No money? No problem. There are other ways to help!


Photo by Faustin Tuyambaze

I’ve never met Kori Nelson or Paul Leblanc in person. But, thanks to the power of the internet, I recently introduced them to each other.  Now, Paul is financing Kori’s trip from Minnesota to New Hampshire, so that she can attend her college graduation ceremony at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU)—  the same college where Paul just happens to be the President!

I’m also a student at SNHU, which is how I know Kori. We met this past fall at SNHU’s online student center (SNHU Connect) when we were inducted into the National Society of Leadership and Success. Even though she lives in Menahga, Minnesota and I live in Los Angeles, California, we became fast friends.  We even made a point to skype at least once a month, and the more I learned about Kori, the more I thought she was great. Not only was she a full- time student, but she was also a hard-working mom of two with aspirations to help victims of domestic abuse. Despite challenges with family scheduling, job changes and the weather (look on the map, Menahga is basically at the North Pole!) she always remained optimistic and determined to succeed.

That’s why, the moment I heard she needed help financing her family’s trip to SNHU (so that her husband and children could be there as she accepted her diploma), I wanted to help.

Kori had set up a crowd funding campaign on You Caring, to raise the $500 her family needed for the trip. I went to the site. The more I read her family’s story the more I wanted to write a check to cover the entire amount. Unfortunately, as a student, I couldn’t afford to do that. But, as a writer, a social media marketing manager and a friend, I knew exactly how I could help.

First, I re-wrote her story; cleaned it up a bit to make sure it could appeal to any potential donor. Then, I got on Twitter  and Linkedin to share her story with my connections and followers. As I was scrolling through my list, I came across Dr. Paul LebBanc, the President of SNHU.

I first met Paul online too, when he retweeted an article I wrote for Borgen Magazine about SNHU’s College for America’s online learning program for refugees living at the Kiziba Refugee Camp, in Kigali, Rwanda. At the time, I had scrolled through his Twitter feed. I remember feeling that he was more than just a figure head of a President; that he genuinely cared about his students and would probably do anything to help them suceed. It seemed like Paul was one of us. He even accepted my invitation to connect on Linkedin!  So, with a little wishful thinking, I sent him a message with a link to Kori’s You Caring campaign and a note asking him to, “Please help spread the word!” Almost instantly he wrote back, saying that he “took care of the expenses,” because he was a “sucker for cute kid pics and SNHU students.” Although, I still suspect it was a little more than that; that perhaps, his generosity had something to do with good-old-fashioned human kindness.

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that the internet, especially social media, can inspire people to do good things. This is because much of what we hear and read on the subject is filtered through a very negative light. But, good things do come from a connected world. In fact, stories of kindness are popping up all over the news. This week, on NBC News, a hardworking father of two couldn’t afford to help his friend Shajuana (a cashier at his favorite Popeyes) make her $1500 tuition payment for nursing school. But, he started a crowd funding campaign to find others who could. Last checked, Shajuana’s fund  was over $14,000.  And, this South Carolina teacher raised $80,000 on Go Fund Me to buy every child in her a school a brand new bike!

Even large-scale non-profit organizations understand that not everyone can afford to fork over $100 for every cause they care about. Organizations like the American Red Cross accept vehicle donations, volunteer time and of course, blood donations— giving everyone the opportunity to help those in need.

As for Kori and Paul, he’s asked her to sit on the “right side” of the stage during graduation. This way, when she walks across the stage to accept her diploma in May, he will be the one who hands it to her. And, although she hasn’t said so, I suspect Paul may get a huge hug in return!

Journalism, Literature, Society and Identity


Photo by Nitish Meena

While we can generally agree that realism fundamentally changed the way journalism as a writing form was practiced, clearly the lines that separate journalism, from non-fiction, from fiction have all but disappeared. There are so many media outlets today that, even within the genre of journalism, a distinction of validity generally must occur. In fact, recently, Special Counsel to the President of the United States, Kellyanne Conway, was interviewed on the same topic by TMZ, MSNBC, and Cosmopolitan Magazine. Do all three of these media outlets contain the same merit? Perhaps the bigger question here is, does it even matter? Isn’t information, just information? Or, is journalism the basis for the propaganda that we, as Americans, must inevitably absorb?  And, does journalistic propaganda provide identity for society?

