Tag Archive | "Nia Phillips"

[VIDEO] Kicks, Flips, and Respect

[VIDEO] Kicks, Flips, and Respect

People are learning the art of grappling and ground fighting just steps away from Penn Station. Nia Phillips spent time with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instructor, Magno Gama, who teaches students that winning and losing are just part of the game.

Reported & Produced by Nia Phillips and Magdalene Castro

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[VIDEO] Sounds of Brazil in Midtown

[VIDEO] Sounds of Brazil in Midtown

Brazilian guitarist João Kouyoumdjian performed at the Brazilian Endowment for the Arts in New York City on East 52nd St. Nia Phillips reports on how the young musician is breathing new life into the classics.

Produced by Colleen McKown.

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[VIDEO] Cigarettes Down, Cigars UP

Cigar rooms are one to the only establishments where smoking is permitted in New York City. Nia Phillips visited a cigar room in Hamilton Heights to see what’s driving the trend.

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Runners Race in Central Park Despite Canceled Marathon

By Nia Phillips–Even though New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg canceled the ING New York City Marathon just two days before it was to start, he couldn’t stop people from running.

Several hundred runners, many of whom had journeyed to New York from around the world, participated in an event called “Run Anyway 2012” that involved running four loops around the roads of Central Park.

Running through Central Park on Sunday, it was almost possible to forget that a Hurricane had struck New York less than a week earlier. The only reminders were the yellow caution tape surrounding fallen trees or the toppled fence around the tennis courts. Regardless, the runners still came to run, even if it meant having to dodge pedestrians, cyclists, and pets. Although runners planned to meet in the park, they could not shut down its trails from the public because it was an unofficial race.

The official race, which was cancelled late Friday, had been scheduled to start on Staten Island, one of the most devastated parts of the city following Hurricane Sandy, and end 26.2 miles later in Central Park.

With 40,000 runners expected to arrive in the city for the race, community leaders and city officials asked those already here to help with the volunteer efforts. While “Run Anyway” collected some donations for Hurricane Sandy victims, it mainly served as a means for runners to run 26.2 miles after training for months or sometimes even years for the race.

The race was organized by means of social media on Facebook and Twitter.  Todd Kelley, who helped manage the social media accounts for the event, said that he created the page at 10:30 p.m. on Friday night just hours after Mayor Bloomberg cancelled the marathon. By Sunday morning at about noon, nearly 2,000 people “liked” the Facebook page. Many of them came to ride on Sunday, although just how many participated is not clear.

“We’re started this because everyone who’s running the New York City marathon is running for some cause. We couldn’t officially run for our cause, so we put something out there for people to run,” said Kelly, who stood after/before the race near a group of runners taking a picture with a Hurricane Sandy sign.

Even the “Run Anyway” slogan of the event represented this idea. Its Facebook page says, “When we run for a cause, we need to run anyway,” paying homage to the meaning why so many marathon runners decide to participate in the endurance event.

Many runners raise money for different causes from sponsors who donate a certain amount for each mile they run. The reason to run does not necessarily have to be to raise money for charity research but to mark an important milestone in one’s life.

Mariel Fresneau, for example, came to New York City from France. She said she decided to train for the marathon for a fun cause— to celebrate her sister’s 50th birthday.

Gana Batjargal is from Mongolia. She said participating in Run Anyway was more about completing 26.2 miles. “We came all this way and I believe that every runner has a cause. We’re not just running for fun. I know it’s not the same as the marathon with al the glory, but we are running for support.”

Most runners said they sympathized with how much the city is hurting. Regardless, they believe that the last minute decision to cancel the race was inappropriate.

Andres Uriate, who came to New York City with 20 runners from Chilé, said:  “It was very worrying because we spent a lot of money to get here. It’s disappointing because they notified us the day after we got here, but now we are happy and enjoying the day.”

Even those that came from other states within the United States were greatly inconvenienced by Mayor Bloomberg’s late decision to cancel the race.

