Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Bernice King wants us to look 'Beyond the Dream'

     Daughter of acclaimed civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. presented a speech titled “Raising the Standard” on Tuesday Jan. 24.

     Dr. Bernice A. King called for real, positive change in today’s society, and for everyone to see beyond her father’s acclaimed “I Have a Dream” speech of 1963 and look at his work in the years that followed, with a focus on the severe economic issues that we still face today.

     A representative from Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer's office came on behalf of Dyer to speak after King's speech. He announced that Jan. 24 will officially be recognized as “Dr. Bernice A. King Day” in the city of Orlando, and also awarded her with a ceremonial key to the city.

     During the speech King quoted French poet and human rights activist Victor Hugo, who once said, “If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but the one who causes the darkness.”

     She used this quote to point out the complacency a majority of today’s society has toward the problems facing the world. The current generation needs to take action, said King, because as she sees it, this generation is not inheriting a better nation than the previous.

     Though great strides have been made made toward justice and equality since the civil rights movement, explained King, there is still much left to be done to ensure the stability of this nation through the prosperity of its people.

     “The part of the darkness in our society is not because of those who perpetuate injustices and wrongdoings,” said King. “It’s because of the millions of us who are complacent, who refuse to get involved in changing our society for the better.”

     King predicts a time like the turbulent 1960s, when, as a nation, citizens may have to go out and show their displeasure with the current state of America. With issues like the lack of health care, high unemployment, the foreclosure crises, a crumbling infrastructure of roads and bridges, and a general breakdown in the political arena, society is reaching a crossroad, according to King. 

     These issues — as well as the global financial crisis — reflect a broken system of government that continues to worsen as problems are continually ignored.

     Fighting the rise in apathy is part of what raising the standard is all about. Along with a focus on improving our educational standards and society in general. King called for society to rally together and strive to avoid the social and moral deterioration that threatens America today.

     “Definitely a great message to spread, to get students more active in our education, and let them know that there are many important issues we need to address,” said Luis Cano, student government president at Valencia’s East Campus.

     Throughout the speech King received several positive reactions from a focused and seemingly spell-bound audience. Numerous audience members could be heard comparing her strong, passionate and focused church-revivalist-delivery style to that of her late, great father. Many feel King is one of the strongest leaders for social change in this generation.

     “I hope that students take away those central core values and character essentials that are so important to all of us as human beings, and certainly as citizens of this great nation,” said Falecia Williams, president of Valencia’s West Campus.

By James Tutten

(Published: Feb. 1, 2012 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 3.)

(All photos by James Tutten)

Bernice A. King speaks with guests at a book signing for her first book "Hard Questions, Heart Answers."

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Florida may decide front-runner of 2012 GOP race

     The political eyes of the nation are on Florida this week after the unprecedented shake-up and come from behind win by Newt Gingrich in last Saturday’s South Carolina primary election. Only a few weeks ago former Governor Mitt Romney was two for two in primary elections and slated for his third victory in South Carolina.

     Unexpected calculation errors were discovered last week for the original Iowa Caucus on Jan. 3. When the votes were recounted the winner was found to be the former Senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum, and not a narrow victory by Romney.

     Past election results are used by political analysts to predict the final party nominee. Whoever wins the first two state elections goes on to be the nominee, or who ever wins in South Carolina goes on to be the party’s nominee. This is the first time the first three states have gone to three different candidates, and in an election where more than half of the voters are consistently undecided just days before going to the polls.

     Decisions of who people vote for are coming down to the last minute in the undecided majority. This shows that many voters are paying close attention to the debates and what the candidates really have to say about the issues.

     Some now equate the former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s victory in South Carolina to be the result of a fiery response during the start of the CNN debate last Thursday, just 36 hours before the election. 

     Gingrich was asked by the debate moderator John King about accusations from his ex-wife, Marianne Gingrich, involving an alleged request for permission for infidelity or an “open marriage.” Gingrich adamantly denied this accusation in a scalding response that attacked the media, and the overall negative tone of his rivals’ campaigns through political attack adds funded by faceless super PACs.

     Gingrich, with his questionable past, ethics violations, and post-political ties to lobbyist in Washington, blew the assumed front runner Mitt Romney out of the water, and received a large majority of the vote totaling over 40 percent. This was partly explained by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, during an interview he gave on CBS Sunday Morning, where he said voters in his state want a candidate with strong convictions. So a candidate who is challenged on a strong issue and defends himself well enough can win over an undecided voter. And a weak or unsure answer -- like Romney on releasing his tax returns -- will cause a candidate to lose voter support.

     So with split winners in the first three states, the GOP is now set in an essential tie, starting from scratch going into the fourth state for the first time in history. All eyes and attention on this Republican election will be focused on the state of Florida.

