• Nelson Mandela Celebrated in Regent Park

    A special ceremony took place last Thursday in Toronto to honour former South African President Nelson Mandela. The day marked the ailing anti-apartheid icon’s 95th birthday and the UN-recognized Nelson Mandela International Day. The Regent Park neighbourhood came alive with community members, local artists and dignitaries who converged at Nelson Mandela Park Public School. The celebrations, which ran from 1-6pm, included a live steaming applause ceremony beamed via satellite from several cities across the globe, live music from artists such as Juno Award winner Lorraine Klaasen, and family activities.

    “Because Nelson Mandela is also an honorary Canadian citizen, we decided to organize something special in this city to celebrate his life and to wish him a happy birthday” said Lloyd McKell, vice-chairman of Toronto’s Honouring Mandela Committee and veteran Toronto School Board educator and advisor.

    McKell, a Trinidad and Tobago native, became an anti-apartheid movement supported as a University of Toronto student in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He had South African friends and fellow students who were exiles from apartheid regime. “I began to learn about the system of political oppression in South Africa and that resonated and lived with me. That stayed with me all these years” as he further commented.

    He became involved with others in calling for Canada to impose sanctions on Canada and demanding the release of Nelson Mandela. When the ANC (African National Congress) was finally released in 1990, he came to visit Canada about four months later. Lloyd McKell was part of the committee that welcomed him to Canada. Madiba, as Nelson Mandela is affectionately known, came to Toronto to visit the Central Technical School where he spoke to students.

    Mandela was later invited to come to Canada in November of 2001 to receive his honorary Canadian citizenship. At that time McKell, who worked at the Toronto School Board, had been part of a group that proposed to rename Toronto’s oldest public school, Park Public School, in honour of Nelson Mandela. So on November 17th, 2001, Nelson Mandela came to Toronto for the official renaming ceremony of the newly named Nelson Mandela Park Public School. McKell recalls the day:

    “He made a very emotional speech to the kids. What I remember very much about the speech is that he told the kids he was so happy to be there among them. He told them that he loved them all as if they were his grandchildren.”

    McKell said tears were flowing down his and the children’s eyes sitting there on the floor. “Many of those children came from countries where their parents had a very difficult time with civil wars and so on. Many of them came as refugees, so to have this great man tell that he loved them as if they were his own grandchildren was very moving and emotional for them,” he added. Today, the Nelson Mandela Park Public School’s students continue to aspire to live by the values which have defined Nelson Mandela’s life and that is the values of courage, of truth, of integrity, of forgiveness, of reconciliation, and compassion. “All those things in his life are valuable lessons for children” as McKee concludes.

     

    More information

    Nelson Mandela Park Public School

    About Lloyd McKell

     

  • Forever foxy: Pam Grier and her legacy

     

    Witty, vivacious, trailblazer, icon.  Words can't fully describe the unique individual that is Pam Grier,

    known for her work  in cult classics like Foxy Brown and Coffy,  to  the critically acclaimed Jackie Brown, where she played strong, fearless dynamos on screen, Pam also happens to exude this fearlessness in her everyday life.

    Tragedies early in her life, which she ultimately triumphed over, she readily admits has coloured her artistic choices. She is a woman who now refuses to be victimized and she plays that role with gusto.

    It is clear Pam learned early to be self-reliant and tough, but toughness does not mean un-feminine and Pam embodies this duality perfectly as the sexy lady / badass.

    With a career that spans over thirty years Pam has consistently played confident, sassy, outspoken heroines, so its hard to imagine her as painfully introverted, practically considered autistic at one point. This and many other insights are thrown out to an audience of Pam Grier acolytes at the Varsity cinema.

    In toronto for the CFC's black history month celebration, Pam, candidly spoke about her early struggles and her memoir entitled FOXY. “Writing is an arduous process its not something that's easily done, plus I had to revisit accounts in my life that were very tragic and I didn't know if I could finish it, and yet I committed to finishing it, because if I don't sell this book, people  will lose their jobs at the publishing house and my philosophy as a black panther with that sensibility of empowerment and self-fulfillment, is that if I work other people work and that's really critical because they work and open doors for other people.”

    Pam's memoir is a stirring account of growing as young Afro-American in a racially divisive world, chronicling her families struggles as well as her life as survivor of sexual assault. It also gives us a voyeuristic look at  the tenuous yet exhilarating life of black actresses in hollywood in that era.

    In her conversation with Host Sharon Lewis, she is fiery, surprisingly funny and insightful. She is unafraid to open about her special brand of feminism/activism, her love of men and her horses. Yes, she houses a horse refuge on her ranch home in colorado.

    When she speaks of her horse refuge we are also exposed to her tender side, you sense that they have given her as much as she has given them, it's a beautiful moment.

    When pressed on what inspired her iconic roles, we find out that  the women in Coffy and Foxy, were inspired by her Mother and Aunt, women who  happen to be beautiful, used to Guns and not afraid to fire to them. She also let it slip that her life story will soon be on the big screen as well as a Coffy re-make, thrilled would be an understatement when describing the audience''s reaction to this news.

    Pam could simply be seen as a great actress from another era, an exclamation point, in the ever evolving history of black cinema but her strength of character both on and off screen will not  allow us to simply acknowledge her. She demands  to be more than a memory. Pam's legacy and work is a constant reminder to her fans to believe in one's self and challenge the system, challenge sexism, challenge discrimination. Pam demands that we be fierce in our love for her and her work and fierce in our own lives. This is living foxy baby.

  • Dance to remember

    Dancers from across the diaspora gathered tin Toronto, for a celebration of dance culture and creativity.

    The closing night featured  world- renowned dance companies, Alvin Ailey Dance Company and PHILADANCECO showcasing their talent and love of the art form.

    A fitting kickoff to black history celebrations in our city, the TD sponsored, International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD) Conference brought together over thirty dance companies for three days of friendly artistic competition.

    An audience packed with eager young aspiring dancers, family, friends and dance enthusiasts were treated to performances from artists of all shapes, styles and backgrounds, each displaying  passion, creativity and showmanship.

    In the first half of the evening ,we watched Danza Corpus  equipped with visual aids and flamboyant wardrobe stalk the stage. In this solo presentation, the story and music were well choreographed but seemed to lack a confidence in execution.

    But where Danza faltered ,the National Dance theatre of Jamaica, did not. With strains of Reggae melodies interlaced with audio loops of Bob Marley's distinctive voice and Busta Rhyme's head-nodding lyrics,  this dance company performed one of the most  innovative pieces of the evening. As a group they had presence and chemistry, but individually; each dancer gave off an aura of invincibility, crucial to the presentation's rebel theme. With manual dexterity (females lifting males, males throwing females) and an excellent sense of theatrical timing the story of Jamaica's revolutionary soldier, Bob Marley, was told with each emotion etched on their faces. Without a doubt, this company raised the bar and set the tone for the rest of the evening, the Jamaicans brought their A game.

    Bwsene !nmotion Australia, Salia ni Seydou and State of Emergency all gave diverse performances and the audience was entertained and beguiled by each groups technique and distinctly unique approach to dance.

    However, the final piece before intermission, by the Lula Washington Dance theater entitled the Healers was simply breath-taking. Three gorgeous male dancers in silken,white robes appeared on stage, running, tumbling and storming into our consciousness. They partially disrobe, the audience screams their approval and then not only do they dance, the leap with an electricity that is unseen but felt. The musical arrangements work perfectly with the theatricality of their movements and when it ends we are all left wanting more.

    Following the intermission the Philadelphia Dance Company presented Guess who's coming to dinner.

    As one of the larger dance companies on stage this evening, the energy and execution of their piece was phenomenal. From the costumes to the music incorporated, this crew showcased a level of mastery not fully achieved in the first half. They moved as a unit, each step- choreographed and executed on cue with the music. Though just a  single 15 minute performance, we were treated to a group routine and two solo routines. The prop (a steel platform) used throughout the presentation was ingenious. Dancers leapt, shimmied and tumbled as if this structure was also dancer, a natural inhabitant of the stage. PHILDANCO's  solo routine was by far the best of the evening, this young dancer passionately told her story, her body stretched and arched around the platform, bewitching and intense. In the end PHILADANCO received a standing ovation. Only fitting, for one of the most entertaining  groups in the conference.

    The Alvin Ailey American Dance theatre presented the Evolution of a Secured Feminine, a solo performance as a dramatic and emotionally stirring as a broadway production.

    Rachael McLaren, tells a story that embodies the melancholy, strength, vulnerability and vigour of a career woman through dance. Her costume's duality instantly captivates the audience's attention and the melodies of Ella Fitzgerald and Nancy Wilson make this the most thought provoking performance of the evening.

    With stellar performances by the Dallas Black Dance theater and the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance ensemble, Dance Immersion's IABD conference aimed to showcase excellence in dance across the diaspora and certainly achieved that.

  • Education of Auma Obama: A family affair

    Have you ever pondered what motivates Barack Obama? At TIFF this year, through the documentary “Education of Auma Obama” we are given perhaps  a glimpse of the inner-workings of the man through the eyes of his family. By Following  Auma Obama, we are introduced to the story of Barack''s Kenyan ancestors.

    If you admire the President, you'll adore Auma. Throughout the documentary, director Branwen Okpako weaves an intimate portrait of the President's father, grandfather and older sister, Auma. Through home videos, interviews and archives we are introduced to Auma''s life and struggles as a daughter, step-daughter, activist and lately as the President's eldest sister.

    Auma is a vibrant, charming and wickedly intelligent Kenyan and the film works because rather than focusing solely on the exploits of her famous sibling, his election is instead used as a backdrop to tell the story of Auma and their father's dreams, idealism and tragedies. Branwen also highlights the strength of his legacy through the triumphs of his offspring which in seemingly uncanny coincidence have ended up agitating for the very changes that he did not live to see fulfilled.

    In the following interview Branwen gives her thoughts on Auma and the film.

    Why Auma Obama?

    Branwen Okpako: All the films I make are about people I know. I went to school with Auma and I was sure if I pursued an intimate portrait of her you'd get to know him [Barack], get to know the family, that was the first idea, the first impulse.

    So, I went to Nairobi just to talk to Auma. At that time, at the beginning of 2008 when her brother was beginning to talk about running for the Presidency, she was getting a lot of attention from the media.  Auma was being very careful about who she talked to andnd here''s an old friend coming along saying, “I want to put your life on the big screen,” so she was reticent at first.

    I got to observe her working, I got to talk to her a lot and I realized it was the perfect opportunity to tell our story.

    When we were in film school together 20 years ago we''d always talked about as black women, as filmmakers;  what do we want? 

    We don''t see ourselves correctly portrayed, it's like were invisible. I knew this was something she cared about and so I was kind of confident that she would take that slant.

    What distinguishes her from the other Obamas?

    Branwen Okpako: I think the most important thing that makes her stand out is that she's a woman, and her perspective and her approach to life is the feminine side of a very masculine phenomena -- in the sense of politics, in the sense of moving on the world stage.

    Through telling her story you get to hear about these huge issues -- but from a female perspective. As you see in the film she's somebody who's extremely courageous, who has distinguished herself throughout her life, in a personal way, but  also in a political way as well she's a very interesting person not only because of her brother, or her father. She played a pivotal role in both their lives because she brought them together.

    What do you want us to take away from this film?

    Branwen Okpako: Just after Barack wins the Presidency the press at his Grandmother's homestead in Kenya immediately inquires about the changes she would now want and her response was, “We have a good life.” I think there's  something in this everybody can take a little bit out of, the satisfaction with one''s own life and the pride in one's life, not to be hankering after other things that one doesn't have, but to really look at what you have and where you are and be satisfied with that.

    Do you think that they share similar viewpoints on the world?

    Branwen Okpako: What she says in the film is that when they met, what she most enjoyed, was the fact that they had something in common, that they both understood and wanted the same thing. That was the first time in her life she'd met someone in her family who felt the same way, who understood why she was so driven, why she was so politically active, why she was running in this direction because he was trying to do the same thing. I think it was very important the way they found each other.

    Did you want Barack’s input in this project?

    Branwen Okpako: I did initially when I started, I was always trying to call and they said you know he's running for office, it was a very busy time of his life. So, any obstacle you're confronted with in the creative process you make it part of the process, you make it a part of what the film is going to be. So I decided to limit the (focus) to the women in the family, just to have mostly voices of women, the only men in it are the European men who represent the European mentality and the European system. They are showing what kind of conflict she (Auma) was facing when she was in Europe and what she had to contented with. The so called positive-racist attitudes she had to deal with and the way she re-acted, very cool headed, never getting angry, always going to the rational, always going to the arguments to get people to see things differently.

    In this way she and her brother are very similar. Interestingly, what we also see in the film is someone working on a grass roots level with young people, and somebody working on almost a symbolic level (Barack), because by the time you get to that stage you're basically a symbol of something so that’s why I said to myself not having him in the film is actually realistic, he's a symbol of so many things and a hope, and if that symbol can inspire people to get active and get moving, that''s his role in the film.

    If Auma had Barack''s access or his upbringing would she be President?

    Branwen Okpako: If you ask her she will say that's not what she wants to do, she doesn't want to be politician. She knows the limits of that. She wants to do what she's doing. But she's in a very privileged position to do that, because she's got this family, she's got this background, she's got this education, that's why I named the film, “The Education of Auma Obama”. The film is not just about the education that she has obtained through her hard-work, but it is also about the education she is giving at the same time.

  • Sprockets: Engaging, educating and entertaining youth through film

     

    Sprockets, the annual Toronto International Film Festival for Children and Youth launched this week. Running from April 5-17, the 14th annual Sprockets festival, the biggest programme yet, will screen more than 100 films, from 28 countries and in 20 languages. A combination of screenings and on-site activities at TIFF Bell Lightbox, Sprockets seeks to engage, educate and entertain youth of all ages through the magic of cinema. Particularly focusing on children aged 3 through 18, the festival is an interactive and hands-on experience which establishes concrete interactions between youth, educators, filmmakers and the craft of cinema.

    Throughout its existence, Sprockets has featured films addressing a variety of contemporary social issues confronting youth from around the world. “We’re very pleased to be able to offer our programming over two weekends this year. Themes range from bullying and childhood obesity to dreams of car racing, circus performing and making it big,” says Elizabeth Muskala, Director of Festivals and Events, TIFF.

    Two films AfroToronto.com wishes to highlight amid this year’s impressive programme are: Louder Than a Bomb (99 minutes, USA, 2010) and Soul Boy (60 minutes, Kenya/Germany, 2010).

    The power of spoken word

    Selected by Oprah Winfrey’s "OWN Documentary Club", Louder Than a Bomb is a critically-acclaimed documentary film about the world’s largest youth poetry slam event held annually in Chicago. Founded in 2001, the Louder Than a Bomb competition attracts in excess of six hundred teenagers from over sixty Chicago area schools. It’s the only festival of its kind and scope in the United-States. From its inception, the slam event has been focused around team performances.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81hXGdFF6TQ

    The film makes an important statement about the transforming nature of a cohesive team spirit. We follow a group of very inspiring young people who face various odds. The filmmakers take us into the everyday lives of several students. We find out about their family and personal struggles and delve into how slam poetry helps them to navigate through treacherous waters and make it to the other side.

    Be ready to have established conceptions and stereotypes about spoken word poetry taken to task. Louder Than a Bomb crosses racial, gender, religious and class lines to teach us about the universality of creative expression through spoken word.

    The boy with a manly soul

    Another film we recommend that you catch at the 14th annual Sprockets Festival is Soul Boy. Set in Kenya’s impoverished slum of Kibera, Soul Boy is the story of a 14-year-old boy, Abila, who is tasked with the daunting task of saving his father’s soul.

    Abila was surprised to find his father dazed, confused and bed-ridden with a mysterious illness. His mother brushes it off as a simple hangover but Abila takes his father’s seemingly incoherent blabbering seriously. He finds out that his father’s soul had been stolen by a Nyawawa, a female spirit.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1HjUKDzuYM 

    Abila sets out to find the spiritual woman his father was with on the drunken night when he gambled his soul away. When Abila finds the woman, she tells him that he is just a boy and so can’t do anything to save his father’s soul. But Abila shows tremendous strength of character and insists on taking on the challenges to redeem his father’s flawed soul.

    Admiring the young boy’s courage, the spiritual woman gives him a series of seven tasks to accomplish. If he is successful in completing all of them by a set time, he will ensure the return of his father’s soul.

    Remarkably complete in just six weeks, Soul Boy was written by local Kenyan writer Billy Kahora and co-directed by Kenyan-Ghanaian Hawa Essuman and German director Tom Tykwer (of Run Lola Run, fame). The pace of film is indeed reminiscent of Run Lola Run as the young Abila moves from one challenge to the other. It is considered by many critics as one of the best films to come out of Kenya.

     

    All screenings and on-site activities take place at TIFF Bell Lightbox, Reitman Square, 350 King St. West, Toronto.

    Visit tiff.net/sprockets,call 416-599-TIFF(toll free 1-888-599-TIFF) or visit the Box Officeat TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King Street West, Toronto.Tickets are priced at Adult $12.00, Student/Senior $9.50 and Children (12 and under) $8.50. Family packets of 10 tickets are available for $75.00. Visa is the only credit card accepted by TIFF. 

  • Single with Baggage From Jersey to Montreal

    I really needed a break, a get away from it all travel by myself mini vacation kind of trip. I decided to go to Elizabeth, NJ (right next to Newark) for three days because Air Canada had a great seat sale and then to take VIA Rail to Montreal for the weekend.

    The great thing about Elizabeth, New Jersey is that they have a shopping mall with over 200 outlet stores called Jersey Gardens. Jersey Gardens has high end stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Ambercrombie & Fitch to stores like Marshalls and Rainbow. I went there armed with a list of what I really needed as opposed to just buying things for the sake of it. I really needed a new down winter coat that was very warm, and I ended up getting a coat and a jacket (Michael Kors) for a super reasonable price because of the time of year.

    I stayed at the Country Inn Suites for 3 nights because: a. it’s super reasonable, b. they have a free shuttle from the Newark Airport and a free shuttle to and from Jersey Gardens Mall, c. they only charge $10.00 a night for incidentals, d. they have a free breakfast every morning from 6am-9am, e. if you miss the free breakfast they are right next door to IHOP and Ruby Tuesdays, f. it’s clean and nice, and g. the staff are very accommodating and friendly. Of course I never book any hotel without reading the reviews Trip Advisor first.

    If you are a single traveller like me and you want to experience more than just shopping in Jersey Gardens, I would suggest that you take the local NJ Transit 111 or the 115 bus form Jersey Gardens Mall straight into Port Authority in Manhattan. A local bus is only $6.50/each way. There are other shuttles and coaches that cost much more, but why pay that when you don’t have to. I was only in New York for an hour. I came out of Port Authority, went into the clothing store Strawberry to look around, headed out on the street and began my familiar walk, and then my knee and foot gave out…BOOM CHAKA… and so I could not go to my favourite pizza joint and ended up having a not so great slice of chicken pizza and then I limped by Madame Toussaint’s Wax museum and Morgan Freeman was the figure on display outside, and then I walked behind a lady talking on her cell phone about an appointment with a woman to communicate with the dead. I LOVE NEW YORK CITY… but I had to head back to Jersey because by this time I was limping.

    No offence to Newark Tourism but if you are travelling on your own you probably should not venture to downtown Newark on your own…it is an experience that well, it’s an experience is all I can say.

    On my last night I went to my favourite place to eat in America; TGIF Fridays and they had a special on three course meals for only $16.99. I chose the Spinach flatbreads as an appetizer, and my favourite meal the Jack Daniels Chicken and Shrimp Combo and the Brownie Supreme for dessert.

    I returned to Toronto after 3 days to start the next leg of my trip; VIA Rail to Montreal, Quebec for the weekend. I booked at the Maritime Plaza Hotel.

    I’m on the train now, and have not been on VIA Rail since 2004, and they have really changed for the better…real comfy seats, internet, who could ask for more.

    Well, of course that little description was before the darn train started. It is quite a bumpy ride…good thing I have strong insides…I don’t know how those people managed to sleep so well with all of that bumping and hard jerking of the train, but somehow they did it.

    I arrived at my hotel and told the front desk staff how they had good reviews on line (perhaps I spoke too soon). I went to my room and um well let’s just say I could not stay there.  It was damp and dank, and the carpet was not clean and the sheets had some stains and hairs and things.  So, I called the front desk to let them know. I was given a key to an upgrade (at no extra cost of course) and was sent to the Executive Suites. This room was cleaner and nicer it was no Omni or Westin, but I was definitely more comfortable.

    In the evening I set out to find somewhere to have dinner. I found a bar on Crescent that looked super popular for their menu but they weren’t too nice to me at the door, so I left. As I was walking I tried to remember the name of a Mexican restaurant I used to go to all the time, but the name escaped me. And then as if by chance, I looked up and there it was, 3 Amigos. I ordered the grilled salmon, tiger shrimp, rice and mixed veggies; it was filling and pretty awesome.  There was loud festive Mexican music in the background with a dash of reggae, great service and they had St. Patrick’s Day decorations mixed in with the multi coloured Mexican décor. I ate chocolate mousse for dessert (though I swear I ordered the bailey’s cheesecake) all for $30.00 (no more American prices for big meals). I asked the manager to take a picture of me by the front door, but I have a new camera and didn’t know how to get it to work. The manager was like… “When you figure it out come and get me and I will take the picture.” It took some time but I finally figured it out, and he actually came back and took a picture of me grinning by their front door.

    On my final morning in Montreal, I ate a nice full breakfast at the train station and then boarded the train. This time it was open seating and they boarded the train much earlier than the specified time. By the time I got on the train there was only one seat left beside a man who tried to ignore me and had his jacket on the chair. Let’s just say this, the train that I took back to Toronto was not as spacious or modern as the one I left in. the man beside me was very rude and had his arm and elbow on the arm rest and very much into my private space. I spent a lot of the trip sighing and leaning way out into the aisle to move away from his legs and arms.  He was quite rude and though I was upset to the 1000th power, I kept my thoughts to myself. To make matters worse out of all the things to order he ordered crackers and tuna in a can (sigh).  I never said a word but I wrote in my notebook how angry I was at the inconsiderate man beside me (something I always tell the youth I work with to do). The only thing that made me smile a little bit was what happened when I got up to let him go to the bathroom.  When he returned I stood up to let him sit down and he yelled, “NO NO NO DON’T GET UP YET!!”  I was thinking to myself, “Lord please give me strength.” And then when he finally decided to sit down he banged his head so hard on the way back down to his seat, I thought to myself, “Now see, what happens when you are mean to people on the train.”

    I arrived safe and sound back in Toronto and I can say that once again that being Single With Baggage really is not so bad, unless of course you sit by a rude man eating tuna and crackers for 6 hours on a train.

    This trip is rated:

  • I Marcus Garvey

    Monserrat-born playwright Edgar Nkosi White’s play “I Marcus Garvey” has been enjoying a well-reviewed run at The Papermill Theatre (67 Pottery Road). Directed by Rhoma Spencer, this production, presented by Theatre Archipelago in association with b current, runs until this coming Sunday, March 27th.

    When she recently spoke to AfroToronto.com, director Rhoma Spencer said she spent the last eight years trying to make the production happen. It’s indeed a project that is close to her heart. A smaller version of the play was staged in February of last year at both Papermill Theatre and the U. of T.’s William Doo Auditorium. On the strength of the positive reception, she felt confident about giving birth to the current production.

    In Rhoma Spencer’s eye, Marcus Mosiah Garvey (1887-1940) was a true visionary who lived way ahead of his time. “Long before Barack Obama’s Audacity of Hope, we had Marcus Garvey inspiring people of African descent everywhere to strive towards a better future. Long before Kwanza, Garvey spoke of recognizing Pan-Africanism and the value of African principles.” Spencer also adds that at the time when the League of Nations (now the UN) was carving Africa, Garvey was saying: “Leave Africa for Africans.”

    As founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL), Garvey was pivotal figure of the Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism movements. He was a strong believer in economic self-reliance and for the need to develop black-owned businesses.

    Rhoma Spencer remarks how the UNIA’s emblematic red black and green colours are today represented in the post-colonial national flags of several African countries.

    “I Marcus Garvey”, a North American premiere, recounts Marcus Garvey’s life journey through his activism in Jamaica, England, America and Canada. The play is skillfully complemented with live music. Bob Marley’s powerful “Redemption Song” goes a long way into conveying Garvey’s message.

    The timing of the play, as Rhoma Spence points out, is very appropriate since 2011 was declared by the United Nations as the International Year for People of African Descent.

     

    Show info:

    Location: Papermill Theatre (67 Pottery Road)

    Runs until: March 27, 2011

    Time: 08:00 PM to 10:30 PM, Sunday Matinee 2pm

    Admission $15-$35
    Students $25

    Tickets online at www.totix.ca or in person at the TO Tix Booth, Dundas Square.

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  • Happy like us

    Your friend Charles called for you earlier tonight at around seven. Ever since our university days he’s always been the one within your entire posse I always got along with the best. There’s always a welcoming tone in his voice. He seemed eager to talk to you since he said you two hadn’t spoken for a while.

    I promised him you would call him back when you got back home tonight. Although my heart slightly skipped a beat, my cheerful voice remained undisturbed as I remembered you calling me from the office three hours earlier to let me know not to wait up. “I’m meeting up with Charles for drinks” you said.

    I know there must be a valid explanation. I know how hard you work and how the long hours blur your mind occasionally.

    All my girls know how much of a good man you are. They keep reminding me.

    Lisa, you know the one from church, called me last night to complain again about her no-good current boyfriend. “My clock is ticking” she said. “I don’t have time anymore to put up with his bullshit excuses and commitment-phobic crap.” “I hope you know how good you have it with Peter.”

    Yes, I know I have a good thing.

    I silently pity women like them who waste years in dead-end relationships and find themselves at forty with nothing to show. At least if she had spent her energy on her career and found herself single at forty with a house of her own and money in the bank, I could feel more sympathetic.

    I mean look at my friend Shawna from work. You know the one who always shows up alone at our house parties? She sure doesn’t seem unhappy. Wasn’t she the life of the party when we had people over for New Year’s?

    I keep reminding you, we should try to fix her up with Charles.

    Even though she’s a successful single gal with a full life, I know she would love to find that right life partner who will “complete her” as she confided in me once in a moment of weakness.

    I have to admit that I enjoy knowing that Shawna, somewhere deep inside of her, feels jealous of me. We’re both career women who’ve excelled in our professions but I’ve got something she doesn’t have.

    Oh, before I keep going on and on, go upstairs now and call Charles. I’ll be down here fixing you dinner. I’m making your favourite dish tonight, coconut chicken and rice. I’ve already put the chicken in the oven. The smell of the spices is just enough to cover the scent of this perfume I don’t recognize which blew into the house with your arrival.

    As you go up to the room, change into something more comfortable. Let’s make this a romantic evening tonight.

    Throw that white shirt into the hamper. I know the collar gets dark with sweat sometimes after long days at the office. It would help if you sprayed your collar with that stain remover on the shelf as well. It works wonders. It even successfully removed the lipstick mark your secretary accidentally smudged on it last week when she ran into you in the hallway.

    So did you tell Charles about Shawna? They’re both dear friends and they so deserve to be happy like us.

     

  • A portrait of the first Afro-Canadian city councillor in London, Canada: Harold Usher

    Harold Usher, P.Eng., DTM was born in Belize (in Central America) and arrived in Canada in 1963. Harold has devoted most of his life contributing to the betterment of mankind, the community, and his fellow citizens, starting from his childhood membership in his Primary School (St. Mary’s) Choir and the Boys Brigade in Belize to acting in Dramatic plays for his Methodist Church in Belize.  He participated also in Drama groups in Jamaica and Montreal, CANADA.  Mr.  Usher is a City Councillor (Ward 12) in London, Ontario, CANADA who, with his election in 2000, and re-elections in 2003, 2006 and 2010, became the first and only person of African/Caribbean ancestry or African Diaspora, to be elected to London (Ontario, CANADA) City Council.

    He is a 1972 Civil Engineering graduate of  Sir George Williams (currently Concordia) University in Montreal and worked for Bell Canada, in various Engineering/Management capacities and levels for 24 years.  In 1996 he embarked on other work/career adventures such as inspirational speaking and training.  Later, he was involved in politics. He is also a Distinguished Toastmaster, an Author, an inspirational speaker and human resources development trainer, who believes that “Service to humanity is the best work of life,” and “Service is the rent we pay for being on this earth.” He also got involved with various Multi-cultural and non-profit Community organizations, The City of London, The United Church of Canada and others.

    Soon Usher began to champion “issues and causes” related to Race Relations; Justice; Equity; Human Rights; jobs for the unemployed; as well as other Opportunities, including Housing for the Homeless, the Poor, People with Disabilities, visible minorities and ethnic groups, and the community in general, particularly the Youths and the Elderly – simply to ensure every citizen can live in harmony and enjoy a good quality of life, with dignity and respect.

    As a City Councillor, Usher has three special roles, namely: 1) representing his  constituency (people who voted for him) at City Council or on public matters that affect their quality of life, 2) set policies for the smooth running of the City, and the implementation of projects that ensure a good quality of life for the residents, 3) advocate good, honest, transparent Government. In order to accomplish these, Mr. Usher sits on several committees, reads a lot of information and attends a lot of meetings – prepared. Everything else follows from those in a complex environment.  The job is demanding and challenging but deeply rewarding for Harold Usher. It is part time - however, city councillors are on call 24/7.  Mr.  Usher advocates that visible minorities and women get more involved.

    Mr.  Usher is a prostate cancer survivor and wrote a book in collaboration with his renowned Canadian Urologic Surgeon, Dr. Joseph Chin, entitled, PROSTATE! PROSTATE! PROSTATE! A Problem of Men, in which he shares his story, what he learned, and encourages men to get regular prostate examinations, and to take action quickly once diagnosed with prostate cancer.

    City Councillor Harold Usher became the recipient of the 2010 African Canadian Achievement Award (ACAA) in the prestigious category of "Excellence in Polices."  The Awards Presentation was on Saturday May 29, 2010 at The St.  Lawrence Centre for the Arts, in Toronto.  Harold was nominated for this Award by the Honourable Jean Augustine.  Harold Usher`s contribution to the community has been emphasized in various publications such as Who’s who in Black Canada by Dawn P.  Williams.  On a personal level, Mr.  Usher is married to Melba (née Wright) Usher, also born in Belize and the couple has three daughters, all born in Montreal.

    Experiences and Achievements:

    • Actively serving the Community for more than 25 years
    • Professional Engineer (P. Eng.)
    • Politician (Councillor, City of London, Canada)
    • Distinguished Toastmaster
    • Inspirational Speaker
    • Human Resources Development Trainer
    • Advocate for Human rights, Justice, Equity and Race Relations – a voice spoken and heard
    • Co-Author of Book entitled:  “PROSTATE! PROSTATE! PROSTATE! A Problem of Men” - helping Black Men survive the terrible disease of prostate cancer
    • Cultural Background: Canadian Citizen (African/Caribbean Ancestry or African Diaspora – Born in Belize)

    Special Award:  Harold Usher received the  Canada 125th Commemorative Medal, from the Governor General  in 1992

    Other Honours:

    • The Distinguished Toastmasters (DTM) Designation from Toastmasters International (three times)
    • The Toastmasters International President’s Citation
    • The joint Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO) and The Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE) Citizenship Award
    • The London (Ontario) Black Community Achievement Award
    • The PRIDE African Canadian Achievement Award for “Excellence in Politics


    AFFILIATIONS/MEMBERSHIPS

    Current:

    ·         London City Council (London, Ontario, CANADA) - elected 2000 and each term since then
    ·         City of London Community and Neighbourhood Committee (CNC) – Chair 2000 to present
    ·         London Transit Commission (Past Chair) 2000 to present
    ·         Lake Huron Primary Water Supply System Joint Board of Management (Past Chair) 2000 to present
    ·         City of London Council’s Housing Leadership Committee 2007 to present
    .        Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) Board of Directors 2011
    ·         FCM Standing Committee on Social-Economic Development 2008 to present
    ·         FCM Standing Committee on Municipal Infrastructure and Transportation Policy 2008 to present
    ·         FCM Standing Committee on Increasing Women’s Participation in Municipal Government 2003 to present
    ·         Western Fair Association – Board of Governors 2010 to present
    ·         Elgin Middlesex Oxford Workforce Planning and Development Board (EMOWPDB) – Visible Minority Representative 2000 to present
    ·         Goodwill Industries Ontario Great Lakes - Board of Directors 2006 to present
    ·         Ontario Society of Professional Engineers - Member 2001 to present
    ·         Professional Engineers Ontario – Member, 1974 to present
    ·         Black Community Leadership Congress (BCLC) – London Branch, 2001 to present
    ·         London Black History Committee – Coordinator of “Closing GALA” 2002 to present
    ·         White Oaks United Church of London 2004 to present
    ·         The Journeys of the Black People of the United Church of Canada 2006 to present
    ·         The United Church of Canada - Gender Justice Advisory Committee of the General Council, 2010 to present
    ·         Garrison Community Council of London, 2006 to present
    ·         Telephone Pioneers of Canada/America 1990 to present
    ·         Thames Valley Toastmasters Club (Past President), 1984 to present
    ·         London City Hall Toastmasters Club – Originator, Sponsor and Past President, 2007 to present
    ·         Fanshawe College President’s Academy (Alumni of the Board of Governors), 2002 to present
    ·         Consortium for Belizean Development – International Board of Directors, 1985 to present
    ·         Fathers Day Walk/Run Fundraiser Event for Prostate Cancer Research –  Honorary Chair (London) 2009 to present

  • A Screaming Man: Putting God on trial

     

    “Screaming Man,” an award-winning film by Chadian writer-director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun currently screening at the TIFF Bell Lightbox until March 23rd, poses an important question: “Where is God when humans suffer?

    With the recent natural tragedies in Haiti and now Japan, there perhaps is no better time to put God on trial. Of course, this is not a new concept. God, the divine entity or the omnipotent one has been cross-examined by humanity since pre-biblical times. During the Second World War, Jewish prisoners in one of Hitler’s most notorious concentration camps convened a Beit Din (a Jewish court of law). They put God on trial and they found God guilty.

    While the verdict in Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s film is less clear, it is nonetheless evident that this God, who has seemingly gone silent in the face of civil war and poverty in Chad, hasn’t escaped severe scrutiny. The name of the film itself was inspired by celebrated Martinique-born poet Aime Cesaire’s collection of poetry entitled Return to My Native Land. Contemplating the role of God in front of human suffering, Cesaire wrote “A screaming man is not a dancing bear”.

    A very telling quote from the film, spoken by a hardworking, generous and kind-hearted cook who had just lost his job, encapsulates it all: “Our problem is that we put our destiny in God’s hands.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_rvfk5psbU

    What is humanity to do then if God is silent? What happens when life’s circumstances take over and our screams towards the heavens suddenly turn inaudible even to those surrounding us? Perhaps then we decide to become God ourselves and, with all our human failings, try to set the course straight.

    The screaming man in Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s film is Adam (played by Youssouf Djaoro), a former swimming champion who, with his son Abdel (played by Diouc Koma), supervises a pool in an upscale hotel frequented exclusively by foreigners. This job is his whole life. He takes pride in his responsibilities and enjoys being a role model for his son.

    One day, his world come crashing down when the hotel’s owners announce to him that he will be relegated to the role of hotel gatekeeper and that his son Abdel would now supervise the pool. What follows is a complex escalation of emotions which leads to the patriarch’s ultimate betrayal of his son.

    The pace of the film may sometimes appear painfully slow and we are often left to guess what Adam is really thinking. But we soon realize that Mahamat-Saleh Haroun offers interesting metaphors and important parallels between the destiny of one man and that of his family and country.

  • Zab Manoungo: mind, body and African rhythms

    French-Congolese dance performer, choreographer, teacher and philosopher Zab Manoungo epitomizes the concept of the consummate artist. The daughter of a revolutionary African intellectual who fought against colonialism, Zab Manoungo was raised with a Pan-Africanist cultural consciousness which clearly informs her journey as a dance artist.

    She is currently in Toronto presenting her COBA-commissioned (Collective of Black Artists) work entitled “On a Clear Day” (ends today, March 13th). The opening of COBA’s Breaking Point! at Harbourfront’s Fleck Dance Theatre this past Friday was a resounding success.

    AfroToronto.com had the opportunity to speak to Zab Manoungo before this week end’s triple presentation. She was thrilled with having the opportunity to work with COBA for the first time. While COBA had commissioned works in the past by choreographers from Senegal, Haiti and South Africa, this marks COBA’s first Canadian-based commission.

    For the past twenty years, Zab Manoungo has been at the helm of her own Montreal-based dance company, Nyata Nyata. A highly sought-after dancer and choreographer, her creations have been showcased internationally. In addition to her dance credentials, she also holds a Master’s degree in philosophy and teaches the subject at Montmorency College in Laval, Quebec.

    She tells AfroToronto.com that dance, music and philosophy are one in her perspective. “Most great philosophers from Socrates to Nietzsche have celebrated the art of dance as one of the most important and fundamental endeavours at the level of human intelligence. Thus, it’s not a new thing to make such a rapprochement unlike what may be commonly believed. We tend to separate body and spirit in the West. From my vantage point, however, it’s a joyous thing to join the two because philosophy is really the art of questions and art allows me to answer” she adds.

    When asked how she discovered her passion for dance, she takes us back to her early childhood in Congo-Brazzaville where she was part of several dance groups. She mentions that, at the time, her country was going through its post-colonial independence era and dance was partly how her people redefined themselves in the face of modernity. There was a whole movement around this development so it was a great opportunity to explore rhythm and traditions.

    Eventually, political developments marked by coup d’états brought her family to France. There, she continued to pursue her interest in dance with other groups of Africans. She recounts to us: “The environment in France was much more Pan-Africanist. I came across students from throughout the continent and the diaspora. I started working with those diverse groups in universities and my interest for the art refined itself to the point of necessitating research and the development of a discipline.”

    Zab Manoungo realized through her journey that she was not satisfied with the way in which tradition was approached. She found most people’s interpretation of African dance as being too fixed, too rigid, too representative and too politicized. “I was looking for another road which would be more personal” as she clarifies.

    In her opinion, dance allows us to have access to a whole new level of understanding of our relationship with the world -- through the environment, our interactions with the sacred, and the education of the body and the spirit. “When we study African rhythms, we discover that they transmit tremendous knowledge. That’s why I’ve put so much emphasis on understanding rhythm as being structural in the relationship between mind and body. That’s why I have and continue to work towards breaking those limiting representations of traditional dance both in the West and in Africa” as she explains to AfroToronto.com.

    As a daughter of post-independence Africa who has transposed herself within various cultures, Zab Manoungo reveals to us that she cherishes a long-held idea of an African cultural renaissance. She points to her working collaboration with COBA as a representation of how different African communities have matured to the point of calling on each other to redefine African diasporic culture. As this week end’s diverse choreographies displayed at the Fleck Dance Theatre, Zab Manoungo’s vision of a Pan-African dance universe is alive and well.

  • Wise.Woman: An Interview with Rebecca Fisseha

    Pic

    How far would you go to find yourself? This is the question that Ethiopian-born playwright Rebecca Fisseha asks us to explore in her first full-length play and main stage production, Wise.Woman, now showing at Toronto’s Theatre Centre (1087 Queen W). The play, which opened on February 20th, comes to a close this coming week-end with three more days of presentations.

    Rebecca Fisseha is an emerging playwright, and York University graduate, who honed her writing skills as a member of current’s rAiz’n the sun training ensemble. She originally submitted Wise Woman of Abyssinia to rock.paper.sistahz III 2004. Other works featured as workshop productions with b current, Obsidian and the SummerWorks and Crosscurrents festivals are: February, The Exhibition of Love, Leaving Home, The Product and Daughter’s Last Supper.

