Taking Center Stage: African American Women within Race Films

"Since the beginnings of cinema in the late nineteenth century, African Americans have sought to claim their agency on screen. Black women, in particular, have fought to counter stereotypes and ensure adequate representation on film..."

Center Stage: African American Women in Silent Race Films highlights a community of black filmmakers in the early twentieth century who made films outside of the Hollywood system, building space for black women to operate with autonomy and away from the white gaze. These filmmakers often called their work “race films,” or motion pictures made by black filmmakers with mostly black casts for black audiences after WWI and through the 1940s. These films sought to advance the portrayals of African Americans and counter the racist stereotypes found within such films as D.W. Griffith’s propaganda movie, The Birth of a Nation (1915).

From silent pictures to those that utilized sound, the films shown in this exhibition give a sense of the range and depth of black women’s performances outside of Hollywood by some of the race films genre’s most famous actresses: Evelyn Preer, Iris Hall, Anita Thompson, Lucia Lyn Moses, and Cathryn Caviness. Through their performances, we see how African American women from this era delivered nuanced portrayals that were considered progressive for the time. Today, as the entertainment industry debates diversity in public discourse, these films provide insight into the modern quest for three-dimensional representations of black womanhood.

Within Our Gates

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Within Our Gates (1920), the second film of director Oscar Micheaux’s prolific career, tells the story of Sylvia Landry, a role played by Evelyn Preer. Sylvia, an educated black woman, returns to her southern hometown where she teaches at an impoverished school for black children. To save the school, she travels north, where she convinces a white philanthropist to supply the funds necessary for the school. Sylvia’s return is not without anguish as she confronts memories of witnessing the lynching of her adoptive parents as a young girl. Her new love, the white school superintendent Dr. Vivian, learns of her pain, and he admonishes her to find strength in thinking of the role that black people have played in history and the power of black dignity. Confident in their ability to build a new life together, Sylvia and Dr. Vivian marry.

Within Our Gates is the oldest surviving race film. Although it earned contemporary success with black audiences, it was controversial for its depiction of lynching and its frank take on interracial relationships. Sylvia Landry in particular proved a compelling character: a woman determined to do good in a world working against her, and a victim of horrible trauma who finds strength in her embrace of black pride.

The actress Evelyn Preer was born in Mississippi in 1896. After her debut in Micheaux’s first film, The Homesteader (1919), and her role in Within Our Gates, she went on to a successful career with the Lafayette Players, the first all-black theater company in the United States. A great talent, she moved fluidly between stage and screen, as well as between silent and sound films, becoming one of the most recognizable black actresses of her day before her death in 1932.

The Symbol of the Unconquered

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The Symbol of the Unconquered, like Within Our Gates, was written, directed, and produced by Micheaux in 1920. The story centers on Evon Mason (Iris Hall) after she inherits land from her grandfather. On her journey to reclaim the land, Evon is aided by her new neighbor, Hugh Van Allen (Walker Thompson), with whom she develops a romance. When the Ku Klux Klan tries to force Hugh off his land, Evon rides gallantly to alert the town and saves the day—a reference to, and an inversion of, D.W. Griffith’s Klan sequence in The Birth of a Nation. In this scene, Iris Hall depicts a fearless and determined woman, a film role that black actresses were rarely given the opportunity to play.

A singer, dancer, and actress, Hall was born in Barbados and immigrated to the United States at age thirteen. Like Preer, she became a member of the Lafayette Players and also had a role in Micheaux’s The Homesteader. Beyond her acting career, Hall was a popular Harlem beautician and business owner. Little else is known about her, but she remains one of the most distinctive black actresses of the race film era.

By Right of Birth

The Lincoln Motion Picture Company (LMPC) was established in 1915, and its fifth and final film, By Right of Birth, was produced in 1921. Today, only four and a half minutes of the LMPC’s entire catalog survive.

By Right of Birth depicts the struggles of Juanita Cooper (Anita Thompson Reynolds), a young, educated woman searching for her birthparents. The narrative includes a romance between Juanita and Philip (Clarence Books), a law student and popular athlete. Designed as a response to The Birth of a Nation, By Right of Birth was praised for portraying African Americans and Native Americans in a better light than many early movies.

Anita Thompson Dickinson Reynolds (1901–1980) offered a sensitive and compelling performance as Juanita. The role in some ways mirrored her real life, in that she often traversed racial boundaries in pursuit of knowledge and experience. Reynolds described many of these experiences in her memoir, American Cocktail: A “Colored Girl” in the World (Harvard University Press, 2014). A world traveler, intellectual, and performer, she shared the company of Ruth St. Denis, Rudolph Valentino, W.E.B. Dubois, Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, Nella Larsen, Langston Hughes (her cousin), and many others. During her remarkable life, Reynolds worked as a dancer, model, actress, artistic muse, literary critic, journalist, Red Cross nurse, and educator.

The Scar of Shame

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The last production to come from Philadelphia’s Colored Players Film Corporation (CPFC), The Scar of Shame (1927) was written and produced by CPFC founder David Starkman shortly before the company folded. In the film, a young working-class woman, Louise Howard (Lucia Lynn Moses), marries Alvin Hillyard (Henry Henderson), a talented concert pianist. Yet Alvin remains ashamed of her economic background.

When Louise becomes entangled in a business venture with a saloon owner, Alvin fires his gun, accidentally wounding Louise and inflicting the titular scar. After his release from prison, Alvin becomes a successful music teacher and finds new love. Devastated, Louise commits suicide.

The Scar of Shame is one of the earliest race films to depict levels of social stratification within the African American community. Designed specifically for African American audiences, it discusses communal conflicts around upward mobility, assimilation, and the retention of black culture. These themes may not have been apparent or compelling to white audiences, but they present a strongly moralizing view of self-improvement through hard work and clean living.

The Scar of Shame was Lucia Lynn Moses’s only film role. She began her career as a chorus girl, and during the film’s production, Moses maintained her commitments to New York’s Cotton Club, commuting to Philadelphia to shoot during the day before heading back to Harlem to dance at night. Like many black actors, she never achieved the stardom she hoped to attain. Her sisters, Ethel and Julia Moses, also had successful careers in show business: Ethel was a leading actress for Oscar Micheaux, and Julia was a Broadway performer.

The Blood of Jesus

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The Blood of Jesus (1941), written, directed, and produced by actor Spencer Williams, is the story of Martha (Cathryn Caviness), a devout rural black woman. When her drunken husband Razz (Williams) drops his shotgun, Martha is near-fatally wounded. As she hovers between life and death, she struggles to overcome obstacles placed in her path as she seeks the road to heaven. When Martha throws herself at the mercy of Jesus Christ, she wakes in her bed, resurrected by the power of faith.

The Blood of Jesus was remarkable for its unflinching portrayal of African American spiritual and faith traditions in the Jim Crow South. As the film’s director, Williams sought to create a narrative that reflected the power of the religious community and his own belief in the power of prayer. A prolific actor and race film director, he later rose to fame as Amos of the television comedy duo Amos ‘n’ Andy. The Blood of Jesus was presumed lost until its rediscovery in a dusty warehouse in Tyler, Texas, in the late 1980s as part of a cache of stored and forgotten race films. In the early 1990s, it was selected for inclusion in the Library of Congress's National Registry of Films.

