“What Is Ours?” A Group Exhibition presented by The Women’s Caucus for Art Washington, DC.

As many of you know this art journey has been my soul’s journey and serves as a well spring of healing. Especially when it is created among a sisterhood. Please join us for an evening of poetry and connection this September 8, 2022. The exhibition will be at the Sandy Spring Museum. There will be an open mic night and we encourage you to come through and speak your mind. Register: The Sandy Spring Museum. See you there!

Civic Arts Presents An Inspirational Interview With Artist & Life Coach “MUSE”

An interview with Melissa “MUSE” Colon to liberate your mind

Melissa “MUSE” Colon is a certified life coach and artist who is also the creator of the popular Pep Talks Workshop. She is a newly minted mother of a month old daughter and in today’s interview she speaks with us about purpose, tribe, entrepreneurship, and the importance of community for women.

There are so many gems in this conversation–you won’t want to miss it. I definitely consider myself both a follower and friend of this very magical women.

*Before you click away from the page. Please be sure to scan the QR code or visit our link and give us some feedback on your creative life.

As always, I am here for you in the comments.

Peace be with you and enjoy,


Where Do You Go For Culture & Creativity

Calling all artists, writers, creatives, makers, dancers and patrons of the arts. We want to know where you go for culture and creativity. Please Scan the QR Code and take our survey. To learn more visit: The Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County. #dmv

Best, Chiara

World Refugee Day: An Interview With Author and Activist Warda Mohamed Abdullahi On Welcoming Refugees, The Importance of Education, And Inspiring Young Girls

Photo Courtesy of Warda Abdullahi

#ICYMI June 20, 2022, marked the 71st anniversary of World Refugee Day, which is the United Nations’ international day of observance for refugees worldwide. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the world is witnessing the highest recorded levels of displacement in history. Over 70 million people have been driven from their home countries due to war, conflict, and persecution, and 30 million are under the age of 18. If given a choice, refugees would almost always choose the familiarity of their culture, the security of their family, and the safety of their homeland.

However, when fleeing is a matter of life and death, they must choose life.

This year’s Refugee Week theme surrounds healing and safety with its motto being: Whoever. Wherever. Whenever. Everyone has the right to seek safety.

“People escaping violence or persecution must be able to cross borders safely. They must not face discrimination at borders or be unfairly denied refugee status or asylum due to their race, religion, gender, or country of origin.”

“People escaping violence or persecution must be able to cross borders safely. They must not face discrimination at borders or be unfairly denied refugee status or asylum due to their race, religion, gender, or country of origin.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres

America essentially is a nation of immigrants and asylum seekers. All of whom, in the spirit of entrepreneurship, faith, family, and the intense desire for a life of democracy and freedom — wound up here. All of which was done with the help of strangers, the kindness of neighbors, and a supportive community. Even those of us whose ancestors were stolen from their native lands and stripped of their free will, all while being subjected to violence, had a strong desire for America’s promise of a better life. That desire is something that not only I benefit from, but culturally we all benefit from as a nation.

My interview with Warda is not a simple refugee story but of a woman finding her voice and place in the world. Both of those things resonate with me, which is why speaking with Warda was so inspirational. She lost her mother early in life and had to live apart from her father and find refuge in the United States while facing discrimination and overcoming the intense feeling of isolation. Something that refugees often experience when they arrive here.

However, no matter what life threw her, she stood boldly determined in the face of rejection and setbacks by keeping her faith, never compromising her identity, and maintaining a positive mindset. For Warda, it was the dreams of her father and the burning desire for education — and the hope of one day becoming a doctor and helping her community that was her mainstay. While this mom of two is still on her journey, the rewards she gained after her many sacrifices in pursuit of her American dream, will bring tears of joy to your eyes.

Warda’s Interview

Before we dive into everything else, would you please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your background?

My name is Warda Abdullahi, and I was born in Saudi Arabia. I have lived in many different places throughout Africa, where I faced many obstacles, such as loss of education, living through a drought, and losing my mother. But after everything, I still succeeded. I live in Minnesota now. I graduated from Saint Catherine University with a bachelor’s degree in Public Health while I wrote the book, “Warda.”