    Wise.Woman tells the story of a westernized young Ethiopian woman, Saba, who goes back to her ancestral land to marry her childhood sweetheart, Solomon. The play also explores the ancient tale of Queen of Sheba (Queen Mak’da)’s visit to the land of Judah. We thus find the main character, played by Cara Ricketts, assuming both the modern and ancient roles of Saba and Queen Mak’da.

    AfroToronto.com recently had the opportunity to interview Rebecca Fisseha about her play:

    AT: The play talks about a journey of self-discovery and cultural reawakening. This is very relevant for multi-cultural Canadian youth. What has the response been so-far in workshops and the current production from Ethiopian and other youth?

    RF: I believe they are very happy to see a show that references stories, locales and expressions that are familiar to them either because they grew up in that environment or know it second hand from their parents or extended family. Seeing live theatre on stage by people who for the most part look and sound like them has also been refreshing. They appreciate the scale and look of the show as well as the message of self-reliance that it communicates. I hope that we will have more opportunities to perform for school and community groups in the future so that we can get more detailed feedback from the youth.


    AT: What did that journey in writing Wise.Woman bring to you personally?

    RF: It allowed me to comprehend one aspect of my cultural heritage in a way that I probably wouldn't have had it not been for the time and thought that went into writing the play. Now that I have completed it, I feel brave enough to apply the same interpretive twist to the many other traditions, stories, myths and legends that I have grown up with and find out what they mean to me personally. With Wise.Woman, I came to see the story of King Solomon and Queen of Sheba not only as the nation-founding legend it has always been presented as, but as the story of one woman who chose to go her own way -"into her own country"- and by doing so ensured her immortal place in history.


    AT: How did the play evolve from the initial conception through the fleshing out of the plot and ideas with a dramaturge and/or producer?

    RF: It evolved over approximately four years, with a lot of gaps in between where I wasn't necessarily writing or rewriting or researching or workshopping the script with actors and a dramaturge. I like to consider the gaps in between the times of activity as "simmering", because that  is when I processed, most often subconsciously, all the work that I had done on the script. The initial story was always the King Solomon and Queen of Sheba story. Out of that emerged the figure of a couple of tourists, a man and a woman. The play as it is today emerged out of continued exploration of the worlds of those two pairs of people, their humanity, their search for belonging and what I as a writer had to say about them from where I stand. My dramaturge and director ahdri zhina mandiela was instrumental in helping me articulate what I, Rebecca, had to say about this piece of history that I was dramatizing and juxtaposing with a modern story. Without that, the play would have rang hollow, it would have been purely presentational.


    AT: What impact do you hope the play will have on those who see it?

    RF: The repeated response so far has been that people have never seen anything quite like this show before. The mixture of old and new worlds, the creative use of chorus members to create setting and mood, the use of live singing and the blending of modern dialogue with ancient heightened text - a lot of it inspired by the Song of Songs - has created and I hope will continue to create a feeling of having been teleported to another place and time for those who see it. It is also an opportunity for audiences to experience a culture that is not often showcased on the stage, that of Ethiopia. As a bonus we have traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony on Sundays, so if nothing else people will walk away with a little organic East African caffeine running through their veins!

    AT: Where do you see the world of theatre going in Toronto with respect to diverse voices both on stage and behind the stage?

    RF: I expect that the future will be more of the present. We will see even more of what we are beginning to see in terms of diversity. However, it has also been said by those who have been at it longer than I that things move in cycles, so that a period of increased diversity will be followed by its opposite and so forth. So while I can''t predict with any certainty either way, it is in my interest to hope for the best. I look forward to the day when diversity becomes the norm as opposed to an exception that has to be highlighted every rare time that it makes an appearance.


    AT: A few words about the cast members?

    RF: The truly wonderful aspect of the cast of six and chorus of nine members is the multiplicity of cultural backgrounds that they represent. The group as a whole is a very accurate picture of the idea of Canada: people who originate from nearly every continent and call this place home for their own individual reasons. I really doubt that such a collection of individuals has ever graced a stage in Toronto theatre history. As well, they contribute quite a wide range of performance experience, from members who have several Stratford seasons under their belt to those who have recently begun their performance training under b current's rAiz'n training ensemble for emerging artists.

    Wise.Woman runs until March 8, 2009 at The Theatre Centre, 1087 Queen Street West (Queen & Dovercourt) on Friday and Saturday 2pm & 8pm, and Sundays at 6pm (weekday Matinees also available for Schools). Tickets are $15 for students & artworkers and $20 for adults, general. Tickets can be purchased online atwww.artsboxoffice.ca.

    For group sales, the teacher preview, and school sales call 416 533 1500 or emaileducation@bcurrent.ca.

  • Interview with Stacie Upchurch: former candidate of The Apprentice 2

    Born in Omaha, Nebraska, Stacie Jones Upchurch grew up in Colorado.It is important to note that Upchurch hasn’t just relied on her beauty to “make it”.  She attended both Emory and Mercer Universities in Atlanta where she received, respectively, her B.A. in Marketing and her M.B.A. At twenty, while attending college, she set up a marketing company that employed a staff of seventeen.  She ran several businesses in Atlanta before settling in New York City, poised to achieve her modeling, acting and business goals.  

    In this respect, Modeling on the runways of New York City, acting on daytime television, running her own Subway franchise, starring on Donald Trump’s “Apprentice,” (season 2)  represents just a few of Stacie J.’s accomplishments.

    Aforementioned Stacie Upchurch is an ambitious and a brilliant woman.  She became a candidate for the second season of the TV reality show The Apprentice.Over one million people apply each year to participate on this show. Upchurch was among the eighteen highly qualified and successful applicants.  All candidates of The Apprenticewere subjected to a series of interviews, auditions and intense competition with other aspiring corporate executives.  Over forty million people watch The Apprentice each week.  It has become one of the most successful programs in television history, and has received at least four Emmy nominations.

    Stacie Upchurch started modeling in college when Manhattan Model Search came to Atlanta looking for new talent. Out of 5,000 people, Mrs.  Upchurch was one of two finalists chosen by Elite NY, and soon Stacie started working in Miami. She then modeled in Europe and Africa, and subsequently returned home to Atlanta to finish graduate school and pursue business interests. Stacie Upchurch was also a professional model with Ford Model Management based in New York City.After selling her interest in her first restaurant, Stacie Upchurch resumed her modeling career and went to New York to pursue other business endeavors.

    Settling in Harlem, Stacie J. and her family decided to open a Subway Sandwich Shop franchise. Their business, located in Harlem across from former President Bill Clinton’s office on 125th Street, allows the youth to gain valuable experience which will serve them in the future.After living there for a few months, Mrs.  Upchurch recognized and seized a great opportunity to create jobs, provide healthy food alternative and take advantage of an emerging market within her community.

    Stacie Upchurch has also launched a jewelry and accessories line available at Icing by Claire''s stores nationwide. The line, available in 200 stores, includes rings, belly chains, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, sunglasses, handbags, and belts.  Icing by Claire''s, a division of Claire''s Stores Inc., is an accessories store for women age 17 to 27.

    It is important to mention that Mrs. Upchurch has an interest in other domains.  In this regard, she made her acting debut in the film “The Scorned” (a 2005 horror movie). It was the first movie comprised entirely of people from previous reality television series. The movie was filmed during the E! behind-the-scenes reality show “Kill Reality”; Upchurch played the role of Trish.  She also acted in many American soap operas such as As The World Turns, One Life To Liveand so on.  Throughout her career, Upchurch has made the cover of several magazines, including Lucirefrom New Zealand.  She has also been a guest on popular programs like The Oprah Winfrey Show.

    Now, Stacie J. is a full-time mom to her 2-year daughter Riley Lynn and an insurance professional for Unique Underwriter, the fastest-growing national Independent Marketing Organization that focuses exclusively on mortgage protection insurance, and on generating top-quality mortgage protection insurance leads for our agents. She currently manages approximately 30 agents in NY/NJ, Atlanta, Chicago and Miami.  Our columnist had the pleasure to speak to her last November.  Stacie Upchurch was located in New York during the interview.  By Patricia Turnier, Columnist of www.afrotoronto.com and Editress-in-Chief of Mega Diversities.

     

    Patricia Turnier, LL.M. talks to Stacie Upchurch, M.B.A.:

    P.T.  Who inspired you when you were younger to become successful?  In other words, did you have a mentor?

    S.U. While I was in college in Atlanta, I had a mentor when I was 17 named Michael Child. He was a very prominent businessman and is still in Georgia. I learned a lot from him and I will always be grateful. He owned a small medical company with four employees, including me. This experience allowed me to learn how to run a small business. Michael Child took me under his wing.  He taught me about accounting, customer services, contracts, profit margins, marketing, in other words everything concerning entrepreneurial skills. The knowledge that I got from him will serve me for life.  Michael Child is still one of my biggest mentors.

    It is important to mention that for a long time I had an interest in commerce. Since I was 14, I had small businesses in Colorado. I owned a business at one time with my younger sister.  I was always doing something related to business. I knew for a long time that I had the entrepreneurial spirit. I would like to add that my mother always encouraged me to do my best in every road I chose. She told me to never settle for mediocrity.

    P.T.  Can you elaborate more about the small businesses you had with your younger sister when you were 14?

    S.U. I can tell you about one of the businesses that I owned in Colorado with my younger sister and that I loved.  We used to ski in the mountains. We had to take a train before. We realised that the passengers were thirsty and hungry. So, the night before the ski trip, we used to make candies which were called more specifically rock candy, baked in the stove, with different flavours. We sold them with Pepsi products and so on. That was huge at the time in Colorado. The kids and their families loved what we sold.  We did this every week. We sold the same products in schools also. In addition to all this, I had a babysitting service. I always worked in high school. So, for a very long time I had an entrepreneurial spirit.

    P.T.  In 2005, you were a candidate for the second season of the Apprentice.  What did you learn from this experience?

    S.U. The candidates and I were in a very competitive setting. We were from different backgrounds but we had in common a type A personality. Some of the contestants had an entrepreneurial background, but the majority came from Ivy League universities and were doing well in their respected fields. The contestants were accustomed to winning; none of us expected to lose [Laughs].

    My Apprentice experience made me realise even more that when I was in college I wasn’t a member from any sororities or affiliations. Being an entrepreneur, I always call the shots and made the decisions since I was at the head of my organisations. Most of the business people that I know didn’t even have a sorority experience. I never was in a big corporate setting. I ran my own businesses and I dealt more often with individuals such as my assistants. When you are in The Apprentice, you end up in a team setting and it didn’t help in my case that I didn’t have a sorority experience.  I would have had more tools to deal with different type of personalities if I participated in sororities, but at the time I wasn’t attracted to female group gatherings.  I felt for instance that if I needed to organise a fundraising, I could do it on my own.  I am not used to relying on other people so The Apprentice was an adaptation for me.

    On the show there were two aspects to consider:  1) everything which had to do with being part of a sorority clique, 2) the business part of the contest where you have to do the task.  In other words, there is a subjective part (power relations, group dynamics…) and a more objective part to consider in the entire process.  In this respect, as a contestant it is important to find a way to navigate toward all of this. In the Apprentice, it is a prime necessity to play overall as a team and it can be the same thing in other corporate settings.  I was great for the part of doing the tasks.  However, with my independent personality it created an incompatibility of characters with the other female candidates and I didn’t do small talk with them.  So, to sum up, I am more an independent woman than a team player.  I realise that in business one is not always judged on merit and performance. This is what I learned about myself throughout my experience in The Apprentice.

    P.T.  Do you think it is a myth or a reality that to make it in a high level position in corporate America, a female needs to adopt male standards?

    S.U. Well, my background is not corporate America. So, I can only speak conceptually about that and I am going to base my opinion on what I heard from my friends who worked at that level. I know that they have to play the game.  They need to find a balance between being a team player and a hard worker.  Overall, the majority of people at the head of companies are male. There are many factors to consider about how a female can rise to the top of corporate America. She often has to work long hours, put their family aside.  Some have to wait to start to create a family. Getting to the top is attainable, but it is not easy. If the females have mates, their partners need to be very understanding.

    In some cases, females in corporate America have to display male characteristics: working long hours, not having kids. In other words, some feel that they have to be hard-core. In some milieus, they think they need to do this to be taken seriously. Others even believe that they have to be authoritative. However, it is possible to command respect without adopting those traits. I also believe that in some cases the reverse of the medal is true. I mean using male standards can help some females to get to the top of corporate America. It plays an important part in the culture of this realm.  Maybe one day this situation will change, but alas for now adopting male standards is part of the culture.

    P.T.  What advice do you have for young visible minorities to enter and to break the glass ceiling in corporate America?

    S.U. I think it begins with education. You should equip yourself with the highest level of education possible. Unfortunately, overall we still live in a world which discriminates against females and people of colour. So, being highly educated and well cultured are the best deterrents to discrimination. If you can go to Harvard, do it. If you are able to obtain a Master’s or a PhD, go for it.  You have to be equipped to shatter the glass ceiling. You need to be prepared. It is important also to be passionate about what you are doing and work hard. Eventually, people will recognise that and they won’t be able to stop you from breaking the glass ceiling. For me, to get to the Apprentice after competing against over a million people I had to set myself apart by being among the most prepared academically besides my entrepreneurial experience.  It has been like that with everything I have done.

    P.T.  What advice do you have for employees who are in a cutthroat work environment?

    S.U. [Silence] My first inclination would be to say that in this kind of situation, an individual is not shrewd if he chooses to be quiet.  You have to be diligent, a hard worker and find a balance to see how to navigate in a cutthroat environment.  You are entitled to make a living, at the same time you have to find a way to make sure that this kind of difficult situation won’t be detrimental to your mental health.  It is important to show integrity and honesty consistently because this will always prevail.  At the same time, you have to make sure that nobody will step on you by behaving in a cutthroat way.

    Human resources or other authorities such as unions have to ensure that you will be in a supportive work environment.  They have the responsibility to create and maintain a stress-free working atmosphere for their workers by using psychological approaches.

    P.T.  As an entrepreneur, do you have some advice for someone who wants to start his own business?

    S.U.It is helpful to find a mentor. It is important also to not take no for an answer. You can find someone who has a similar enterprise that you want to build and offer to work for free (through an internship program for instance) even as a learning experience for six months to a year. At the end of this process, you will get referrals. The training experience will also allow you to see if you will want to pursue a career in your realm. You have to be sure of what you want. There are people for example who can dissuade you from opening a Subway Franchise because in their minds there are already a lot of them. In fact, whatever the type of company you want to open (a computer store and so on) you will always find negative people who won’t encourage you. It is important to not be influenced by that and avoid those individuals. However, before opening a business there are guidelines to follow. You have to know your market by studying it. You have to be aware of who are your competitors and analyse how you can bring something to the table, etc.  If you want longevity in the business sphere, you have to be passionate because you will be less discouraged with the future hurdles that may arise.

    P.T.  You like to explore other avenues such as acting.  How was your experience as an actress in the horror movie The Scorned in 2005? Are you interested to do other movies?  If so, what would be your ideal role to play and why?

    S.U. I modelled for about 12 years when I was younger and acting was a natural progression of modelling.  The Scornedis an experience that came to me after being on The Apprentice.  I would like to add that I have already been in many American soap operas (All My Children, One Life To Live, As The World Turns, etc) for about 10 years.  It is important to note that for now my acting career is on hold because my priority is my daughter.  Also, to prosper as an actress you have to move to L.A. and the reality is that I live in NY.  It is a very hard business and when you are starting, you have unstable income. I can’t allow this because I have my responsibility as a parent. When I was 21, I was acting and I didn’t move to L.A. even if I had the right agents. In retrospect, it means that maybe I didn’t want this bad enough.  However, it is still in me and I would be interested in accepting projects in the future when my child will be older. For now, my focus is my daughter.  She started to do modelling jobs and I am training her to be an actress. My daughter will do anything she wants, become a physician, etc. The world is open to her. For me, maybe in two years I will get back into acting.

    To get back to your question, my experience with The Scornedwas great. I played against Jonny Fairplay who played my boyfriend. I had to go into my character, to different places within myself.  Acting is about pretending, becoming someone else and being able to bring out the character. That was a challenge and a great experience. I had fun on the set. It was a reality show and a reality movie.  We all lived together. Sometimes it was crazy because there was some fighting inside the house.  It was like being in The Apprentice again [Laughs]. To sum up, it was a nice experience and I would like one day to do more acting.

    About your last sub-question, my ideal role in a movie would be to play a James Bond girl in the future. That would be great. They have the best roles with one of the hottest men [Laughs]. It would be also interesting to play a super heroine in a movie like Angelina Jolie did.  If I were approached for roles like that I would be definitely up for it.

    P.T.  You have been modelling since you were a kid.  Do you have any advice for girls who want to become successful fashion models?  Also, how can they avoid the traps in this realm?

    S.U. It is possible to pay people which will help them build careers as future models (such as agents and so on).  To be more precise, I am referring to fashion consultants.  They have to be experienced, and it is important to do your research to learn which models were launched by them.  Every parent thinks that their child should be a model which is not very realistic.  So, it is important to get an opinion from top fashion consultants.  There are so many people who want to become models and some have to be honest with themselves.  In addition, there are all kinds of models.  So, you have to think if you want to be a catalogue model, a high fashion model and so on.  Rule number 1:  you have to be at least 5’9, under 120 pounds to make it big.  You need to have a look.

    People also have to be careful with hidden costs before signing a contract.  It is always good to verify everything with an attorney.  You have to do your research and seek well-known agencies (with excellent reputation) that proved themselves in the past by promoting the careers of others.  In other words, look for an agency with an impressive body of work. The criteria to consider are:  how long they have been established, who are the models they launched, etc.  You have to choose an agency that works best for you.

    A good agency supports the girls, especially the youngest ones.  I have been involved with Ford and Elite agencies for over 10 years in NY, Miami, Chicago, L.A.  Every week, those agencies have open calls.  You can walk in, show your portfolio.  They will tell you if you have what it takes.  If so, they will pay for additional pictures.  You don’t have to pay a photographer or join a class to get pictures.  A lot of companies will charge 2000$ and more to train you to become a model.  At the end of the day, they take your money and won’t place you with any agency.  You have to be very careful with this.  Getting an agent is the first step, so going to open calls is important.  You can also find a mentor, someone who has experience in this realm.  It can be someone like me for instance or somebody else with whom you feel comfortable to guide your career.  Watch out also for specific events.  For instance, annually in Florida there is a model season from January to April where every model in the world is in South Beach, Miami.  You can look in your own town where there are opportunities for modelling.

    The parents have to be involved with under-aged girls to support them in every step.  There is a lot of competition and a cadre is required.  I would like to add that it is important not to limit yourself to one country.  It is a necessity to make French, English, Italian magazines and so on if you want an international career.  Serious agencies such as Ford send models to Europe where they can do fashion shows and work for magazines. The fashion companies pay the staying of the models abroad for a certain period.  It is a must to go in other countries to obtain longevity in this realm.  So, this criterion is imperative when choosing the agency that you want to work for.

    P.T.  Do you believe in the maxim:  “Luck is when opportunity meets preparedness?”

    S.U. Yes, definitely.  You have to be prepared when opportunities arise.  Luck is an interesting word.  I was prepared when I had the opportunity to be involved in The Apprentice.  I went to top universities, I had my business since I was a teenager.  For a long period of time, I was involved in commerce.  When I applied, I knew how to audition.  In the past, I had many years of auditioning so, I was definitely prepared.  In this respect, when the opportunity presents itself you know how to deal with it.  People say well, Stacie you were lucky to be on the show.  I don’t agree with this statement.

    P.T.  You made your luck.

    S.U.Exactly.  I was there at the right time and I was prepared.  So, I believe that luck is when opportunity meets preparedness.  It is an interesting interpretation.  Most of the time, opportunities favour the bold, the active and the prepared.  I believe that you make your luck with hard work.  You cannot rest on your laurels.  When life gives you opportunities you have to give it your all.

    I like also this adage from Albert Camus:  “An achievement is a bondage.  It obliges one to a higher achievement.”  In addition, Victor Hugo said “Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come.”  I strongly believe in this maxim.

    P.T.  You said in the past to the media that you consider that you have a social responsibility toward the African-American community.  Can you elaborate on that?

    S.U. Sure.  First of all, I am an African-American female who has been catapulted in the media through shows such as The Apprentice.  In this respect, I became visible.  I am no longer just Stacie Jones Upchurch.  I became someone that people can look up to.  Being the second black female who ended up in The Apprentice, I feel a responsibility toward the black youth and also to other young minorities.  I value the need to get an education, to have integrity, to go after your dreams and your passions, to become entrepreneurs as a way to build wealth in our community.  I feel a social responsibility and I want to use my status to help African-Americans to achieve their goals.

    I am doing my part by employing young African-American kids (from 16 to 19) for my business.  It gives them experience and focus to go forward in life.  I also encourage them to pursue their education and always look for opportunities which can lead them to a higher level.

    P.T.  The African-American community has over 913 billion dollars purchasing power per year, according to Humphreys[1] but only circa 3% of it stays annually in the Black community.  As an expert who holds an M.B.A., what are the necessary measures which can correct this situation?

    S.U.Wow, this is a deep question. I am going to try to give a synthesised answer.African-American people really need to start to own businesses and buy the products within their community.  They can learn a lot from the Asian community.  Asians come to America, they live in the same homes.  They work in Subways for instance and put all their money together.  They will buy from their community and live within their community.

    P.T.  I think your example about the Asian community is very interesting.  The Asians are self-sufficient.  Right now, in the U.S. among everybody they are the only group that has an unemployment rate of circa 7% which is below the national unemployment rate.

    S.U. Definitely.  It is sad to say that unemployment for African-Americans has surpassed 16 percent.  Blacks in America need to learn how to trust more one another and to have a more collective awareness which can build wealth in the community.  We have to heal from our heavy history.  We need to trust one another more.  There are popular beliefs which have been instilled historically in the African-American community which do not serve us and we have to find a way to get rid of that.  I believe Atlanta is a great example that we should follow.  It is there that I learned how to be an entrepreneur.  I went to Emory University which is not an historically black university but outside of this institution I saw a lot of African-American people.  Circa 67% of Atlanta’s population are African-American.  We find many black-owned businesses and opportunities for Blacks in this city.  We see huge houses owned by the African-American community.  For me, it is concrete proof that we can develop our entrepreneurial abilities and that we are able to support our businesses.  So, the Black community can learn a lot from Atlanta.

    According to a study conducted for the Magazine Publishers of America[2], African- Americans are avid consumers.  African-American teens spend more on average than WASP teens on many products, including clothes, video-game hardware, computer software, etc.  Those teens are particularly loyal to their favourite brands.  They also have a lot of influence, purchasing items from cereal to cell phones.  So, we have to look deeper into this and see how our money can stay more in our community and benefit us as a whole.  Another thing which can create a richer black community is to buy less on credit and save more for the future, find other ways to economise, such as not spending money on material possessions which have no long-term value.  About clothes for instance, there are ways to look stunning without spending a lot of money.  Our people need to know that there is good debt (such as student loans, business loans, mortgages) and there is bad debt (for instance, credit cards with often high interest rates which can take years to pay off).  To conclude, I would say that the government can set up enterprise zones with tax breaks to favour the creation of small businesses.

    P.T.  I would like to say that for a long time, I have been fascinated by the story of Madam C.J. Walker who became the first self-made female millionaire in America.  So, this is concrete proof that there is a way for African-Americans to build a stronger economy.  They have their resources.

    P.T.   My next question is where would you like to be on a personal and professional level ten years from now?

    S.U.When you have a daughter, things change.  So, ten years from now I would like to see her in a great private school, excelling, doing well.  When I was younger, I was talented in different areas and I wish that the same things will happen to my daughter.  I want to help her discover herself and see what she’s really good at (math, tennis, acting, modelling…) and encourage her.  I want my daughter to be happy and choose her own path.  My focus is not on me anymore.  But, if I have to find a goal for myself the main thing for me is to be more stable and strengthen my entrepreneurial career.  I have a life insurance company (which offers mortgage protection) since 2007.  I would like to become a multimillionaire.  This would allow me to give everything that my daughter will need (go to the best universities…) and it would offer me protection if in the future I have health problems which would prevent me from working, for instance.  It gives more freedom when you don’t have to think about essential expenses.  About myself, right now I am single but I hope that I will be eventually married.  I would like to have more stability in my personal life.

    P.T.  To finish, do you have a message for our readers?

    S.U. Without risks there are no rewards in my book.  Go for what you are passionate about and do not settle.  Do not let anyone stop you and don’t take no for an answer.  Also, hard work is the key to success.  Always try to surpass yourself and attain high goals.

    P.T.  Thanks for this great interview, Mrs.  Upchurch.  It was a real pleasure to speak to you!



    [1] Source:  Jeffrey M.  Humphreys, The Multicultural Economy 2008(Athens, GA:  Selig Center for Economic Growth, University of Georgia, 2008), 14; See Table 1

    [2] Source:  Magazine Publishers of America, “African-American/Black Market Profile” New York, 2008

  • Exclusive interview with Chris Jasper, former member of the Isley Brothers

    Chris Jasper (born Christopher H. Jasper, Cincinnati, Ohio) has been involved in music since his childhood.  At age seven his mother noticed that he was a gifted musician and could play Motown’s songs by ear on his piano;  she encouraged him to take piano lessons.  The Isley Brothers[1] and Chris Jasper grew up on the same block in their native Cincinnati.  In 1959, the group scored their first big hit, ''Shout,''[2] (a soul single that reflected the call-and-response style of gospel music and the vocal style of the group) and their second big hit “Twist and Shout” later covered by the Beatles in 1962[3].  More hits followed such as ''This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)'' with Motown Records in 1966, produced by the Dozier&Holland team.

    In 1969, the Isleys got a manufacturing and distribution (custom label) deal with Buddah Records and later with CBS Records in 1973.  That same year, Jasper became an integral member of both The Isley Brothers and later Isley-Jasper-Isley. Jasper''s first appearance on an Isley Brothers album was 1969''s It''s your Thing.  This funk-flavored single became a major success in the summer of 1969.  Between 1969 and 1971 other great funk successes were released with Jasper’s contribution, such as “Work to do” and “Get into Something”.  His keyboard and Moog synthesizer work became a primary ingredient of The Isley Brothers sound of the 1970s and 1980s.  This period was the gold and platinum years of the group from the “3+3”[4] (1973) to “Go All The Way” (1980) albums.  These CDs mixed soul with elements of folk rock and funk rock.  On the “3+3” album, Chris Jasper co-wrote with Ernie Isley “That Lady” which became a hit reaching number six on the Hot 100 and number fourteen in the UK.  Their follow-up song, “What It Comes Down To” was a top five R&B hit.    “Live It up”[5] (1974) and “The heat is on” (1975) delivered social messages regarding problems that African-American were encountering.  During this time, Jasper had an opportunity to work with synthesizer pioneer Malcolm Cecil, who was a key influence for Stevie Wonder on his album, ''Music of My Mind''.  It is important to add that these were the years when The Isley Brothers were a self-produced and self-contained major recording act.  Chris Jasper contributed to the writing and production of the group’s music during this period, including great love songs such as “For The Love of You Pts.  1&2” and  “Between the Sheets”. The group later released other hits like “Harvest for the World” and “Fight the Power Pts.  1&2” (the latter was co-written by Chris Jasper and Ernie Isley, also produced by Chris Jasper).  Fourteen years later, this song became another success when a more militant rap version was recorded by the group Public Enemy.  “Between the sheets” a classic funk song released in 1983 was later sampled by Notorious B.I.G. with “Big Poppa”.

    In this respect, the classically-trained background (from the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in New York City) of Jasper with an expertise on the keyboards with Moog synthesizers are the foundations of the legendary “Isley Brothers Sound”.  Thus, Jasper is a classically trained musician and composer.   In addition to his education at Juilliard, he received a degree in music composition from C.W. Post, Long Island University, New York, where he studied with the jazz pianist and composer, Billy Taylor.  Jasper also earned a J.D. at Concord University (School of Law).

    In 1984, Jasper and the younger Isleys (Marvin[6] and Ernie Isley) left The Isley Brothers to form the splinter group Isley-Jasper-Isley. Their first release was ''Broadway''s closer to Sunset Boulevard'' (including the popular track on U.K. soul radio ''Can''t Get Over Losing You'').  Chris Jasper brought his special sound and musical talents to the new group.  Jasper sang lead vocals on the group''s biggest hit, "Caravan of Love” (1985) which was covered later by English recording group, the Housemartins, an international number 1 pop hit.  “Caravan” was also used in commercials as part of a Dodge Caravan advertising campaign.  The final Isley / Jasper / Isley album was ‘Different Drummer’. Jasper received the CEBA Award for Excellence for a Miller Brewing Company commercial that featured “Brother to Brother” from the final Isley/Jasper/Isley album ‘Different Drummer’.    The group separated in 1987.  Jasper and Ernie Isley went on to solo careers.  Jasper''s solo career spawned the #3 R&B hit, "Super Bad", in 1988.  This single topped the urban charts. Chris Jasper pursued his songwriting and produced his own R&B/Gospel music, as well as other artists, for his independent record label (that he founded) Gold City Records (www.goldcitymusic.com).

    Thus, Jasper is a successful solo artist and album producer, recording a number of his own solo CDs, and producing artists, for his New York based record label, Gold City Records, distributed by CBS Records.  Moreover, Jasper has produced, performed and written music for other artists, including Liz Hogue''s debut album “Vicious & Fresh” and "Make It Last" for Chaka Khan''s C.K. album. Many recording artists covered and sampled Chris Jasper’s music:  Whitney Houston, Jay-Z, Fantasia, Will Smith, Aaliyah, Ice Cube, Queen Latifah, Notorious B.I.G, Tupac, Natalie Cole, just to name a few.  Jasper is an eclectic artist who has contributed to many genres such as R&B, Jazz and Soul.  After becoming a born-again Christian, Chris Jasper released a succession of gospel albums. 1995''s ''Deep Inside'' marked Chris Jasper''s return to R&B/pop music, with a good cover of Marvin Gaye''s ''What''s Going On''.

    In January 1992, Jasper was inducted (by Little Richard), along with the rest of The Isley Brothers into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The work of The Isley Brothers has spanned over six decades and has significantly influenced popular music.  It is important to note that The Isley Brothers is the only group in history to chart in six decades.  Their music is timeless.  The group received two Grammy Awards respectively in 1970 and 1999.  Their music has been part of ten movie soundtracks such as Friday, Wedding Crashers and Boys Don’t Cry.

    Jasper’s latest CD “Everything I Do” was released on June 2010 and is dedicated to his wife Margie Jasper.  Chris Jasper sounds like Marvin Gaye in the song “Don’t Take Your Love Away” from his latest CD.  The entire album has a nice funky beat as listeners will discover.

    In conclusion, throughout the years, many of the compositions for The Isley Brothers, which involved Chris'' songwriting input, have been sampled / covered by a wide range of artists from Ice Cube to Aaliyah. The series of U.S. hits (of the Isley Brothers) from the ‘50s to the ‘90s and their musical diversity (gospel, doo-wop, R&B, soul, funk, rock and roll and disco) have been a major influence on the music industry.  Chris Jasper placed himself at the avant-garde (with his independent thinking) by using the keyboard before it became a trend.  Jasper has made a significant contribution on the music scene with the synthesizer which defined in a major way the sound of the 80s.  He looked after the music and the lyrics of most of The Isley Brothers’ recordings while he was a member of the group.  On a personal level, Jasper resides in New York with his wife of 28 years, Margie Jasper, an attorney and writer, and their three sons, Michael, Nick and Christopher.  Interview conducted by the columnist of Afro Toronto Patricia Turnier and the Editress-in-Chief of Mega Diversities in January 2011.

    Patricia Turnier talks to Chris Jasper:

    P.T.  Which artists did you admire during your childhood and did you have a mentor?

    C.J.I had a few artists that I admired growing up…Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson and Marvin Gaye. I liked their styles of singing and their phrasing.  I guess that’s a big influence on the way I sing today.  I didn’t have a mentor for popular music but for classical music, that would have been Professor Gibbs of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. I started studying piano with Professor Gibbs at the age of 7 and continued until I was about 14. He was a classically trained pianist and introduced me to many composers: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Debussy.  I was most influenced by Debussy. I was intrigued by the chord structures that he used and his melodies.  I used those elements in the music I wrote when I was with The Isley Brothers which I think gave their music a different sound from everyone else. I still use those elements in the music I continue to write, in particular the ballads.

    P.T.  What did you learn from your experience at the prestigious Juilliard school?

    C.J.One thing that stands out is that I learned how to compose different types of music which included atonal music; before this genre was completely foreign to me. It required some getting used to, but since I was a composition major, it was something I did and found out the different uses for it. It wouldn’t be useful in popular music; however, in motion picture scores, atonal music had already been employed. In that sense, it broadened my musical horizons.

    P.T.  Should young people have a classical background to obtain longevity and success as artists?

    C.J.I think classical training is important because it broadens a musician’s knowledge of musical structure, musical history, music theory and analysis, which is important because the more you know about music, the more you can produce. As far as longevity is concerned, that

    depends upon the success of the projects, the artist’s talent level and their determination to succeed.

    P.T.  When you joined The Isley Brothers in the ‘60s, you were a pioneer as a synthesizer musician.  How did you know at the time that this instrument would have such an impact on the music scene, especially Funk which evolved from Soul music and incorporated psychedelic elements?

    C.J.The first time I was introduced to the synthesizer was at Juilliard. The professor I had at the time was not using it to compose popular music.  However, as I heard some of the songs that the synthesizer could create, I realized that the instrument had a vast capability of producing sounds that would be accepted in the popular genre.

    Also, at about the same time, I was introduced to the synthesizer, another pioneer by the name of Stevie Wonder, had recorded an album entitled “Music of My Mind” which validated my idea that synthesizers could be used in popular music very effectively. After that, I began to use synthesizers in many of my compositions such as “Highways of My Life”, “Lover’s Eve”, “For the Love of You”, “Fight the Power”, “Live it Up”, “The Heat is On”, “Caravan of Love”, and the list goes on and on.

    P.T.  It is rare in popular music to see females playing an instrument in groups or solo.  In the ‘80s, we started to see more of them like The Go-Go’s, Klymaxx, Sheila E., The Bangles, etc.  How do you explain the lack of female musicians in popular songs?

    C.J.When I was coming up, there weren’t that many women playing instruments, especially those instruments that comprised the rhythm section such as drums, bass, and guitar. It may be just a personal choice because those instruments are physically demanding. 

    P.T.  About your latest album “Everything I do”, what message do you want people to take away from it?

    C.J.I guess the main message I would want people to take from it is the message in the title song…that is, the relationship between a husband and wife is very important. Like the Bible says, “husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church and gave Himself for it”, which the lyrics of the song try to convey…”Everything I do, revolves around you.” Also, my last album, “With Love”, was all love songs, so, I wanted to put out an album that showed my other musical side which is the funk side.

    P.T.  It is seldom that artists sing about the importance of education.  Can you talk about your song Superbad which covers this theme on your latest album?

    C.J.“Superbad” was written to encourage young people to focus on education rather than what they may see and hear out on the street. It is even truer today than when I wrote the song in 1987. It seems that education is more accessible now but for some reason many young people are not choosing to take advantage of it.  I don’t believe, just like the song says, that you can be “cool” without being educated. And the line in the song says “Education really makes me cool, the word’s out, that I’m number one in school” and I hope that young people will embrace more this message.

    P.T.  You have been involved in the music business for decades.  In the past, very few African-American artists owned and controlled the production of their music.  What is your assessment as an artist and jurist on this issue for today?  Do you think that some riders and solutions are required?

    C.J.I believe it is important for an artist to control the production of their music; if they are capable as a producer. It is important for an artist to be as versatile as possible, to be an artist, to be a songwriter, and to be a producer. If they can do those things, they will be able to control the total production of their music and also have ownership of their copyrights.  Ownership is important because the owner of the copyrights is the person who controls the exploitation of the music and also controls the income streams. If it is not possible for one person to do all of those things, they should strive to do the most that they can. However, this goes back to what I was saying before about learning as much as possible and not just entering the business to be a performer. Many artists today do not grasp the importance of training and education.  This situation puts them at a disadvantage.

    P.T.  Do you think that music has been integrated longer than people?

    C.J.In America, the arts sort of reflected what was going on in society.  However, in some of the big bands of the 20s, 30s and 40s, you had integrated bands and even later.  For instance, America had the interracial group Sly & Family Stone (of the late 1960s) which had a similar soul funk sound like The Isley Brothers.  This is an example of integration in music which started decades ago.  It included Blacks, Whites and women as well as men who had national visibility in the 60s and 70s.

    The music industry, however, was segregated in the past.  So, I guess you can say on one hand, musicians played together, but the music was marketed to different audiences (Black America/White America).  Even during the 50s, 60s and 70s, there were pop stations that played primarily white artists, and the R&B stations played primarily black artists.  The charts reflected that and it was more difficult to cross over. This situation has changed a lot now and it is more about the music than the artist’s race or nationality. So, within the world of musicians, there was some integration before it was made known to the public.

    P.T.  You wrote in the past for high caliber artists such as Chaka Khan.  Are you planning in the future to pen for others?

    C.J.If the right opportunity presents itself, that is something I would consider. We have also developed a pretty substantial catalogue of music for our publishing company and I would like to place some of that music with the right artist. However, right now I am focusing on the projects  I have released on my Gold City label, including my son Michael’s CD, “Addictive,” a dance, pop, techno CD which we co-produced.

    P.T.  Throughout your career, what was your favorite CD to make and why?

    C.J.I think my favorite CD was “Caravan of Love” with Marvin and Ernie Isley when we formed “Isley-Jasper-Isley.” It was a kind of turning point in my life.  This song has such a universal and timeless message.  It is the first song which I sang lead and it went number 1.  It also became an international hit, especially after the English group, the Housemartins covered it.

    P.T.  How did you feel in 1992 when you were inducted along with the rest of The Isley Brothers into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

    C.J.To be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a great honor. It  was recognition by the industry of all of the things that were accomplished by the group. 

    P.T.  Can the fans expect a comeback in the future with the entire living former Isley Brothers?

    C.J.As you know, there are some members that are no longer with us.  O’Kelley Isley passed away in 1986 and Marvin recently left us last June.  Right now, there is no longer a group performing as The Isley Brothers.  Ronald and Ernie are solo artists and Rudolph has retired.  In this respect, it would not be easy to have everybody for a reunion.

    P.T.  Few people in the music business are able to maintain a marriage for 28 years.  What is your secret?

    C.J.Number one is that I have a wonderful wife. It is not often that you find a perfect match. I have been fortunate enough and blessed to find that perfect match. If there is a secret, it is that we have a relationship where it just feels natural to be together all the time…friends, lovers and business partners. 

    P.T.  Do you have some advice to give to people who want to be in the music business and who wish to find balance in their personal lives?

    C.J.I tell aspiring artists that, first of all, your personal life is more important. Who you are as a person, your values, your integrity as a person…it’s more important than anything else and that should carry over into your career. 

    P.T.  Do you have a message for young people who want to be in the music industry?

    C.J.You have to be wise, educated and of course talented.  It is important also to be honest with yourself about your talent. If you maintain your integrity and good judgment, you are less likely to get caught up in the hype and traps that some aspiring artists fall into.  To finish, a classical training helps because it makes you less vulnerable to just become the new flavor of the month.

    P.T.  Thanks for this great interview, it was an honor to interview you Mr.  Jasper!

