Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Choice

As April 1st recently marked the celebration of Easter, and the story of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection was recounted in countless religious ceremonies across the world, I was reminded that one of the most profound parts of the story in my opinion is not of Jesus' celebratory entrance into Jerusalem that marks Palm Sunday or his intimate Last Supper with his disciples or even his excruciating death on the cross thus making way for his miraculous resurrection three days later. The part of the story that tugs most strongly at my heartstrings is that of the two thieves crucified with Jesus, and in particular the extremely different choices each made in their final hours on earth.

As taken from Luke 23:39-43 (NASB): "One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, 'Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!' But the other answered, and rebuking him said, 'Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.' And he was saying, 'Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!' And [Jesus] said to him, 'Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.'" 

Remember Me. How remarkable that in a final act of faith during the worst of circumstances, one thief made a conscious decision to secure himself an "ever after" with such a simple, yet humbling request. And how fascinating that in those few Bible verses so many themes are present: Sacrifice. Humility. Choice. Similarly, we are faced with making choices every day. Some so simple they don't require much thought beyond a basic "yes" or "no" and some so momentous they can change the entire trajectory of our lives.... 

On tomorrow, April 4th, we will mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., another historical figure who was the embodiment of sacrifice and humility, and who also made one of the greatest choices any mortal man could ever make--to lay down his life for others. I imagine when Dr. King entered Morehouse College at the young age of 15, he was dreaming of a life for himself devoid of great hardships and filled with endless opportunities that had and were continuing to escape so many in the South during that time. However, in just a little over a decade later, a 25-year old Dr. King would find himself leading the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, thus definitively marking the moment when he would choose to spend the rest of his life fighting for the civil rights of a nation of marginalized people until he was gunned down at the age of 39. 

Dr. King's sacrifice is unequivocally notable, yet his name is also among a list of civil rights heroes from Malcolm X to Medgar Evers who made the choice to live and die for something greater than themselves. Although most of us will never be called upon to make such an extreme sacrifice, that doesn't excuse us from choosing how we ensure Dr. King's dream never dies, whether fighting for police accountability; gun control regulation; the eradication of economical, educational, and health disparities in our communities; or simply giving to those in need. Dr. King once said, "If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live." Making the choice to put the well being of others before self is the greatest sacrifice of love one could make, for in our fight for others, we're responding to the call of many who are simply asking "remember me." Just as most of us celebrated on Sunday that Jesus did not come down from the cross just to save himself, Dr. King did not give his life for the fight for equality to not remain a dream in our hearts and a call to action for us all. Lest we forget.

Thank you for your invaluable sacrifice, Dr. King. 

Photo Credits: N/A

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Finding Wakanda

Like most of the recent movie-going world, I, too, have already taken my second trip back to the land of Wakanda to bask in the glory and greatness that is Black Panther. I will say that while my first viewing of Panther was one of excitement and joy, my second viewing was an otherworldly experience, thanks to my choosing to see it in 4DX. Let's just say in addition to 3D visuals, every bullet T'Challa took, every car chase twist and turn, each rhino's stampeded step, even the mist from Wakanda's bountiful waterfalls, was brought to life by the 4DX experience, which is designed to engage every humanly sense and place viewers right into the center of the action from the comfort of their theater seats. However, as its 97% Rotten Tomatoes rating and $700+ million take at box offices worldwide reflect, Black Panther doesn't need any 4DX "tricks" to be engaging: its superbly acting cast, and strong story line of redemption and resilience was enough to deem it certifiable "magical." 

However, it's more subtly woven theme of hope and pride is what is striking the loudest chord with the African-American audience, as reflected in the countless social media photos of moviegoers adorned head to toe in African garb, the many private sold out screenings that have been held, and the number of videos shared of overjoyed students headed to theaters ecstatic to, for once, see a superhero reflecting their hue. Airline agents at various airports around the country changed flight gates to Wakanda. Friends changed their regular dapped up greetings to the one T'Challa and his sister, Shuri, lovingly share. Conversations among women included the topic of considering shaving off their crowns of glory to "represent" like the  Dora Milaje. To put it mildly, Black Panther has left all of us proud of where we once came, of who we are, and hopeful of what we could become. 

