Friday, November 11, 2016

Black (Male) Power on the Big Screen

In a week that turned (the pragmatic segment of) America on its head with the election of a new Commander-in-Chief, whose ideologies and words throughout his campaign have been less than welcoming to America's often forgotten and "huddled masses," now more than ever are we in great mourning as we sit in the dawn of the departure of America's 44th and first African-American president; a pioneer whose every movement outside, on his way to, and ultimately in the White House has been fueled by the dream of inclusion. As the Free World's current leader begins to transition power to the elected, more than losing an ally, a peacemaker, and a voice for the people, in President Obama, we will also mourn the loss of a daily representation of greatness, power, and tenacity--sitting on the highest pinnacle of our nation's platform--beautifully embodied by a Black Man.

Just as life often imitates art, now, more than ever, am I excited to see that in the coming months, art will continue to imitate life in its placing of black men in positions of power, front and center, on the big screen. As we await a new dawning, let's continue to find comfort in the ways in which we are continuing to make strides in spite of our changing climate by recognizing six upcoming films with black male actors in leading roles, bringing us award-worthy performances as victors and not (stereotypical) victims, through laughter, action, triumph, and even gritty reality. See you at the theater!

November 18th - The Take (formerly titled Bastille Day) starring Idris Elba (Action) - Michael Mason (Richard Madden) is an American pickpocket living in Paris who finds himself hunted by the CIA when he steals a bag that contains more than just a wallet. Sean Briar (Elba), the field agent on the case, soon realizes that Michael is just a pawn in a much bigger game and is also his best asset to uncover a large-scale conspiracy.

December 16th - Collateral Beauty starring Will Smith (Drama) - When a successful New York advertising executive suffers a great tragedy he retreats from life. While his concerned friends try desperately to reconnect with him, he seeks answers from the universe by writing letters to Love, Time and Death. But it’s not until his notes bring unexpected personal responses that he begins to understand how these constants interlock in a life fully lived, and how even the deepest loss can reveal moments of meaning and beauty.

December 23rd Fences starring Denzel Washington (Drama) - From award-winning playwright August Wilson, Fences tells the story of an African-American father and one-time promising baseball player, now working as a Pittsburgh garbage collector, who struggles with race relations in the United States while trying to raise his family in the 1950s and come to terms with the events of his life.

February 17th - Fist Fight starring Ice Cube (Comedy) - When one school teacher gets the other (Cube) fired, he is challenged to an after-school fight.

February 24th - Sleepless starring Jamie Foxx (Action) - An undercover Las Vegas police officer (Foxx) must race against time to save his kidnapped son from a crew of murderous gangsters.

2017 - All Eyez on Me starring Demetrius Shipp Jr. (Bio-Drama) - A biopic following rapper Tupac Shakur's career, including his time at Death Row Records and his involvement in the rivalry between East coast and West coast rappers, culminating in his murder in 1996.

Videos courtesy of YouTube
Photo credits: N/A

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Celebrating HBCUs; Howard U. In Primetime

On Saturday, TV One ran a marathon of "A Different World"--the award-winning, iconic, 80s/90s sitcom, directed by Howard alum, Debbie Allen, set on the campus of Hilman College, a fictitious HBCU (historically black college and university). When the sitcom debuted in 1987, for the first time ever, little brown boys and brown girls were seeing people who looked like their brothers, sisters, even themselves, fighting for social issues, earning degrees in art and engineering, and gettin' their party on while doin' it (cue the scholarship fundraiser episode featuring a performance of Heavy D and the Boyz, which was a part of Saturday's lineup). Never having been duplicated, thanks to its syndication, a whole new generation of youngsters can continue to be inspired.

Complimenting the marathon, each episode featured the #HBCUPride hashtag along with periodic captions on screen highlighting black entertainers who attended HBCUs from Samuel L. Jackson (Morehouse) to Lionel Richie (Tuskegee) to Keisha Knight Pulliam (Spelman). I'm also sure it's not a coincidence that the celebration of "A Different World" and HBCU pride came a week after the network's creator, Cathy Hughes', recent $4 million dollar donation to Howard University, in which the University will re-name its School of Communications in her honor. Although Ms. Hughes is not an alum of Howard, her investment in the University was cemented long before her recent donation, when in 1973, she became General Sales Manager of Howard's radio station, WHUR-FM, increasing station revenue from $250,000 to $3 million in her first year and also created the “Quiet Storm” format, which revolutionized urban radio and was aired on over 480 stations nationwide.

