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My Students, the Movie Stars: an Interview with the Kids behind “Moonlight”



When I ditched my New York City desk job to become a middle school teacher at an under-resourced school in Miami, I had a variety of expectations.  Based on my own haunting middle school experience, I braced myself for everything from questionable school lunches and paper airplanes to red pen markings and the smell of Axe body spray. However, watching my own students become Hollywood celebrities in the feature film “Moonlight” (this year’s Best Picture) was certainly not on my list.

I can distinctly remember when Jaden Piner (who plays the role of Kevin) came to me in the beginning of the 2015 school year to tell me that he would be missing school the following week to begin shooting a small local film.  “What kind of excuse is that?”  I thought, “He’d better finish all of his make-up work.” Fast forward one year later and that small “local film” has just won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

After getting permission from their agents (you remember your agent from 7th grade, right?) I met with Alex (who plays the role of Chiron) and Jaden (Kevin) to ask them a few questions about their experience filming Moonlight and their journey into the Hollywood spotlight. Here’s what they had to say:

Thanks so much for joining me guys. To start off, what experiences have you had that inspired you to start acting?

Jaden: My first experience happened two or three weeks before 6th grade, I performed in a skit for my grandma’s sermon since she’s a preacher. I had never acted before but I decided to just be myself and act natural. People were laughing and crying in the crowd and I realized how much I loved it so I decided to apply for the drama program at Norland Middle.

Alex: I never really had any experiences with acting, I kind of just picked it up. Ever since I was in elementary school my mom always said I was too hyper, so we thought it was a good way to express myself.

How would your friends describe you? Natural born Hollywood actor?

Jaden: My friends would describe me as the funny light skinned one or the short one. They definitely don’t frame me as a movie star, they keep me regular and keep me humble. They would say I’m funny, always willing to try new things and hopefully that I’ve always been a good friend.

Alex: My friends would say I’m small, cool and funny. My friends have all treated me the same since all of this started, and to be honest, they have kept me grounded. It doesn’t matter where I’m at, an Oscar awards party, or sitting in class, they treat me the same no matter what.

Describe what it has been like to balance your role as a student and an up-and-coming actor?

Jaden: Balancing acting and school has been kind of hard: tons of late nights, auditions all of the time etc. Sometimes I stay up at night practicing for an upcoming role.  Some of my school is now online it’s much easier to balance now.

Alex: It was very hard at the beginning as we spent so much time filming and traveling. I felt like when ever I would come back to school with all of my make-up work, I would have to leave again and the cycle would start all over. Over time I learned how to balance things out, and I am very thankful for the role of my friends in supporting me.

Moonlight captures a Miami that is unfamiliar to an audience who expects the typical star-studded, glamorous perception of the city. Considering the Miami that you grew up in and what is portrayed in the film, what do you think is most special about Miami?

Jaden: The thing that is most special about Miami is the beauty and uniqueness of the neighborhoods. You can drive through any area and get a totally different kind of people and culture that you’re not going to find if you limit yourself to just thinking about the beach.

Alex: The people of Miami are the most special. The beaches and city are nice but without the people it wouldn’t truly be Miami. In Miami people are so expressive, just walk through Wynwood and look at the graffiti. In Miami they speak up for themselves and make their voices heard.

What would you want people to know about your community that other people might not know?

Jaden: I want people to know that Miami Gardens is not a bad neighborhood even though it could be seen that way. You see things on the news, shootings, robberies, fights but they don’t like to show the good things. There’s actually a lot of talent here and I’m glad that I can be proof of that and inspire others. When Moonlight came out people were asking me how they can start acting.

Alex: I want people to know that Miami Gardens is not just bad stuff just like Miami isn’t all about the beach and big buildings. Miami is actually very inspiring and full of leaders. I think that is why Moonlight is popular, because it makes the unseen, seen.

How can you relate to your on-screen character being that you’re both kids growing up in Miami?

Jaden: Kevin and I are both athletic. We both want to help other kids overcome their fears and feel comfortable, to be their true selves and not be shy.

Alex: I actually didn’t really grow up in Miami, I’m from New York City originally but Chiron is a lot quieter than me. There’s a lot of people getting bullied out there, luckily I haven’t experienced that too much but if I could say anything it’s that it’s got to stop.

What scene from the film impacted you the most?