However, it is not lost on me that Black Panther has too created an unspoken feeling of melancholy and discontent as we struggle to reconcile that despite the strives we've made in this country, unlike in fictitious Wakanda, we do not control any invaluable resources, we have not been able to fully sustain ourselves independent of any Westernized hand print, and the remnants of colonization does continue to exist in every fabric of our lives. To put it mildly, Wakanda is a dream of which we'd long to never awake lest be reminded of the nightmarish reality of just how "far from home" we actually are. When the first slave ship pulled us from the Motherland and dropped us in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619, we inherently knew we could never go home again. And yet Wakanda teases us with the idea of what we could have been had we never been forced to leave. 

In what seems to be a common question among people of color as of late--"Have you seen Black Panther yet?"--I too ended up in a very lengthy conversation with a gentleman recently precipitated by that very question. Our conversation took us from discussions of Black Panther to civil rights to gentrification to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Me being a Howard alum and he a Hampton alum (and, yes, there was the obligatory "real HU" rift), the latter part of the conversation led us into a discussion about another recent talked about viewing: the award-winning documentary "Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Historically Black Colleges and Universities" which aired on PBS and chronicled the rise (and sometimes fall), of those great institutions. Nonetheless, in a full circle moment, the conversation ended with what I suspect many think about after leaving a viewing of Black Panther: How do we create a Wakanda now?

While indulging in one of my nightly guilty pleasures--Vice TV's "Desus & Mero"--Desus jokingly wondered if every black person who owned a pair Jordan sneakers cashed them in, could that amass to the wealth of the fictionalized Wakanda. Of course the answer is no, but what was real was the shared feeling of desperately wondering how do we get close to making that a reality. And though the possibility exits, a system that was never designed for us to win will most likely ensure a dream of that magnitude never becomes a reality. As the gentlemen I spoke with so reminded, we were put in a race where the other runners got a 200-mile head start, and yet we're expected to catch up. Seemingly impossible. 

However, that does not mean that we should not task ourselves with working to create our own "Vibranium" right where we are and, despite our disadvantages, that must be mined and protected at all costs. It does not necessarily have to be a precious invaluable metal, but a resource nonetheless that will continue to sustain us. The definition will be different for each of us. For some, that "Vibranium" will simply be building a strong family unit; for another that will be giving back by sowing into our communities; for others that could simply be taking a young boy or girl under their wing as a mentee. Yet, for me, that "Vibranium" is continuing to support our greatest incubator of black intellectual property: black colleges and universities. 

As I write this on Howard University's 151st Charter weekend celebration, it is a great time to be reminded that HBCUs must continue to be cherished and sustained. With HBCUs producing more black PhD recipients in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields than any other body of institutions, they continue to create our own "Shuri's" and hold the key to our advancement. In fact, according to the National Science Foundation, an all-time high of 448 doctorates were awarded by historically black colleges and universities in 2014; thus HBCUs conferred just 0.8 percent of all doctoral degree awarded in the United States in 2014. 

Human rights activist, Malcolm X once said "Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today." When I reflect on those words, I am inspired that despite the challenges we have faced as a people, education has and continues to be that gateway that will help us create our Wakanda right where we stand. And for those without access to that great resource, it will be our job to meet them where they are and help carry them to where they must be. Our ultimate liberation may not include fancy cat suits and flying cars, but we should not for one minute fail to realize that possessing an education is both invaluable and untouchable, and will always be the great equalizer. Let's continue to build our "new land" right where we stand, and be invigorated by T'Challa's passionate decree, "I did not yield. And as you can see, I am not dead. The challenge continues...." And so it does for all of us. 