In The Blood of Jesus, Cathryn Caviness brought sweetness and fragility to her depiction of a woman seeking the path of righteousness in the face of adversity. Very little is known about her, save that she was born in 1914 in San Antonio, Texas. Her sensitive and poignant portrayal as Martha in The Blood of Jesus served as her sole foray in professional film. She passed away in 1993 at her home in Austin, Texas.

Center Stage explores how African American actresses from this period challenged demeaning characterizations of black women through the employment of wit, sensitivity, intelligence, and determination. Their exercise in agency pushed back against race and gender stereotypes that black actresses still face to this day, creating multidimensional representations of women in complex circumstances. The performances showcased in Center Stage capture the spirit of enterprise endemic to the race film industry and the women who worked through this medium to elevate black voices, black artistry, and black womanhood. Just as these actors and filmmakers paved the way for future generations, contemporary artists can learn from the work they left behind and create new characters and forms of storytelling that speak directly to today's social and political concerns.

This essay accompanies the exhibition Center Stage: African American Women in Silent Race Films and was written by curator Tyree Boyd-Pates and students from the UCLA Center for Digital Humanities: Francesca Albrezzi, Aitana Balam, Anastasia Gershman, and Brian Tran.

7 Things You Never Knew About Dr. Martin Luther King Jr...

On this wonderful day where we commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I felt the need to share some seldomly known things about the him and his life. Things ranging from his actual name, favorite food, to even his impacts on Hollywood. Do enjoy and share with others.

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  1. Fact: When Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott got married, they decided to stay in a White motel to celebrate the occasion. Upon arrival,  they were denied access and had to spend the night at Black-owned funeral home.
  2. Fact: Martin Luther King's favorite foods were pecan pie and fried chicken.
  3. Fact: King skipped the ninth and eleventh grades and never graduated from high school. He enrolled in Morehouse College in 1944 when he was just 15. He completed his doctorate at Boston University when he was 25.
  4. Fact: Dr. King apparently improvised parts of the “I Have A Dream” speech in August 1963, including its title passage. Clarence B. Jones worked on the draft of the speech, which was being revised up to the time Dr. King took the podium. He says Dr. King’s remarks were up in the air about 12 hours before he spoke, and the “dream” reference wasn’t in the speech. Dr. King later added it live when singer Mahalia Jackson prompted him to speak about the “dream.” In June 1963, Dr. King had talked about his dream in a speech in Detroit.
  5. Fact: King was jailed 29 times over the course of his life. Most of the reasons he was jailed were for acts of civil disobedience, and utterly ridiculous charges including driving 30mph in a 25mph zone- evidence of the time.
  6. Fact: When Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, at the time he was the youngest Peace Prize winner ever, at the age of 35.
  7. Fact: Actress Nichelle Nichols, who made history playing the first non-black stereotype role on a television show, planned to quit Star Trek after the first year when her role as Uhura was reduced to a supporting character. It was only after King sought her out at an event to tell her he was a huge fan -- and entreated her to stay when she told him of her imminent departure -- that she reconsidered and stayed.

Happy King Day!

 

 

5 Times MLK Clarified My Role In The Fight of Injustice

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"What is my role?"

... I asked myself this question as I witnessed droves of people on social media express their frustration with another non-indictment of a police officer who killed an unarmed Black man.

Feeling helpless and frustrated as to whether I should march or picket, I decided to do something else constructive: read.

Reading has always been therapeutic for me, especially when trying to find others in history who attempted to articulate the angst of their times in profound ways. I then decided to read up on Martin Luther King Jr. and his views on injustice. After reading his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, I learned it was eerily addressing all of what was going on in 2017.

As I read through the letter, my mouth fell open. I finally got clarification on how I should respond to everything.

Hence, these are the five takeaways I had from reading Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail. Each of which explain why fighting injustice and inequality today matters as much as it did in 1963.

1. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny: “...Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”

2. A Justice delayed is in fact a justice denied: "We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied.

3. Direct action opens the doors of negotiation and reform: "Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue."".. Direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. …The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation."

4. Extremism for Love or for Hate: "..Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . ." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?"

5. The Church will serve as our thermostat: “There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are. “If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.”

 

Happy MLK DAY!

10 Black Literary Works Every Person Should Read | List

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Whether interested in learning, or just gaining more knowledge about African heritage and culture, nothing beats opening a good book. Still, with so many choices at one's disposal, deciding on a title can prove difficult.

With the help of several well read scholars and emerging millennial voices: Writer & activist  Melanie Coco Mccoy (@MelanieCoMcCoy), Hip Hop Artist & Professor, Timothy Welbeck (@TimothyWelbeck ) & Middle Tennessee State History Graduate student, Joshua Crutchfield (@Crutch4), we thought it was fitting to do so.

This list is a list ranging from fiction, non-fiction, and autobiography. From Ta-Nehisi Coates to James Baldwin, many of these authors have been the recipients of national awards in the United States. Furthermore, these ten titles have heavily contributed to contemporary narratives about the black experience across the globe.

Did you see your favorite? If not, feel free to share with us what you think should've made the list below in the comments.

1. "Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015)

2. "Kindred" by Octavia Butler (2004)

3. "Song of Solomon" by Toni Morrison (1977)

4. "Coconut" by Kopano Matlwa (2008)

5. "Half Of A Yellow Sun" by Chimamanda Adichie (2008)

6. "No Name in the Street" by James Baldwin (1972)

7. "Sister Outsider" by Audre Lorde  (2007)

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8. "Invisble Man" by Ralph Ellison (1952)

9. "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander (2012)

10. "The Fire Next Time" By James Baldwin (1963)

 Let's make reading cool again! 

Kim Burrell And The Problem With ‘Praying The Gay Away’...

Kim Burrell

Kim Burrell

My experience with the Black Church

Now, If you‘ve spent a significant time around the Black Church, you've probably heard the terms sissy, jelly back, or flip-wrist thrown around one too many times.

Having been formally introduced to Christ through the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), I know I have. As a younger man, I didn’t see these names as an issue, but after seeing the viral video of the young man being “delivert” from homosexuality last year, and now, Kim Burrell’s rant about the LGBTQI community, I’ve now converted to a new opinion.

After watching the video, I couldn't help but think about the young men who have been feeling the brunt of those homophobic statements for years.

We all know the Black Church has always had an issue with homosexuality - even becoming the most outspoken of communities against it. However, we tend to neglect the complexity of its relationship with this targeted sin and the nuances that inform its objection.

COGIC churches, like other Black and white Pentecostal denominations, usually have fundamental beliefs that are soundly built on biblical doctrine, i.e. eschatology, soteriology, and other big words. However, their praxis usually ignores the context and approach taken by Jesus, the first church, and others. Now don’t get me wrong. While they espouse the biblical importance of the laying of hands (Acts 8:17) and personal confession/testimony (Revelations 12:11), they forget the most important thing: Grace, especially when attempting to provide more "deliverance" for the people they service weekly.