Ms. Hughes, now owner of both TV One and Radio One, is black entertainment excellence at its best. However, the excellence of Howard has always been present in the arts, on stage and behind the curtain; in the booth and on the mic; in front of and behind the camera. That is why it gives me great pleasure to recognize that three current prime-time television shows and one hit streaming show is being lead or enhanced by Howard alums. So, let's pause to revel in some Bison pride and celebrate a few of Howard's talented own who are changing the face of television. 

This Is Us (NBC: Tuesdays, 9-10 p.m. Eastern) - This American TV dramedy series created by Dan Fogelman follows the lives of triplets--found, not separated at birth; if you tune in, that statement will make perfect sense--as they navigate life, love, and careers. One of its leading actors is Sterling K. Brown, most notably recognized for his award-winning portrayal of attorney Christopher Darden, in FX's "The People vs. O.J. Simpson." Sterling is a standout, but he is well complimented by Howard alum, Susan Kelechi Watson, who plays his tough-loving wife, Beth. Each week Watson doles out real talk along with real love, that brings Sterling's character, Randall, even more to life.Without Beth, there would be no Randall. Without Randall, this show would be far from the hit that it is. Susan, Howard U salutes you!

Empire (Fox: Wednesdays, 9-10 p.m. Eastern) - Unless you've been living under a rock, you know about those Lyons kids, Lucious and, of course, the infamous Cookie. The American musical drama television series created by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong centers on the fictitious hip hop music and entertainment company, Empire Entertainment, and the drama among the members of the founders' family, as they fight for control of the company. But love her or hate her, the "empire" at Empire would have long crumbled if not for Cookie. Safe to say, the show may have crumbled by now as well if Howard alum, Taraji P. Henson, who plays Cookie wasn't breathing new life and drama into the show each week with her jaw-dropping antics--and fans can't seem to get enough. Taraji, Howard U salutes you!

Black'ish (ABC: Wednesdays, 9:30-10 p.m.) - When the Huxtables danced off into the sunset in 1992, we didn't think we would ever have another black family we could love--or relate to--again. Make way for the Johnsons--an uber successful, lovable, black California family navigating the nuances of life while struggling to hold firm to their identity and purpose. Leading this rambunctious family of six (soon seven) is patriarch, Andre Johnson, played by Howard alum Anthony Anderson. It's no doubt that Tracee Ellis Ross, who plays Andre's wife, Rainbow, is the real comedian on the show, but Andre is indeed its heartbeat. Anthony, Howard U salutes you!

Luke Cage (Netflix) - When the anticipated Netflix original, Luke Cage, created by Cheo Hodari Coker and based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name, debuted the weekend of October 1st, there were reports that the throngs of people who fired up their device to get a front row seat to the first ever TV series featuring a black super hero in its lead, crashed Netflix's server. No surprise. The every day black man turned superhero cleaning up the streets of New York with nothing more than will, determination, strength, and, of course, an indestructible body, was guaranteed to be a hit. And hot on his trails to uncover his secret is Detective (and superhero in her own right) Misty Knight, played by Howard alum Simone Missick. From its first episode, Missick and Mike Colter, who plays Cage, heated up our screens with their steamy love scene, but whether together as lovers or on each other's trails as foes, they keep things hot! Simone, Howard U salutes you!

As Howard University is in the throws of its annual Homecoming week celebration as I write this, I want to take this moment to salute all of my fellow alumni--and alumni of all HBCUs--regardless of where they're making their presence felt because one thing's for sure--wherever we are and whatever we're doing--our presence is indeed palpable. Let's keep changing the game!

Photo Credits: N/A

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Bonus Blog Post: Celebrating 50!

Before you hit me up with birthday wishes or comments on how great I look for my age, hold those accolades. The 50 I'm choosing to celebrate today, almost without realizing it, is my 50th blog post as of yesterday!

When I wrote my first blog post on February 12, 2012, is was simply a movie review of a much-talked about indie film, Pariah, directed by newcomer Dee Rees, produced by Spike Lee, and starring breakout actress Adepero Oduye. Moved by its dynamic storytelling, I simply wanted a platform outside of a social media page, where I could not only share my thoughts with others but organize them in a format that would encourage deeper reflection. Forty-nine posts later, and this platform has allowed me to "rant, review, and reflect" on everything from social issues, gender roles, love, loss, blessings in disguise, and dealing with adversity, motivated often by my own personal experiences in navigating life, and through my observation of the experiences and triumphs of others. As a byproduct of my posts, I've made new friends, enjoyed great feedback, engaged in thought-provoking discussions, and further strengthened my skills (and discipline) in writing--something I've loved to do since I was a little girl, growing up in Seat Pleasant, Maryland, lying across my twin bed with a notebook and a pencil.

