Category Archives: LIFE

A Picture Perfect Present

4-year-old Wendelaya hugs her new "We Are Friends" book (Photo by Monica Anthony)

3-year-old Wendelaya hugs her new “We Are Friends” book (Photo by Monica G. Anthony)

On her Dad’s birthday, I handed her Mom a copy of “We Are Friends” my latest children’s book and she placed it on a table. Seconds later, Wendelaya picked up the book and her Mom snapped a picture.  The next day she sent it to me and I was in tears. It was a picture perfect present, not only for Wendelaya but for me. On top of that, she told her Mom, “I love this story.” As a children’s author, it doesn’t get any better than that. Out of the mouth of babes.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Viola Davis brought me to tears too, as she stood on the stage and accepted her SAG Award for Female Actor in a Drama series.  She said:  “When I tell my daughter stories at night, invariably a few things happen. Number one, I use my imagination. I always start with life and I build from there,” she said. “And then the other thing that happens…she always says, ‘Mommy can you put me in the story?”

Mirrors or maps?

Christopher Myers, children’s author and illustrator said the children he knows “see books less as mirrors and more as maps. They are indeed searching for their place in the world, but they are also deciding where they want to go. They create, through the stories they’re given, an atlas of their world, of their relationships to others, of their possible destinations,”

We all play a part.

As authors and illustrators, we create mirrors and maps for children like Wendelaya to see themselves in the story and dream beyond boundaries. That’s our part. In the words of Christopher Myers, “The rest of the work lies in the imagination of everyone else along the way, the publishers, librarians, teachers, parents, and all of us, to put that book in her hands.”

A picture is worth a thousand words.


IT TAKES A VILLAGE by Darla Davenport-Powell 3/25/13


It takes a village to raise a child; and a village to restore one who has gone astray. However the “village” principle is not limited to children but applies to adults as well; those who have lost their way. I witnessed an amazing graduation on Sunday that brought tears to my eyes. As I sat and waited for service to start at the Potter’s House, I knew something extraordinary was about to take place.

As the lights dimmed, three simple words captured my attention on the Jumbotron; three simple words: “I Am More!” As the 75-plus graduates from the T.O.R.I Program (Texas Offender’s Re-entry Initiative) made their way down the aisles, with each step I could imagine them saying, “I am more than my past; more than my mistake; and more than the transgression that cost me my dignity.”

I am more

The T.O.R.I Program is a model for the world. Its founder, Bishop T.D.Jakes has masterfully assembled a cadre of trained professionals, volunteers, mentors and facilitators whose sole mission is to empower and equip ex-offenders with the tools that they need for a productive life.

All it takes is one wrong turn

Award-winning Actor/Director Charles S. Dutton (Roc) knows about wrong turns. At age 12, ‘Roc’ dropped out of middle school for what he called “foolishness.” In his “Jail to Yale” keynote speech to the graduates, he told a story about remembering his “16th” birthday; for that was the only year that he did not go to reform school. A year later he was sent to prison for killing a man who stabbed him eight times. After serving a few months shy of two years, ‘Roc’ went back to the penitentiary for possessing deadly weapons. The day of his release, he was told that he would be staying eight more years for a prior assault on a prison guard.

It takes two dollars to educate and sixty to incarcerate

A funny thing happened to ‘Roc’ on his way to solitary confinement. He accidentally picked up a book on short plays by African American playwrights that changed his life. It was the “Day of Absence” by Douglas Turner Ward that ignited his soul and set him on a path that unlocked his purpose. He was allowed to stage the play in prison under the condition of completing his GED.

‘Roc’ was on a roll. He successfully earned his GED, was allowed to take courses from a community college in prison and received his Associates of Arts degree after parole. He continued his studies at Towson State University where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Theater. He was admitted and received his master’s degree from the Yale Drama School, where he met August Wilson, the late Pulitzer Prize playwright, who launched his Broadway career.

A new beginning

One by one, as their names were called, the graduates marched across the stage before a sea of witnesses. Family, friends, program volunteers, judges, state elected officials, county representatives, and the congregation were all there to applaud the end of their 12-month intensive program and the beginning of a new chapter. In addition to being reunited with their families, many of the students received their own home and a job; while others enrolled in college.