     

    Discography

    Superbad (Gold City 1987)

    Time bomb (Gold City 1989)

    Praise the Eternal (Gold City 1992)

    Deep Inside (Gold City 1995)

    Faithful And True (Gold City 2001)

    With Love (Gold City 2003)

    Amazing Love (Gold City 2005)

    Invincible (Gold City 2007)

    Everything I Do (Gold City 2010)

    Official Web site of Gold City Records, Inc.:  www.goldcitymusic.com



    [1] The group’s members:  O’Kelly Isley (who died in 1986) was a member from 1954 to 1986, Rudolph Isley from 1954 to 1989, Ronald Isley, alias Mr.  Biggs (a member since 1954 who is now a solo artist), Vernon Isley (who died in 1955) from 1954 to 1955, Chris Jasper from 1969 to 1984, Ernie Isley 1969-1984 and during the 90s (now he has a solo career), Marvin Isley (who died in 2010) from 1969 to 1984 and from 1991 to 1997.

    [2] This song was covered by The Beatles during their developing careers

    [3] The Isley Brothers under pressure from Wand Records released vapid rewrites of “Twist and Shout” (like “Surf and Shout”) until they founded their own label, T-Neck in 1964.  This record company captured the early guitar innovations of Jimi Hendrix, then named Jimmy James (he was homeless at the time and was discovered by O’Kelly Isley) who collaborated with The Isley Brothers during the mid-1960s.  The Isley Brothers made history by becoming the firstgroup to form their own label.  At the time, the few black recording artists who followed this path were Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and later Curtis Mayfield.

    [4] This CD sold over one million copies

    [5] This CD also sold over one million copies

    [6] Above-mentioned, Marvin Isley died on June 6th 2010 at Seasons Hospice of Weiss Memorial Hospital (Illinois) following complications with diabetes.

  • ... the Right Thing to Do

    The Canadian Film Centre kicked off  their  Black History Month celebrations with an enriching evening with award-winning Writer/Director, Spike Lee. Spike is currently on a book promo tour for his latest endeavour, Spike Lee: Do The Right Thing.  The book celebrates the 20th anniversary of Do the Right thing''s film debut and provides an insiders view to the making of the seminal movie.

    Throughout the evening Spike's unapologetic banter reminded us why he's one of Hollywood's vanguards. Fearlessness and passion have always been hallmarks of his work but throughout this discussion it became apparent that what makes his films legendary are the poignancy and timelessness of  the themes encapsulated in each.  Do the right thing,is arguably his most celebrated film, one which solidified his career not only as a filmmaker but as a gifted story-teller. Its mark on filmmaking is undeniable. America's views on race and youth culture were all showcased in a manner deceptively simple and devastatingly honest. So, it was only fitting that on a night chosen to celebrate this breakthrough film, Spike felt inclined to speak candidly on the role of music in his films, the role his family has played in his projects and Hollywood''s double standards.

    The event's format served as a retrospective on his work, with Canadian Director, Clement Virgo moderating. Using clips from some of Spike's most famous films as a jumping off point to discuss his methodologies as a filmmaker, Virgo started the evening with a scene from Do the right thing.

    Spike readily admitted that he chose music not as a background motif but to serve as a character that we the audience could identify with. Who among us hasn't heard Chuck D's  distinctive hook in Fight the Power, and not instantly thought of Do the right thing?

    Spike also revealed that the use of the “floating effect”in Do the right thing and Malcolm X was a deliberate  effort to animate a character's thought process. But, the most  revealing discussion surrounded the film Crooklyn. Though his father jazz musician, Bill Lee, had worked on the musical score for a number of his films, Crooklyna story about an african-american family set in the 60s and 70s, was a Lee family collaboration in full. The screenplay was written by his sister, Joie Lee and brother Cinque Lee, and according to Spike was semi-autobiographical. The four kids are coming of age in an urban city and dealing with the vulnerability that comes with the loss of a parent, a theme that hit  close to home in Spike's case.

    The idea of vulnerability was also brought up in discussion on Hollywood's double standards when it comes to artistic expression. Not reticence in sharing his opinion, Spike candidly recalled how he was offered the directorial job on Michael Jackson''s “They don''t care about us” video and the painful backlash Michael faced because of the History album''s controversial themes. In his response to questions on Michael''s artistry, Spike argued that artistic license in the film industry and the music industry has not been evenly judged, consequently leaving artist like Michael heavily penalized for their creativity, while white counterparts rarely are given such reprimands for pushing boundaries. It was an interesting point of discussion, one which further highlighted Spike's willingness to go where many others fear to tread because, in his world, it’s the right thing to do. Do the right thingis loved universally for the raw honesty in Spike's storytelling and in an ever changing world and film industry it’s refreshing to see that he hasn't.

  • Ousmane Sembène: In the Face of History

     Perfectly fitting for Black History Month, TIFFBell Lightbox will present starting tomorrow, Saturday, February 5th, 2011 until Sunday, February 13th, Ousmane Sembène: In the Face of History -- a cinematic retrospective featuring the late Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembène (1923-2007). Often referred to as “the father of African cinema,” Sembène was a true pioneer of African cinema.

    Both a writer and filmmaker, Ousmane Sembène was acutely aware that cinema was a much more potent tool to foster political change and mass awareness in Africa than the written word. He was not content to simply have a following among the tiny cultural elite who were adepts of his books. A man of the people himself from a humble background, he worked as a factory labourer and docker in post-war France following his service in the French colonial army in World War II. Active in the trade union movement, he became sympathetic to the discourse of Marxists while never adhering himself to any political party

    After returning to Senegal in 1960, he more than ever felt that becoming a filmmaker would be the most effective way to affect real change -- particularly given the high level of illiteracy in his homeland. Several of his films were in fact film adaptations of his earlier novels and short stories. At the age of 40, he returned to Europe to learn the art of cinematography at the Gorki Studios in Moscow.

    He produced his first feature film, La Noire de … (Black Girl), in 1966. It was the first feature film ever released by a sub-Saharan African director.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1nwDpVNEEh4

    AfroToronto.com recently had the opportunity to discuss the work and legacy of Ousmane Sembène with Carleton University Assistant Professor of Film Studies Aboubakar Sanogo. Professor Sanogo will be present at Totonto’s TIFF Lightbox for a free lecture on Saturday, February 5th at 5pm.

    Professor Sanogo pointed out to us that La Noire de... (Black Girl) is a visionary film which came 40 years before its time.

    The film tells the story of a hopeful, young and beautiful Senegalese servant, Diouana (Mbissine Thérèse Diop), who arrives in the picturesque French Riviera town of Antibes to work for a French colonial couple. Back in Senegal, she had been hired to take care of the couple’s children. But when she arrived in France, her hopes of finding a better life in Europe were dashed. She soon realized that she was not being given the freedom to go outside and was increasingly treated as nothing more than a servant.

    Professor Aboubakar Sanogo believes that the film is very relevant to modern Africa because many of the continent’s youth dream of leaving Africa to live what they perceive would be a better life in Europe. “While Sembène portrayed what was at the time individual journeys of immigration, today we are faced with a massive exodus out of Africa” Sanago says. “There is a kind dynamic focusing on both current events and an anticipated future in much of Sembène’s work” he adds.

    Another Ousmane Sembène film which is very relevant to the current situation of Africans and their relationship with Europe is 1987’sCamp de Thiaroye.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-YXbSCITy8

    Camp de Thiaroye is a historical fiction based on the real events surrounding the Thiaroye transit camp massacre in 1944. The film tells the story of West African colonial troops who are stationed in a transition and repatriation camp after fighting France’s war in the trenches of World War II Europe. Sembène brings to light the heroic exploits of these unsung heroes of the Great War and how they were discarded, lied to and mistreated after their useful service in the war effort.

    Sembène was definitely a political filmmaker. He did not shy away from admiting to that. According to Ousmane Sembène, cinema has a political role in society. The Socratic city could not in good conscience be left entirely in the hands of the rulers. Cinema has to play a role in maintaining democracy by offering a critical voice which is accessible to the masses of the people.

    “The film was censored in France for a very long time”Aboubakar Sanogo tells AfroToronto.com. “It came out in France maybe 8 or 10 years after its official release.... Even when he was making the film, French military helicopters were circling above the set. … The French have invested a lot of money in African cinema; even in some of Sembène’s films. But forCamp de Thiaroye,they did not invest a penny. It’s not devoid of meaning.  We know why. Because, as you know, the history is problematic. The truth is that France could never have come out of World War II as they did without Africa. … The French have denied this fact for a long time.”

    Professor Sanogo goes on to point out that having this discussion through Sembène’s film is important because it’s at the heart of today’s immigration debate in France. African youth have a difficult time coming to terms with their exclusion from French society in terms or jobs and social mobility given Africa’s contribution to French society.

    Films likeCamp de Thiaroye and the more recent Indigènes by Rachid Bouchareb, which tells the similar story of North African French colonial forces in World War II, serve as important agents of social change. 

    Speaking of this vision of the role of film in society as expressed byOusmane Sembène, ProfessorAboubakar Sanogo says:

    “This idea is present in the minds of all African filmmakers. Ousmane Sembène is a great ghost [laughs] who will haunt African cinema for generations in one way or the other. Whether they are Marxists or not, African filmmakers somehow now have this nagging worry and anxiety. They ask themselves how they can, through their films, help to shape Africa. This is a direct consequence of Ousmane Sembène”.

    Promotion note:If you buy a ticket to any Ousmane Sembene screening, you will receive a free ticket to the In Person event with Aboubakar Sanogo on Feb 5th.

  • Spike Lee: For the love of film and music

    Last week, as part of the TD-sponsored Then and Now: A celebration of Black History Month series of cultural events, Toronto welcomed acclaimed filmmaker Spike Lee. This conversation, moderated by Canadian filmmaker Clement Virgo and presented by the Canadian Film Centre (CFC) examined Spike Lee’s body of work and his masterful use of music to evoke emotions in his films. The packed event held at Cineplex Odeon’s Varsity Theatre was a fitting launch to our city’s Black History Month celebrations.

    There perhaps is no better example of Lee’s powerful repeated use of music as a central character than Public Enemy’s epic anthem “Fight The Power” from his defining 1989 film, Do the Right Thing.

    The Anthem

    As part if the evening format’s combination of conversation and short film clips, Clement Virgo played Do The Right Thing’s title credits intro sequence featuring Rosie Perez dancing to “Fight the Power”.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dyDWNT0TnZE

    One of the most powerful things about music is that it can carry with it emotions and slices of life in a time capsule. Particular songs have the ability to transport us years in the past -- right back into the smells, textures and aura of defining times gone by.

    On a personal level, I was taken back to 1989 Bronx, New York. To Fordham Road, in particular, where I spent all my summers growing up in an eclectic Black and Hispanic neighbourhood so reminiscent of a classic Spike Lee joint.

    That summer, this song played everywhere. It was unmistakably present in any of the $10 audio cassette mixtapes my cousins and I bought at the corner of Fordham Road and Webster Avenue -- along with classic tracks from Biz Markie, Boogie Down Productions, EU and Eric B. & Rakim.

    As Spike Lee rightly pointed out: “Every summer in New York there's one song that''s an anthem, that you can hear come out of people's houses, cars. … We shot the film in the summer of '88 and (the movie) was coming out the summer of '89 so we wanted this song to be the anthem of 1989. And we wanted the song to reflect what the film was about. So right away it had to be Public Enemy."

    In what proved to be just one of a few interesting little-known facts about his musical collaborations, Spike Lee revealed that Public Enemy’s Chuck D had originally come to him with a different song but Lee felt it wasn’t the one.

    "I said, 'You've got to come back and give me something better'," Lee said to laughs from the audience. His instinct was definitely right. 'Do the Right Thing without ''Fight the Power'' is a different movie” added Spike Lee.

    Music as a separate character and a family affair

    Spike Lee has often discussed how music had always been a part of his home growing up. His father, Bill Lee, wrote the scores of many of his films including She''s Gotta Have It, School Daze, Do the Right Thing and Mo' Better Blues. A renowned musician, his father collaborated with many of music’s luminaries such as Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Aretha Franklin and Peter Paul & Mary. "That's him on 'Puff the Magic Dragon,'' Lee said laughing.

    The Lee family having moved to New York from Georgia when Spike was a small child, the influence of southern jazz musicians was strong in the Lee household. Spike recounts how the great names of New Orleans jazz such as the Marsalis clan were fixtures around their neighbourhood in New York.

    One of those New Orleans musicians who moved to New York to make a name in jazz and became acquainted with Spike Lee was Terrance Blanchard. As Blanchard told NPR:

    “I’d been hired in several of Spike’s earlier projects, Skool Days and Do the Right Thing. Just as a session player and when we were doing Mo’ Better Blues Spike heard me play something on the piano and asked if he could use it. And we recorded it just as a solo trumpet piece and then he asked if I could write a string arrangement for him and I did. And Spike came over and said you have a talent for this and you have a future in the film business. … And he called me to do Jungle Fever and we’ve been working together ever since.”

    Spike Lee recounted that same story with Terrence Blanchard from the set of Mo’ Better Blues at the event last week. In particular, he spoke of how Blanchard’s music was instrumental to the score of his film Malcolm X.

    “Spike always views his music as a separate character – a whole other piece to the puzzle. And he’s always paid a lot of respect to the music; not only mine but the incidental music as well” Blanchard also said to NPR.

    Other musicians Spike Lee has worked with include the likes of Prince, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson. Lee shared with the amazed crowd the interesting story behind how he got to work with Michael Jackson on his “They Don't Care About Us" video for the late King of Pop’s History album. He told the same story to Time Magazine:

    “Can I tell you a quick story? Michael Jackson called me up and said, 'Spike, I want to meet you, I'm coming to New York.' I said, 'Well where you want to meet?' He says, 'I want to come to your house.' I live in Brooklyn! He wants to come to my house! So, Michael Jackson came to my house in Brooklyn, New York — this was when I was living in Fort Greene. And he said, I want you to direct a video for me. My new album''s coming out, pick a song. So we listened to all the songs and I picked 'Stranger in Moscow.' And he said, I don't want you to do that one. And I said, 'Michael, just tell me which one you want me to do! Why ask me to pick one?' And he laughed and he said he wanted me to do 'They Don't Care About Us.' That's how it happened.”

    The controversies

    Of course, no conversation evening with Spike Lee would be complete without touching on some of the controversies which have followed his work throughout his career. Spike’s films have touched many hot buttons such as Black-on-Black skin colour prejudice, interracial relationships, race relations and religion.

    Long before Chris Rock talked about Black women’s conflicting relationship with their hair, Spike Lee exposed the good hair/bad hair and light skin/dark skin existential crisis in his 1988 film Skool Days.

    His 1991 film Jung Fever blew the lid open on the sexual stereotypes and cross/inter-community prejudice surrounding interracial relationships.

    It’s indeed an undeniable fact that Spike Lee’s films have redefined the role and reach of cinema to foster contemporary social debate and foster political change through popular culture.

  • Ruined: An interview with Yanna McIntosh

    Ruined, the 2009 Pulitzer Prize award-winning play, is the latest work by acclaimed playwright Lynn Nottage to make its way to Toronto. This production by Obsidian Theatre in association with Nightwood Theatre is currently running at Berkley Street Theatre until February 12, 2011.

    Set in a present-day small mining town in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ruined takes us into a war-ravaged world where difficult choices in the face of often agonizing alternatives must be made every day. The play follows Mama Nadi, an industrious woman running a bar and brothel on the outskirts of the rain forest where a bloody civil way is being waged.

    Mama Nadi’s war-profiteering establishment acts as temporary shelter from the chaos and bullets heard flying outside. Miners and rebel soldiers seek refuge in Mama Nadi’s neutral grounds to enjoy a good beer and find solace with Mama Nadi’s girls who seductively dance for them, sit on their laps and take them to the back rooms for the right price.

    Although the soldiers are required to leave their guns at the door, it’s evident that the war is still being waged upon the bodies of these young women who serve as an equally raw and brutal battleground.

    These ruined young women who have been raped and mutilated before seeking refuge with Mama Nadi have made a heart-wrenching choice. Their own sense of survival and self-preservation itself becomes a currency traded at the crossroads of terror and relative safety.

    AfroToronto.com recently had the opportunity to talk with accomplished thespian Yanna McIntosh, who plays the role of Mama Nadi. We asked her how she felt her character reconciles with her dual role as a protector and exploiter. She replies:

    “I don’t know if you do reconcile it.... I mean I think you’re absolutely right, she is a protector. She is pro woman. At the same time that she is an exploiter. She’s living off them. Her business is running a bar, keeping the soldiers happy. And one of the ways to keep the soldiers happy is to give them girls to come in and be with. I don’t think she really reconciles it even for herself. I keep asking myself, what would Mama Nadi be or do if she had been born somewhere else, in another environment.”

    McIntosh goes on to say that we all have to survive and the way we survive is to work. Some of us open a nice salon, become a lawyer or teacher. “We have five choices in life. And we’re going to take the best of those five choices. And you know, being in this environment... the girls around her would rather be with her any day. Because out there is so much worse. Even in their home, they are taken without regard. At least here, there’s a transaction. There’s a negotiation” she adds.

    Salima, played by Sophia Walker, is one of the girls in Mama Nadi’s brothel who has to make this choice. A country girl with little schooling, Salima was married with a child when she was raped by a soldier. Her baby was killed in the ordeal and she was held captive by the rebels for several months. After she was freed, she returned to her family and village but she was shunned. She was accused of bringing this misery onto herself. They did not want to be associated with her shame.

    Salima was eventually brought to Mama Nadi’s brothel after having been picked up on the road by Christian (played by Sterling Jarvis) who was himself dropping off his niece, Sophie.

    “It’s a safe place for them” says Yanna McIntosh. “Along the road, they’re just going to be abused, they’re going to be raped again. They could be killed. They’ll starve. But at least here they’ll get some food. Yes, they will have to sell themselves to keep food in their mouth and a roof over their head but that’s better than life on the road.”

    The plays’ director, Obsidian Theatre’s Philip Akin, says: “This story has hit me deep inside and no matter what, I needed to bring this play to the stage. This is a play of survivors. Not victims.”

     

    www.obsidian-theatre.com or www.nightwoodtheatre.net

  • Aroni Awards; inspiring and building our community

    5 years ago I attended an award show which embodied a unique sense of family, community and inspiration, it was the Aroni Awards; a show created to honour the memory of Aron Haile. An accomplished entrepreneur and software developer, Aron died tragically at the age of 30 in an accident in Eritea.

    Aron was known in the community for his willingness to mentor, which provided him with many meaningful relationships while giving back to his community.

    Honouring a young man taken all too soon, the Aroni awards standout because where many award shows may celebrate a body of work that encompasses a lifetime, the Aroni’s recognize not only lifelong work but also those in the infancy of their community activism.

    After 5 years the show has garnered a reputation for its innovative approach and youthful energy, and this year was no exception. The showcased its diversity, through its awardees, sponsors and volunteers.

    This year’s recipients included Aliyana Reshamwalla who at 5 years old was being honoured for her community service. She also deserves special mention for being the most adorable recipient of the evening. After spending 3 years in Sick kids hospital, Aliyana has gone on to organize fundraisers for Haiti and Pakistan disaster victims. Her story was not only inspirational but a great reminder that recognizing community spirit should not be dependant on a long list of accomplishments.

    Also honoured was female entrepreneur and motivational speaker, Belinda Barrocks. She was given the Youth & Entreprenurship award, because of her work mentoring teenagers. Her acceptance speech was a beautiful tribute to her family, her faith and the power of believing in your dreams.

    Not only were the recipients showcased but sponsors from the community. One standout sponsor was Dreammaker Realty, a Community brokerage firm, committed to building generational wealth in marginalized communities.

    Dreammaker Brand and Community development executive, Ike Okafor, expressed why it was important for his firm to support the Aronis this year.

    “The demographic they’re honouring, speaks to the vision of the organizers. A critical aspect of mentoring is acknowledging the work of the youth in our community. Acknowledgement is important for the community and for the city because it is not only empowering our community but others.”

    Aron Haile exemplified the best our community has to offer, through his selflessness and hard work, and thanks to the Aroni Awards his memory and these leadership qualities will continue to thrive.

  • Exclusive interview with the Grammy and Juno award-winning chanter/songwriter Dan Hill

    Although Mr. Dan Hill doesn’t need any introduction, in case you have been living in another planet, allow us to present a résumé of his professional accomplishments. Mr. Daniel Grafton Hill IV was born in Toronto (Ontario, Canada) the 3rd of June 1954 to American parents who, as an interracial couple, moved to Canada to escape the twin scourges of racism (including laws against miscegenation) and McCarthyism. The couple also believed at the time that Canada provided a better environment to raise their family. The internationally renowned artist Dan Hill comes from a prominent family. His late father, Daniel G. Hill III was a social scientist and public servant. Before he came to Canada, he collaborated in the U.S. with the late eminent American sociologist E.  Franklin Frazier.

    Dan Hill’s father became in 1962 the first Director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the first black in the country to hold this position. Mr. Hill Sr., Ombudsman for Ontario was called Canada’s father of human rights. His wife, Donna Hill, was also a human rights activist when she was active.  Daniel Grafton Hill’s brother, Lawrence Hill, is a prominent writer. His sister, Karen Hill, is an authoress and a poetress. 

    Dan Hill [IV] is ranked among the world’s elite singers/songwriters; he is also a musician.  He plays piano and guitar. As a teenager, he admired artists such as Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. He began writing songs at the tender age of 14. He started to play professionally in small gatherings and coffee houses by the time he was 17. Two years later he signed with GRT Records in Canada and began his quick rise to fame.

    Hill became popular in North America after the release of his first album entitled Dan Hill in 1975. The song from this album “You Make Me Want To Be” was a hit in Canada. In 1977, Hill co-wrote his mega hit “Sometimes When We Touch” with Barry Mann ; he was just 23 years old. The popularity of “Sometimes When We Touch” made Dan Hill one of the youngest successful songwriters in the history of the music industry. This song became a Top Ten smash hit in the U.S. and an international success. This single went Gold in Canada. 

    “Sometimes When We Touch” was the first co-writing experience for Dan Hill.  He was named Top New Male Vocalist in both Cashbox and Record World. He won Juno awards for Composer of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year. “Sometimes When We Touch” also earned him his first Grammy nomination in 1979 for male vocalist of the year. The song was subsequently covered by Rod Stewart, Barry Manilow, Newton and Tina Turner.  It is among the most covered pop songs of all time.  The success of the song resulted in appearances on The Merv Griffin Show, The Mike Douglas Show and other shows. In 1985, Dan Hill was one of the many Canadian performers to appear on the benefit single "Tears Are Not Enough" by Northern Lights.

    Dan Hill made a come back in 1987 with another Top Ten hit “Can’t We Try”, a duet with Vonda Sheppard followed in 1988 with “Never Thought (That I Could Love)” which was number one on the charts.  Since then, his work has appeared on Billboard’s adult contemporary charts. A road trip to a Hill concert was the subject of the 1994 Canadian comedy film, South of Wawa. In 1997, Hill won a Grammy Award for co-writing and co-producing the song “Seduces Me” from Céline Dion’s breakthrough 1996 album Falling Into You (which sold over 32 millions albums). “Seduces Me” was re-released on Dion’s Collectors Series in 2004. It is important to note that in several concerts and interviews, Céline Dion mentioned that her favourite song from Falling Into You was Dan Hill’s “Seduces Me”. This single was written with John Sheard and co-produced by John Jones and Rick Hahn. In 1997, “Love of My Life” rose to number one on the U.S. country charts. In November of the same year, Dan Hill received The Harold Moon Award, a prestigious honor bestowed on Canadian songwriters for remarkable international contributions in songwriting. In 1999, prolific artists such as the R&B singer Deborah Cox collaborated on Dan Hill’s CD Love of My Life (The Best of Dan Hill).

    Dan Hill’s song “I Do (Cherish You)” was recorded by the pop group 98 Degrees and was featured in the worldwide hit movie Notting Hill (which starred Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant).  Dan Hill chanted the title song “It’s a Long Road” from Sylvester Stallone’s movie First Blood and the theme song from Rambo I. Hill has licensed his songs for countless other Hollywood movies such as The Phantom of the opera.

    Dan Hill’s work is eclectic, his songs have made it to country music charts, pop charts, and so on. The chanter also has his own U.S. label. His work has resulted in sales of over 100 million albums.  Hill has also written a best selling novel Comeback and a candid memoir I Am My Father’s Son:  A Memoir of Love and Forgiveness, published by Harper Collins. The book is dedicated to his late father, Daniel (Grafton) Hill III and to his mother Donna Mae Hill.  The Canadian magazine Now classified I Am My Father’s Son among the top 10 books of the year after its release. It recounts Dan Hill’s childhood and his complex relationship with his late father, as well as parents’ expectations of their children, his career as a performer and songwriter, his search for identity.  In essence, it is Hill’s inside look at growing up as a biracial child in Canada.  Many other subjects are covered in the book and taboos are wrecked such as ageism in the music business with all the complexities in this changing industry.  Thus, the book offers the reader an introspective insight into the artist’s personal and professional life.  On the cover of the memoir is a powerful and lovely picture of a child’s hand holding his father’s index finger. I Am My Father’s Son is a very well written memoir. The future readers will be deeply touched by the content. This intense, critically acclaimed book illustrates the universal relationship between fathers and sons. The author, Dan Hill is a very good story teller with a wonderful sense of humour.  He penned also several articles for prominent media settings such as the news magazine Maclean’s.

    When Dan Hill stops recording and performing to concentrate solely on writing for other acts, he resolves to never again play his songs and talk about his career except when he was working.  But he broke his promise and played one last song for his father the month before he went into his last coma. The song which has the same title as his book, “I Am My Father’s son”, is from his latest album, Intimate , released in 2010. The seamless single has power and grandeur; treats the complex father-son relationship with authenticity and it talks about forgiveness.  The album Intimate unites anew producers Matthew McCauley and Fred Mollin both working with Dan Hill for the first time since 1978. Together, the trio produced Dan''s first four platinum-selling albums. On Intimate, listeners will discover a great new acoustic version of his classic song “Sometimes When We Touch”.

    In spite of all his accomplishments, Dan Hill remains a down-to-earth and generous man who gives back to the community. For instance, he gives workshops to aspiring songwriters children across Canada.  He also devotes his time to social causes.  For example, he participated in a fundraising concert for Haïti following the devastating earthquake on the 12th of January 2010. In addition, as a community ambassador, Dan is a supporter of the Canadian Diabetes Association (www.diabetes.ca). The disease affects more than two million Canadians and an estimated 246 million people globally, as well as Dan''s grandfather, father, brother and himself. The latter was recently involved in a federal initiative to expand diabetes research with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Canada.

    Dan Hill nearly lost his son to gang violence and has become involved in Stop the Violence (www.stoptheviolence.ca/index.php?id=8). He is also dedicating much of his time to supporting World Vision (www.worldvision.ca), which works with children, families and communities to overcome poverty.

    To sum up, Dan Hill is a legendary talented and versatile artist with more than 30 years in the music business. His body of work draws on his personal experience and themes which touch his heart.  This is evident in his songs such as “McCarthy’s Day”, “Africville Skies” or “I Am My Father’s Son” to name a few. Throughout his career, Hill has earned  four number one songs released twelve top ten records, won a Grammy Award, five Juno Awards (the Canadian equivalent to the Grammy), four platinum albums in Canada, two gold albums (also in Canada), etc. It is important to note that Dan Hill is one of the few artists in North America who was granted a Grammy and five Juno awards among several other distinctions. It is a rare accomplishment. His songs have been performed by numerous top artists such as Céline Dion, George Benson, the Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees, Michael Bolton, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Britney Spears, Alan Jackson, Jully Black and others.

    Dan  Hill, the “Picasso of songwriting” is one of the most respected and accomplished high-caliber artists in the music industry. On a more personal level, he lives in Ontario (Canada) with his wife, an accomplished barrister, Beverly Chapin-Hill.  The couple has one son.  Mr.  Hill and his spouse have written two songs, “Can’t We Try” and “(Can This Be) Real Love”.  On August 23, 2010 we had the honor to speak to Mr.  Dan Hill who gave among other things priceless advice for aspirants who wish to follow in his footstep.  The interview was conducted in Canada by the columnist of Afrotoronto, Patricia Turnier, also Editress-in-Chief of www.megadiversities.com.

    Patricia Turnier talks to Dan Hill:

    P. T.  What made you decide to go public with your life story which focuses on your relationship with your late father? Was it a cathartic and healing experience for you to write your memoir I Am My Father’s Son?

    D.H.  When my father died, for the first time in my life I couldn’t write songs.  I was always writing songs since I was 14.  They always came easily to me.  I was so broken hearted that for the first time I was paralysed in the figurative sense, which prevented me from composing songs.  It was a dire period of my life.  Nevertheless, I always turned to songwriting when I was emotionally distressed or had upheavals in my life because it helps me cope with my feelings.  But for some reason, things were different when I lost my father.

    When my dad passed away, I realised that I was writing practically all my life to get his attention and approval.  When he died, I didn’t feel the need to pen because I could not try to impress him anymore.  So, I needed to take somewhere all the creative energy that I had inside of me.  This is how I realised that I should write a book, about my dad and me, our parallel lives, what made the man, my father…  It was a way to fill the void of not being able to write songs.  The more I wrote, the more intense and powerful it became.  The story had a grip on me and it gathered momentum.

    P.T.  In your book, you talk about your mixed heritage.  As a biracial individual, did you go through an identity crisis when you were younger?  If so, how did you overcome this?

    D.H.  I did go through an identity crisis based on my biracial background.  I grew up in an almost totally white neighborhood.  At some point, it was really hard for me and I even went through a period of self-locking and soul-searching.  I had to find out where I did fit in with my mixed heritage.  I overcame this issue by writing about it through prose, such as articles and songs.

    P.T.  You began to write songs at a young age, you were 14 years old.  Did you have at that time songwriters you looked up to?

    D.H.    Music is my first love and I grew up with it which has always been part of my family.  There was always music in my house.  My father had a wonderful singing voice.  All the time, he played great music and I heard great singers through him such as Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Billie Holiday and so on.  In itself, it was a wonderful learning experience which was an important part of my knowledge in the artistic arena.  I consider myself a music lover. Music has always been part of my life as long as I can remember.  I often sang to the beautiful tunes that my parents loved.  The way that my mother and my father responded to music with joy was an inspiration for me.  In other words, my family provided me an important musical influence.  This rich experience allowed me later to develop and perfect my style in the artistic realm.

    P.T.  In your brother’s (Lawrence Hill) book Black Berry, Sweet Juice, a best-seller in Canada, we learn that your late father had an amazing voice and you just spoke about it in answering my last question.  Was he one of the earliest people in your life who inspired you to become a chanter?

    D.H.   Yes, definitely.  He sang a lot and he had so much joy doing it.  He really had a beautiful voice.  I think unconsciously it inspired me to embrace a singing career.  I loved watching him sing which made him very happy.

    P.T.  Do you know if it was a dream of your father to become a singer when he was younger and did he decide to suppress this desire because he thought it was unrealistic?

    D.H.  It was never a dream of my father.  His singing was a hobby for him.  If we look into his background, his father was also into music; he sang, wrote songs, played many instruments.  However, the tradition in the Hill family is academic with earning Ph.Ds.  So, he followed this tradition of seeking a higher level education.

    P.T.  Since your teenage years, you started to write essays, short stories, poetry and articles.  Do you think that having the ability to write poetry is one of the greatest assets to become an excellent songwriter?

    D.H.  It is important to have the ability to express yourself with written words. You have to know how to be articulate. It really helps as a songwriter. Since my childhood, I was surrounded by people in my family who were writing. I had to pen letters and so on to relatives.  My parents and my grandfathers wrote books. Being in this kind of intellectual environment was a second nature for me.  Therefore, songwriting is very easy for me. I have a strong voice and I master some instruments such as the guitar. I think that having a training of different styles (poetry, prose) is an excellent basis to become a great songwriter. Having other abilities as a vocalist or as a musician is another great credential for songwriting.

    P.T.  What is your favourite song you wrote in your career and why?

    D.H.  This is a great question and a hard one. It is like trying to choose your favourite child. I have to say “I Am My Father’s Son” which is the last song I played for my dad before he passed away.  I think the lyrics are authentic, intense and powerful. I believe also that the theme is original. It is seldom that one hears this topic in a song.


    P.T.  When you co-wrote and co-produced  “Seduces Me” sung by Céline Dion (from the CD Falling Into You, one of the best-selling albums of all time, released on Women’s Day (the 8th of March 1996)), did you know it would be Grammy material and how did you feel when you received the award in 1997?

    D.H.  I thought it was an unusually strong song. It is powerful and has an erotic component to it. I do believe that it is one of the best songs that I penned. I did not conceive of it in terms of a Grammy. I try not to think about those things.  However, I knew it was a great song. When I co-wrote the single, I had the certainty that Céline [Dion] would do a great job. I knew that it would really resonate with her background. She comes from Québec and I knew she would bring the French romanticism in the song.  As a woman, I was convinced also that she had what it takes to bring the female sensuality in the song. She felt it and knew how to bring emotions into it. In other words, she understood the emotion behind the lyrics and knew how to get all that across. She has the ability to get deep into the song.

    P.T.  In what settings do you feel more comfortable to write your songs and how do you find your inspiration?

    D.H.  I try to write in almost any setting.  Also, I have to say that it depends on the situation.  Sometimes, I have to write with well-known singers and I have to pen with them in their settings.  When I am by myself with my own devices, I like to be in an acoustic place with my guitar and piano.  I keep playing until some interesting stuff begins to surface.  What can I say about my inspirations?  Well, let’s put it this way.  I think that every moment I am inspired.  It is like that for writers.  When they say they are not writing, they are doing it even in their mind.  You find the inspiration by being observant of everything around you and inside you.  When you compose a song in ten minutes, it is not really the case because unconsciously you were building all these things for the single with the use of experiences and knowledge before putting it on paper.

    P.T.  You said in the past that it helped you in your career as a lyricist to be a singer.  Do you think that for aspiring songwriters who want longevity in their career they need to be versatile?

    D.H.  I think it helps to be versatile and flexible.  Flexibility allows one to write songs in different situations.  Sometimes, people in the music industry send you a track without any words and ask you to put a melody on it with lyrics.  It is an asset to be a singer in the studio because you can show artists how the song can be better.  As a singer, I hear the music and I can demonstrate with my voice how to improve the melody.  When I do vocals, I demonstrate to the performer how to sing the lyrics.  It shows how it really sounds.  There is an important aspect in delivering a song with emotions when you present it to other artists.  Another great asset is to be able to write the chords that you are playing when you pen a song.  Personally, doing this really helps my work.  In this respect, it is good to know as much as possible as an artist.  It is a real advantage to learn to read, play and write music with a good musical ear.  You can save hours of studio time if you are able to translate the tunes into notes.

    Great songwriters know how to touch the heart of the audience.  I think also that it is important for them to not be afraid to address powerful and honest issues.  In other words, in their creative process they have to be bold to expose themselves and be naked in the figurative sense.

    P.T.  It is very interesting to hear this.  I thought that it is more as a performer that you must feel naked than as a songwriter.

    D.H.  As a songwriter, in a different way you can feel naked.  You have to go deep inside your heart, your memories… It’s like a self-hypnosis process.  You can’t be afraid to say things which are revealing.  It is hard sometimes and when you get older it becomes more difficult because with age we have more defences.  In this respect, with age we can have the tendency to reveal less of ourselves.  As a songwriter, you have to learn to not let that happen.

    P.T.  About your latest album Intimate, what message do you want people to take away from it?

    D.H.  I would say the importance of connections.  I think we stumble in this world by trying to find how we can relate to one another.  In fact, we are too often disconnected.  In Intimate, I am trying to establish anew the need for interrelationships.  These days, with all the technology we might think that we communicate better, but it is not necessarily the case.  I could add that it is very easy to be disconnected.  The technology has the ability to take us away from other people.

    P.T.  Talk to us about your moving song “I Am My Father’s Son” on your latest album.  You talked a little bit about it before but can you elaborate further?

    D.H. I knew my father was dying.  There were a lot of things that I wanted to say to him.  However, I really didn’t know how to express it.  So, when it is difficult for me to communicate something, using songwriting is a great tool for me.  “I Am Father’s Son” is really about the last connection that my dad and I had.  It is also about the disappointment that I felt from him.  The song is also about how I learned to forgive him which is a big part of love.  I needed to write that song in order to process all the mixed emotions I had about my father.  It allowed me to see him more as a human being.  I was able to understand more about what motivated him as a man and about what shaped him.  The song itself helped me to pen my book “I Am My Father’s Son”.


    P.T.  In Intimate, you wrote a beautiful song about Africville called “Africville Skies”.  What does Africville mean to you as an Afro-Canadian and how does it feel to have been approached by the Montreal-born jazz pianist/composer Joe Sealy  to pen about this town?

    D.H.  I was proud to have the opportunity to sing about the oldest black community in Canada established gradually in our country after the war against England (which took place from 1812 to 1814).  In 1838, the community was complete and it was comprised of descendants of American slaves.  In this respect, free land and equal rights were promised to Black Loyalists. Africville was a beautiful and strong population which was self-sufficient.  This community had his own infrastructure:  schools, church, etc. So, I was enthused to sing about this historic population.  Joe Sealy’s father was born in Africville.  When his father died, one of his feelings was to write an album called Africville Suite where we find beautiful pieces about Africville.  Joe Sealy wanted me to write lyrics about this community.  To be more specific, Africville was a small unincorporated community located on the southern shore of Bedford Basin in the city of Halifax (Nova Scotia, Canada).  In 1967, the community and its dwellings were razed and the residents were evicted.   They were forced to relocate.

    I feel honoured that I have been approached by Joe [Sealy] to pen “Africville Skies”.  I love him and I think he is a brilliant composer.  More importantly, he is a fabulous human being.  He received the Order of Canada.  I was very proud and I was moved to write lyrics for this great artist.

    P.T.  In your book, we learn about your hurdles as a songwriter, especially at the beginning of your career.  The music industry has changed tremendously and has its challenges, particularly with all the downloading.  What advice do you have for young people who want to make it as songwriters and singers?  What can you tell them regarding the protection of their work through the royalties?

    D.H.  They need to do their homework about the music business, through reading for instance.
    There are great books on the market which allow people to understand the intricacies of the music industry such as All you need to know about the music business written by Harvard alumni lawyer Donald S.  Passman.  This book gives an excellent overview of the music industry.  Young people can also seek guidance from individuals who have been in the music industry for many years.  Mentors and connoisseurs of the music business can give access to people and resources needed to develop a career.  It is always from the best that you learn.  This will allow young people to save a lot of time and energy.  It will also permit them to avoid traps.  I would like to add that it is important for artists to get a business understanding of their career.

    For the people who want to make it, more specifically as songwriters and singers, they can learn to play an instrument.  It is important to write daily.  You have to practice and study on a regular basis.  It is useful to listen to records and try to understand what the artists are doing by looking toward what it is resonating with what you are creating.  You have to go through this process with authenticity and by bringing your own originality.  It is important also to catch up to novelty because the music domain evolves constantly.

    It is helpful to broaden your horizon.  In this respect, if you are an artist who doesn’t sell much with your CDs, you can consider other venues such as commercials, movies, TV shows, etc.  There are many ways for songwriters to make money, even more now than when I started in the business.

    P.T.  In your book, we learn that your father who became the first Director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission placed great value on you to pursue an academic profession and didn’t accept easily the artistic road you chose.  What message do you have for young people who want to be in the music industry but are being deterred by their family who want them to choose a liberal profession?

    D.H.  This is another very great question.  I think that it depends on the individual.  It is extremely competitive to make it in the music business.  For instance, Jay-Z said it was ten times harder to make it as a rapper than as an NBA basketball player.  So, to make it as a musician or as a performer it goes back to what was discussed earlier, you have to be really versatile.  I mean, it is helpful to be able to play and master an instrument.  If for some reason, you do not end up to be a pop star maybe you can consider teaching guitar, give voice lessons or become a record producer for instance.  So, it is possible to see the music field as a broad canvas of which there are many different ways to make a living instead of seeing the prospects in a much narrower way.  It is not everybody who will become the next Nelly Furtado for instance but I don’t think either that it is unimaginable to make a good living in the music industry if you have more than one string to one’s bow.   In other words, young people can’t limit themselves and it is important to see how to be prolific across many genres.