So, to anyone who has taken time to read at least one of my blog posts, leave a comment, or in any way felt inspired by my words; for those who encouraged me to keep going (and for family members who flatter me often with their disbelief that I don't write for a larger, more widely-seen platform), thank you! Your support has been--and continues to be--the wind beneath my (writing) wings.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Getting Your Money Game Right

As the end of the year quickly approaches, Fall is a good time to review those 2016 resolutions you made in January and, if you've fallen short, prepare to revamp them as part of your 2017 goals. If you're like me, a financial goal of some kind (spending less of this, saving more of that, paying off this or that) has found itself on your list consistently. And since it's been on mine consistently over the years, it's actually showing up on my list less and less now, through hard work sans a few human hiccups here and there. I'm far from a money guru, but under the guise of "each one, teach one" below are a few tips I've discovered--and some I've learned from others--that have helped me move from financial frustration to a little more financial freedom.

1) Don't Budge on Your Budget: Have you ever realized that although you look forward to annual raises and annual bonuses, rarely is it reflected largely in your financial growth. There's a reason for that: the more we make, the more we spend, so one of those actions have to stop before a real difference can be seen. The best way to do that? Don't change your monthly spending habits even if your paystub changes. I know how tempting it is to get that bump in pay and suddenly you're ordering the Venti size Starbucks mocha as opposed to your regular Tall order. But as my mama used to say, "Every penny counts," so stop wasting the "pennies" you've just been given on things you don't really need and start counting them instead. Like, literally. There are many apps and online spreadsheets that will allow you to track every dime you spend. When you can see how you're spending every dollar, you're less likely to waste them. Now, I know that's easier said than done when you review your online banking balance and feel like poppin' your collar. So, choose not to see it. How you ask? That takes me to point #2.

2) Don't See It, Save It: It's said that what you don't know, won't hurt you. Well, what you don't see, you can't spend. If you're trying to build a "rainy day" fund, have your accounting manager at your job divide your direct deposit, where a percentage of your check or a set amount goes directly into a savings account. Whether $20 or $100 a month, by the end of the year, you could easily have $240 to $1,200 saved. Continue this practice for the next five years, and $6,000 will be sitting in your savings account before you know it--that is, if you haven't had too "stormy" of a time in the process of saving it, because, hey, life happens. But one thing's for sure: once you begin on this track in addition to point #1, you'll hardly miss it. If your rainy day fund is solid, consider putting that excess in your company's 401k plan, in which most companies will match your contribution, which makes for a nice, needed nest egg in your golden years.

3) Set It and Leave It: Before or in addition to embarking on point #2, the one thing none of us can afford to have is huge credit card balances. We all know the game: you charge that new 50" smart TV for the "low" price of $500, pay the minimum balance due of $10 each month, and with 15% percent interest, before you know it, you've actually paid $720 in total by the time you pay it off. Not jaw dropping, but imagine an initial charge of $1,000 or more. Trust, with interest, your statement can easily become unrecognizable. What to do? Set a payment and walk away. 

At times we can be our own worst enemy, vowing to make more than a minimum payment on our balances, but then another awesome offer presents itself, and we're back to only droppin' that $10 on our balance and racking up more debt purchasing something else exciting and new. This is when autopay becomes your best friend. Every credit card online banking site has the option to set a monthly amount to be paid on a certain date. Even if you're paying $10 more than the minimum, you're beating the credit card companies at their interest game and paying that card down consistently without having to make a conscious effort to do so each month. And I won't even tell you the elation of logging on a few months later and seeing a zero balance and the words "No payment due." If your budget has survived during this sacrifice, then once you've paid off your balance, consider directing that monthly payment to one of the options discussed in #2 above.

4) Master the Housing Hustle: If you're embarking on being a homeowner, the best advice I can give is to"not believe the hype." Or, at least, not buy into it. Based on your earnings and credit score, you'll be told how much house you can afford. But just because you can afford it, doesn't mean you have to. Buying a home at least 10 to 20% lower that what you qualify for, will lessen heartache when those "rainy days" come--and they will. When you're living right up to the dollar, there's no financial room for much else. 

