March 2, 2015

Samuel Chris McCoy ’06 Addressing Social Issues Through Performing Arts

Samuel Chris McCoy ’06 Addressing Social Issues Through Performing Arts

As an O’Dowd freshman, Samuel Chris McCoy ’06 was deeply moved by the drama department’s production of “The Laramie Project.”

“Seeing how well produced it was and experiencing the play’s political impact pushed me to get involved in theatre at O’Dowd,” he said.

McCoy later performed in Tartuffe, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and played a lead role in the musical Ragtime.

Today, McCoy, 26, is challenging others to advocate for a more just world through drama. A Peace Corps volunteer working as a teacher in a public high school in Nicaragua, McCoy wrote, directed and produced The Triumph of Jessica, which focuses on discrimination. (The full play and interview with the student actors can be viewed on McCoy’s blog: Developed from students’ dialogues and improvisations about the theme of discrimination, the play is inspired by the classic Nicaraguan text El Güegüense.

“After I asked the youth in my English Theatre Project group, most of whom are students in the U.S. embassy-sponsored Access English program, what problems they see in their community, they told me they wanted to discuss, more than anything, the problem of discrimination,” he said. “Since I have had experiences with discrimination, including recent instances based on my Egyptian heritage, I felt it was a topic I wanted to tackle as well. Discrimination is a damaging, foolish symptom of ignorance. In my mind, education and creative expression are the best ways to prevent and combat discrimination.”

Staged in December at a Catholic-founded youth center (Fabretto) in Nicaragua, the play received a standing ovation. “I was extremely proud of the student actors, who all stepped up to the plate by memorizing all their lines and staying in character. This was their first time acting in a play and they did an amazing job in a very short time frame. The time from our initial meetings and improvisations to curtain call was only two months!” he said.

As far as McCoy knows, this is the first time an original theatre production has been developed and performed by youth in Nicaragua. “I’m sure that it is the first original play to be presented both in English and in Spanish in this country. The youth feel empowered. They feel more confident in their public speaking abilities and in their English communication skills,” he said.

McCoy said his main goals with this project were: to inspire the youth who participated, and all the community members who attended, to express themselves through the powerful medium of theatre; to encourage people to become bilingual in a globalized world; and to stir them to take a stand against discrimination in their lives.

Broadening His Horizons

McCoy attended the University of California, San Diego, where he majored in political science and minored in theatre and ethnic studies. He also studied abroad for a year, focusing on political science, theatre and Arabic at the American University in Cairo, Egypt.

After graduating from UCSD, McCoy worked as a volunteer political writer with Youth Radio in Oakland. Before joining the Peace Corps, he served as a communications associate for several Bay Area nonprofits through the domestic version of the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps VISTA. “As a VISTA, I spearheaded the social media outreach of a nonprofit that helps youth from low-income families get into college, as well as for a nonprofit that works with youth from homeless families in San Francisco. I felt the need to serve youth in my community before heading off to serve overseas,” he said.

McCoy had long dreamed of serving in the Peace Corps. “Shortly after the tragic attacks of 9/11, my English teacher asked our 8th grade class to write about what we wanted to be when we grew up. I drew a picture of myself smiling in a suit equipped with a Peace Corps pin, and wrote that I dreamt of being a community leader and public figure, helping people in the U.S. and around the world,” he said.

He began his Peace Corps service in November 2013, after completing three months of language, culture and teacher-related training. “I like that Peace Corps service allows me to do many things I am passionate about at once – serve my country, help people from disadvantaged circumstances, learn about other languages and cultures by living abroad, and to be creative and start projects of my own design and initiative,” he said.

His primary responsibility this past school year was to co-teach, along with Nicaraguan English teachers, public high school English classes of around 50-plus students, as well as give workshops and trainings to English teachers around the country. McCoy’s first time in Central America was as a participant in the two-week Costa Rica ecology trip through Bishop O’Dowd’s science department and Ecology Project International as a sophomore.

McCoy said that the most difficult thing about being a Peace Corps volunteer this past year has been the challenging work environment – working in an under-resourced school with overcrowded classrooms and with youth who are dealing with many other issues outside of the class.

However, the rewards are many. “I was blown away by the amount of love and gratitude I received from my students on my birthday this year. My 150 graduating high school students filled three classrooms with balloons, confetti, piñatas, cake and music and heaped thoughtful gifts on me to give me the best birthday celebration I have ever had. Just the fact that they appreciated all that I had done for them over the past year was the best reward I could ever ask for as a teacher,” he said.

O’Dowd Experience Continues to Influence

McCoy said that O’Dowd equipped him with the tools to apply technique to talent in order to make a difference and move the crowd.

“I think art, and specifically theatre, plays an important role in society by serving as an outlet for expression and commentary on important social themes. O’Dowd’s Drama Department does not hesitate in choosing edgy, sometimes politically-charged plays that challenge students and audiences to think differently and pose critical questions about society.

