Black Excellence: Todd Kennedy

Todd Kennedy is our camp counselor and athletic director extraordinaire.  Our children have come to love taking tumbling classes with Mr. Todd over the past several years, and he’s looking forward to seeing his kids and welcoming new families to camp this summer.

Mr. Todd has a special ministry with youth and has taught tumbling to over 9,000 kids in Cleveland, East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights.  He started tumbling at the age of eleven and grew up learning on grass, streets and old mattresses.  He went on to become an acro-gymnast and a power tumbler.  He has dedicated his life and his career to forming loving and inclusive communities via his tumbling program.

Of camp, Mr. Todd has said,

“I did not know I had other family members outside my family until I joined Transracial Journeys.”

We love you, Mr. T!


Mr. Todd

Mr. Todd being “spotted” by camp counselors Maggie and Mary at Bellwether Farm.

Black Excellence: Maya Angelou

Mlack Excellence Maya Angelou

Born in 1928, Marguerite Annie Johnson grew to be one of the most important American literary figures of the 19th and 20th centuries. You may better recognize her as Maya Angelou, author of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”.

She was also known for her work as a civil rights activist, a Calypso singer, a dancer, a poet and more.  Over the course of her life, she was awarded more than 50 honorary degrees as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom which was presented to her by President Barack Obama in 2010.

In a collection of her published essays entitled “Letter to My Daughter” she wrote, “The birth of my son caused me to develop enough courage to invent my life.” She went on to also say, “I gave birth to one child, a son, but I have thousands of daughters." In this collection, she serves up lots of advice to women that stems from her own lived experience.  It’s beautiful, wonderful, intelligent, wise and more.

In early 2022, the United States Mint honored Dr. Angelou by featuring her as part of the American Women Quarters Program.  Her coin if the first one launched in the series and is also the first U.S. coin to depict a Black woman.

Black Excellence: Kayla, Mary & Tiara

This month’s Black Excellence piece features three of our young counselors.  For more about how our children can transition from young camper to Camp Counselor, read this month's feature article "The Arc of Identity."

Transracial Journeys Camp Counselors

Kayla Bell

Kayla Bell

Kayla Bell

Pronouns: She/They

Kayla is currently a graduate student in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Kent State University. She earned her Bachelors of Science in Education from Ohio State University in 2018. She works as a building substitute at Breakthrough Middle School in Cleveland, Ohio.

Kayla’s Favorite Camp Memory:

“My favorite experience from camp was when the kids did their showcase of their many skills and talents. I felt it gave the kids the opportunity to express themselves and all that they had learned at camp.”

Mary Halm

Pronouns: She/Her

Mary is one of our new head camp counselors. She is a recent graduate of the University of Rochester where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Public Health. Currently, she is a Public Services Fellow with the Cleveland Foundation and the Cleveland Transformation Alliance.

Mary’s Favorite Camp Memory:

“I have many great memories from camp and being part of the TRJ family. I am not sure I can pick just one. Two really significant ones stand out for me. The first is my first year coming to camp. I was maybe 14. My mom and I went together, and it was the first time I walked into a space with my mom and didn't get a weird look. No one asked the question (you know the one) because everyone looked like us. I was 14, and this was my first time being in a space where I didn't have to answer the question I dreaded the most. The second most significant memory for me was coming to camp with my sister Maggie for the first time. She makes my TRJ Camp experience complete.”

Mary Halm

Mary Halm

Tiara Sargeant

G. Tiara Sargeant

G. Tiara Sargeant

Pronouns: she/her

Tiara serves as the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coordinator for the Shaker Heights School District. She is a graduate of Hampton University with a degree in Strategic Communications and of Case Western Reserve University with a Masters Degree in Positive Organization Development.

Tiara’s Favorite Camp Memory:

“My favorite moment from camp was getting to connect with the families via meals. During our last in person camp at Bellwether, I loved getting to cook alongside the chef and share stories with other family members.”

Venus and Serena Williams – Black Excellence

During Women’s History Month we shine a light on Serena and Venus Willams.  These two strong sisters are the epitome of strength, grace, and excellence. Whether on or off the tennis court both women have continued to show and prove how dedication and commitment can turn gifts and talent into winning records, successful businesses and fulfilling personal lives.