    I encourage young people to follow their passion and exploit their talent.  They have to assess their lives and find out what they’re good at and focus on that.  Doing what you love will always make you a winner.  However, they have to be willing to work very hard for it and make some sacrifices.  For instance, the late Charlie Parker practiced saxophone fifteen hours per day.  He didn’t become the pioneer of bebop just by coincidence.  There is no such thing as an overnight success. In other words, there is no elevator to success, you have to take the stairs.  Success means diligent work and discipline. There are a lot of talented people who will never be discovered because they will never develop their potential by being determined to put in the hard work, or some will surrender too soon.  You have to be patient to see the results of all the efforts. One of my favourite mottos is:  “Strivers achieve what dreamers believe”.  When opportunities are presented, young people need to be prepared.  By the way, whatever the domain chosen by young people, they must have a serious work ethic and not rest on their laurels.  The best physicians, for instance, need to be retrained regularly to stay current on the latest research and procedures.  There are no shortcuts.  Young people have to be focused and diligent.  I could add that my determined mantra is:  Never give up, dream big and do not settle.


    P.T.  To finish, what are your future projects that you can share with us?

    D.H.  I am writing a lot of new songs, some for myself and some for other artists.  I have a couple of new articles coming out.  I pen a lot of articles for magazines.   I am also doing a lot of concerts.

    P.T.  Thank you so much Mr.  Hill for your time and attention.  It was an honor to interview you!


    Discography
    Albums
    •    1975 - Dan Hill
    •    1976 - Hold On
    •    1977 - Longer Fuse
    •    1978 - Frozen in the Night
    •    1980 - If Dreams Had Wings
    •    1981 - Partial Surrender
    •    1983 - Love in the Shadows
    •    1987 - Dan Hill
    •    1989 - Real Love
    •    1991 - Dance of Love
    •    1994 - Let Me Show You (Greatest Hits and More)
    •    1996 - I''m Doing Fine
    •    1999 - Love of My Life (The Best of Dan Hill)
    •    2010 - Intimate


    I Am My Father’s Son:  A Memoir Of Love And Forgiveness, available on the market since February 2009 on www.amazon.com or .ca and in bookstores in North America


    An excerpt from Dan Hill’s book  I Am My Father’s Son (p.  368-369):

    “Dad, it’s David.  Stop leaving home.  Stop leaving Canada to always go to America.  Choose a country.”
    Ouch.  Like so many Hills, my eleven-year-old son had a scary way with words.  “Choose your love,” David was saying.  “Is it music or family?”  It brought back the image of him, at four or so, looking balefully out our living room window, searching, as he did every day when I was gone, for his jet-setting father.  Bev had described this wrenching scene many times to me over the phone but until I saw him there, as I pulled up our driveway from yet another songwriting journey, I hadn’t understood.  There he was, his small face squished up against that big bay window, waving excitedly in my direction.
    On my flight back to Toronto the day after David’s message, I couldn’t get one particular song of mine out of my head.

    Memories of when I was a little boy, four years old,
    Waiting for my daddy to come home
    Now I look into the eyes of my own son
    Wondering what he’s thinking of
    Waiting at the window, when I come home
    Watch his eyes fill up with joy and wonder
    He reaches out his tiny hands, I feel the bond between boy and man

    Memories of my mom crying, my daddy gone for weeks at a time
    Not knowing how to comfort her
    Face in my pillow, pretending not to hear
    Now I write this letter to my little boy, I’m far away
    Not knowing really what to say, except I’m sorry, oh so sorry

    I don’t wanna make the same mistakes my daddy made with me
    Still his voice rolls off my tongue when I say boy, protect your mom
    Memories of my wife crying on the phone
    Wondering when I’m coming home
    My voice sounds detached and cold
    Reminds me of someone that I knew
    He had a funny attitude, when I needed him to be
    All the things only a daddy could be to me

    I don’t wanna make the same mistakes my daddy made with me
    Still his voice rolls off my tongue when I say not now, I’m busy son
    Memories of lying in bed with my wife and son
    Overwhelmed by so much love, trying to explain how a man can cry
    Yet still be happy


    Thinking of all the dumb mistakes I’ve made
    Now I understand my father’s pain
    He did the best with what he knew, I love you daddy
    I watch my son fall asleep, and wonder what he’ll think of me
    When years from now, he sees his son
    Reaching out his tiny hands, for love

    Dan Hill’s Official Web site:  www.danhill.com

    This album is available on www.amazon.com or .ca

    An excerpt from the song “I Am My Father’s Son”:

    “It’s about you and me, Dad
    It’s called My Father’s son”
    I took the CD out of its casing
    And started to feed it into
    The stereo system

    “Uh oh.  So now you’re gonna
    Take some pot-shots at me?
    I gotta listen to another song
    About what a terrible dad I
    Was to you?”

    “No, Dad, honestly, no pot-shots.
    It’s hard to explain- Just listen!”

    “The strongest man I ever knew
    I never was a match for you
    Always wanted your attention
    Never knew just how to get it, so I rebelled
    Tried to be your opposite,
    I did it well, strange but true
    How our lives are like a circle now
    I’m very much like you
    You were my unsolved mystery
    Always barely out of reach”

    “Memories die hard, love dies harder still,
    I forgive you, I have no choice
    ‘cause when all is said and done
    I am my father’s son”


    Praise for Dan Hill’s book I Am My Father’s Son:

    "Inevitably, Hill''s musical sensibility infuses his prose. . . . The story has a musical pulse, an exactness of comedic timing. Like his father and brother . . . Hill possesses the gift of storytelling, in the broad, oral, African-American tradition." --Ottawa Citizen

    "Took me on an intellectual, emotional and spiritual pilgrimage that instantly changed my life forever. . . . Dan Hill is my hero. His compassion, fearlessness and resilience reignited a flame in me that was almost dim. Thank you for the laughs, thank you for the tears, and thank you for your moments." --Jully Black

    "Describes a complicated family, in a complicated situation, in a complicated time, and does it with honesty and verve."  “[I Am My Father’s Son] jolts us, like hearing a soon-to-be-classic song for the first time.  The book uses the glitz of the 1970s music scene as a back drop for a soul-searching story of a father and a son   --National Post

    “A compulsively readable memoir.  It is a fine contribution not just to Canadian showbiz lore but to our country’s social history.  Dan Hill dishes lots of fascinating backstage gossip… [but] also strikes universal chords.” –Winnipeg Free Press

    [Dan Hill’s] raw memoir, I Am My Father’s son, [is] a searing examination of his relationship with Daniel Grafton Hill III”-- Toronto Star

    Media’s comments on Dan Hill’s CD Intimate:

    “…I’ve been to a lot of concerts and a few of them I consider to be the best from start to finish — my own hall of fame entries — and this one by Dan Hill is one of them. I don’t think I’ve been to an event that was as moving as that was. Dan’s voice seems not to have aged. It was just spectacular and it’s too bad there was room for 500 more people in the Opera House.”
    - John Swartz, Orillia Packet and Times

    “This album has to be the album of the year 2010, and according to Atlantic Seabreeze, the album is a masterpiece, with many awards in the making. The music and Dan''s great voice is simply outstanding and make one play the CD over and over again. According to Dan, it took 15 years to write the songs on the CD, and most of them penned for other artists and he had no inkling that one day he would be recording these songs. He states, that''s the great thing about music-you never know where it may lead you”, www.atlanticseabreeze.com

  • d'bi.young: the ultimate storyteller

    Pic

    Award-winning Jamaican-Canadian dub poet, storyteller and actor d'bi young is an overall performing arts phenomenon. She is known for such performances as her outstanding role in the 2005 production of ''Da Kink in my Hair created by Trey Anthony and her defining play Blood.claat – the first play in her Three Faces of Mudgu trilogy.

    AfroToronto.com recently touched base with d'bi young to catch up on what she’s been up to and to ask her about her performance scheduled for tonight (Fri. October 30th) in the Distillery District as part of the Canwest Cabaret Festival.

    It’s immediately evident that the mother of two (5 year-old and a 10-month old) is a master at multi-tasking. On top of being a full-time mom, d'bi young is currently working on her Masters at Guelph and runs her own dub theatre youth mentorship program --- anitAFRIKA! dub theatre.

    “I’m working with 13 people whose ages range from 19 to 60 and basically I teach them how to write dub solo shows using these principles that I’m developing right now, and been developing for the last 3 years, called the ORPLUSI principles of story-telling. Which are orality, rhythm, personal is political, political is personal, language, urgency, sacredness and integrity. [These are] guiding principles towards the creative process. That’s the most exciting thing for me because I’m at Guelph as well doing my Masters developing theory around oral storytelling and traditions that come out of the Afro-Caribbean Diaspora” as she tells AfroToronto.com.

    Developing the residency program at anitAFRIKA! dub theatre is a long-cherished dream of hers in the process of realization. “My dream’s always been to have a school so I feel that the theatre is a choice in that direction” young says. She is a big believer in the creative potential of everyone. Young believes that we are all are in a way conditioned. As the daughter of one of Jamaica’s pioneering dub artists --- Anita Stewart, young feels that she may have become a storyteller with special abilities because she was told that she had special abilities.

    “I really do believe that we’re all storytellers. I mean not everybody could do it professionally but I think that we all have a responsibility to acknowledge that we’re storytelling in whatever it is that we choose to do. The minute we acknowledge that then we can make choices around how we actually communicate with people.”


    As an Afro-Caribbean Diaspora woman, d'bi young sees herself as perpetuating a long tradition of storytelling. “I want to learn as much as I can about that process and want to investigate how that was done among people who have oral traditions” she adds.

    Tonight, d'bi young celebrates the tradition of old-school dub by performing with dear friends and musical veterans Rakesh Tewari and Ian De Souza and Beau Dixon. The one-hour dub session will start at 10:30pm. The Canwest Cabaret Festival takes place at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto’s Distillery District.

    “I do a lot of experimental stuff, I do my rock thing, my hip hop thing, it’s all dub poetry as far as I’m concerned. I’ve been feeling a bit of a combination of nostalgia and feeling that I want to go back to the first dub sound” says d''bi young.


    INFO:

    The Canwest Cabaret Festival runs until Sunday, November 1, at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, located at 55 Mill Street , Building 49, in the Distillery Historic District. Ticket prices: Concerts $20. Buy 3 concerts and save 20%. Tickets are available by calling the Young Centre box office at 416.866.8666 or online at www.youngcentre.ca or www.canwestcabaret.ca.

  • Giving Black Dance a Voice

    An Interview with Patrick Parson, Artistic Director of Ballet Creole

    “We need to accept ourselves more in the community. Because you know we have this thing: “Oh I see ‘dem already”. But then a foreign company comes, no matter if they come every year, they’ll go back and see them.... But the Caucasian people, they will go and see the Nutcracker every single year. And some of our own folks will go out and see the Nutcracker every single year. But when its comes to see our own … “we see ‘dem already.” So it’s a mentality thing. So I educate, I entertain. That’s what my life’s path is about. To bring people to their own and share artistic endeavours through seeing or expressing.”
    - Patrick Parson, Artistic Director, Ballet Creole

    Speaking to Toronto''s Ballet Creole artistic director, Patrick Parson, over the phone ahead of the upcoming run of Glorious Soulful Messiah, I encountered a pioneer of this city's dance community. Moving to Toronto from his native Trinidad back in September of 1988, Parson has been instrumental in setting up the framework for what today is considered a vibrant Afro-Caribbean dance scene in Toronto -- counting several major dance companies (such as COBA, Dance Caribe, Canboulay Dance Theatre, and of course Ballet Creole).

    The landscape was dramatically different in the late '80s and early '90s. “Afro-Caribbean dance was not seen as professional dance then. They were mostly doing community gigs” says Patrick Parson. His goal was to help facilitate the creation of a professional institutional structure for the Afro-Caribbean dance community. To that end, Ballet Creole was born in 1990.

    Ballet Creole offers a widely international body a students the chance to gain professional post-secondary dance training right here in Toronto. Most of the students are from various countries such as Cuba, the Seychelles, Jamaica, Honduras, Mexico, Trinidad, St-Lucia, Barbados, and more. Quoting Parson: "Instead of going to New York to train at the Alvin Ailey school, they can do it right here. It’s so wonderful to go into a studio and see your own kind working in a professional manner." Indeed, Ballet Creole''s cultural diversity is one of the school's great strengths which Patrick Parson is proud of. As Parson goes on to say: "With some of the schools here, it’s like 99.5% Caucasian and you’ll see... between one to about six black students in the dance school. They become like a token. But here, the majority is of African-descent. Either Latino, Caribbean, that’s the focus here."

    But despite such a strong commitment to providing a sustainable forum and framework for Afro-Caribbean dance, it has often been a struggle to get the community out consistently to the shows -- particularly in the early years. “Well, I can tell you in the first five years, the whole audience was Caucasian. You could count the Caribbean or African people in the audience. After the first five years there’s a big change. Because people started to hold their own. That’s the next step" says Parson.

    In their effort to encourage that next step, Ballet Creole strongly believes in attracting the youth by exposing them to dance from a very young age. Parson believes in having his company's core dancers routinely involved in performing in schools. "That’s where I focus the company and they perform every single day up to five days a week. And they go into the schools. That’s our audience. We go from kindergarten all the way up to high schools and to university. We do approximately two shows every day. Everyday in the school year. You know how much students we're reaching out to if you think about it."

    Patrick Parson is optimistic about the future of Afro-Caribbean dance in general and about the prospects of individual dancers developing as professionals within the city. "The dance scene is booming now" he says. "There’s a lot of people from the diaspora that are training at Ryerson, York and elsewhere and they are looking for jobs.” Patrick Parson is aware that Ballet Creole serves as an inspiration for community dance companies looking to stage larger productions. He enjoys the good rapport he shares with them. Parson has also been teaching at York University for over ten years in various departments. From dance in the Fine Arts department to his current post in the Kinesiology department where he has been for the past five years --- applying dance to the science of movement.

    Ballet Creole's upcoming performance is their third year run of Glorious Soulful Messiah at the Premiere Dance Theatre (235 Queens Quay West) from December 16th to 18th. It is a soulful rendition of Handel's Messiah based on a CD compilation entitled Handel's Messiah: A Soulful Celebration. "All the music goes way back from the ‘20s until now. From the blues, the swing, the traditional minstrel music, all of that is in this album" says Parson.

    Don''t miss your chance to see the show! It was sold out last year.

    Ballet Creole presents ''Glorious Soulful Messiah'', Friday December 16th & Saturday December 17th @ 8PM and Sunday December 18th @ 3PM at Premiere Dance Theatre (235 Queens Quay West)

    Imagine the wondrous sounds of Handel’s Messiah sung by the spine-tingling voices of Aretha Franklin, The Boys Choir of Harlem, Patti Austin, Take 6, Gladys Knight, and more…coupled with the driving dance moves of the Ballet Creole cast of dancers. Celebrate the festive season with an intriguing, uplifting performance. Sold out last year! To purchase tickets call 416.973.4000 or visit our website at www.balletcreole.org

    Ticket Prices:
    Early Bird Prices Adult: $19.00 - $30.00

    Student/Senior: $16.00 - $23.00
    Regular Prices: Adult: $21.00 - $35.00
    Student/Senior: $16.00 - $23.00

  • What can a chiropractor do for you?

    Back pain

    Did you know that more than 4 million Canadians visit a chiropractor each year? Chiropractic health care has become one of the most utilized types of alternative medicine in Canada, yet there is still much speculation and wariness regarding what chiropractic treatment entails. I wrote this article to provide some insight into why chiropractic utilization continues to increase as well as to help dispel some common myths.

    Chiropractors are doctors whose purpose is to diagnose and treat mechanical disorders of the spine and musculoskeletal system with the intention of affecting the nervous system and improving health. We are also trained to prescribe therapeutic exercise, provide nutritional advice, and injury management strategies.

    Why Should I Consider Chiropractic Treatment?

    Chiropractors are experts in the treatment of neuro-musculo-skeletal injuries. Here’s what that means:

    Neuro= nerves. As chiropractors we specialize in conditions involving the peripheral nervous system. This includes conditions such as sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome and headaches.
    Musculo = Muscles.  We treat various muscle injuries including rotator cuff injuries, tendonitis, and muscle strains.
    Skeletal = Skeletal system. We are trained to treat injuries that affect the bones and/or joints of the body. This includes common conditions such as arthritis, ankle and knee pain.


    Do I need a prescription from my family doctor?

    You do not need a medical prescription to visit a chiropractor. We are doctors and are able to diagnose conditions as well as design specific treatment plans to meet patient needs.  Chiropractors must undergo university studies and then complete a rigorous four-year, full time education program and pass comprehensive Canadian qualifying examinations in order to become licensed to practice in Canada.

    What is an adjustment?

    Chiropractors specialize in manual adjustments. An adjustment (also known as a manipulation) is a precise manual procedure applied to joints of the spine. An adjustment helps to restore normal joint functioning by increasing mobility, relieving pain and pressure, and reducing inflammation.

    What are the benefits of Chiropractic care?

    A chiropractors hand on approach to treatment helps your body function optimally. Here are some ways it can help you:

    • Improve movement in the neck, back and shoulders
    • Improve posture
    • Relief from headaches, neck and back pain
    • Prevention of work-related and sports related injuries
    • Motor Vehicle Accident rehabilitation
    • Improved flexibility
    • Correction of gait and foot problems


    Is chiropractic treatment covered by insurance?

    Yes! Most work health insurance plans include chiropractic benefits. You should consult your insurance company for specific details.

    For more information regarding chiropractic care you can contact the Ontario Chiropractic Association, or visit their website at www.chiropractic.on.ca

  • Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.: Untold History; African images and Western Art

    A renowned scholar and literary critic, Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. exudes an infectious enthusiasm for genealogical research, the arts, and life.  As Director of the W.E.B Dubois Institute for African and American Research at Harvard University, Dr. Gates is in the unique position of being a historian, producer and cultural commentator. In each of these roles the central theme underlying his work is one of commitment, a loyalty to unlocking the pieces of the puzzle of our collective roots but more specifically african roots. Housed at the Du Bois Institute’s archives are 26,000 images of black people in Western art, it is a collection created by french art collector Dominique de Menil.

    According to Dr. Gates, Madame de Menil and her husband relocated to Texas in the 1960s and embarked on a mission to showcase exemplary images of africans in European art. What was intended to be a modest under-taking resulted in an extensive collection of images from classical Greece and Rome to the 21st century, highlighting African nobility, writers and scholars. 

    As the key speaker at the Eva Holtby Lecture at the Royal Ontario Museum, Dr. Gates' passion for the collection is evident. He praises the effort of de Menil who wanted to show only positive images of Africans, but also makes an argument for including the not- so -positive representations to provide a complete retrospective of African representations in the arts. The most fascinating discussion of the evening focused on his final selection, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon or The Young Ladies of Avignon by Pablo Picasso. In this painting, Picasso uses African masks in an evocative portrayal of five women in a brothel.

    Dr. Gates is also known for his PBS documentary series African American Lives which uses genealogical resources and DNA testing to explore the genealogy and history of prominent African-americans, from Malcolm Gladwell to Tina Turner, Quincy Jones to Oprah Winfrey.

    So being treated to scenes from Dr. Gates' latest series Faces of America, was a pleasant addition to the evening. In the show he unravels the genealogy of Dr. Memhet Oz, Meryl Streep, Stephen Colbert and Eva Longoria-Parker. We learn Eva''s ancestors arrived from Spain before the Mayflower even reached America''s shores and we also learn that Kristi Yamaguchi''s grandfather enlisted in the army at a time when it was virtually unheard of. These clips were mere glimpses into a body of work that provides a fascinating look at nation building, race and the nature of past historical discourse.

    Dr. Gates' engaging presentation ended with an eloquent proposal for an epitaph, one which highlights his commitment to uncovering the truth of our collective history.

    His legacy will not only include his work in genealogy but the impact his discoveries have had on how we see ourselves as a society. Hopefully, discussions on race relations and our history will no longer engender cultural polarization when proof of all our contributions have been made public, when we are all aware of the rainbow of ethnicities that came together to create who we are today and the communities we now live in.

  • Love, Loss and some Trey

    Trey Anthony

    For the past ten years we've watched Trey Anthony grow as an actor, writer, and producer.  Through “Da kink in my hair”,  she introduced audiences to the joys and pains experienced by women of colour.  But in Nora Ephron's “Love, Loss and What I wore” she hopes to show her range and her ability to go beyond the expected.

     On why she decided to be a part of the play?

    For me, I think I really liked the script and I wanted to do roles unlike what I'm usually cast as. I wanted to do something that wasn't stereotypical. A role that transcended race, its a female part. I also thought it was important for my fans and for myself , to see me in something different to know that I could do other roles, something that stretched me and scared me as an actor. It was good to come out of my comfort zone.

    On what inspired her character in “Love, Loss and What I wore”

    I think I draw from my first love, I think draw from my own relationships functional and dysfunctional, and my friends of course.

    On what drew her to Nora Ephron's work

    I think it’s her wit and her sensibility. I also like how she writes female characters. I think she''s able to transcend race, the things that she writes about are the things all women talk about. From remembering our first bra, fitting into clothing that’s too small for us, comparing ourselves to other women, our relationships with our mother and for me that''s what really drew me to the script, the fact that I found it relatable and so I said why not.

    On the cast of love loss and what I wore

    I think what's really great is just the range of women, especially age wise. There's someone in their 20s, me in my 30s, some women in their 40s, 50s and 60s. And I think just working with women who've been in the industry this long, to see what a trained theatre actor is about and how they approach the script and their craft. It’s been a learning experience to see how other women approach their craft.

    On what  the audience can expect to take with them

    At the end of the day, I think our experiences are very similar. Yes we have differences, there's race, there's class, there's sexuality but many of our experiences especially as women are very similar. I'm hoping that they (the audience) can see themselves in it but also be inspired to write their own stories as well. I truly believe that the reason the “Da kink” was so popular was because for the first time our story as the black community was on a mainstream stage.

    On why she writes

    I don't see myself as just an actor, being a writer is my most important role. I think for me writing gives me a level of power that I don't feel I get in any other role. It's my way of creating stories for myself and for my community. Telling a story authentically they way I would like to see it. So for me I really embrace writing and I don't  think there's enough of us writing our stories, so for me it’s very important. Until we take those positions of power, we''ll be seeing a lot of stereotypical stories because we''re not in those position to be writing our stories they way we want to see them.

    On Her Legacy

    Everything I produce, I'm hoping my community feels proud. I feel like I have made an impact and I feel that I've opened a door for more people to come in, and that's important to me, to be accessible, to remember where I came from and to encourage other women to be the best at their craft.

    Love, Loss and What I wore runs from October 7-30, 2010 at the Pansonic Theatre.

  • A portrait of the surgeon Dr. Patricia L. Turner

    Dr Turnier

    Dr. Turner, MD nee Patricia Lynne Turner was born in Maryland. Since her childhood, Dr. Turner knew that medicine was her thing. She had the confidence, the determination and the maturity to decide in an early age the career she would pursue. She told us in our interview: "In my earliest recollection of knowing about career options, in elementary school when I was about 6 year-old I wanted to be a surgeon". We asked her if she had mentors to look up to when she was a child: "I didn’t have specific inspirations from physicians. I didn’t have doctors in my family. However, I could say that my mother, as a science teacher was definitely an influence to pursue a career where we find math and other scientific related domains".

    During our conversation, we wanted to know why Dr. Turner chose surgery over other specialities and what attracted her in this speciality.  She expressed that she always was drawn to surgery since her childhood and this mindset never changed since then. “I wanted to be a surgeon since I was a child. I was always attracted to this speciality. I never had doubts and I never wanted to do anything beside surgery.  It wasn’t appealing for me to be involved in other fields of medicine especially in those who have to deal with chronic care.  I like the immediate gratification that this field provides when you solve the problem.  As a surgeon, you help improve the quality of life of the patients”.

    Dr. Turner is a general surgeon and assistant professor of surgery at the University of Maryland, School of Medicine.  She is an associate program director for the General Surgery Residency Program at the University of Maryland Medical Centre. She serves as chair of the Surgical Caucus of the American Medical Association Young Physicians Section and is a member of the Editorial Board of Surgical News. Her academic interests include teaching and training paradigms for medical students and residents in open and laparoscopic surgery. 

    Dr. Turner received her medical degree at Bowman Gray School of Medicine, Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and completed her surgical residency at Howard University Hospital.  Throughout the time of her residency, she was a senior staff fellow at the National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute, Laboratory of Kidney and Electrolyte Metabolism.  Dr. Turner’s fellowship training was in minimally invasive and laparoscopic surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center & Weill-Cornell University School of Medicine in New York. 

    Dr. Turner''s clinical practice focuses on minimally invasive/laparoscopic, gastrointestinal and endocrine surgery. She has a diverse research background, including studying nitric oxide and the kidneys. In organized medicine, Dr. Turner has held the role of the resident on the general surgery RRC and was the resident member on the AMA Council on Scientific Affairs.  Seeing that Dr.  Turner has a considerable experience in her field, we asked her what was her best operation and why. “This is a tough question to answer”, she said. “I guess, I would say that every operation have a different scenario which is exciting.  It happens that I have to deal with trauma patients, life and death situations.  I enjoy to use new techniques (such as laparoscopy when we first tried it) which have not been used before. I like that kind of challenge and opportunity. There are specific patients which resonate with you”.

    It is important to note that 76% of Baltimore’s African-American males (among 16 to 24 year-old young adults) drop out before graduation according to a 2001 study at the John Hopkins University.  Given that Dr.  Turner works in the state of Maryland, we wanted to know what kind of advise she has for those young people who want to succeed in any fields including medicine despite the hurdles. “Well, I think there is no reason that those individuals cannot pursue studies in medicine, law, engineering or anything else they wish to do.  The statistics do not define the destiny of an individual. The numbers may seem discouraging but I think the best deterrent is to focus on academical excellence.  In this respect, Dr.  Turner thinks that excellency is the key to break the glass ceiling for minorities.  “Superior grades are certainly the foundation for all of us”, she expressed.  She added:  “When you are among the best, there is always a place for you. Once the young people identified the area where they want to pursue their careers, they should find a mentor who succeeded in the field they chose.  For medicine, with excellent grades and research experience or community services these factors will be great credentials to distinguished themselves. I can also say that one of the best ways to not be deterred by negative people that you can find in every level is to surround yourself with positive people who believe in you ”.

    During the interview we asked Dr. Turner what is the best way (for students who want to pursue their studies in medicine) to seek the tutelage of prosectors or any other mentors in the medical field.  She responded:  “It depends on the level of the student.  If you are in high school you can find a mentor who will guide you to be admitted in college. There are organizations which have set mentoring programs such as the American College of Surgeons. They take students from high schools and colleges to surgery meetings. The AMA have mentors who are guiding the future physicians with teachings and trainings. They have also a community service projects where they go to high schools or junior highs.  I think many of the medical organizations intervene by providing mentorships”. 

    It is important to mention that the noteworthy Black Enterprise magazine (May 2008 issue) named Dr. Turner among the United States’ leading physicians.  The "America''s Leading Doctors" list of this magazine includes 140 top-rated African-American physicians and surgeons throughout the U.S. who are advancing medicine.  Physicians selected for the list are judged to be leaders in their respective fields, to be superior in service and reputation, and have been confirmed as being certified in accordance with the American Board of Medical Specialities. The 2008 list placed special emphasis on those who have been involved in medical breakthroughs across specialities.  The list''s editors consulted leading medical associations, health care organizations, the nation''s top medical schools, and other top-ranked physicians to compile this year''s.  We asked Dr. Turner what the Black Enterprise magazine’s recognition meant to her :  « It is a great honour to be appreciated among my peers.  It is a vessel to outdo myself even more ».  

    During our discussion, we wanted to know what advice Dr. Turner have for young people (regardless of their origins) who aspire to make their place in the medical world and who wish to become a successful surgeon:  “Surgery is one of the most competitive fields in medicine so, I reiterate that excellence is a must in medical school for everybody.  It is important also to develop a research expertise, experiences in volunteerism, community services and clinical practice.  They have of course to excel in all those spheres.  Strong letters of recommendation are imperative to be admitted in medical faculties.  Regarding more specifically the surgery field, the physicians need to develop special technical skills.  They need to create an excellent rapport with the patients to provide excellent care.  They have to be great communicators.  To finish they have to be life long learners to update themselves with all the novelties of their field”.  In addition to all this, Dr. Turner thinks that physicians can also distinguish themselves by pursuing an academical career with a contribution in the scientific literature. 

    It is interesting to note that Dr. Turner is quite active in the American College of Surgeons, serving as a member of the Committee on Informatics, the Committee on Young Surgeons, the Committee on Patient Education, and the Task Force on Practice Based Learning and Improvement.  It is also important to mention that Dr. Turner has been involved in other fields such as politics.  She was an AMA member for 17 years, a member of the YPS for almost 5 years, and a governing council member for about two years.  We asked her if she wishes to pursue in the future a political career.  She expressed during our interview:  “At this point of my life, I do not have necessarily political aspirations.  However, I always keep my options open.  I was fortunate enough in the past to work as a parliamentarian.  I was a Speaker of the American Medical Association, Young Physicians Section.  There are opportunities with the AMA to be a speaker for the entire House of Delegates of the AMA”. 

    At the end of the interview, we asked Dr. Turner what advice can she give to females professionals who have to manage their careers and their personal lives.  “It is important to ally yourself with people who will be supportive:  a partner, your family, your friends and so on.  A strong support system is imperative.  You have to be very efficient with your time especially for females who have responsibilities at home and at work.  They have to be able to wear different hats successfully”. 

    To sum up, Dr. Turner contributes in the medical field in a significant manner.  Based on her body of experience, we are anticipating her next contribution in the scientific field. Interview conducted by Patricia Turnier (founder of www.megadiversities.com) the 27th of April 2010.   
                 

    Academic and Professional achievements: 

    Education: 

    - MD, Bowman Gray School of Medicine of Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC, 1996

    - BA, Biology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, 1992 

    Post graduate training: 

    - Clinical Fellow, Minimally Invasive & Laparoscopic Surgery -Mount Sinai Medical Center & Weill-Cornell University School of Medicine, New York, NY, 2003-2004 

    - Categorical Intern and Resident in Surgery, Howard University Hospital -Washington, DC, 1996-1998, 2000-2003 

    - Senior Staff Fellow, National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute, Laboratory ofKidney and Electrolyte Metabolism, Bethesda, Maryland, 1998-2000 

    - DSI Advanced Laparoscopic Resident Courses, Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Cincinnati, OH, December 2001 & June 2012 

    Medical Licenses: 

    DC 1997

    MD 1998

    NY 2003 

    Board Certification: 

    American Board of Surgery 2005

    Special Interests: 

    ·        Minimally Invasive Surgery

    ·        Laparoscopic Surgery

    ·        Gastrointestinal Surgery

    ·        Endocrine Surgery

    ·        General Surgery  

    Endorsements: 

    • American College of Surgeons
    • MedChi, Maryland State Medical Society

    Work Experience:

    AUGUST 2004 TO PRESENT

    Attending Surgeon & Assistant Professor of Surgery

    Program Director, General Surgery Residency Program

    University of Maryland Medical Center 

     

    JUNE 2003-JUNE 2004

    Clinical Instructor, Department of Surgery

    Surgery Attending & Minimal Invasive Surgery FellowMount Sinai Medical Center & Weill-Cornell School of Medicine 

     

    JULY 1996 - JUNE 1998 & JULY 2000 – JUNE 2003

    Surgery resident (Chief Resident 2002-2003)

    Howard University Hospital JULY 1998 – JUNE 2000

    Senior staff fellow, National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute

    Laboratory of Kidney & Electrolyte Metabolism, National Institute of Health 

     

    JUNE 1993 – JUNE 1996

    Graduate research assistant

    Department of Neurobiology & Anatomy, Bowman Gray School of Medicine  

     

    Honours and Awards: 

    1993 Bowman Gray School of Medicine Student Research Day Competition Award

    1994 Student National Medical Association Research Forum Award1994 Lange Medical Publication Award

    1994 Bristol-Myers Squibb/National Medical Fellowships Fellow in Academic Medicine1995 Slack Award for Medical Journalism

    1996 American Medical Association/Glaxo Wellcome Leadership Achievement Award

    1996 Richard L. Burt Research Achievement Award1998 National Institutes of Health/National Medical Association Travel Award1999 Pfizer Resident Travel Award; American College of Surgeons

    2000 American Physiological Society Travel Fellowship Award

    2000 American Federation for Medical Research Trainee Travel Award

    2000 American Federation for Medical Research Henry Christian Award

    2000 Drew-Walker Surgical Residents’ Research Forum, 1 prize for basic science

    2000 Aventis Pharma Hypertension Research Clinical Fellowship Award, American Heart Association

    2001 National Institutes of Health Fellows Award for Research Excellence

    2002 Chairman’s Award, Howard University Hospital Department of Surgery

    2002 Howard University Hospital Medical Staff Resident Leadership Award

    2003 Association of Women Surgeons Outstanding Woman Resident Award

    2005 Henry C. Welcome Fellowship Grant2008 Claude H. Organ, MD, FACS Traveling FellowshipAward 

     

    Research Grants:

    National Medical Fellowships

    Effect of b-amyloid protein on neuronal cell survival during development and following injury

    National Institutes of Health

    The regulation of neuronal survival and differentiation, (supp. to RO1 grant; LJ Houenou, PI)

    National Institutes of Health

    Effects of protease nexin-1 and neurotropins on neuronal cell survival during development and

    American Heart Association

    Long-term effect of nitric oxide inhibition on Na transporter abundance in kidney: a targeted proteomics approach 

    Joan F. Giambalvo Memorial Scholarship Grant (American Medical Association)

    The impact of attitudes regarding bearing and rearing children on female general surgery residents 

     

    Professional Societies: 

    American Medical Association

    Past Chair, Young Physicians Section Surgical Caucus

    Governing Council, Young Physicians Section (YPS)

    Alternate Delegate to AMA House of Delegates from YPS

    American College of Surgeons, Fellow

    American Society of General Surgeons

    Association for Academic Surgery

    Association for Surgical Education

    Association of Women Surgeons

    MedChi, Maryland Medical Society

    National Association of Medical CommunicatorsNational Medical Association

    Chair, Resident Physician Section 1999-2001

    Long-Term Planning Committee (HOD) 2000-2003

    Executive Committee, Surgical Section

    Society of American Gastrointestinal Endoscopic Surgeons

    Society of Black Academic Surgeons

    Southeastern Surgical Congress 

    SOME APPOINTMENTS & CONSULTATIONS:  

    2000-2003 American Medical Association Council on Scientific Affairs

    2001 Association of Program Directors in Surgery Task Force on Short and Long Term Issues

    2002-2004 Residency Review Committee for Surgery 

    002-2004 Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education Resident Council

    2002 Participant, American Board of Surgery Retreat on Graduate Surgical Education2002 Howard University Hospital Department of Surgery Research Committee

    2005-2007 Association for Academic Surgery Institutional Representative

    2006-Present American Medical Association Young Physician Section Alternate Delegate to HOD

    2008-Present Program Director, University of Maryland General Surgery Residency

    2007-2010 American Board of Surgery Examination Consultant to Qualifying ExaminationCommittee 

     

    Editorial Boards: 

    Surgery News 2004-2009

    Journal of Medical Sciences Research 2007-Present 

    Ad HocEditorial Reviewer:

    Archives of  Surgery

    Journal of  the American College of Surgeons

    Surgical Endoscopy

    Surgical Innovation

    American Surgeon 

    SOME PUBLICATIONS, ABSTRACTS & PRESENTATIONS 

    Askonas, LJ, Turner, PL, Penning, TM. Synthesis and evaluation of affinity labeling analogs based on nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. FASEB 4: A1123, April 1990.

    Bush, PJ, Obeidallah, DO, Turner, PL. The pharmacist''s changing role in drug prescription techniques for pediatric otitis media. NCPIE, 1991.

    Obeidallah, DA, Turner, PL, Iannotti, RJ, O''Brien, RW, Haynie, DL, and Galper, DI. Investigations of children''s knowledge and understanding of AIDS. JOSH, March 1993.

    Turner, PL, Li, L, Houenou, LJ. The serine protease inhibitor, Protease Nexin I, rescues spinal motoneurons from programmed and axotomy induced cell death. N. Stud. Res. Forum, 35:149, 1994Turner, PL, Li, L, Proctor, VL, Burek, MJ, Festoff, BW, Houenou, LJ. Serine Protease Inhibitors, PN-I and PN-II prevent motoneuron cell death. Soc. Neurosci. Africa, Capetown, South Africa, April 1997.

    Invited Lecture:Turner, PL, Knepper, MA. The kidney’s role in hypertension. African-American Youth Initiative, NIH, June 1999.

    Invited Lecture: Turner, PL, Knepper, MA. The kidney’s role in hypertension. Biomedical Research Training Program for Underrepresented Minorities, NIH, February 2000.

    S Masilamani, PL Turner, I Reyes, GF DiBona, MA Knepper. Dysregulation of Na transporters in a rat model of congestive heart failure. FASEB 14:4, A372, March 2000.

    L. Milone, P. Turner, M. Gagner. Laparoscopic surgery for pancreatic tumors, an update.Minerva Chir. April 2004, 59(2): 165-73.

    Turner, PL, George, IM, Mastrangelo, MJ, Kavic, S, Park, AE. 3-Dimensional (3-D) modeling of CT scan data for preoperative planning in laparoscopic adrenalectomy, SAGES 2006.

    Franco E, Park H, Kavic SM, Turner P, Greenwald B, Park AE, Roth JS. Percutaneous

    Endoscopic Gastrostomy: A safe technique in patients receiving corticosteroids. SAGES 2007.

  • Freakonomics: Controversial economics best seller adapted to screen

    Freakonomics

    Freakonomics was a best-selling primer on Economics written by University of Chicago professor Steven Levitt in collaboration with journalist Stephen Dubner. Together, the talented twosome endeavored to make an inscrutable subject accessible for the average individual by breaking ghetto demographics and financial transactions down into layman’s terms even a street hustler could comprehend.

    For instance, they exploded the myth of selling drugs as a viable means of making it out of the ghetto by showing that the average dealer’s income is less than minimum wage. A more controversial conclusion arrived at by the authors and propagated by controversial pundits like conservative Bill Bennett was the notion that the U.S. crime rate could be significantly reduced by sterilizing all African-American females.

    Now, a film based on this incendiary tome has been brought to the screen by a half-dozen different directors, including Academy Award-winner Alex Gibney (for Taxi to the Dark Side), Oscar-nominees Morgan Spurlock (for Super Size Me), Rachel Grady (for Jesus Camp) and Heidi Ewing (also for Jesus Camp), along with Seth Gordon and Eugene Jarecki. They divvied up the chapters and structured the picture as a discrete series of vignettes recreating the assorted content.

    Unfortunately, I have to report that, as is usually the case with adaptations of books, the flick fails to measure up to the source material. However, that bad news is counterbalanced by the fact that it is still likely to be very well received by anyone unfamiliar with the print version.

    Among the topics addressed are the aforementioned correlation between black criminality and the abortion rate, as well as such intriguing questions as whether 9th graders can be bribed to get good grades, whether Japanese Sumo wrestling is fixed, whether government incentives work, and how Bernie Madoff, pedophile priests and other disgraced “pillars of the community” managed to mask their crimes for so long.

    An iconoclastic expose’ featuring fresh cultural slants apt to leave the average armchair economist reevaluating a lot of conventional wisdom they’vetaken for granted.

    Very Good (3 stars)

    Rated PG-13 for violence, sexuality, nudity, drug use and brief profanity.