Why was it so important to you to be the first member of your family to go to college? What did that represent to you?

It represented change, a look into a better life and ditching our former nomadic pastoral lives. The Somalis have this saying which directly translates to “the last camel’s following the first,” so I wanted to be the first to create a chain reaction of success.

What was your first impression of school in America?

On my first day of high school in America, the school was big, and there were so many students, unlike in South Africa. Schools there are smaller, and there are not many students. I was confused. I had never seen students talk back to their teachers. It was certainly a first for me. Back home, we were taught that teachers are our second parents and should always respect them. Treat them as our parents. I could not stop thinking about how this student was not taking advantage of their opportunities around the world; kids their age pray to have an education every day. However, it has alway have been a dream of mine to have access to the best education in the world and despite everything I have been through, it was a fresh start for me where I could pursue my goals and dreams.

Has your relationship with academia been what you thought it would be? We see you have plans to pursue another degree…

Since I was 6, I have always wanted to become a family medicine doctor or a pediatrician. I will continue to pursue that dream, and any additional skills I may acquire will help toward that.

Your mentor, Mackenzie Wellman, wrote a beautiful afterword for your book. How did you two meet, and how did your relationship with her shape your life?

We met through a mentorship program during my junior year of high school at Ottawa Hills High School. Through the years of mentoring me, Mackenzie Wellmen became a family to me. She often comes down to Minnesota and hangs out with my family. She is the kindest and most caring human I have ever met. I am honored to have Mackenzie as my mentor as a first-generation student; she was a godsend as she guided me through applying to scholarships and different universities.

Obviously your story is one of resilience, but it is also one of hardships and self doubt — what kept you moving forward?

My father was my biggest supporter and motivator. He encouraged me to never give up on my education. He always reminds me of how he didn’t get the chance to go college and how all his hopes and dreams had been taken away.

I grew up in a place where every child’s dream was to have an education but was not available or affordable. Because of this, I made it a point to take advantage of the opportunities around me.

You identify as Somali-American, but you’ve lived all over (rural Ethiopia, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Michigan and now Minnesota ). Do you feel connections to all of these cultures? How so?

Yes, I do feel connected to all these countries I have been to. Even though I was born in Saudi Arabia, I was raised in Ethiopia and this is the country that I am most connected to because I grew up and where most of my family is from. South Africa is the country where my journey to education started and I met my father after 10 years.

Can you discuss some of the unique struggles faced by refugees? You’ve mentioned the importance of highlighting the inequities and injustices that determine who moves freely and where they can live.

Some of the inequities and injustices refugees face are no access to food and water, also education. Throughout my life, refugees have been facing inequalities and no opportunities of education and I believe unless we do something about it, it will not change.

What’s next for you?

My future goal is to go to medical school to become a family medicine doctor and to raise my kids.

Looking Forward

Even when you feel that you are all alone, you are never truly alone. There are always guides, strangers, teachers, friends, and those you have yet to meet, waiting to help you along your path. If we can give aslyum seekers one thing, let’s give them hope.

Every 20 minutes As for aslyum seekers around the world, the journey to America’s gates remain a lighted path to hope and opportunity. To learn more about how you can help welcome refugees visit Welcome.US or the United Nations Refugee Agency to learn more.

For more information on Warda and to read her book visit: https://wardaabdullahi.com

5 Diverse Summer Reading Programs To Help Your Child Stay On Target This Summer And Excel In The Fall

Photo Courtesy Wiki Commons

You may or may not have heard of Summer Slide. It’s not a theme park or roller coaster ride for kids. The summer slide is a decline in reading ability and other academic skills that can occur over the summer months when school isn’t in session.
If you have a child on an IEP or 504 plan or needs help staying on task, this is for you. Truthfully, the summer slide can happen to any child, especially with parents returning to work and children reacclimating to a traditional school environment. We are all swamped and pulled in different directions. However, in the last two years, I have realized that we can’t be so overtaxed that we ignore what’s happening with our child’s education, especially Black and brown children.