Photo Credits: N/A

Friday, February 9, 2018

For the Love of Black Cinema

February is easily one of my favorite months for two very distinct celebrations: Black History Month and Valentine's Day. So, it made sense to make this month's blog post about something that is very near and dear to my heart: black cinema. From a best picture Oscar win last year (Barry Jenkins' "Moonlight") to a best picture Oscar nomination this year (Jordan Peele's "Get Out"), movies written, directed, starring, and produced by and for black people--and delivered across a spectrum of time periods and experiences--are finally being recognized as cinematic forces to be reckoned with. And let's just say I could not be more proud and excited. So, without further ado, grab a snack and enjoy these sneak previews of a few melanin-flava'd 2018 films heading your way that will have you cheering, crying, and clutching your pearls (or neckties).

Black Panther - February 16th

The buzz, excitement, accolades and, its near-to-100% Tomatometer score on review aggregation film and television website, RottenTomatoes.com, makes this Marvel big screen bonanza easily one of the most anticipated films in its franchise and, possibly, one of its first to grab a 2019 Oscar nomination and win. Introduced into the Marvel comic world in July 1966, this big-screen adaptation finds Black Panther a.k.a T'Challa returning home to the African nation of Wakanda, after the death of his father, to take his rightful place as king. When a powerful enemy suddenly reappears, T'Challa gets tested when he's drawn into a conflict that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk. Faced with treachery and danger, the young king must rally his allies and release the full power of Black Panther to defeat his foes and secure the safety of his people. Starring Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong'o, and Michael B. Jordan.


A Wrinkle in TimeMarch 9th

Staying in the world of fantasy, two of entertainment's most powerful women--Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey--team up to bring a children's story classic to life. Wrinkle follows Meg Murry played by actress Storm Reid, who stars as a young girl struggling with the disappearance of her scientist father, until she finds herself on an interplanetary journey with a schoolmate and her younger brother to find him, aided by a trio of supernatural beings: Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey, and Mindy Kaling.


Acrimony - March 30th 

From sci-fi thriller to hold-on-to-your-seat suspense, the end of March ends with a bang, when Taraji P. Henson returns to the big screen for a second time this year (after a her action-packed role in "Proud Mary"). Henson plays Melinda, a faithful wife tired of standing by her devious husband, who becomes enraged when it becomes clear she has been betrayed. Produced, written, and directed by Tyler Perry, "Acrimony" also stars Lyriq Bent of Netflix's "She's Gotta Have It" and Tika Sumpter.


Breaking In - May 11th

Black heroines will continue to keep theaters"darkly lit"when Gabrielle Union hits the big screen Mother's Day weekend as Shaun Russell, a woman who, after the sudden death of her father, takes her two children on a weekend getaway to her late father's secluded, high-tech estate in the countryside. She soon finds herself in a desperate fight to save all of their lives when four men break into the house in search of something. Union also serves in a producer role alongside super-producer, Will Packer. 


Equalizer 2 - September 14th 

The ladies may have kicked off the summer, but the men will help bring it to an action-packed close. In August, "The Equalizer 2" hits theaters, as a sequel to its 2014 remake. Not much is known about the plot of the movie, based on the 1980s TV series of the same name, but we do know these two things: 1) Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington will reprise his role as vigilante Robert McCall and 2) Academy-winning director Antoine Fuqua of "Training Day" fame climbs into the director's seat again to command this thriller.  Trailer: N/A

Creed 2 - November 21st 

Photo Credit: Gerardo Moreno
Cue the music, pan to the Philadelphia Museum of Art stairs, and brace yourself for another one-two-punch in the form of a sequel to the movie that introduced Michael B. Jordan to mainstream audiences: "Creed 2." The upcoming film, set to drop Thanksgiving week, continues to follow Jordan as Adonis Creed (son of Apollo Creed) and his life inside and outside of the ring as he deals with new-found fame, issues with his family, and his continuing quest to become a champion. Up-and-coming African-American director, Steven Caple Jr., directs and Ryan Cooler will serve in an executive producer role. Trailer: N/A

There's no debating that from the fictional country of Wakanda to the real-life streets of Philly, 2018's adventures on the big screen are sure to offer something for everyone to love. So, mark your calendars, make your plans, and prepare to support black film "Sho Nuff...Ya Digg...By Any Means Necessary." Thanks Spike. 

