Dec 26 2010

Tyler Perry’s Extreme Makeover…Burned Home Edition

So, I realize Tyler Perry is an entertainment mega-mogul who owns his own friggin’ film studio, but it is still pretty difficult to think of him and not get a visual of the makeover he undergoes to portray grandma Madea–an extreme makeover that led to him becoming the extremely rich man he now is.

Two days before Christmas Mr. Perry used a bit of that money he’s earned to help a real-life grandmother rebuild the home she’s lived in for forty years after it burned to the ground. 88-year-old Rosa Lee Ransby and the seven great-grandchildren she is raising by herself escaped injury but were left homeless by the tragedy.

The local fire chief asked the Coweta, GA community for donations to assist the family, and within hours Tyler, who lives in nearby Atlanta, came to the rescue in a major way.

Not only is Mr. Perry paying for Ms. Ransby’s home to be reconstructed, he has rented a home nearby for her and her family to live in until their new home is finished, which will be sometime next year. Tyler will fill the home with new furniture as well.

It is a time like this that must make being a several hundred millionaire feel pretty amazing.

Click the link below to view a video of the 88-year-old woman, her great-grandchildren and the local fire chief who said the gesture made his Christmas. “I’ve been doing this a long time – seen a lot of bad things come and go – but this is special.”

Dec 18 2010

Sleepovers to Resume at Neverland Ranch…

When a dozen cars filled with police investigators pulled up at the gates of Michael Jackson’s  Neverland Ranch seven years ago, it’s as if they brought along some kind of Dr. Evil-inspired device that could suck every last bit of magic out of a place. Though Michael remained there throughout his trial, once he was acquitted of all charges he and his children left their Neverland home and never went back.

My daughters and I spent two amazing days at the ranch just four weeks prior to that raid, and I can tell you first hand there isn’t another place on earth quite like it–as it used to be, that is.  We rode the amusement park rides, played in Michael’s incredible game room and enjoyed an awesome concert put on by the organization “Oneness” in honor of artist Romero Britto. We slept in a guest room above the movie theater where Michael had designed glass-fronted rooms with hospital beds where terminally ill children could experience the magic of being at the movies (while they were hooked up to the tubes and machines needed to keep them alive). The movie Seabiscuit was playing the night we were there.

Our two days at Neverland were filled with way too much magic to describe here, but I can confirm reports that there were ice cream carts everywhere,  and yes, an endless supply of candy and popcorn free for the taking. One of the highlights of the visit for me was sitting in an open field with Michael’s orangutan Brandy who developed a little crush on me and wanted to share a can of Coca Cola. (No it wasn’t Pepsi, and I had to pretend to drink from it or risk hurting her feelings.)

Today, TMZ is reporting that Colony Capital, who now owns the property, wants to turn Neverland into a music institute — similar to The Juilliard  School in NYC where teens of diverse backgrounds will live and learn all aspects of music, including writing and performing. Wow. Of all the rumored possibilities we’ve heard for Michael’s once-beloved retreat, I can’t help but believe he might most approve of this one. What better way to honor the greatest entertainer who has ever lived, than to turn his once magic kingdom into a place where young people can go to develop their musical gifts.

The world will certainly benefit if Michael’s “Giving Tree” inspires more of the incredible music he says it inspired in him.

“God gave us talent to give; to help people, and to give back.” -MJ

You can read TMZ’s exclusive story here.

Dec 15 2010

The Sexiest Teacher Alive: Don’t Let the Clark Kent Steez Fool You

I mean no disrespect to Geoffrey Canada’s wife, but her husband is my idea of what a real man looks like.

Okay, okay, before I get myself in too much trouble, let me clarify that in using the term “sexy” to describe this married  father of six, I am respectfully referring to the non-erotic definition: “arousing intense excitement.”

Just so you know, I’m not the only person in the world admitting to being intensely excited by the man. Geoffrey has aroused the ardor of a diverse body of media personalities including David Letterman,  Ed Bradley, Stephen Colbert, Anderson Cooper, Oprah Winfrey and Glenn Beck.  When Oprah first laid eyes on him she flung her arms wide for a hug and gushed, “I just want to kiss you.” (I’m feeling you, O.)

The President of the United States called Canada “a pioneer…saving a generation of children.”  First lady Michelle Obama referred lovingly to him as “one of my heroes,” and an award-winning documentary about him entitled “Waiting for Superman” (yes, that is a reference to Geoffrey) was released this fall to critical acclaim.

If you’re not up on what this man does for a living, I’m going to have to let you Google that, because as ambitious and awe-inspiring as it is, I am on a more personal mission here.  Here’s the short version of why he’s garnered so much attention:

Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone is transforming a 97-block area into a community of stakeholders whose primary focus is educating the program’s 8,000+ (mostly poor) children to such high levels that 100% of them will graduate from college. (Yes, you read that right.)

What Mr. Canada does is undoubtedly worthy of great respect and praise, but why he does it should also be the subject of a documentary as far as I’m concerned.  What motivates a man with a Master’s Degree from Harvard to invest it in Harlem? We can easily observe that  he shows incredible passion and tenacity in pursuing quality education for all, but what exists deep down in the man that leads him to devote his life to saving other people’s children?

Geoffrey says the calling to serve his community rang in his ears at a very young age–on one of the saddest days of his life.

“…my mother told me Superman did not exist.”

He cried.

“I read comic books and just loved them because even in the depths of the ghetto you thought, ‘He’s coming, I just don’t know when, because he always shows up and he saves all the good people’.”

Geoffrey’s mother thought he was crying for the same reason a child mourns upon learning that Santa Claus is not real, but even at such a young age, he knew his loss of Superman had devastating  implications.

“I was crying because there was no one coming with enough power to save us.”

Some fifty years later, while most of us stand around arguing about whether it is poor leadership, ill-prepared teachers, uninvolved parents, disinterested students, or a multitude of other excuses for why millions of children are being academically shortchanged, this man chooses to focus instead on high expectations and successful solutions.

The urgency he feels about educating children is reflected in this excerpt from a poem entitled “Don’t Blame Me,” written by Canada in 2007.

If there is a God or a person supreme,
A final reckoning, for the kind and the mean,
And judgment is rendered on who passed the buck,
Who blamed the victim or proudly stood up,
You’ll say to the world, “While I couldn’t save all,
I did not let these children fall.
By the thousands I helped all I could see.
No excuses, I took full responsibility.
No matter if they were black or white,
Were cursed, ignored, were wrong or right,
Were shunned, pre-judged, were short or tall,
I did my best to save them all.”
And I will bear witness for eternity
That you can state proudly,
“Don’t blame me.”

I love this super man.