Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Never Too Late: A Thanksgiving Message

The month of November delivers us Thanksgiving, which brings a time of both gratitude and reflection on the past. As the next to last month of the year, it's also when we either pat ourselves on the back for how much we've accomplished or give ourselves a hard pass (after a little self criticism) on how much we didn't, then vow to hit the restart button after the New Year. However, whether 10 days, 10 months, or 10 years have slipped from your time clock, I was recently reminded of a famous quote for which we should all be thankful: "It’s never too late to follow your dreams, and there’s no time like the present to start."

As comic fans reeled from the news of the passing of American comic book writer, editor, and publisher Stan Lee at the blessed age of 95, my admiration for Lee didn't have much to do with his 60 years of print and cinematic genius as much as it did that Lee was in a club of historic "late bloomers." Although Lee joined the publishing business at Timely Comics in 1939 at the age of 17 and became editor-in-chief within a couple of years, it wasn’t until 1961--nearly at the age of 40--that he would hit his stride. Timely Comics would be renamed Marvel Comics that year, and in association with legendary comics writer-artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Lee would go on to revolutionize superhero comics.

Not to leave the "late bloomers" club without competition, late American playwright and double Pulitzer Prize winner, August Wilson's, career path took him on a journey as an Army vet, porter, short-order cook, gardener, and dishwasher. However, never abandoning his deep love for writing, Wilson co-founded the Black Horizon Theater in the Hill District of Pittsburgh along with his friend Rob Penny in 1968 and introduced his first play, Recycling, which performed for audiences in small theaters, schools and public housing community centers for 50 cents a ticket. However, it would not be until 1982 when the first of Wilson's famed 10-cycle plays--Jitney--would premiere, and seal his place in history as one of the greatest playwrights to ever live. Wilson, at the time, was 37.

On a more serious and timely note, this years mid-term election--due to current administrative turmoil and the non-leadership entities that reside in both our Nation's Capitol and White House--brought out candidates running for election that were both many and varied. Although the Democrats lost the Senate, it gained the House, and there was not a more notable victory than that of Georgia, first-time congressional candidate winner Lucy McBath, infamously known as the mother of Jordan Davis. Davis was killed in 2012 in an act of racist gun violence, while sitting in a car at a stop light with three friends. His murderer, frustrated by the "loud rap music" emanating from the vehicle in which Davis was riding, retrieved a loaded shotgun from his car, fired 10 rounds, and killed 17-year-old Davis instantly. The senseless act of violence would propel Bath to become a gun control advocate, serving as a spokesperson for Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, and ultimately leading her to make a bid for the Congressional seat in order to turn her personal loss into national change. Before tragedy propelled Bath into a different place in history, she was a flight attendant for Delta Airlines. She is 58.

May we all be fortunate to avoid the tragedy and pain Bath has endured as a motivation toward our greatness; however, it does not erase that fact that dreams, no matter how they're ignited, reside inside all of us and, unless acted upon, will also tragically wither and die. Whether it's a career change, returning to school, starting a business, starting a family, or even redefining relationships, it's simply never too late to make a change. No, it won't be easy but as another famous quote states, "If it were easy, it wouldn't be worth it." Because of this, however, I'm also wise enough to know there will be those beyond age 37, 40, even 58, who may read these historic accounts and think they're still too old to begin again or start something new. To that, I leave you with this: Harlan David Sanders, better known to chicken lovers everywhere as Colonel Sanders, founded the Kentucky Fried Chicken company at age 65. He went on to become a multimillionaire. I rest my finger, lickin' case.

In all seriousness, on this Thanksgiving, as we sit among family and friends and reflect on the past year, let's remember to be thankful for both what we've accomplished but also for dreams that remain in our hearts that remind us that as long as we have breath in our bodies, it's never to late to chase after them. May you be blessed with the courage and tenacity that propels you into your destiny, and may you be an encouragement to others on their path who can benefit from your support. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said "The time is always right to do what's right." Find out what your "right" is and get started working on it TODAY.

Have a blessed and happy Thanksgiving!

