Why Black artists are essential freedom fighters

In this June 27, 1985, file photo, Nina Simone performs at Avery Fisher Hall in New York. (AP Photo/Rene Perez, File)

In this June 27, 1985, file photo, Nina Simone performs at Avery Fisher Hall in New York. (AP Photo/Rene Perez, File)

“The name of this tune is ‘Mississippi Goddam,’ ” Nina Simone announces without missing a beat in the bouncy, cabaret-style cadence she beats out on the piano keys. The mostly white audience at Carnegie Hall leaks nervous laughter in response.

But Simone wasn’t joking. She’d brought her rage at the lynching of Emmett Till, the murder of Medgar Evers and the bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church to Carnegie Hall’s stage that March night in 1964 — the same rage that had enabled her to pen that iconic protest song in less than an hour.

“Mississippi Goddam” would be banned on Southern radio stations, become an anthem of the civil rights movement and the following year be played on the famous march from Selma led by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Simone is one of many Black artists whose life and work illuminate the prophetic tradition that connects Black art and the struggle for Black liberation. From Harriet Tubman singing “Go Down Moses” to announce her presence to Black captives in the Southern work camps, to Marvin Gaye’s timeless anti-war anthem “What’s Goin On?”, to the co-founding of the Black Lives Matter movement, the largest social movement of our generation, by performance artist and abolitionist Patrisse Cullors, Black artists have long shouldered the prophetic burden to tell the truth about a society that refuses to confess its sins against Black bodies.

Art is essential to Black liberation movements.

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An artist myself, I’ve repeatedly returned to the work of Black artists to bolster my own sense of vocation in a world that often pressures me with a false choice between being an entertainer or being an activist. A pantheon that includes Simone, Amiri Baraka, Toni Cade Bambara, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Bob Marley, Ava DuVernay and others reminds me that no such choice must be made.

These artists did not and are not offering only, as theologian N.T. Wright often says, “the pretty bit around the edge” of Black liberation: We are essential freedom workers.

Art is essential to Black liberation movements because half the battle against oppression is a battle to disrupt a supremacist common sense that pervades the world, especially those nations that were (or are) perpetrators or victims of European colonialism. No matter how many revolutions are won in the world — by arms or by nonviolent struggle — oppressive institutions will continue to reproduce themselves if there is no revolution of values.

This is why Occupy Wall Street co-founder Micah White writes in his 2016 book The End of Protest, “In our global struggle to liberate humanity, the most significant battles will be fought on the spiritual level — inside our heads, within our imagination and deep in our collective unconscious.”

Art communicates on that spiritual level, and the powers know it.

FILE – In this March 17, 1965, file photo, demonstrators walk to the courthouse behind the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Montgomery, Ala. The march was to protest treatment of demonstrators by police during an attempted march. (AP Photo/File)

FILE – In this March 17, 1965, file photo, demonstrators walk to the courthouse behind the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Montgomery, Ala. The march was to protest treatment of demonstrators by police during an attempted march. (AP Photo/File)

Authority tacitly admits art’s revolutionary power when it bans songs like “Mississippi Goddam” or tries to cut books such as Toni Morrison’s Beloved from school curricula. Art can also encourage the other side: The Ku Klux Klan never burned a cross until the Klansmen in D.W. Griffith’s film “Birth of a Nation” did so.

Given the power of art to influence social action, artists have a tremendous role in shaping the culture of freedom movements. In his book about the 1963 campaign to desegregate Birmingham, Why We Can’t Wait, King wrote that freedom songs were “the soul” of the civil rights movement.

“I have stood in a meeting with hundreds of youngsters and joined in while they sang ‘Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round’. It is not just a song; it is a resolve,” King writes. “A few minutes later, I have seen those same youngsters refuse to turn around from the onrush of a police dog, refuse to turn around before a pugnacious Bull Connor in command of men armed with power hoses. These songs bind us together, give us courage together, help us to march together.”

King’s words have reassured me, but the more I engage the work of liberation as an artist, I’m convinced art is more than just useful for sustaining activism. Art is the exhale of a mind breaking free of colonialism’s cognitive chains.

