Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, July 12, 2001

Atkinson YMCA youth leader Cora Spearman hopes
a fund-raiser she's staging will prevent the Central
YMCA's Japanese-language preschool program
from being terminated.

Money's No Object

Cora Spearman hosts a fund-raiser
out of her own pocket in support
of YMCA youth program

By Shawn "Speedy" Lopes

The word is "Edutainment." Borrowing a phrase from heralded hip hop icon KRS-One, 24-year-old Cora Spearman is determined to have a positive impact on the lives of youngsters she has come to know and love through her job as a group leader at the YMCA.

When she discovered that her Japanese-language preschool program at the Y's Central Branch could be terminated for failing to meet financial goals, Spearman dipped into her savings to try to turn her resources -- more than a couple thousand, she said -- into something greater than currency.

"I believe in edutainment," says the Dayton, Ohio-raised, globe-trekker. "My dream was to come out here and do something meaningful that mixes entertainment with education. Anyone can put on an event, but the idea here is to create a bomb party with proceeds to go to good use."

Raised in a civic-minded family (her great-aunt founded the first Black YMCA in Dayton), philanthropy comes quite naturally to Spearman. She spent much of her youth engaged in community projects and traveling the world, immersing herself in a myriad of cultures and causes.

As a teenager, she was selected as the Japan women's basketball team's interpreter at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and serv-ed as the Atlanta correspondent to Dayton radio station U-92.

Less than a year later, she was featured in Newsweek magazine, along with soul revisionists Erykah Badu and Maxwell, as part of the new "African-American bohemia" for her involvement in poetry and the spoken word. When she first came to Hawaii, she entered the Honolulu Academy of Arts' first-ever poetry slam on a lark and was shocked when she captured first place. It was the first of many fortuitous signs that told her the Islands would be her new home.

Today, Spearman lovingly describes the children she works with and the program she wants so much to save. There's Kazuki, a bird-voiced little girl who likes to pick flowers for her teacher; brothers Kahoe and Yasutaka, whose favorite English phrase, "Oh no," is usually spoken in unison when the unexpected happens; Sun, the Korean girl who throws up her hands, puckers her mouth and says "No, no, no" in the same situation; and Alex, who asks "What are you saying to me?" whenever Spearman forgets he doesn't speak a word of Japanese.

Spearman first secured a location atop the Ohana Hobron Hotel for a breathtaking 360-degree view of Waikiki and its surrounding areas.

Her contacts (an impressive list considering she's only been in the Islands since '99) have yielded door prizes from Malama Salon and Spa, Atlantis Submarine Tours, the Hard Rock Cafe and the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

Local jazz artists Azure McCall and Tennyson Stephens are also donating their talents to the cause, as have DJ Azia and Devious E, whose hip hop stylings should add a certain head-bobbing quality to the mix.

Also included will be art showings by a number of painters and photographers. Several licensed massage therapists will be on hand to minister to all attendees, as will stylists and consultants from Paul Brown Salon.

"I wanted this event to cover all the different aspects of beauty and incorporate all five senses," she explains (there are actually six, if you include the psychic scheduled to appear). "And the food ... ooh," Spearman gushes at the thought of the evening's Trinidadian and Caribbean dishes which, like all the other attractions, are included in the price of admission.

"For pupus we'll have jerk chicken wings and a mahimahi salad, and for main dishes, red cabbage salad, peas and rice, curry chicken, steamed mahi with coconut milk, onions and tomato, and a tri-color mac salad and haupia ice cream for local flavor," she said. Islands Finest Coffee will be handling all the drinks.

Spearman's hope is that the educational and recreational program she believes so firmly in will be rescued.

"I have a natural respect for little people and they have one for me," she said. "I have to take up for the underdog in this situation because they can't say, 'Don't take away my program.' They won't find out until it's gone."

360 Degrees

What: Central YMCA fund-raiser
When: 9 p.m. to midnight Saturday
Where: Ohana Hobron Hotel Skyline Cafe, 343 Hobron Lane
Admission: $36
Call: 523-0948

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