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.”
See more information about Dream Big Day 2015 here.