Unfortunately, minority children, and young girls often experience two things: they aren’t encouraged when they excel too quickly or don’t get the proper attention when they need help. Our son responds the best when my husband and I teach him. The rigors of parent teaching can be challenging to maintain alongside other duties. Thankfully this year, we are incorporating that village mentality to assist with our children’s education. One of those ways is with reading. Reading has two forms; you can read for information and read to analyze and teach yourself. This homeschool mom has a fantastic system for incorporating games and practices for teaching kids how to blend letter sounds.

It’s never too early to teach kids to blend or to reteach children the basics of blending letter sounds. Reading is also about stimulating intellectual curiosity and inspiring lifelong learners. Books provide the gateway to worlds and cultures beyond our doorstep; we can never go wrong with inspiring our kids to read. Here are 5 summer reading programs that will help keep your child engaged with a love of reading and help to combat the effects of summer slide.

Your Local Library

light inside library
Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

Our local library in Montgomery County, MD has a multitude of diverse reading programs for children throughout the year. The Mongtomery County Public Library offers a Summer Reading Challenge every year. You can find libraries with reading programs in your local area.

The Little Free Library

Photo Courtesy Linda F on Flickr

This summer we are building a Little Free Library at our house for our daughter’s birthday. The library will be used by all of the neighborhood kids and will be dedicated in loving memory of our daughter Calais, who passed away from a pediatric brain tumor. It’s a wonderful way to honor her memory and to remind us the wonderful comfort reading brought our family during those long days and nights at the hospital. The LFL has a program called Reading Rockets. The site is a filled with information to help children succeed. From graphic organizers, to reading interventions, book suggestions and a literacy blog. One of my favorite things is the adventure literacy pack that features The Lorax. There is a study guide and so much more. It’s a wonderful resource. You can be sure to find what you need here.

The Little Feminist Book Club

Photo in Public Domain

If you are commited to raising compassionate intersectional feminist children that are anti-racist, body-positive, trans & gender-fluid inclusive, and denouce ableism & classism as well — this book club is for you. I love that it and it’s needed for us all. This book club educates parents and kids through books on tough topics and how to navigate those difficult conversations that move us toward the equity we all are working hard for. You can learn about what they offer here.

Chuck E Cheese Summer Reading Program

Who doesn’t love Chuck E. Cheese. It’s even better that they offer a fun summer reading program that offers kids play points, certificates of achievement, stickers, and other incentives to engage young readers. You can learn about the Summer Reading Program here.

Scholastic Book Blog

The Scholastic blog offers more than just a reading challenge. They offer ways for you to create your own reading challenge and boost your child’s literacy. There are countless things to download, print, view and practice. Learn more here on the Scholastic on the website.

I will post more exciting reading programs over the summer. I hope that you find this helpful to getting started with one hour a day with your child’s reading.

ICYMI A Few Ways Companies Can Serve The Community And Their Workers While Implementing A Few Practices

Photo Courtesy of the author

This Earth Month was a great one for me. I finally was able to extend my network and work with people in my community to help implement tools and create processes for change. Typically, I focus on education. But this year, I plan to empower others in their decision-making. This year’s Earth Day theme was “Invest in Our Planet” which called for businesses to implement more sustainable practices. While things like switching to LED light bulbs, adding recyclable paper products to the workspace, and offering remote work are excellent starting points, here are some additional ways companies can still thrive while investing in our planet.

Photo by Wonderlane 

Go Paperless

This is a personal mission of mine. Anytime I see piles of paper and large file cabinets anywhere — I itch. Looking at rows of paper is not only unpleasant, but it gives me IRS vibes, and it’s also lifeless. I mean, it’s a bunch of dead trees. You can’t hug them. They give no life. If you don’t believe me, hug your parking ticket. On a serious note, my biggest goal is to go paperless. To assist me in my quest, I’ve begun to rely heavily on digital note-taking apps like Notability and Goodnotes to organize my thoughts and share information. Coupled with a cloud storage system or an external hard drive, it’s much better than paper. Although we do incur a level of e-waste when you use electronics, I’m still for going paperless when you consider space and the labor involved with managing paper.