Furthermore, as all journalism is duplicated, paraphrased, and re-circulated across media platforms, are we left with any validity— regardless of if literary elements were contained in the original piece? Or, does every slightly altered re-publication of journalistic content lose its place in the “journalism genre?”  If so, then, where is the threshold!? Where does journalism become non-fiction, and non-fiction become fiction? Perhaps most perplexing: since all media is, at the very minimum unconsciously, influenced by every writer or producer’s ideology, does pure non-fiction even exist?

While Riis’ work, How the Other Half Lives, contains key elements that could easily send this journalistic piece over the threshold toward the non-fiction realm, there is one essential element missing that keeps it from crossing into realistic fiction. That element is character. To highlight these differences and to help define journalism, non-fiction and fiction, we can compare Riis’ journalistic work with the non-fiction of Ernest Hemingway and the fiction of Mark Twain.

In How the Other Half Lives, Jacob Riis inserts his opinion using a first person narrative voice. This style makes his journalism appear literary. Riis writes, “I know of only one easier way, but, so far as I am informed, it has never been introduced in this country. It used to be practiced, if report spoke truly, in certain old-country towns” (Riis). Similarly, he highlights his observations of people that live in the tenements with a highly stylized use of dialect, “S’ppose your wifee bad, you no lickee her?” he asked, as if there could be no appeal from such a common-sense proposition as that…” (Riis). This technique also makes his journalism appear literary. In fact, it is very similar to the realistic style of dialect used by Mark Twain in, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. “Po’ little Lizabeth! po’ little Johnny! it’s might hard; I spec’ I ain’t ever gwyne to see you no mo’, no mo’!” (Twain). Finally, Riis uses a dramatic literary technique called “an aside,” in which the narrator speaks directly to the audience:

“What is truth?” to attempt to weary the reader by dragging him with me over that sterile and unprofitable ground. Nor are these pages the place for such a discussion. In it, let me confess it at once and have done with it, I should be like the blind leading the blind; between the real and apparent poverty, the hidden hoards and the unhesitating mendacity of these people, where they conceive their interests to be concerned in one way or another, the reader and I would fall together into the ditch of doubt and conjecture in which I have found company before” (Riis).

The missing element in Riis’ work that keeps his journalism non-fiction, is the omission or lack of character. Even his narrative voice appears to have none. In fact, his narrative style seems as if he is watching B-roll footage for days, and narrating right along with every frame. Whereas, in Hemingway’s work of non-fiction, “Camping Out,” even his informal main character, “He,” contains some sort of “star quality.”  Hemingway writes, “The call of the wild may be all right, but it’s a dog’s life. He’s heard the call of the tame with both ears. Waiter, bring him an order of milk toast” (Hemingway). I imagine Riis’ journalistic depiction of a similar scene would read more along the lines of, “Nature has set in and the Jew has no choice but to accept the hard facts of life. There is no milk available this morning to drink with the breakfast toast.” However, both authors infer economic realities in very similar ways. Riis writes, “He opened a sort of breakfast shop for the idle and unemployed in the region of Washington Square, offering to all who had no money a cup of coffee and a roll for nothing. (Riis). And Hemingway, “A pan of fried trout can’t be bettered and they don’t cost any more than ever. But there is a good and bad way of frying them” (Hemingway). Making it seemingly harder to differentiate between the two respective genres.

All this said, it is important to understand the cultural impact inherent from society’s willingness to accept journalism as truth. What shapes reality when journalism is coming in from so many different outlets?  More importantly, how does this reality impact society? In other words, does society form its own identity or, is the identity of society determined from the influence of media (journalism, non-fiction and fiction)?

