Never underestimate kid power. That’s the message of the Bronx Children’s Museum’s Dream Big program, which on Saturday, August 6, celebrated the completion of its second summer of children’s workshops at community centers throughout the borough with a day of festivities hosted by Hostos Community College.
The kids lived up to the message, using their power to attract important mentors, including this year’s honoree, United States Surgeon General Regina Benjamin.
Dr. Benjamin was joined at the college’s main building, on the Grand Concourse and 149th St., by a number of surprise guests including last year’s honoree, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayor, along with U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congressman Jose Serrano, in addition to state and local officeholders or their representatives.
Parents, public officials and invited guests were treated to demonstrations and displays of music, art and dance that 116 children spent five weeks developing at BronxWorks, SCAN (Stop Child Abuse Now), Freedom Community and Abraham House under the direction of the Afro-Caribbean dance group ¡Retumba!, the Pregones theater group and museum instructors. A Society of the Educational Arts, Inc., puppet show and a performance by the Highbridge Voices, a teen chorus, rounded out the day’s events.
Longtime museum supporter Sonia Manzano — “Maria” from Sesame Street — was the emcee. Ms. Manzano added, “Today is about Dreaming Big and celebrating the accomplishments of our wonderful Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin, and of another Sonia from the Bronx, the Honorable Sonia Sotomayor. Today is also about the importance of early childhood education and the importance of living a healthy life style,” said Ms. Manzano. “I know, from being on Sesame Street for so many years, that children are born with the desire to learn and explore. It is our job as adults to keep their enthusiasm for learning alive. A children’s museum does exactly that. I wish the Bronx Children’s Museum had been in existence when I was growing up in the Bronx. I look forward to joining both Dr. Benjamin, our Surgeon General, and Justice Sotomayor at the ground breaking ceremony,” she added. This year, the program focused on health in an area which has some of the highest rates of childhood obesity, diabetes and asthma in the city.
The Surgeon General regaled her audience with her own version of the Dream Big story, telling them of her trajectory from a childhood of deprivation in rural Alabama to medical school to becoming “America’s doctor” despite extraordinary obstacles — including floods, hurricanes and fires — she had to contend with and she shared information with the kids about the importance of nutrition and exercise.
As she did when she was the honoree at a similar ceremony at Lehman College last year, Justice Sotomayor established an instant rapport with the kids, who crowded around and hugged her. Referring to the theme of this year’s program, she shared the story of her own struggle with childhood diabetes.
“Once again this year, our children are learning what it takes to make big dreams come true, all while having fun.” said Board President Hope Harley, “And they are also learning how to live a healthy lifestyle to help them realize their goals. Finally they have the opportunity to meet someone who proves that Dream Big is more than just a slogan. Surgeon General Benjamin is proof of what can be achieved when you work hard and Dream Big, just as Justice Sotomayor has been.”
Deputy Mayor Carol Robles-Roman said, “The Bronx is home to an incredibly vibrant and diverse cultural community. The Bronx Children’s Museum, with its educational and dynamic programming, will enhance the lives of our children, particularly in the Bronx, for generations to come.”
U.S. Congressman José E. Serrano, who represents the Sixteenth Congressional District of New York in the Bronx, knows better than anyone how serious the health crisis is in the Bronx…especially for our children. A tireless advocate on behalf of children’s rights to healthcare, Congressman Serrano applauded the children’s museum for taking a leadership role in the education of our children around health care. “If we can motivate our children, as the Museum has done this summer, to integrate fun healthy living into their daily lives, our children will be able to grow into the dynamic and healthy adults they are destined to be. Habits and behaviors form at an early age which is why the Bronx Children’s Museum is so important to all of us. We have been waiting for the museum since 2006 and you have shown us that you are now an important part of the fabric that makes our borough great. You have a critical role to play and we can see you are up to the challenge and here to inspire our future generations to Dream Big.”
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand commented, “I am proud to join our special guests Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Sonia Manzano and meet the children the Bronx Children’s Museum is inspiring to think healthy and dream big. The childhood obesity crisis in this country puts our children at serious risk of chronic illnesses, and holds them back from a bright future. I want to thank the Museum for leading the way with other Bronx health institutions and educators to reverse the troubling trend in the childhood obesity crisis. By working together, we can create a new day.”
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., stated: “Encouraging our kids to dream big is a shared goal of both my office and the Bronx Children’s Museum, and I am proud to support this wonderful institution in its efforts to develop healthy minds and healthy bodies for our Bronx children. I would especially like to thank Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and our surgeon general, Vice Admiral Regina M. Benjamin, for joining us in our efforts to improve the mental and physical health and well-being of the children of our borough,”
NYS Assemblywoman Vanessa Gibson said, “I am proud of the children, the museum, and its partners for their hard work and dedication over the summer to put health in the spotlight. It certainly takes a village to raise a child. I can’t think of a better way to inspire children to live a healthier life than through the arts. Bravo the Bronx Children’s Museum, Pregones, and ¡Retumba! and the children of the Bronx.
Founding Executive Carla Precht added, “Our Museum will continue to provide programs in the community under the umbrella of “Dream Big” while our center is being developed. In the meantime, we are thrilled to have a new bus to transport programs and exhibits throughout the Bronx. Our first interactive exhibit in our bus, called River on the Go, will be unveiled in the fall.
The Bronx Children’s Museum is slated to open its Center by late 2013. The museum will provide interactive inquiry-based programs both inside and outside the Museum’s walls that promote literacy, the arts, science, cultural enrichment, greening, and sustainability. The Museum is currently developing its exhibits. The Museum collaborates with, complements and supports community-based organizations, shelters, foster care and day care programs, and schools, as well as cultural and recreational institutions in the Bronx.