Tina Naidoo, a licensed social worker and executive director of the T.O.R.I program says, “The City of Dallas housing authority is the only one in the country that provides section 8 vouchers for my clients and their families. How can they get their kids back if they don’t have a home?This takes away the element of being ‘illegal’ and gives them responsibilities…something they can have in their name.”

Texas will release more than 70,000 prisoners this year, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The report states that more than 35,000 of those released will return to prison within three years. The T.O.R.I program has a low recidivism rate. Naidoo states that “the demand for our services is greater than our current resources. The best way to get ahead of the demand is for individuals, corporations, and foundations to rally around T.O.R.I.’s mission and support it so we can expand our services, serve more people and end the cycle of incarceration indefinitely.”

To make a donation to the T.O.R.I program and for more information, visit: http://www.medc-tori. IT TAKES A VILLAGE!


A 20-year journey as the Niya Doll

By Niya A. Cotton 10/27/11

There is a saying that goes: “You only live once.” Well, in my case, I’ve lived twice.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve had two lives.  By day I went to school, dance classes, choir rehearsals  and acted in plays. By night, I shrunk several feet, spoke three languages and became a best friend  to thousands of young girls all across the world. I became…THE NIYA DOLL!

This 20 year journey of The Niya Doll project has had many ups and many downs.  It’s not easy walking a path that hasn’t been paved. It’s not easy getting people  to believe in your vision. It’s not easy to be a light in total darkness.  But has that stopped my mom, Darla Davenport-Powell, the creator of the Niya Doll?  NOT A CHANCE!  I have never seen someone so adamant and ferociously tenacious about something  that they believe in wholeheartedly. My mom created a doll that looked and sounded like me.  She couldn’t find any toys that represented our experience, so she did what she knew to do…  she created one!

At one point, I remember that there were hundreds of “me” in our basement!!!  My mom has driven this NIya Doll project to schools, churches, conferences, seminars, radio shows and even to the ABC hit television show, American Inventor.  She showed America how desperately  important it is for our children to be affirmed through products and images that look  like themselves. It’s my belief that everyone just wants to belong somewhere and if our children don’t get a positive push toward their purpose…they will take it upon themselves to find a place to belong. Some would think that after becoming a finalist on American Inventor, everything would fall into place.
Companies and manufacturers would call incessantly to be the first to catapult this dream to the next level.  Million of dollars would be offered because distributors would see how financially beneficial this idea  would become…NOPE! It’s not easy getting people to believe in your vision.  It’s not easy to be a light  in total darkness. This has been a slow and steady taxiing of yes’s and no’s but I believe with all my heart that lift off is up ahead!   The Niya project is just getting started! I have a dream that one day young school children will be able to join Niya’s paper doll collection (oh yes, there are paper dolls now) and create their own paper doll  that looks like them!

I have a dream that one day Niya and her amazing friends (oh yes, she has friends now)  will take their wonderful world of imagination to the small and eventually BIG screen! I have a dream  that the innocence of children all over the world will be restored and celebrated. And my last dream  is that all of my mom’s dreams will finally come true!  I’ve lived once, I’ve lived twice, but this third time…is the charm!

Happy Anniversary NIYA!

In celebration of Niya’s 20th anniversary, I am inviting you to blog about your experiences with the Niya Doll. Here’s one from Debbie Garrett, a doll collector, with her personal Niya story.

INVENTING DARLA/”A Letter from Susan”

“A Letter from Susan”

Expressed through Darla Davenport-Powell—A Tribute

September 14, 2011

I can imagine Susan Lynne Majette writing this letter:

Hi Everybody!

I made it! I’m breathing on the other side, and I don’t need an oxygen tank. You can’t imagine the celebration that’s going on over here. There are no words to describe how awesome it is to wake up in the arms of God.

It’s better than Hampton’s Homecoming! The “welcome home” sign just blew me away. My Mom, Dad, Clarence Little, Felecia Kurtz-Gillis, Collins, Rodney, Van and so many others just surrounded me with the biggest group hug this side of heaven. They all asked about you and can’t wait to see you again. You know how much I loved Christ as my Lord and Savior. Well, for those of you who don’t know Him, get to know Him, ’cause you haven’t seen life, like life eternal. Don’t know how people live without Him; for it was only God who gave me the strength to live life victoriously on Earth…through all kinds of surgeries, financial challenges, disappointments, heartaches, trials and tribulations; it was His keeping power that gave me peace in the midst of the storm and joy in the midst of sorrow.

