Fossil Channels Cardboard Challenge To Fit Dallas Trinity River

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

The imagination doesn’t need expensive materials or professional workmanship. All it needs is the freedom to be creative.

A little creativity could take on anything, even the expanse at the foot of Dallas’ Trinity River. That’s where the Fossil Foundation, a longtime Big Thought partner, comes in. They invited kids to Fossil’s Trinity Cardboard Innovation Challenge on Sept. 29, 2016 at the Ronald Kirk Pedestrian Bridge, which overlooks the river.

The late afternoon event gathered youth with artistic minds and turned them loose on tables full of Fossil tins, leather scraps, recycled cardboard boxes, milk cartons, paper towel tubes, Styrofoam, colorful tissue paper, poster tubes, shoeboxes, Ritz cracker boxes, lots of paint, and so much more. Their challenge: Design a structure, or more than one, that beautifies and functionalizes the Trinity River corridor.

“Your idea is just as worthy as anybody else’s,” says Jessi Moore, Fossil Foundation Specialist. “You can be creative with the materials you have on hand. This is such a hot topic, what to do with the Trinity corridor. It’s the importance of creative play and sharing your ideas. They want kids to be part of this conversation.”

The idea for Fossil’s Trinity Cardboard Innovation Challenge comes from the heartwarming and Internet-buzzing Caine’s Arcade story. Caine Monroy from East Los Angeles was 9 years old in 2012 when he decided to build a completely DIY cardboard arcade in his dad’s used auto parts store. His dream was to have people visit and play at his arcade.

Caine, who wasn’t having much luck getting customers for his makeshift arcade, was awestruck when a filmmaker named Nirvan Mullick not only walked into the store and actually play at his arcade, but he was so fascinated that he created an 11-minute documentary dubbed Caine’s Arcade. The film became an Internet sensation with more than 1 million views, garnered Caine $240,000 in donated college money, and prompted the start of a nonprofit organized named Imagination Foundation.

To date more than 500,000 kids nationally and internationally have engaged in DIY projects via the Global Cardboard Challenge, yet another amazing byproduct of the film.

So our own Dallas youth, cheered on by fellow Big Thought partners All Stars Project, SPARK! and Dallas Teacher Residency, all of which were in the house, got to cutting, painting and gluing. This was all about the educational uplift of creative play, yet another way to close the opportunity gap that disproportionately affects youth from under-resourced areas in the city.

Cruz Rendon, 18, a member of the Student African American Brotherhood Brother to Brother chapter at Mountain View College in Dallas, designed and constructed a stage that goes over the river. He would carefully take a charcoal-colored Fossil tin and suspend it over his homemade river, trees, and grassy area. The engineering required some thought, he admitted, but he was determined to make it work.

“I studied theater in high school and I feel like this bridge needs more entertainment, more arts,” he said. “Doing this is much more fun and really gets you thinking outside the box. This gives you a primal sense of creating.”

Isabel Adams, 13, was also hard at work a few tables down. She never looked up as she answered questions. She was engrossed in her tower apartments design. “I like doing arts,” she said, “and you can be extra creative with this.”

Two days later Fossil Foundation shared pictures of the event’s artworks on social media. The results: Colorful, innovative, imaginative, and beautifully DIY. Self-expression and creativity know no bounds.

Photo by Mario Tarradell










Big ThoughtFossil Channels Cardboard Challenge To Fit Dallas Trinity River

Spoken Word Movement DaVerse Lounge Returns For 12th Season

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Your best friend – that free-spirited, creatively sparked buddy that always makes you feel special, worthy – took a summer vacation. But now this cherished companion is back, ready to provide a safe haven for self-expression.

We’re talking about DaVerse Lounge, the spoken word movement that’s been a cultural signpost since its inception in 2005. DaVerse Lounge kicks off its 12th season October 7 from 7-10 pm at Life in Deep Ellum. That’s a milestone show that ushers in a new era.

DaVerse Lounge Season 12 will feature six events instead of the customary four. The expanded spate of shows is in direct response to the local and educational groundswell created at each DaVerse Lounge. In addition to the October 7 kick-off extravaganza, catch the DaVerse magic Nov. 11, Dec. 9, Feb. 3, March 3 and April 7, all at Life in Deep Ellum.

So what does the return of DaVerse Lounge mean? For more than 2,600 participants that have already stepped on the DaVerse Lounge stage, it means the chance to read again, to express their most intimate thoughts before a receptive audience. For countless other hopefuls, it means the opportunity to be heard, to be instantly accepted.