Sources: Livemint.com; PsychologyToday.com; Wikipedia.com

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Baby or the Bathwater: Examining the Cosby Show

In a summer that felt remarkably short, its list of notable news items--from #MeToo rallies and Russian Summits to Lebron announcing his move to the Lakers and the loss of the Queen of Soul--has been remarkably long. However, not to be outdone, the fall season is coming in "chilly" with the breaking news that comedian, philanthropist, TV star Bill Cosby has been sentenced to three to 10 years in state prison for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand--a claim defended by 50+ women, who spoke publicly and/or gave testimony regarding their related experiences with Cosby. Cosby's request for bail has been denied, he was immediately placed in handcuffs and transported to begin serving his sentence, and a year-plus-long trial has come to a definitive end.

Despite the celebrations across social media juxtaposed against the outrage from those noting everything from the swift prosecution of "another black man" in the twilight hours of the possible appointment of Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, who is also being accused of sexual assault by three victims thus far to the blatant reality that a Commander in Chief sits at the head of our Free World with a closet full of the same sordid laundry, makes the disbelief somewhat plausible. But the judge has spoken, and I am not here to neither defend or condemn Cosby. After all, I didn't know him. I did, however, know Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable. We all did. And for that, I WILL defend what that character meant to the correcting of America's lens, because for every black garbage man that lived up the block, we could also point to a black doctor that lived across town. And this reality gave white America (and unfortunately some in black America) a crash course on the "levels of blackness" and in dismantling the often misguided notion that we are a monolithic people. 

In fact, I recall quite vividly being a freshmen at Howard University in an English Composition 101 class during a discussion about the influence of pop culture on society in which the Cosby Show was of topic. So imagine my surprise when a young sista immediately blurted out "I don't find that show realistic at all! I mean, come on: a black doctor husband and a black lawyer wife?" To which I immediately responded, "If that feels so unrealistic to you, then why are you at Howard?" Believe me when I say my question was not rhetorical or in jest; it was asked in complete disbelief that a student would walk the halls that produced black excellence for decades in the form of doctors, lawyers, politicians, and entertainers, and yet view her own quest for success as an unobtainable dream. Believe me when I say I think of that young woman from time to time and wonder if her years at "the Mecca" erased her limited thinking and instead created in her a profusion of possibilities that would rival any TV show. But it also validated the argument that if the vision of a successful black family rang foreign to a college freshman, there were a lot of people in the world who also needed to be educated and the show had a purpose to fulfill.

Because of this, and despite the rescinding of numerous accolades awarded to Cosby from the esteemed Kennedy Center Honors prize to dozens of honorary degrees from the Berkeley College of Music to Johns Hopkins University to Boston College, the most disappointing mass move to dismantle the legacy of Cosby was the attempt to erase The Cosby Show from TV--and dare I say Black--History. It goes without saying that the first thought in most networks' decision-making to eliminate the show from its syndication lineup was to avoid public backlash and, thus, lawsuits. However, the second thought was undoubtedly to prevent "rewarding" Cosby any further revenue stream in the form of residuals as to not contribute to his already $400 million net worth. However, when networks began to put their decision into swift action (in which I feel was mostly driven by "herd mentality" and pressure from the court of public opinion) my immediate thought was how the Cosby Show's other stars, co-stars, and 100+ guests would be affected, whose current incomes also were tied to the residuals of the show moreso and had nothing to do with the deeds of Cosby. 

My thoughts were confirmed on August 31st when fellow Cosby Show' actor Geoffrey Owens (a.k.a. Elvin Tibideaux who played oldest daughter Sondra's lovesick boyfriend turned doctor husband) was spotted and reported as bagging groceries at a New Jersey Trader Joe's. While many applauded Owens tenacity in doing honorable work to support his family, despite having acted in a few shows since the Cosby Show's 1992 ending, Owens admitted money became tight when networks began yanking reruns from the air following the accusations against Cosby. “That was one of the many factors that contributed to my decision to take a job outside the entertainment industry,” Owens told TheWrap. “[The networks' decisions] did not help me financially.” 