For existing homeowners, if you haven't refinanced your home in a while, and your credit is in good shape, it may be time to take advantage of some of the great interest rates floating around out there that can significantly lower your monthly payments (before a new administration takes office, which can make the housing market and its rates shaky for a while). Many of us jumped on 30-year fixed rates, as first time homeowners, to take advantage of a lower monthly payment. However, with rates as low as 3.1%, if the lower rate isn't really your concern, then consider refinancing at a 15-year rate, and paying off that home faster. When you realize how quickly time flies, having a mortgage off your plate in half the time is the gift that keeps on giving. 

5) Taking Care of the Tykes: One thing that remains a constant is the rising cost of college tuition. When my niece was born, my brother immediately began paying into Maryland's 529 College Plan program which allows you to save funds that are exempt from federal taxes. It seemed so far off, it almost seemed he was jumping the gun. That is, until my niece entered her first year of high school this August and it seemed like just yesterday I was holding her in my arms. Off to college in what will be a quick four years, and I see how my brother made the best decision ever. Whether your little one is two or twelve, it's never too late to start saving for them now. Look into your state's 529 plan or enroll in the Gerber Life College Plan where, much like life insurance plans, you can pay a fairly low monthly cost, which will be a great help in 18 years. Also, with the Gerber plan, the money can be used for more than college, just in case your little tyke has other plans in mind for their future. 

6) Check It and Check It Again: Last but not least, there's nothing that matters more in all of this than keeping a healthy credit score, so pay bills on time, don't rack up too much debt, and check your scores often, as there could be old accounts or erroneous accounts floating around hurting your bottom number. We've all seen the commercials and it's true: sites such as Credit Karma and WalletHub are absolutely free and user friendly, so you can check your scores any time and as often as you like. 

We all know there's no stress like financial stress, so before the new year finds you, plan your work and work your plan. There may be a few bumps, back steps, and blunders along the way, but the important thing is to keep going. Also share your tips of success with others as well. Everyone's looking for a way to become more financially fit, so get your money game on the right track and share the wealth of your knowledge with someone who's also working on their path toward happily--financially--ever after! 


Saturday, October 1, 2016

Living in the Moment

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a mega concert. Not a huge deal since I've been a regular concert goer since the 1980s when I was single digit age. In fact, my first concert was a 1982 show featuring local go-go artists at the Capital Centre--home of the Washington Wizards then the Washington Bullets. No matter how old I get, the excitement I feel when the house lights go down, the roar of the crowd goes up, and the band hits its first note never escapes me. It's a moment I live for.

As I've gotten older, my concert going experience has changed a bit, as I prefer smaller venues, dining halls, and taverns, where I can get a more intimate experience with my favorite artists; an up close personal touch, where not only can I hear my favorite song but I can truly experience it. Where the artist may come out into the audience for a glass of water or even a french fry from someone's plate (yeah, I've actually seen all of this) or hang around after the show and chat with fans. In those moments, it truly becomes a "family affair" to be cherished.

My first concert ticket.
Photo credit: Erica Kennedy
However, there are those mega artists whose presence--and popularity alone--cannot be contained in anything smaller than a stadium and you either go along or settle for jamming to their tunes in your car instead. So, there I was on that recent Thursday night, in the midst of it all--the screaming fans, the excitement, the booming bass from the speakers vibrating bodies of all ages and races--and camera phones. Camera phones as far as the eye could see in almost EVERY hand. Most taking pictures of themselves; others taking pictures of the artists; but many--thanks to the newer Facebook Live app--recording themselves "having fun"--or at least being highly invested in making others believe that.

In all of the madness, I literally had a moment of reflection--and a bit of sadness--of how technology, while advancing all of our lives mostly in positive ways, have robbed us of some very basic pleasures. One of those: authentically living in the moment. We're all guilty of it at times, myself included. That is, clinging to that unfounded fear of losing the moment; of trying to find a way to bottle what we're feeling; to freeze time. But in all of our technologically advanced efforts to capture eternity, what we're unfortunately doing is missing the moment all together.

Global mega star Beyonce can even be seen here--albeit captured on camera phone by a concert goer--pleading with a fan during her performance of "Irreplaceable" to "put that damn camera down." "You can't even sing cause you're too busy taping," she said. "I am in your face, baby. You gotta seize the moment."  Seizing the moment. It's something I couldn't agree with more, as I can think of one show in recent years that was so ground-breaking, I let my fear of missing any of it, cause me to view half of it through my phone. And I can tell you, it's a moment I often wish I could get back just to experience it fully present.