What does it mean to be delivered?

Now let me start by saying: there’s no such thing as being “more delivert”. Deliverance is defined as “a rescue from bondage or danger.” In the Old Testament, deliverance manifested itself in God’s removal of those who were in the midst of trouble or danger. But in the New Testament, God becomes the subject—and His people— the object of his deliverance. Fascinating, right?

I think most Christians would agree with me that we are ALREADY delivered from the grips of sin and Satan. But our bad theology has prompted us to seek to be "Delivert more" as the young man approached the altar saying without considering the role God already played in the matter.

Bibliclaly Speaking

Biblically speaking, one cannot be more 'delivert' than they already are after accepting Christ. Biblical deliverance is already bought and dispensed by God’s Grace. According to Hebrews 10:18, our sins have been forgiven and due to the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices. So any more desire for deliverance is pointless and misguided. Any hope of becoming more delivered only perpetuates an inordinate desire to want to reestablish righteousness with God – a righteousness that we never could have earned ourselves to begin with (Ephesians 2:8). Our distrust in the fact that we are already righteous through Christ is what has created a fallacy in our theology.

In addition, neither Jesus nor his apostles ever delivered anyone from homosexuality in the Bible. The only instance where deliverance is mentioned in the New Testament was when Christ delivered people from disease and death (Luke 17: 11-19, John 11:44, etc.) To conflate or liken homosexuality to death and disease has large implications and, in my opinion, is biblically irresponsible and anti-Christ. Not to mention, it highlights other problems present in our congregations and raises some crucial questions: Why are we not praying for deliverance from fornication among heterosexual Christians, idolatry of our leaders, and greed in the pulpits as adamantly as we are against homosexuality?

The Problem with 'Praying the Gay Away'..

Many people don't know this but “praying the gay away” is not a biblical concept. In fact, it is entrenched in a homophobic opinion of Christianity that isn’t supported with scripture in its proper context.

In many instances, references from the Old Testament are poorly framed for contemporary audiences, i.e. the Levitical reference: "You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination (Leviticus 18:22). This verse was spoken to Moses for the Jews about God’s ordinances for purity.

Though such verses are important for attaining biblical knowledge, they were not meant to be the basis of Christian life, post-Jesus. Jesus’ words about purity were simple : anyone who looks at a woman [or man] lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:28). This verse makes us all rather culpable if you ask me, but our pride, clergy or not, would never let us admit that. That’s why the concept of 'praying the gay away' is not a biblical concept, but rather, a social construction.

 

What if you can't pray the Gay away... Would the church be ok with that?

In many Christian communities, the desire for conversion/deliverance from a homosexual lifestyle is more for social reasons than it is for actual spiritual transformation. In the church, homosexuality is usually framed as being unredeemable and unregenerate by hateful preachers. However, these diatribes are rarely, if ever, in tune with God’s current sentiments concerning the world and man’s sinful condition (John 3:16) due to the Church’s fears and discomforts. However, our discomfort does not grant us the right to condemn sins. We are called to love and show grace. Since Jesus himself didn’t condemn, we can’t either. But these preachers’ warped view of God has led them to do the opposite. And it’s that kind of pride and piety that is being displayed in pulpits, instead of God’s Mercy, that is causing more and more people to come to altars under condemnation...

And trust me, I know.

Like Andrew Caldwell, I have gone to the altar a number of times seeking my own personal "deliverance” from my own indiscretion, and now understand how easy it is to fall into the theatrics of getting "delivert" more.

...You know, the falling back, foaming at the mouth, screaming, shouting, and other hoopla that, to others, is evidence of transformation in front of the entire congregation. To be honest, most of those displays of religious exuberance are disingenuous, having been taught, rehearsed, practiced, or even fabricated in some cases. Now, I don't want to paint what you see at most churches with a large brush of insincerity, because I'm no one's judge, but please know that not all of the “deliverances” you see at the altar are “Spirit-led.” Deliverance happens internally first and foremost. Any external “signs” are only a manifestation of the work that occurred within through the Spirit. But more on that in another post…

...not all of what you see at the altar are "Spirit-led."

Now I know this may be controversial to some, but I don’t believe that the gay is meant to be prayed away. Rather, it is meant to be lived beside and addressed in love, not phobia. Why? Because Jesus did the very same with sinners of all kinds and none of them, from Peter, Mary, Zaccheus, and even Judas, were never turned away.

That being said, I have one simple call to action to the Church:

In response to both videos, the social stigma surrounding homosexuality, and appropriate Christian responses, we as the church, COGIC and otherwise, need to do away with this hierarchy of sin that, though culturally touted, is biblically irresponsible and insensitive. As Andrew Caldwell, and so many others in pulpits and pews are attempting to reconcile their sexual identity with God, we as the church need to begin to WALK with them through it with a Grace that resembles that of Jesus. And not with pious convocations and theatrical testimonies, but with honest conversation that uproot our bad theology to allow us to repent for the phobia we have toward one another. That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is what true deliverance will really look like.

..Can I get an Amen?

 

#TrustTheProcess | 2016: a Year in Review

...If you've followed me on social media for sometime, you’ve probably seen me share my favorite hashtag: #TrustTheProcess. The trusting of my process began in 2014 when a still small voice told me to forgo my doctoral studies on the East Coast and instead, come home to Los Angeles. After coming home in 2014, I saw how much trustworthiness I had to have in the process as I found myself career-less, sleeping on my Grandmother's couch, working a part-time job - making $9.25/hour at my local YMCA with a master's degree. If you need a refresh er, here is my 2015 year-in-review. As you can recall, 2015 had its highs and lows, but 2016 took me to new career and social heights in ways I couldn't have ever anticipated! Hopefully, this will convey to most  just how good God is!

Here's my recap of how I trusted the process in 2016:

January

In the month of January, I came across an image of literary giant Octavia Butler's handwritten notes from 1988 that conveyed her desires and dream to be remembered as one of the greatest writers of all time. Her list of self-actualization and affirmation was powerful to me and I decided to replicate one for myself and use the same words she used: "So be it. See to it." This practice in self-actualization would prove to be the best thing I've ever done.

In January, my partner, Makiah, and I went to New York City as social media managers for #MLKNOW with United Blackout - a network of concerned artists, entertainers, advocates, religious leaders & citizens united to end human rights violations against fellow Americans. With an amazing turnout online, we were able to have it trend #1 in the country.

Afterward, we wrote about the event’s social impact on us and the rest of the country for Huffington Post. #TrustTheProcess

February

In February, while still teaching at CSUDH, I was selected by Fusion's inaugural Rise Up Be Heard Fellowship as a journalist and reporter for Southern California.

I also wrote about Cam Newton and White America's issues with Black athletes.