Rebecca Pike drove 13 hours to New York City from South Carolina. Her original flight to the city was canceled and she made the decision to come to the city just to find out that the race could never officially start. Despite her extreme disappointment after training for four years she said, “I understand why they canceled, but they should have pushed it earlier. I spent a lot of money, lost money, and lost my race fee.”

The New York City Marathon made some slight changes to its very strict no-refund policy for the race. Runners who were unable to make it to New York City by November 3rd at 11:59 p.m. were able to gain guaranteed entry into the 2013 race. Those who made the trip to the city like Pike are still unsure if they will receive a refund, up to $347 for some.

The AP reported that the New York Road Runners, the organization that hosts the marathon, is reviewing this policy. A statement on their website says they need a “little time to work out the details and make thoughtful decisions.”

Even though the race was cancelled, pieces of the official marathon were scattered throughout Central Park on Sunday. Bright orange and blue flags lined the posts along the trails. The “finish line” sign was erected but runners could not stand directly under it. The sign was surrounded by silver barricades and monitored by security guards and the occasional NYPD officer. Instead, runners posed in front of the barrier, many wearing the bright colors of their country’s flag.

Supporters and spectators, scattered in groups along the trails, cheered for the runners as they looped around the park to complete 26.2 miles. They passed out cups of water, bananas, and even the occasional piece of Starburst candy. While much smaller, many elements of the marathon were still present in its unofficial, less glamorous manifestation on Sunday morning.

Batarjal summarized the attitude of many participating in Run Anyway the best. “It’s a beautiful day, so why not run?”


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Ethnic America Goes to the Polls

Reporters from the New York Torch visited polling places in the New York City and Jersey City area to ask first-time voters from ethnic communities about their experiences, opinions and hopes for America.

Click on the pictures to know their stories.

Reporting by Mea Ashley, Yvonne Bang, Magdalene Castro, William Denselow, Shaukat Hamdani, Colleen McKown, Michael Orr, MaryAlice Parks, Nia Phillips, Griselda Ramirez, Rebecca Sanchez and Charlotte Stafford.
Edited by Jay Devineni, Lorelai Germain, Stephen Jiwanmall, Ntshepeng Motema and Christina Thorne.
Complied by Dhiya Kuriakose.

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[VIDEO] Dominican Book Vendor Serves as Political Hub

Members of New York City’s Dominican community discuss politics on Dyckman Street in Manhattan.

Reported by Mea Ashley
Produced by Nia Phillips

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[VIDEO] What Brings Astoria to the Polls?

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Brazilian Church Embraces Dual Language Community

by Nia Phillips, Brazilian Beat Reporter —

Walk through the doors of the First Brazilian Baptist Church in Astoria, Queens any Sunday afternoon and everything said, heard, and read in its sanctuary will be in Portuguese.

On Friday nights, however, it feels like a different place. Most of the words spoken are in English.

The Brazilian church, housed in a large white building on 18th Street, began offering English language services late in the summer as part of an effort to attract young second-generation Portuguese as well as other English speakers in the area. The English language program is known as JAMP, Jovenes e Adolescentes Ministrando com Propositos—Young Adults and Adolescents Ministering with a Purpose.

On Sundays, English speakers can hear a translation of the Portuguese service and sermon using headphones.

But Friday services are typically conducted in English. About once a month, they are dual language with simultaneous translation. On this particular evening, the music and announcements are in English and the main discussion is in Portuguese.

Twenty-nine year old Marianna de Souza leads the talk. She speaks in Portuguese about many things most teenagers and 20-somethings care about: college, work, making friends, Facebook, texting, boyfriends, and the Internet. She mentions all of these topics to lead an interactive discussion about fitting God into your schedule.

For every phrase she says, Bruno Borges, 26, repeats it in English.

Borges is a certified translator and often interprets services for English speakers at the church. Sometimes the youth have to help him with some of de Souza’s Brazilian slang. They call out the English word he’s looking for, causing him to smile and shrug his shoulders. The youth respond to de Souza’s questions in a combination of English and Portuguese.