Louis Althusser’s theory of ideology sparks a debate as to the multitude and magnitude of ways by which people absorb their assumptions from media. His theory provides that individuals’ identities stem from views placed upon us by culture (society). And, in 1987, John Fisk provided examples as to how modern television journalism enhances Althusser’s theory.“These meanings are not only meanings of social experience, but also meanings of self, that is constructions of social identity, that enable people living in industrial capitalist societies to make sense of themselves and their social relations. Meanings of experience and meanings of the subject (or self) who has that experience are finally party of the same cultural process” (Fiske).

This, taken into account with the (now expected) repetitive exposure to all media and, we are left to wonder if we are wasting our time seeking to define journalism. Instead, should we seek to define the identity of the American Media Entity where, “the repeated use… makes “America” into a living, breathing body (like the one “we” inhabit) …” (Fiske).  The latter may help to identify what roll, if any, writers have in shaping “reality.”


Fiske, John. “Culture, Ideology, Interpellation.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd Edittion. 1998. Print.

Hemingway, Ernest.“Camping Out.” 1920. Accessed 12 Feb. 2017.

Riis, Jacob. How the Other Half Lives. 1890. Accessed 5 Feb 2017.

Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. EBOOK #76. Released 20 Aug. 2006. Accessed 2 Feb. 2017.

Now is a Good Time to Wake Up

Photo by Maddi Robinson

Photo by Maddi Robinson

Published on Dec 28th 2016 in the Santa Monica Daily Press   

Not long ago, a truck drove into a Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 people. It was all over the news. Then, on Christmas Day, an attack at a market in Cameroon, Africa killed 2 people. No one heard about it. So what makes an attack in Berlin more news worthy than an attack in Cameroon? I certainly don’t have the answer to that and you probably don’t either. But, it does make me think about the global poverty crisis; about the people suffering in the developing world who have fallen off the radar too.

Everyone knows that Carrie Fisher just had a heart-attack while traveling over the holidays. We even know how many times the D-list celebrities on the United flight next to her tweeted about the incident.  But how many people know about the global poverty crisis? How many people know that over 2.5 billion people, almost half the world’s population, currently live on less than $2.50 per day? How many people know that in Pakistan, only 17.8 per cent of the population can use the internet? Or that 3.5 million refugee children do not have the option to attend a school.

I used to care more about the “Carrie Fishers” of the world too– way more than about the 795 million people living without enough food. But then, I woke up.

I first learned about The Borgen Project when I applied to be an intern, a writer for their online magazine. But within weeks of starting my internship I became much more. I became a supporter. A few weeks later and I became even more than that. I became an advocate.

Now, I’m urging others to do the same. To acknowledge the terrifying statistics and make a commitment to help those in need.

The Borgen Project promotes innovations in poverty reduction by building awareness to the facts, and to some of the ways we’ve already seen succeed. Essentially, they are an ally for the world’s poor.

You see, there’s nothing too complicated about improving living conditions for the billions suffering world-wide. The Borgen Project understands this, and beyond spreading awareness, they work with U.S. Congress to foster more permanent change.

Listen, I love Star Wars too, and Princess Leia is super cool. But it’s sickening that 47,000 people take the time to re-tweet about Carrie Fisher’s health, and ignore the billions of people living in poverty in our world today.  Please help those suffering not get lost in the crowd. Cultivate some compassion and take the time to make a difference. Who knows, you might even make yourself stand out a little during the process.  At the very least, follow @borgenproject and @borgenmagazine and re-tweet their posts along with your essential celebrity news of the day. And while you’re at it, google “Cameroon Christmas Market,” and take a moment to remember the lives we lost there too.

Volunteers and Social Media Community Work Together in Hurricane Matthew Relief Efforts

As originally published on

With much of the East Coast under water, four Los Angeles based volunteers went above and beyond the call of duty, traveling 2400 miles to help those in need. Their digital community back home showed support, virtually accompanying them along the way.