“I am a socially conscious person who has learned that there comes a point where it is not only ideal but essential to take a stand and speak up instead of sitting on the sidelines and keeping quiet in the face of adversity. Otherwise, nothing is going to change. My education, in addition to my theatrical training and participation in other clubs such as the Junior State of America at O’Dowd, helped prepare me to become a critical thinker and strong public speaker. These important skills are required to be a leader in taking a stand against injustice,” he said.

McCoy says that since his O’Dowd education was made possible by generous scholarships from the school, he feels a special responsibility to give back. “I want to pay it forward and pass on what I’ve learned by working with youth who come from similarly disadvantaged socio-economic circumstances as my own,” he said.

Looking Ahead

McCoy says he really enjoys making a positive difference in the lives of young people as a teacher. “I see myself continuing teaching, even if it is only as a volunteer, regardless of whichever line of work I pursue,” he said.

“After completing my two-year commitment with the Peace Corps, I would like to continue with public service as well as staying involved in performance arts and politics, in addition to learning languages and travelling the world. I fully subscribe to the belief that we should be the change we wish to see in the world,” McCoy added.

Transbay High School Jazz Jam, Friday March 6

March 1, 2015

Care for Creation in the Lenten Season

By: Andra Yeghoian
Director of Sustainability

In preparation for Easter and Pope Francis’ highly anticipated encyclical on care for Creation, two major organization take a stand to raise awareness about global climate change. Read more about each initiative below, and become inspired to take part and make a difference.

Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM)

The GCCM is an international coalition of Catholic organizations and individuals that, in union with and in support of the pope and bishops, seeks to raise a strong Catholic voice in global climate change discussions. The organization officially began on January 14, 2015 and includes groups like the Franciscan Action Network, the USCCB’s Catholic Climate Covenant, the U.S. branch of Catholic Charities, and the Jesuit European Social Center (see full list of members here ). The GCCM grounds its mission in the Catholic Teachings and Statements on Climate Change and Creation Stewardship, and aims to be a powerful force for change.

The GCCM are laity, religious, and clergy, theologians, scientists, and activists from all over the world, united by Catholic faith and work on environmental and social issues. They seek above all to fulfill the Catholic scriptural obligation to care for God’s creation, for the poor who are the most vulnerable to extreme weather events, and for future generations who will face the worst impacts of climate change. Two main goals unite this group:

  • First, raise awareness inside the Church about the urgency and moral imperative of climate action, while inviting communities to pray and act on this issue.
  • Second, work to raise our Catholic voice outside the Church in the global public sphere, advocating for a strong international climate agreement.

Inspired by the Catholic Bishop’s Statement in Lima from the 20th Conference of Parties, the GCCM formed to bring urgency around the climate crisis and keep the global temperature increase below 1.5 degree Celsius (relative to pre-industrial levels). The GCCM aims to mobilize 1.2 billion Catholic across the world by strengthening bonds and coordinating efforts, so that Catholics present a united front at the Cop21 summit in Paris in Nov-Dec 2015.


Building up to Cop21, the GCCM plans to run an assortment of initiatives in 2015. They are kicking off with an initiative called, the Climate Justice Fast, which takes place during the Lenten season. The climate justice fast is one of several similar efforts worldwide, first inspired by The Fast for the Climate, which is an interfaith campaign that began Dec. 1 — the start of the United Nations climate negotiations in Lima, Peru — and will continue through the end of November when the talks resume in Paris.

Rather than asking each country to hold a continuous 40-day fast, the GCCM will operate the Lenten fast in a pass-the-baton fashion, with a different country (44 countries have currently signed on, and will be represented by a group of people or, in some cases, an individual) observing it each day before giving way to the next nation in line. In keeping with church tradition, all Catholics are asked to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The U.S. fasting date is set for March 16. See Map of participating countries below:

This movement is very much aligned with the vision of Pope Francis, whose Universal April prayer intention is, “That people may learn to respect creation and care for it as a gift of God” (see full list of 2015 Intentions for the Apostleship of Prayer here). Furthermore, Pope Francis is coming out with his Care for Creation encyclical in July 2015.

Ignatian Solidarity Network

The Ignatian Solidarity Network (ISN) is a national social justice network (founded in 2004) inspired by the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola. They work in partnership with Jesuit universities, high schools, and parishes, along with many other Catholic institutions and social justice partners, to promote leadership and advocacy on social justice issues. This is done by mobilizing a national network to address those issues; and by encouraging a life-long commitment to the “service of faith and the promotion of justice.”

In preparation for the encyclical and Easter, the Ignatian Solidarity Network is offering a Lenten reflection series, “Renewing The Face of the Earth,” by authors from all over the world, who will offer short reflections from their experiences of caring for creation and the day’s readings. The daily reflections aim to examine faith and how Catholics are practicing environmental stewardship. Check out recent inspiring reflections here.

Click on the news tab of O’Dowd’s Sustainability Page to read more sustainability news

February 27, 2015

Playlist of I Am Mini Bios – Black History Month

Playlist of “I Am” Mini Bios

Watch more videos on our YouTube channel »

Students Challenged to be “Difference Makers” at Black History Month Assembly

Watch all Black History Month Assembly videos on our YouTube channel »

When Dwight Taylor Sr. graduated from O’Dowd in 2000, he never anticipated he’d return to campus as the featured speaker at a Black History Month Assembly.