    In English and Japanese with subtitles.

    Running time: 93 Minutes

    Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

    To see a trailer for Freakonomics, visit:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91FaC1YAWhg

  • Kickin’ back with K’Naan

    K''Naan

    Somalia. The name alone conjures up images of unbridled destruction, merciless warlords and ruthless terror. A place where nobody is safe from the atrocities of war, and where 8-year olds handle AK-47s like toys. When Forbes magazine recently unveiled their "Most Dangerous Destinations," Somalia, above Iraq and Afghanistan, topped the list. But it’s also "The Nation of Poets," where a poem can both inspire peace and end wars.

    Growing up, it was both of these Somalias that informed musician/emcee K’naan Warsame, who is forging his own musical path via a unique blend of reggae, funk, pop, soul and, above all, hip-hop. Recorded primarily in Kingston, Jamaica at Bob Marley’s home studio, his second album, “Troubadour,” includes contributions by the likes of Damian Marley, Mos Def, Chali 2na, Kirk Hammett of Metallica and Adam Levine of Maroon 5.

    During his early childhood, the Western music which reached K’naan’s ears was pretty much limited to “Bob Marley and Tracy Chapman,” until at 10, he became fascinated by the hip-hop being emitting from a tinny car speaker. “I had heard a rap verse, but I had no idea what it was back then,” he recalls.

    At 14, K’naan and his three best friends were attacked by warlords, just one of countless indelible images for the impressionable teenager. Having chased them through the streets of Mogadishu, eventually cornering the boys in an alley, the men began shooting. K’naan avoided injury, but his three friends were brutally gunned down.

    Certain that it was only a matter of time before her family met the same fate, K’naan’s mother would travel daily through the firefight to the U.S. embassy in the hopes of securing visas for her and her loved ones. Despite daily denials, she persisted, and on the last day the U.S. embassy was in Somalia, received visas to leave for America.

    “You can’t even describe it,” says K’naan. “It is the most sensational, liberating feeling. There was the weight of a world of hope on your shoulder that has suddenly landed. It was only then that I started to get this certain value of life that I never had before.” With little possessions and no knowledge of English, K’naan and his family boarded the last commercial flight out of Mogadishu for New York before settling in Toronto.

    The tunes on Troubadour reflect the sum of K’Nasan’s life experiences. Having spent the better part of the last two years on the road, visiting over 50 countries from Slovenia to Peru to Vietnam to Uganda, the album is the sonic document of an artist with much to share, and disproves rap music’s detractors who say that hip-hop has nothing new left to say.

    The CD’s first single, "Wavin'' Flag," has become an international sensation, and was the official anthem of the World Cup Championship hosted this summer by South Africa. Reaching over 150 countries, the signature song was featured on K’Naan’s FIFA-sponsored Trophy Tour, which saw the emerging rap star spreading his message to soccer fans in concerts staged all around the world.

    K'naan has also re-recorded new versions of the track with Will.i.Am and French dance producer David Guetta and a bilingual versions with Spanish pop singer David Bisbal, French MC Fefe, AI Otsuka from Japan, Jackie Cheung and Jane Zhang from China, Tattoo Colour from Thailand, Nancy Arjam from Egypt, HHP from South Africa, and other artists in Greece, Turkey and elsewhere.

    Kam Williams: Hi K'naan, thanks so much for the time.

    K: My pleasure.

    KW: Celia Chazelle asks, what was the inspiration for Wavin' Flag?

    K: I can’t remember specifically, it was just one of those moments when I had a melody in my head and a discontented, melancholy feeling. I just wrote that.

    KW: Did it emanate at all from your childhood?

    K: I think everything kinda’ does. Everything is kind of shaped by life in general, so I guess it does feel like my childhood might have been an influence. But those things are pretty subconscious.

    KW: Do you still feel a strong connection to Somalia?

    K: Yes, I have many, many memories which have impacted my life.

    KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?

    K: We used to have an open-roofed courtyard. My earliest childhood memory is of sitting around as a child looking up to the sky and dreaming while listening to poetry.

    KW: Were you listening to a lot of American music while growing up?

    K: You could live in Somalia forever and never need music from outside Somalia. There are a lot of different styles and a variety of musical ideas developing right there.

    KW: FSU grad Laz Lyles asks, what did it mean for you to have Wavin' Flag become the anthem of the World Cup?

    K: I used to get very excited watching the World Cup on TV as a child. So, to have any kind of involvement with the World Cup is a big, big honor.

    KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls was wondering whether you’re a soccer fan and if you played soccer in your youth?

    K: Yes I am, and I did play, like most other children.

    KW: Author/filmmaker Hisani Dubose asks, how have you been received by the American hip-hop community?

    K: Great! You can tell from what’s been happening for me. They’ve all been very supportive and showing love for what I do.

    KW: Irene also asks, where do you think hip-hop is headed?

    K: I think it will always go through phases, like how philosophy in ancient times would celebrate the body and the physical for awhile, then focus on the mind and the spiritual. I think that those phases happen to us as well, and hip-hop is one of the best barometers of what is happening, because it reflects the feeling of young people. I see my music as following the feeling.

    KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

    K: [Chuckles] Interesting… I often try to find the face of my teenage years. I don’t know whether it’s like this for everybody, but I can’t find it.

    KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?

    K: It probably would be good if I cooked more, but I just don’t do it very often. When I do, I find it very enjoyable. I made a dish about a year ago. It was stir-fried vegetables with Szechuan sauce. I made it a little too spicy, I admit, but I think everybody enjoyed it, aside from all the sweating.

    KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

    K: “The Story of Forgetting.” It’s a novel about Alzheimer’s.

    KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What are you listening to on your iPod?

    K: Vampire Weekend.

    KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Do you have a favorite clothes designer?

    K: I probably do, because I know what I like, but I wouldn’t know who it is by name.

    KW: Uduak also asks, “How do you think African music will influence the rest of the world in the coming years?”

    K: I think it’s actually already affecting the world in a big way now. People just aren’t aware of it. For instance, there’s a great tune by Coldplay called “Strawberry Swing.” It’s essentially Afro-Pop music. And most of Vampire Weekend’s music is Afro-Pop. Africa has influenced many of the biggest bands. So, I believe Africa has already crept in and changed music in the West. People just don’t know to call it African.

    KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?

    K: Wow! That would be for a sudden shift in my country from war, distrust and death to peace, love and harmony.

    KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?

    K: About a week ago on the road with my band when we were talking. It was just one of those things where we’ve been together so long, that a running joke that’s about five years-old could crack us all up for about an hour.

    KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?

    K: Yes I am, but not of what people ordinarily fear, fortunately. My fears are all internal. I’m afraid of my own self more than of anything external.

    KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

    K: Happiness, I think, is one of the most elusive things on the planet. I believe that happiness is only appreciated in retrospect. So, I’m always happy, given that I later find out that I was.

    KW: The Laz Alonso question: How can your fans help you?

    K: By being understanding of the fact that I don’t make music for them, but that I make music that’s about my past and about my most honest internal instincts. They need to understand that more than anything else. Wherever I go, it’s not about them, but where the music takes me.

    KW: What has been the happiest moment of your life?

    K: The birth of my first son.

    KW: The Zane question: Do you have any regrets?

    K: I guess I do have some regrets, but none big enough to obsess about.

    KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?

    K: As someone who was always interested in walking through life in a positive way and in affecting people in a positive way.

    KW: Thanks again for the interview, K’Naan, and best of luck on your world tour.

    K: Thank you so much, Kam.

  • Book review: The History of White People


    Nell Painter (Photo credit: Robin Holland)

    "Most Americans envision whiteness as racially indivisible, though ethnically divided; this is the scheme anthropologists laid out in the mid 20th Century. By this reckoning, there were only three real races (Mongoloid, Negroid and Caucasoid) but countless ethnicities. Today, however, biologists and geneticists no longer believe in the physical existence of races—though they recognize the continuing power of racism (the belief that races exist, and that some are better than others)...

    Although science today denies race any standing as objective truth, and the U.S. censes faces taxonomic meltdown, many Americans cling to race as the unschooled cling to superstition. So long as racial discrimination remains a fact of life and statistics can be arranged to support racial difference, the American belief in race will endure.

    But confronted with the actually existing American population—its distribution of wealth, power and beauty—the notion of American whiteness will continue to evolve, as it has since the creation of the American Republic.”
    - Excerpted from the Introduction (pages xi-xii)

    A quarter century ago, comedian Martin Mull published “The History of White People in America” a book which took a lighthearted look at the contributions of Caucasians to this society. The droll humorist even served as the host for a made-for-TV adaptation of the popular best-seller, a tongue-in-cheek mockumentary starring Steve Martin, Harry Shearer and Fred Willard.

    As might be expected, Nell Irvin Painter’s version of “The History of White People” tackles the same subject-matter, only in the deadly-serious, methodical and academic fashion expected of a Princeton University professor who also happens to be African-American. Weighing-in at 500+ pages, her informative, encyclopedic opus ponders whether white people even belong to a separate race, which one might presume to be the case, judging by this country’s long legacy of a strictly-enforced color line.

    But the author’s examination of the history of Western Civilization from ancient Greece and Rome to the present reveals the emergence of “whiteness” to be a relatively-recent phenomenon, having only really caught hold as a viable philosophy in the 1700s in the wake of a Germanic propagating the notion of Caucasian features as the epitome of beauty. Professor Painter’s persuasive thesis that there is only one race, the human race, rests on evidence unearthed in recent years by the Genome Project. Yet, in spite of conclusive scientific proof, we see that the arbitrary, artificial construct of race tends to persist, even if undergoing alterations in accordance with dictates of ever-evolving cultural mores to a certain degree.

    If there is any hope in finally making racism obsolete once and for all, it rests in the widespread embrace of the sort of sensible conclusions upon which Nell Painter’s monumental research and scholarship were based.

  • Corinne Bailey Rae: The “Live from the Artists Den” interview

    CBR

    Corinne puts her record on and lets her hair down

    Corinne Jacqueline Bailey was born in Leeds , England on February 26, 1979, the eldest of three girls to bless the union of her British mother and Caribbean father from St. Kitts. As a child, she studied classical violin at school, and only sang in the church choir, until she formed an all-female rock band at the age of 15.

    Corrine went on to major in English at the University of Leeds , and after graduating in 2000, took a job as a hat check girl at a local jazz club. It was there, while sitting in with various bands that she developed the sultry, soulful vocal style which would become her trademark. It was also at the pub that she met saxophonist Jason Rae, the love whose last name she would take when they married the very next year.

    In 2006, she released her self-titled debut CD containing such hits as “Like a Star” and “Put Your Records On” to rave reviews, earning Grammy nominations for Record of the Year, Song of the Year (“Put Your Records On”) and Best New Artist. Sadly, tragedy struck a couple years later, when her husband passed away unexpectedly.

    A period of withdrawal from the public eye to grieve ended when Corinne reemerged in 2010 upon the release of her second album, “The Sea,” a relatively-sober CD in comparison to the light and breezy collection of melodies on her initial offering. Recently, she reflected with me about her life and her career, in celebration of her PBS special, “Live from the Artists Den,” a concert recorded at the Hiro Ballroom in New York City. (See here)

    Kam Williams: Thanks so much for the time, Corinne. I’m honored to be speaking with you.

    Corinne Bailey Rae: Thank you.

    KW: Did you have fun shooting the “Live from the Artists Den” concert in New York ?

    CBR: I really enjoyed recording it, yeah. I had great time in front of a really appreciative audience. The way that it was recorded was really unobtrusive, so we really kind of got lost in the moment. So, yeah, I loved it.

    KW: Do you have a special affinity for New York ?

    CBR: Yes, New York was definitely one of the first gigs we did in America . And that was also my first chance to get to New York . So, the first time I ever saw it I was playing there. It’s all tied up for me, playing in America for the first time, being in New York, experiencing this different culture, and finding this cool place to hang out. So, I always love coming back to New York.

    KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks, “Who were your musical influences?” Let me guess, Billie Holiday and Al Green. You remind me of a combination of them.

    CBR: Wow! I definitely love Al Green’s singing, how vulnerable and delicate it is, and how there’s a lot of texture to his voice. And similarly, Billie Holiday has a great deal of texture in his voice. She was an amazing find for me at 11 or 12 when me mum started playing her records for me. I remember being a little annoyed that I hadn’t discovered her voice before, because I always had so much texture in my voice, and always loved singing, but never really considered myself a singer because of that croakiness which I’d never heard in another singer. So, I was always trying to get rid of that croakiness. Then, Billie Holiday arrived like a real lightning bolt letting me know that there was a place for me. In fact, there’d been a place for me all along. And later I appreciated singers like Bjork, who was really special to me, and Macy Gray and Erykah Badu. They were all influences in the sense that they give you more confidence in your abilities. I also love Sly and the Family Stone and Jimi Hendrix. Jimi singing’s so casual, and his phrases amaze me. And when I was a teenager, I loved Nirvana’s kind of homemade music, and Belly and the female indie scene. It was amazing to me how their songs could be dainty and small, yet still have value.

    KW: When you say “homemade” music, it makes me think of your Grammy-nominated debut album, a masterpiece which you managed to make on a shoestring budget. How did you achieve that?

    CBR: Wow! Thank you very much. I guess we worked on it a lot, did a lot of the playing ourselves, did a lot of layering, and we called in a lot of favors. For instance, we’d ask a friend to come over and play bass on a few songs. And we couldn’t afford drummers, so we began trolling for different drums sounds, and we kind of intricately pieced them together. So, it was really time consuming, but in a way it was good because you had a great deal of control over what was happening in all the different sections. Yeah, if you have the time to make a record like that, I think it’s a good way to work.

    KW: By contrast, I found it interesting to hear you on stage say that you sort oof just found yourself singing the songs that you put on your new album, “The Sea,” that that’s how they came to you, rather than by composing them in a conventional manner.

    CBR: Yeah, it was weird. I felt with this record I wanted to work on my own. I was sort of making it up, as I went along. I wasn’t trying so hard. When I was playing the chords, I was just kind of singing things out, sometimes recording it, but sometimes not, and just singing along. And it’s the stuff that stuck that I felt the song was meant to be. Other times, I’d be walking around the house singing something new, and say to myself, “Now, what was that?” And it eventually ended up on the album. I think because other people weren’t involved, it was a much less conscious process. It was just me in a room playing my guitar, and with all this stuff coming out… trying to sing words without thinking about what they meant or putting a filter on them. That was really an important part of the process.

    KW: That’s funny, because the first album sounded so effortless, while the new one has so much emotional depth, I would have guessed that the second was the result of a more work-intensive process.

    CBR: Yeah, when you write breezy melodies, you really have to think about it. I love melodic music, but it’s definitely more of an effort for me. It’s a skill I’d like to develop further, maybe for my next record.

    KW: Larry Greenberg says, “I am completely mesmerized by the beauty of your new album. I know you studied the violin but you don’t play it anymore. Is there any chance I might get to hear you play the violin in the future?

    CBR: It’s a hard instrument, especially to get the intonation right, if you haven’t played it in a long time. It’s a completely different discipline, but yeah, I would love one day to mess about, sit and write some string parts and sort of layer them up. And if my playing were good enough, I would be really happy to play violin on a record. But I haven’t played for so long, I don’t know how good I would be.

    KW: What age were you when you studied violin?

    CBR: I started when I was about 6, and I studied it until I was 16. I played in youth orchestras.

    KW: Were you good at it?

    CBR: Maybe the first 5 years or so I was really good for my age, and stood out. But then it started too catch up with me, and I started to struggle, because I never could afford private lessons.

    KW: Larry also mentioned that you were on tour in August with Norah Jones. He wants to know what’s your favorite flavor of Chex Mix, because Norah sang a song about that cereal.

    CBR: I like Frosties. We don’t have Chex Mix in England . We have Frosties.

    KW: Yale Grad Tommy Russell asks, “Do you think the music industry suffered an irreparable period from Napster and other online downloading sites, and from the music industry''s obsession with appearance over substance, or do you think there''s hope for hearing more and more creative musicians like yourself?"

    CBR: I think the industry really suffered from music being available online because it made young people feel, “why should you pay for music, if it’s so readily available for free?”

    KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks, “Do you prefer performing in a large stadium or in front of a small audience?

    CBR: I guess I’ve played a few massive gigs, and they’re a thrill if they go well. But I mostly prefer to play more intimate venues where you can see everyone and everyone can see you. I recently did a concert in Switzerland , where they actually had a couple of huge screens on either side of the stage. It was strange, because when you look out into the audience, no one’s looking at you. Everyone’s looking to the far left or to the far right. I found it quite disconcerting. So, I much prefer when everyone can see me and vice-versa, up to 3,000 or 4,000 people. After that, it gets too big.

    KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

    CBR: Nothing springs to mind.

    KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?

    CBR: Yeah, we were driving back from a festival on a tour bus the other day, when we felt this sort of really hard brake, and we all sort of slid down in our bunks to the bottom. Things like that are scary, that brief moment when you think, “Oh no, we’re in a car crash.” It was a relief to be able to escape safely. But things like that which are out of your control can be shocking.

    KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?

    CBR: That’s a very good question, actually. It’s kind of sad that I can’t remember when. I haven’t a real, proper abandoned laughing fit for a while. Yeah, I haven’t fallen out laughing on the floor for ages.

    KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

    CBR: I always think it’s weird when you see yourself in mirrors. I try not to look in mirrors. I think people can overanalyze how they look. When I do look in the mirror, I feel like I didn’t think I looked like that. I don’t like looking at myself so much. I’m not one of those people who poses in front of the mirror.

    KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?

    CBR: My earliest childhood memory is of a really hot morning when I was about 3. I was living with my parents in this fifth-floor flat where one of the walls was all windows. The sun was just beating in, and I remember a friend coming around, and he brought me a box-toy present in a plastic bag. Out of it came a stuffed penguin. It always stuck with me, so I must have liked the penguin.

    KW: You’re from Leeds . Also from your hometown is Mel B of the Spice Girls. Have you ever met her?

    CBR: I’ve never met her. But I have met her sister, Danielle a few times, because she attended the same acting school as my sister, Rhea Bailey, who is also an actress.

    KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

    CBR: “The History of White People” by Nell Irvin Painter. It’s a really, really interesting book which goes through history examining where this idea of different people came from.

    KW: I’ve interviewed Nell. She used to teach here in Princeton .

    CBR: Really. I’d like to meet her. I also recently read “The Long Song,” a novel by a British writer name Andrea Levy. It’s sort of a fictionalized slave narrative.

    KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music are you listening to?

    CBR: I’m listening to Erykah Badu’s new record. I really like that. We went to a listening party for that, and I just love it. I’ve got it on vinyl, which is a real pain, because we’re sort of in and out of airports, and I have to pack it in my suitcase.

    I also listen Fresh, the Young Natives, and to an American singer named John Grant,

    KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?

    CBR: I like to cook stews and things, dishes where the heat does all the work. So, it’s just like chopping and flaving. Veggie chili would be my favorite thing to cook because it’s really great but not much work.

    KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?

    CBR: I really like Stella McCartney, and what Marc Jacobs is doing. It would be like Louis Vuitton, Prada, Marc Jacobs, Lanvin, Stella and Miu-Miu. She’s always got great ideas that are really fun, really cool, and really different.

    KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?

    CBR: For increased tolerance of individuality among people. It’s all of our world.

    KW: The Tavis Smiley question: What do you want your legacy to be?

    CBR: Professionally, writing good songs. Personally, I’m not sure yet.

    KW: Corinne, thanks again for the interview, and best of luck with the album and the tour.

    CBR: Oh, thank you very much.

    To see Corinne Bailey Rae perform several songs on “Live from the Artists Den,” visit: http://www.hulu.com/watch/123035/live-from-the-artists-den-corinne-bailey-rae#s-p2-sr-i0

    To order a copy of Corinne’s debut album, “Corinne Bailey Rae,” visit: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000HBK3MM?ie=UTF8&tag=thslfofire-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B000HBK3MM

    To order a copy of Corinne’s new album, “The Sea,” visit:

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002X78CB2?ie=UTF8&tag=thslfofire-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B002X78CB2

    To see a video of Corinne singing “Put Your Records On,” visit:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IkBXJ7sprIs&feature=fvw

  • Fraternizing with the first brother-in-law

    Craig Robinson

    Craig Robinson was born in Chicago on April 21, 1962, to Fraser and Marian Robinson and raised in a modest home where he had to share a room with his younger sister, Michelle. With help of devoted parents, who made major sacrifices on their behalf, both children were inspired to excel academically and were admitted to Princeton University.

    6’6” Craig was also a basketball phenom who was twice voted the Ivy League Player of the Year during his college tenure. This meant that Michelle grew up in the shadow of her protective big brother. But today, those roles are reversed with Craig in the shadow of his world famous sibling, since she’s now the First Lady of the United States.

    After playing basketball professionally in Europe, he earned an MBA from the University of Chicago, and entered the world of finance where he enjoyed a meteoric rise until another dream beckoned, namely, to coaching. Craig spent two years as the head coach at Brown, where he spearheaded a revival of the school’s flagging program, winning more games in his first two years than any other head coach in the school’s basketball history before being named the Ivy League Basketball Coach of the Year.

    Kam Williams: Hey, thanks for the time. Much appreciated.

    Craig Robinson: Oh, my pleasure, man. Thank you for reading my book.

    KW: I really enjoyed it. How should I refer to you, as the First Brother-in-Law?

    CR: [Laughs] You can call me Craig, Coach, or whatever you like.

    KW: How does it feel, as a two-time Ivy League Player of the Year, to find yourself suddenly overshadowed by your sister for the first time?  

    CR: It’s ironic, but it’s kind of fun for me. As I mentioned in the book, for most of her life, until just a few years ago, she was always known as Craig Robinson’s little sister. It’s much more fun being Michelle Obama’s big brother.

    KW: In reading the book, you emphasized the importance of both family and basketball in shaping your character. Which would you say played a bigger role?

    CR: I’d say the split is really about 70% family, 30% basketball. The foundation I learned from my parents. It just so happened that my father was into athletics, so he often used sports to reiterate some of the lessons he had already taught me at home.  

    KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls’ asks, “How does it feel to be the First Lady''s brother?” And, “Seeing politics up close and personal, do you have political aspirations of your own?”

    CR: I’ll answer the second question first. I don’t have any political aspirations. I so much enjoy coaching. I feel so rewarded having the opportunity to help shape the lives of young people. As to how it feels to be the First Lady''s brother, it’s really been an eye-opener for me to work on the Presidential campaign, and to get an insider’s view of Washington and politics. It was humbling and quite an honor to be able to go around the country and talk about my family. And to see the inner workings of the White House, just from my own inquisitive point of view, has been really interesting. It’s been almost all positive.

    KW: What did you think of the issue of the New Yorker Magazine that came out during the campaign with the cover suggesting that your sister and Barack were terrorists?

    New Yorker

    CR: It didn’t bother me, because I knew who my sister and brother-in-law were. While it might have been disturbing to some people, it really didn’t upset me. Whenever trailblazers are trying to break through a ceiling into uncharted territory, they have to be prepared for pushback and challenges, and for it not be pretty.

    KW: Have you ever read the book, “The Rage of a Privileged Class,” by Ellis Cose? He’s also from Chicago. The book talks about the frustrations encountered by many black professionals upon entering the corporate world. I know plenty of folks like the ones he describes whose careers never fully flourished despite impressive credentials and their showing dedication. Why do you think you, your sister and President Obama have fared so differently?  

    CR: I haven’t read the book, but I’m going to run out and try to find it. I certainly understand the point it sounds like he’s making. Having worked in corporate America, the only thing I can say is that growing up in our house Michelle and I were taught to do our best, to be content with that, and not to gauge our success by how much money we made. And we saw that ethic demonstrated every day, watching our father getting up and going to work, despite his being disabled, and my mom working so hard, too. My parents’ prevailing mantra was self-confidence. They taught us not to let anybody else define us, and to not worry about what other people thought. What that does is instill the confidence and determination that you need to compete when things are so much against you.

    KW: It makes me think of PBS anchorwomanGwen Ifill’s memoir, where she recounted being greeted on the first day of work at a Boston newspaper by a note on her desk which read, “[N-word] go home!”

    Luckily, she wasn’t crushed by the insult like the racist undoubtedly hoped. The incident only served to strengthen her resolve. But not everybody is blessed with the combination of intelligence, grace and intestinal fortitude needed to survive and even flourish in a toxic environments like that. 

    CR: You have to have the type of personality that doesn’t care about that sort of intimidation. It helps to feel in every fiber of your being that, “I’m here to do something that I’d love to do. And if you think this is going to scare me away, then you don’t know who I am.”

    KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks, “How has the family dynamic changed since your mother and sister moved to the White House?” Also, “Are all family events now at your sister''s?”

    CR: No, all family events are not at my sister''s, although things obviously have changed a little. Now, it’s a bit of a logistical nightmare to get together, but I still talk to my mother and sister at least once a week. And the things we speak about haven’t changed. It’s family stuff: parenting, the kids, and how they’re doing.

    KW: I forgot that you and your wife just had a baby. Congratulations!

    CR: Yep, in January, thank you.

    KW: Are you getting any sleep?

    CR: No, but I’m at the point where I don’t need a lot of sleep.

    KW: Bernadette has a couple of follow-ups. “Do you have Secret Service following you around all the time?” And, “How often each week do people reach out to you just to get to Barack?”

    CR: I can’t comment about our security. As for the second question, people reach out to me incessantly to get through to Barack. Because I’m a coach, my contact information is easily accessible, and people write, call and send things to me constantly.    

    KW: Hot Rod Williams wants to know, who was best player you ever played against? Having read the book, I’d {sidebar id=1}guess your answer is gonna be Michael Jordan.

    CR: Right. That was in a summer league game.

    KW: He also wants to know, what was your greatest basketball moment as a player?

    CR: The NCAA Tournament my senior year, when we won two games, including an upset of Oklahoma State, is my fondest memory from my playing days..

    KW: FSU grad Laz Lyles would like to know your thoughts about the Gulf oil spill.

    CR: Well, my thoughts are that this is an awful tragedy that sounds like it could have been avoided. My heart just goes out to the families of the people who lost their lives, and to the people of the Gulf who are going to feel the effects of it for years to come.

    KW: Yale grad Tommy Russell wants to know if you think your brother-in-law is doing enough in response to the crisis in the Gulf.

    CR: That’s a loaded question that I’d prefer not to answer.

    KW: Tommy also asks, when you visit the White House, do you stay over? And if so, in what room?

    CR: I’ve only spent the night there once, and I stayed in the Lincoln bedroom. I imagine I would stay there any time I’m invited, because it’s got the biggest bed.

    KW: Reverend Florine Thompson says, “I read that your mother refers to you as Philosopher-in-Chief. This being the case, what is the wisest quote that you are known for in the family?”

    CR: [LOL] I don’t know that I’ve been quoted yet.

    KW: She also asks, when life seems most challenging, who gets you through those difficult times?

    CR: I would have to say my family, specifically, my wife, my mom and my kids.

    KW: Another one from Reverend Thompson: What leadership/management style do you commit to and why?

    CR: As a coach, it involves a lot more teaching and instructing than it did when I was in the business world. I try to get my players to do things that they wouldn’t be able to do on their own.

    KW: Her follow-up is, “What is your primary goal as coach of the Oregon State Beavers?”

    CR: The primary goal is to compete for the national championship. That’s the ultimate goal. But I’d say that right now we’re just trying to compete for the Pac-10 championship every year.

    KW: Is recruiting easier or harder, being the First Brother-in-Law?

    CR: We’re still trying to figure that out, but being related to the President and First Lady of the United States certainly gives me some brand awareness.

    KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

    CR: No, although every now and then I get a question I’ve never been asked before. This is the first time I’ve ever been interviewed where the reporter has had questions from readers. That’s different.

    KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?

    CR: For my life, probably not. I haven’t been afraid in a long time. But I’m definitely a worrier.

    KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

    CR: Yes.

    KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?

    CR: This weekend.

    KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

    CR: John Adams by David McCullough.

    KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What are you listening to on your iPod? 

    CR: I listen to a little bit of everything: hip-hop, R&B, reggae and jazz. And I’ll even tune-in to a Top-40 station on the radio. 

    KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

    CR: When I look in the mirror, I hope I’m doing the right thing. I see someone who’s trying to do his best to leave a mark which helps rather than hurts people.

    KW: Guess what? Just this second I got an email marked “URGENT!” warning me not to open any email with the subject heading “Blacks in the White House,” because it might be a virus.

    CR: [Chuckles] That’s ironic, huh?

    KW: Yeah, but I’m sure it’s not true. They never are. The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?

    CR: Oh, man, it was when I was 3, before we moved out of our first apartment. I remember my mom holding me up to the window so I could see my dad coming home from work.

    KW: What was it like sharing a room with Michelle as a child?

    CR: It was a lot of fun. We were very close. My parents never pitted us against each other, so it was a really easygoing childhood. Because she became First Lady, people want me to say that I predicted it back then. But I didn’t.

    KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?

    CR: Fried chicken.

    KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?

    CR: That my dad could have lived to see all the stuff that’s going on for us right now. 

    KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?

    CR: I don’t have one. Being 6’6” and 260 pounds, I like any designers who can make clothes look good on me.

    KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?

    CR: Krispy Kreme donuts. They’re a real test of willpower.

    CR: Do you ever wish you could get your anonymity back?

    KW: [Laughs] Yeah, sometimes, for my daughter’s sake. When we go out to dinner, she would love to make sure we share some quality time together. But sometimes, that’s just not possible, between my being a basketball coach, and my sister being the First Lady.

    KW: How do you want to be remembered?

    CR: As somebody who gave more than he took.

    KW: Thanks again, Craig, good luck in the Pac-10 next season, and give my best to your sister and brother-in-law.

    CR: Alright, man, I appreciate it. This was fun. 

  • Book review: Bitch Is the New Black

    Bitch is the new black

    “I’m such a badass. I am literally the baddest bitch on the planet. If there was a bitch contest between me and every other heartbroken, hissing, red-eyed, puffy-faced woman in the world, I would defeat every last one of them--handily… I’m a bitch, but I swear I don’t want to be. Really, I think I have to be.”
    -- Excerpted from Chapter One (pg. 4)

    Normally, I’d say it takes a lot of nerve to publish your memoirs before you even turn 30, but in the case of Helena Andrews I have to concede that it turns out to be totally warranted. For this fiery young sister not only already has a lot of life experiences under her belt, literally and figuratively, but has cultivated a wealth of wisdom to share well beyond her years. And, perhaps most importantly, she has a most beguiling way with words which keep you intrigued with what’s coming out of her mouth next in this shockingly-frank autobiography.

    As for credentials, Helena’s a seasoned journalist who has worked for The New York Times, O Magazine and Politico since her graduation from Columbia University. This impressive resume’ sounds fairly conventional, until you factor in that she was raised by a lesbian on Catalina Island, where she was the only black kid in town.

    Her writing style might best described as a non-linear stream of conscious reflecting that Ivy League pedigree but blended with an introspective compulsion to bare her soul. The upshot is an unexpurgated opus which primarily focuses on her frustrations over a never-ending string of failed relationships.

    The author is not at all hesitant to dish the dirt on her ex-lovers as she reflects on what went wrong while issuing cautionary warnings about the hazards of dating in the 21st Century. So, over the course of this alternately angry and steamy page-turner, the author shares her {sidebar id=17}feelings about everything from the guy who took her virginity to having an abortion as a college sophomore to the sexual tension between her and a black lesbian colleague to sabotaging a budding romance with a dreamboat for calling her the “perfect girl.” Curiously, she also admits to not knowing “whether to take it as a compliment or a curse,” upon being told that she “had the best p*ssy in the world.”

    Bitch Is the New Black’s terminally-irreverent slanguage is offset by somber asides like “This is why I never win” and “I want never to be in love again.” Consequently, don’t be surprised if by the time you finish it Helena has you thoroughly convinced that she is entitled to her dismal outlook on the battle of the sexes.

    Her fatalistic view is summed up best by this exchange about a man who is clearly afraid to flirt with her. “Is it because I’m black?” Helena asks her girlfriend. “No, it’s because you’re a bitch,” comes the telling response. Listen, you know you’re in for a heck of a wild, roller coaster ride when a sister’s opening line announces, “Problem is, I’m black and I have a vagina.”

  • Jada Pinkett Smith Interview

    Jada Pinkett

    The many shades of Jada, from TV Nurse to Karate Kid’s mom

    Besides playing the title character on the U.S. TNT series HawthoRNe, which is starting its second season, Jada Pinkett Smith executive-produces the show through her production company, 100% Womon. With her husband, Will Smith, she is serving as producer of The Karate Kid, starring their son, Jaden, and also of Fela!, the Broadway musical nominated for 11 Tony Awards. Jada’s recent film credits include Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, as the voice of Gloria, and director Diane English’s remake of The Women.

    In the past, she’s teamed up with Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle in Reign Over Me, and enjoyed a pivotal role opposite Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx in Michael Mann’s Collateral. However, she perhaps remains best known as the take-charge Niobe of Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions fame.

    Here, Jada reflects on the challenge of balancing career and family when each member is a showbiz celebrity in his or her own right.

    Kam Williams: Thanks for the time, Jada. It’s nice to have an opportunity to speak with you again.

    Jada Pinkett Smith: Oh, thank you!

    KW: Well, first of all, let me say congratulations! You’re blossoming on every front. Let’s see, HawthoRNe’s starting its second season, you’re going t be on the cover of the July issue of Essence magazine, your Broadway musical has been nominated for 11 Tonys, and Jaden is starring in The Karate Kid, a picture you and Will produced. How does it feel?

    JPS: It feels good. These are the moments that you keep in your back pocket to remember, “All of those were good times!” [Laughs]

    KW: I told my readers I’d be interviewing you, and I think they often come up with better questions than I do. So why don’t I start right of with some of them. Lester Chisholm says, “Thank you for the production of Fela,” and asks, “What would suggest as a lifestyle to keep young entertainers focused?”

    JPS: Wow… Whew! Man, that’s a hard one, because part of the challenge of being young is finding what to be focused on. It’s a time of exploration when you have to discover who you’re not, in order to know who you are. I would say being deeply involved in the art world would help keep a young artist on track. Doing what you love, so that your focus is your artistry.

    KW: Reverend Florine Thompson and filmmaker Hisani Dubose had the same question: What is the key to balancing motherhood, marriage and such a successful career?

    JPS: Staying true to yourself, and being able to prioritize. It’s very important to prioritize. I know, for me, my family comes first. That makes every decision very easy.

    KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls Are there any arenas left for you to conquer?

    JPS: [LOL] Definitely! And I’m always looking for them. But as I’ve gotten older, and now that my kids are starting to do what they do, I am now really focusing on sharing my knowledge and insights with them to help guide them on their journeys.

    KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman observes that you and Will come across as down-to-earth and very family-centric. She wants to know, how you keep your family values intact with the children becoming stars themselves? Do they have chores and an allowance?

    JPS: [Laughs] They definitely have chores, and they get an allowance from money they make, believe it or not. I think that critical to keeping them balanced is giving them purpose, and part of giving them purpose is allowing them to do things that they love to do, which is being part of this industry. And as wacky as that might seem, it allows them to contribute to the family, and it allows them to develop their own self-worth. And I feel that when a child has self-worth and purpose, that’s what keeps them grounded.

    KW: Cinema Professor Mia Mask asks, do you think the roles for women of color -- black women in particular -- have improved?

    JPS: I’d say they’ve improved, but there still aren’t enough. And I’d say that’s the case, not only for African-American women, but for all women in the Hollywood game. It’s just slim pickings, and a very challenging time for us. I think that’s why more of us need to work our way behind the camera in order to create roles that really illuminate who women are. We still have room for growth in that area, without a doubt.

    KW: Marcia Evans says that she’s a true fan of yours because she really respects the mature manner in which you approach being a wife and mother. She wants to know whatever happened to your TV sitcom "Good News."

    JPS: I never had a show by that name, but I did have one called “M.I.L.F. and Cookies,” that got picked up and was set to air until the network and I had a disagreement at the last minute. They wanted to change the concept a bit in a way I wasn’t in agreement with, so we had to go our separate ways.

    KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

    JPS: I’m sure there is, but I really can’t think of one right now.

    KW: Larry Greenberg says Richmond, Virginia is a beautiful and unique choice for the setting of Hawthorne. Were you involved in that decision?

    JPS: We felt like Richmond was an area that’s growing, but hasn’t really been explored on television at all, in the way that New York, Los Angeles and Chicago have. So, we decided it would make a great location.

    KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?

    JPS: Yes.

    KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

    JPS: I am happy. I have my moments when I’m not, but I am. I’m very happy.

    KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What are you listening to on your iPod?

    JPS: Oh, I’m listening to so much right now. I looooove Alicia Keys’ new song, “Unthinkable.” I’m blasting that all over the place, but I’m also listening to Sade’s new album, and I always have my Heavy Metal, Mastodon. [LOL]

    KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

    JPS: I’m reading a book right now by John Dewey called “Art as Experience.”

    That has been a very interesting read for me. And I’m also reading one called The Heart of Sufism, which is about a more esoteric approach to Islam.

    KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

    JPS: Oh, man, when I look in the mirror, I see about a thousand different Jadas... Yeah…

    KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?

    JPS: I don’t really cook much. I’m more of a baker. My favorite things to bake that everybody loves, and I can only keep in the house for about ten minutes, are 7-Up cake and Pineapple Upside-Down cake.

    KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?

    JPS: Oh, I laugh hard every day. I mean, my husband is Will Smith! [Shrieks] I’m telling you, that’s one of the joys of being married to him. My life full of laughter. Thank God I have him. My life is full of laughter because of that man.

    KW: How do you want to be remembered?

    JPS: I don’t know yet. I have no idea.

    KW: Well, thanks for another great interview, Jada, and best of luck in all your endeavors.

    JPS: Thank you, Kam.

    To get a sneak peek at HawthoRNe Season 2 which premieres in the U.S. on TNT on June 22nd at 9 PM, visit: http://www.tnt.tv/dramavision/?cid=47834

  • African programming at Luminato 2010

    The African Trilogy

    After much fanfare and anticipation, the Luminato arts festival kicks off later this week. It will run from June 11th to 20th at various locations in Toronto’s downtown core. During the last three years, Luminato has attracted 5.5 million festival-goers. This year, Luminato will present over 150 events over ten days. Among those selections, the festival has some truly amazing features through its African programming that are must-attends.

    As Devyani Saltzman, curator of literary programming at Luminato and accomplished author herself, told AfroToronto.com, the festival is excited to feature some of the top new voices in African literature this year. Luminato is particularly proud to showcase Nigerian poet and novelist Ben Okri. On Monday, June 14th at the Al Green Theatre, the festival will present an evening with the remarkable winner of the prestigious 1991 Man Booker Prize for The Famished Road. Ben Okri will discuss his newest work, Tales of Freedom.

     

    The African literary program also features Kenyan author and scholar Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, who wrote Decolonizing the Mind and Petals of Blood , for the Canadian launch of his new memoir Dreams in a Time of War. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o passionately advocates for African authors writing in their native languages. The event, which takes place on June 12th at the Isabel Bader Theatre (93 Charles St. W.), will be hosted by well-known local African-Canadian author Dionne Brand and will also feature emerging writers Brian Chikwava (a young Zimbabwean author from London who wrote Harare North) and Carole Enahoro (a Nigerian-Canadian novelist and author of Doing Dangerously Well).

    The literary program explores how we write about Africa and tackles preconceptions about the continent. The events also take an inquisitive look at cross-generational writing and asks: What is Africa’s continuing literary legacy shaping out to be since the first publication of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart?