One of my goals for 2016 was to fly regularly - and have people pay for it - and I had the amazing opportunity to do so several times. I went to Miami to cover the Power Moves conference for Black Tech Week. I went to Louisiana to cover the inauguration of Xavier University newest President. Heck, I even went to Ohio for a business trip. 3 words: #TrustTheProcess

March

In March, I wrote one of my most important pieces regarding politics: "Are Hillary Clinton & Bernie Sanders Exploiting the Families of Black Victims for Votes?" In conducting research for this article, I had the honor of speaking to #SandraBland's mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, to get her thoughts on the subject. Although this piece was a labor of love over many hard and sometimes frustrating weeks, it was completely worth it. #TrustTheProcess

April

In April, I had the pleasure of serving on my first panel for NPR's KPCC at CSU Fullerton regarding student activism + politics.

Moreover, I wrote my first piece for Fusion's Rise Up Be Heard Fellowship, in which I interviewed Black Millennials, Pastors, and Clergy across the country to ask why Black millennials were hopping from church-to-church. #TrustTheProcess

MAY


Inspired by the trip I had taken in February to Miami for the Power Moves Conference and Black Tech Week, I finally decided to step out and start a venture of my own, Black Book LA.

From events and concerts to museums and Black-owned businesses, Black Book LA is now the one-stop shop for everything Black in LA. But it's more than a newsletter–it's a community. Currently, we reach over 7000+ Black millennials in LA. #TrustTheProcess

Moreover, in the same month, I was invited to Greater Harvest Church in Bakersfield, California, to speak to their 2016 graduates about how they, too, can #TrustTheProcess out of school.

June

After providing commentary on NPR several more times on The Black Family in Southern California to MLK and the future of Black activism, I was asked to deliver a keynote address at CSU Bakersfield's Black Graduation for the entire class of 2016. Wow! Just 4 years out of undergrad, and I was up there encouraging people to face what laid before them. It's so crazy how things came full circle. #TrustTheProcess

July

In the month of July, ready and willing, I embarked on a 4-day investigative reporting assignment for Fusion to cover Police & Detention Centers. While there, I was able to speak to victims of police violence. I later learned that our video piece went viral, receiving over 5 million views.

Crazy enough, in the same month, it was confirmed that in October, I'd be a featured TED Talk speaker at Los Angeles' TedxCrenshaw! Yes. There's no way this year could get any better. #TrustTheProcess

 

August

August was even more lit! With #BlackBookLA fully underway, Makiah and I decided to step out of our comfort zone to do our first event, #JAMBALAYA. Crazy, right? What started out with 10 subscribers now reaches over 7,000. Here’s a snapshot from our first mixer.

Moreover, in August, I was featured in a Fusion Documentary that followed my journalism assignment in Bakersfield that aired on NATIONAL TELEVISION. #TrustTheProcess

September

Out of all the months, September was hands down the most epic one of them all!

Chiefly, Twitter finally decided to verify me.

I was selected as the California African American Museum's newest Curator & Program Manager of History and Culture! From here on out, I have the esteemed pleasure of curating the dopest exhibitions, programs, and lectures that will reimagine and reclaim the beauty and illustriousness of the Black experience in the U.S.! I'm so honored to do so and assist CAAM in making its mark in the art world!

It was also in the same month that I went to the NMAAHC in Washington D.C. for the grand opening and had my life changed by the beauty of the edifice and the exhibitions. #TrustTheProcess

October

In October, out of 20,000 applicants, the White House invited me to attend the first ever #SXSL festival with some of the best and brightest. Humbled is not even the word. Gratefulness is all I have.

In addition, within the same week, I shared my Ted Talk to an entire auditorium full of people - which will be available online in 2017! (Note: Doing this #TEDtalk was one of the hardest things I've had to do. I was stretched, contorted, challenged and pushed to produce the best speech I possibly could. And it was. It was me sharing my frustration, love, and passion for my PEOPLE in this complicated place we call our country. With this one, I gave my all and felt lifted with every word off my lips.) #TrustTheProcess

November + December

With such an amazing year under my belt, I told myself for the last two months of the year i would finally rest and recalibrate to focus on my work at the Museum and my next creative projects. Why? Because I've learned that resting is equally as important as working to any process one is undergoing.
 

In Conclusion....
 

2016 has been quite the year. Not only did I reach career and social heights that I could only dream of, I found purpose. 2015 year was not easy, but I now see why. 2016 was being prepared for as I was learning significant lessons along the way. So, for all those who find themselves in the middle of a difficult process, I encourage you to keep trusting and never give up! Theres something always better on the other side.

If this was 2016, I can't imagine what the process has for me in 2017!
 

#TrustTheProcess

 

Why Black People Can't Swim

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We need to have a conversation about the myth/stereotype about why "Black people can't swim!"

This stereotype - though often laughed at - is not only racist it's couched in American exclusionary practices. The reason why vast amounts of Black americans today (70% to be exact) can't swim is historically due to government sanctioned redlining and de-facto segregation that would limit Black american access to pools in the summertime. 

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Disastrous redlining practices of the 1930's meant to segregate whites from Blacks, corralled Black americans into poor sections of cities (ghettos) that did not have access to reliable water, let alone recreational-sized pools for the next 60 years. Of the pools that were available in sections of cities in the 1910's-60s, Black people were rabidly denied  pool access (some even draining entires pools if a Black person's toe even touched it. i.e. Dorothy Dandridge) because of de-facto segregation and red-neck whites.

Motel manager pouring acid in the water when black people swam in his pool, 

Motel manager pouring acid in the water when black people swam in his pool, 

Motel manager pouring acid in the water when black people swam in his pool, 1964.

Consequentially, with little access to recreational-sized pools because of neighborhood proximity and white-racism, this created future generations of urban Black americans who'd never learnt to swim. Accordingly, this generational inaccessibility to pools would persist for many decades, excluding generations of Black Americans from the leisure of the exercise of swimming, thusly allowing the myth that "Blacks can't swim" to persist - as if black people never sought to learn. 

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Simone Manuel, first African-American woman to win an individual event in Olympic swimming.

Nonetheless, despite access to recreational swimming, we ALL learned that Black people do swim, and because of Simone  Manuel, if given a shot, they too, can swim laps around anybody and win gold medals, if given access to! #Rio2016

Black Lives Matter x Mizizi Shop

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Still on a high from Jesse Williams' powerful speech at the BET Awards, I knew that it was time to share with you all my latest collaboration.

This month, I teamed up with Mizizi, a burgeoning African-inspired streetwear brand to showcase this one-of-kind, Black Lives Matter rugby Jersey. Modeled by M. Starks, the jersey fashionably encapsulates the significance of the moment we find ourselves in.

Check out the pics below to see how Mizizi keeps brothas like M.Starks fresh on a daily. Clearly, the revolution can and will be seen.

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#BlackLivesMatter

Why WGN’s Underground is an Emmy Contender

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For every generation, there is a television show that audaciously attempts to tackle history in a way that the American public hasn’t yet seen. In the 1970’s it was Alex Haley’s Roots, and for this generation, it’s Misha Green and Joe Pokaski’s WGN Drama, Underground.

As the show revels in its Season 2 renewal, the team behind it has launched a campaign to be considered in the upcoming round of Emmy considerations. But with a show that addresses such sensitive and intense subject matter, their efforts carry a special significance.