As multifaceted as we think we are, we honestly are not equipped to let all of our senses be fully engaged in a moment while focusing on the perfect shot or recording. It simply can't be done. And although we may have the footage for life, we'll never have the actual experience for life. Our "minds eye," which is needed to adequately file that moment away, will always be compromised in trying to capture it.

The only photo Prince would approve of.
Photo credit: Erica Kennedy
I couldn't be more reminded and appreciative of this as I was on June 14, 2015 when a friend invited me to see Prince in concert. Prince, adamant about no photography during his show, had security in place to take away any phone they saw or remove any concert goer using one. Of course, there were those who tried to sneak and capture a shot or two, but for the most part, everyone was forced to be present. To see his Royal Badness with their own two eyes, and not through the filter of a camera phone; to contribute their full energy to the atmosphere Prince was creating--a shared space in time in a crammed Warner Theater, shoulder to shoulder, fan to fan. When Prince would unexpectedly leave this earth less than a year later, I could not be more grateful for his directive that evening. Why am I thinking about this now? Because as I type this, I'm cleaning out my DVR on a rainy Saturday evening and melancholically enjoying the special "20/20" report aired the day after Prince's passing celebrating his life. And, again, I'm more grateful than ever for that "unfiltered" final experience.

Yes, technology has forever changed the way we live, how we process information, literally, and how we navigate life on a daily basis, but we are still very much in control of how we process our own experiences. It is my hope that along with finding ways to be smarter, quicker, savvier, and dare I say it, "more popular," with our social media "audiences," we're not trading in the purest of moments to do so. Let's make more moments in time special by actually experiencing the fullness of them, fully present and free from the distractions of ourselves; free of regret.

Photo Credits: N/A

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Say It Loud: Black TV Got Us Proud!

It happened. It really happened. Without warning, my TV viewing schedule filled nightly with story lines that made me laugh, cry, stand up and shout; gave a platform for characters that made me cheer, fear, and leap out of my seat; provided an outlet for actors and actresses that made me think, gasp, and celebrate. And they were all black. For the first time in a long time, I could say with pride: I See Black People. People that looked like me; my friends; my family; my colleagues. Plots that captured everyday life, yet were handled accurately and with the authentic care and sensitivity that can only be achieved when stories for us are written, produced, and directed by us.

For longer than I care to remember, we've been in a diversity struggle with Hollywood. The last few years have found this battle intensifying as 21st century movies and shows continued to "objectify" our 17th century experience, sans the many accomplishments and milestones we accomplished that lied between and throughout those many years. Even when our vast, modern experience was attempted to be explored, it was often done so through a stereotypically-tinted lens.

But thanks to the emergence and popularity of social media, those conversations we once shared around the dinner table and water cooler, where we expressed our frustrations about an industry that never recognized the whole of us, were now constantly on full display from hashtag protests to YouTube videos to good ol' fashioned boycotts complete with picket signs (shout out to my sister pictured left protesting near the Dolby Theater during this year's Academy Awards). But a notion I have long clung to is that the flaw in these protestation demands was that we were insisting others recognize us; do for us; properly tell our stories. We seemed to never fully embrace that the answer was in not asking for a handout but in taking our hands to create--and fully support--our own.

I, personally, never cared for the Academy or Emmy Award's recognition of our work. What I did care for were the NAACP Image Award's recognition; the American Black Film Festival Awards recognition; the Trumpet Awards recognition. And I really cared that we didn't grasp that this recognition from our peers should have been the only true measure we concerned ourselves with. Now, I'm not naive enough to think we can exist exclusively in the entertainment industry without the "melanin-free-powers-that-be" involvement in many of our projects, but what I do notice is that when we focus less on acceptance and "fitting in," and instead turn our energy towards boldly breaking out to do (and fund) our own thang, "others" will catch the wave. And that wave is indeed now being caught.

Do we still have a ways to go before the fight for more diversity is no longer a topic of discussion? Absolutely. But do I feel optimistic that the tide is beginning to turn? I do. We just have to remain fully engaged and present to ensure it continues, and getting behind the camera (thank you Ava DuVernay and Neema Barnette), thinking outside the box (thank you Shonda Rhimes), taking a seat at the writing table (thank you Donald Glover), keeping the "show running" literally (thank you Courtney Kemp Agboh and Cheo Hodari Coker) and managing the board rooms of own networks (thank you Oprah Winfrey and Cathy Hughes) is critical to that continuous evolution--an evolution that must actively be supported, if change is to be continuous and lasting.

