Give Peace A Chance!

peace colors

Happy Hump Day, Y’all!
Yes, it’s here again … mid-week and things are churning … everywhere!  Sometimes, I want to stop the world and get off!!  I will tonight … during yoga!!
So, I’ve got this story that I’ve been dying to share!  I told maybe one or two people about this because of the nature of the story line.  So, here it goes ….
About two weeks ago, I was on my way home from work in Margate, FL which is West of Ft. Lauderdale.  I take Atlantic Blvd. to my old neighborhood off of Cypress Creek Rd. en route to the gym … or my post office box … sometimes I cruise to the beach before going to the gym.  So, traffic is always tight on Atlantic at 6PM, middle of rush hour traffic pretty much, four lanes of traffic.  People dart in and out of the traffic trying to get one car length ahead of the next person before the next traffic light.  I recall doing it myself a few times as I tried not to be late to a tutoring session or any appointment I may have had after working.  It gets crazy … I am telling you!!
So, I was driving my vehicle in the middle lane of what narrowed to 3-lane traffic … the car in front of me was going slow and the one to the left of me kept driving just fast enough to keep me from going in front of him.  He was with his lady friend who was in the passenger seat closest to my window.  He finally slowed up enough for me to go in front of him only because he was talking to the woman in the car with him.  As I moved in front of his car, I put my blinker on. I looked in the rear view mirror and could see that he was mouthing something.  He threw his middle finger up as he said something probably corresponding to the gesture.  Once I got past the car that was going somewhat slower in front of me, I got back into the middle lane.  The guy in the car pulled up beside me and started gesturing through his closed window.  I usually keep my window open as I enjoy the fresh air at that time of day unless it is really hot … then I put on the air conditioning.  I looked at him as he lowered the window on the side where his lady-friend was sitting and said something like ” What?” or “Yeah, what?”  So, I replied, “Why do you have to give me the finger, Man?”
He said: “You need to learn how to drive!!”  I answered, “What?  Now I have to drive by YOUR rules of the road … or you’re gonna give me the finger?!?”  He replied, “How do you know I’m not packin’, Man?”  I looked at him and responded, “How do you know I’m not packin’, Son?”  The traffic began to move and our cars crept along nearly side by side … he seemed to slow down a bit, still in the left lane.  Soon, as his lane got more open, the guy drove up right next to me, looked out of the window where his lady friend sat, and said through the window he had let down: “Hey, I’m sorry Man!  I apologize!”  I looked at him … smiled a bit … and replied: “I’m sorry, too, Man.  Glad things didn’t get out of hand.”  He smiled, his lady friend was quietly looking straight ahead.  I smiled back at him, and said: “My closest friends call me Peaceboy … you’d be surprised!”  We both drove off into our own lives down Atlantic into the sunset ….

I share this story with only this punch line: “Give peace a chance!”

John I. Cook, Director

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Mask II

mask

 

Monday, Monday … y’all!  “It’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood!”, according to television character Mr. Rogers!  I don’t know who use to make me laugh more … him or Pee Wee Herman!!