A few weeks ago, WGN America and Sony Pictures Television hosted a gospel brunch and exclusive pilot screening for Academy members. As audience members filed into the Beverly Hilton, the excitement was palpable.

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The brunch kicked off with a power-packed performance from Jason McGee and The Choir, who delivered moving renditions of “Ride On, King Jesus” and “Walk Over God’s Heaven.” With each song, they set the atmosphere for the resilient and triumphant tone of the show. Shortly afterward, we watched the pilot episode, which opened with none other than Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead.”

Set in the Antebellum South, we follow the Macon 7, a group of seven enslaved African Americans, who bravely escape from the plantation to make the 600-mile trek to freedom.

The protagonists of the show are Noah (Aldis Hodge) and Rosalee (Jurnee Smollett), who are marvelously supported by an amazing cast of characters, many of whom were in attendance. Christopher Meloni (August Pullman), Alano Miller, (Cato), Jessica De Gouw (Elizabeth Hawkes) and Amirah Vann, (Ernestine) graced the stage to talk about their experiences on the show. The event was also attended by the show’s creative team, including co-creators Misha Green and Joe Pokaski, Director and Executive Producer Anthony Hemingway, and was moderated by Michelle Turner from Entertainment Tonight.

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Jurnee Smollett, an actress who unapologetically combines her activism and acting, shared why Underground initially caught her attention: “It gives voice to the stories of those who did fight back-the revolutionaries who said ‘I’m taking agency over my life.’”

Her performance as Rosalee is nothing short of impressive. With every episode, we see an incremental transformation and realization of agency by Smollett’s character. Initially, we are introduced to a frail and timid woman, but throughout the first season we watch her blossom into a courageous woman who’s willing to put her life on the line for her companions.

Smollett explained that most of Rosalee’s struggles came byways of the effectiveness of slavery’s ability to separate slaves by skin tone. “The most tragic thing about slavery is that they succeeded at pitting us against each other,” she shared. “They made us believe that something like the house is a position we should settle for.”

Aldis Hodge discussed the importance of solidarity among runaway slaves. “Even if you make it, you still haven’t made it,” he said in reference to the dissonance many slaves felt after leaving their families behind. Hodge’s character expresses this sentiment weekly, as he struggles to encourage the group and keep everyone together.

In one of the breakthrough roles of the season, Amirah Vann (Ernestine), provides us with an introspective look into what it was like to be a house slave. Her character embodies the weight of what it means to be a mother who literally puts herself in harm’s way to ensure the safety of her children. Her gripping scenes and subtle gestures illustrate the dignity of enslaved women despite her incessant degradation.

With such a dynamic cast and creative force behind it, the announcement of a second season comes as no surprise. As Underground continues to engage key audiences, it’s only a matter of time before the rest of Hollywood takes notice.

Underground is worthy of Emmy consideration not only for the superb acting and complex storylines, but for the profound impact it is having on the way we talk about and remember America’s dark past. This classic tale with a modern twist brilliantly lures us in and encourages viewers to break free from the monotony of other, less nuanced portrayals of slavery. As the nation continues to engage in conversations surrounding race and social justice, Underground could not have come at a better time.

Xavier University of Louisiana Welcomes A Brand New President

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On February 26 2016, Xavier University of Louisiana celebrated the inauguration and investment of its new president, Dr. Reynold C. Verret - a man of great esteem, faith, and leadership.

Dr. C. Reynold Verret is an experienced higher education administrator and a widely respected scholar. He earned his undergraduate degree cum laude in Biochemistry from Columbia University and holds a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Unanimously elected by the Board of the Trustees last spring, Dr. Verret began his tenure on July 1, 2015 following the retirement of Dr. Norman C. Francis, who served as president for 47 years - the sixth president of Xavier University.

Founded in 1915 by Saint Katharine Drexel and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, Xavier University is a premier track HBCU and is the only Catholic HBCU in North America. Xavier also serves as the top producer of African American undergraduates who go on to complete medical school; and one of the top three producers of African American Doctor of Pharmacy degree recipients. All areas Dr. Verret believes that he can assist with Xavier propelling forward.

“My vision for Xavier as the next president is to increase our reach not just locally, but nationally,” Dr. Verret stated. “Our sense of purpose is blessed and is a sacred mission to build people and to help people.” With such a forward-thinking and communal approach, Dr. Verret is carrying on in the tradition of Historically Black Colleges and Universities that pride themselves on serving students on the margins. “Xavier is very intentional in meeting students where they are. Understanding that every student comes with some different gaps, but we’re here to fill those gaps.” Dr. Verret also explained where his commitment to students stems from: “No matter who you are, there was someone who has spoken up for us when we weren’t in the room. And there is an expectation that I would support others in the same way.”

Many within the Xavier community echoed the same sentiments. Sierra Hodge, a Junior Political Science major and Business Administration minor, who also serves as junior class president shared her excitement to have Dr. Verret join the Xavier family. As a student leader, she could clearly see Dr. Verret’s vision for Xavier and welcomed its future growth. “He has a lot of good plans and has a great team around him and he wants to make us not just a great university known around New Orleans, but around the world.” She went on to state that, “Dr. Verret recognizes the importance of education and the importance of youth in the future...Dr. Verret has the entire student body behind him.”

Dr. Regina Benjamin, Chair of Xavier’s Public Health Department and the President Obama appointed 18th Surgeon General of the United States, thought that Xavier was very lucky to have Dr. Verret. “Dr. Verret comes with an understanding of the humanities and sciences and how to bridge the two together in order to prepare students to compete in the global market.” She also mentioned that Dr. Verret’s presidency couldn’t have come at a more pivotal time. “He understands the importance of being involved with the community and it fits in the with the ethos of the campus. Dr. Verret is going to be a wonderful continuation of that.”

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Xavier University is a shining example of Black scholarship and ingenuity. As a university, Xavier continues to set a new precedent for students of various backgrounds and pronounces that Black America’s future leaders are already in our midst. In fact, Xavier currently ranks first nationally in the number of African American students earning undergraduate degrees in biology and life sciences, chemistry, physics and pharmacy.

Bearing witness to the jubilant and sacred sentiments shared by both faculty and students at the inauguration that morning exemplified that.

Dr. Verret’s installation as Xavier University’s new president represents a new era of innovation, not only for the Xavier Community, but for New Orleans at large. His presidency comes at a time when HBCUs nationwide are reclaiming their rightful place within higher-ed by producing the nation’s largest concentration of Black college graduates. And with Dr. Verret at the helm of Xavier, we can expect to hear even more great things about this wonderful institution. With such an extensive track record and comprehensive vision for the future, there is no doubt that Dr. Verret will add to the rich and illustrious legacy of Xavier University of Louisiana.

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Go XULA!

15 reasons why Harriet Tubman deserves the $100 Dollar Bill too..

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Racks on racks on racks! With the news that Harriet Tubman is being placed on half of the $20 dollar bill has everyone very excited - and they should be. However, contrary to popular belief,  I think the American Treasury's Jack Lew still has short changed her. Why? Harriet has been keeping it 100 her entire life.