Sources: Movie Insider; Rotten Tomatoes; YouTube; Wikipedia 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Happier New Year as Easy as 1, 2, 3

I am definitely my mother's child, but one thing we didn't share was a mutual love of New Year's Eve. While most busied with putting final party details in place, chilling bottles of champagne, and laying out festive outfits to don, my mother spent the hours leading up to midnight in quiet reflection on the year that had passed and a (somewhat pessimistic) view of what a new year could bring. It was definitely a glass half empty approach to embracing another 365 days on the horizon, especially if the prior year was marked with loss of some kind. Needless to say, as I became a young woman, I would have to make a concerted effort to enjoy New Year's Eve in order to shake off the unfounded fears my mom clung to that could easily hang over my celebration like a cumulus cloud, thanks to what I call "familial conditioning."

As I've gotten older and partying on New Year's Eve has become a bit riskier (yep, wisdom speaking here) my celebrations are often confined to gathering in friends' homes who live within a five mile radius; taking to the couch with a bottle of bubbly, Chinese food delivery, and Netflix on deck; or quietly spending it with a significant other. So, I may not "turn up" like I used to but one thing I'm mindful not to do is lament about what possible sorrow a new year may bring, and instead see the impending year as one full of possibility for growth, adventure, and new discoveries. That is why when I ran across a quote from American writer, activist, and feminist, Rita Mae Brown, I realized it provided the perfect recipe for happiness that has unknowingly always been at the root of my joy and also serves as a great reminder of how to approach and, ultimately, have a fabulous new year--every year--in three easy steps.

1. Find Someone to Love: I know traditionally speaking, it's easy to immediately reduce this advice to the definition of love in a romantic sense. And there's certainly nothing wrong with that; if you have a romantic partner to love, love them and love them hard. But, thankfully, love is much bigger than that and is something everyone needs, whether exhibited through a closer connection with family and friends, or through volunteering with the numerous organizations designed to assist the disadvantaged. Be it through organizations like Big Brother, Black Girls Rock, the Red Cross, or even coaching a little league team, there is always someone who could stand being loved on through your time, attention, and efforts. As actor Adrian Grenier once said, "It's enough to indulge and to be selfish but true happiness is really when you start giving back." So, go head, give back and spread some love while doing it.

2. Find Something to Do: Benjamin Franklin once said, "If time be of all things the most precious, wasting time must be the greatest prodigality." That also reminds me of something my mother often told me: "Time waits for no man; you either get busy living or get busy dying." Now, that may have been a tad extreme in the literal sense, but the message was loud and clear: get moving! Whether that's picking back up an old hobby or taking up a new one; learning a new language; finally drafting that business plan; finishing school; or--everyone's favorite new year's resolution--getting in better shape, there's a lot more you could be doing if your free time is usually spent twiddling your thumbs or, dare I say, sitting on social media. When you have something productive to do, the idleness that can often lead to restlessness, irritability, and sadness, will have a difficult time taking root. So, get going, which ties directly into the last important piece of advice:

3. Find Something to Look Forward To: This, I must say, is my personal favorite and why you could flip through my yearly planner and see something of interest--a concert, a trip, a Broadway show, even the opening of a new restaurant--noted across every month. Anticipation births excitement. And as writer Gretchen Rubin said, "By having something you look forward to, you bring happiness into your life well before the event actually takes place." And who among us could afford an investment into happiness that yields a return well in advance of its "maturity date"? All of us! So, get to planning and get that joy flowing into your life.