    Exploring Africa and the West on stage

     

    The pièce de résistance of the theatre program is The Africa Trilogy. Inspired by the 2005 Massey Lectures (specifically Race Against Time) by Stephen Lewis, The Africa Trilogy seeks explores the often complex relationship between Africa and the West with three playwrights and three directors from three continents, offering three different points of view. Produced by Toronto’s Volcano Theatre and commissioned especially for Luminato, the trilogy features three one-hour-long world premieres.

    The directors Josette Bushell-Mingo (from the UK), Ross Manson (artistic director of Volcano Theatre) and Liesl Tommy (from South Africa), join forces with the playwrights Christina Anderson (from the US), Roland Schimmelpfennig  (from Germany), and Binyavanga Wainaina (from Kenya) to examine this interesting concept.

    AfroToronto.com had the opportunity to speak to The Africa Trilogy’s dramaturge, Toronto’s own Weyni Mengesha. She told us that the energy from all these voices rehearsing at the same time was not only a logistical challenge but most importantly represented a potent incubator of ideas and perspectives.  As the Volcano Theatre company’s artistic director, Ross Manson says: “Here is a subject matter that is vast, inviting and invisible on the stages of our theatres.” He goes on to say that this international collaboration taken on by a small but respected company gives it the particularity that “it’s a young, fresh, an experimental take”. Echoing this sentiment, Mengesha told AfroToronto that she was excited by the concept of delving into a theatrical analysis of the relationship between Africa and the West. Too often, she says, Africa is seen as a single monolithic entity. But Africa is a continent comprising of 54 countries with many stories to tell. We are only scratching the surface.

    As the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie rightly pointed out in her inspiration 2009 TED talk: “What’s dangerous is the single story, and the West has a single story about Africa.” Also pointing out this fact several years ago in an exclusive interview with AfroToronto.com back in 2006, Adichie said she was first stunned at how warped the image that the West had of Africa was when she first went to study in the United-States.

    Hence the need to tackle many of these sometimes even well-meaning misconceptions.

    In one of The African Trilogy’s plays, Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God, Roland Schimmelpfennig follows two couples, one of which has recently come back from working as missionaries for six years in Africa. Interesting comparisons are made between the two couples to show how their decisions have affected their lives.

    In Shine Your Eye, Kenyan journalist turned playwright based in New York Binyavanga Wainaina takes a look at African Internet scams. Set in a chaotic office environment in Lagos, Nigeria, the play examines the internal struggles of a young computer hacker as she comes to terms with her choices of living as an African or as a Westerner.

    The third play, Glo, by African-American playwright Christina Anderson looks into the notions of globalization, diversity and identity through the eyes of an African writer invited to New York to be a keynote speaker at a diversity conference.

    All three plays make notable forays into analyzing what Paul Gilroy called “the Black Atlantic”. In Gilroy’s book The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, he argues that modern black identity is very much a product of these balancing cultural poles between the West and Africa.

    The trilogy is in previews from Thursday, June 10 - Sunday, June 13; Tuesday, June 15 (opening night) - Sunday, June 20 at the Fleck Dance Theatre (207 Queen’s Quay W.). Tickets: $30 – 45

    Sights and sounds of Africa at Luminato

    In addition to the literary and theatrical programming, Luminato presents two free concerts in the park: Global Music: Rock the Casbah & An African Prom featuring Béla Fleck (USA), Bassekou Kouyate (Mali), Tony Allen (Nigeria) and Rachid Taha (Algeria) and the National Bank Festival: World Divas and Global Blues featuring Afro-beat singer Razia Said, Toronto’s own Katenen “Cheka” Dioubaté and international star Salif Keita from Mali. The first outdoor concert (Global Music) will take place in Queen’s Park on June 12th (1:00pm to 11:00pm) and is a free event. The second outdoor concert (World divas) will also take place at Queen’s Park on June 19th (1:00pm to 11:00pm) and is also a free event.

    An exiting exhibit of contemporary African photography is currently ongoing until August 2nd on the 3rd and 4th floors of the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen St. W.). The free exhibition, entitled Bamako in Toronto, coinciding with Volcano Theatre’s The Africa Trilogy, is a collection of photographs from a rising generation of photographers from across the African continent.

    Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o will also present a documentary film on Saturday, June 12th, at the NFB Mediatheque (150 John St) entitled Sembène: The Making of African Cinema. The 60-minute film richly documents the legendary late Senegalese filmmaker Sembène Ousmane. This is a free screening.

  • AfroToronto.com's Hot Docs 2010 picks

    Hot Docs

    North America’s largest documentary festival, Hot Docs, is going on right now in Toronto until Sunday, May 9th. Celebrating its 17th edition, the 10-day festival is showcasing 170 documentary films from 40 countries. AfroToronto.com can recommend a few great picks this year, even as the festival winds down. The best was perhaps saved for last starting with last night’s world premiere presentation of “Grace, Milly, Lucy... Cild Soldiers”, presented by the National Film Board. Under the direction of Canadian filmmaker Raymonde Provencher, the film explores the devastating reality of child soldiers in Uganda. Another screening is scheduled for Saturday, May 8th.

    Hot Docs

    Through the bone-chilling recollections of former child soldiers Grace, Milly and Lucy, the documentary reveals the naked atrocities perpetrated by the Lord’s Resistance Army. With little regard for the dignity of human kind, the rebel soldiers go into villages to abduct unsuspecting children for the purpose of training them as soldiers and to force them to become wives for the rebel commanders.Grace, Milly, Lucy…Child Soldiers, sheds a revealing light on the considerable number of young girls who are forced into becoming child soldiers.The honesty with which all three women bring us into their tortured past is at times very troubling. They describe how they were forced to raid villages and commit mass murder while carrying babies on their back. Grace, Milly and Lucy managed to escape the horror and made the conscious decision to tell the world about these abuses and to no longer suffer in silence as so many other ex-child soldiers do. They hope to be able to save other girls from a similar fate.See trailer at: http://www.nfb.ca/film/grace_milly_lucy_child_soldiers_trailer/ Screening info:Grace, Milly, Lucy…Child Soldiers

    Canada, Run Time: 71

    Director(s) :Raymonde Provencher

    Sat, May 08 4:00 pm --The Royal Cinema

    http://www.nfb.ca


    Thunder Soul
    Another film recommended by AfroToronto.com is Soul Thunder. Directed by Mark Landsman, the documentary traces the reunion, some thirty-five years later, of an iconic Houston, Texas high school band from the 1970s known as the Kashmere Stage Band. A special focus is placed on the band’s legendary mentor Conrad “Prof” Johnson Sr  who is now 92 years old.

    Johnson was the patriarch of the all-black high school band that changed the rules of the game by introducing Top 40 funk hits to nationwide band competitions. Before long, they were touring the throughout the U.S. and internationally, won several national championships and released eight studio albums --- including the top selling “Texas Thunder Soul”. Conrad O. Johnson’s vision was revolutionary at the time since most high school bands stuck to the traditional big-band style. Johnson also created his own original music pieces.

    After the group disbanded in 1978, several members went on to become professional musicians. The film captures the magical reunion of KSB’s illustrious alumni in 2008 who return to the school for the first time in three decades. Although the big afros were gone and given way to a few bald spots, the returning musicians, now in their fifties, sought to play again to honour their beloved mentor, Conrad "Prof" Johnson.

    Screening info:Thunder SoulUSA, Run Time: 83Director(s) :Mark Landsman

    Fri, May 07 9:00 pm --Cumberland 3

    Sat, May 08 6:00 pm --Bloor Cinema

    Sun, May 09 1:45 pm --The ROM Theatre


    “When I Rise” is a feature-length documentary about the life of Barbara Smith Conrad, a gifted African-American University of Texas music student. Hers is a story of perseverance and love for oneself and others as she became embroiled at the epicenter of racial controversy during the Civil Rights era.

    Conrad faced strong adversity for trying to forge her way in the opera world. She was the target of racial discrimination and regular insults on the University of Texas campus. Tensions hit an all-time high when she was cast to co-star with a white classmate for a performance. The controversy made national news when she was subsequently expelled from the cast.Screening info:When I Rise

    USA, Run Time: 74, Canadian Premiere

    Director:Mat Hames

    Fri, May 07 6:30 pm --Bloor Cinema

    Sun, May 09 4:00 pm --Cumberland 3

    http://www.whenirisefilm.com

    http://video.pbs.org/video/1435210705/

  • A portrait of the first Afro-Canadian Oscar and Emmy nominee filmmaker: Hubert Davis

    Hubert Davis
    Photo by Joseph Michael

    Hubert Davis grew up in Vancouver BC and was raised by his mother. Davis is a writer and director who earned his BA in Film & Communication at McGill University in 1999. He also studied Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia with screenwriter Peggy Thompson (The Lotus Eaters, Better than Chocolate). Hubert Davis is a filmmaker and a commercial director at Untitled Films. He worked as a Commercial Editor with the edit house Panic&Bob from  2002 until 2005.  His work has been reviewed in various media including publications such as Who’s who in Black Canada (by Dawn P. Williams), Metro newspaper (in French and English), The Vancouver Sun, Sway Magazine, The Globe and Mail, Le Devoir, Canada AM, CTV.ca, etc.

    Since his teenage years, Hubert Davis knew that filmmaking was his thing.  “I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker when I was 17.  I saw two films that really had a strong effect on me; Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing and Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas” he expressed during our interview.  As an aspiring filmmaker, his first work Hardwood received an Oscar nomination in 2005 for Best Short Documentary and an Emmy in 2006 for Outstanding Cultural and Artistic Programming for his directorial debut.  For this short film, Davis became the first Afro-Canadian in history to earn a nomination for the prestigious Academy Award and for an Emmy.

    Mr. Davis learned of his nomination when he clicked on the Academy Awards site in 2005.  He shared how he felt about being the first Afro-Canadian filmmaker nominated for an Oscar and an Emmy for his first documentary.  “ There are so many great African-Canadian filmmakers that came before me – Clement Virgo1, Stephen Williams2, Sudz Sutherland3 just to name a few.  So, it’s a huge honour” he said. Thus he extols filmmakers who paved the way to future directors as himself.

    The documentary Hardwood is divided into three movements — "love," "recollection" and "redemption."  Hubert Davis directed, edited and wrote this documentary. Hardwood is a tour de force autobiographical documentary.  The film is based on his father, Mel Davis, a former Harlem Globetrotter and NBA basketball player (in the ‘70s) and their family relationship.  Hardwood explores many themes such as the parallel element of Davis''s childhood fascination with his dad''s celebrity.

    Hardwood premiered in 2004 and has been screened at over 30 film festivals. It has gained wide acclaim as well as various awards.  The documentary allows the viewers to understand the dynamics of family, of not having a father or of meeting another sibling later in life.  These are worldwide and boundless issues.  The National Post (Toronto) wrote that Hardwood is “a fascinating and deeply personal documentary about history, hoops and the human heart”.

    At first, Davis only hoped to create a documentary about his father’s life (in Hardwood) as a professional basketball player.  Hardwood in the end became a reflection of his family and the courage they showed by sharing their personal stories.  When asked if he had some reservations at the beginning in taking a personal road,  Davis responded:  “ Making Hardwood a personal film was an extremely tough choice. It took a lot of time to get my head around it – but ultimately the decision became about what was going to make the best project”.  Hardwood evoked emotions and became a catalyst for healing, redemption, enlightenment and openness.


    1 He did Rude, Love Come Down, etc
    2 He directed the ABC-drama series Lost (Williams was also a co-executive producer on this show), the series Soul Food, 21 Jump Street, etc
    3He was involved in episodes of Da Kink In My Hair, Degrassi:  The Next Generation, etc

    Regarding the additional work of Mr.  Davis, his 10-minute fictional short Aruba, was presented at the Sundance film festival in 2006.  He received the Don Haig Award for top emerging Canadian director at the 2007 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.  Hubert Davis worked on other films such as The Republic of Love as an assistant-editor, Bollywood/Hollywood (directed by the Indo-Canadian Deepa Mehta who received an Oscar nomination and Genie Awards for Water in 2006 and 2007).  She had an early influence in Davis’s filmmaking career:  “ Before directing, I worked on post-production.  I had the chance to work with Deepa Mehta. She was one of the first directors I got to see work behind the scenes. It always becomes more realistic to pursue your dream when you get a chance to see people doing it – it makes it real”, he said.

    Invisible City (a TVO-NFB production) is the latest documentary of Hubert Davis.  It is the story of young residents from Toronto’s Regent Park, Canada’s oldest public housing project.  The Regent Park Revitalization plan involves the tearing down of the existing community over the next 15 years, which has given rise to many questions, one of the most important being:  What will happen to the displaced community?

    Invisible City focuses mainly on the lives of two teenagers Kendell and Mikey (who are childhood friends) in their last years of high school.  Those teens and their mothers were able to share in front of the camera very personal issues.  When asked how he was able to make them open up in such a profound way, Davis stated:  “I think I just try and come from a place of understanding. I am not there to judge anyone – I am there to ask questions and really listen to what people are saying”.

    In the film, Davis introduces viewers to Ainsworth Morgan, a former Canadian Football League player who grew up in Regent Park and returned to work as a teacher and mentor.   Mr.  Morgan introduced Mr.  Davis to the two teenagers and was instrumental in allowing the filmmaker to enter the world of Kendell and  Mikey.

    Hubert Davis explained during our interview why it was important for him as a director to make a film touching subjects such as racial profiling, issues surrounding the school system, the absence of older male role models:  “I wanted the film to reflect candidly and honestly the many issues that several young, black men face in the city today. At the same time I don’t want to simplify or sensationalize those issues either”.

    Redemption is a recurring theme in Davis’s documentaries.  The filmmaker commented on this aspect that we also find in Invisible City: “Redemption is an important part of my films because I believe we can always change our lives for the better”.

    It is essential to note that Mr. Davis was inspired by Ralph Ellison’s American classic novel Invisible Man which used numerous images, metaphors and allusions to enhance the emotional and intellectual impact of the book.  Hubert Davis related why it was fundamental to use the invisibility allegory of Ellison for his documentary: “I think most young people feel invisible.  Growing up isn’t easy for anyone but if you are also facing issues of race and poverty then I think the realities of how one is perceived are even more profound. Do people really see you or, do they just see the clothes you wear and neighborhood where you are from?”


    Invisible Man was narrated in the first person by an unnamed African-American man who considers himself socially invisible.  We can draw a parallel between this novel and the reality of the kids at Regent Park who are dealing with invisibility in a figurative sense.   The metaphor of invisibility is used to depict the struggles of growing up in an inner city housing project, where issues of race and crime, of success and failure, of family and manhood can affect the outcomes.  Likewise in Ralph Ellison’s novel, the boys at Regent Park are looking for their identities and their places in society.  The title Invisible City depicts in a candid way the lives of those young people.

    During the interview, Hubert Davis shared how he wishes Invisible City will impact the youth: “I hope young viewers, whatever their background, will be able to see some of themselves or people they know in the film”.  Invisible City premiered at the Royal Theatre in Toronto and in February 2010 on TVO.  The French version of the film La Cité Invisible was also presented during Black History Month 2010 at the ONF (The French sector of NFB in Quebec). Invisible City ends on a very powerful quote. It will be up to the future viewers to discover it when they will see a screening.

    During the interview, Mr. Davis was asked what advice he wished he had been given when he was in the process of becoming a filmmaker.  Thus Hubert Davis gave us some advice for young people who want to follow his path:  “Figure out what kind of stories you want to tell and be persistent.  Never, ever give up”.  He added:  “I think it’s important for young people to understand it’s very hard to break into filmmaking. So, you have to be prepared to get a lot of rejection. You need to have a thick skin”.

    To sum up, Hubert Davis is a brilliant filmmaker with great capacity to evoke powerful emotions in his documentaries and to illuminate hidden issues with unequivocal messages. As aforementioned, Hardwood and Invisible City are about the power of redemption and the healing of the bonds between one another.  Davis knows how to bring layers of emotions and nuance in his films.  His documentaries are notches above other films of its genre. His remarkable works should be translated into numerous languages.

    At the end of the interview, the filmmaker concluded by letting us know about his future plans:  “ I am currently working on a couple of dramatic feature projects”.  Based on Davis’s past body of work, we are anticipating his next productions.

    Invisible City will be available on DVD next June at:
    www.nfb.ca/boutique and our public centres, the Mediatheque here in Toronto and the Cinérobothèque in Montreal.

    Interview conducted by the reporter Patricia Turnier in March 2010 (patricia@afrotoronto.com).  Madam  Turnier holds a Master’s degree in law, LL.M.

    Nominations for Hardwood:

    - Oscar nomination in 2005

    - Emmy nomination in 2006

    Additional awards:

    - Golden Sheaf Award of Excellence, Yorkton Short Film & Video Festival, 2004

    - World Wide Short Film Festival Best Documentary, 2004

    - Hardwood was also selected for the InFact Film Series in LA, 2004

    - Big Sky Documentary Film & Video Festival Best Documentary Short Award, 2005

    - Black Maria Film & Video Festival (a Jury’s Choice), 2005

    Award for Aruba: Palm Springs Panavision Grand Jury Award 2006  Award for Invisible City: Hot Docs Film Festival Best Canadian Feature 2009

  • Who Knew Grannie preview

    ahdri zhina mandiela’s new play, who knew grannie, is and isn’t a play in the same way that mandiela is and isn’t a playwright.  In her career she has applied her inherently rhythmic voice to spoken word, film, theatre and other forms from a firmly dub-rooted place.  Her exploration of self and culture are manifest in the application of afro-caribbean oral traditions to contemporary forms.  The poet establishes the further evolution of her form with this dub aria produced by Obsidian Theatre in association with Factory Theatre.

    mandiela recently directed Pamela Mordechai’s El Numero Uno for Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People, delving into her childhood to inspire the staging of a good mas which simultaneously evoked ragmen, jabjab and carnival of all kinds in their terrifying glory.  She takes up the role of director again, guiding her aria through curious corridors and choral trips that will elevate the audience into the inexpressible heartspace of four individuals’ journey home to pay respects to their departed matriarch.

    who knew grannie is a flight through psyche that recounts memory - not as incidents actually happened, but as memory actually occurs. The play follows synaptic links and sentimental signposts to draw out the depths of intergenerational linkage, while unfolding layers of familial diffusion that are all too familiar in the West Indian diaspora.

    Grannie’s place in the family is inviolate. Is grannie mek di rules and is grannie ah enforce dem. Even those grandchildren dispersed throughout the world are tied by a thread of discipline, standards and expectations, echoing back to themselves oft ingested aphorisms from early days. Guidance not to be discarded, despite tyetye’s evident willingness to skirt legalities; despite likklebit’s feeling of foreignness at home; despite kris’s disapproved romantic choices and velma’s adamant independence.

    In this play grannie’s grown brood call back to their own simpler selves using games, chants and rhymes taught by grannie to inculcate values and offer connection. There is a mutual promise of constancy in the repetition of “paddle mi own koonoo” and their assertions of “we doing good, large outta grass,” reiterate the debt of success each child owes for sacrifices made on their behalf.

    And in the midst of this mental landscape, viewed through  emotion’s steam-obscured windows, there is the absolute clarity of an adult lens on childhood learning. The recollection of a frivolous game is accompanied by historical context. The folkloric character of kunnu, a village fool prototype, is revealed to be a thin veil over one slave’s story of the middle passage journey. In this single anecdote is the much larger recollection of a people whose ancestral stories, rituals and language s are not dead or absent, but have been transmuted by the necessities of survival, transmuted into games and music like later songs of escape through the underground railroad. A code becomes apparent and the entire aria assumes a new, more critically informative role for a contemporary diasporic Caribbean audience.

    This world premiere takes place from March 18-April 4 at Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street.

  • Single with Baggage: On the fringes of Trinidad Carnival 2010

    AMW

    I am in Trinidad now to do a 3 month artist in residence placement, and the first two weeks of my time here were during the Carnival Season (I swear I did not plan it this way!). Though my family is originally from Trinidad and Tobago and I have been coming back home since 1995. I have never come here for Carnival before, but I have been here for Christmas and to perform in the Rapso Festival. I can’t explain why I have never had the draw to come back home for Carnival, but this time there was no avoiding it.

    One of the first things that you will notice about Carnival time is that this is like an unofficial holiday for many of the people on the island. Also people walk by and say HAPPY CARNIVAL. And of course all of the hotel bed and breakfast rates go up to much more than they normally charge because of the tourists who come to the island to celebrate.

    So, given the fact that I have had a few knee injuries and I can’t see myself playing Mas, I decided to observe Carnival from a different perspective. I enjoyed my Carnival not so much on the Front Lines but from the Fringes of Carnival.

    Landing in Trinidad 

    When I first arrived in Trinidad I stayed at the Palms Hotel on the Eastern Main Road and it was definitely a great place to land and stay. It was close to the airport, the rooms are clean they have security and they also serve a free continental breakfast each morning. If you are looking for other meals they have some great places to eat within a 2-3 minute walk from the hotel. 

    It was here that I got a taste of the tourists who come into town and began to get their party on a week and a half before (thanks for waking me up guys!)… I also got to see the excitement that seems to build around the island even in an area like Arouca which is quite far from Port of Spain.  

    A bit later on that week I attended a Carnival Jump Up at a daycare… yes I said daycare. It was so cute, the children ranged in age from 1-4 and they all had on their costumes to play Mas. My little cousin won for best designed costume. She’s only 1 and very tiny but she had her banana sign and her hand painted outfit and she marched out in front of the judges as tiny as she was… proud to be a part of carnival. Her banana sign was a bit heavy but she insisted on holding it up.  Later on all the little kids gathered to jump up and there she was again one of the smallest ones there but she jumped and jumped in the heat for a long time. So you see Carnival really takes over Trinidad and even the little ones celebrate by playing Mas wearing costumes and jumping up.

    To Mas or not to Mas

    Time passed and it was now getting close to Carnival Monday and Tuesday, I knew that I did not want to take part in Jouvet Morning and that I was not going to be playing Mas, but I still wanted to get a feel for Carnival. I did not come all of this way to not see anything, especially since part of my research is on the history of Carnival. I decided to go with my cousin’s girlfriend Ava who was working as a personal assistant to a make up designer. Her name is Kiola Toussaint she’s based in Camden, New Jersey but she came to Trinidad to do make up for an array of clientele who were playing Mas in the two day event. One of her top clients is of course famous Soca Artiste Alison Hinds, but I was really interested in some of the regular people who came here from abroad and decided to play Mas. What was their motivation and what brought them to Trinidad?  

    On Jouvet Morning I had to wake up at 2 am to head out with Ava to the school where Kiola would be doing the make up. She had a team of 4 – 5 other make up artists with her and I watched them set up the room and then waited for the first clients to start rolling in during the wee hours of the morning. On Monday they started to come at about 6:30am.

    People were getting different things done, some had their faces or bodies airbrushed, and some were getting sprayed on their stomachs to erase stretch marks so that their mid riffs looked perfect and ready to be exposed for an entire day. I was quite fascinated by the entire process. Now while this was going on inside the school, Jouvet Morning was happening full throttle outside on the street. So, picture a nice serene school room set up with make up and make artists and bright lights and then just outside there were people covered in black oil and blue and yellow paint jumping up and wining and doing some other things that I can’t mention in this article. I knew at that point that I was in the best place to observe Jouvet… behind a fence!  

    They come from all over for Carnival

    Out of all of the clients that came to get their faces and mid riffs done, there were three clients that I was drawn to. Three friends who came together from the United States to play Mas. There names were Njoke (Denver, Colorado), Kaye (Denver, Colorado) and Christine (Washington, DC). On the first day I took pictures of the three of them so that I could get a before and after shot of what they looked like as regular tourists/civilians and then as their faces were transformed, by Kiola and her team. You see on the first day of Carnival many people do not wear their full costumes. Jouvet morning happens first and then Carnival Monday is a parade but not with full costumes. Then on Carnival Tuesday that’s when all of the gear comes out, the head pieces full costumes and full make up. I talked to each of these women who came here to play mass and asked them what made them come to Trinidad and in one word describe the island.

    Njoke was originally from Trinidad but she moved to the United States, in the past her mom had played Mas and now that she was older she found herself wanting to get back into the culture. She played Mas in 2009 for the first time and she was excited to come back for a second time. When asked to describe Trinidad in one word the word she used was Bacchanal. An official definition for those of you who don’t understand the term – The term originated from Bacchus the Greek God of wine. But in Trinidad a Bacchanal time is drinking partying and having a real good time.  

    It was Kaye’s first time in Trinidad she came for the experience because she is a close friend of Njoke’s. She felt that she needed the education. The one word that Kaye used to describe Trinidad was Colourful.

    Finally, Christine was also back in Trinidad for the second time but it was also her first time playing Mas. She had been told many times that she at least needed to have this experience once in her lifetime. She described her experience as a great one except for some of the experiences at her hotel. The one word that Christine said describes Trinidad is Beautiful.  

    On day two after talking to the people and watching a large number of people get their make up done for many hours, I decided to take a walk down to Aripita Avenue to watch a bit of Carnival. My cousin Randy came with me and I stood on the side of the road and took pictures. I saw an array of sights, and amazing costumes…some costumes were breathtaking and others were completely home made, so there was a definite contrast in what was taking place in the street.  They had security to keep you from jumping up with the bands, and some of the bands had a rope around them, some areas of the sidewalk were even fenced off.

    I got some great pictures after watching for about two hours, but I must admit that one of my main highlights was seeing my cousin Nigel and his Wife Camille approach us. I had left with them very early in the morning and secretly hoped I would get to see them actually jumping up and playing Mas and I did. So given that I took part in Carnival from the Fringes, but still watched a bit of it and enjoyed the festivities, my one word to describe Trinidad during Carnival time is Stimulating. 

     

    Kiola Toussaint is based in Camden New Jersey and her company is called Cosmeticon Prime Make Up Services http://www.cosmeticonprime.com/


    This experience is rated 5 Planes out of 5

     Airplane  Airplane Airplane  Airplane  Airplane 

     


    For more information on travel columnist Anne-Marie Woods please go to http://www.imanicreativeconsulting.com/

  • Single with Baggage: London to Paris

    AMW

    I just returned from a two week workation to London, England, and was determined that while on this trip I would go to Paris for a day. I began to do the appropriate searches on Google (London to Paris, Cheap Fares from London to Paris, Trains that go from London to Paris and of course How in heck do I get from London to Paris). 

    One thing became clear, that since I wanted to travel by train there was only one option... (Theme Music) EUROSTAR!!!!!!!!; though there were other options, Ferry(uh I’ll pass), Bus(definitely I’ll pass), Plane(pass), so Eurostar it was.  I now began to try to decipher the prices, and where I had to go to catch the train from London, etc... To be honest I found it all a bit confusing and had to stop several times just to understand the website.  One thing was very clear though…IT WAS A BIT EXPENSIVE, though it said that the cost from London to Paris was £59.00/return that was the cost for booking well in advance.

    So I decided that instead of booking last minute that I would book a week in advance. Bottom Line I was looking at spending approximately £179.00 return to go to Paris for a day, and I didn’t feel like dishing that out.  I gave up at that point and took a break, but the next morning awoke with new vigour and decided to try Google once more this time I wrote the key words (Cheap Tours to Paris, One Day Tours to Paris), and I found Golden tours; the answer to my dreams. They had several tours: hop on hop off tours to Paris, fully escorted tours, and the one I wanted Discover Paris at Your Own Leisure.

    I could now go to Paris on a tour that included the Eurostar train ticket, a free one hour water tour, and a metro pass to zones 1-3, as well as a discount to a fashion show and lots of time to sight see and shop all for the low cost of £99.00/return. The process was pretty simple, I called and they had seats available.

    I had to go to 4 Fountain Square, 123-151 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W 9SH, UK which was very easy to find from the Victoria Line Tube Stop. I went there and paid; they handed me a voucher and told me to be at St. Pancras Station or St. Pancreas Station as I called it at 5:30 am on Friday. I got to the train station approx 5:15am and there were some other early birds there as well, but at 5:30 no representative showed up from Golden tours, I was beginning to think this was the ultimate tourist scam.

    But low and behold at 5:45am a man sauntered up to the desk, and we all lined up to get our packages I had talked to an elderly couple in the line earlier and they decided to take the fully escourted tour as they had a day to kill before heading off to Tanzania. There was also another man there who I also said hello to but he did not respond and just walked away.

    When I lined up to get my package the Golden Tours Rep was like “You are going on your own, here is a map of Paris, a ticket to the water tour, and your train ticket and by the way Paris is one hour ahead See Ya!” I truly was on my own. So I went through customs and then I went to read the screen to see what time my train departed.

    I still had a bit of time until 6:55am, so I sat down to chill for a minute when suddenly I heard this voice.  “Oh so I guess you are going to Paris at your own leisure too right, I guess I’ll be hanging with you then...” Now, I am a Christian and I have been working on being very nice to people, but um this was the same tall man I said hello to earlier and he did not speak and walked away; and now we were going to be what, Bosom Parisian Buddies...I DON’T THINK SO !!!!.

    But instead I just smiled and said “Sure” and tried to think of my escape plan. I sat there and talked to him for a bit, it turned out he’d been to Paris before on the fully escorted tour, but found that he did not have enough time to see things, and always had to rush, back to the bus, so he wanted to go on his own this time...well not on his own, because he decided he was coming with me. I excused myself and sauntered over to the info booth to look at brochures and then I saw the ladies room and went in there, still plotting my escape plan. While in the ladies, they announced my train was boarding, so I hung out in there for a bit longer.

    When I came out my new found friend was nowhere in sight. I boarded the train and was in coach 17, and he wasn’t there either. I was sitting by a very nice lady from Australia, who was also taking the fully escorted tour. We arrived in Paris around 9:15am, and my first impression was that Gar du Nord the Train station was absolutely and positively freezing.

    Everyone in England kept saying dress warm over there dress warm, I am so glad I listened. The train station is very open, so the cold air from outside is inside the station as well. I headed over to the tourist information booth to try to figure out what I was going to do in Paris for the day. Just when I thought I was home free, guess who saunters over?  Mr. “I’m hanging with you for the day.”  I was a bit ticked off, because I really just wanted to be alone, get my ticket to the Louvre, find out how to take the metro, eat breakfast at a French Café, go to an internet cafe to blog and then head off. But, Mr I’m hanging with you had different plans.

    So, I tried a new strategy after we bought our tickets, and I found out where the internet cafe was. I told him I had to go because I write a travel blog, but, he came with me (arrrrgh), and then I was like I am going to be here for an hour so you might not want to stay, and he was like “Well I’ll meet you back at the station at 11am then (double arrrgh).

    After updating my travel blog, I went back to meet my new found friend and prayed about it and decided to just accept the things I could not change, and at least go to the Louvre with him and then we could part ways, as he wanted to do some things that I didn’t.  We met up and I was pretty hungry and wanted to eat a nice Parisian breakfast, but he was like “There’s a food court at the Louvre with a lot of food, so we can just eat there.”  I am thinking Louvre food vs. French Cafe hmmm...but I went along with it, we boarded the bus and I asked the driver if he went to the Louvre, and he looked at me with a blank stare.

    Then I said “Est-ce que tu va a la Louvre?”  Suddenly he smiled and said “Oui.”  I became very thankful that I could speak French, because I could see right away what happened when I spoke English. We arrived at the the Louvre, and honestly it was all very fascinating, the architecture alone in Paris is absolutely breathtaking.  I was really here, I wanted to pinch myself but I passed on that. So we went inside the Louvre and proceeded to try and find this food court; eventually we found it.

    Okay so let me break this down. The food um well, it um (sorry to all of my Parisian readers and friends), but the food was um pretty how shall I say greasy and scary looking.  I am very fussy to begin with and don’t eat pork or red meat so I was pretty much limited to the Wok section. Ah oui, Wok Poulet, Wok Pork, Wok something or other, which was their version of a stir fry.  I decided on Wok Poulet.

    So, now let me describe to you why you should never buy lunch at the Louvre.

    The price... oui le prix.It was approx €10.70 for le Wok Poulet. The man cooking le Wok Poulet was very proud of his cooking. At one point an entire Chinese family had come by and were just staring at him cooking, and at the time I didn’t think anything of it; but after I realized they were looking at him wondering what on earth he was doing. First he poured approx 1 cup of oil into the wok (I kid you not!), then he very proudly added the vegetables with these big gigantic green peas things, and then next, he added the chicken teriyaki, and then, the noodles...so while all of these things swam around in oil he very proudly with two wooden spoons mixed then all around...he then when he was finished oiling it up, added about ½ cup of sesame oil on the top of the entire oily wok mixture. He smiled proudly and dished out a greasy portion into a cardboard box, and handed it to the cashier. I blessed my greasy wok poulet and asked God to guide my weak stomach and to help me hold it down because I had to eat something.

    After lunch me and Mr. I’m Hanging With You parted ways. I found an Egyptian Art Exhibit, after walking through several other very exciting exhibits. They had a replica of the Sphinx there and Imhotep’s Wedding, and models of slave ships, I felt that it was sad and beautiful at the same time. They were even showing examples of the stones or cave walls with hieroglyphics, and well, there was a lot to see.  I took many pictures and got someone to take a picture of me in front of the Sphinx. The replica was pretty true to form, right down to the nose and lips being cut off. It was about 2pm at this point, and I wanted to sleep on a bench, but I figured that was unacceptable, so I sat down for a bit and people watched and then I got a second wind, and decided to head outside and find my water tour.

    It was freezing outside, but across the way from the Louvre they have these neat tourist trap areas with little shops and stations to buy ice cream or crepes or sandwiches. I decided to order some rum and raisin ice cream; it looked nice and creamy and rich.  Little did I know it was going to have real rum in it.  I took a spoonfull and was like um uh. But, I ate it anyway, (though I am not a drinker), I must admit I was slightly tipsy. Next, my adventures in Paris of trying to find le Bateaux Bus Water tour for 3 hours straight.

    My journey was simple, go down to the Metro and get to St. Michele Station like the lady in the tourism booth told me. I found a Metro Station went down and began to ask people how to get to Notre Dame, so I could catch le Bateaux Bus. A very nice gentleman was like ah oui tu veux d’allez au Notre Dame ah oui... just take the Metro for three stops and it will be beautiful when you come out... you will be right in the middle of everything and you will see the building and all of its beauty. THAT MAN WAS LYING.

    I could not understand how the stop he mentioned could be near Notre Dame when it was nowhere near St. Michele, but I like a fool listened to him and thanked him.  I got off at the stop he said and came outside and was nowhere near Notre Dame.  And so began my quest; (Excusez moi mais je veux d’aller au Notre Dame...Ou Est Notre Dame?)  I was determined that though I was nowhere near my destination, that I would get there. And that is how my trek for 3 hours to find le Bateaux Bus near Notre Dame began. I walked and walked and walked.

    I walked through le Quartier de N’Orleans, I saw le Quartier Latin, I walked along the River Sienne, I walked down the stairs that lead to the Sienne, up the stairs, over cobblestones that hurt my knees and feet, up one street down another over a small bridge, and walked and walked and walked and walked until finally I was at Notre Dame!  What a breathtaking historical building, it was captivating.

    Suddenly it started to pour down rain, but I had an umbrella with me, so I continued to take pictures of the building at every angle.  Finally, I asked someone where do I go to find my Bateaux Bus, and after about another 20 minutes or so of walking, I found it.  I was elated, I sat down with some other women waiting for the water tour, the water bus pulled up I was in line excited, I got to the front and the man said “Ce n’est pas _____ I couldn’t hear anymore, the gist of it was that after 3 hours of walking all over Paris because that man in the Metro gave me the wrong directions...I had found a water tour, ah oui, but just not my free Water Tour!!!! I was informed that I had to go to le Tour Eiffel to take my tour! Needless to say the Eiffel Tower was not going to see me today.

    So, with my sore knees and my head hanging low, I had to come up with a new idea, I still had 2 and ½ hours before I had to be back at the train station.  I decided to do what I often did in London.  First I found a bus stop where buses leaving there went to the train station, and then I hopped on a bus and just rode around Paris on local transport.  It was very cool actually; and I got to see a lot of the city. After 45 minutes I got off the bus crossed to the other side and took the bus back to downtown Paris.  I accepted my plight, it was now almost 6:30pm, so I hoped on the 38 bus and rode it to the station near le Gard du Nord.  I was hungry again; I have no idea why, after my amazing greasy Louvre Lunch and my intoxicating ice cream.

    But I went to the cafe I wanted to go to originally, and ordered a Margarita Pizza (Cheese Pizza), and some juice and I ate that entire pizza and people watched, and just sat back and smiled and laughed at myself for spending the entire day trying to find the wrong water tour. As I entered the train station I got my last whif of Paris; the smell of 1000 people who probably peed in front of the station…what a send off. I must say that though, I got lost, my knees hurt, my Clark shoes gave me blisters, I did not find my water tour, I hung out with a man I did not want to, the man in the Metro gave me the wrong directions, I got a bit intoxicated from ice cream, I had the worst greasy lunch known to man and womankind...though all of that happened I absolutely loved Paris. J’adore Paris...and I can’t wait to go back again.

    Au Revoir

  • Interview with Quebec Soul/R&B Singer Gage

    Pic

    Pierre Gage, of both Jamaican and Haitian origins, was born on January 3rd 1977 in Montreal. In high school, he passed an audition for an amateur version of Starmania, where the acclaimed author of the Luc Plamondon show noticed him. He there obtained the role of Johnny Roquefort. 

    This experience allowed him to discover his talent for singing. He later met Corneille and Gardy Martin, who were part of the group O.N.E., while studying theatre at Concordia University. And so began Gage’s career. His participation with O.N.E. lasted three years, during which the track Zoukin ranked Number One in the charts across Canada, and helped him establish a good reputation among Soul and World Music lovers. In addition, O.N.E. opened for prominent singers such as Isabelle Boulay and Kelis (Virgin USA). 

    The group later separated since each member wanted to pursue a solo career. Corneille became hugely popular in France and Gage sang by his side at the Paris Casino. He later opened for Corneille during his Quebec and European tours, totalling over 40 concerts.  In 2004, Gage released his first single, entitled “Trop fresh” (“Too Fresh”) and managed to reach an even larger audience.  In 2005, his album entitled “Soul Rebel”, produced entirely by Corneille, was released on the market. 

    Titles such as “Pense à moi” (“Think of Me”) and “Je t’aime quand même” (“I Still Love You”) were well received by the media and the public alike.  The CD “Soul Rebel” also seduced the French public, where it went gold with over 100 000 copies sold.  Gage is considered, among others, as a pioneer of French reggae and thus redefined this musical style within the Francophone music world.  One can actually notice the reggae flavour in certain tracks such as “Demain” (“Tomorrow”). 

    On June 30, 2008, Gage launched his second album, entitled “Changer le monde” (“Change the World”). Personal topics such as the absence of his father, love and break-ups are highlighted. The single “Tu peux choisir” (“You Can Choose”) was one of the hit singles of last summer.  It is also important to mention that this artist produced eye-catching videos from these two albums. In the fall of 2008, Gage began touring in France. In concert, he demonstrates excellent charisma. 

    He has beautiful stage presence and a way of communicating with his audience. Over the course of his career, he performed in prestigious venues such as the Bataclan and the Zénith in Paris. In Montreal, he performed at the FrancoFolies festival and at Club Soda. 

    We met this trilingual artist last spring in Montreal. Over the course of the interview, we discovered an artist who gave generously of himself, who is comfortable with his dual cultural heritage and who strives to look ahead. Interview conducted by Patricia Turnier (pturnier@hotmail.com), independent journalist and legist (Master''s degree in Law, LL.M).

    Translated from French by Murielle Swift

    P.T. When did your passion for music begin?

    G. It all started when I was five years old.  I come from a single-parent family, growing up with my mother and my sisters.  I was surrounded by women and music was always part of our lives.  Because of this, I was practically immersed in it.  During my childhood, we often listened to French Caribbean vinyl records.  I used to enjoy using a sock as a microphone and sing in front of a mirror (laughter).  