You know from Birth to Death, there is a dash. You write your own eulogy by the life you live. I’ve fought a good fight, I’ve finished my course and my question to you is: “How you living your dash?” There is no strife over here, no hatred, no jealousy and no bitterness. Just joy unspeakable! If you’re holding a grudge, or have something in your heart… anger, resentment towards anybody, FORGIVE; and do it today, while the blood is still running warm through your veins. You know it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have any instructions to leave; some call it a legacy…

To my Aunt Shirley, my Aunt Evelyn and cousin Helema: I leave you ever abiding love and hearts filled with peace. I know at times I was a handful, very picky, stubborn, bossy and set in my ways, but God gave me a family that loved me unconditionally. Lupus could not even beat our team! Hold onto the memories, the laughter and the love; and keep taking good care of each other like you took care of me.

To Angie, my Prayer Partner, Sister/Friend and Confidant: I leave you confidence in knowing that our friendship and spiritual connection will never end. There were many nights that I thought I wouldn’t make it to see the next day and you would call and we would pray, and it gave me what I needed to hold on a little while longer. We had some good times too! I am still laughing at some of the stuff that we’ve been through…you get a medal for patience. Your “calling” is clear, don’t run from it…

To my Pastor and Mentor Jan: I leave you with the blessed assurance that your work was not in vain. The respect that Ruth had for Naomi and Timothy for Paul, I had for you. Thank you for your example, for taking me under your wings as a Minister of the Gospel; for living the principles that you preach and for embracing and accepting me as one of your spiritual daughters.

To my Sorors: I leave you each other. Our sisterhood is a gift! Cherish it! Make time to fellowship more . . . there is something special that happens when we get together. Take those trips we talked about; there is no perfect time, so just do it. Charlma and I had planned a trip to Niagara Falls this fall. I didn’t get a chance to go, but you can; and if not there, somewhere.  Every opportunity you get, love and nurture each other.

To my Family, my Friends, to my Church, and my Community: I leave you a spot to fill. We serve God by serving others — for the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Find a cause greater than yourself and make the world better.

And finally, I leave my Doctors, Nurses, Caregivers, and Friends at the dialysis center, my thanks and appreciation for the good times and the challenging times we had, for I know that in the end, it all worked together for good. I leave my chair for the next person who comes in; remember to treat them with kindness, for that may be the only time in their day that they don’t feel alone.

Well, it’s time for me to go now. I know you are going to miss me telling you what to do . . . Well one last thing: Reality shines when we accept the things we cannot change, change those things we can, and in spite of everything we may go through, give God thanks for the journey.

Love you all,




INVENTING DARLA/Rocco is here!

He is here. He is huge!!! Those words were music to our ears. After 22 hours of labor, and 2 hours of pushing, Roy Cotton III made his entrance into the world. Like my Dad and his great grandfather William Earl Davenport, who didn’t get a chance to see him, he took his time getting here. My daughter’s due date was July 31st, but I knew all along that Rocco would come in August. What I didn’t know was that my grandson would be born on the same day as my Dad’s home going celebration; one soldier left and another soldier entered. God’s timing is impeccable.

My six-week visit with my daughter and son-in-love was heaven on earth. I enjoyed every minute. I was there for the 3rd baby shower, Niya’s doctor/dental appointments, Sunday services at St. John (Grand Prairie and Southlake), Wal-Mart and Target visits, evening strolls, Cotton/Powell fellowship dinners, and much, much more. I was there…

 I was there for Niya’s 37th week pre-natal checkup when the nurse said, “This baby is already 7 pounds, 1 ounce and 19 inches long;” I was there when she lost her mucus plug, had a bloody show, took long walks in the Mall, insisted on acupressure as an alternative to what was presented. I was there when Niya had gone well past her due date and was faced with the dilemma of going in after 40 weeks to be medically induced.

