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