    P.T. Tell us about the musical giants who profoundly inspired you, such as Marvin Gaye, Steve Wonder (the Black artist awarded the most Grammys), and Michael Jackson.

    G. These productive artists, with such fertile spirits, had legendary careers, which continue for those who are still alive.  I love the tracks by Marvin Gaye such as “Distant Lover” and “Sexual Healing”.  The Soul spirit and the charisma this man gave off were extraordinary.  I also loved his gentleman side.  Marvin Gaye was always well dressed.  Prince is another artist I enjoy.  He is a musical genius; he plays 27 instruments!  The Purple Rain era influenced me, as well as Thriller which became a classic.  At the time, I would imitate Michael Jackson with his gloves in front of a mirror (laughter). 

    I would take on a different personality since during that particular time in my life I was very shy, especially around girls (laughter). These singers definitely represent legends to me and established high standards which all new artists strive for.  Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson passed down songs which speak to other generations and those to come.  They created classics, which reveal their genius and undeniable quality.  Their chiselled tracks demonstrate an incredibly evocative power, where one can notice various overlapping currents.  They have become references with their talents of instrumentalist, author, composer and interpreter. 

    P.T. How has your triple cultural identity (Haitian, Jamaican and Québécois) influenced your music? 

    G. As a Québécois, I am exposed to two cultures, which allows me to be more open to the world. This particular vision is an advantage to my music. The mix of ethnicities I possess gives me the opportunity to cross over to other cultures. I enjoy displaying this cultural mosaic, which is part of my heritage. I am a fan of all that is eclectic and I refuse to be labelled.

    I consider myself to have a critical view of the world and I embrace “otherness”.  It is important for me that my mixed cultural heritage be reflected in my tracks.  Music has the power to transmit universal emotions; it breaks down barriers and brings people together.  My hybrid journey gives me a wider inspiration and allows me to reach a united public.

    P.T. We can distinguish your Jamaican culture in your music, particularly in singles such as “Demain” (“Tomorrow”), “Je t’aime quand même” (“I Still Love You”) and “Te Quiero” (“I Love You”).  You introduce a reggae beat which is very innovative in the French music scene.  We know you were highly influenced by Bob Marley.  What does reggae mean to you?

    G. Bob Marley was the reggae music icon. He conveyed important messages. His music was engaging and spiritual. He was able to stimulate social critics by using remarkable idioms.  This artist produced powerful albums during the 1970s, such as “Catch a Fire”, “Natty Dread” and “Exodus”, or such distinguished tracks such as “No Woman No Cry” and “One Love”. 

    For me, reggae is a musical style which allows us to truly demonstrate who we are.  In other words, this musical style reflects an authenticity. Reggae also represents the sun and warms people’s hearts. This is why I enjoy using this style to touch individuals and make them move. It is also important for me to fuse with other musical styles such as zouk, Haitian kompa and Soul because I want to reach everyone, especially when I’m on stage.  I enjoy highlighting the blending of various musical styles.  

    I also really enjoy having others discover my diverse background. Travelling gives me the opportunity to reach many people and develop a more open mind.  I believe it is essential to uncover one’s roots. Certain artists, such as Wyclef Jean, understood this.  We have to be real.  In my first track, “Pense à moi” (“Think of Me”), we hear my Creole roots.  I also like to contribute to the Francophone world through my songs.  In my opinion, Soul has not yet been fully exploited in the French music scene.   
                  
    P.T. The opus “Viens me voir” (“Come See Me”) from your first album is very touching.  Can you tell us more about it?

    G. It talks about the history of my life, especially concerning my father.  For several years, I was unsure of who I really was.  It is difficult to have a well-rooted identity without the contact of a father.  At first, I was ashamed to tell people I had no father.  I felt different from the others.  The song “Viens me voir” (“Come See Me”) helped me externalise what I felt about that situation.  I wanted to share with the public this episode of my life.  The opus of my second album, “T’étais où” (“Where Were You”) is about a man speaking to his father. 

    My first album was about a boy speaking to his father. My mother was always there for me in life and I believe in her. She always supported me and is a very important person to me. I am blessed to have her in my life; she is extraordinary. She taught me a lot: respect for others and the importance of working by setting precise objectives and taking measures to accomplish them, among other things.  She is an important guide to me.  It is such a blessing to have a mother like her.  

    Coming back to my tracks, I like mentioning my past and my present in my music.  It is important to me to concentrate on life questions and my inner spirit which I choose to share with my audience.  

    P.T. Your second album demonstrated greater maturity with your social and ecological conscience, with philanthropic undertones. Could you please share with us the main messages you wished to transmit through this album?
     

    G. I am currently in my thirties. I wanted my second album to convey social messages. The title “Changer le monde” (“Changing the World”) does actually relate to philanthropy.  I was making a reference to Marvin Gaye, who was particularly interested in humanitarian issues.  Social conscience is a crucial theme in my singles.  Change begins, in fact, with us, and I wanted to sing authentic tracks.  
    Ecology is also an important theme for me.  It is currently a hot topic, especially with everything that is happening on a global scale, and in particular with respect to greenhouse gases. We have more advanced recycling programs here than in Europe. I also wanted to deal with other important topics in my album such as family, love (for example, the song “Tu peux choisir” (“You Can Choose”), with Vitaa), friendship; in other words, human relationships. Mediocre and empty tracks should be banished, in my opinion.  I want to talk about my aspirations, talk to my better half, and so on, while maintaining my Soul side.

    P.T. Tell us about your track entitled “Je veux être libre” (“I Want to Be Free”).  The lyrics are deeply moving and leave no one indifferent. 

    G. This track represents a pause in time. As artists, we need space in order to be inspired. The theme of freedom is important for me because it is not everyone who has embraced the calling of an artist.  Some people will say that it would be better to choose a more stable career. But it is important for me to live off of what I love, what I am passionate about.  Freedom also represents for me the ability to share one’s state of mind without being influenced by external critics, whom we must be able to tune out.  My music is partly autobiographical. As I already mentioned, I deal with several themes in my music, such as the absence of my father, among others.  

    The artistic domain enables me to freely express myself. This sphere represents my passion and is an oasis for me, bringing me a sense of well-being, of hope and a joy of living.  It has certainly not always been easy. I have had to make sacrifices by committing myself to music. But I do not have any regrets and what I studied serves me well today.  

    P.T. In the past, you have said to the media that singing is not a choice, but a necessity.  Could you elaborate on that?  


    G. Yes, actually, I believe that one must have ideas to defend.  It is important to me that the public be attached to my lyrics.  The stage has allowed me to cover various subjects.  I always make sure that my themes are not dull.  I am a man of the stage who seeks to transmit essential messages. I cannot imagine that an artist could be an indifferent spectator who transmits messages lacking in substance.  Aimé Césaire spoke about the importance of engagement as an artist.  He said, “To be engaged signifies, for the artist, to be inserted into his social context, to be the flesh of the people, experiencing the problems of his country with intensity, and rendering witness to them.”  I fully support this quote. Césaire led a war in the name of his origins. His struggle went from personal to universal and I consider myself a citizen of the world. Music represents for me a universal communion which crosses borders, which is impossible to accomplish without one’s heart and passion.  

    P.T. You were recently nominated in two categories: French Soul/R&B artist of the year, and French album of the year, at the Soba (Soul of Blackness Awards, www.galasoba.ca) gala on March 1st, 2009.  What did this mean to you?

    G. I would have liked to win at the Soba awards (laughter). But seriously, I was happy, touched and honoured to receive this nomination. It was an important sign for me, one of gratitude.  It encouraged me to press forward, to continue in the artistic realm while exploring other realms such as cinema.   

    P.T. You were also involved in theatre, which in my opinion provides an excellent foundation to becoming an actor.

    G. I love studying the dynamics and the psychology of characters. Theatre and cinema allow me to do this.  I like having the possibility of appropriating different personalities by playing diverse roles.  Theatre and cinema give the opportunity to exploit other artistic dimensions.  

    P.T. Do you have other projects you would like to share with us?


    G. I will be participating in the benefit concert organised by the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal at Place des Arts in order to raise funds for organisations in Quebec and Africa.  I will be sharing the stage with Gregory Charles, Florence K, Linda Thalie, Stephy Sock and others.  This event will take place on July 26 of next year during the “Just to Help” telethon.  I will also be participating in the musical review “Esquire Show Bar” at the Corona Theatre in Montreal during August and September. 

    P.T. What advice would you give to young people who would like to pursue a career in the music industry?


    G. Specifically as far as singers go, it is important that they work their voice by taking lessons.  They should certainly not try to hide it behind beats.  In order words, they should be able to sing a cappella.  It is the best way to stand out from the pack.  Mediocrity must therefore be banned.  One must always strive for excellence and have the desire to surpass oneself.  Artists who have had long careers such as Stevie Wonder are those who maintained high standards.  In my opinion, those are the models we should follow.  When we have talent, we are noticed.  I actually think that it is a great advantage to be a musician.  Nowadays, in popular music, we don’t hear brass, violins, etc. like we used to.  This gives the opportunity to create quality arrangements and build colourful repertoires.  

    Artists must also perform in various clubs in order to be recognised. This allows them to be discovered, to develop relationships while being in touch with the public.  I learned over the course of my career that we must be able to step back in order to jump forward. We have to be able to recognise and rebuild ourselves.  In life, we should not be in a rush, and patience is something we can learn.  We should not be impatient to accomplish things.  The important thing is to be ready to seize opportunities as they present themselves.  I would also add that as an artist, we cannot allow ourselves to be frugal with our time.  

    We must practice this profession for the right reasons and not only make money, since many are called but few are chosen. Having a passion for the art is of utmost importance. We have to be ready to give the best of ourselves in order to accomplish our dreams. There is no secret to success. Talent alone is not enough; one must work hard and have confidence in oneself.  

    P.T. We sometimes hear young people say that they want to become a star just to become famous, but without having a specific career in mind.  They don’t know whether they want to become actors, singers or something else. 

    G. Exactly.  We cannot practice this profession just for the celebrity status; it is a calling.  There is a lot of work and sacrifice involved and so we have to truly enjoy what we do.  Another piece of advice I could give would be to beware of sharks in this industry.  For instance, anyone can pass themselves off as an artists’ agent since there is no professional order governing their practice.  We must therefore inform ourselves in depth on the past and present work of this said agent.  We have to be careful not to sign a contract with just any record label.  We have to surround ourselves with people of experience.  Before signing a contract, it is advisable to have it verified by a jurist.   

    Personally, I have strong beliefs and this comes across in my music. I believe in a superior Being, in other words, God. This helps me in my choices and in my career.  I credit my success to the Great Master, who gives me the serenity and the energy I need. My spirituality allows me to be in harmony with myself and with the people around me.  This regenerates me.  

    I would also add, as other advice, that if we want a lasting career, we must be prudent and vigilant when it comes to the projects we decide to associate ourselves with as artists.  I would also add that it is important for young singers to write about what they know, and not try to imitate others for the sake of notoriety.  Besides, it can always be sensed when someone tries to imitate someone else.   Without being preachy, I believe that we must associate ourselves to quality projects, and to not sell our souls.  We must be in our element and not adopt a style which does not work for us; besides, the public will not be convinced and will sense the duplicity.  

    As artists, we have a team which surrounds us and of which we must be conscious.  This necessitates excellent coordination, communication and commitment toward the people involved in the production of an album or of a show, for instance.  The artist must therefore learn to deal with all these individuals.  

    I also believe that it is important to enlarge one’s horizons by being ready to go everywhere.  For instance, I’ve been to Morocco and the Caribbean, among other places.  I enjoy discovering other peoples.  It is an excellent way to make oneself known.  I would also tell young people that they need to find themselves a manager who is able to reassure and support them, and help them in making connections between them and the public.  This manager should be able to present a clear and precise career plan, with a timeline.  It is important to surround oneself by an excellent team, which will help build a beautiful set for stage performances, for example.  

    We must have a wide vision when it comes to the field of entertainment. We can be authors, composers, managers, choreographers, artistic directors, events promoters, sound engineers, etc.  It is up to each individual to see what is most interesting for them and to think about the field where most of their talents can be maximised.  Each of these points will help provide a foundation for a solid career.  
    To conclude, I would summarise the qualities of a good artist in this way:

    -    Know how to draw lessons out of our journey, which gives the opportunity to increase our success rate.  We learn by observing daily.
    -    Set specific objectives and avoid scattering ourselves around.
    -    Plan on developing a variety of skills; in other words, have an eclectic profile (for instance, learn how to lead a group of musicians, master a number of instruments, learn to read and compose music, etc.).
    -    Be meticulous, diligent and punctual (be on time for rehearsals, for example).
    -    Know how to work as part of a team, since there are many people who are part of the professional pathway of an artist in the production of an album or a show, for instance.
    -    As an artist, learn to master stage presence, public speaking, image, communication with the public, stance, etc.  Contact with others allows us to grow as artists.  
    -    Watch videos in order to improve stage presence, among other things.  Interaction with the public is a very important aspect which we must master.
    -    Stay on top of what is happening in the music industry and in the world.  This way, we feed ourselves and it allows us to continually bring newness into the artistic domain.  

    P.T. Do you have a message for your fans who are reading this?

    G. I would like them to know that their approval touches me deeply. In general, the public at large always plays an important role in the success of an event.  I tremendously appreciate their support, their presence and their festive side.  For example, it warms my heart to have sung for 200 000 people in France, in the Caribbean and in Morocco.  It was also special for me to have sung at Club Soda and at the FrancoFolies festival in front of large crowds in Montreal.  It is thanks to the fans that an artist exists.  I have many memories of my fans in mind.  I regularly check out their forum, Fresh Crew. I have very positive thoughts toward them.  I draw from them their palpable intensity and warmth during my shows.  This has brought me a lot as a person.  I love meeting my fans.  It stimulates my energy even more.  For me, music allows me to share happiness with others and help them forget the problems of life.  I appreciate having a public with no racial or cultural boundaries.  I also appreciate the media, who has been a support to me.   

    Thank you Gage for this great interview!



    Official Gage website: http://www.gage.mu/
    Gage's album is available at www.amazon.ca

  • AfroToronto's TIFF 2009 Picks - Part II

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    The Toronto International Film Festival ends this weekend. But it''s not tow late to enjoy the festival if you haven't yet. There are still two full days of screenings and the following picks are films we recommend that you check out.

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    Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky

    Not to be confused with the upcoming film Coco Before Chanel (which chronicles the early years of Coco Chanel), starring Audrey Tautou, to be released on Sept. 25th, the film Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky being featured at TIFF ’09 focuses on the affair between Coco Chanel and Russian composer Igor Stravinsky in Paris in 1920.

    Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky was the Closing Film at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It is based on the 2002 novel Coco & Igor by Chris Greenhalgh.

    The story begins in 1913. Chanel is madly in love with the wealthy aristocrat Arthur “Boy” Capel. She is devoted to her work and is a rising star. At the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, she attends Igor Stravinsky’s premiere of his revolutionary work "Rite of Spring". But the work is too radical for the Parisian aristocrats and the audience vehemently reacts with boos and jeers. It is deemed a primitive scandal. But Coco is fascinated. Stravinsky is shattered by the violent reaction of the bourgeoisie.

    Seven years later, Coco Chanel has become a rich and established woman. But she is devastated by the sudden death of Boy Capel in a car crash. She meets Stravinsky again but this time he is a penniless refuge living in exile in France following the Russian revolution. Coco Chanel is intensely drawn to him and decides to offer the homeless Stravinsky and his family refuge in her luxurious villa in Garches.

    A passionate and intense love affair between Chanel and Stravinsky ensues.


    REMAINING PUBLIC SCREENING

    Saturday September 19    09:00AM    SCOTIABANK THEATRE 1

     


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    London River

    London River is the latest film by Oscar-nominated Franco-Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb. He earned much acclaim for his 2006 film Days of Glory (Indigènes) which tells the story of soldiers from France’s North African colonies who fought valiantly against the Nazis during World War II.

    In London River, Bouchareb explores the emotional aftermath of the terror attacks in London on July 7, 2005 through the despairing eyes of two parents from different cultures brought together by the search for their children gone missing.

    In the English Channel island of Guernsey, widower Elizabeth (Brenda Blethyn) is worried about the fate of her daughter Jane after hearing about the horrific events in London. Meanwhile, Ousmane (Sotigui Kouyaté), an African immigrant living in rural France sets out to travel to London in search of his estranged son Ali who was living in North London at the time of the attacks.

    Through a chance meeting in London, they both discover that their children had been living together at the time of the attacks.

    Although Elizabeth and Ousmane are bound by destiny, they are culturally worlds apart. Their common journey leads them to walk a common path. Through the process, they learn about each other and confront their cultural misconceptions. They give each other strength and form a deep bond.

    It’s also interesting to see how Ousmane discovers how Africans abroad live their lives. We’ve seen a lot of films depicting black people from the West going back to Africa to rediscover their roots; but Bouchareb turns the process of discovery the other way.

    Official website: http://www.tadrart.com/tessalit/londonriver/gb.html

    REMAINING SCREENINGS

    Friday September 18    08:45PM    AMC 6    
    Saturday September 19    12:15PM    CUMBERLAND 2

     


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    A Hindu''s Indictment of Heaven

    A Hindu’s Indictment of Heaven is a short film (11 minutes) by Toronto director Dev Khanna (Plums & PrunesTIFF’07) is an interesting exploration of the concepts of the soul mate, eternal happiness and the afterlife.

    Are we able to truly love only one person in our lives? Is there such a thing as eternal bliss? Will we be truly reunited with the ones we love at the gates of heaven?

    These are questions which Dev Khanna asks with A Hindu''s Indictment of Heaven. Khanna finds some of these clichés interesting because there is no such thing as a St. Peter standing at the pearly gates of heaven in his Hindu heritage.

    “I wanted to create a middle ground or a bridge between two cultures that can ultimately create a deeper understanding of the idea of love and happiness” he says.

    In the film, a woman chooses to wait at the gates of heaven for 10 years for her soul mate to show up. But there’s a twist when he arrives. He’s not alone.


    REMAINING SCREENING

    Friday September 18    09:00PM     AMC 7

     


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    Women without Men

    Iranian video artist Shirin Neshat’s (pictured on top of this article) first feature film, Women Without Men, is a unique and beautifully shot story about four women from different walks of life living through the turbulent times of early 1950s Iran. The tension-filled political backdrop is the 1953 U.S. and British-backed coup which deposed the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and reinstated the Shah to power.

    Each woman in the film fights to seek her freedom. Their shackles take different forms.

    Munis wants to break free of her overbearing and religiously conservative brother who wishes to marry her off. She sits in front of a radio all day and listens to the protests in the streets of Theran against the imperial powers. She yearns to be out there to fight for her country’s freedom. But she must first earn her own freedom.

    There are many parallels, which Shirin Neshat herself point out, between Munis and Neda Agha-Soltan, the woman who died before the world’s eyes and became a martyr for this year’s protesters in Iran.

    The other women in the film battle in their own way to emancipate themselves either from prostitution, the suffocation of the traditional role of women in Iranian society, and the abyss of a loveless marriage.

    The film is an adaptation of a novella by Shahrnush Parsipur.


     


    REMAINING SCREENING

    Saturday September 19    09:15AM     SCOTIABANK THEATRE 4

  • A Precious Sapphire

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    Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square was mesmerized last Saturday (Sept. 12th) with a powerful reading by poet-novelist Sapphire from her book entitled Push. The book was originally published in 1997 and struck a chord with many readers. The book''s main character, Claireece "Precious" Jones, endures unimaginable hardships in her young life through mental and physical abuse from the hands of those who were supposed to love her the most. Her father has impregnated her twice and her mother continually belittles her and assaults her dignity. The power and tone of Precious'' voice in the book is gut wrenchingly raw and honest.

    When asked why she called the book Push, Sapphire replied "In the beginning of the book there''s the scene where [twelve-year-old] Precious is giving birth. I was trying to get across that very basic, primal female energy of bringing forth life. There is something very aggressive and assertive about being a female. We''re taught to be very laid-back and passive, but if we''re to survive, if we''re to move forward, we have to have that pushing energy."

    An openly bisexual woman who has experienced some of the hardships that her book’s character endures, Sapphire tackles important issues such as sexual abuse and homophobia. Precious learns to come to terms with and move on from her own abuse while also confronting her own latent homophobia through her interactions with an alternative school teacher named Ms Rain.

    Sapphire is a New York-based writer of prose and poetry whose other works include Black Wings & Blind Angels: Poems (2000) and American Dream (1996). She was in town to promote the film version of her book entitled Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire. Directed by Lee Daniels, the film adaptation picked up the heavyweight backing of both Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey after it screened at this year''s Sundance Film Festival.

    AfroToronto.com had the opportunity to interview Sapphire on the opening night of the film at Roy Thompson Hall on Sunday. When we asked her if she saw herself as a poet or novelist first, she replied that she is "a poet who wrote a novel." She also mentioned that she has no problem with people referring to the movie based on her book as "the new Color Purple".

    She added that she had read The Color Purple over ten times and that she in a way saw her own work as an "urban version" of The Color Purple.
    In a previous conversation she had also declared: "I wanted to let this whole new generation who''s gonna read Push know that it was born out of The Color Purple and the other books I mention. I don''t think I could have written Push if Alice Walker had not written The Color Purple, or if Toni Morrison had not written The Bluest Eyes. They kicked open the door. The content of Push may not be so problematic now, but can you imagine what it would be like if nothing had come before it?"

    Sapphire was evidently very emotional at the Sunday morning press conference for the film at Yorkville’s Four Seasons Hotel. She was accompanied by the impressive line-up of talent associated with the film which included: director Lee Daniels, co-producers Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey, Gabourey Sidibe (who plays the role of Precious in the film), Paula Patton (Ms Rain), Mariah Carey, Sherri Shepherd and R&B queen Mary J. Blige.

    The emotion in the room was palpable as several members of the panel revealed how deeply they personally related to Precious.

    Oprah said that the Precious girls of the world "had been invisible" to her. "The Message from this film is that none of us who sees that movie can now walk through the world and allow the Preciouses of the world to be invisible to us again" she added.

    Mary J. Blige also added: "When I saw this film all I could think about is growing up in my neighbourhood and seeing that girl."

    Mariah Carey said that she had discovered the original book years ago and had been powerfully moved by it. She read it twice back to back. When Ms Carey stopped over to speak to AfroToronto.com on the red carpet, we asked her how she felt the film was different from the book. She told us that she loved the process of translating the book into film and that it was a whole new experience for her."It''s still the same work but it''s now a collaboration.... We were crying between scenes" she told us.

    Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire opens in the U.S. and Canada in November.

  • AfroToronto.com’s TIFF 2009 Picks - Part I

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    The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) starts today. This year’s edition has been touted as one of the best line-ups in years.

    Much fanfare has been made with the announcement that none other than Oprah Winfrey will be in town to promote the film Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire.

    Other high-voltage guests at this year’s festival are: Mariah Carey, George Clooney, Keanu Reeves, Snoop Dogg, Chris Rock, Penelope Cruz, Michael Douglas, Tyler Perry and many more.

    Once again, AfroToronto.com will be in the theatres, red carpets and press conference rooms to bring you the best Afro-specific news and reviews from the festival; as well suggestions for the most interesting international films screening at TIFF '09.

    The following is a list of editorial picks to check out.

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    Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire

    Director Lee Daniels (the Academy Award winning producer of Monster’s Ball) brings to the sliver screen the story of Precious, from the novel “Push” by New York spoken word artist and writer Sapphire.

    Precious is a morbidly obese, HIV-positive, dark-skinned teen who has suffered sexual abuse from her own father (who impregnated her twice) and who must live with the constant emotional abuse from her mother (played by Mo’Nique). Despite all these odds, this functionally illiterate young woman works through her feelings of worthlessness and resignation to seek a better life for herself with the help of a teacher (Ms Rain played by Paula Patton) and a social worker (played by Mariah Carey).

    The story draws from author Sapphire’s own experience of having been molested by her father and later teaching at-risk youth in Harlem.

    The role of Precious is played by newcomer Gaborey “Gabby” Sidibe. Sidibe had never acted before this film but said she soon felt at home on the set with the all-star cast -- which also includes Lenny Kravitz who plays a nurse. “I think we all know people like precious. There’s a lot of different people within Precious I believe. I think we’ve all at some point been ignored and we’ve all been searching for support where we just won’t find it. And I think that’s in a lot of us” says Sidibe.

    The film’s director, Lee Daniels, really encouraged all the actors to shed their own layers and dig deep. Mariah Carey describes this cathartic process when she talks about leaving her glamorous celebrity image far behind and “shedding layers of skin, becoming somebody completely new”. Carey reveals that “Lee wanted me to look as unglamorous as I could … he believed that I could do this role of the social worker.”

    The film benefits from the wholehearted endorsement of Oprah Winfrey (Harpo Films) and Tyler Perry (34th Street Films). Oprah will be at the Toronto red-carper screening of the film on Sunday night (Sept. 13th) at Roy Thomson Hall. Mariah Carey and Tyler Perry are also a confirmed celebrity guests for the evening.

    SCREENING TIMES 

    Sunday September 13    09:30PM    ROY THOMSON HALL

    Monday September 14    12:30PM    WINTER GARDEN THEATRE

    YouTube Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Fvx-w8j-wM

    Official website: http://www.weareallprecious.com/


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    The Day God Walked Away

    The scene is set in the spring of 1994 in Kigali. At the start of the horrific genocide in Rwanda, a young Tutsi woman named Jacqueline, who worked for a Belgian family, suddenly finds herself abandoned and lost.

    After she discovers that her children had been brutally massacred by the Hutus, she seeks refuge in the forest. While in hiding, she finds a wounded man with whom she forms a bond.

    Together they try to make sense of a world that has gone mad and cling to their humanity in their quest to survive. As terror constantly lurks, the film projects an intensely personal and unique perspective of large-scale drama that was the Rwandan genocide which claimed the lives of between 800,000 and 1,000,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. 

    SCREENING TIMES 

    Friday September 11    09:00PM    JACKMAN HALL - AGO

    Saturday September 12    10:00AM    ISABEL BADER THEATRE

    Friday September 18    10:45AM    CUMBERLAND 2


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    Down for Life

    Down for Life, based on a New York Times article depicting the real-life events of a Latina gang leader in South Central L.A., will have its world premiere on Saturday (Sept. 12th) at the Toronto International Film Festival.

    A cinematic cross between ‘Boyz N the Hood’ and ‘City of God’, Down for Life takes us into the very real world of female Latina gang bangers’ lives.

    The story follows a fateful day in the life of Rascal (played by Jessica Romero), a 15-year-old Latina gang leader living in L.A.’s Watts ghetto. Rascal has a talent for writing that an encouraging teacher, Mr. Shannon (Danny Glover), wants to nurture and develop.

    The glimmer of hope that the opportunity of joining a writers’ workshop, and the despair of mounting tragedies in her young life, bring her to a crossroad as she contemplates leaving her gang banging life behind.

    Shot on location in Watts, the film brings an important sense of reality. The film was also shot in the original Locke High School where the original real-life story featured in the New York Times article took place.

    The film’s soundtrack was co-produced by Snoop Dogg. The music is a mix of hip-hop and Latino rhythms.

    Both Snoop Dogg and Danny Glover will be in Toronto on Saturday night (Sept. 12th) for the films world premiere at AMC Theatres.

    SCREENING TIMES

    Saturday September 12    09:30PM     AMC 7

    Monday September 14    03:30PM    AMC 7

    Friday September 18    06:15PM    AMC 7


     


    Moloch Tropical

    Shot during five weeks between April and May 2009 in the North of Haiti at La Citadelle Laferriere, the largest fortress in the western hemisphere, Moloch Tropical is a film about the end of power.

    An homage to Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov’s film Molokh (1999), which explored the last days of Hitler’s life spent with Eva Braun in Bavaria in 1942, Moloch Tropical transposes the scene to a Caribbean context -- as a Haitian president confronts the end of his power as the streets outside are inflamed in turmoil.

    The president is deeply disturbed by the turn of events and he falls into a deep depression.

    The cast includes some well-known Haitian celebrities such as Jimmy Jean-Louis ("Heroes" on NBC) and singer Emmeline Michel.

    The film received the official support of Haiti’s Ministry of Culture et Communications, the Ministry of Tourism and the country’s National Institute for the Safeguarding of Heritage (ISPAN).

    The film''s director Raoul Peck is a national cultural treasure in Haiti. Born in Haiti, raised in Zaire (Congo) and France, he divides his time between America and Europe. He served briefly as Haiti’s Minister of Culture in the 1990s.

    SCREENING TIMES

    Saturday September 12    07:00PM    ISABEL BADER THEATRE

    Monday September 14    03:30PM    SCOTIABANK THEATRE 4

    Saturday September 19    03:30PM    SCOTIABANK THEATRE 4 


    {mosloadposition Googlin300}

  • DVD Review: Trouble the Water

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    Oscar-Nominated Documentary about Hurricane Katrina Comes to DVD

    On August 28, 2005, with Hurricane Katrina bearing down on the New Orleans , Scott and Kimberly Rivers Roberts made the fateful decision to weather the storm instead of evacuate. Armed with a video camera, Kim started wandering around their Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood, interviewing friends and relatives who had also chosen to stay in the city.

    It is readily apparent from watching the pre-landfall footage that none of them anticipated the dire struggle for survival which was about to unfold. Not only did they expect the levees to hold like they had for every storm since the Great Flood of 1927, but they had no reason to suspect they’d be utterly abandoned by local, state and federal authorities in the event of a massive natural disaster.

    But as we all know, that’s precisely what happened, and thousands of suddenly-homeless citizens ended up stranded for days on end without any sustenance. They were forced to fend for themselves during a triple-digit heat wave, while awaiting the proverbial cavalry which never arrived.

    Trouble the Water, nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Documentary category, is a shocking expose’ which enables you to be a fly on the crumbling levee walls as Kim and her husband shift from carefree observers into survival mode. In virtually the blink of an eye, the atmosphere goes from ominous to desperate as the water level rises so precipitously that no one has a chance to make a dash for higher ground on foot.

    Although the Roberts lived to tell the tale, the same can’t be said for all the subjects of their home movie. For example, the camera captures their utter dismay two weeks after the hurricane passed, when they enter the house of Kim’s uncle, who had been interviewed earlier, only to find his decomposing corpse lying in the living room. Other horror stories follow, such as the sight of an acquaintance’s aging mother whose body had been left behind with dozens of other patients in a hospital turned morgue.

    Equally-effectively chronicled is the constant frustration the couple encountered in dealing with FEMA bureaucrats who had the nerve to ask for documents obviously washed away. No wonder so many of the victims ended up broke, depressed, unemployed and no longer able to trust their own government.

    There’s a telling scene towards the end of the picture, featuring a displaced woman counseling her son who wants to enter the military. “You’re not going to fight for a country that doesn’t give a damn about you,” she declares matter-of-factly. “No way!” Raw, unfiltered and expletive-laced, but a brutally-honest reminder of what life has been like for the least fortunate victims of Hurricane Katrina.

    Excellent (4 stars)
    Unrated
    Running time: 96 minutes
    Studio: Zeitgeist Films

    DVD Extras: Deleted and extended scenes, conversations with the directors, subjects, film critic Richard Roeper and producer Danny Glover, coverage of the film at the Democratic National Convention, and the theatrical trailer.

    See trailer

  • Book Review: The Bitch Switch

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    Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth made her memorable entrance into the national spotlight as the villain viewers came to either love or hate on The Apprentice during the debut season of the hit NBC-TV reality series. By the time she was fired in the boardroom by Donald Trump at the conclusion of the tenth episode, the sassy, business-savvy sister had already become enough of a cultural icon to be referred to by just her first name alone.

    “What we as women have gone by in the past—the nice girl plan—is NOT working in the office, at home, or in life.! In romantic relationships, we suffer because we hand over our power for love and turn off our Bitch Switch. In our relationships with friends and family, we are taken advantage of. In the office, we have been passed over and walked on because we refuse to embrace our inner bitch. WELL, NO MORE! …This book is your step-by-step guide for locating your inner BITCH, personalizing your switch, and knowing when to turn it on and when to turn it off. It’s not about being mean. It’s about meaning what you SAY!”

    - Excerpted from the Introduction (pages xi & xiii)

    Whether or not she had been fairly portrayed as a demanding diva on the program, Omarosa subsequently had the sense to parlay that controversial image into appearances on over 20 other reality shows, including Celebrity Poker Showdown, Fear Factor, I Love New York and The Surreal Life, to name a few. And a testament to her enduring notoriety is the fact that she was the only former contestant invited back by Trump last year for another go-round as a contestant on The Celebrity Apprentice.

    In The Bitch Switch: Knowing How to Turn It On and Off, Omarosa lays out her straightforward philosophy of life in order to help females who let themselves be treated like doormats. Though unfortunately-titled, given the use of the B-word, this otherwise sensible tome reveals the author as an intelligent, strong and fervent feminist with plenty of practical advice to share with women whose self-esteem issues have been sabotaging their professional careers and preventing them from forging meaningful relationships.

    For instance, not one to tolerate any double standards, Omarosa points out that a businesswoman will often be called a B-word for exhibiting the same hard-nosed leadership skills that would be praised in a man. Rather than allow herself to be manipulated by a natural desire to be liked, she instead asserts that “When men stop being assholes, I’ll stop being a bitch.”

    A recurring theme emerges from an examination of Omarosa’s daily affirmations which range from “Nagging is good and shows persistence!” to “I can’t make everyone like me, but I can make them respect me!” to “Who cares what people think of me! I don’t need their trifling validation!”

    An effective primer for vulnerable females on how to avoid the pitfalls of dating and of economic exploitation via an unapologetically self-preservation oriented approach to the battle-of-the-sexes.

  • Quentin Tarantino: The “Inglourious Basterds” Interview

    Born in Knoxville , Tennessee on March 27, 1963 to an Italian father and a mother of Irish and Cherokee extraction, Quentin Jerome Tarantino took a most unorthodox approach to showbiz. He dropped out of high school at 15 to pursue moviemaking but it would take some time to realize that dream. The closest he got to Hollywood for years was a minimum-wage gig as a clerk at a video rental store in L.A. where he became known for making recommendations to appreciative customers.

    He finally began his meteoric rise in 1992 with the release of Reservoir Dogs, following-up that impressive directorial debut a couple of years later with Pulp Fiction, the seven-time Academy Award-nominee for which he won an Oscar in the Best Original Screenplay category. Since then, his storybook career has included such critically-acclaimed films as Jackie Brown, Kill Bill 1 & 2, and a couple of collaborations with Robert Rodriguez, Sin City and Grindhouse.

    Here, Quentin talks about his new film, Inglourious Basterds, which is based upon a screenplay he started writing over a decade ago. The World War II action flick stars Brad Pitt as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army who leads a squad of Jewish soldiers on a mission behind enemy lines in France to go hunting for Nazis.

    Kam Williams: Hi Quentin, thanks for the time. I really appreciate it.

    Quentin Tarantino: Oh, it’s my pleasure, I was psyched to do this especially after I read some of the comments you made after reading the script. It was a real phantasmagorical collection of references.

    KW: That was an interesting experience. This is my first time reading a script instead of seeing the movie before conducting an interview.

    QT: Oh, that’s cool.

    KW: How does it feel to have finished Inglourious Basterds, finally, given that you’ve been working on it for over a decade?

    QT: It’s a little surreal, to tell you the truth, after having the project in my mind for such a long time. I had scenes written for it but for years it was always just kind of out there. And at one point I even considered putting it aside, thinking maybe I’d grown out of it or moved past it. But then I realized that I’d invested too much into it, and that even if I never made the movie, I at least had to finish writing it just so I could get this mountain out of the way. One thing that’s different though is that opposed to thinking about it as this long-gestating piece that was written over years and years, the truth is I only came up with a lot of the characters and the first two chapters of the final script way back when. Otherwise, it has a whole different storyline. What kept preventing me from making the movie earlier was that it was just too big and too involved, almost like a mini-series. And just before I turned it into a mini-series, I decided to take one more crack at trying to make it as a movie. That’s when I came up with a new storyline about the premiere of a German propaganda film which I completed about a year ago in just seven months. As a matter of fact, on the cover page of your copy of the original script you can see that I literally put the pen down on July 2nd, 2008. So, the final draft was a weird combination of this long-gestating project and something I had never worked at with more intense momentum.

    KW: Since Brad Pitt’s character, Aldo, is from Tennessee and part-Cherokee, like yourself, I was wondering whether he was modeled on you?

    QT: He’s definitely modeled after me. I probably would’ve wanted to play the character, if I had finished writing the script way back when, in the Nineties. But now, I don’t want to act at all.

    KW: While reading the script, some of the films it reminded me of in different spots included The Train, Von Ryan’s Express, The Guns of Navarone, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Black Book, Zabriskie Point, The Wizard of Oz, The Big Lebowski and Defiance.

    QT: That’s a neat collection, although I never saw Defiance . I’d be interested in hearing how you connect the dots.

    KW: Defiance is included because of the theme of Jews fighting back. Why did you decide to have this all-Jewish unit led by a gentile from the South?

    QT: That’s an interesting question. Basically, Aldo’s this character I’ve had in my mind for a very, very long time. So, in a way he came before the Basterds. Furthermore, it’s kind of a two-way proposition, because Aldo had been fighting racism in the South before the war. And if he survives the war, he’s going to continue fighting the Klan in the Fifties, with his own version of the Basterds in the Tennessee Hills. Also, the fact that he’s part Native American is significant, because what he’s doing against the Nazi’s is similar to the Apache resistance, the ambushing of soldiers, desecrating their bodies and leaving them there for other Germans to find. Aldo’s idea is to find Jewish soldiers because he should be able to motivate them more easily because they are essentially warriors in a holy war against an enemy that’s trying to wipe their race off the face of the Earth.

    KW: You have a black character named Marcel [played by Jacky Ido] who works as the projectionist in a movie theater. I’d have guessed that all the blacks in occupied France had been carted off to Concentration camps by the Nazis.

    QT: No they weren’t. The relationship between black people and Nazi Germany was very interesting. Part of the reason is that there were so few blacks in Europe that there wasn’t a “Black Problem” per se, the way there was a “Jewish Problem.” So, black people weren’t rounded up in Nazi occupied France . You’d have to keep a low profile, to be sure, but having said that, you’d still enjoy more freedoms there than on the streets of Chicago at the same time period. And far more freedoms than in a state like Alabama . For instance, you could walk into a restaurant in Paris and sit down and order something. The odd irony in all this is that while there’s no mistaking where Hitler was coming from as far as blacks were concerned, after all, he made that very clear in Mein Kampf, the average German soldier did not feel the same way about black people. In fact, they were absolutely appalled whenever they witnessed the racism exhibited by white American soldiers towards their fellow black soldiers. They couldn’t fathom it, because they believed the hype about America being the land of the free and the home of the brave. It’s equally unfathomable that we went to Europe to fight racial oppression with a segregated army. A wonderful paper could be written about all this, and maybe I’ll do that one of these days.

    KW: Do you make a cameo appearance in this film, like you have in a lot of your movies?

    QT: Not really. I think you can hear my voice a little bit in one of the propaganda movies. [Chuckles]

    KW: Why did you spell “Basterds” with an “E” in the title?

    QT: I wasn’t trying to be coy or anything, but it was just an artistic stroke.

    KW: How did you feel when the picture was so well received at Cannes , where you got an 11-minute ovation?

    QT: Yeah, we got the standing ovation of the Festival. That was really exciting and a lot of fun kind of dropping it on the world there. And I felt a sense of satisfaction because we had worked hard to get the picture finished in time for Cannes .

    KW: Laz Lyles is curious about why you chose a lot of relatively unknown actors for this picture?

    QT: Since I was casting country-appropriate, every actor had to be from the place they were representing, and they had to be able to speak the appropriate language as well. In other words, it wasn’t enough that you could speak German, you had to be German. Oddly enough, in Germany , this is considered an all-star cast.