This is normal because the people attending the service live this reality: living between their own American culture and the Brazilian culture of their parents.

Embracing a dual language congregation is becoming part of the church’s identity. Diogo Izidoro, 22, is one of JAMP’s leaders as well as very active in many of the church’s other ministries. Even though he’s the pastor’s son, he says he represents the audience the Friday night services were created for. He moved to the United States from Brazil with his family at the age of five, and appears and sounds to be American in every sense.

He says that incorporating English is not just convenient, but a necessity for Brazilian congregations. “Brazilian churches are changing the way they are based in their reality. English speaking services are crucial because they retain the youth.”

Without adding an English-centered service, Izidoro said many youth like him are likely to attend American churches or not go to church at all.

Borges said another aspect of this move was because many young people were becoming lost in the Portuguese-only service. “Although their parents are Portuguese speakers, their reality is completely different. Their language is different.”

The reality has helped create the mostly English Friday service that has elements of both American and Brazilian culture. For instance, the service’s music reflects that heard in non-language specific youth services including those of the very popular Hillsong United and Jesus Culture by a couple of the church’s youth bands.

One of the guitarists in the band is Eric Maciel, 18. Maciel, a Columbia College freshman, said one factor that influenced his college decision was its proximity to the church. Maciel’s parents are Brazilian, and he grew up in Long Island.

Maciel doesn’t think incorporating English within the church is causing it to lose its Brazilian identity. “Even though the majority of us are all Brazilian we were born here,” He said. “I know that I am more comfortable speaking English than Portuguese, and I am not the only one so this change happened a couple of month ago and we have all embraced it.”

In a sense, this serves as a space for Brazilian-Americans to feel more comfortable within the language and culture they experience most of the time.

On Sunday afternoons, more than the sounds of Portuguese can make churchgoers feel at home. After service they can enjoy a large plate of Brazilian food, choosing from an assortment of meats, rice, and black beans. They can even finish it off with a can of guaraná, a popular Brazilian soda, if they please.

A delicious meal can appeal to everyone regardless of language skills. Adding more English is now seen as an important means to help keep the church open. First Brazilian is completing its 30th year in the community. It’s been on its 18th street location since 2002 and has a congregation of about 200 people. Friday service is part of the church’s transitional phase with adapting to the reality of its congregation—more English dominant members.

Borges said that becoming more of a dual language church is logistically difficult. It’s not just about Friday and Sunday services, but adding English within the church’s other ministries too. “We are not fully prepared to have only English speaking members,” he said. “Although we are in America, our whole church structure was designed for Portuguese speakers and English guests, but that reality is changing and we are in the phase of adjusting.”

Adjusting does not have to mean Americanization and eliminating the Portuguese language mission of the church. “Since the youth are mostly second generation Brazilians the church is becoming more and more Americanized, but that is something to be accepted and not feared,” Maciel said. “Then again, I don’t think that our church will ever get rid of the Brazilian roots in it; that is what makes us different and something that I personally will hold on to.”

The church’s preservation of its Brazilian roots is evident on Sunday afternoon. Preschoolers stand in front of the congregation reciting and singing bible verses during service. They go one by one, speaking into the microphone and receiving a bag of candy from their teacher when they finish.

A little girl sings what she’s learned in Sunday School. “Deus é bom pra mim,” she sang. “God is good to me”—in Portuguese.

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Astoria Residents React to Hurricane Sandy

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Capoeira connects New Yorkers with Brazilian culture

by Nia Phillips, Brazilian Beat Reporter —

A group of people dance in a circle in a studio in Manhattan singing Portuguese songs as their teacher plays a traditional one-stringed Brazilian instrument with a gourd attached to it. Others play a drum and tambourine to help create the beat to the music.

In the middle, two students practice their moves, kicking, ducking, and swaying side to side.

After a little time, two more students entered the circle repeating the same movements. This scene continued recently in a weekly class in the Brazilian martial art of Capoeira.

While the sport purely Brazilian in every sense, most of the students in the classroom are American.