As I often do on Sundays when I can, I hang home and rejuvenate a bit.  It was one of those kind of Sundays …  With the personal things that I am dealing with, I often have to recoil and figure things out again … and again … and again!  So, for me, the motto of Educational Excellence, “Know Thyself”, is so very important!  Some folks play this “role”, or try to be someone they are not, or even have like “multiple personalities” depending on to whom they are talking!  You know, some people become “different persons” when they are in front of “others”!  Imagine that!  One of the most important “talking points”, if you will, of Pope Francis when he spoke in the various Masses he conducted, involved the lack of tolerance of sexual abuse of children as there have been many scandals uncovered regarding Catholic Church officials here in this country.  He removed the “mask” of perfection that many people have associated with the Catholic Archdiocese.  He clearly stated that the abuse of children, especially sexual, will not be tolerated and will be investigated and those involved dealt with accordingly.
Of course, the topic of today’s message, “Mask II”, is borrowed from Joel Osteen.  His sermon Sunday was basically touching on the fact that he believes that one cannot recover … from ANYTHING … unless one is honest with ones SELF … when they do indeed have circumstances in their behavior that are causing problems in their lives!  In other words, take off the mask of “self righteousness” or “perfection” or the one that many of us wear daily, the mask of “denial”.  Joel stated that he believes that Our Creator doesn’t like us to “wear these masks” as it makes ITS work that much more difficult.  This is an integral part of any 12-Step Program, admitting that one is powerless over their “addictions”.  In simplicity, it can be said that unless one sees a certain behavior as problematic, they will NOT treat that behavior as destructive while it is indeed destroying one’s life!  Take off the mask and “heal yourself” because one is not deceiving others as much as one is deceiving … ones SELF!
So, I have entitled this one “Mask II” …  Here’s my spin on it.  Now, most of you who “know” me are aware that I have a pretty good education and can read and write, even work a computer and perhaps build a website and a blog.  Yet, I have been ostracized from the “profession that I studied for in college and graduate school”, teaching and educational related careers (admissions included), because I had been charged with “gun related” crimes in the past.  Yes, it was over 10 years ago and I didn’t kill anyone nor rob anyone … just defended myself, which is a highly uncommon defense in Florida courts unless you are Caucasian (or other non-black) and you are “standing your ground”.  Yet, I won the trial also held over 10 years ago.  I had a second gun-related charge when I fired a “warning round” into the ground where I lived on Fort Lauderdale beach to wake up a drunken racist and let him know that he could be stopped, even if he was wielding a crowbar!!!  This case I pretty much lost and was placed on probation, which was later violated when my “ex” had called the police after hurting herself when chasing me as I attempted to allude her and the argument!!  The judge violated my probation and I was sentenced to a year in Broward County Jail for “resist/obstruct arrest without violence” when the BSO officers came to arrest me.  This is why I write the blog and these e-mails, and, why I also have a website to market my motivational speaking business as well as offer “alternatives to typical thinking” on major subjects like “racial profiling” or police brutality … even misconduct of clergy members.  Besides, if anyone wants to find out anything about you, they can pay somebody to find those things out!  So, I would rather volunteer the information rather than have some “loose canon” giving inaccurate accounts of who THEY think I am!
Take off the mask.  Be yourself.  I don’t really have a choice at this point.  Thoughts about the third book keep swirling in my head … “Cooking With Life”!
Have a great week.
Peace,
John I. Cook, Director

Make It Count!

man moon

Happy Friday, y’all!  ALL Y’ALL!

So, keeping with tradition, T.G.I.F.!   It has been one whirlwind of a week … and I’m still standing …  How are things in “y’all’s” neck of the woods?!?  I know … a bit corny but I try to maintain my sense of humor in the face of everything that I can!  Now, I am no super-person, so … sometimes it gets tough … tougher to smile!  I am being straight with youse!!   And quickly, I want to say that that is where the meditation and prayer as well as yoga which is often referred to as “moving meditation” actually make me more “flexible” with and appreciative of my life!  Yes … om shanti, shanti, … shanti.
So, I wanted to mention an event that occurred recently at the Hillcrest Country Club in Hollywood, put together by the Hollywood Meditation Group of the Brahma Kumaris Spiritual World University.  Roz Reich and her “partner in peace”, Ella, put together an incredible Rakhi Tying Ceremony where each of us got to visit Sister Veronica, the Florida director for the Brahma Kumaris, and have our symbolic pledges of peace and promise to care for each other tied around our wrists!  The ambiance at the Hillcrest Country Club Community building on the property there was scenic, as it overlooks the golf course; and decorations inside were stellar, with the red lights moving across and over the room, very peaceful calm music playing, flowers and “peaceful spirits” present enjoying each other’s company!  Several Brahma Kumaris members from Miami were present as was Sister Marianne now living in Sarasota, who sat on the stage next to Sister Veronica passing out one of the many spiritual gifts, “rocks and cards” given to each of us to remember what may be the last Rakhi tying ceremony at the Hillcrest Country Club!  We even had “a singing bowl” that added to the spiritual ambiance there with a clip of the new film by Oprah Winfrey entitled: “Belief”, being shown to us.  It focuses on the many ways that people all over the world are seeking to understand this journey we ALL have been gifted with called “life” and our common denominator of “belief”!
Tomorrow, I am presenting a workshop to the Broward Sheriff’s Office Community Justice Program participants which consists of local Broward County high school young people who have been given “a second chance”, so to speak.  It is led by Nicole Valencia, Youth Services Counselor, who has invited me back a second time to speak with this unique group of young people.  Amongst the topics I plan to address are: 1. Bullying and Peer Pressure, and, 2. Goal Setting for Personal Development.  I look forward to the opportunity to “give back” as well as to share my “hope, experience and peace” with these young folks!
With so many spiritual events going on this weekend, including the Pope’s visit to New York City and then Philadelphia, I hope many of you get a chance to re-evaluate your “spiritual selves”, should you decide you have one, as it is apparent that a human desire for a peaceful and spiritual “paradigm shift” is on the horizon!
Peace,