Urban Dictionary defines 100  as: to stay true; to be real; straight up

...And if you ask me,  Harriet Tubman has been keeping it 100 her whole life. Don't believe me? Here are 15 ways Harriet Tubman kept it '1o0 throughout her life:

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  • Tubman or the slaves she guided were never captured.
  • Tubman used disguises to avoid getting caught. She dressed as a man, old woman or middle class free African American.
  • During the Civil War she was paid $200 over a period of 3 years. She supported herself by selling pies.
  • During the Civil War she worked as a nurse and a cook. Her knowledge of local plants helped her cure soldiers with dysentery.
  • Tubman was the first woman to lead an assault during the Civil War. She conducted the Combahee River Raid which set free 700 slaves.
  • After the Civil War she became involved in the cause for women’s suffrage. She gave speeches in Boston, New York and Washington.

 

  • Unable to sleep, Tubman underwent brain surgery in Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital. She refused anesthesia, instead she insisted to chew a bullet just like soldiers did when they had their legs amputated.

In conclusion:

 Harriet Tubman was a G! 

...In my opinion, Harriet Tubman is worth far more than just a $20 dollar bill. Not only was she enslaved, she was a cook, a nurse, a spy, and also a soldier in the Union Army,  on top of being an abolitionist, too.  And because of these achievements, she not only deserves a $20, she deserves a grand stack of  $100 dollar bills, too. Why? Harriet's been keeping it '100 her entire life.

..Keep it 100 and share this with someone else!

Erykah Badu, You Betta Call Tyrone about your Sexism...

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...Erykah Badu really threw me for a loop today!

The Queen-Mother of all things woke chimed in on Twitter about how she thinks that girls should "pull down their skirts" because they might serve as a distraction to the boys in school settings. Check it out below:

In her tweets, Erykah Badu makes 3 egregious mistakes:

 

1) Telling little girls to lengthen their skirt to avoid gawking from men reinforces rape culture. Rape Culture, or a setting in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality, is extremely harmful to little girls. Why? Because it places the blame on women instead of the men who commit the assault or harassment.

2) Following Ms. Badu’s logic allows us to blame girls for the unwanted advances they receive because of their uniforms instead of focusing on the perpetrators who make the advances. According to Justice Department statistics, nearly 20 percent of girls between the ages of 14 and 17 have been victims of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault. And sadly, in U.S. high schools, 10.5 percent of high school girls have been forced to have sex. Another study reports that only half of them told a third party or reported their assault.

3) Trying to justify that men are naturally wired to look at underage women is creepy and very R.Kelly-esque. Again, reinforcing rape culture. Back during the Soul Train Awards, Badu sang R. Kelly's praises. But although he is a musical genius, according to the Village Voice, close to two dozen women have claimed that he sexually abused them. Virtually all of the allegations are said to have occurred in or near Chicago, where Kelly is from, and involve claims Kelly repeatedly pursued minors for sex. Erykah... Is that someone you really want to step in the name of love with, too?

Ultimately, I've arrived to one conclusion:

Erykah Badu is not as WOKE as we thought.

Little girls should never be held responsible for gawking eyes of adults–especially grown men. Men who prey on little girls who wear short skirts, long skirts, or tunics are perverts–plain and simple. And rationalizing that type of behavior doesn't make you woke; it just indicates that you’re asleep!

Sorry, Erykah ...I will always be one of your biggest fans, but after your rant on Twitter this week, I think it's time to call Tyrone and tell him to pick up your ideological sh*t...Why, because I, like Black Twitter, ain't here for it.

 

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Why Black Millennials Are Hopping from Church-to-Church

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Why Black Millennials Are Hopping from Church-to-Church

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I stopped going to church about six months after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson. My church at the time, a Pentecostal black church in South Los Angeles, had made no mention of police brutality or Black Lives Matter, and I couldn’t help but interpret their silence to mean that my life didn’t matter much either.

I just couldn’t understand how a black church could be so slow to pick a side on such a topical and dire social justice issue. So I started seeking other churches, including a white church, but quickly learned that both the black and white churches I tried were incapable of meeting me where I was at, culturally or politically.

I began to think that if the black church couldn’t take a basic stance on my life, maybe God was incapable of it, too. Yes, tragic, I know.

In the 1960s, the black church played a major role in the Civil Rights Movement, organizing carpools to protests and injecting songs of resistance into Sunday mass. But today, the church is mostly absent from black and youth-led organizing efforts.

“Jesus was in those streets and so should we [be],” said LA-based Black Lives Matter activist Shamell Bell, who stopped attending her church after it didn’t take the time to acknowledge the Charleston church shooting last year.

LA-based Black Lives Matter activist Shamell Bell

“If the church is not going to get on board, then young black folks will continue to hop from church to church getting their fix of religion until they stop going altogether and imagine church in a new way,” Bell said. “That means if we get together in our homes weekly and love each other and show the fruit of the spirit, that is where our church will be.”

Like Bell, many of my peers have practiced church-hopping between traditional Protestant and non-traditional church services.

The numbers prove it, according to a 2014 Pew study. While the number of churchgoers at historical black churches has remained relatively steady, the number of people going to nondenominational churches has increased by the millions.

Twenty-four year old Steven Spicer, a student at West LA College, left his Baptist church to attend a nondenominational church in South LA. He said his church “feels extremely static and stuck on individualistic preaching,” rarely ever “touching on the importance of community or social justice.”

Princeton Parker

Princeton Parker

Caught in-between the old school and the new, Princeton Parker, a 22-year-old minister and recent college grad, attends both his traditional Pentecostal church and non-denominational churches weekly.

“Black men need to hear conversations about family, sexuality, and finance, and most importantly, we want to hear conversations about social justice,” Parker said. “You cannot find identity in a place that won’t talk about the difficulty about your identity.”

And it’s not just about black men. Christina Peterson, 24, a queer black woman from Philadelphia, was once a part of a Baptist church, but hasn’t been an active member in six years because she hasn’t found a space where she feels comfortable.

“I’m always greeted with stares and rude looks from others because I’m not dressed the way they think I should be,” said Peterson, who observes that people don’t participate with her in the interactive portions of a service. “Queer people love the Lord too, and we don’t want to go to church and feel attacked constantly.”

At nondenominational churches, churchgoers can dress more casually, music is more contemporary and sermons are more currently relevant.

Thabiti Anyabwile, 46-year-old pastor at Anacostia River Church in Washington, DC, takes this approach at his church.

“Whether you wear church hats or snapbacks, timberlands or flats—all are welcome,” said Anyabwile, who has seen an influx of black youth join his congregation. “The [black] church has to have a seriousness, authenticity and engagement with the world as it is, that helps to root young people.”

In addition to seeking an acceptance of all identities, some black youth are also craving diverse voices. Martoinne and Rhea Williams, a young married couple from Long Beach, Calif., discussed why they’ve decided to hop and, ultimately, leave their black church for a multicultural church across town.