And that, my friends, is what the old folks call throwing the baby out with the bathwater. For in the rush to play judge and jury, and try Cosby in the court of public opinion before we ever let the law serve justice, more than just the accusers' lives were altered and more than just a TV show was lost. Instead a period in television history that served as a viable money stream for some and a monumental moment for an entire generation of people was destroyed. However, I am happy to see that there are networks and services (I see you, TV One and Amazon Prime) who have taken this into consideration and restored the Cosby Show--not Bill Cosby--to its iconic place in history. The show's legacy changed mindsets and thus lives--black and white--for the better, just as A Different World (another Cosby production) did, resulting in an increase in the number of black students who enrolled in historically black colleges and universities during the show's 1987-1993 run. Yes, William Henry Cosby Jr.'s name will now be forever tarnished, but we can't afford to have his deeds impact the art that stands on its own merit. After all, these shows are fictional, but their impact is indeed real and should not be tossed away or forgotten--for that would be a judgment that does not fit the crime.

Photo Credits: N/A


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Lights, Camera, (More Black Movie) Action

Well, color me prematurely excited when in February I presented what I thought was a near complete list of summer blockbusters for us, by us, and about us headed our way. However, just in time for the unofficial start of summer, I could not be more ecstatic to highlight a few more cinematic gems offering a little something for everyone and coming soon to a theater near you. So, mark your calendars and get ready to laugh, cheer, ponder, and hold on to your seats!


The Gospel According to Andre - June 1st 

You don't have to be a fashionista to know the name AndrĂ© Leon Talley. However, if you are, Kate Novack’s intimate portrait of the fashion icon will give you something to celebrate, as the documentary follows Talley's emotional journey from his roots growing up in the segregated Jim Crow South to becoming one of the most influential tastemakers and fashion curators of our times as well as the first African American man to have a position of visible importance within the fashion industry as the former editor-at-large of Vogue magazine.


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Superfly - June 15th 

Break out the furs and fedoras, and hold on tight for a fast-paced ride through a flashy world of high stakes and gritty street justice as actor and singer Trevor Jackson reprises the role of 70's blaxploitation icon, Superfly, who makes plans for one last big hit before getting out of the game for good...if he can. Directed by video icon Director X and also starring Jason Mitchell, Michael Kenneth Williams, Lex Scott Davis and Jennifer Morrison.







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Uncle Drew - June 29th

Grab the kids (and grandma too) and prepare to roll out your own red carpet for this all-star cast of ballers--literally--and actors assembled to tell the story of a young man, who convinces a former basketball playground legend to join a street ball tournament at the Rucker Park in Harlem to his upend his rivals. Uncle Drew agrees but only under one condition: he gets to bring his own squad along for the win and, for our sake, the laughs. Directed by Charles Stone and starring  Kyrie Irving, Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, Lil Rel Howery, Lisa Leslie, Erica Ash, J. B. Smoove, Mike Epps, and Tiffany Haddish.


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Whitney - July 6th

Although it's been almost a decade since her passing, the stellar career and untimely death of music icon Whitney Houston continues to captivate us all. Director Kevin Macdonald brings audiences an even closer look at the Pop legend through personal recounts and interviews with those closest to the musical songbird.








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Sorry to Bother You - July 6th

Even when Lakeith Stanfield is cast as a supporting character, he steals the show, as is evident in his role of Darius in the FX network television hit, "Atlanta," or as kidnap victim Andre Logan King in the 2017 smash hit, "Get Out." This summer fans will enjoy Stanfield's lead role as Cassius "Cash" Green, a young African-American telemarketer who adopts a white accent in order to thrive at his job. Written and directed by rapper Boots Riley. Also starring Tessa Thompson, Omari Hardwick, Terry Crews, and Danny Glover.


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BlacKkKlansman - August 10th

Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction, and BlackkKlansman could not be a better embodiment of the adage, as a crime comedy-drama that tells the story of an African-American detective who sets out to infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan in 1970s Colarado. Written and directed by Spike Lee, co-produced by Jordan Peele, and based on the book "Black Klansman" by Ron Stallworth. Starring John David Washington. (Movie Bonus: John is acting legend Denzel Washington's son.)







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Night School - September 28th

The summer wraps up with a hearty laugh, as comedy heavy hitter, Kevin Hart, and overnight sensation, Tiffany Haddish, team up as student and teacher, respectively, to tell the story of a group of troublemakers who are forced to attend night school in hopes that they'll pass the GED exam. Directed by Malcom D. Lee and produced by Will Packer. Also starring Yvonne Orji, Bresha Webb, and Keith David.








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Enjoy your summer and, when in doubt, get extra butter! ;-)


Photo credits: N/A
Sources: Movie Insider; Rotten Tomatoes; YouTube; Wikipedia

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