John I. Cook, Director

Who Are You Going to Vote for NOW?!?!

autumn

 

What?!?  It’s Wednesday??? Hump Day, Yeaaahhhh!!

If nobody told you all today … that they love youse …. let me get the ball rolling!!!  It’s even the first day of Autumn!  Gotta love it … change!  That is one of the few reasons I enjoyed living in New England for so many years … the seasons change … 4 times!!  Now, once we got past the aesthetic beauty of fall … winding roads … leaves changing colors … and that brisk nip in the air with the first signs of Autumn … it was often rather challenging … the winters, that is!  Each day, I try to enjoy life to the utmost … in a healthy way!
So, the Pope is now “state-side” and preparing for quite a menu of festivities in three major cities, starting with Washington, DC where he will be spending two or three days and holding several masses at the most noteworthy Catholic Churches in our Nation’s Capitol.  Preparations for security and ease of travel have been in the works for a while now!  I wish the Pope safety and peace during his travels here!
We Americans, like most societies of the Western civilization foundations, have been “taught” to want certain things, to believe certain things, and to behave in a certain way … or NOT!  Now, I was in traffic yesterday just marveling at how people actually “follow the rules” pretty closely on I-95.  Now of course you have those folks who weave in and out of traffic to get one or two car lengths ahead of where they would’ve been, but most people drive and behave normally … in a civilized fashion!  So, us “humans” are trainable and we can be conditioned as evidenced by the theory of Pavlov’s classical conditioning in psychology!  We can follow a routine, most of the time.  Then, when things get tough … “all bets are off”, so to speak.  The economy gets tight … people rob banks and stores … and each other!!  Out the window with that “civilization” crap!!!  Murders and unanticipated deaths occur, out come the racial comments with hatred written all over them!!  Take a look at our Republican candidates for President now!!!  As Emilio, Gloria Estefan’s husband, says: “All we hear about is racial hatred, division and separating of people … ethnic groups!”  This led him to pen the song entitled: “We are All Mexican”!  Are these the people who want to be our nation’s “leaders”?  Now, the infamous Donald Trump got the ball of NOT being politically correct rolling in his efforts to get “voters on his side” by bashing “Mexicans and other groups from Latin/Hispanic heritage” … bashing women like Rosie O’Donnell … and even Carly Fiorina, another Republican candidate for president!!!
We’ve got Dr. Ben Carson, who speaks more like he should be a participant in a “diversity training workshop” rather than running for the POTUS!!!  Imagine him in the Middle East attempting to work out a treaty with a country that is predominantly Muslim!!  What’s coming out of these early campaign activities is somewhat horrifying.  Look at the candidates that we embrace!?  Listen to what they say?!  Is this something “uniting and empowering” people?!  Listening to some of these folks speak is like a combination comedy show/horror flick!!!  Shucks, if it were up to me, I would do like we used to do in class elections in school … write in someone else’s name!!!  “Pope for President” or “Emilio and Gloria Estefan for Pres. and Vice Pres”!  All I have to say is that for me, President Obama has held down a somewhat “crumbling nation” and stabilized the apparent “down-fall”.  I know, it’s a tough job but somebody has to do it … tell the truth, that is!
In the meantime, don’t get too wrapped up in the rhetoric of these folks, use your intelligence … what little that may be left in each of us now … and usher in our Autumn season.  Learn to embrace “the change”!  Happy Autumn, ALL!
Peace,