Below are just a few shows--some old, some new (and forthcoming); none borrowed nor blue--that are indeed representing us, front and center, almost every day of the week, in every facet of our beautifully diverse lives that I personally applaud and support. Catch the wave, spread the word, and let's keep dreaming, creating, and moving--in the right direction.

Monday - In the Cut & Family Time (Bounce TV: 9 & 9:30 p.m.)

Tuesday - Atlanta (FX: 10 p.m.)

Wednesday - Black'ish (ABC: 9:30 p.m.);
Greenleaf  (off season) & Queen Sugar (OWN: 10 p.m.)

Thursday - Pitch (Fox: 9 p.m.)

Saturday - Iyanla: Fix My Life (OWN: 9 p.m.)

Sunday - Power & Survivor's Remorse (Starz: 9 & 10 p.m.)

Netflix Originals:  Luke Cage (September 2016)

On the Horizon: Shots Fire (2016/2017)

Photo Credits: N/A

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Review: Welcome to "Atlanta"

On what is usually an uneventful TV night, Tuesday found me having to make a few hard choices. Among them were the much-anticipated Oprah Winfrey-produced-Ava DuVernay-directed original dramatic series, "Queen Sugar,"; one of my favorite sports-meets-human interest series, HBO's "Hard Knocks"; or FX's new, left-of-center comedy, "Atlanta." Based on the title of this post, it's no surprise which one I chose to dive into first. God bless the DVR.

I'll admit, I purposely stayed away from any reviews, or should I say previews, about FX's newest offering, choosing instead to be "surprised" for what it had in store. So outside of its literally backward running promos, I was clueless. Now, I will say, I may be a tad biased as I've been a fan of its lead actor, comedian Donald Glover a.k.a rapper Childish Gambino, for some time. The former NBC "Community" sitcom star has been steadily making his way up the Hollywood ladder, complete with a few sidesteps and unnecessary attacks, in particular when the Internet went into a frenzy with speculation of him being Spiderman's next Peter Parker (Personally, if they were going to cast an African-American to play the Webbed Wonder, I literally can not think of anyone else BUT Donald, but I digress. Shame on the racially narrow minded. Next). While Glover donning a mask anytime soon remains to be seen, in the meantime, he's making his mark in the Dirty South. And so Atlanta begins.

With quick-witted, dead pan, humor, I was only five minutes into episode one before I found myself giggling...and then I realized those giggles continued throughout, which let me know I was sold on the show only halfway through its 30 minutes. In what feels like Adult Swim's "Black Jesus" meets a real-life episode of Nickelodeon's "The Boondocks," Glover plays Earnest "Earn" Marks, a 20-something, Princeton dropout, airport working, bus riding, kicked out of his parents house (let's say, for not being focused), single father, whose daughter's mother has no problem letting him know she has a date, only moments after crawling out of bed with him. He has dreams of making it. Making it in what, he's not yet sure. However, the first episode finds him discovering a possible path to success by managing his local rapping cousin, Alfred a.k.a. Paper Boi. But Paper Boi, who considers Ernest more "Martin and not enough Malcolm" is not convinced he has what it takes to take his music career to the next level. And that's just the doubt Ernest needs to push himself--and, thus, the series--forward. In keeping with the style of its promos, the episode begins at the end before backing up and showing how it got there. And let's just say it ends and begins with a bang--literally and figuratively.

Complete with a supporting cast of characters that we've surely all seen before--the rapper; his-always-high sidekick; the party-hoppin' best friend; the on again/off again girlfriend--Atlanta somehow makes it all work, while also making it feel fresh and new, even while employing stereotypes you'd come to expect. However, it does do its part to cast a conscious eye on real-life issues plaguing the black community. That's wholly due in part to Glover's unique ability to play a character that wears both optimism and pessimism like a perfect pair of pants, questioning all that sees, while pursuing his dreams with both boyish charm yet grown-up realness. He's not the hardcore gangsta or wannabe thug from the 'hood. He's just an every day guy smart enough to know the real money making happens behind the rapper yet naive enough to even bother gambling on making it in the dog-eat-dog music business in the first place. You root for his success but, deep down inside, know he's always going to be one step behind in his quest to reach fame on his terms--a quest that's probably going to go very wrong before it's even close to going right. And that's a premise that can keep a show like Atlanta, with both slick humor and gritty, Southern street style, going for a while. Will it? That--and ratings--remains to be seen. But, if the series keeps the same momentum as its first episode, I'm here for it as long as it's here for me.

Tuesdays at 10 p.m.

Photo credits: N/A

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Oh Say (What?) Can You See....