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Martoinne and Rhea Williams

“When I asked my pastor about a desire for the black church to be more multicultural, my pastor said, ‘So, you want heaven on earth?…You can’t have that here. That’s reserved for heaven.”

After hearing this, Martoinne and Rhea left their church to join a more racially diverse congregation across town. On their first visit, Martoinne looked over at his wife and joked, “I guessed we walked into heaven.”

In a world of dating apps and social media networks, it’s just easier to find things that specifically fit your needs. The same goes with churches.

Ekemini Uwan, a Master of Divinity Counseling student at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, believes that sporadic church attendance is emblematic of the results of internet culture where thousands of choices are at your fingertips.

“We live in a time where people like to shop and we take that mentality to church,” Uwan shared. “Some might leave for churches that are culturally relevant or they might leave because they want to identify.”

I’m still hopping around churches today, but honestly, I’ve been underwhelmed with each one I’ve found. So, now I congregate regularly and informally with friends.

I’m not leaving the black church per-se, but if the church doesn’t collectively do more listening than talking to recognize our intersecting identities as black people, I will be gone for good. Black youth believe God inherently sees us; we’re just waiting for the black church to catch up.

... Can I get an amen?

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Why I'm Not Here for Bill Clinton...

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Today, Bill Clinton showed me who he really is.

At a rally in Philadelphia this afternoon, Bill Clinton had a heated argument with Black Lives Matter protestors about what he really thought about Black crime once-and-for-damn-all. Here's the video:

In the video, Bill Clinton makes 3 egregious mistakes:

  1. He justified his notorious ‘94 crime bill that was ultimately responsible for the Mass-Incarceration of Black men and women
  2. Attempted to vindicate his wife and her use of the phrase “Super Predators” and its application toward Black + Brown kids in urban areas (me included)
  3. Fallaciously tried to convince a liberal audience that Black Lives Matter protesters are actually responsible for America's failure of urban revitalization caused historically by policy  ( i.e. Slavery + Segregation + Redlining + G.I. bill), which gainfully contributed to areas where over-policing/police brutality/ high-crime tend to happen: Section 8 housing and ghettos

Ultimately, I've arrived to one conclusion:

The Clinton's don't care about Black people.

The Clintons, in my opinion, are just two southern-style politicians whose paternalism toward Black americans is far to egregious to ignore. Sista Souljah was right. From this point on, I'm over Bill Clinton. I'm not drinking the proverbial Democratic Kool-Aid they like to slang to Black people every four years. Bill Clinton sucks, and by affiliation, so does Hillary, too.

#ImNotWithThem

 

Are Candidates Exploiting the Families of Black Victims for Votes? Sandra Bland’s Mom Says “No”

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When most mothers endorse presidential candidates, their voices have limited impact. But an endorsement by the mother of Sandra Bland, a black woman who died in police custody? That holds weight.

Geneva Reed-Veal endorsed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton a few weeks ago—and she’s proud. “Hillary has been championing women and families for over a decade.”

Is it appropriate for candidates to approach mourning mothers?

She’s not alone: The mothers of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Dontre Hamilton, and Eric Garner are also supporting Clinton through Mothers of the Movement, a coalition they, along with Reed-Veal, formed for mothers whose children were killed by state violence. This may have boosted Clinton’s numbers in the South Carolina and Georgia Democratic primaries—she received more than 80 percent of black voters’ support in both states.

Garner’s daughter, Erica Garner, disagrees with her grandmother on who should become our next president. She has endorsed Bernie Sanders. “He heard us, and I believe he’ll continue to listen,” Erica wrote in op-ed for the Washington Post . “I’m behind anyone who’s going to listen and speak up for us, and I think we need to believe in a leader like Bernie Sanders.”

The Sanders campaign didn’t respond to interview requests, and the Clinton campaign directed YES! to MSNBC, which was streaming live coverage of Mothers of the Movement from South Carolina.

These endorsements may be crucial to the candidates’ chances, as black voters will play a major role this election season. But is it appropriate for candidates to approach mourning mothers? Or is it exploitative?

Bland’s mother finds offensive the idea that she is being exploited. “I am over 50, and I understand exploitation and what it is,” she says. “We were all offended that it’s being said that we are being exploited—because we’re not.”

Reed-Veal, is excited to work with Clinton, even if others within the movement find the candidates’ alignment with black victims insulting and disingenuous.

“For these [deaths] to be used as a campaign tool is one of the worst things that can be done. How dare you?” says Los Angeles-based Black Lives Matter organizer Melina Abdullah, who is also the chair of the Pan-African Studies department at Cal State Los Angeles.

“We were all offended that it’s being said that we are being exploited—because we’re not.”

Some activists would like to see candidates focus instead on reparations. “Political engagement with the black community should be like a bank,” says Marissa Johnson, Seattle Black Lives Matter co-founder. “If the engagement is not quantifiable or monetizing, it isn’t really engagement.” The Black Youth Project 100’s proposed Agenda to Build Black Futures Campaign also mentions reparations.

Charlene Carruthers, national director of BYP 100, an activist organization comprised of black millennials dedicated to creating justice and freedom for all black people, says she is more concerned about the candidates’ strategies to win black voters than whom the families of state violence endorse.

But these strategies aren’t new. Consider JFK.

In the 1960 presidential race, John F. Kennedy successfully secured 70 percent of the black vote. Kennedy and his brother, Robert, used their political influence to get Martin Luther King Jr. released from jail, where he was being held following peaceful protests. That led to Kennedy’s endorsment by King’s father, Martin Luther King Sr.

That, in conjunction with Lyndon B. Johnson’s support of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, was the beginning of what would become overwhelming black democratic allegiance for the next 50 years. In fact, according to a 2015 Pew report, almost two-thirds of blacks identify as democrats, with most of the rest identifying as independents. Only 5 percent identify as republicans.

Black voters matter, especially to the Democratic Party.

The 2008 election, when Barack Obama became our first black president, was the most diverse ever, turning out 65 percent of black voters. In 2012, 66 percent showed up at the polls.

Almost two-thirds of blacks identify as democrats.

Black Americans do more than increase voter turnout. They increase winning margins, too. In 1992, former president Bill Clinton, deemed the “first black president” by novelist Toni Morrison, received 83 percent of the black vote as opposed to only 39 percent of the white vote. Four years later, he won again, receiving 84 percent of the black vote compared to 43 percent of the white vote. Although black Americans did not fare any better under his presidency—his policies, in fact, destroyed and displaced millions of black men and women via mass incarceration—Bill’s appearances at black churches and black hubs won him eight years in office and solidified a reputation that even facts can’t dispute.

Bland’s mom doesn’t let Bill’s legacy taint her appreciation for Hillary. “Do not judge her based off what Bill did,” she says. “This is not about Bill. This is her time to show to show her abilities, and I’m standing with her because I know she’s capable of getting the job done.”

Hillary has convinced enough black voters in two predominantly black states, but Sanders still has a chance at those that remain. Over the last few months we’ve heard both candidates announce that “Black Lives Matter,” but, in the coming weeks, we can expect to see more from them to show us whether black votes matter, too.

This piece was originally featured in Yes! Magazine.

