidance and employ a concept I learned about sometime ago called “acceptance”.

Yesterday, the fourth Sunday of the Advent, I decided to stream the service from Calvary Chapel here in Fort Lauderdale, FL rather than go. I was rushing and probably wouldn’t have found a parking space even if I did arrive on time. So, I had my traditional Sunday breakfast of French toast, bacon, a scrambled egg and coffee with a side of orange juice as I viewed the program on my computer. Pastor Bob was continuing his series on “More Than Just A Word”. This week he focused on giving thanks or being grateful, however you wish to phrase it. He talked about those of us wishing for certain Christmas presents and perhaps even pouting if we don’t get what we want. He also talked about those extra accessories for family pets, like a dog, who sport booties and jackets or sweaters/coats even if the weather is nice. Of course, his delivery was terribly humorous! He is never angry nor judgmental, he just puts it out there for us to “see”, so to speak. He also touched on how some people may wish that they were married for Christmas and others who were married wished they were not …. Of course the final “brush strokes” of the picture dealt with having EXACTLY what we need NOW … but just being grateful for a roof over our heads, a bed to sleep in, some food to eat and hopefully an income.

He closed with a story from the publication “Calvary Connection” called “Jim’s Story” about a man and his wife whose brother came to stay with them for a while after losing his job and battling alcohol and drugs as well as an unhealthy life style of sex and partying. Jim and his wife were worried about the brother and had been trying to help “save” him from self destruction so they decided to give him a Bible and invite him to a Bible study at their house. They had the Bible study …. with just the three of them …. and the brother was able to see some of his behavior and challenges in the pages of the book, which he confessed to his brother and his brother’s wife. Jim was Pastor Bob’s brother …. obviously, the brother was Pastor Bob some 25 years ago.

Do what you’ve got to do to make your life better and acknowledge the love of The Creator who probably would like each of us to be happy along this journey as well. Tomorrow, Hanukkah begins at sundown, so as well in embracing diversity, acknowledge it if you will!

Peace,

John I. Cook, Director

A Balancing Act … of Sorts!

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