For the approximately 600 readers and listeners that attend each DaVerse Lounge, it means another evening basking in a free-flowing environment that welcomes and nurtures youth as well as adults with raw, honest spoken word, R&B-jazz music from Melody Memory bandleader and DaVerse Lounge mentor Alejandro Perez Jr., and impromptu painting.

What does DaVerse Lounge mean to the people behind the scenes – and in front of the crowd?

DaVerse Lounge means unconditional love and soulful acceptance.
– Will Richey, Creator, DaVerse Lounge

DaVerse Lounge means a cross pollination of the arts, culture, and communities reigniting creative conversation.
– Alejandro Perez, Jr., Mentor, DaVerse Lounge

DaVerse Lounge means using my bravery to not only share, but mostly to listen.
– Joel Triska, Owner, Life in Deep Ellum

DaVerse Lounge means freedom for teens around the Metroplex, the opportunity to speak and be heard.
– Shianne Patrick, Youth Development Specialist, Big Thought

The 2016-2017 season of DaVerse Lounge, a partnership between Big Thought and Journeyman Ink, promises a series of thematic shows. While those themes are still evolving, they will include collaborations with 29 Pieces, The Original Carter Literary Society (David W. Carter High School), and Big Thought’s Creative Solutions.

Anticipation is high as season 11 concluded on a decidedly electric high note. The April 2016 DaVerse Lounge drew 640 attendees, the largest turnout of the season. Forty-one students performed; 28 high schools, 13 middle schools, 3 elementary schools and 2 colleges were in the house; 17 of those schools were outside of the Dallas city limits, including McKinney, Mansfield, Greenville and Sam Houston high schools; and 13 Big Thought-supported DaVerse clubs attended.

Big Thought partnered with DaVerse Lounge and Richey’s own Journeyman Ink in 2009, after DaVerse’s first four years at the Dallas Theater Center. The relationship has been symbiotic, fueled by a three-tiered approach that includes learning via a school curriculum, practicing with the after-school DaVerse Works clubs, and performing at the DaVerse Lounge open-mic events. More than 200 DaVerse Works poetry club members use their own middle and high schools as platforms for self-expression.

So you see, DaVerse Lounge is that cherished best friend that means many things to many of us. One sentiment is certainly universal: We’re so happy it’s back.

DaVerse Lounge thanks TACA, Dallas Mavericks, and State Farm for generously supporting DaVerse Lounge.

Photo by Joseph Brewster









Big ThoughtSpoken Word Movement DaVerse Lounge Returns For 12th Season

Giving Makes Us Feel Good: The Art of Philanthropy

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Giving makes us feel good. That isn’t a simplistic statement, or one intended to cajole fists full of donations. It’s truth, scientifically proven truth.

A New York Times story from December 2015 analyzes the “feel-good school of philanthropy,” which falls into two baskets of motivation. There is effective altruism, which uses hardcore scientific data to calculate and show people exactly how to ensure the impact of each dollar they contribute.

Then we have the emotional high of giving, of finding heartfelt satisfaction in improving the lives of others through persistent financial support. That high is good for the soul.

“Emotion may also make altruism healthier,” writes Jamil Zaki. “Generosity not only makes givers feel good, but reduces their stress level and even extends their lives.”

Which brings us to North Texas Giving Day, the annual local celebration of philanthropy that begins at 6 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 22, and ends as the clock chimes midnight. NTGD is your chance to support Big Thought.

At Big Thought, our goal is to bridge the opportunity gap by bringing quality, imagination-based programming to 150,000 under-resourced students across 433 sites in Dallas. We do this everyday with the top-of-mind realization that every child deserves a great education.

Together with our many partners, here are some of the enriching programs we provide:

Dallas City of Learning – A public-private citywide partnership with the City of Dallas and Dallas ISD to ensure all students have access to summer learning opportunities that stems summer learning loss. In the course of three years, with the help and guidance of approximately 150 partners, the DCoL initiative provided programming at over 100 locations, serving approximately 50,000 students.

Creative Solutions – A partnership with the Dallas County Juvenile Department and Southern Methodist University to create performing and visual arts programs for disengaged youth in the juvenile system and lower the recidivism rate. Since its inception in 1994, Creative Solutions has helped 12,000 students find their way back after being convicted of a crime and experiencing probation.