Make Hybrid Work More Than An Option

More than 35 North American companies and about 20 global companies are testing out a four-day workweek in a pilot program spearheaded by 4 Day Week Global. 4 Day Week Global is a not-for-profit community established by New Zealanders Andrew Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart to create a better quality of life by urging companies to allow for a shortened week. In doing so, companies can offer their employees a greater work-life balance and address some of the causes leading to the Great Resignation. To me, this is a no-brainer. Fewer employees on-site means there is less need for large office spaces, which means lower costs overall. We live in a digitally advanced society, and the pandemic proved that we can work from our computers.

Some people want to come into their office to work, which should be an option. Owl Labs conducted a study of remote work in September of 2021. They surveyed over 2,000 workers and reported 84% of them reported they would be happier working remotely. The internet allows for extended reach — why be limited to a traditional desk if you don’t have to. Employees burn a lot of time grabbing coffee, chatting by the water cooler, and surfing the internet. It’s doubtful these things will change but will shift while employees work at home. But, companies won’t have to pay the lease on buildings, and commuters don’t have to clog up the roads and pollute the air. It makes fiscal sense to keep overhead low and make remote work and hybrid work permanent options, leaving employees to stay focused on work and manage life’s responsibilities without burnout.

Plant Some Trees In An Underserved Community

Photo by Eyoel Kahssay 

Companies can really make a difference by funding tree planting. There seems to be a bit of bureaucracy and over complication when it comes to planting trees, but it doesn’t have to be. Yesterday, I bought a grape tree from Ace Hardware and planted it in my yard. It took all of twenty minutes. In a month or so, hopefully I can pick the grapes and make some jam. As you see, no big deal.

Trees produce negative emissions and help mitigate climate risk. Yes, there is a cost associated and decisions to be made regarding the quality of the trees and the how many to plant. But, if you consider the fact that many low-income neighborhoods lack trees, adequate green spaces, or heavily forested areas that provide residents greater opportunities to interact with the natural world, planting a few trees seems like the right thing to do. At 5 dollars a tree plus site preparation this is a good way for companies to walk their talk. The next major step after planting the trees is caring for them. Companies should focus energy there — thinking for the long haul — and watch their green investments grow.

Here are a few organizations already dedicated to this effort:

Onetreeplanted: https://onetreeplanted.org,
Tree Foundation: https://treefoundation.org,
River Smart Homes Shade Trees (DC)https://doee.dc.gov/service/riversmart-homes-shade-tree-planting

Is Your Writing Productivity Lagging? Organize Your Thoughts Fast With These Simple Tricks

Writing Tips To Improve Your Productivity

Anyone that has written anything for someone else has found themselves circling the intersections of the dreaded deadline meets the complex subject on numerous occasions. I know I have. I like to go deep into topics and have long conversations with my subjects. These introspective pow wow sessions are good for my soul, making new acquaintances, but not necessarily good for managing time. Especially if reporting and researching are big parts of your writing model. I have discovered what works for me when inspiration is not knocking at my door, and I also use it with my kids. 

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons

For example, I was trying to help my son, who has challenges with his executive functioning, write an essay for class. He’s an 11-year-old boy, and he’s fidgety. Truthfully, he’d rather watch Sonic the Hedgehog or play video games than write a narrative essay. He is a phenomenal storyteller, but inspiration never really hits him at the keyboard, and that’s ok. I know he will get there. We all do. I’ve found that relaying clear steps and asking him to write descriptive sentences within a time limit work best. 

The key here is to set a time limit and stick to it. 

If you fail at first, that’s fine. You can add and subtract time here and there. However, for the most part, time needs to work with you. Not against you.

If you agree or have your own tips, drop them in the comments and let me know.   

I Can Attest To The Fact That Brain Tumors Suck, Which Is Why I Go Hard For The Environment

More children die from brain tumors than any other cancer; those who survive must navigate a lifetime of side effects. The Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation (www.curethekids.org/stay-connected) is the largest patient advocacy funder of pediatric brain tumor research and leading champion for families and survivors, providing patients, caregivers, and siblings with information, financial assistance, and a community of support from the moment symptoms start, through diagnosis, treatment, and beyond.

If you logged onto this site a few years back, you will notice that it has gone through several iterations. Initially this website began as a way to bring awareness to pediatric brain tumors and to share how I used art as therapy for my grief journey. I still do. In 2015, my 3-year old daughter named Calais, was diagnosed with a rare tumor called ATRT. At the time she was a perfectly healthy and an extremely active child–cancer was something we never saw coming.