When I opened Black Skin, White Masks, by the mid-20th-century revolutionary and writer Frantz Fanon, I was taken aback that he chose to start the book with poetry, rather than the elegant linear prose I expected. The lauded philosopher and psychiatrist instead began a work analyzing the psychological aspects of racism with lyrical stanzas — stanzas whose form immediately challenged the epistemological biases we’ve inherited from the European enlightenment that elevate prose over verse.

In art, we recover the wisdom of ancestors who knew truth is embodied, it is danced, it is sung, painted or embroidered, felt and even traversed in geographical space.

As we talk about radical solutions to systemic oppression — abolishing police and prisons — we are forced to build the same skills useful to the artist: imagination, collaboration and improvisation. We are seeking to create a beautiful new world out of the mess colonialism continues to make. We are breaking with the rigid, oppressive structures of colonialism, as poets and songwriters break the usual rules of grammar.

Given the power of art to influence social action, artists have a tremendous role in shaping the culture of freedom movements.

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Remaking the world without systemic racism will take our best creative selves. The artist must stand among the politicians, organizers and clergy who have always been in the vanguard of freedom movements.

We need artists who care about social justice today to know that they stand in a deep tradition of prophetic truth-tellers who have helped us understand the world better. We need to know the brilliance of poet Aime Cesaire’s Discourse on Colonialism and its contribution to Black anti-fascist thought. We should talk more about the social analysis within Langston Hughes’ anti-capitalist poetry, including his bold address to the Second International Writers Conference where he calls out American fascism.

The artist’s role in society isn’t to shut up and sing, or dance or dribble. We are creative leaders, and to paraphrase King, human salvation is in the hands of the creative minority who remains maladjusted to injustice.

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NJ students: RVCC announces inaugural recipients of new scholarships

Raritan Valley Community College’s RVCC Foundation has announced the inaugural recipients of its three newest scholarships supporting students at Raritan Valley Community College: The Emerging Heroes Nursing Scholarship, the Evelyn S. Field Scholarship, and the Paul Robeson Scholarship. The scholarships were funded by last year’s successful “RV Lives” fundraising campaign. Emerging Heroes recipients each receive $1,000 and the Paul Robeson and Evelyn S. Field scholarship recipients each receive $2,000. The following RVCC students are the scholarships’ 2021-2022 recipients:

Emerging Heroes Nursing Scholarship: Jeanne Gabrielle Riano of Somerville: The Warren Hills Regional High School graduate is a first-year nursing student. Her goal is to become a Registered Nurse so that she can “make a difference” in health care. “During my high school career, I was involved in many volunteer opportunities such as the National Honor Society, where we raised over $10,000 for cancer research and collected food for local food shelters. I also held an officer position for a national service club called ‘GlamourGals,’ where we visited local nursing homes and spent quality time with the residents. Both experiences have shown me that strong leadership is key to success, and that is why I aspire to learn to be a great leader to those around me,” said Riano.

The RVCC Foundation has announced the inaugural recipient of its newest scholarships supporting students at Raritan Valley Community College: The Emerging Heroes Nursing Scholarship to Jeanne Gabrielle Riano of Somerville.

Ana Iraheta of Flemington: The second-year nursing student is a graduate of Hunterdon Central Regional High School. “My dream is to become a nurse. Throughout my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood I have always had the dream of helping out people in need, people from different regions of the world. I want to able to go into work every day knowing that the knowledge I have acquired will help me impact people around the world in a positive way. This scholarship will also help me show mothers out there that it is possible to be a mom and graduate with a college education. My other dream is to be able to show my daughter that the American dream is possible to achieve,” said Iraheta.

The RVCC Foundation has announced the inaugural recipient of its newest scholarships supporting students at Raritan Valley Community College: The Emerging Heroes Nursing Scholarship to Ana Iraheta of Flemington.

Evelyn S. Field Scholarship: Devin Mozoul of Maplewood: The first-year student and Columbia High School graduate is a criminal justice major. He is also an eight-year volunteer at Saint Leo’s Roman Catholic Food Pantry in Irvington, where he is responsible for unloading vans, sorting food items, and maintaining a clean and organized pantry area. Mozoul loves to travel and enjoys “spending time with [his] 95-year-old great-grandmother because she is a source of great wisdom and knowledge,” he said.

