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July 23, 2015

Bronx Children’s Museum Hosts Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor And Honors Jazz Educator, Dr. Valerie Capers, On Dream Big Day

The Bronx Children’s Museum held its sixth annual Dream Big Day at Fordham University, honoring Bronx native and renowned jazz pianist, composer, and educator, Dr. Valerie Capers. Dr. Capers lost her sight at the age of six, and received her early education at the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind, located in the Bronx. She went on to study music at the Juilliard School, where she earned both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees—the first and only blind person to do so. Dr. Capers is now professor emeritus, Bronx Community College, City University of New York (CUNY), where she taught on the faculty for twenty-four years, and served as chairman of the Art and Music Department and for nine years. The Dream Big event also celebrated the upcoming 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which will take place on July 26th. This groundbreaking legislation was pivotal in ensuring access and inclusion for people with disabilities.














U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Sonia Manzano (“Maria” of Sesame Street) attended Dream Big Day, spending time with the children in the morning. The children’s opening afternoon presentation featured a rousing version of “We Got the Whole World in Our Hands,” as they played percussion instruments, along with Dr. Capers, and sang to their families, notable celebrities, and their heroes like Justice Sotomayor and Sonia Manzano. Justice Sotomayor also played the maracas as the children sang. This song was followed by a special performance by Dr. Capers and museum teaching artists, who are musicians themselves, and John Robinson on bass. At the end of the presentation, the children, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Dr. Capers, and Sonia Manzano encouraged the children to Dream Big and never give up.

Sonia Manzano, who was the Dream Big honoree last year, was publically acknowledged at the end of the performance for her 44 years of pioneering, outstanding work on Sesame Street as “Maria.” Ms. Manzano has been advocating for a Bronx children’s museum for 10 years and recently authored the Museum’s first book called The Lowdown on the High Bridge.

Dream Big is an intensive, summer, arts-enrichment program for children from 2nd to 3rd grades at local Community Based Organizations (CBOs), schools, and community groups. Teaching artists engage children in the visual arts, dance, drama, and music culminating in a closing celebration displaying what they have learned.

As this year’s Dream Big artist in residence, Dr. Capers visited the children and Museum teaching artists three days a week, including two that Dr. Capers attended with her partner and accompanist, John Robinson. Dr. Capers shared her life story and her love of music with the children, as well as highlighting the significance of the ADA Act.
Ninety-five children participated from two camps at Supportive Children’s Advocacy Network (SCAN) at PS 55 in Morrisania, Catholic Charities Community Services - Alianza Division: MOSAIC Beacon Community Center and, Catholic Charities Community Services - Alianza Division: Highbridge Gardens Cornerstone (both in Highbridge).

These events were made possible through the generosity of Fordham University, and Bronx Children’s Museum funders: Bronx Children’s Museum Board of Trustees, Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center, Macy’s, Montefiore Medical Center, the New Yankee Stadium Community Benefits Fund, and The Pinkerton Foundation.

Special Guest and Honoree Dr. Valerie Capers shared with the children, “I want you all to never give up, get as much education as you can, and work hard and always dream big. Dreaming big means that you must have faith in yourself. You must have confidence in yourself. It’s not always easy or simple, but you must believe in yourself and know that with learning and education you can Dream Big and realize YOUR dreams!”
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. remarked, “Dr. Capers is one of our sparkling gems in the Bronx. She is not only one of the most talented jazz musicians of her time, she is an educator who has devoted her entire life to encouraging others to follow their dreams, work hard, and always believe in themselves. Dr. Capers understands firsthand that every child is born with the desire to learn and explore and that we adults have the job to help bring out the music in every child. I congratulate Dr. Capers and wish her the very best in all her endeavors.”

NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said, “Dr. Capers is an exemplary role model for our children and for us all on so many levels. She has shattered many stereotypes by showing us that there are fantastic, talented, female musicians right here in the Bronx who are accomplished jazz musicians. Dr. Capers has never allowed her lack of sight to keep her from accomplishing her dreams and devoting herself to educating others. What a fitting tribute today, as we honor Dr. Capers and also mark the 25th anniversary of the ADA Act.”





"The Dream Big summer program 2015 was a great experience not just for the kids but for myself as well. I am truly grateful that I got to be a part of this program. Not only was it a hands-on experience for the kids but makes learning fun so the kids are more eager to want to learn. The children gained a lot of knowledge throughout this program learning things from what the ADA act is to what Braille is, how it is used and read. To me that's a once in a lifetime thing. The children spoke highly of Valerie Capers. They gained so much trust and respect for her as well as a friendship. She made us all realize one of the things that we may take for granted every day and that is our sight. The children are now aware of people with disabilities and know that they are still just like us and deserve to be treated just like us. It was great for the kids to get to see Valerie and know her as well as make music with her. Music has the power to change an atmosphere, change a mood, and change you before you even know it. The children got to make their own lyrics and their own beats to put a whole song together right in front of my eyes. That's great to see all the talent that they have. During the performance I was a little emotional to see how all their hard work paid off and how good the performance turned out to be. It was beautiful. I was proud not only because those are our kids but to be a part of the event. This program makes you proud to be from the Bronx when you get a chance to see all the people who were born and raised here who make a difference. We got a chance to meet US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., and Sonia Manzano, the lady who played “Maria” on Sesame Street for so many years. It helped the kids to see that people from the Bronx are doing big things. They learned that it's okay to dream big and to always follow your dreams no matter how many odds are against you. Thank you for letting me be a part of Dream Big 2015. We are very thankful for this opportunity, and look forward to next year."
— Marie Stroud, Program Director, Catholic Charities Community Services, Alianza Division MOSAIC Beacon


“The Dream Big Summer Program at SCAN was an incredible experience for our children and staff. We enjoyed meeting Justice Sotomayor at Dream Big Day at Fordham University and watching the children perform with Ms. Valerie Capers. The students learned drumming and used improvisation and memory skills to complete their drumming performance and learn about the American Disabilities Act. Museum teaching artists worked wonderfully with our students and encouraged each individual to do their best and showed them hard work accomplishing great things. We are so grateful to have the Bronx Children’s Museum Dream Big program within our site and I hope to see the program return next year!” –Vanessa Samuels, Program Coordinator, SCAN


“It felt good making my own song with my friends because we made it up with different ideas. We created different sounds and we showed our parents in the show at Fordham. It was exciting to meet the Justice, I felt good because Valerie Capers was there with her. It felt like she was my grandma when we were sitting around her reading our letters.” 

–Mariah G. 2nd Grade, Dream Big Summer Program



“It was fun meeting Valerie because she told us how she became blind and she taught us about the sense of touch. I also learned about the ADA act and that people with disabilities need to be able to do anything I can do.” –Dayna P. 3rd Grade, Dream Big Summer Program


“It felt good because we got to practice and perform with all of my friends. My mom was supporting us.” –Daniel F. 2nd Grade, Dream Big Summer Program





Dream Big 2015

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Honoree Dr. Valerie Capers speaks about growing up in the Bronx, her education and her life as a jazz musician.


Video by David Schwittek

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