How we got off our path 

When I took my highly active 3-year-old to a pediatrician’s visit, they wanted her weight to be slightly higher, and to have more protein because she was only drinking soy milk. I was told to add a protein drink like Pediasure if she isn’t drinking milk to make sure she was getting her protein and nutrients. Big mistake, it’s all sugar, and it’s the beast that fueled my fire for years after.  

My upbringing did not prepare me to deal with medicine as a parent. My husband often looked to me, and I didn’t always trust my gut–until it was too late. I can’t say sugar causes cancer, but cancer cells feed off sugar. According to Cancer.gov, roughly 1.9 million people will be diagnosed with Cancer in the United States. Education is something we all can benefit from. When you have a belief in something you need a community to keep you on the straight and narrow and to see you through. It’s important to educate yourself on your bloodline as well as your nutrition. One size doesn’t fit all in this area.

Although Calais was technically my second child and 17 months younger than her older brother, I often felt like I was still new and inexperienced as a mom. Especially living in Washington, DC, with a California mindset. As progressive as the city was supposed to be, I often felt talked down to as a Black mother. I shouldn’t have to defend myself or my parenting or be interrogated about things that have nothing to do with the situation. These factors made it hard to parent in general, coupled with the crippling and irrational sense of guilt I felt at being limited in my capacity to help my kids. Surprisingly enough, I lost all of those insecurities during our daughter’s cancer fight. I was empowered and present during her life and death situation. The doctors learned to respect me and often sought after my opinion, which must have been coming from the other side. To give you insight to the situation, I was using medical terminology that was correct. All that is gone now, however, in hindsight I realize I was helping my children more than I understood. My daughter said I was a good mother as her final words.

1.9 million people will be diagnosed with Cancer in the United States. Education is something we all can benefit from.

Going through approximately a decade of challenges made me question alot of things. I always thought to myself, God wouldn’t double down on us, would he? Yes, He would, and it showed me that people deal with even more while having little to no resources. 

My biggest regret has been having a level of knowledge that was ahead of its time and not always using it for myself. I was good for imparting it to others and not always able to apply it to myself when challenged by institutionalized mindsets. When you grow up around family members trained in the traditional medical system, you may receive a lot of pushback on ideas, treatments, and remedies that have no “scientific basis.” Today, many unproven folk practices are being recognized and investigated as treatments needed to cure illnesses. This is excellent news. Still, they all need funding in order to bring them to the masses and to allow for proper testing. 

 Get In Community

For me, a helpful group was Mocha Moms Inc. As a mother of color, you won’t find a better group of nationally organized, locally informed, and compassionate women who value family and children more.

During my daughter’s battle with ATRT, I went into overdrive making remedies and sending research papers to the oncologists to help her. Miracles were happening, and it was amazing. Our cancer journey took us from Washington, DC, to Philadelphia, and finally to San Francisco on a quest to discover a life-saving treatment. It was a constant emotional roller-coaster filled with countless heartbreaks and many triumphs. Eventually, she did leave us, but not without showing us a better way to live.

Sunflower (Helianthis annuus), Portfield Road
Sunflower (Helianthis annuus), Portfield Road by Maigheach-gheal is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

Brighter Days Ahead

When a parent loses a child, it can be hard to recover. I am grateful to God that I did, even though it took a minute. Thankfully, we have been given a second chance with our daughter Monarch. She is the only child I carried full term. I did pregnancy my way and remained primarily stress free. She is my veggie, yoga baby, whom I spent lots of time forest bathing and grounding with while pregnant. I even had her at advanced maternal age–so never stop believing.  

Before my daughter’s death, I lived a high-stress life full of people pleasing. That is not the case today. We raise our children differently than we used to. Even as Black children, I want them to be free-thinking, have a close relationship with the environment, and radiate with love. Never underestimate the effects of stress on you, and how it transfers to your children. These things matter. They used to call me a hippie and a flower child. Now, Black hippies are everywhere, and I am committed to a life of sustainability to the best of my ability while educating others as well. Just maybe, you can will be inspired to become more concsious and live a better life, starting today.