Nothing tickles me more than a group of people speaking on behalf of another group of people to try and solidify an argument, only to discover that very group of people is actually on the side of the "perpetrator" in question. Such is the case with the recent Colin Kaepernick fiasco, and his choice to exercise his right to not stand for the National Anthem before his NFL games largely in protest of the continuous, unfair and unequal treatment of his fellow African-American counterparts at the hands of law enforcement. According to Kaepernick, "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick told NFL Media. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

There's no need to rehash the arguments in favor and opposing the star quarterback's actions, but a large part of the debate from the naysayers are centered on his disrespect for both his country, and the men and women who fought, and continue to fight, for the very liberties he (seemingly) is allowed to enjoy--like playing football. Pause. Ironically, after every sports commentator, political pundit, "bleeding heart American," and everyday Joe exhausted every breath they had on the topic, the uncanny hashtag #VetsForKaepernick began trending. That's right. The very people who put their lives on the line for those liberties are supporting the San Francisco 49er's player's freedom to not stand for the Anthem in protest.

Now, of course, those veterans supporting the hashtag do not represent all veterans; I'm sure a great number of veterans are in opposition to his stance. However, as a daughter and sister of four military veterans, there's one thing that I've always been made aware of: the racism that lies even within those branches of military. It's a racism that first found itself kneaded in the soil of our country, woven in the stripes of our flag, and etched out in the verses of our "beloved" Anthem. And, so, it actually is no surprise that those who've given their lives for our freedom, yet whose skin color at times may not allow them to enjoy every liberty that's been promised to them under out great Constitution, finds Kaepernick's convictions both relateable and supportable.

Even more peculiar (read: hypocritical) is that in this moment in time, where we find ourselves less than two months shy from the possibility of a new world leader, whose every sordid, racist remark has been shrouded in his belief that America is no longer great, that Kaepernick's stance is being deemed unacceptable. When in fact, his choosing to not stand for the Anthem is shrouded in the very same belief that America needs to do better and be better, to everyone who was promised all of its virtues, regardless of color or class.

As writer Ta-Nehisi Coates so eloquently explored in his book, "Between the World and Me," the black body has always been seen as something that needed to be controlled and not only is Kaepernick controlling his own body in this, he's doing so with what our own President Barack Obama refers to as the "audacity of hope." Love it, like it, hate it, abhor it, this type of audacity to stand, sit, speak, or protest driven by the hope of a better tomorrow is indeed what the flag and, thus the Anthem, truly represents. When we start to question one person's interpretation of what that means to them, is the moment we put all of our own liberties at stake. And that is something that should never be debated. Salute.

Photo credits: N/A

Monday, August 22, 2016

Three Stars Take Us to the Moon And Beyond

One of my first blog posts on this site was on the Academy-nominated movie, "The Help." At the dawning of the 84th Oscars, I stood on the side of those who were not too anxious to celebrate yet another movie that seemed to consistently tell only parts of our black history--parts that continuously show us in subservient instead of equally celebratory roles. Interestingly--yet, not surprisingly--in a year that finds a television series chronicling the Underground Railroad being renewed for a second season as well as the anticipated (and now controversial) fall debut of Nate Parker's "Birth of a Nation," it seems we are continuing to "shackle" ourselves to these themes. However, as I continue to stand on the side of those not too anxious to celebrate the "tried and true," I found hope in learning of a cinematic gem heading our way titled "Hidden Figures."

Starring Janelle MonĂ¡e, Taraji P. Henson, and Octavia Spencer, "Hidden Figures" tells the untold true story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson--a team of three brilliant black women who, in the 1960s, helped make their mark on history by providing NASA with important mathematical data needed to launch the program's first successful space missions, all while combating racial and gender bias. Set to hit theaters in January 2017, I could not be more excited to experience this much-needed-to-be-told part of AMERICAN history, and am looking forward to what will be an "out of this world" movie-going experience. For a sneak peak of the trailer, click below. See you at the theater!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Review: A Gold Star for Blue Apron

Photo credit: N/A
Unless you've been living under a rock (or simply super busy with life), you most likely have heard about, read about, or even, perhaps, gotten an invitation to join Blue Apron--the food delivery service whose mission is to "make incredible home cooking accessible to everyone." At only four-years old, the New York-based startup with over 2,500 employees and already valued at over $2 billion dollars, continues to steadily add subscribers. Being curious for a while now but receiving a recent invitation to join and receive my first week's food supply for only $19 instead of its standard $59, I decided to finally give it a go.