Learning Partners – An initiative that provides public school educators with access to thousands of imaginative, high-quality programs and field trips to help teachers bring learning to life in the classroom. In 2015, nearly 83,000 students benefitted from Learning Partners with more than 1.5 million total hours of programming.

DaVerse Lounge – A cultural movement that’s a partnership between Big Thought and Journeyman Ink with generous support from TACA. DaVerse Lounge creator Will Richey is the mastermind behind this spoken word program that empowers youth by giving them a voice. DaVerse Lounge events, coupled with the DaVerse Works poetry clubs and curriculum in schools, take place at Life in Deep Ellum. This year we have 6 shows – Oct. 7, Nov. 4, Dec. 2, Feb. 3, March 3, and April 7.

See all that giving can do? So whether you are fueled by the emotion or the science, the end results are the same. Your contribution will make a huge difference in the lives of others. Giving is definitely good.




Big ThoughtGiving Makes Us Feel Good: The Art of Philanthropy

Summer Thanks for Another Successful Dallas City of Learning Season

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Summer isn’t officially over yet. That’s right, you can still wear shorts and flip-flops to the cool pool party. But kids are back in school and Dallas City of Learning is in wrap-up and assess mode.

So this is a huge thank you to our neighborhood partners, to the Dallas ISD Summer Achievers Academy, to another triumphant Creative Solutions summer program at Southern Methodist University, to great Library Live! programming, to so many engaged students, to the many community sites that opened their doors to children, and to the tireless Big Thought and Dallas City of Learning staff that hauled swag, laptops, banners, signage, and welcoming smiles. Big Thought, with the help and guidance of approximately 60 partners, delivered or supported programming at over 100 locations serving approximately 16,000 students.

The 2016 Dallas City of Learning program numbers are still trickling in and final tabulations are in calculation, but we do have preliminary estimates that already underscore an active and successful season for our kids:

  • 5 Turn Up! Events with 4,900 student participants
  • 42 Pop Up! and Mobile Tech XPerience Events with 2,500 student participants
  • 1,776 Dallas Summer Achievers Academy students at 8 sites
  • 80 students in our Creative Solutions summer program at Southern Methodist University
  • 36 sites for Turn Up!, Pop Up! and MXP Events
  • 46 sites in the DCoL Neighborhood Resource Initiative with 3,150 students served
  • 46 Neighborhood Partners
  • 29 Library Live! sites with 1,600 students served

We want to extend another shout-out of gratitude to our super dedicated neighborhood partners, many of which were spotlighted on our Big Thought and Dallas City of Learning websites. If you missed those spotlights, here’s a quick recap:

“Our participation in Dallas City of Learning is exposing our scholars to engaging robotics programs, radio and TV production, as well as enhancing their reading comprehension skills,” says KD Brown, Program Manager, Frazier Revitalization. Read the Frazier story.

“My vision for one aspect of the future of education is that it becomes a platform to support every child to be connected to quality after school programs and developmental experiences,” says Antoine Joyce, City Leader, All Stars Project of Dallas. Read the All Stars story.

“Summer learning is extremely important because it helps kids continue to work on their academic skills without missing a beat,” says Lori Carey, Community Engagement Manager at SPARK! Read the SPARK! story.

“Summer provides students a chance to explore interests and access opportunities that aren’t available in a classroom setting,” says Janet Morrison, Director, EAGLE Scholars. Read the EAGLE Scholars story.

“Our youth enjoy going to the DCoL website and finding ArtsVision programs on the site,” says Fran Jefferey Anderson, Artistic Director, ArtsVision Performing and Visual Arts Program. “They think it is cool that someone thinks enough of them to create something so ‘neat’ as DCoL.” Read the ArtsVision story.

“Summer learning is extremely important because it highlights the biggest tool we have to fight poverty – education!” says Reverend Donald Parish, Youth Pastor, True Lee Missionary Baptist Church. Read the True Lee story.

“Our vision and passion at Bishop’s Camp for the future of education is to teach the child as a whole,” says Jessica Bell, Program Director, Bishop’s Camp. Read the Bishop’s Camp story.

“Partnering with Dallas City of Learning enables us to reach a wider audience,” says JaMonica Washington, Youth Development Director, Lakewest Family YMCA, “and helps the teens find different things that may interest them from a variety of different activities.” Read the Lakewest YMCA story.

“Summer learning programs have the potential to help children and youth improve their academic learning and other outcomes,” says Keith Vinson, Vice President of Operations, YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas. Read the Moorland and Oak Cliff YMCA story.