5 Things To Consider Before Getting Your Residential Solar Panels, It’s Simpler Than You Think

black solar panels on brown roof
black solar panels on brown roof
Photo by Vivint Solar on Pexels.com

By now, many of us have read, or heard about, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) damning report on the state of the environment. On April 4, 2022- UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ made a public appeal to environmental leaders and the global community at-large, to hold leaders accountable for our climate issue. In his brief video, Guterres called for the swift implementation of renewable energy, in order to mitigate the rapidly accruing damages of greenhouse gas emissions, that stem from energy production.

The report came out a week after we installed our own residential solar panels. This is a huge win for our family as we push towards a more sustainable lifestyle. Over the past few years, I have come into an awareness that my desired minimalist, handcrafted lifestyle not only had a name, but a whole community — sustainable living — -and it’s very diverse in terms of ideas.

I often find that there are many people that have heard concepts surrounding renewable energy, zero waste living, and living off-grid but it seems out of reach or overly complex. However, it doesn’t have to be. One of the main ideologies of sustainable living involves everyone doing their part and giving space for our world will begin to recover organically.

What is renewable energy?

Renewable energy comes from natural sources like sunlight, wind, rain, plants, waves, and geothermal heat from the Earth’s core.

It’s good for the environment, good for you and cost-effective over time. 

The Biden-Harris administration has set a goal of creating a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035. While some still feel that this is an ambitious goal, everyday citizens can make the decision to get the balls of change rolling, and solar energy is a great start.

Residential solar energy is a way to reduce skyrocketing big energy costs and can quickly advance your sustainable goals and help improve our environment. Homeguide.com, residential panels can run from $10,000-$27,000 after the tax incentive. For many people, especially from low-income and marginalized communities solar panels will be a challenge for them to obtain. Even for middle class families, the expense can be too high. Thankfully, non-profits like Solstice Initiatives ,and the Black woman-owned WeSolar, are providing equity with community solar energy — no rooftop needed.

Photo by Jed Owen on Unsplash

If you do have a roof and you are excited to get started, here are 5 things to consider:

The Tax Credit. Time is ticking on the residential solar federal tax credit. The federal tax credit expires in 2024, unless Congress renews it. Currently, there is a 26% tax credit for homeowners. That decreases to 22% by 2023. According to Energy.gov, here’s how the costs are calculated:
For example, if your solar PV system was installed before December 31, 2022, cost $18,000, and your utility gave you a one-time rebate of $1,000 for installing the system, your tax credit would be calculated as follows: 
0.26 *($18,000 — $1,000) = $4,420 

If you are a homeowner and those savings matter to you, it’s time to get focused on making it happen.

Choosing the right company. Choose a company that doesn’t overcharge you upfront and essentially take away what you would be getting back in rebates. It’s always good to do your research and price compare. I would recommend no less than 3–6 months in order to do a deep dive into prices on the install, monitoring, and rebates. You can start here or if you are handy, go DIY.

Size matters. Bigger panels equals bigger savings. Which means more cost for you. You can expect to recoup the total cost 15–20 years down the line. But you will see the benefits in savings long before that. Also keep in mind, this is a season of legacy building. What you set up today is what you are leaving your family to improve upon and pass down for generations.

Understand your needs. Are you looking to cut costs on electricity or also have a battery back up? Tesla’s Powerall is an example of the battery backup system that gives you that near total independence you crave, but you will also need to buy their panels. You can’t purchase the Powerall as a standalone item.

Know the laws of your state because they vary. Solar panels may simply be a start for you. Maybe you want to DIY-it and go totally off-grid in the city. I would advise you to take a look at Primal Survivor. They’ve created an interactive map documenting off-grid laws in almost every state. Which is something to consider and also helpful in learning to manage your expectations with your solar setup.

I also hope that my fully transparent, lifelong pursuit of a sustainable life, will help ground some of the big ideas surrounding the environment and you can see where you fit inside the fight. This way of living ensures a good quality of life for all. In doing so, true change will emerge one family at a time.

Be sure to send me a message, or clap this story, if you found it helpful.