John I. Cook, Director

The “Secret Place”

secret dwelling

 

It’s Monday … and another opportunity to do something good!

This past weekend saw a lot of festive preparations for the Pope’s arrival in Havana and the Mass he held for the hundreds of thousands of people – seniors and children included on Sunday!  It was quite the event, as I happened to watch it on television Sunday morning.
Also Sunday morning, as I sought to sort through some of my own life’s issues, I heard Joel Osteen, tel-evangelist out of Texas, talk about a subject that I hold dear to my heart and central to my own personal development.  It was about the “Secret Place” that each of us should seek to nourish.  It is that place where negativity and hostile thoughts or actions have no impact.  It is that place of peace that one can nurture so that when one is surrounded with “seas of negativity”, we still remain afloat and on course!  What a fabulous place, that inner core of peace that we can establish to where we return when the “world’s” drama comes knocking at the door!
I particularly enjoyed Joel Osteen’s description of the “secret place” as the place which, though “water” surrounds you … as it might surround a boat or water vessel … as long as “we” don’t let the negative thoughts and energies into our “secret place”, again as water would come into a boat, we can safe guard and preserve who we really are … creatures of peace!  Sometimes, Osteen continued, “we have to let things go” in order to stay peaceful and not full of nervous and negative energy as we might be drawn “outside” of our peaceful selves and get caught up in the drama.  As well, as long as we do NOT get involved in a “tit for tat” communication with someone that we  may have had a disagreement with, or a desire to seek revenge on someone who has wronged you, “you” will be behaving maturely, peacefully and able to call forth your blessings from your Creator!  After all, good karma, if you will, is simply attracting the good in “the universe” because you are in tune with the “goodness” as evidenced by your behavior.
So, when you feel that a “place” like this, deep within … only accessible to you and your Creator, may benefit you along this journey, take some time to develop it.  It’s a “safe place” where you can retreat when circumstances in your life seem not to be going the way you want it!  And, as a friend said to me while we chatted Friday afternoon, “You never know what someone is going through!”  We both chuckled, and said, “Be kind to them, too!”
Have a great week!
Peace,

John I. Cook, Director

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month 2015

celebrate hispanic

 

Happy  Friday, y’all!