Capoeira Instructor Paula Verdino participates in Omulu Capoeira Guanabara’s Batizado ceremony.

Capoeira, Brazil’s national sport, is now practiced all around the world. In New York City, classes are offered to children as young as two across the city.

One popular Capoeira teacher is Tiba Vieira. He moved to the United States 15 years ago and has been teaching for New York Capoeira Luanda, held at the Alvin Ailey Extension School, since 2001. He began teaching children Capoeira when he came to the United States which is appropriate because he began his training at the age of 12.

“I think Capoeira is a little bit of everything,” says Vieira, who has studied the sport for more than 18 years. “It’s a sport, it’s an art, it’s a martial art. I see Capoeira as a blend of dance, music, and martial art and acrobatic movement. This is an art form.”

Vieira’s class is one of many throughout New York City. Once a year, classes hold a ceremony called a Batizado where students test their skills against their instructors. On a recent Saturday, a group called Omulu Capoeira Guanabara held its annual ceremony in the gymnasium of the Beacon School on the Upper West Side.

About 25 students of varying ages and levels gathered for the event. While Omulu Capoeira Guanabara teaches children as young as four, this event was for its adult students in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

One of the school’s founders is Jorge Luis de Lima, better known as Mestre DiMola, helped lead the Batizado. The Master instructor described the sport saying, “For me, Capoeira is beyond my life, it’s much more than that.”

As a Master, it makes sense that Luis de Lima said this. It takes about 30 years to become a full Capoeira Master; the number of years he has practiced the game. He sees Capoeira as more than just an activity, but a way to connect with the sport’s rich cultural history. He said candidly in Portuguese after the Batizado, “Many Masters already left us. They aren’t alive anymore, but through this they’re still present.”

Connecting with the past is a fundamental part of Capoeira. The sport started in 16th century Brazil with the introduction of African slaves to the country to work in sugar cane fields. Capoeira emerged as a means for slaves to preserve the fighting techniques they brought from their home countries. Disguised as a dance through adding music to the movements, the sport was born as both a means of self-defense and cultural preservation. Even though the Brazilian government abolished slavery in 1888, Capoeira remained banned in the country until the 1930s.

Today, Brazilian attitudes towards Capoeira are very different. Not only is it very popular in the nation, but also those who learned the sport at home have now brought it with them to other countries. Brazil experienced mass emigration in the 1990s following an economic crisis. Many Brazilians moved to the United States, bringing Capoeira with them.

While Capoeira is Brazilian in every sense, the people filling the classrooms in New York City are not. “It’s very rare to have Brazilians doing Capoeira,” said Vieira, “In my class you’ll have 3 or 4 at the most.”

Regardless, Americans too are making Capoeira an important part of their lives. Anna Prouty is a Barnard student and member of Columbia University’s Capoeira Club. She says she is one of 15 students who regularly attend classes led by a Brazilian instructor. Prouty started Capoeira two years ago. She says she discovered the sport, as suggested by a friend. Even though she is not Brazilian, she too feels a connection to the sport. “It’s an expression in something kind of different,” says Prouty, “Like we’re all tying into this history and this tradition.”

Even though she has not been practicing the sport since childhood, Prouty has a similar enthusiasm about Capoeira seen by Brazilian instructors throughout the city. Her words were not too different from Capoeira Instructor Paula Verdino. One of a few women teaching at a high level, the Bahia, Brazil native is the winner of prestigious awards in the sport such as “Best Female Overall” at the World Capoeira games. When speaking about her love for the sport she said, “I think that it’s amazing. It’s self confidence, strength, direction, it’s entertaining, it’s good for mind, body, and it’s great exercise.”

This is what helps make Capoeira more than just a mysterious Brazilian game. It’s a combination of sport, art, music, dance, tradition, and discipline. It helps keep Brazilian traditions alive, and is becoming part of the fabric of Capoeristas around the world. Through Capoeira students in New York City can connect to the culture of the African slaves who arrived to Brazil 400 years ago.

As Verdino said, in Capoeira, “You really feel what you do. You really have the love inside for it.”

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