Sunday, February 10, 2019

A "Cool" Piece of Black History

Me with a fellow reveler
Of the many fond memories 2018 left me with, one that I didn't anticipate was the excitement I gained from being swept up in Caps Fever. When the Washington Capitals hockey team forged a clear path toward clinching its first ever Stanley Cup win in franchise history, it didn't take long for Washingtonians to get on board the Celebration Train--yours included--in what we hoped would be an energy that would transform all of the city's sporting teams into something that would give us long-dreamed of bragging rights. What Caps Fever also did was bring everyone together (if only for a few weeks) regardless of age, race, or socioeconomic status. When bar and restaurant tables were full, quick friendships formed allowing extra space to be made for stray chairs to join in the commune. Fans bought drinks for strangers; fist bumps were aplenty; and high fives were exchanged as passing fans hopped bars along Chinatown's 7th Street stretch, that was blocked off for those watching all of the action taking place inside Capital One Arena via jumbotrons.

Devante Smith-Pelly
To say it was a period of DC pride would be accurate. To say it also was a moment of African-American pride due to one of the leading scorers on the Caps team being Devante Smith-Pelly--a 26-year-old Black Canadian power forward--would be an understatement. (Note: The Capitals second black player currently on the roster is Madison Bowey). Despite the Capitals having actually been among the most diverse in the league, with eleven black players playing a game for the team since 1974, racism surrounding black hockey players in general is both not uncommon nor a thing of the past. In fact, in February 2018, a Capitals game against the Chicago Blackhawks found Smith-Pelly at the center of racial taunts, leading to four fans being ejected from the arena and the Capitals issuing a public statement on the matter. "This has happened [to me] in hockey before," Smith-Pelly said. "It's disgusting, that in 2018 we're still talking about the same thing, over and over. It's sad that athletes like myself, 30, 40 years ago were standing in the same place." (Source: The Washington Post).

Even sadder is the long-held belief that hockey is a "white sport" in which blacks do not and should not belong when, in fact, at the foundation of hockey history are black players. Hence why it felt appropriate that for Black History Month and in February, which the National Hockey League has deemed "Hockey is for Everyone" month, that I spotlight a group of pioneers in the sport of hockey: the Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes.

Coloured Hockey League players
According to the Canadian Encyclopedia: The Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes (CHL) was an all-Black men's hockey league founded in 1895 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Organized by Black Baptists and Black intellectuals, the league was designed as a way to attract young Black men to Sunday worship with the promise of a recreational hockey match between rival churches following religious services. Later, with the influence of the Black Nationalism Movement of the period — and with rising interest in the sport of hockey — the league came to be seen as a potential driving force for the equality of Black Canadians. By the early 20th century, the CHL had expanded from a humble three-team league in 1895 — which included its maiden club, the Dartmouth Jubilees — to involve newly formed regional challengers. Though the CHL would see its popularity grow--with game attendance bypassing that of its white counterparts' games--it would ultimately face its own eradication when racism in the form of a proposed railroad expansion that would adversely affect the black community in the north-end of Halifax caused black residents and white city officials to be at odds. During the legal battle, some rink owners refused to rent out their hockey rinks to the league or to any Black teams. Other rink owners agreed to only do so in late March when the natural ice surface was already beginning to melt. Local newspaper coverage of the league also disappeared virtually overnight, with only one article penned between 1905-06. With a poor playing surface slowing the game and no means of promotion, the league was forced to move back onto the local ponds, effectively killing the CHL as an economic and social Black movement. The last recorded newspaper account of the league during this era appeared in 1911. (The CHL's full history can be read here).

Wilie Eldon O'Ree
The National Hockey League eventually would organize in Canada in 1917 but would not expand to the United States until 1924. However, despite the impact of the CHL, it would not be until 1958 that Black-Canadian professional hockey player Willie Eldon O'Ree would become the first black player in the NHL, thus linking Black-Canadian and African-American sports history forever. O'Ree played as a winger for the Boston Bruins and was often referred to as the "Jackie Robinson of ice hockey" due to breaking the black color barrier in the sport.

J.T. Brown of the Tampa Bay Lightning
There's no arguing that hockey will always be viewed as a "white sport," due to the limited amount of players of color it boasts, as well as those who will always question our place in the sport's history altogether. However, thanks to the pioneers of the Coloured Hockey League that would influence the likes of Willie O'Ree and ultimately lead to the birth of present day hockey greats like Smith-Pelly and Bowey, we can agree with the National Hockey League's mantra that "hockey is for everyone" while raising a hockey stick proudly in the air alongside a power fist.

Photo Credits: N/A
Sources: The Washington Post, the Canadian Encyclopedia, Wikipedia

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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.)


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.


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. 

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