Paul Robeson Scholarship: Willie Vick of North Plainfield: The North Plainfield High School graduate is a business administration major whose commitment to serving the community is exemplary. Among his community activities are volunteering with Hope Worldwide, an organization that supports community-based services to the poor and needy; serving retired, disabled, and homeless veterans at the VA Hospital; collecting food items for the annual Thanksgiving canned food drive; and helping plan the Kappa League annual MLK Day of Service Sock Drive. “My parents have helped me in my awareness of racial injustice and to be involved more in the community. This awareness has taught me [the] conviction to know the difference between who I am as a person and how society views me as a human being,” said Vick.

The RVCC Foundation has announced the inaugural recipient of its newest scholarships supporting students at Raritan Valley Community College: The Paul Robeson Scholarship to Justin Jones of Somerville.

Justin Jones of Somerville: The first-year student is a business administration major. “I was born and raised in Somerville, New Jersey, and like Paul Robeson, I’m a grad of Somerville High. My parents and many family members were also raised in Somerville and we have all enjoyed the very diverse community the town has to offer. Although Paul Robeson lived in a much more hostile time, he still had an exemplary way of proving to racists how great a person can be regardless of their skin color. He excelled in all aspects of his life and fought injustices all over the world with dignity,” said Jones.

“We’re excited to advance the generosity of our donors through these new scholarship offerings in support of RVCC students,” said Mike Marion, executive director of the RVCC Foundation. The college’s own data suggests that life in the pandemic continues to challenge students: 44% of RVCC students describe their personal financial situation as worse than it was before the pandemic; for Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx students, it’s even worse at 56% and 52%, respectively.

“We’re especially grateful to be part of a community so committed to providing support where it’s needed and to keeping our students on track to successful outcomes,” said Marion. “And we have plenty of room for more caring and generous donors who value the role of RVCC and its impact.”

The Emerging Heroes Nursing Scholarship is given to an eligible RVCC student who is majoring in Nursing or Nursing-PNAD. Students must be enrolled in a minimum of 12 credits and maintain a 3.0 GPA.

The Evelyn S. Field Scholarship honors a distinguished educator, women’s and civil rights activist, and founding member of the RVCC Board of Trustees. The scholarship is available to Black/African American, matriculating high school graduates who attend RVCC as a freshman. Students must have a high school GPA of 3.0 or greater. Preference is given to students who reside in Somerset or Hunterdon counties.

The Paul Robeson Scholarship honors a Somerville High School graduate and global icon, scholar, athlete, concert artist, and stage and film actor who became famous both for his cultural accomplishments and for his political and civil rights activism. The scholarship is available to Black/African American, matriculating high school graduates who attend RVCC as a freshman. Students must have a high school GPA of 3.0 or greater. Preference is given to students who reside in Somerset or Hunterdon counties.

For additional information about supporting the college or the RVCC Foundation, contact Mike Marion, michael.marion@raritanval.edu, call 908-648-8567, or visit www.rvccfoundation.org

Also: Local high school students interested in learning more about Raritan Valley Community College (RVCC)’s Honors College are invited to attend an Information Session, at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 15. The program will be held in the Event Center at the college’s Branchburg campus. Face masks are required in all RVCC facilities.

The evening will include information about admission to RVCC’s Honors College and transfer opportunities after graduating from RVCC. Students in the top 20 percent of their high school class who possess a grade point average of 3.5 or higher, or have a cumulative SAT score of 1100 or higher, are encouraged to attend.

Current Honors College students and Honors College alumni also will be on hand to talk with prospective students and parents about their own experiences at RVCC, as well as their experiences transferring and acclimating to four-year schools. The evening also will include information about the NJ STARS Scholarship program.

Launched in 2011, RVCC’s Honors College serves highly qualified high school graduates who are entering college for the first time. Honors College students benefit from being in small classes with similarly academically motivated students. Students in the program are taught by a select group of faculty. The Honors College features a cohort-based program with smaller, seminar-style courses that have an interdisciplinary focus and afford students the opportunity to develop a close working relationship with their professors.

Students who are admitted to the Honors College become part of a select community of learners and have various opportunities for academic, social and personal growth. Their college experience is further enhanced through leadership and volunteer activities, as well as through service learning. Honors College students enjoy several benefits, including opportunities to transfer to highly selective four-year colleges and universities.