Jaden: The scene where teenage Chiron hits the bully with the chair.  It shows that you can overcome your fears. 

Alex: The scene where Chiron is learning to swim impacted me the most because it showed that no matter what job you have or where you come from you can still help somebody. Juan (Mahershala Ali) taught me how to swim in the scene and even though he was a drug dealer he was still a good person. That scene proved to me that people are complicated.

What does your role in this film make you think about what you want to do next?

Jaden: I want to keep acting, I really want it to be my career. My dream role would be to act in an action/superhero movie, those are my favorite.

Alex: For my next acting role, I am working on this new project called “The Chi” on Showtime. Next year I am hoping to work on a project in Africa. I plan to be an actor as my career. My dream role would be to act in  “The Walking Dead.”

Thanks for speaking with us here guys. Finally I’m wondering, to whom do you credit your success?

Jaden: I credit my success to my drama teacher Mrs. Cidel and my mom and my teachers. I talk to them what about what’s happening next, and they help me to stay a step ahead and support my dreams.

*(cough, cough)… any specific teachers?*

You know I’ve got you Mr. Syros.  

Alex: I credit my success to my mom and dad. My dad taught me how to be strong and mom and Mrs. Cidel kept pushing me to do what I had to do. They helped me along the way and set me up for success.


Why Amazon’s Second Headquarters Should Choose Northern Virginia



Amazon’s second headquarters

Among the top 20 shortlist for Amazon’s second headquarters, Northern, Virginia is not a stranger to the massive tech company. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos have frequently conducted business in the region. Bezos is known to own The Washington Post and Amazon’s cloud service AWS is situated in a huge data center in the northern Virginia region. It is no surprise that Northern, VA is listed on the list. This region proved to be a safe home for Bezos’ businesses, it would only make sense that Northern, VA is the next home for HQ2.

While the nation waits for the announcements of Amazon’s second headquarters, speculations rise as Amazon employees crowd The local news-source for Arlington Virginia have reported major traffic from an internal Amazon site. The article reporting the county’s green building council had received over 6,000 page views and 3,500 visitors from an Amazon web page that is only visible to Amazon employees. Amazon’s interest in the community’s dedication to sustainability is predicted to help the company’s future development of a sustainable building of their own.

The area is surrounded by copious international airports including Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport, and Richmond International Airport for Amazon’s consideration  of transportation. The bid for Amazon had reports of the Hub property as a potential site for Amazon’s second headquarters. This 85-acre undeveloped location is near the Dulles Airport, perfect for Amazon’s demands.

Amazon’s second headquarters

Amazon announced that they are developing a second headquarter of up to 8 million square feet in order to accommodate 50,000 workers. The plan to bring in 50,000 lucrative jobs to the new location will create billions of dollars in investment for the community. This opportunity for economic expansion does not come often, but neither does a perfect business location in Northern Virginia that is close to Bezos’ other businesses.

A possible site for Amazon’s second headquarters is on the border of Fairfax and Loudoun counties along Metro’s Silver Line. “We are very excited that Northern Virginia is included on the short list as a potential location for Amazon’s second headquarters,” spoke the chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Sharon Bulova. “Fairfax and Loudoun counties are able to offer a great quality of life coupled with an innovative and business friendly culture for future Amazon corporate neighbors and employees. With our highly educated and talented workforce and a location close to Dulles International Airport and a new Silver Line train station, we hope we will have the opportunity to welcome Amazon HQ2 to Virginia.”

Small businesses and agencies within Virginia are able share their professional insight to Amazon now as well. This is why Amazon HQ2 Should Choose Virginia.

If you are an agency from Virginia, and wish to contribute, please fill out this form here:

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Why The Second Amazon Headquarters Should Choose Toronto



Second Amazon Headquarters

Amazon is considering their first international city for their second Amazon headquarters. The bids for HQ2 have reached Mexican regions too but the tech company have their eyes on Toronto. Prior to this announcement, Toronto has been established as a major technology center. Their advancement will only grow from here, perhaps even more when Amazon arrives.

The city reported that they are not offering Amazon much financial incentives, but is offering a 100-acre land as a potential site for their second Amazon headquarters that is approximately close to downtown Toronto. Although this site is outside of the United States border, Toronto is the best option for the innovative company.