“The vision and passion for the future of education is to create lifelong conservationist and environmental stewards in every student,” says Shannon Linton, Youth Learning Supervisor, Dallas Zoo. Read the Dallas Zoo story.

“Dallas City of Learning is an ideal partner for Dallas Youth Poets,” says Joaquin Zihuatanejo, Founder, Dallas Youth Poets. “Together we can spread the word about each other’s movements. And both movements exist to empower youth.” Read the Dallas Youth Poets story.  

“Every child – every student – deserves an education that will prepare him or her for the future,” says Keith Mondy, Executive Director, Project Still I Rise.“ Read the Project Still I Rise story.

“Minds are like plants that need to be watered,” says Audrey Turner, Assistant Program Specialist, The Writer’s Garret. Read The Writer’s Garret story.

“We consider education to be an inalienable right and with it a surety of equal and equitable access for all children,” says Ronald Oliver, Director, Fine Arts Nth. Read the Fine Arts Nth story.

“The vision for Tackle Summer Slide is that students, families and communities have access to the knowledge, resources and opportunities to close the reading achievement gap,” says Jonathan Feinstein, Director of Community Engagement, Commit! Partnership. Read the Tackle Summer Slide story.

“My vision for education is to be able to get each child outside to experience the power of nature first hand,” says Kayleigh Medeiros, Education Manager, Trinity River Audubon Center. Read the TRAC story.

We thank our many Dallas City of Learning donors. For a complete list of DCoL donors, please visit bigthought.org/dallascityoflearning.

Photo by Can Turkyilmaz @turk_studio

Big ThoughtSummer Thanks for Another Successful Dallas City of Learning Season

Let’s Talk Event Fosters Unity Between Dallas Police and Kids

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Early Thursday morning would normally be quiet time at Winspear Opera House. But on August 11 it was hardly business as usual at the arts district venue, its deep red-ringed architecture welcomed several buses filled with kids ages 10-15.

The lobby bustled as Let’s Talk: 2016 Dallas Police & Youth Forum quickly cranked into high gear. There’s a media gridlock hovered around Dallas Police Chief David Brown. Before you could blink, there’s former Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith and fullback Daryl Johnston. The four-hour Let’s Talk event organized by the Dallas Police Department encouraged an open dialogue with kids, the kind of easy communication that demolishes stereotypes as it builds bridges.

This was a chance for kids to meet officers, not to mention a few local celebrities, and learn the reading, writing and arithmetic of your friendly neighborhood men and women in blue. Kids were treated to breakfast and lunch, as well as a ton of free swag from Dallas Police Dive Team, All Stars Project, Department of Justice, Dallas Fire Rescue Department, Kids and Cops, Inc., Dallas City Health and Human Services, Eckerd Kids, DART, South Texas Dental, Dallas Public Library, YMCA, UNT Dallas, City of Dallas Teen Court Program, Dallas Area Rapid Transit Police, Dallas City of Learning, the citywide initiative managed by Big Thought, and many more.

Reporters and TV cameras were everywhere. Photographers – professional and amateur – snapped away with cameras and cell phones. Kids breathlessly skipped from booth to booth soaking up the sensory overload experience.

Chief Brown opened the program inside the Winspear theater and his inspirational remarks resonated as he reached into his personal history to foster a sense of camaraderie, an always-powerful connection that speaks eye-level from human to human.

“You have to surround yourself with positive people who do great things,” says Chief Brown. “When you surround yourself with positive people who do great things, guess what’s going to happen to you? Great things!”

The event was as much a meet-and-greet with your neighborhood cops as it was a pep rally meant to give kids the support and motivation they need to succeed in life. In other words, Let’s Talk served as yet another way to close the opportunity gap that disproportionately affects low-income youth in Dallas.

“It’s important to engage with our young people, and it’s important to communicate with our young people,” says Chief Brown. “We want to make sure you, your sisters and your brothers are safe. We ask you to treat every citizen with respect no matter how old they are or what town they came from. We won’t tolerate anything less.”

The presentation included more motiving words from nationally syndicated radio personality and TV host Rock-T Holla as well as a DJ, color guards, a kids dance competition, T-shirt giveaways by Mavs Man, prizes for kids and adult chaperones, and a mini talent show by All Stars Project kids.

Antoine Joyce, All Stars Project City Leader, used to be a hip-hop dancer. He believes in the power of performing, not only as a way to envision a future but also as a key to survival. “Performing gave me something to believe in and be a part of,” he says. “It gave me something to do with the anger I had about growing up poor. When you perform you can instill something positive in your life instead of anger.”