RVCC Honors College graduates have been accepted to such schools as Columbia University, Cornell University, Yale University, Johns Hopkins University, Georgetown University, Smith College, University of Michigan, Berklee College of Music, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and the University of Pennsylvania.

To register for the Honors College Information Session, visit www.raritanval.edu/visit. For additional information about RVCC’s Honors College, email honors@raritanval.edu or visit www.raritanval.edu/honors.

Also: Raritan Valley Community College’s (RVCC) Student Jazz Ensemble will perform in concert at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 16. The in-person performance will be held in the Welpe Theatre at the college’s Branchburg campus. The group is directed by John Loehrke of New York City. Masks are required in all RVCC facilities.

The ensemble will perform pieces by a variety of jazz artists, such as Errol Garner, Joe Henderson, John Coltrane, Hank Mobley and Wayne Shorter. The group also will perform music from the Great American songbook including familiar, beloved standards.

The Student Jazz Ensemble includes the following members: Grayson Nierenberg of Branchburg; Tommy Burns of Stirling; Ian Richard Dalida of Somerville; Payton Teague and Gabriel Youngman of Flemington; Joel Jimenez of Raritan; Ryan Jenkins of Bridgewater; and Henry Freligh of Glen Gardner.

General admission tickets cost $12 each, $8 for students and seniors. For tickets, contact the box office, 908-725-3420. For additional information, call 908-218-8876.

Also: Raritan Valley Community College’s Arts & Design department will present its annual Holiday Art Show and Sale, Monday, Dec. 6, through Friday, Dec. 10, in the Art Gallery (lower level, College Center) at the college’s Branchburg campus. Face masks are required in the Art Gallery and in all college buildings. The event is open to the public.

The exhibition and sale will feature a varied display of work created by RVCC’s ceramics students, instructors and several alumni. The ceramic work ranges from low-fire smoked and Raku vessels to high-fired functional and sculptural pieces in porcelain and stoneware. Other show highlights include artist greeting cards by Darren McManus, hand printed clothing by Val Sivilli, and ceramics by Ann Tsubota.

Gallery hours for the show and sale are as follows: Noon to 8 p.m. Monday, Dec. 6, through Thursday, Dec. 9; noon to 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 10. For additional information, contact Ann Tsubota at 908-526-1200, ext. 8373.

RVCC is at 118 Lamington Road in the North Branch section of Branchburg. For further information, visit www.raritanval.edu/arts or www.raritanval.edu. Follow the RVCC Art Gallery Instagram feed at www.instagram.com/rvccartgallery/.

Somerset County Vocational and Technical High School

As part of a yearly fundraiser, students in the Health Occupations/HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America) club at Somerset County Vocational & Technical High School collected donations for the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. Students and staff participated by giving $1 donations and filling out Celebration of Life Birthday Cards, which were added to the Celebration of Life Wall, outside the school’s guidance office. At the end of the fundraiser, the Health Occupations/HOSA students had their most successful event by gathering nearly $600.

SCVTHS National Honor Society for Dance Arts students pose with some of their collected donations for their United Breast Cancer Foundation drive.

As part of another fundraiser, students in the National Honor Society for Dance Arts collected eighteen large bags of gently used items in support of the United Breast Cancer Foundation.  All items will be used to assist women, men and children affected by breast cancer. SCVTHS Dance Instructor and Chapter Sponsor for the National Honor Society for Dance Arts Maureen Glennon-Clayton spoke of the drive, saying, “I am very proud of our senior student, Colin Sheeley, who spearheaded the donation drive. He approached me with his idea, in support of Breast Cancer Awareness month, and the drive was very successful with approximately 18 bags of donated items. A special thank you to our students, parents, and the community for their generous donations to help support all those affected by breast cancer.”

Students in the Health Occupations/HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America) club at Somerset County Vocational & Technical High School pose for a photo while collecting for their fundraiser.

Finally, students in the Cosmetology program held a Hair Extension Fundraiser, which yielded $400 for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Hair extensions were available for students and staff during lunch periods throughout the month of October. 

Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School

TEECS was able to donate more than 400 boxed and canned food items to the Franklin Food Bank. Students and staff dropped off donations to the main office throughout the week to collect for the Thanksgiving holiday. The class with the most donations won a dress down. Mrs. Dutton’s Kindergarten class won with 109 items. TEECS would like to thank all the families who donated.


Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School participated in their first FTC Robotics competition of the school year and won. Out of six games, TEECS’ team won all six, making them the Tournament Champions and Overall First Place Team. TEECS’ is currently second place out of 63 teams in the state.

READ: The good things students are doing in Central Jersey and beyond

READ: Education news from around the region 

READ: College Connection: Advice from local expert columnist

Thomas Edison State University

Thomas Edison State University in Trenton, the NJ Department of Health and Walmart partnered on Friday, Nov. 19, in conducting a free COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the university’s Kelsey Building on West State Street. During the event, Dr. Merodie A. Hancock, university president, queued up with other participants to receive her booster shot.

Dr. Merodie A. Hancock, president of Thomas Edison State University, received her COVID-19 booster vaccine during the Friday, Nov. 19, public vaccine event at the university as Judith M. Persichilli, State of N.J. Department of Health Commissioner, looks on.

More than 300 vaccines, including the Pfizer vaccine (for ages 5 and older); Moderna vaccine (for ages 18 and older); and Johnson & Johnson vaccine (for ages 18 and older), including booster shots, were administered during the event that was open to the public. No appointments were necessary, no ID or documentation was required, and free transportation was provided for vaccine recipients upon request.

Those interested in similar events are urged to contact the New Jersey Vaccine call center at 855-568-0545, between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. daily or visit the New Jersey COVID-19 Information Hub: www.covid19.nj.gov/pages/finder to find local vaccination centers and to arrange an appointment.

Union Catholic Regional High School

Edner Lamour takes pride in remembering the names of all his passengers.

Union Catholic Regional High School honors its bus drivers on Bus Driver Appreciation Day.

And that’s saying a lot considering that he’s transported hundreds of students on his school bus over his 20-plus years driving teenagers to and from Union Catholic in the Basking Ridge section of Bernards.

“All the students who get on my bus each day are like family to me,’’ said Lamour. “I get to know their names and I never forget them.’’

Lamour even remembers where they all sat, including one very famous student. 

“Right there in that seat right there was where Fabiana sat,’’ Lamour said as he pointed to the first seat on the left as you board the bus.

He was referring to Fabiana Pierre-Louis, who graduated from UC in 1998 and last year became the first black female Supreme Court Justice ever in NJ.

“Fabiana was always studying and doing school work on the bus,’’ said Lamour. “I’m not surprised by her success. When I saw her on TV, I was so proud to tell people that she rode on my bus.’’

Chantal Aubly is also a fixture in the UC community. When Aubly pulls up to 1600 Martine Ave. each school day, she swings open the doors to her bus and flashes a big smile as she greets UC students as they begin their journey home.

Aubly has been driving a bus back and forth to UC for 30 years. “I just love the kids and the teachers at Union Catholic, and the whole community,’’ said Aubly. “Driving the students to and from school is something I look forward to every day.’’

Lamour and Aubly and all the other school bus drivers who safely deliver students to Union Catholic were recognized for their dedication and commitment when Dr. Edward Sagendorf, UC’s director of transportation, handed them all a gift bag on Bus Driver Appreciation Day on Thursday, Nov. 18.

“Our bus drivers are valuable members of our community and it is crucial we recognize all that they do for our students,’’ said Sagendorf. “They are often the first face to greet our students in the morning. They work tirelessly to ensure our students arrive to school on time, and make it home safely in the afternoon.

“They are the unsung heroes who help make UC the place to be.’’

Sagendorf said Lamour and Aubly are prime examples of the strong bond that ties the Union Catholic community together. 

 “We are fortunate to have the opportunity to build long lasting relationships with our drivers,’’ said Sagendorf. “Edner and Chantal have worked with UC students for over 20 years. Their dedication to our students and love of driving is inspirational.’’ 


In the latest installment of Feature Friday, the spotlight is on Union Catholic junior Adrian Hou. Hou, who lives in Fords, is on the Forensics team, is a member of the National Honor Society, is an honor roll student, and plays in a band.

Also: Union Catholic’s freshmen and juniors participated in the Imagine #Here4U Grief Education Program this past week, which featured presentations from Connie Palmer and Union Catholic’s student mentors. 

Union Catholic students participated in imagine #HERE4U grief education program

UC has partnered with Imagine, A Center for Coping with Loss in Mountainside, on this grief education program in order to normalize grief and educate students about how to provide positive support for those who are grieving.