On October 10, 2016, Sandy Hanagami, Angela De Rozario, Henry Mills and Pedro Orellena departed from the American Red Cross Los Angeles Regional Headquarters in Emergency Response Vehicles on a 5-day trip to the East Coast to assist with Hurricane Matthew Relief Efforts. Before they left, I exchanged numbers with the group, in hopes of getting a few photos from the volunteers to share the Red Cross mission in action with our social media community here in L.A. Within hours, photos and videos started coming in; and with every state line our volunteers crossed, those of us virtually joining the trip on social media began to feel more and more like we were also a part of the team. By the second day, our Twitter followers and Facebook users were completely engaged, giving advice on the best routes to take, where to stop for local cuisine, and “must-see” landmarks along the way. I did my best to keep up with the content, posting and tweeting updates as best I could in real-time. It wasn’t long before Red Cross chapters from other states began to take notice and follow their journey too, sending virtual shout-outs and waves as our volunteers passed by on freeways and interstates just a few miles away.

The dedication and commitment of our traveling volunteers was great, but the response from our social media community was just as awesome! Not only were people re-tweeting and sharing photos and videos from our volunteers’ trip; but, through the power of social media, our digital community was actually along for the ride, virtually enjoying the journey every step of the way.

By the time Sandy, Angela, Henry and Pedro reached the state of Georgia their deployment destinations were finalized and those of us following from Los Angeles were excited to see them begin assisting with Hurricane Matthew relief efforts and help those affected by the storm. Luckily for us, the photos and videos kept coming; and I kept posting, keeping our volunteers’ new and expanding Red Cross digital family informed and engaged throughout the rest of their 14-day deployment.

“Being out in the field and being able to help people during their greatest time of need is such a great feeling, but the response from social media and the support we received from our Los Angeles community was huge! We really felt like everyone was in our corner. The entire time we were assisting with Hurricane Matthew relief efforts, we knew everyone back home wanted us to succeed.”
– Angela De Rozario, Red Cross Volunteer

If you want to be a part of their journey too, check out this photo album on Facebook and watch this highlight video on YouTube.

Digital Social Discourse

Digital Social Discourse

Mikhail Bakhtin was a 20th century Russian philosopher who expanded upon Marxist thought to define the social function of language. His work, forever ahead of its time, stumps scholars to this day. In fact, much of what Bakhtin wrote aligns with poststructuralist thought, a movement that didn’t emerge until just before his death, in 1975. In his 1935 essay “Discourse in the Novel,” Bakhtin draws attention to the way a variety of diverse discourses work together, to explain, “a concrete socio-ideological language consciousness … where consciousness finds itself inevitably facing the necessity of having to choose a language” (677). To quote my favorite professor’s favorite Bakhtin, “When we stare at each other, two different worlds are reflected in the pupils of our eyes. Dialogue, the give and take of language, completes these two worlds” (Salyer). But what if the person you are starring at isn’t physically there? What happens to language when pupils are replaced by a message board, a photo, or a post?  Is there a virtual give and take between dialogue and reflection in our digital world? Have we become blind to authenticity, communicating now through only that which is implied?  Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in-between, in the virtu-verse of social discourse.

Today, in the world of digital advertising, analytics reports and statistical analysis have nearly surpassed traditional communication.  I wouldn’t be surprised if you could easily find the statistics for how many Japanese-American men watched the “Ice-T Lemonade” ad last Thursday on the new iPhone while taking a sh*t.  Of course this would be accompanied by a pie-chart; highlighting location, socio-economic status, and if the toilet paper they were using came from Google Express.

Bakhtin claims, “a diversity of social speech types, sometimes even diversity of languages and a diversity of individual voices” (674), create language.  In essence, he is defining social discourse. Living somewhere among these various social speech types, within the world of social discourse, is the individual voice. And within every individual voice lies a multi-dimensional internal-verse, full of feeling and thought.  Thus, an infinite number of internal-verses exist within our social universe. But what happens when our social universe goes viral, when it itself becomes infinitesimal? How would Bakhtin define digital social discourse? What would he think of this virtu-verse?  Are there benefits and consequences from communicating through the in-between?