But on Feb. 26, Taylor inspired the student body with song and spoken word, urging them to be “difference makers” that have a vision towards their future. “Vision will stop you, send you, strengthen you, stretch you and satisfy you,” he said.

Better known today as “Transparent,” Taylor is a hip hop artist and motivational speaker who has won numerous awards. He was a 2010 Stellar Award Nominee, for Hip Hop Gospel CD of the Year, and won the “Best of the Blessed” Artist of the Year award at the 2009 Christian Music (CMA). He was also nominated for six categories at the 2009 Rejoice Gospel Music Awards, where he took home the “Best Male Gospel Hip Hop Artist (unsigned)” and “Gospel’s Rising Star” award.

“Being here today was not a vision of mine 15 years ago. Being here today was a vision of God before I was even created,” he said. “The reason why I’m standing before you today is because I know the vision that God gave me, which is to empower people to become better than they thought that they could be.”

Added Taylor, “Let us all be difference makers and be the change that we want to see.”

Playlist of “I Am” Mini Bios

Watch more videos on our YouTube channel »

Taylor was impressed by the Black History Month Assembly play, written by Zenzile Riddick ’15, which examined the image versus reality of the African American experience.

Riddick said the characterizations of African American culture in the media – particularly social media – is disturbing to her. “There are a lot of images out there that are dead wrong, and people have to understand the realness of African American culture. It was important to me to make sure that (the Black History Month Assembly portrayal) was done right, which is why I wanted to step up and do the writing. I wrote it, but it was a very communal effort,” Riddick said.

Sponsored and organized by the Black Student Union (BSU), with guidance from the group’s moderators – history teacher Tony Green and staff member Marguerite Green, the Black History Month Assembly featured more than 85 students who participated in the planning of the event.

A community performance will be held on March 1, beginning at 5 p.m., in the large gym.

You can watch Taylor’s presentation and all the Black History Month performances on the O’Dowd YouTube Channel.

Click photo thumbnail to view full size. Images can be right clicked and downloaded at 1024px wide by 768px.

Dance – We The People Who Are Darker Than Blue – Curtis Mayfield

Watch more videos on our YouTube channel »

Glory – Black History Month, Selma

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February 26, 2015

Capturing Swarm of Bees at O’Dowd

Bees reproduce by swarming. Half the hive takes off with the old queen to find a new home to start again. This swarm was particularly conveniently located and we were able to easily capture it so we could transplant it to our other hive.

Watch more videos on our YouTube channel »

Patrice and Beth stand in middle of swarm with no “armor”. Fearless!

February 24, 2015

Laura Boushnak: For these women, reading is a daring act

In some parts of the world, half of the women lack basic reading and writing skills. Photographer and TED Fellow Laura Boushnak traveled to countries including Yemen, Egypt and Tunisia to highlight brave women — schoolgirls, political activists, 60-year-old moms — who are fighting the statistics.

View our TED archive »

February 23, 2015

Building a Culture of Sustainability at O’Dowd

Just on the heels of Pope Francis addressing Creation care in his homily at the Feb. 9 Mass at the Casa Santa Marta, the faculty and staff of Bishop O’Dowd High School explored the relationship between sustainability and O’Dowd’s Catholic Identity at their all day retreat held on Friday, Feb. 13.

The retreat was a jointly coordinated effort between the Campus Ministry team (led by Director Greg Moore) and the Sustainability Office (led by Director Andra Yeghoian), and featured a unique organizational set-up with the day designed as a teaching Mass. O’Dowd invited Father Joseph P. Carver S.J. (currently the resident Pastor of the St. Francis Xavier Parish in Missoula, MT) to preside over the day, as he is a well known for his understanding of Spiritual Ecology (check out his recently published article “The Ecological Examen”.

Father Joseph opened the day beautifully, with a powerful reflection on the themes of Walking on Holy Ground; the connection between resurrection, incarnation, and creation; finding God in the natural world; and kinship with creation.

The morning session was then turned over to Director of Sustainability, Andra Yeghoian, who led the faculty/staff in a deeper dive into sustainability vocabulary and terminology, and an exploration of how sustainability is coming into action in the world. The morning session was followed by a community building “slow food” lunch, featuring local sustainable chocolates (including OCHO and TCHOtwo chocolates with a close connection to the O’Dowd community), and space for sharing Prayers of the Faithful.

Throughout the afternoon, faculty/staff participated in a number of breakout sessions geared towards building a deeper personal connection with sustainability, and bringing sustainability into the classroom. Topics included: Spiritual Ecology and Prayer, Personal Sustainability, the Sustainable Food Movement, Systems Thinking and Sustainability, and Sustainability and water (featuring the documentary Blue Gold).

The day closed out with Father Joseph’s sending forth and a commitment to continue deepening O’Dowd’s commitment to sustainability as stewards of Earth, Humanity, and Livelihood.

Check out past Sustainability News here

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