Palmer, the Clinical Training Director at Imagine, presented a slide show that displayed the many different stages and signs of grief, strategies to cope with grief, how to talk to someone who is grieving, and how to manage the grieving process. Throughout the presentations, UC’s student mentors courageously shared their personal stories of grief and resilience, and offered advice to their peers.

The Union Catholic students who served as mentors were Jasmin Crotty, Megan Falvey, Catherine Glick, Alexis Roth, Matthew Medeiros, Andrew Dohn, Ava Pickering, Samantha Dreher, Tenajah Eldridge, and Kristen Valendo.

Jennifer Dixon, the director of School Counseling at Union Catholic, praised Palmer and Imagine for their continued support and said the program is very beneficial to the students at Union Catholic.  

“More than ever, talking about grief and our collective experiences, working to create a ‘Good Mourning’ Community is of the utmost importance,’’ said Dixon. “We are so thankful we were able to offer this important presentation for the ninth consecutive year. Coping with grief and loss is a topic of immediate relevance. Connie artfully weaves together the stories our peer mentors share of their experiences of loss with strategies for how students can care for themselves and their peers during difficult times. This presentation brings together our school community, highlighting the resilience and compassion of our students, faculty, staff and alumni.’’

Also: Union Catholic’s Yvonne Agyapong earned a perfect score on the math portion of the SAT, and Ava Hiel and Abby Hunsinger each achieved perfect scores on the reading portion of the ACT.

Union Catholic's Yvonne Agyapong earned a perfect score on the math portion of the SAT, and Ava Hiel and Abby Hunsinger each achieved perfect scores on the reading portion of the ACT.

“This accomplishment means a lot to me because it proves that hard work pays off,” said Hiel. “I have been extremely lucky to receive the outstanding academic opportunities that have led me to this point. I believe these factors will motivate me to take pride in my education and strive to make similar accomplishments in my future endeavors.”

“I was pleasantly surprised to see a perfect score because I left the school on testing day feeling very uncertain about the results I would see,” said Hiel, whose top college choices are Catholic University, Villanova, Boston College and TCNJ.

“Finding out I did better than expected was undoubtedly very invigorating and fulfilling. This experience has definitely taught me to have more confidence in my abilities. 

“Getting a perfect score means a lot because it reflects how much work I put into achieving it,” said Hunsinger.  “Although most schools are test-optional this year, I was still worried that if my scores weren’t up to par with my academic record, it would send the wrong message. Therefore, it was a relief to see a positive reflection of my academic commitment in my score. When I saw my score, I was shocked. I was hoping for a good score, but was pleasantly surprised to see how well I did in certain sections.”

Hunsiger, who is hoping to decide between Boston University, Tufts University, Lehigh University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Bentley University, and some other schools, hopes to study global business or quantitative economics in college. She hopes to have a career involving economics or international relations and travel in the process.

Agyapong, who would like to study neuroscience or cognitive science in college, said there was a lot of excitement in her home when word spread about her perfect score.  

It was pure hysteria when I found out,” said Agyapong, who is considering the Ivy League and Stanford, and a whole host of other schools. “I had been trying to open my score all day and it wasn’t there. It just so happened that the exact instance my dad came home that I checked again and it was there. Four of my sisters were home and we were screaming all across the house. My mom was screaming. My dad was shocked. They were all telling me on the stairway how proud of me they were and that if there was anyone who could have done it, they knew it was me. It was an amazing feeling. It really means a lot to receive this score. It’s very comforting to know that I don’t have to worry about a good SAT score anymore!”

Student and School news appears on Saturdays. Email: cnmetro@mycentraljersey.com

Carolyn Sampson is Executive Office Assistant for the Courier News, The Home News Tribune and MyCentralJersey.com, and handles the weekly Student News page. 

Cheryl will not finish BBC podcast after death of Sarah Harding

Cheryl has announced she will not record the final episodes of her BBC Sounds podcast, following the death of former Girls Aloud bandmate Sarah Harding.

The former X Factor judge, 38, launched You, Me & R&B, which explored her life-long love of the genre and highlighted its important figures, this summer.

