Monday, October 23, 2017

Marshall: Howard U. Brilliance on the Big Screen

After a Howard University homecoming weekend celebrating 150 years of excellence, I could not think of a better way to conclude festivities than by supporting the cinematic release of "Marshall" and the two Howard alumni who bring the biopic to life: former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (the film's subject) and Chadwick Boseman (the film's lead actor).

Directed by writer and producer Reginald Hudlin ("Boomerang", "House Party", "Django Unchained") and also starring Josh Gad, Kate Hudson, and Sterling K. Brown, the film follows Marshall before he donned the Supreme Court Justice robe but was instead a young NAACP attorney traveling throughout the United States representing innocent men and women of color accused of crimes because of their race, while he was also striving to increase the exposure of the organization. The film, set in the 1940s, depicts the real-life case of wealthy white Connecticut socialite Eleanor Strubing, who accuses her black chauffeur Joseph Spell of sexual assault and attempted murder. When Marshall is denied a "voice" in the courtroom, he teams up with Sam Friedman, a local Jewish insurance lawyer who's never handled a criminal case, to work together to build a defense to save Spell's life.

Thurgood Marshall in 1936
Although Thurgood Marshall's historic acclaims have always been his successfully arguing the Brown v. Board of Education case that would end segregation in schools and, subsequently, his appointment as the first black Supreme Court Justice, Boseman fiercely portrays Marshall as a man who embodied confidence, courage and, dare I say, swagger, long before the world knew who he was. However, what makes "Marshall" a standout film, is the portrayal of Thurgood's life outside of the courtroom--a husband struggling with fighting for justice while being away from his wife when she needs him most; a verbal sharp-shooter who can deliver a quip or comeback to anyone regardless of race; a rebel who would not only use his Howard law degree to help others but who would use it to sue the University of Maryland law school, who denied him admittance because of its segregation policy; and a young socialite in his own right, who enjoyed a good bourbon and laughs with friends, whose names hold solid places in history as well but, to him, were simply his fellow alumni cohorts. In fact, one scene in particular mirrors the banter you can find at any HBCU soiree today, which will hold a sweet spot for any alums who see the film.

However, many of the film's poignant moments are those delivered as simple one-liners that punch you in the gut because of their continued relevance today regarding African-Americans and the criminal justice system: "If you want freedom, you're going to have to fight for it...the Constitution does not apply to us...don't take a plea if you're not guilty...can the cops even be trusted?" As I discussed in a previous blog post after viewing the film, "Detroit," many of our biopics remind us that although we've come a long way as a people, we still have far to go. And a heart-wrenching cameo in the closing scene makes this argument all too real. Yet, "Marshall" shows that even when those challenges are present, it should not deter us from the fight; it should only fuel it. As Boseman states in the movie, “We aren’t slaves, because we rose up and fought and fought and fought...and the only way to get through a bigot’s door is to break it down.” So, for those like Thurgood Marshall who continue to break down barriers as they fight for our freedom and for those like Boseman who are committed to telling the stories of our past, black America salutes you, Howard U. salutes you, and may we all continue to press on toward the mark in "veritas et utilitas," while standing on your shoulders. 

Photo Credits: N/A

Official "Marshall" Trailer

Friday, October 6, 2017

Blessed are Those Who Ask the Question

On what would have been my mother's 84th birthday a week ago today, it was heartwarming to reflect on the wonderful woman and mother she was, and also to ruminate on the many life lessons she taught me along the way. Often delivered as clever, matter-of-fact one liners, you could always expect her to bless you with gems of wisdom that made you laugh but also made you think. As I grew older and began to chase my own dreams, one piece of advice from her that I held close to my heart when oppositions arose was "Just ask for what you want. All that can be said is 'yes' or 'no'."

Now I admit that when I was was younger, I didn't always heed that advice and, in fact, found it quite annoying. After all, who ever wants to feel the disappointment of possibly being denied a request? But, in time, I not only came to realize how much wisdom resided in her words but also how much power lies in having the courage to ask for what you want and in being prepared to accept whatever that response brings.

Writer James Baldwin once said, "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” And whatever that change is that's needed usually begins with a simple question, whether it's as rudimentary as asking for a raise at work or something more meaningful as asking for someone's hand in marriage or something more powerful as asking for your basic human rights to be respected. However, what often prevents us from asking for what we desire is rooted in the fear that our vulnerability will not allow us to handle receiving that dreadful "no" or is rooted in the angst that we may not be prepared to step up to the next level required if a "yes" is given. And so we end up existing in that space called, "I Wonder If...." However, as is often said, "If God brings you to it, He'll bring you through it," in addition to believing enough in divine order to know that a "no" can be just as huge of a blessing as a resounding "yes," for that's often God's gentle way of saying, "Not that way; but this way."

In also reflecting on the current unrest in the world from challenging the "promises" of our National Anthem to demanding police accountability to fighting against proposed policies that threaten justice and liberty for all, the first step toward change all begins with the courage to ask for what is needed. And, if the answer is "no," finding gratitude in the opportunity to strategically plan a course of action that will lead to the next great movement. Just as every paramount moment in life begins with a simple act; every great act begins with a single question, and it's often, "How can this/I/we be better?"

Thankfully, as I continue to grow, I am developing greater courage to put my mother's words into action even more, which has led to new opportunities that continue to sharpen me. Therefore, as we near the ending of 2017 and prepare for what I pray is an even more blessed and bountiful 2018 for us all, may we develop or continue to build the courage we need to ask the questions that will lead to us living our best lives yet. Thanks Mama.

Photo Credits: N/A