As 2018 welcomes us with open arms, let's make plans to embrace it back with a deliberate investment into our growth and happiness that will ultimately make us better, more joyful people, not only for ourselves but for those in our lives as well.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Holiday Health Message Wrapped in Love

Combat Jack
Sadly, 2017 just couldn't leave us without hitting us with a blow this week in the form of another lost icon in Hip Hop--Combat Jack nee' Reggie Osse'. National Public Radio summed up Osse's contribution to Hip Hop as such: "The Combat Jack Show started on a lark — with a crazy crew of sidemen including Dallas Penn, Premium Pete, an occasional Just Blaze, DJ Benhameen and producer A-King — on its way to becoming a pioneering hip-hop podcast. The show scored some of the rarest and rawest hip-hop interviews of an era when rap's center of gravity started its move toward the Internet. Ossé was able to get gems out of otherwise reserved or reclusive rappers by employing a type of interview style many emulate today. From Scarface playing guitar live and proclaiming his love for Pink Floyd to Prodigy detailing his own childhood kidnapping to J. Cole telling the story of how he wanted to sign Kendrick Lamar, listeners knew they would always get something special out of a Combat Jack interview."

Phife Dawg
On Wednesday, Osse lost his battle to aggressive colon cancer at age 53. My first thought was of course shock; but my second thought was "we gotta be more proactive with our health." I don't profess to know the details of Osse's diagnosis and subsequent treatment; however, according to the American Cancer Society, colon and rectal cancer is one of the slower progressing cancers, at times taking up to as long as 17 years before becoming life-threatening. If caught in time during a routine checkup, it's a cancer that can be treated and beaten. And that's when my third thought became one of sadness, because Osse is not alone. Hip Hop icons withstanding, each year, we lose loved ones to a myriad of treatable and reversible diseases, from complications of high blood pressure (shout out to Heavy D) to diabetes (shout out to Phife Dawg) to sickle cell (shout out to Prodigy) and of course, to cancer. Even more alarming, we lose many of our black men at a higher rate to these illnesses because, without prodding from loved ones, check ups often range from rare to, in many cases, nonexistent.

Ironically, I grew up with a father who was almost fanatic about his health. I recall my parents having a wall calendar in the kitchen noted with various annual checkups, follow-ups, lab work, and X-ray appointments. And they'd have no problem reminding each other of said dates on a regular basis. In fact, my dad was so proactive, if he had so much as a pain in his toe, off he'd go to the hospital. Therefore, I was taught the importance of managing my health very early, solidified by the fact that my father remains in good physical shape despite his 87 years. I've also been fearfully reminded of the importance of  managing my health with my own mother's passing who, on ONE rare occasion, did miss making an annual appointment that would ultimately cost her her life. Now this is not to say that both of my parents were illness-free throughout their lives, but they were fearlessly proactive to ensure they remained with their loved ones as long as they could and, in turn, set an example for their children to follow, demonstrating that striving for optimal health is just as important--if not more--than any other life goal.

Now, I would be remiss in not saying healthcare under our current Administration is under fire and could in fact become unaffordable for many in the foreseeable future. However, what just as commonly leads to illness and often untimely deaths, is a simple fear--whether that ranges from a fear of needles to a fear of hearing "bad news." But what is much scarier is not being here for those who need us the most, especially if we have the power to do something about it. Therefore, we must make sure we're all living our best lives and that we're also accountable for those who may need to be encouraged to do the same--be it reminding our sistas to get the "tatas" checked; reminding our brothas to show their prostate health some love; or simply not skipping bi-annual dental cleanings that are often free with many of our health plans (as irregular dental hygiene has been directly linked to heart disease).

As is said, "We're only as strong as each of us united." Therefore, we must all do our part to stay as vigilant as possible about our health not only for ourselves but for our entire community, even if that means offering to accompany each other to appointments when support is needed. So, ladies, while you're washing the greens and stuffing the turkey this weekend, start the conversation with your nieces and aunts about breast health care. Fellas, while you're slammin' down dominoes, use Jack and Phife and Heavy as conversation starters with your cousins to discuss cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Let's have the talks; let's make the commitments; let's hold each other accountable; and let's resolve to being our healthiest selves. Our lives depend on it.

Wishing everyone much peace, love, joy, and wellness this holiday season! Be blessed.

Photo Credits: N/A