Just in case you can’t say it, I got you …. “Thank God It’s Friday”!  There … we’re done giving thanks!!
Life is full of “twists and turns as some of us sometimes learn” (excerpted from poem entitled: “Don’t Quit”).  These past few weeks, I’ve been having some minor car issues – sensor stuff for the newer cars.  It’s been tough; yet two friends came through in true form …. My friend Stokely, whose father just passed has been a constant supporter of Educational Excellence … and me!  He often comes through when I least expect it!  I hope to see he and his lovely family when they come down to the FTL to pay their last respects to Mr. Gittens.
The other friend, whom I’ve known for many years, is Burke Wortman.  When Burke found out that my car was acting “loco”, he offered to let me borrow his SUV, Ford Expedition, until I can get my Jeep out of the shop!!!  I am even using a mechanic that Burke recommended me to a couple of years ago when the Compass suffered from “electrical problems”.  I can’t express the gratitude I have for such “cool peeps” as these two guys.  I am fortunate to have real friends like this who help me out from time to time.  Some of you reading are amongst those … thank you!
So, yes … it is Hispanic Heritage Month … an interesting time frame starting in the middle of this month and ending in the middle of next month.  I have a lot of respect for Hispanic culture and literature, as well as Hispanic painters and Latin music!  They, too, have contributed to the world community in a most positive way!  May we acknowledge, explore and learn from their heritage.  One of my favorite stories regarding my attraction to Hispanic culture is “born” out of where I grew up in White Plains.  There was a very attractive girl named “Lydia”, whose family including her older brothers – Eduardo and Roberto, was of Mexican heritage.  We lived in the same building … “135 South Lexington Avenue” on the 5th floor and … they lived in the same building on the 7th floor – same apartment letters “A”!  I wanted to do something to make myself stand out from the other boys, so I started studying Spanish in 7th grade.  I haven’t been the same since!!!
After teaching social studies at White Plains High School for 10 years and experiencing some personal challenges with my marriage, I ended up taking a job to teach English in Cali, Colombia, South America.  This decision was made after spending Christmas in Madrid, Spain in an attempt to get over my pending divorce!  It worked … pretty much!  In Spain, I had the pleasure of visiting the Picasso Museum in Madrid; “La Catedral” in Toledo; “El Alhambra” en Malaga and a multitude of other sights and experiences, architecture and music as well as “El Palacio Real” right there in Madrid!  My intrigue was heightened … so … “I took my teaching talents to Cali … Cali, Colombia” that is!!  I had the time of my life, dancing salsa and merengue, visiting the many towns, villages and cities there from Bogota to Ipiales, San Andres and Buenaventura where I enjoyed the food, the ambiance … and horse back riding!!  That was something I did nearly every weekend in a small village North of Popayan called “Silvia”.  It was a village where the men still wore “dress-like” pants, panchos and wide brimmed hats.  Their specialty amongst the “artesanias” (art work/hand crafts) were very colorful sweaters and “ruanas” (panchos)!  Needless to say, I made the most of it, learned the language … even the basic dances … and have an ability to relate to Latinos world-wide!
So, if you’ve a moment, visit a local museum or college campus and partake of some of the festivites of “Hispanic Heritage Month – 2015”!  Dale y felicidades!
Peace, (La paz)!

John I. Cook, Director

Don’t Make Me Laugh … Make Me Smile!

doing for others

Yes, it’s Hump Day!!!
How’re you all holding up?!  Full week … we’re at Wednesday, right?!!  Progress …
First of all, I want to once again thank each of you for what you represent in my life … up until now.  Many of you I have known for years … Some, I met just once and others I long to see again!  Yet, there are others with whom I remain in contact though not feverishly, it is frequent and amicable most often.  Thank you … each of you.  And again, if you would like to NOT receive these pieces, simply let me know!
One of those “friends” I just described in the previous paragraph is a guy whom I met at a writer’s workshop at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.  It’s interesting because the venue was unique and so was the gathering …. We are still friends today.  I even stayed in his two bedroom apartment in Kissimmee, FL when I worked for ACORN in Orlando, training as a foreclosure prevention “specialist” and organizing a neighborhood into an ACORN component.  Shucks, I rode my Honda 1999 NightHawk 750 from So Florida to Orlando and back again on the weekends … for 4 months!!  I also drove the “Night Hawk” as I traveled as a community organizer in two neighborhoods, Carver Shores & Washington Heights, near Orlando.  I met some wonderful people, including the Rev. and Mrs. Vinson, doing community organizing … and I stayed with Stokely Gittens while doing so!!
Well, Stokely’s father just passed, though I think he lasted longer than most thought as he suffered from cancer.  It was all the more challenging because his mother just recently passed about a year ago!  Can we avoid death?  Methinks not … While many “folks”, scientists and new age movements are seeking ways to reverse the aging process, it seems to be a long ways off.  So, meanwhile, why don’t we accept this stage of our journey as “part of life” … or the end, at least.
Make someone smile today … you may not know how much they really need it.  It is a gesture to avert sadness as well as a gesture to uplift a fellow human being.  Stokely is amongst the friends I have who have recently lost parents … Please send out a prayer of uplifting, some positive thoughts … maybe even a smile!

Peace,

John I. Cook, Director

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