That evening, she said something didn’t feel quite right. The family prayed, and with her husband’s full support, she decided to wait. Rocco was probably 8.5 pounds then and wondering, ‘How do I get out?’ On the other hand, I can imagine him saying “What’s the rush? I’m eating all of this good food at Genghis Grill, Pappadeaux Seafoord Kitchen, Furr’s Family Dining, Sweet Tomatoes Buffet, Bordeaux’s Cajun Restaurant and Nana “Ds” healthy cuisine. I may as well hang out here until they evict me.”

I was there when they evicted Rocco on August 11, 2011 at 12:06 a.m. His Mom pushed him out naturally, and he weighed in at 9 pounds and 11 ounces. One thing is for sure, they do it Big in Texas.

Another thing for sure, Texas has its fill with churches and restaurants; I had my fill with both. I applaud my daughter and her husband for their dutifulness. Is that a word? They did more with one working car than some folks do with a whole fleet. To see this pregnant child of mine  – get up early to take her husband to St. John in Grand Prairie, and then travel to St. John in Southlake where she ministers, go back to pick him up and sometimes sing for that service if it was in overtime, and then drive all the way back home on the other side of Texas – was remarkable. The experience was exhausting. I was so glad to be there when God blessed them with two new cars.

God is reigning down blessings in the Cotton household. First a new house, then two new cars and now a brand new baby. Look out world, Rocco is here!

INVENTING DARLA: A Mind Is A Terrible Thing to Waste: A Letter to Derik III

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. Proverbs 4:7

Dear Derik III,

You will soon meet your first teachers. They are called, “parents.” From the moment you take your first breath as you enter this world, the education process begins. You will hear sentences, sounds, numbers and bible verses before you are able to form your first words.  At first it will all sound a bit strange but as the days go by, you will begin to mimic the things that you hear because of your natural desire for learning. You will amaze your parents with your intellectual curiosity, and fascinate them with your quick wit and innate gifts.

Your parents will have their hands full in finding schools that will challenge you to excel academically and spiritually. Your job is to always aim higher than your reach and to strive for excellence.

There are no excuses! Your education has been paid for by those who ‘sat in’ at lunchroom counters; by those who went to jail for justice; and by those who marched miles and miles for our freedom. I can hear them saying: “Get your education, no one can ever take that away from you!”

Derik, study to show thyself approved like the biblical Daniel and his teenage friends who developed their skills so well it landed them at the top of their class; “And in all matters of wisdom and understanding, that the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better…” (Daniel 1:20)

Parents, grandparents, and the village, the Latin word for education is educare, “bring up,” which is related to educere “bring forth what is within.” Our job is to “lead out” what God has already placed in you, Derik III, leaning not to our own understanding but acknowledging Him as He directs our paths.

Derik, the world awaits your arrival with high expectations!

Much love!

Ms. Darla


INVENTING DARLA/Living the Kodak moment

My friends are great teachers and I learn a lot through their experiences.

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a good friend about her daughter’s high school graduation. Like any Mom, she was proud as a peacock when the day came where her baby would walk across the stage to receive her diploma. She was ready to capture it all with her camera in hand. This was indeed a Kodak moment to be remembered in years to come.

I haven’t blogged in a little over two weeks.

Thought I’d do a creative 30th Anniversary “shout out” blog to my husband a few days ago in that I’m in Texas and he is in California. This was actually the first time that we hadn’t been together on our anniversary. I celebrated at a wonderful restaurant on his dime and he had the pleasure of reading my blog. How romantic! We must have talked at leas 50 times throughout the day. Space is sometimes a good thing.

I haven’t forgotten the story. My friend shared that she was so busy snapping pictures during her daughter’s big day, that when it was over, she realized that she had missed the graduation; she had missed being in the moment.

I learn a lot from my friends.

I’m in Texas helping my daughter and son-in-love prepare for their “first born” and our “first grandbaby.”  It’s a joy watching my daughter in her nesting mode. Everything has been sterilized, organized and put in its proper place to get ready for our new arrival. We’ve mapped out the hospital route, placed the hospital bag in the car and have the car seat all ready to go.

New house, new car, and soon-to-be new baby, it’s a lot to take in…

I’ve been away from my blog for over two weeks because I’ve been cherishing each moment with Niya and Roy. Don’t want to miss the process. I learned from my friend that you only get one chance to capture the moment and if you are not careful, you can miss it in a flash.