She said she had been due to record the final batch of episodes around the time Harding died in September, aged 39, after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

Sarah Harding died after being diagnosed with breast cancer (Yui Mok/PA)

Writing on her Instagram Stories, Cheryl said she had initially taken a break from recording to mourn her friend, but that she now did not feel it was right to return to the show.

She said: “I hope you’re all doing great! I’ve seen some of your messages asking about the podcast with BBC Sounds and I wanted to let you all know that I decided not to record the last few episodes.


“It was to be recorded around the same time as Sarah’s passing. I took a break from everything then including the series and it just didn’t feel right to revisit it again.

“I hope you understand and thank you again for all of your love and support these past couple of months.”

Cheryl and the BBC faced criticism following news the singer would host a podcast about R&B music, with 1Xtra DJs Yasmin Evans and DJ Ace, suggesting the role should have gone to a black artist given the genre’s history.

Harding’s death on September 5th prompted an outpouring of tributes from music industry figures and her former Girls Aloud bandmates Cheryl, Nicola Roberts, Kimberley Walsh and Nadine Coyle.

The girl group produced five studio albums during their time together, which included the hit tracks Sound Of The Underground and The Promise.

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Pawrulz Pet Community Caters to Health and Wellness Concerns of Pet Owners

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Best fiction of 2021

The most anticipated, discussed and accessorised novel of the year was Sally Rooney’s Beautiful World, Where Are You (Faber), launched on a tide of tote bags and bucket hats. It’s a book about the accommodations of adulthood, which plays with interiority and narrative distance as Rooney’s characters consider the purpose of friendship, sex and politics – plus the difficulties of fame and novel-writing – in a world on fire.

Klara and the Sun

Rooney’s wasn’t the only eagerly awaited new chapter. Polish Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk’s magnum opus The Books of Jacob (Fitzcarraldo) reached English-language readers at last, in a mighty feat of translation by Jennifer Croft: a dazzling historical panorama about enlightenment both spiritual and scientific. In 2021 we also saw the returns of Jonathan Franzen, beginning a fine and involving 70s family trilogy with Crossroads (4th Estate); Kazuo Ishiguro, whose Klara and the Sun (Faber) probes the limits of emotion in the story of a sickly girl and her “artificial friend”; and acclaimed US author Gayl Jones, whose epic of liberated slaves in 17th-century Brazil, Palmares (Virago), has been decades in the making.

Whitehead, Harlem Shuffle

Pat Barker’s The Women of Troy (Hamish Hamilton) continued her series reclaiming women’s voices in ancient conflict, while Elizabeth Strout revisited her heroine Lucy Barton in the gently comedic, emotionally acute Oh William! (Viking). Ruth Ozeki’s The Book of Form and Emptiness (Canongate), her first novel since the 2013 Booker-shortlisted A Tale for the Time Being, is a wry, metafictional take on grief, attachment and growing up. Having journeyed into the mind of Henry James in 2004’s The Master, Colm Tóibín created a sweeping overview of Thomas Mann’s life and times in The Magician (Viking). There was a change of tone for Colson Whitehead, with a fizzy heist novel set amid the civil rights movement, Harlem Shuffle (Fleet), while French author Maylis de Kerangal considered art and trompe l’oeil with characteristic style in Painting Time (MacLehose, translated by Jessica Moore).

Treacle Walker (4th Estate), a flinty late-career fable from national treasure Alan Garner, is a marvellous distillation of his visionary work. At the other end of the literary spectrum, Anthony Doerr, best known for his Pulitzer-winning bestseller All the Light We Cannot See, returned with a sweeping page-turner about individual lives caught up in war and conflict, from 15th-century Constantinople to a future spaceship in flight from the dying earth. Cloud Cuckoo Land (4th Estate) is a love letter to books and reading, as well as a chronicle of what has been lost down the centuries, and what is at stake in the climate crisis today: sorrowful, hopeful and utterly transporting. And it was a pleasure to see the return to fiction of Irish author Keith Ridgway, nearly a decade after Hawthorn & Child, with A Shock (Picador), his subtly odd stories of interconnected London lives.