Everyone with a smart phone walks around with the ability to jump in and out of a virtual black hole. Either they are present and participating in society, or stuck in their phone, unconscious to the “real” world. But can consciousness exist above and below a thin transparent screen?

The virtu-verse is this threshold— where social discourse and internal discourse exist consciously and unconsciously, together and separately, virtually and authentically as one.

We’ve all met someone who lives in their own world. Someone who, when they actually speak out loud, is shocked back into “reality.”  For this person, entering the virtu-verse heightens their conscious identity, allowing them to virtually join the collective and enjoy unlimited new opportunities for social interaction.

There are also revenue generating aspects to consider. Throw a little money at the internet and in less than a second your computer sends a pop-up ad to the “right buyer” at the “right time” on precisely the “right quadrant” of the “right page.” Endless new jobs have also emerged, allowing more free time and a higher quality of life for people now choosing to work from home.

But can there be authenticity in virtual communication?  Can humans maintain accountability and consciously exist within an unconscious digital collective?

We’ve seen the power of virtual communication work both ways to inspire the human race.  A little girl from Aleppo can win the hearts of America just as easily as protesting can escalate into a state of emergency overnight. But there is a refreshing human quality to the movement behind the movement in our digital world. Something that makes a  9-year-old girl’s refusal to do her math homework  reach the national news, and remind us all about the importance of teaching and learning respect. Something that raises awareness for worthy causes—remember the “Ice-Bucket Challenge?” Something that allows us to watch the celestial motion of Jupiter and four of its moons, whenever we want, just by looking in the palm of our hand.

Regardless of whether we view digital communication through a positive or negative light, recognizing its ability to empower the virtual-human collective through the social function of language is something we should all consciously embrace. While I appreciate the amenities and services a commodified internet brings, I strongly believe the human benefit, the one we are almost missing, seriously outweighs every platform for capital gain. Don’t get me wrong, I love Google Express— especially when they deliver giant bundles of Costco toilet paper right to my front door. I just don’t see the benefit of others knowing what I’m watching on my iPhone when I use it. And I suspect Bakhtin, though he claimed, “consciousness at all times and everywhere comes upon languages, not language” (677), might also feel the same way.

Bakhtin, Mikhail. “Discourse in the Novel” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1998. (674-685). Print.

Salyer, Gregory. Interview.  23 September 2016.

A Screenwriter’s Take on Visual Language   

One could argue that film, the precise blend of dialogue, visuals, special effects & music, is the ultimate form of communication. As a screenwriter (doing my small part to create films), appropriately understanding and applying the English language plays a huge role: especially when it comes to expressing character thought with accurate and realistic dialogue. As society turns to technology for everyday needs, the English language will continue to adapt and eventually become the ultimate universal language. As a professional screenwriter, I hope to blend the English language with technology and convey heart-felt stories to diverse audiences, world-wide.

Technology has always influenced the English language, but recently, word formation methods like shortening (alphabetism, acronymy, clipping and backformation) and blending are on the rise to keep up with space and time saving trends that co-exist with today’s technology. In How English Works, Anne Curzan and Michael P. Adams discuss the trend of eliminating non-essential punctuation and characters from newspaper headlines and paperback books in the 20th century— as a means to save space and time (Curzan and Adams 459-460). Today, when it comes to the news and virtual media outlets, these space and time saving trends continue. Take for example the 140 – character limit on Twitter. This social media platform has mastered the art of telling the news via headlines only.  According to Craig Smith of DMR statistics, there are 1.3 billion registered users on Twitter (Smith).  Imagine the space and time saved when all these tweets add up! As virtual communication becomes the only form of communication, space and time saving word formation methods will prove more effective and become more popular.  Enter the emoticon.