That basic, extremely important message made its way into every presentation on that black curtain-draped stage. Think positive, be positive, do the right thing. Smith and Johnston shared their personal stories about playing football, stories that proved to be quite universal. These are life lessons for everybody.

“In football we have one common goal,” says Smith. “We don’t think about race. We don’t think about religion. We respect each other. We want to win the games so we can become champions of the world. That way we can also become champions in life.”

Johnston chimed in with this nugget: “We have a role in the team,” he says. “We ask each other to do your job to the best of your abilities. It’s the same thing in life, in asking you to have the courage to do the right thing.”

Tap into your talent, and that talent could lead you to becoming a police officer. Chief Brown was a perennial cheerleader for police department recruitment, challenging kids to be the leaders of tomorrow by becoming police officers. Then they could help shape the next generation of adults.

With that in mind, six Dallas police officers offered a panel discussion about proper behavior in the presence of a law enforcement member. The rules are easy to remember: Stay calm, keep your hands visible, and don’t retaliate with resistance. All citizens should always be treated fairly by police officers. They encouraged everyone to report what they believe to be unfair treatment by a member of law enforcement. Later, kids were grouped by ages and genders to participate in breakout sessions about their relationships with police officers.

Outside of the Winspear, not far from the signature B-I-G sign and an impressive Dallas Police Marshal truck, Joli Angel Robinson, Manager, Office of Community Affairs at the Dallas Police Department, stressed the importance of working together, of nurturing valuable partnerships that benefit the community we all live in.

“This really helps us build relationships,” says Robinson. “You have to be in the community every day. It’s about being consistent. Our units go out and talk about safety. It’s about having an open dialogue. We have an amazing partnership with Big Thought. A partnership with Big Thought really allows the police department to partner with the awesome efforts you already have.”

Big Thought thanks the Dallas Police Department, All Stars Project, Dallas Public Library, YMCA, and our many other great partners for the continuous support. We also extend sincere gratitude to our Dallas City of Learning donors. For a full list of DCoL contributors, please visit bigthought.org/dallascityoflearning.

Photo by Can Turkyilmaz @turk_studio

Big ThoughtLet’s Talk Event Fosters Unity Between Dallas Police and Kids

Acclaimed Poet, Author Jamaal May Polishes Pearls of Wisdom

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Poetry is a balm capable of cleansing and soothing the soul even during the most turbulent times. For many it is like food, water and shelter – absolutely necessary for survival.

Award-winning I Love to Read poet and author Jamaal May, a native of Detroit, knows all too well the paramount power of poetry. May, who penned Hum (Alice James Books, 2013) and The Big Book of Exit Strategies (Alice James Books, 2016), read from his critically acclaimed works during a Dallas City of Learning Turn Up! event Thursday, Aug. 4 at Highland Hills Library. May’s appearance was made possible with the support and assistance of Big Thought partner Project Still I Rise.

He spoke to an attentive audience of 60, including impressionable adolescents eager to soak up knowledge from a published scribe. His appearance, his willingness to share went a long way in closing the opportunity gap that disproportionately affects low-income youth.

During his presentation, which was followed by a meet-and-greet with autographs and photos, May offered his nuggets of wisdom. He was inspiring and pragmatic, earthy and eloquent. He answered questions from the crowd as well as from James Adams, Big Thought’s Manager of Programs.

We have shining examples of May’s pearls from his head and heart. We’ll call them Jamaalisms.

• “You have to tell your own story, or someone else is going to tell it for you.”

• “If you can’t write it down, it didn’t happen.”

• “Writing for me is like meditation.”

• “The physical act of writing it down is like a catharsis.”

• “I want to reflect, I don’t want to just respond.”

• “The conversation about writers of color has happened so fast, that it has changed so much in the last five years.”

• “You have your times of struggles, and you have your chill time. Always make sure you take that chill time.”

• “Always be present where you are in regards to your goals.”

• “My first slam poems were actually hip-hop songs.”

• “Rap for me is a category that falls under poetry.”

• “Hip-hop is spoken word and music.”

Big Thought sends sincere thanks to Jamaal May, Project Still I Rise, Highland Hills Library and Dallas Public Library for their collaborative support. We also extend gratitude to our many Dallas City of Learning donors. For a complete list of DCoL donors, please visit bigthought.org/dallascityoflearning.

Big ThoughtAcclaimed Poet, Author Jamaal May Polishes Pearls of Wisdom