The mayor of Toronto, John Troy expressed how proud he was of the city when Toronto attracted Amazon without offering significant tax breaks. Toronto does not have to resort to selling themselves for the second Amazon headquarters, unlike other competitors on the top 20 shortlist. Toronto is already home to a significant Google engineering operation, a major artificial research center and quantum computing institute. Due to the massive influence in technology, there are plans to direct Toronto’s waterfront into a massive tech-city for the near future. This environment will foster Amazon and future companies moving to Toronto.

 Second Amazon Headquarters

The second Amazon headquarters require proximity to a metropolitan area with a large population for employment, mass transit, an area that is 45 minutes from an international airport, and an 8-million-square-foot facility that will eventually expand to 740,000 square metres over the next decade. Toronto would be an ideal location to attract talent from overseas. This move will put Amazon’s name outside of the United States and begin their serious international affairs. North America acknowledged the massive tech company’s capability when Jeff Bezos was announced as the richest man alive in 2017. After Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos dethrones Bill Gates, the entrepreneur should look to invest in talent from overseas. This plan can start with a move to Toronto for the second Amazon headquarters.

Toronto holds a strong quality of life. Canada is notorious for their free healthcare, something that the United States is lacking. The affordable area is attractive to employees. “We’re excited to have this opportunity and to be able to tell Toronto’s unique story,” told John Troy. “There is no other place in North America that can boast the same talent, the same quality of life, the same vibrancy, the same economic strength.”

Small businesses and agencies within Toronto are able share their professional insight to Amazon now as well. This is why Amazon HQ2 Should Choose Toronto.

If you are an agency from Toronto, and wish to contribute, please fill out this form here:

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Why The Second Amazon Headquarters Should Choose Raleigh



Raleigh, North Carolina has been in the spotlight ever since they were listed on the top 20 short-list for the second Amazon headquarters. North Carolina’s capital city is currently competing against 19 other cities for HQ2. Although this was an unexpected city to reach the list, Raleigh is one of the few that makes sense. Raleigh is also definitely the city that Amazon should choose.

The bid for the second Amazon headquarters from Raleigh, North Carolina have been kept private currently, while other cities have publicly announced the billion dollar tax break to Amazon if they were picked. Raleigh is the only city that does not need to buy their way to Amazon’s heart like Newark’s $7 billion financial incentives. 

Raleigh is often scored first for best quality of life due to the thriving tech community. The monthly median house price is $1,051 with an average commute time of 26 minutes. This offer is not detected anywhere in New York, New York. Additionally, the weather of North Carolina is the ideal condition for transportation and living. Traffic is often not heavy, as compared to other cities on the top 20 shortlist. The area is simply a comfortable region to expand and conduct business nationally.

The city already accommodates tech companies like Citrix and Red Hat. The region is not new to working with tech, even to one as massive as Amazon. Possible sites include the Wake, Durham, and Chatham counties for the second Amazon headquarters if they are chosen. Second Amazon Headquarters

Amazon’s arrival will grow the job market and expand the city’s economy through technology advancement. Even if Amazon does not pick Raleigh, the city is rapidly expanding already. “Raleigh is a thriving community that would be attractive for any business, large or small,” Mayor Nancy McFarlane said. “We are proud of the investments and partnerships we’ve made that enhance our many attributes, such as our world-class university system, well-trained workforce, diverse economy, strong infrastructure and emerging entrepreneurial spirit.”

The absolute advantage that Amazon has is the potential tax reimbursement for up to 100% of the new jobs created for the next 25 years. The second Amazon headquarters would be given about $50 million for infrastructure in rail access, water, and more. Additionally, the tech company could be qualified for another program called the One North Carolina Fund for $5,000 per year in the next 5 years.

Small businesses and agencies within Raleigh are able share their professional insight to Amazon now as well. Many advocate for Amazon to choose Raleigh and they even share what the community has to offer. 

“The thought of Amazon potentially bringing 50,000 new jobs to The Triangle excites me. The Triangle is always on the US best places to live list. It has a wealth of restaurants, great schools including three colleges, and great accessibility from all of the US. I think the installation of this type of business would have an even greater effect across the community as other companies would then also be attracted by the area”. -Neil Boyd of Neil Boyd Photography INC.  This is why Amazon HQ2 Should Choose Raleigh.

If you are an agency from Raleigh, and wish to contribute, please fill out this form here:

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