Emoticons, although controversial, are a widely used form of picto-graphic e-communication. I believe they are a major part of the continued expansion of the English language.  In a recent article, Author Quinn Bartlett stated, “…the assumption that emoticons are fundamentally a juvenile form of communication not worthy of consideration as a legitimate language is to hold society to a self-imposed standard which is both unrealistic, limiting, and ignorant of human history” (Bartlett). I tend to think of emoticons as mini – movies, each expressing an intimate story known only to the sender and the receiver. The following series of emoticons could mean thousands of things, but in context, the message is perfectly clear:

emoticon communication

“I’m so sorry things didn’t work out with Harry, what can I do to help? You wanna get outta the house? Let’s go get a mani/pedi or lunch. It’s nice outside!”

Genius that we can say all this with just a few pics, dontcha think? Genius but not new. Over 40,000 years ago logographic writing appeared in the form of hieroglyphics, in ancient Egyptian societies (Scoville). If we look at a message similar to the emoticon example above, translated to hieroglyphics, we get the following scene:

H communication

To this day scientists struggle with understanding the true meaning of hieroglyphic communication.  Perhaps, in attempting to translate these pictorial messages, scientists are wasting their time. Just as its important to look back at history for answers, it is also important to consider that English is not an absolute, and never has been (Bartlett). If we were scientists studying the emoticon example above, we would never assume the receiver of this message was sitting at home, sulking over a bad break-up with a guy named Harry.  Similarly, one may never completely decipher 40,000 year- old Egyptian conversations. When discussing the meaning of words in context, in their book, How English Works, Anne Curzan and Michael P. Adams state, “Sentences, when uttered, can mean much more than the denotational meaning of the words they contain, and they can do more than describe or refer to the world around us” (Curzan and Adams 236). Hieroglyphic communication may too, mean much more than the intricate picture displayed, only to have been truly understood by the sender(s) and the receiver(s) at that precise moment in time.

Hieroglyphs, documentaries, feature films, emoticons: no matter the influence from technology, they all tell a story.  And for each reader/viewer/receiver, in context, each tells a different story – a highly personal one. As the English language evolves, linguistics, English and writing professionals will take on new roles, and function side-by-side, as partners with technology. Understanding the English language, where it has been and where it is going, will surely help these partnerships grow. Within this new role, as a screenwriter, my goal is to script stories in a manner that generates the empathetic appeal necessary to personally reach all audiences– throughout time.

Bartlett, Quinn. “Emoticons, a Return to Hieroglyphics?” 2 October 2014.

        Web. 24 July 2016.

Curzan, Anne and Michael P. Adams. “How English Works: A Linguistic Introduction.” 3rd ed.

        Pearson, 2012.

Scoville, Priscilla.  “Egyptian Hieroglyphs,” Ancient History Encyclopedia. 2 July 2015. Web.

        24 July 2016.

Sherman, Robert. “Online Hieroglyphics Translator.” 1996-2016. Web. 24 July


Smith, Craig. “By the Numbers: 170 + Amazing Twitter Statistics.” 14 July 2016.

        Web. 24 July 2016.


I’ve always loved writing, but never imagined I could become a professional writer. I grew up in athletics. By the age of twelve I had earned national recognition as a gymnast and by the age of sixteen I was awarded All-American honors as a diver. After attending the University of Maryland on an athletic scholarship and graduating with a B.A. in Government & Politics, I decided to begin my professional career—in athletics.

It wasn’t until the fall of 2015, when I took a creative writing course at a local community college, that I remembered how much I enjoyed learning and writing. I wrote a short story, called “Channel Surfing,” and on a whim sent it into an online journal. It was the first story I had ever written and the first journal I had ever contacted, so I wasn’t expecting to hear anything… but I heard back in less than a week.  They loved it and wanted publish it! It was then that I knew for sure that writing was my new career.

I’m actually enjoying the challenges of starting from scratch. My classes are great, and all these new professional possibilities are giving me a fresh outlook on the future. So far starting a new career has been exciting and invigorating— like waking up every day to a whole new world. I just wish I’d done it sooner!