     The Romney camp, which has spent millions in political adds over the past few weeks, will now be joined by all other candidates. There has been more high stakes mass-marketing political advertisement in these campaign than has been seen before, because this is the first election after the Supreme Court’s decision on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allows unlimited funding to political action groups under the right of free speech.

     The 2008 election results are often used during political analysis which favors McCain and Romney, but more recently on Sept. 24, 2011 there was a straw poll in Orlando. This can give some indication of the Florida vote, but results are also unreliable because the top two finishers were Herman Cain and Rick Perry -- who are no longer in the race.

     Gingrich, with his newly found momentum, will have to work hard and spend fast to repair his poor showing in the Florida straw poll, where representative delegates from every county in the state only gave him less than nine percent of the vote.

     Florida moved up its primary day for the reason, to have more political sway in the election process. As said by Florida Governor Rick Scott at the Republican convention last September, “The state of Florida has a larger population than the other primary and caucus states combined.”

     There’s over 10 million more, to be specific, with a population representing far more diversity in age range and ethnicity. This, on top of the undecided status of the election, leads Florida toward truly being the most important primary state in this election so far.

     With a smaller, more focused field of potential candidates, the attack adds will be flying, the accusations will get nasty, and the state of Florida gets a chance to reverse the preconceived notion that this is a state of confused centenarian voters, baffled by which lever to pull, having no real idea about political issues in Washington. 

     One of the more diverse and highly populated states in America, Florida now has the opportunity to determine who the Republican party nominee will be to face-off against President Obama’s re-election bid during the national election.

     Though considered a “swing state,” Florida has been a strongly Republican state in the past. This is a unique opportunity to not only help elect the party nominee, but also rally the GOP for the Republican National Convention in Tampa later this year in August, a sentiment that harkens back to the attention the state received during the 2000 national election between Bush and Gore.

     If the late, great broadcast journalist, Tim Russert, were still alive today, he would surely don his iconic whiteboard, proclaiming “Florida Florida Florida” at the forefront of the political limelight once again.

By James Tutten

(Published: Jan. 25, 2012 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 7.)

(Above photo by James Tutten)

New Orleans artist shares with a personal touch

     Haunting visual works of the tragic and rich region of New Orleans are now featured at the Anita S. Wooten Gallery at Valencia College's East Campus. Artist Barbara Brainard attended the opening night of her exhibit to talk about what inspired her artwork, and also answered questions from those in attendance.

     “There has been a lot of interest in exactly what they are looking at, because the city is so diverse and complicated geographically,” said Brainard. A resident of New Orleans for 30 years, Brainard was inspired by the paintings of abstract impressionist Richard Diebenkorn, and her post grad-school work with mono-type artwork.

     The artwork featured in the gallery are mono-types which are created by etching ink on a plate which is then transferred onto paper over the plate with a press. It’s a style that has been around for over 370 years and has a damp and aged look with a random outcome. Some of the works featured were only recently finished by the artist and sent to this display directly from her studio.

     Close examination of the artwork will show several details with an overall foggy and somber feel. In a city surrounded and often equated with water, an impression is given of the damage done -- the city is now a ghost of its former self.

     Brainard spoke about most of the pieces describing the sights, sounds, and smells of each location. Brief history lessons were also given, mostly involving once great or sadly still unrecovered landscapes, with a strong focus on the architecture of iconic buildings, and with back stories that you wouldn't normally note from the misty images.

     “It’s very unique work, and it’s so good to have it explained in detail,” said Samuel Ramos, a second year art student. He, along with over 50 others, were in attendance to hear Brainard go into extended details during her presentation.

     A lot of the details of post-Katrina New Orleans are genuinely unsettling and hard for outsiders to fully understand. Seven years later some of the scars still haven’t healed, and the city continues to rot as areas continue to fall into disorder.

     “It’s a gritty city and this style works really well with that; it let’s the images swirl,” said Karen Cowden, professor of reading at Valencia.

     Being tied to such an interesting city, this exhibit provides a diverse opportunity for students and the general public to be reminded of the story of New Orleans, and how this can teach lessons for the future.

     “Our students are able to come in, see this with their professors and talk about what this means," said Ruth Prather, president at Valencia’s East Campus. "So it’s applicable to almost every discipline that we have.” 

     If you missed the opening night you still have plenty of time to view this free gallery, which will run through March 9, 2012. More information can be found at

By James Tutten

(Published: Feb 1, 2012 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 4.)

(All photos by Stephanie Williams / Valencia Voice)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Valencia's President Sandy Shugart live in concert

     A special musical performance by Valencia’s president and singer-songwriter, Dr. Sanford "Sandy" Shugart, was held at the Garden Theater in Winter Garden on Jan. 14. Funds raised from this event will be used to create future internships at the Garden Theater for Valencia’s performing arts students.