Darla Davenport-Powell

July 28, 2011


It’s my Anniversary!

Thirty years ago ,my husband Wayne and I said, “I do” to God and each other and entered into a covenant, not a contract, to live out a marriage designed by God. Wow, little did we know that walking out our vows would be harder than climbing Mt. Everest or swimming the Nile. There were difficult days ahead.

How can two walk together except they agree?

Agree with whom, and agree on what? After the romantic phase was over, there were those power struggle years where it felt like we weren’t agreeing on anything. We didn’t even agree to disagree. One thing for sure that has kept us is our love for God and the desire to do “marriage” his way. He designed it so whenever there was a bump on our journey, we went to Him for answers.  The beautiful thing is that as our relationship with God grew deeper, our relationship with each other began to grow deeper? Why, because we were agreeing with His principles and serious about living them to bring Him glory. We learned early that our lives are not our own.

There is no seniority; always in the process of becoming…

Before we got married, my husband and I went to premarital counseling. After we were married, God always led us to marital enrichment groups, marital retreats, couples ministries, and discipleship classes, all designed to strengthen our relationship. It was there that we learned active listening skills, healthy communication techniques, the value of “leaving and cleaving” and so much more… Life’s a funny thing. Today, we are marriage counselors and facilitate premarital classes. We are still a work in progress.

What’s love got to do with it?

Marriage is that place where God finishes His perfect work. There are three phases: Romantic (That’s easy),  Power Struggle (That’s hard) and Mature Love (That’s mighty sweet!) To all my married folks, be patient with the process and hang on in there until you find the sweet honey in the Rock!  It’s work but it’s well worth it… What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.

Darla Davenport-Powell
July 25, 2011

INVENTING DARLA/Songs to cheer you!

A good song can put a smile on your face and lift your spirit. Here are 10 of my favorite “happy place” songs:

  1. Smile (Kirk Franklin)
  2. I Gotta Feeling (The Black Eyed Peas)
  3. Don’t Worry, Be Happy (Bobby Mcferrin)
  4. Sailing (Christopher Cross)
  5. Celebrate (Good Times) (Kool and the Gang)
  6. We Are Family (Sister Sledge)
  7. Walking In Rhythm (The Blackbyrds)
  8. Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now (McFadden and Whitehead)
  9. Groovin (on a Sunday Afternoon) The Young Rascals
  10. Happy Feelings (Maze)

What are some of your favorite “happy” songs?


INVENTING DARLA/An invocation that continues the dream

SACRAMENTO, Calif. _ Drexel University held its inaugural commencement outside Philadelphia yesterday in a stellar ceremony that featured Darla Davenport Powell giving the commencement. We’d like to share her words!

My Mother’s favorite saying is: This is the day that the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it; indeed, this is a great day. Psalm 118:24. Let us still ourselves in this moment… as we give thanks for this special occasion…a historic day in Sacramento…the first commencement of Drexel University outside of Philadelphia in the 120-year history of the University.

We have a lot to be thankful for…

Let us pray…

God we are grateful to be alive today…to witness, to participate and to celebrate our inaugural commencement. We are filled with appreciation for those who made this journey possible.

We give thanks to our grandparents, our parents, our spouses, our significant others, our children, family and friends who gave us the inspiration to “keep on keeping on” in spite of the challenges and in the midst of obstacles.

We give thanks for our late President Constantine Papadakis, ‘Taki’ for his vision, his wife Eliana, for her continued support of his vision and thanks to our administrators for carrying out that vision.

We are grateful for the Trustees, President John Fry and the alumni for their continued commitment and service to this outstanding University. We give thanks to our professors for their rich deposits, our guest lecturers and mentors; and the excellent staff that truly was the wind beneath our wings.

We are grateful for the soldiers who serve to protect our freedom and give thanks for their sacrifice.

Now God we ask your blessing on this ceremony, and on this graduating class. Guide us in our decisions and allow us to use what we’ve learned to make a difference in our communities, this nation and the world. Keeping in mind: “To whom much is given, much is required.”(Luke 12:48)…and in the words of Winston Churchill: We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”


Darla Davenport-Powell, M.A., MSHE

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