Before we "dive in," let's cover the basics. The weekly subscription service offers two plans: one for a family of two or one for a family of four. The weekly cost is $59 for three complete meals, which includes recipe cards and every single ingredient you'll need to prepare each meal. You provide the cookware, of course. Your credit card is charged weekly but you are allowed before noon each Monday to cancel the following week's order and NOT be charged. At signup, you'll be given a short questionnaire on your food preferences, from which Blue Apron will create weekly menus based off of your choices. Three recipes each week are then pre-selected for you; however, you'll have the option to swap out any of the three meals with three additional choices. So, having completed all of these requirements in less than :30 minutes, my foodie adventure began.

In a genius move (one growing ever popular with other delivery services), Blue Apron actually delivers on Sundays, which is the delivery date I chose so I could start the week off on a culinary high. There I sat on my porch step (skeptically) awaiting my Sunday delivery and at 4:30 p.m., the delivery truck pulled up in front of my house. Happy, happy; joy, joy.

Photo credit N/A
All of the ingredients for the week--fish, chicken, beef, garlic, ginger, green beans, rice, etc.--were labeled and neatly packed in a recyclable, foil-lined box surrounded by ice packs to keep everything fresh. I unloaded the contents, placed them in the refrigerator, and reviewed the recipe cards for the week to see how much sweat this adventure would actually require.

Now, if you already have a good command of the kitchen (as I'd say I do), Blue Apron isn't so much going to teach you how to cook as it is going to expand your "cooking creativity." Fine by me. I was raised by Southern, meat and potatoes-eating parents, so my cooking style largely reflects that (cue comfort foods like chicken and dumplings, chili, and jambalaya, and I'm surprised I still fit most of my clothes, but I digress). So, I was looking forward to having fun with such recipes as Seared Salmon & Miso Soba Noodle Salad with Fairy Tale Eggplant & Baby Greens and Spicy Chicken & Korean Rice Cakes with Sweet Corn, Shiitake Mushrooms & Ginger Cashews.

Photo credit: Erica Kennedy
At around 7:50 p.m., with both my excitement and hunger growing after a day of lazing around (read: anxiously awaiting Starz' latest episode of "Power" to debut), I decided to get busy. Sunday night's offering: Curried Catfish & Coconut Rice with Green Beans & Golden Raisin Chutney. Ingredients assembled. Check. Pots and pans on deck. Check. Recipe card "standing" at attention. Check. And so I began. The recipe card stated a 15-minute prep time and a 30-minute cook time, and I am happy to report the entire process actually took 40 minutes or so. It may have gone faster, but I admit--even though the cards contained pictures of the step-by-step process--I did have a few pauses, as the pictures of certain ingredients I'm not familiar working with were shown in their diced or shredded form as opposed to the form in which they arrived (cue me squinting at the recipe card and uttering "WTH is that?" a few times).

At 8:30ish, my creation was complete and closely resembled Blue Apron's photo of the same dish (see below). But would it taste like a literal blue apron or like something I'd be happy to present to a guest? Friends and family who knew of my adventure anxiously awaited my response. Two bites and I was happy to fire off a few "Yooo, this is da bomb!" [translation: "This tastes fantastic!"] texts, for it truly was everything Blue Apron proclaimed their dishes to be: both fresh and flavorful. I savored every bite and, being a party of one who purchased the two-person plan, I have one word for you: LEFTOVERS--which I happily devoured as soon as I got home the next day. Also, on that two-person plan, if you're a party of one, it allows you to cook every other night, thus expanding dinner over the course of a week instead of just three nights. Score for my single folks (smile).

There are still two more meals to cook awaiting me and I couldn't be more optimistic and excited to whip up them both. So, for you guys and gals looking to impress a dinner date or for you couples wanting to literally turn up the heat in the kitchen, I recommend Blue Apron with two thumbs up. Also, a new addition to the subscription service is wine pairing; however, it may be easier (and more cost effective) to take their suggestions but purchase bottles at your own local spirits store. All Blue Apron needs now to make the culinary experience complete, is to offer a dessert option you can add to the meal plan. If that happens, it's a good chance I'll never leave the house again. Cheers and happy cooking to you!

Blue Apron's Curried Catfish (Photo credit: N/A)
My Curried Catfish (Photo credit: Erica Kennedy)

Addendum: Hi all! Just returning to this post to announce that day two with "da Blue" was also a success, so it wasn't "beginner's luck" after all (for those wondering). The proof is in the picture below. Enjoy!

Photo credit: Erica Kennedy