Benefit explores music, culture and social change

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Connecticut HOMEa New Haven-based non-profit organization, submitted the following account of a recent event held on its behalf.

The Court has appointed special advocates (HOME) movement, now in child welfare courts in Waterbury as well as New Haven, is growing toward statewide reach. (See the press room.)

Following a 2021 cooking for HOME” event on Zoom with chef Claire Criscuolo, Connecticut HOME held its first in-person benefit event on Thursday, July 14, 2022​.

Addressing Music, culture, social change”, the evening included a round table moderated by Jeffrey Ogbar, professor of history and founding director of the Center for the Study of Popular Music at UConn. The panelists were:

  • Lisa ToothCEO of Artspace;
  • Brandon SherrodConnecticut HOME ambassador, musical artist and professional basketball player;
  • Bradford–Watson, CEO/ Founder of Spinach Records.

Brandon Sherrod (on Spotify here) played piano and also sang. Although he also writes and performs original songs (for example, Corona Freestyle”) and has a new album due out in October, on which occasion Brandon did acoustic renditions of Lean on Me” (by Bill Withers) and Ordinary people” (by John Legend).

Sponsors were Yale University, Claire’s Corner Copia, the NewAlliance Foundation and Russell Hall Co. Chef Claire Criscuolo of Claire’s catering donated wine, with the wine thief donating wine.

{image 1 – portraits of the 4 panelists with the title of the event}

Historical context, music, identity, mental health

Professor Ogbar – as a historian whose next book, for Basic Books, is on white nationalism in the Atlanta formation – framed the discussion with allusions to figures ranging from Billie Holiday, Sam Cooke and Nina Simone to Woody Guthrie. Then Jeff Ogbar (who grew up in Chicago and Los Angeles in the 1970s and 80s before attending Morehouse College in Atlanta) spoke of the 1980s, when urban deindustrialization, crumbling social safety nets, rising crime and incarceration coincided with the rise of hip -hop. He noted that gender has seen both misogyny and female empowerment, the glorification of materialistic capitalism, and critiques of extreme inequality, mass incarceration, and violence.

Lisa Dent, with a career in arts media prior to her current management role at Artspace, discussed Prince and the Revolution” as a starting point, not only for music, but also for understanding gender fluidity and other issues of identity. As the conversation moved from music and culture to mental health, she remembered her late father, a psychiatrist who predeceased her at Howard University and became a trusted confidant to many, including understood for his black compatriots.

The challenge of sharing one’s vulnerability, especially in the public eye and especially given the biases around black masculinity, was another theme.

Brandon Sherrod spoke about the intersections of artists and athletes. A Bridgeport native, he rose to national prominence when, as a Yale political science student and member of the men’s basketball team, he left college in 2014-15 to tour the world as the lead singer of Whiffenpoof. (See the articles in the New York Times, Guardian, ESPN, boston globe, Sports Illustratedetc ) He returned a year later, helping his team win the Ivy League and defeat Baylor in the NCAA tournament, while fixing the NCAA record for consecutive field goals. He has since spent five years playing professional basketball (and speaking Italian) in Italy, before playing in Finland and then Israel in 2021-22. As noted at the July 14 benefit event, he is playing this summer with the Nerd Team” in a national tournament televised by ESPN.

{image 2 – Brandon at the free throw line for Team Nerd, 7/22/22}

(This team won its first two games, Brandon among three former Yale players – with Azar Swaim and Jordan Bruner – in the starting lineup. The team is scheduled to play again Monday night, July 25, at 7 p.m. ESPN2.)

Along the way, Brandon created his own music catalog with pioneering label Spinach Records.

Bradford Watson, his colleague as CEO/Founder of Spinach Records, spoke about the label’s fundamental focus on the mental health of artists. A graduate of Wilbur Cross High School and more recently Harvard, he remembers meeting Brandon in New Haven — when the latter was an undergraduate at Yale and Brad Watson himself was still in high school. Their artistic collaboration continues to develop since Spinach Records now has a recording space in the center of Manhattan, while reconciling music and the well-being of the artists.

Q & A with the public

In attendance were not only the Board of Directors and other volunteers from Connecticut HOME (like All Our Kin Advisory Board Member Jessica Sager), but also a range of leaders and advocates from across the region – from Ronnell Higgins of Yale University to Dotty Weston-Murphy of the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven and Lauren Ruth of CT Voice for children.

Amos Smith, who as CEO of the New Haven Community Action Agency was one of four colleagues from that agency at the July 14 event, commented as a former clinician himself – on the power he saw in this public discussion on mental health (just days before the new national 988 helpline takes effect).

In response to a question from Lindy Lee Gold (whose civic leadership with nonprofits in r Kids to Christian Community Action is well documented), Bradford Watson explained that Spinach Records is indeed now a B Corp, having started as a SARL.

{image 3 – 4 panelists}

an ironic name Gang”; towards the Community

Brad Watson also shared the brand’s tongue-in-cheek name on Instagram: @SpinachGang. The company obviously challenges stereotypical assumptions about gangs,” while providing camaraderie and mutual support to his community.

Community” was a word Brandon Sherrod used to conclude by singing the songs of Bill Withers and John Legend, each of which received enthusiastic applause.

(In the coming days, check Connecticut CASA’s YouTube channel for a video of Brandon’s rendition of Lean on Me” — piano and vocals.)

Community is also (along with collaboration, integrity, respect, quality, service and stewardship) among Connecticut CASA’s core values.

Connecticut HOME Growth

The Court has appointed special advocates (HOME) the movement is now in Waterbury as well as New Haven, the two largest child protection courts, growing toward statewide reach. (See the press room.)

The HOME The program model assumes 1 staff member for every 30 volunteers, serving an average of 75 children in need. Working with Professionals in the Child Welfare System, Connecticut HOMEVolunteers are supervised by staff who provide high quality advocacy and monitoring, including regular reporting to judges.

{image 4 – panelists with Connecticut HOME staff Josiah Brown, Vallerie Dontes and Catherine Ramirez Mejia}

The organization is expanding under a 2016 state law, as reported in June 2021 opinion pieces in the Connecticut Mirror and New Haven Registeras well as press articles in the New Haven Register among other places, as well as a TV interview with Ann Nyberg of WTNH Channel 8.

The HOME approach is associated with greater stability, fewer placements and increased permanency for children, as those HOME volunteers are half as likely to return to the foster care system and spend 25% less time there, with one-on-one connection with an adult and better access to community services thanks to the sustained and resourceful efforts of that caring adult . Connecticut HOME is governed by a board of directors which, together with an advisory board, ambassadors and professional staff, extends the reach of volunteers for the best interests of children.

HOME volunteers regularly meet with children, get to know them and their situation, including teachers and social workers, foster parents and families. HOME receives court appointments in foster care and protective supervision cases. Carefully selected and trained through a systematic program and part of a national network recognized for improving results, HOME volunteers make evidence-based recommendations to judges. In the center: the relationships of these caring and constant volunteers with the children themselves – with whom these adults can make a lifelong difference through one-on-one interactions at a difficult time.

Connecticut HOME is funded by a mix of public funds, foundation grants, individual donations and sponsorships such as those that made the July 14 performance possible.

Visit the website at ConnecticutCASA.org for more information on the HOME role; how to volunteer; news about grants, partners, the Great Give fundraiser, board of directors, advisors and ambassadors, both former Yale student-athletes. Social media includes a new YouTube channel, atYouTube.com/ConnecticutCASA.

A studio version of one of the songs performed by Brandon Sherrod: “Ordinary People” by John Legend

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