Writing the Wrongs with Sofiya Ballin | The Woke Folk

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In February's installment of The Woke Folk, we hold a stirring conversation with rising journalist and feature reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer/Philly.com,Sofiya Ballin. Sofiya, originally from Mount Vernon, New York, is someone who is writing the wrongs in the world of journalism.

Named a 2015 Penny Bender Fuchs Diversity Fellow, Ballin has interviewed mainstream artists, written about trends such as cuffing season and the emergence of Black Twitter, covered major news events such as local Ferguson and Baltimore protests, and has produced digital fashion features, and contributed opinion pieces that speak to the millennial soul. Ballin aims to humanize all walks of life through mentorship and her work.

In our interview, Sofiya discusses her experiences with the lack of diversity within journalism, her dope Black History Untold spread in the Inquirer, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and her ambitions to change the depictions thereof.

Check it out below:

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Can you give us some background on who you are?

I’m a features reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer/Philly.com. I cover arts/entertainment and lifestyle.  I was born and raised in Mt.Vernon, New York to two prideful Jamaican immigrants who taught me never to get it twisted.

Just like the OscarsSoWhite, there recently has been a hashtag called #JournalismSoWhite? Could you elaborate on that and the current climate of Journalism?

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I remember reporting a story at a black church and when they found out I was from the Inquirer, they were so shocked and proud. They loved on me so hard. I got to sit next to the pastor, my iced tea was  constantly refilled, I was introduced to all the teenagers who were going to college for communications. I loved it.  It happens often.

But as great as that treatment and response is, it’s also tragic. They don’t expect me to be working there. I’ve had interviewees walk right by me not thinking I was the reporter. I believe my age also plays a major role. Everyday I walk into the newsroom like I’m Serena Williams because she’s someone who always excels in predominately white arenas. All reporters can get protective of their stories, but as a black reporter I know how fragile black stories are. They’ve been mishandled for hundreds of years. I do my best to make sure messages aren’t misconstrued, that I’m saying what  I mean. If  I can,  I bounce stories off my managing editor who is black or other black reporters...sometimes friends.

Sometimes I feel as though I have to culture-splain my pieces...it gets exhausting. But the work is worth it. Every day I get an email from someone saying they’re happy I’m here.

What things play a role in preventing Journalism from becoming more diverse?

That’s something I’m still trying to figure out. But I know qualified journalists of color exist and many are not being hired.

Sometimes publications have unions with strong seniority clauses, so even if there’s a wave of hires who are of color, when cuts happen, which it does A LOT in this industry, those new hires are the first to go. It makes it very difficult to build on that diversity.

Oftentimes, there’s a certain culture, a very white and male culture,  that people want to maintain and they’re afraid it will be dismantled. But anyone not willing to invest in inclusive hiring practices, isn’t invested in their publication’s future.

What role does the Internet - particularly, social media - play in leveling the playing field for Black & Brown people to participate in journalism?

The barriers to entry are little to none. There are so many great black online publications (For Harriet, Blavity, Very Smart Brothas, etc) that are pushing the conversation and challenging “traditional” publications. It’s causing the  “trad” media audience to dwindle, because now they look negligent and out of touch, thus pushing these publications to be more inclusive.

Can you talk to us about your latest piece that is running on Philly.com? Black History: What I Wish I Knew.

Can you discuss the significance of such a project?

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I noticed that when Black History Month rolled around I was assigned stories that felt very obligatory and lacked depth. But that’s also how Black History is often treated in the classroom.   You learn about 4 or 5 historical figures and your history always begins in bondage. Growing up, I saw the kind of damage that kind of  diluted black history education can do to the black psyche.

For the black man who told me that black people don’t know how to be successful, I knew he didn’t hear about the rise and destruction of Black Wall Street. For every black person who uses black on black crime as some sort of justification for the police-related deaths circulating  timelines and news tickers, I know they haven’t fully comprehended America’s relationship with lynching.

For every black man who downplays the acknowledgement of exploitation and abuse of black women, I know they didn’t learn that gynecology was practiced on  enslaved black women without anesthesia. Once you know these things, it doesn’t become hard to understand how mentality can be passed down generation to generation.

It was always one thing when white people made comments like that, it was another when I heard black people doing it. I wanted to challenge and change that.

We’re also not taught how big we are, we often hear people say “Black history is American history.”  Black history is world history. There are so many different cultures, colors and complexities that make up us. When choosing participants I wanted to hear the perspectives of the  immigrant, the 1st generation American, the Afro-Latinx,  bi-racial, the LGBTQ community and different religious backgrounds.  I wanted to push the conversation and have that conversation in an unconventional way.

Can you explain the ways in which your love for Black people and Journalism intersect?

A publicist called me once asking if I was on a race beat. Nah. Blackness doesn’t live in response. I write about black people living, loving and liberating. I see the beauty in us and I’m so caught up in the rapture. I just want everyone to be caught up as well. That being said, I do write about the issues we face.  The ugly things that prevent us from shining. That’s part of loving us as well.

As a Black female millennial, what are your feelings about the movement for Black Lives and its depictions in the press + media?

To me, Black Lives Matter is an affirmation that unfortunately has had to  be reiterated throughout history. As a young black woman, I love seeing black women really standing up, speaking up and being  counted. We’ve always been on the frontlines, but now we’re there and with demanding that we fight for ourselves and making sure our issues are addressed.

When it comes to the media, it’s important to be alert of certain language used “riot” vs. “protest.” I remember interviewing DeRay McKesson and he said that he’s noticed the media now says “according to police” or “police say” as opposed to reporting police statements as fact, I’ve noticed that as well.

How important is Black journalism in 2016 in light of the Black Lives Matter Movement?

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VERY. When I covered demonstrations, there are people who tell me things that they wouldn’t tell a non-black reporter. I was there when black protestors asked white protestors to circle around them as a protective shield. The idea was that cops wouldn’t arrest or hurt them.  That broke my heart. But I understood it. I was one of the people pushed to the center of that circle. I experience what they experienced. I’m treated how they are treated. I gain a totally different perspective.

There have been times when I’ve gotten the accusatory, “You gonna tell the whole truth, sis?” and I tell them I’m going to report what I see. But overall  there is a trust there.

What words do you have for other Black millennials who are living in this historic moment beside you?

Don’t let the fight or the struggle, make  you miss out or  forget all the beauty and freedom that is black.

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ASE! WE SALUTE YOU AND WISH YOU NOTHING BUT THE BEST!

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I'm Fusion's Rise Up: Be Heard Journalism Fellow!

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...The secret is out! I want to formally announce that I am officially a RISE UP: BE HEARD journalism fellow for Fusion - (@Disney/@ABC/@univision).

Over the course of the next 6 months, I will be writing + reporting on a range of topics and issues from environmental pollution to neighborhood violence, food insecurity to homelessness, health care access for the undocumented to mass incarceration in South Los Angeles (primarily Compton where I live)!

I'M SO GRATEFUL FOR THIS OPPORTUNITY.

#TrustTheProcess + #DreamsDoComeTrue ✨