Galgut, The Promise

Damon Galgut’s first novel in seven years won him the Booker. A fertile mix of family saga and satire, The Promise (Chatto) explores broken vows and poisonous inheritances in a changing South Africa. Some excellent British novels were also listed: Nadifa Mohamed’s expert illumination of real-life racial injustice in the cultural melting pot of 1950s Cardiff, The Fortune Men (Viking); Francis Spufford’s profound tracing of lives in flux in postwar London, Light Perpetual (Faber); Sunjeev Sahota’s delicate story of family consequences, China Room (Harvill Secker); and Rachel Cusk’s fearlessly discomfiting investigation into gender politics and creativity, Second Place (Faber).

Lockwood, No One is Talking About This

Also on the Booker shortlist was a blazing tragicomic debut from US author Patricia Lockwood, whose No One Is Talking About This (Bloomsbury) brings her quizzical sensibility and unique style to bear on wildly disparate subjects: the black hole of social media, and the painful wonder of a beloved disabled child. Raven Leilani’s Luster (Picador) introduced a similarly gifted stylist: her story of precarious New York living is full of sentences to savour. Other standout debuts included Natasha Brown’s Assembly (Hamish Hamilton), a brilliantly compressed, existentially daring study of a high-flying Black woman negotiating the British establishment; AK Blakemore’s earthy and exuberant account of 17th-century puritanism, The Manningtree Witches (Granta); and Tice Cin’s fresh, buzzy saga of drug smuggling and female resilience in London’s Turkish Cypriot community, Keeping the House (And Other Stories).

Caleb Azumah Nelson’s Open Water (Viking) is a lyrical love story celebrating Black artistry, while the first novel from poet Salena Godden, Mrs Death Misses Death (Canongate), is a very contemporary allegory about creativity, injustice, and keeping afloat in modern Britain. Further afield, two state-of-the-nation Indian debuts anatomised class, corruption and power: Megha Majumdar’s A Burning (Scribner) in a propulsive thriller, and Rahul Raina’s How to Kidnap the Rich (Little, Brown) in a blackly comic caper. Meanwhile, Robin McLean’s Pity the Beast (And Other Stories), a revenge western with a freewheeling spirit, is a gothic treat.

sorrow and bliss meg mason

When is love not enough? The summer’s word-of-mouth hit was Meg Mason’s Sorrow and Bliss (W&N), a wisecracking black comedy of mental anguish and eccentric family life focused on a woman who should have everything to live for. Another deeply pleasurable read, The Hummingbird by Sandro Veronesi (W&N, translated by Elena Pala), charts one man’s life through his family relationships. An expansive novel that finds the entire world in an individual, its playful structure makes the telling a constantly unfolding surprise.

my phantoms gwendoline riley

There was a colder take on family life in Gwendoline Riley’s My Phantoms (Granta): this honed, painfully witty account of a toxic mother-daughter relationship is her best novel yet.

Two debut story collections pushed formal and linguistic boundaries. Dark Neighbourhood by Vanessa Onwuemezi (Fitzcarraldo) announced a surreal and inventive new voice, while in English Magic (Galley Beggar) Uschi Gatward proved a master of leaving things unsaid. Also breaking boundaries was Isabel Waidner, whose Sterling Karat Gold (Peninsula), a carnivalesque shout against repression, won the Goldsmiths prize for innovative fiction.

It will take time for Covid-19 to bleed through into fiction, but the first responses are already beginning to appear. Sarah Hall’s Burntcoat (Faber) is a bravura exploration of art, love, sex and ego pressed up against the threat of contagion. In Hall’s version of the pandemic, a loner sculptor who usually expresses herself through monumental works is forced into high-stakes intimacy with a new lover, while pitting her sense of her own creativity against the power of the virus.

A fascinating historical rediscovery shed light on the closing borders and rising prejudices of current times. In The Passenger byUlrich Alexander Boschwitz (Pushkin, translated by Philip Boehm), written in 1938, a Jewish businessman tries to flee the Nazi regime. The J stamped on his passport ensures that he is met with impassive bureaucratic refusal and chilly indifference from fellow passengers in a tense, rising nightmare that’s timelessly relevant.

Finally, a novel to transport the reader out of the present. Inspired by the life of Marie de France, Matrix by Lauren Groff (Hutchinson Heinemann) is set in a 12th-century English abbey and tells the story of an awkward, passionate teenager, the gifted leader she grows into, and the community of women she builds around herself. Full of sharp sensory detail, with an emotional reach that leaps across the centuries, it’s balm and nourishment for brain, heart and soul.

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