     This money will be set aside to create real job opportunities for arts and entertainment students.

     “It’s just a little way to continue to weave the connection between the college and the community,” said Shugart.

     This performance marked the release of Shugart’s fourth album, called “Distance We Keep,” that was recorded through Valencia supported FlatFoot Records. 

     Shugart is a busy man, overseeing more than 75,000 students and five different campuses, so live performances are indeed a rare treat for any of his fans, friends, and family. His family, Shugart adds, has a deeply rich love of musical performance and singing.

     The nearly sold out 299 seat garden theater was an ideal setting for such a laid-back and intimate performance. The stage was set like a simple living room with an old worn-in couch and a small beige acoustic upright piano.

     Shugart’s musical style is the purest form of classic American folk, complete with mandolin and violin accompaniments, steady pumping bass rhythms and a warm singing style similar to the late, great John Denver.

(Click above to watch video)
(Produced by James Tutten)

     “I couldn't compare him to another artist, but I can say he’s an original mix of folk, country, a little contemporary,” said Bruce Young, financial adviser at Edward Jones and friend of Shugart.

     Throughout the show there were also lighthearted moments of story-telling by Shugart with brief accounts of what inspired certain songs he wrote. One audience member even joked during a quiet moment in one particularly emotional song, “Sandy I thought you said you weren't going to make us cry tonight.”

     Emotions truly run high in touching folk songs like “Carolina Pines” and “The Way Back Home.” And in addition to easy going songs were some upbeat tunes with funny lessons, like how the rat-race of life can turn you into a rat, or the classic southern story of the crazy uncle that taught you how to drive, shoot, and swear as a “youngin.”

     Audience member and professor of English, Rebecca Shevlin, said, “It shows you can have your independence, your education and your talent all combined into one. And I think that's brilliant.”

     The Garden Theater is a historical location that was originally used to show tractors to local farmers back in the 1930s. Shugart worked with the theater over four years ago during their most recent renovations to help build the location into a functional live performance location.

     Though now viewed by some as a celebration of Valencia's Aspen Prize win and recognition of Shugart’s work, this connection with the Garden Theater and Valencia has been ongoing for several years. It’s further strengthened by the plans for new internship opportunities for Valencia arts and entertainment students.

     More information about this and future events can be found at the Garden Theater’s website at And Sandy Shugart’s music can be found on iTunes and

     Shugart stated that he feels strong for the arts and entertainment program at Valencia. Being a musical performer himself, and he is inspired by the hard work and continued success of the student body at Valencia.

By James Tutten

(Published: Jan. 18, 2012 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 1 and 2.)

(All photos by James Tutten)

Benefits of technology explored at Otronicon 2012

Tyree Jackson of Carver Middle School tries on latest MRI headset and goggles at the annual Otronicon expo.

The 7th annual Otronicon is the largest technology expo in Orlando and kick off at the Orlando Science Center on Jan. 13. This events focuses on how modern technology impacts how we all live, learn, work, and play.

(Click above to watch video)
(Produced by James Tutten)

(Above photo courtesy of Christopher Correa / Valencia Voice) 

Guest speaker will bring accounts of Liberian war

     Stories about the violent First and Second Liberian Civil Wars will be presented at the Special Events Center at Valencia College's West Campus on Jan. 26, by guest speaker Agnes Umunna.

     Umunna is a journalist who has produced and hosted a Liberian radio program called “Straight from the Heart.”

     The program was designed to encourage Liberians to call in and recount their experiences over the 14 year conflict that took hundreds of thousands of lives and embodied the horrors of war, including children armed with machine guns who were used as soldiers.

     Umunna will be speaking with classes throughout the day, and is scheduled for a meet and greet event at 6:30 p.m. This will be followed by a free screening of the critically acclaimed film, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” winner of best documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2008.

     The film tells the story of a peace movement called Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, which was organized by social worker Leymah Gbowee, whose actions helped end the civil war in 2003. She was also a recipient of The Nobel Peace Prize 2011.

     This event is organized by Valencia’s H.E.R.O.S. club, and in partnership with the Global Peace Film Festival and Valencia’s Peace and Justice Initiative. H.E.R.O.S.’s main goals are furthering education about global injustices and empathy toward underprivileged individuals.

     The free showing of the film “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” will be held at 7 p.m. in the Special Events Center, and will be followed by an open discussion lead by Umunna.

     The event’s organizers promise that this will be a powerful and engaging event that will inspire students to work for creating a better world. Detailed accounts of war violence may be disturbing to some viewers, but the lessons learned will enrich all who wish to learn from the past.

By James Tutten

(Published: Jan. 18, 2012 issue of "Valencia Voice" on pages 3.)

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