“I love me. I’ve learned to love me. I’ve been like this my whole life and I embrace me. I love how I look. I am a full woman and I’m strong, and I’m powerful, and I’m beautiful at the same time.”
– Serena Williams taking on body shamers in a 2013 interview with ESPN.

"You have to let fear go. Another lesson is you just have to believe in yourself; you just have to. There's no way around it. No matter how things are stacked against you, you just have to every time."
- Venus Williams

Even under the harshest conditions when folks are coming at them, they stand tall, are not afraid to show their vulnerability, and to fight for what is right.  We salute Serena and Venus.  We also can’t wait to watch “King Richard” to have deeper look inside the lives of this amazing Black family.


Simone Biles – Black Excellence

On the Transracial Journeys Facebook Page, we recently asked for Black Excellence nominations. You did not disappoint! With nominees such as Jason Reynolds, Jacqueline Woodson, Resmaa Menakem and Simone Biles, it was tough to choose. However, there’s one candidate who strongly represents this month’s themes of love and history (in the making) and she is Simone Biles! Thank you for your nomination Nicole Zistler, and please keep your nominees coming.

Simone’s strength and grace is not simply about her gymnastics but it’s also present as she has had to navigate inappropriate discreditation of her family structure. Born in 1997, Simone and her three siblings spent their early childhood in foster care until her maternal grandparents adopted Simone and her younger sister, Adria. Her two older siblings were adopted by her grandfather Ron Biles’s sister, Harriet.

Inspired by Gabby Douglas at a young age, Simone has said, “Growing up, I didn’t see very many Black gymnasts…So whenever I did, I felt really inspired to go out there and want to be as good as them. I remember watching Gabby Douglas win the 2012 Olympics, and I was like, if she can do it, I can do it.”.

Simone Biles is not only the most decorated gymnast of all time with 7 Olympic medals and 25 World Medals, but she’s also known for mental health advocacy on behalf of herself and others. Under incredible pressure and under the world’s spotlight, she stepped out of the Tokyo Olympics to take care of her own mental health. She stated,

I have to put my pride aside. I have to do what’s right for me and focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health and well-being. That’s why I decided to step back.”

At past Transracial Journeys  Family Camps and Zoom meetings, several of our kids have excitedly voiced their love for Simone. There are many books about her available at your local library, but only one of them is written by her “Courage to soar: a body in motion, a life in balance”. Check it out!

Black Excellence – bell hooks

Buy the cover art→  Art by Monica Ahanonu for TIME

Gloria Jean Watkins aka bell hooks (September 25, 1952 – December 15, 2021)

This month, we celebrate bell hooks and her contributions to race, class, and culture in her many books, and in her work as a feminist and as a professor.

In her book “All About Love”, she wrote that we put more emphasis on love as a noun, but she asked her readers to use it more like a verb. In the same book, she referred to M. Thomas Peck’s definition of love as

“the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”.

We have a lot to learn about our relationship to love, loving ourselves and loving others.  Dr. Hooks has left us a legacy of instruction in her body of published work.

Black Excellence – Virgil Abloh

This month's focus on Black Excellence is a tribute to Virgil Abloh who recently passed away at the young age of 41.  His career as a designer worked at the intersections of his race, culture and fashion.  Not only was he a wonderful fashion designer, but he also worked consistently to build up other Black creatives. He left young,  aspiring designers a "Post-Modern Scholarship" fund which works "to foster equity and inclusion within the fashion industry".

The first African-American to be artistic director at a French luxury fashion house, Abloh was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2018.

Learn more about Virgil Abloh's career and more about the VIRGIL ABLOH™️ “POST-MODERN” SCHOLARSHIP FUND in the video below.

"I want to give out as many scholarships... it's a little bit deep, but the world works on this "hey what school did you go to?" All of a sudden the interview gets easier …, and I just hope we get to a point with our partnership that it means something on a resume just the same way someone who has Harvard or a law degree from Stanford. The interview gets shorter and you get the job right away. I don't look at the height of my achievement as LV (Louis Vuitton). The height of my achievement is this scholarship fund." - Virgil Abloh