    KW: Laz also asks, how did director Eli Roth get involved with the project as an actor?

    QT: Eli’s a really good friend of mine, and I’ve always known that he’s a really fun performer on screen. Plus, he looks like his character, the Bear Jew, and he does an impeccable Boston accent.

    KW: Nick Antoine says you’re already one of the greatest directors of all time, so where do you go from here? What''s the next mountain for you to climb?

    QT: Oh, that’s a really good question. I don’t really know. Usually, when I finish making a movie, I have to pause to contemplate life a little, and then I see where to go. It’s not like I’m shopping for scripts. I generally have to start from scratch every time. However, I could go with Kill BiIl 3. Or I could do a prequel to this movie, because I have half of it written. It’s actually a story about the Basterds with a bunch of black troops. The truth is that I don’t really know what’s next, but I really like being in that square one position.

    KW: How about making another homage to either martial arts or blaxploitation flicks?

    QT: Well, I gotta say that I do hear a bit off a calling to do another crime picture. Maybe one set in the Seventies. All these other people are doing it, and to me, they never get it right. Like American Gangster. Were there any black people at all involved making that movie?

    KW: Nick also asks, what is your opinion of the direction the film industry seems to be headed?

    QT: I don’t want to sound like one of those guys who’s always bemoaning the business today and thinking about how much better it was before. But as my movie gets ready to go out into the marketplace, I feel very lucky that I’m still a commercial director and that my movies still play mainstream and open in 3,000 theaters, because my movies always seem so different from everything else playing in the multiplexes. As long as there’s a place for people like me and Michael Mann to exhibit our work, then I’m all for it.

    KW: Finally, Nick asks, how would you say the internet has influence film?

    QT: What the internet has done is destroy film criticism. I would never have guessed ten years ago that the profession of film criticism would be going the way of the dodo bird.

    KW: Who’s your favorite film critic? Let me guess: the late Pauline Kael.

    QT: For sure. She’s just about my favorite writer.

    KW: And who’s your favorite director, Howard Hawks?

    QT: I love Howard Hawks, but I would probably go with Sergio Leone.

    KW: Keith Kremer asks, if you met someone unfamiliar with your work who wanted to watch just one of your movies, which one would you suggest?

    QT: That’s an interesting question… Umm… I would probably cater to that person’s personality. So, if they seemed like more of a Kill Bill person, I’d show them, Kill Bill. If I wanted someone to get to know me though, I would have to start with Reservoir Dogs.

    KW: Bi-continental attorney Bernadette Beekman told me that she was in Cannes for the release of Reservoir Dogs, and she was wondering, what was the best time you ever had at the festival?

    QT: Well, I’ve had a lot of good times in Cannes , but when I won the Palme d’Or for Pulp Fiction would have to be the best.

    KW: Director Hisani Dubose wanted to know what you shoot on now. She points out that you shot part of Pulp Fiction on High 8. She’s curious about whether you’re still using film or if you’ve gone to High Definition video

    QT: I’ve never used High Definition video, never, ever, ever, ever, ever. And I never will. I can’t stand that crap.

    KW: Larry Greenberg says you started out at 15 and have been immersed in the industry, in one way or another, your whole life. He asks, do you think a person coming to the industry later in life still has a chance for success at acting or directing?

    QT: It can be difficult to get into directing at a later age. However, look at Courtney Hunt, the woman who won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance last year for Frozen River [at the age of 43]. So, if you can raise the money on your own, you can direct a movie at any age. As far as acting is concerned, it’s advisable to get started when you’re younger, but there are plenty of actors who started their careers in their late thirties or early forties.

    KW: Jackie Schatz asks, how do you think of Hitler?

    QT: In a word, despicable!

    KW: Marcia Evans asks, will you ever settle down and have a family?

    QT: I’ve thought about that. Look, I went through baby fever, for sure, about five or six years ago, but I kind of got over it. Up until now, I’ve wanted my movies to be the most important thing in my life. I haven’t wanted to let anything distract me from that. And I think I still feel the same way right now.

    KW: Marcia may be a bit presumptuous here, but she says she knows you have a foot fetish. And she asks if there’s another part of the anatomy that you have a fetish about?

    QT: I appreciate the female foot, but I’ve never said that I have a foot fetish. But I am a lower track guy. I like legs… I like booties… [Laughs] Let’s just say, I have a black male sexuality.

    KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

    QT: No, there isn’t one that’s just been hanging out there, that I say to myself, why don’t they ask this?

    KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?

    QT: [Hesitates] Very rarely would I use the word “afraid.” I feel trepidation. I get nervous, particularly when I’m about to shoot a big cinematic sequence that absolutely has got to work or else why bother. Going into those scenes, I have trepidation, because it’s mine to mess up.

    KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

    QT: Oh, I’m very happy.

    KW: Teri Emerson would like to know, when was the last time you had a good laugh?

    QT: Oh, I laugh all the time. I’m an easy laugher. You can find me on any set, because I’m always laughing.

    KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

    QT: I’m a cinemaphile, so I read a lot of cinema books. The last one I read was a biography abut the director Dorothy Arzner .

    KW: What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome?

    QT: Poverty, to a great degree. I was very poor at the age of 16 and 17.

    KW: Working in the video store.

    QT: No, those were the good days. But even then, while working at the video store for five years, I was a high school dropout making minimum wage. And that’s what I existed on for what seemed like forever. We would dream about one day getting a raise to the wonderful world of $8 an hour. So, to overcome that minimum-wage kid white underclass to actually be responsible for millions of dollars when it comes to making a movie was a very big deal.

    KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

    QT: If you want to be a filmmaker, you have to love it. If you love cinema as much as I do, and not many people do, and if you are focused and actually have something to offer, you will get somewhere with it. And when it comes to being a writer, just write. Writing is actually the easiest thing to get started at. But don’t write what you think people want to read. Find your voice and write about what’s in your heart.

    KW: What’s your favorite dish to cook?

    QT: That’s a good question, actually. I’d have to say barbecuing a steak. It’s one dish I do it really well, and it’s very satisfying. I can make other things, but I don’t like to cook just for myself. Barbecuing a steak is always good.

    KW: Well, thanks again for the interview Quentin. Best of luck with Inglourious Basterds and I look forward to speaking with you again down the line.

    QT: Hey, I look forward to it Kam. This was a really great conversation.

    To see a trailer for Inglourious Basterds, visit:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vCiyy7Cibc

  • Selam Youth Festival: Community building at its best!

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    This summer represented the evolution of the Selam Youth Festival. Growing from a one day celebration to a three day affair, the festival started as an initiative by a group of young, Ethiopian and Eritrean members of People to People Canada, their mission to empower youth and create awareness about HIV/AIDS. The festival was closed  with the  heartwarming documentary entitled Guzo: The Journey. In this film we are introduced to Lidya and Robero, two privileged youth living in the city of Addis Abba.  They are asked to spend a month in the countryside living like the farmers.

    Many of us have become used to the idea of reality television, and have grown accustomed to seeing individuals swap lives and the hilarious results. From our very introduction to Lidya and Robero the stark realities of what they will face is made clear, the pampered lifestyle of a middle-class youth hanging out with friends in bars, dining at restaurants, the charmed city life is virtually unheard of in the countryside. Both Lidya's and Robero, families are supportive if perhaps a bit skeptical that they will survive an entire month.

    So, we watch the enthusiastic youth go from a life of privilege to one decidedly agrarian life in the countryside.

    We meet Belgeye, Lidya's sweet, endearing hostess. She is a hardworking 25 year old mother of three, her daily routine resembles the life of a serf, filled with cleaning pig pens, fetching water and twigs. This is definitely not city life. This routine seems unbearable to Lidya but it means survival for Belgeye. Though her life is the polar opposite of Lidya's, the two become extremely close. But the harshness of rural life quickly takes it toll and the once good-natured, carefree adventurers breaks under the pressure, almost appearing spoiled at times. In one memorable scene we watch Robero refuse dinner with his hosts and demand the meals the crew receives. Despite their discomfort the adventurers manage to survive, but while they can be barely contain their joy on hearing they will be leaving, the surprising reaction is the despair their hosts show.

    In an age where reality TV is the norm, this film sets itself apart through it's humanity. Humanity and community building best exemplify spirit behind the Selam Youth festival. According to the festivals producer, Addis Embiyalow, “We seek to inspire our generation to be global leaders in health education and community building through the arts.” The festival’s artistic offerings prove they are well on their to achieving this goal.

  • Delicious Picks for Summerworks 2009

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    This year’s Summerworks Festival gives us a most revealing look at new works by some of the city’s busiest performance personalities, all with something to say and really great lighting to say it under.  The festival runs until August 16, so get a schedule, make a plan and show your support to these passionate performers.

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    Sedina Fiati is a familiar name, face and voice on Toronto stages and behind the scenes.  By day she connects with the

    community through bcurrent theatre’s outreach and development, as well as putting together any number of independent productions.  When she steps out of the phone booth, however, Ms Sedina is a full blown diva.  Her pin up show, which is part of this year’s Summerworks Performance Gallery, evokes the iconic 1950’s pin up and invites audiences to get in touch with their own inner out-there.  Like all divas, the girl can belt a tune with the best of them, as demonstrated in the cabaret she puts on with Night at The Indies.  But lately it’s the acting bug she’s been indulging.  Sedina was recently seen in the chorus of Rebecca Fisseha’s Wise Woman and joins the Summerworks line-up as part of bcurrent’s rAiz’n the sun ensemble in The Centre, directed by Joan M. Kivanda. The Centre, a collaborative creation of the ensemble, takes us into an analysis of our times through the eyes of two futuristic emissaries on a quest to save civilization as they know it.

     

    rAiz’n the sun ensemble presents

    The Centre

    by rAiz’n the sun ensemble

    Directed by Joan M. Kivanda


    Featuring Sedina Fiati, Jajube Mandiela, Tanya Pillay, Maxine Marcellin, Navneet Rai, Malube Uhindu-gingala, Deidre Walton, Meghan Swaby, Marika Schwandt, Amanda Nicholls



    Venue: Factory Studio Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street

    Remaining shows: August 10th 8:00pm, August 11th 10:00pm, August 14th 4:00pm, August 15th 8:00pm


    Maxine Marcellin is no festival freshman.  This year at bcurrent’s rock.paper.sistahs festival Maxine performed a spellbinding one woman odyssey into the perils of perfect-bra-hunting, and her play The Assembly Line of Love, was presented in Fringe 2003.  Not one to let her pen rest, Ms Marcellin is at it again with her new play, Keen, at Summerworks 2009 which she wrote and performs alongside an intriguing cast of newcomers.  The play takes us to Trinidad where six women are putting one of their own to rest, and handling it in with varying degrees of success.  Despite the funereal backdrop, Marcellin manages to make me laugh at her characters’ isms even as I identify keenly with them.  Keen isn’t Maxine’s only offering this year.  The young dynamo also joins bcurrent’s rAiz’n the sun ensemble in The Centre as an actor.   



    MGM Theatre Co. and Amanda Nicholls present

    Keenby Maxine G. Marcellin

    Directed by Mumbi Tindyebwa

    Featuring Denise Pinnock, Maxine Marcellin, Tanisha Taitt, Malube Uhindu-Gingala, Shobha Hatte, Puja Uppal

    Venue: Factory Studio Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street
     Remaining shows: August 13th 6:00pm, August 15th 12:00pm, August 16th 8:00pm

     


    More Summerworks shows and artists not to be missed:

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    Project Humanity’s The Middle Place, featuring a standout performance by Akosua Amo-Adem alongside the always charming Antonio Cayonne, is a verbatim play constructed from interviews conducted at a Rexdale youth shelter.  The words onstage are raw documentary of young homeless living in Toronto.

     

    Lisa Karen Cox bends, twists and astonishes in Erin Shields’ The Epic of Gilgamesh at Theatre Passe Muraille courtesy of Groundwater Productions.  Cox was recently seen in a Nightwood Theatre workshop of Marika Schwant’s Mulatto Nation and the National Arts Centre’s production of Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood.

     

    We encountered Tawiah M’Carthy’s work last year when he brought Kente Cloth to Summerworks as playwright and performer.  This year he gives a distinguished performance in Jordan Tannahill’s The Art of Catching Pigeons by Torchlight, an offsite production presented by Suburban Beast which also features the captivating Marika Schwandt (also a member of the raizn ensemble, and performer in The Centre).  

     

    Chy Ryan Spain, a familiar face at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, takes a fine line and stretches it in Ecce Homo’s production of The Ecstasy of Mother Teresa or Agnes Bojaxhui Superstar by Alistair Newton.  Spain recently earned his Tyra Banks impersonation stripes in the company’s previous production, The Pastor Phelps Project.

     

    d’bi young’s newest play, Benu, looks at a 30 year old womban contemplating life and death following the birth of her youngest child.  Natasha Mytwoych’s direction is sure to amplify the consistently strong performance we’ve come to expect from d’bi.  In keeping with the multi-tasking of her peers, d’bi also climbs into the director’s chair to helm sketchin toronto, a collective work by youth at sketch working arts.

     

    For a full festival schedule visit http://www.summerworks.ca/

     

    See you out there!

  • Exclusive Interview with Historian Dr Clayborne Carson - Part II

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    P.T.: What do you think can be done to make sure that kids know more about MLK and Gandhi?

    Dr. C.C.: Well, I devoted my life to do this. I try to make sure that people know about their methods. For Gandhi and MLK, the nonviolence methods apply as much to people in power than to those who are not in power. During the war in Vietnam, King said that you can’t tell oppressed people in the US not to use violence when, ten thousand miles away, you use violence to fight communism. It was recognized that there was a contradiction and a paradox. You have to be consistent. It is only when poor people or oppressed people are upset that people in power tell them to be pacifists.

    I encourage the readers to go to the King’s institute web site to know more about non-violence and the tools which can be used.  We have a curriculum program.  We publish books to inform people.

    P.T.  For the 40th anniversary of the death of the icon MLK, the well-known French magazine L’histoire presented several specialized articles on the subject.  In their March 2008 issue we learned in the article by well-known French historian Pap Ndiaye that at the time of MLK’s death, his autopsy revealed that his heart resembled that of a sixty year old man.  At the time, however, MLK was 39 years old!  Do you think that MLK was aware of the consequences of oppression in its entirety? 

    Dr.  C.C.  Even if I am not a physician, I believe that Dr.  King had stress fighting against oppression around him and the African American people. Dr King was constantly under surveillance by the federal police from 1960 to his assassination the 4th of April 1968.  So, that definitely added a lot of stress.  Civil rights workers were frequently killed and Dr. King received many death threats.  He had threats made against him and his family every single day.  So, this consistent state of stress had an adverse effect on his health.  He knew about the impact this had on his own body.  He went to doctors many times and was told that he needed to slow down, but he took the cause to heart.  The physicians let him know that he needed to get rest, to take more vacations.  He tried to do that to some degree.  He did go off, usually to the Caribbean for vacation.  He tried to get away.  He thought about retiring from his role as the leader of the civil rights movement.

    P.T. Oh, really?


    Dr.  C.C.  Oh, yes he considered becoming perhaps a theologian on a campus.  He decided in the end that his role was to be involved in the struggle which was not over.

    P.T.  I know that even before the King couple decided to be involved in the fight, they had the possibility to teach in Northern Universities.  For example, the late Coretta Scott King had the possibility to be a professional singer but the couple thought that they had to get involved to improve the condition of the African American people. 

    Dr.  C.C.  Exactly.  The couple discussed about the possibilities in the North of the country.  They went for example to Montgomery.  MLK had job offers.  Several colleges offered him positions on their faculties.  MLK and his wife finally decided to commit their lives to the cause.  They could not close their eyes to this very serious struggle.

    P.T.  The late notable writer James Baldwin stated in an interview that Dr. MLK had greater moral authority in the South of the country than in the North.  As an historian, how would you explain this situation?


    Dr.  C.C.  Well, Dr King was a religious leader and religious leaders had greater authority in the South because a larger proportion of African Americans in the South went to church.  Also, there were fewer other kinds of leaders in the South but in the North there were lawyers, elected political leaders, intellectuals of various types:  professors, etc.  In the South, there were fewer types of those people especially lawyers and elected politicians because in the South it was much more difficult for black lawyers to practice their profession.  It was much more difficult for black politicians to be elected and to end up in political office because their people were not allowed to vote.  In the North, there was a greater and wider variety of leadership in the black community.  There were newspaper leaders, business leaders of various types.  In the South, there was also a variety of leaders but just not as much variety.  In the Southern part of the country, the Black Baptist leaders particularly had the advantage of being in a church where their jobs depended on the congregation.  It meant that they could only be fired by the members of their church.  Each congregation was able to choose their own leaders.  Black Baptist ministers were selected by other Black people and that gave them more authority.  Black Pentecostal ministers were selected in that way and a large part of the black community endorsed them.  

    P.T.  You collaborated with the Roma Design Group of San Francisco to create the « winning proposal » in an international competition to design the national King memorial, currently being built in Washington, D.C.  An Asian sculptor was later selected to create a statute of King for the memorial.  What is your position regarding the fact that some African Americans and Americans thought it should have been their duty to build this memorial, and about the fact that none of the memorials in Washington, D.C were designed by African American sculptors in the past? Also, what are the new developments at this time regarding the MLK memorial in Washington, D.C, and what is the timeframe for the completion of the design?

    Dr.  C.  I can’t answer the last question because I was just involved in the design part of the memorial and not in the building process.  The King memorial foundation is responsible for building it.  They have made it very clear that they are making the decision about the construction process and the selection of the sculptor and other aspects of the building of it.  I don’t believe that the nationality of the sculptor is an issue.  For me, what’s important is to assess the quality of the sculptor, whether the sculptor’s competency is appropriate for someone like King.  I think it is always better that the sculptor has some understanding of the subject, familiarity with Black American culture.  I don’t know how much consideration was made to those factors in the selection of the sculptor.   I wasn’t involved in that process either.  I think that being Chinese should not be a criterion to eliminate the sculptor.  It should be an open competition to select the best sculptor.  Dr. King was color blind and his philosophy was about universality.  However, I think the real question is about transparency.  There wasn’t an open competition.  Nor was it at least a public competition where candidates could submit ideas. I read the newspaper and this is how I learned the name of the sculptor for the memorial.  I was one of the members of the design team of the memorial and I feel I should have been consulted.  I should have been informed about why the decision was made and I should have been involved in the decision process.

    When the decisions were made, the reasons of the choice should be clear to everyone.  So, as a person involved in the design of the memorial I would have preferred a situation where we as the designers of the memorial along with the collaborators would have been included in the selection of the sculptor, because the sculptural design could clash with the ideas of the design itself.  The only way to prevent that is to have the original designers working with the sculptor to make sure that the original concept was maintained.  But that hasn’t happened.

    P.T.  You researched MLK and Malcolm X.  How could you explain the fact that up until now, a big screen movie about MLK (one of the greatest American men) was never made, unlike for Malcolm X?  If such a movie is done in the future, who do you think should portray MLK, and why?

    [Note: The interview with Dr Carson was conducted in March 2009.  In May 2009, Dreamworks production acquired the rights for the biopic’s MLK movie.  It will be a Steven Spielberg production.] 

    Dr.  C.C.  I don’t have a real opinion on who should portray him.  I hope that a film about him is made in the future and probably a number of African American actors could do a great job portraying him.  I think that Malcom X’s life is perceived as more exotic (laughs).  A lot of people think they know much more about MLK than Malcolm X.  I believe they are wrong and that there is a lot that they don’t know about Dr. King.  I would love to write the script.

    P.T.  You received an Oscar nomination for the documentary Freedom on my mind and a Grammy award for the recording of the Autobiography of MLK Jr.  What do these recognitions mean to you?

    Dr.  C.C.  I did those projects as part of a group.  I can’t take all the credit because it wasn’t a personal accomplishment.  So, these awards are not in my home.  It is nice to see this recognition for all of us who worked hard on this story of struggle.  The biggest award that I can get for the work I have done is for people to read the autobiography and watch the documentary.  

    P.T.  Here is my final question:  What do you think Martin Luther King would have said if he were still with us regarding the election of Mr. Barack Obama?

    Dr.  C.C.  Dr. MLK always believed in this nation. Dr.  King the dreamer got killed but it was impossible to kill the dream. MLK’s aspiration was global peace with social justice. He believed in change of mentality.  He knew that Jewish people, WASPs, Black people and others could coexist and work together.  I think MLK would be very pleased by the fact that many Americans chose a candidate on the basis of the content of his character rather than the color of his skin.  The world wanted a change.  Obama’s stature as a unifier gave him international reach.  However, I also think that MLK would criticize the American foreign policy regarding the war in Afghanistan. Dr.  King would like the US to make a strong fight against poverty (both domestic and international) a priority.  MLK and Gandhi, the soldiers of nonviolence proved that it is possible to bring about changes through pacifism.  Dr.  King would expect the Americans to uplift themselves, to focus on improving the situation of people at home.  The United States of America is among the industrials countries with the greatest number of youth living below the poverty line.  MLK would say they are the future hope of the country, not the military industrial complex.  Dr.  King was the defender of the oppressed, and he was for the redistribution of resources.  His commitment to nonviolence was the defining ideology of his life.

    I am going to leave you with this quote by Dr. King after his visit to Gandhi’s family in India (1959):  “ I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity”.

    P.T.  Thank you so much, Dr. Carson, for this rich interview and for your outstanding work in keeping Dr. King’s legacy alive.  It was an honor to interview you.

     


    SELECTED BOOKS

    The Autobiography of Martin Luther King. Jr. Editor. New York: Warner Books and Time Warner AudioBooks, 1998. • Martin Luther King Autobiographie. Paris: Bayard Éditions, 1998 (Traduction and notes by Marc Saporta et Michèle Truchan-Saporta). • «I Have a Dream» L’autobiographia del profeta dell’uguaglianza. Milano: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 2000 (Traduzione di Tania Gargiulo). • Eu Tenho um Sonho: A Autobiographia de Martin Luther King. Lisboa: Editorial Bizâncio, 2003 (Tradução de Francisco Agarez) . Other foreign language editions: Finnish, Japanese, Korean.

    Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Edited with Peter Holloran. New York: Warner Books and Time Warner AudioBooks, 1998 (foreign language edition: French).

    The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. Volume III: Birth of a New Age, December 1955 – December 1956. Edited with Stewart Burns, Susan Carson, Pete Holloran, Dana Powell. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

    The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Volume II: Rediscovering Precious Values, July 1951-November 1955. Edited with Ralph E. Luker, Penny A. Russell, and Peter Holloran. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

    The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Volume 1: Called to Serve, January 1929-June 1951. Edited with Ralph E. Luker and Penny A. Russell. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.

     

    NON-VIOLENCE ORGANIZATIONS

    International Fellowship of reconciliation (IFOR)

    Gandhi Institute:  http://www.gandhiinstitute.org/

    The King Institute: http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/

  • Exclusive Interview with Historian Dr Clayborne Carson - Part I

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    Clayborne Carson spent his university years involved in the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam war protests. He earned his B.A. in 1967, M.A in 1971 and Ph.D in 1975 from University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). In 1985, Mrs. Coretta Scott King asked him to establish the Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project. As founding Director Carson oversees the compiling and editing of 14 volumes of Dr. King''s sermons, correspondence and unpublished writings. He has also published works outside of the Papers Project based on King’s writings, such as the Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., 1998 (the recording of this book was awarded a Grammy award later in 1999 as the best documentary CD). Many of Carson’s publications have been translated into other languages.

    Dr. Carson is currently professor of history at Stanford University, where he is also founding director of the King Research and Education Institute. In 2005, the professor created the King Institute''s enormously popular website , which appeals to a diverse, global audience.  In addition Carson is the King Distinguished Professor at Morehouse College, where he also serves as Executive Director of the Morehouse King Collection.  Dr.  Carson was senior adviser for the remarkable award-winning public television series, Eyes on the Prize:  America at the racial crossroads –1965-1985, a 14-hour PBS video (1989).  He served as historical advisor for the Oscar nominated documentary Freedom on my mind (1994). Dr. Carson''s publications shed expert light on African American protest movements and political thought during the post-World War II period. His work has appeared in many leading historical journals and numerous encyclopedias, as well as in popular periodicals. His first book, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s, a study of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, was published in 1981 and won the Frederick Jackson Turner Award of the Organization of American Historians.

    Dr.  Carson is regularly invited to appear on several notable shows such as The Charlie Rose Show, Tavis Smiley Show, Fresh Air, Goodmorning America, CBS Evening News, and others.  We spoke to Dr. Carson, the 30th of March 2009, who graciously shared his expertise in history with us.  By the freelance reporter and legist Patricia Turnier, LL.M 


    Patricia Turnier, LL.M. talks to Dr. Clayborne Carson, Ph.D:


    P.T.:  Your fascination for history started with the beginning of the civil rights movement.  Can you tell us more about this passion?

    Dr.  C.C.:  As a child I enjoyed reading history books even though at the time I wasn’t thinking about becoming an historian.  I loved to read not only about African American history, but also the history of the world.  I remember reading about the early settlers in this country.  As a teenager, I read the classics of Richard Wright such as Black Boy and Native Son. When I began college, I studied Latin American history and majored in this field.  I was fascinated by Brazil, a multicultural society, as an undergraduate.  Not until I graduated did I have a special interest in African American history.  By that time, I was involved in the African American freedom struggle.  So, I became more interested in recent African American history. I didn’t think about becoming an historian of the civil rights movement because it seemed so recent to me.  I always considered history as something far back in the past.  So, I never really considered studying the period that I lived through.  But one of my professors reminded me that I had written many articles as a journalist during the 1960’s.  He suggested that I write a dissertation about the civil rights movement. I really didn’t consider this a possibility.  I even asked my professor if it was really history.  So, I wrote a dissertation about the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  The title of my thesis was “Toward freedom and community”.  In graduate school, I realized that African American history was the area which interested me the most.  I loved to write about how oppressed people were fighting for freedom.

    P.T.:  As an historian, do you think that there really is a difference between the left wing and the right wing regarding the interests of Black America or is it an illusion?  For example, we tend to forget that the abolitionist Abraham Lincoln was a republican.  From that period until the 1930s (during the Roosevelt era) Black America voted for the Republicans most of the time.  Now, 90% of Black America votes for the Democrats.  How do you explain this historical shift since the 1930s and what is your opinion about the two parties regarding the defense of civil rights and economic justice concerning Black America?

    Dr.  C.C.: Well, I think what changed is not Black America but the party.  During the era of Abraham Lincoln, his party used its power to free the slaves.  For Black America, the Republican Party was the party of Lincoln.   Black Americans thought in the 19th century that the Republicans were looking out for their interests so they voted for this party from the time of the reconstruction era. After 1930, the African Americans believed in the New Deal with its social and economical reforms.  This is how the allegiance shift happened.  During the 1930s, it appeared to Black Americans that the Democrats would be more effective in dealing with the crisis of that time.  So, the African Americans changed their allegiance.  They believed in the programs offered by the Roosevelt party:  minimum wages, social security, etc.  This faith became stronger in the 1960s with the civil rights legislation of the Kennedy and Johnson years.  The Democratic Party showed that it was a stronger force for social justice.  So, African Americans historically supported the party that would make their lives better.

    When Lyndon Johnson was able to pass the civil rights act of 1964 and the voting act of 1965, I think from that point on at least 80% of Black voters chose the Democrats. At that time the Republican Party didn’t demonstrate a concrete will to change things for the African Americans.  They supported the Southern segregationists with their right wing ideology, so it would have been difficult for Black America to endorse them.  The former US president Lyndon Johnson was responsible for designing legislation that included civil rights laws, Medicare, Medicaid, aid to education and the “War on poverty”.  In the 1960s president Johnson was a positive force for social justice. The opposing candidate in the 1964 election, the Republican Barry Goldwater, was adamantly opposed to the civil rights bills. Thus, with time, the Republican party became more right wing, more conservative.  However, it was possible at that time to find progressive people in the Republican Party.  For example, people like Nelson Rockefeller were for the civil rights.  They encouraged civil rights reforms, but they were a minority.  So, I believe throughout history that Black America’s allegiance was always giving support to the party which would best defend their interests.

    P.T.:  Dr. Clayborne Carson, you devoted your professional life to the study of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the movements King inspired. You were 19 years old when you listened to one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century, « I have a dream », the 28th of August 1963 in Washington, D.C.  Can you tell us about this event and share with us what it meant to you?

    Dr.  C.C.: I was 19 at the time.  It was one of the most exciting events I had ever attended by myself  And it was my first time in Washington, D.C.  I see this event as a turning point in my life.  It allowed me to decide for myself what I wanted to do politically.  I was able to identify with this very exciting movement developing in the South.  Actually, I was not a Southerner, I grew up in New Mexico.  When I read articles about the protests which were going on, I could identify with the protesters; many of them were my age so I wanted to be part of it.  Going to the march was my way of being part of that movement.  I made longtime friends from that moment such as Stokely Carmichael who became the head of the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee, Bob Moses who was one of the leaders of the voting rights campaign in Mississippi.  I met people like that.  I admire them very much, as much as MLK.  I saw Dr. King from a distance.  I never was able to speak to him personally.  He was on a pedestal and I admired him, but people like Moses and Carmichael were models in my personal life.  They were closer to my own age and it was easier for me to identity with them.  I imagined myself becoming one of them.

    P.T.:  But how did you feel when you heard the famous speech the 28th of August 1963?

    Dr.  C.C.:  I was very impressed with the size of the crowd.  There were 250 000 people.  As I said before, it was my first time in Washington, D.C.  I never went to the Lincoln Memorial, so everything was impressive to me.  This might surprise you but at the time King’s speech was to me just another speech.  It is only later that I realized I was there when Dr. King gave a speech considered as one of the most important in the 20th century.  I heard this speech so many times afterwards that it is difficult for me to remember how I felt the first time.  When I heard Dr. MLK that day, I wasn’t very familiar with people giving speeches so I could not compare.  I had never before heard Dr. King, so, I could not know it was one of his best speeches.  Also, when you are surrounded by so many people in a big crowd, you can become distracted by things around you.  It is like the Obama speech; you could hear and see it better on TV without the distraction of being in a large crowd. I am sure that people who went to the inauguration probably heard less than people who heard it on TV.  You are distracted by a lot of things that are going on and the sound varies depending on how far away you are.  So after the 28th of August 1963, I understood the magnitude of the speech.  I realized later the depth of the powerful words I heard.  This event was the largest civil rights demonstration in American history.

    P.T.  I know that you didn’t personally know Dr.  King, but what can you tell us about MLK, the man and the myth?

    Dr.  C.C.:  I learned more about him as a man.  To some degree, I identified more closely with young people who were taking a lot of risks.  They could allow themselves to do that because they didn’t yet have their own families.  All of us admired Dr.  MLK, but I think the myth was that he was the leader of the movement.  To some people he was, but to other people he was one of the many leaders.  Some of these grassroots leaders initiated the sit-ins, they went to Mississippi to help register voters, they participated on their own initiatives in the freedom rides and marches, etc.  They got involved in the fight of other aspects of discrimination and segregation.  There were other leaders, men and women.  They didn’t ask for permissions, they were doing a lot on their own. They went into the Deep South.  They were more involved in the rural areas.  Dr.  King didn’t go often to the Deep South.  I consider that he was more of an urban than a rural leader.

    P.T.:  This is very interesting.  I never had that impression.

    Dr.  C.C.:  Well, this is part of the myth.  He had to think through seriously and carefully before getting involved in the freedom struggle.  When he went to jail, it was a big deal because he had a family to think about and other responsibilities.  When he ended up in jail, he stayed in as short a time as possible.  Sometimes he had to be bailed out immediately.  People of my age at that time didn’t have any responsibilities.  We didn’t have families to support so it was “easier” to go to jail and take chances.  John Lewis who was the chairman at that time of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) went to jail more than 25 times.

    P.T.:  In China, an adaptation of your play Passages of Martin Luther King was made, in which MLK was portrayed by the actor Cao Li in Beijing.  How do you feel about the fact that your work is recognized in this emerging Asian country?

    Dr.  C.C.:  Oh, I was very pleased.  It was a very emotional event for me to assist.  To see my play being performed by great Chinese actors who put all their passion into the play was wonderful and very meaningful. To have this recognition from the most populated and one of the largest countries on earth was great.  King’s words were a message to the world.  I was very emotionally involved and really moved.  Most of the audience was Chinese, and the Chinese actors were touched by King’s message.

    P.T.:  In an interview with Tavis Smiley, you said that outside of the US, Dr. Martin Luther King is seen more as a universal icon and leader.  How would you explain that many Americans tend to see him as a Black Civil Rights leader, while King’s message was more concerned with colorblind brotherhood?

    Dr.  C.C.: I think that is part of the legacy of America’s racial past.  We voted for Obama, but we have difficulty believing that Dr.  King can be also a leader of White people.  I have spoken to many White people who have been touched by King’s message, admired him and were very influenced by him.  However, it is difficult for some to understand that MLK’s message was for all people.  We don’t have trouble understanding that Black Americans can admire JFK because he’s not described as the White president but as the president.

    P.T.:  It is perceived as the norm.

    Dr.  C.C.:  Exactly.  Dr. King in the US was always described as the Black or the Negro leader.  He was put in that category, but MLK was beyond those boxes.  I actually think that he had as many White followers as Black followers.

    P.T.:  In the Washington March, there were about 60 000 White Americans.

    Dr.  C.C.:  Yes and probably many more wanted to be there. When Americans look at Gandhi, they don’t tend to see him firstly by his race.  The perception is different.  We understand that he transcends the race issue.  He’s beyond that.  But people in the United States perceive King otherwise.  In contrast, people in India who have heard about King don’t know a lot about the details regarding his work in Birmingham, Montgomery.  They probably don’t even know where those places are.  But they know that MLK stands for something universal, same thing for Gandhi.  They are aware that they stand for something very positive and constructive.  You can admire Gandhi without seeing him primarily in the role of someone who fought for India’s independence.  Similarly, outside the US, people don’t tend to see MLK as a Black leader.

    P.T.:  We live in a society where we love to label people.  For example, during the past election, instead of talking in the media all the time about a black candidate or a woman candidate, it would have been more evolved to talk about human beings, period.

    Dr.  C.C.:  Yes.

    P.T.:  I find it unbelievable that so many people still don’t understand or don’t know about non-violent methods such as civil disobedience.  For example, in the Michael Moore documentary Bowling for Columbine, the first thing which came into the mind of one of the interviewees was to use a gun if he ever encountered a disagreement.  When the interviewer asked him what he thought about Gandhi’s methods, the man didn’t know who he was!  Gandhi inspired MLK. In a past interview, MLK told the very well known psychologist Dr. Kenneth Clark that some people think that non-violence is about stagnant complacency and passivity; however, non-violence is about strength. What do you think about the level of understanding in America concerning non-violent methods?  If you believe there is a problem, as a professor what could be done to correct this situation in schools, in order to ensure that young people know more about peacemakers like Gandhi and MLK?  Do you also think that we give enough alternatives to resolve violence in America or elsewhere in the world?

    Dr.  C.C.: I don’t think that most Americans know much about nonviolence.  Nonviolence is defined more by what it is not, instead of what it is.  I conceive it to be constructive resistance—a strategy that can be used to fight injustice, and to seek reconciliation.  Nonviolence is about finding the change that we want in a positive way.  We haven’t explored enough how people can resist injustice constructively.  We don’t offer them many alternatives.  So, they think that the only option is to strike back.  Often people in power don’t like to use nonviolent methods. When the subject of nonviolence comes up, it is often linked to powerless people, not those in power .  So many people who are oppressed look at this as hypocrisy.  No one said, we should respond to 9/11 non-violently.  For those in power, it wasn’t considered.  “Of course, we are going to strike back and use all the violence that we have, because we have the power”.  That was the response.  There are oppressed people who experience 9/11’s all the time.  There is constant destruction done to oppressed people.

    The message that the oppressed get from the actions, not the words, of the powerful is:  “When you have injustice done to you, the best thing to do is to retaliate.”  It is glorified; we can see this in our society everyday through the media, etc.  Yet, if someone asks the question: “What retaliation have you gained?  Have you actually eliminated terror?” the most honest and obvious answer is that we have created even more terror.  However, since there is such tension surrounding the idea of nonviolence, especially between those with power and those without, the ideology of MLK and Gandhi doesn’t get through people, and it becomes a difficult message.  Not everybody is ready to embrace nonviolence.

    P.T.:  It is probably because we don’t have concrete tools to know how to apply it.

    Dr.  C.C.:  Yes, definitely. We only explored the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s available to us in nonviolence resistance.

  • A Look Back at Obama's Speech to the Muslim World

    Muslim speech

    Obama made his long-awaited address to the “Muslim World” [last week]. He made a similar address to the Turkish parliament back in April, but this was THE speech that Obama promised to give even before he got elected. It was supposed to be the speech that launches “the new beginning”, the new relationship between the US and the over 1.5 billion Muslims of the world.

    The reactions to the speech so far have been mixed although many have praised the gesture. One could argue that any gesture made after the bluster and belligerant ”with us or against us” approach of the Bush administration would have been welcome.

    So let’s dissect some of the points of the speech and weigh them against the reality on the ground.

    Obama warned Palestinians against the use of violence to fight the occupation and scolded the Israelis about the continuous building of settlements. While both points are valid on their faces, they are merely words in the face of the daily tribulations of both camps in this conflict. After all, what are the Palestinians to do in the face of the daily humiliations of the occupation administered in great part with US-supplied weaponry? Should they simply offer the other cheek and hope that their oppresors will see the light? History shows us that although violence in of itself has never allowed a liberation movement to succeed, it has always been a component of the struggle from colonial Africa to India to the US  to Cuba to South-Africa. Ignoring that fact is simply choosing to float in a Hope cloud.

    As for the settlements, just this week, Netanyahu was reiterating that his government will continue building settlements, this after  US Secretary of State Clinton and Obama himself indicated the US government’s disapproval of such acts. Would the Israeli government be sanctioned by having its aid withheld? If not, what will be the actual repercussions of continuing to build on occupied land and thereby establishing what Ariel Sharon used to call “facts on the ground” that will stand in the way of any future peace deal?

    Obama spoke of the US leaving Iraq and not wanting “bases or claim on their territory or resources”. So why is the US building what looks very much like permanent bases all over the country (see map) and the most fortified embassy in the region? Will Obama request a repeal of all the oil laws that the Bush administration pushed Iraqis leaders to adopt? Surely economically, given its dependence on Mid-East oil, the US could not afford such a move. So does that not indicate that any exit from Iraq would merely be a departure of troops but a peservation of  some form of control that would guarantee that the Iraqi pumps remain open to US tankers? Would that be “leaving Iraq to the Iraqis?”

    On the issue of Iran and nuclear weapons, Obama said that “no nation should pick and choose which nations have nuclear weapons” and he reiterated the standard US position demanding that Iran “comply with its responsibilities under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)”. The unspoken part of this argument of course is that Israel has nuclear weapons, but is not a signatory to the NPT. Neither is Pakistan which also has nuclear weapons and is a US ally. So the sin of Iran seems to be that it chose to sign a treaty under which it can now be scolded for doing what other nations do and get rewarded for with US military aid.

    On women’s rights,  religious tolerance and human rights, Obama merely repeated platitutes that cannot be taken seriously given the continuous US support for the regimes of the Middle East that deny those very rights to their citizens. What’s the value of hopeful words about freedom spoken by a US president in a place like Egypt where Hosni Mubarak has been waging war against hopeful freedom advocates for almost 30 years with US support? What’s the value of hopeful words when the Saudi monarchs have been stifling the hopes of women in their kingdom for generations with the complete acquiescence of US presidents? Why talk when the US president has so many levers he can pull to force action?

    Obama can be praised for making the trip, appearing concilliatory and more importantly acknowledging some facts that although  known for years by all, were never publicly accepted by a sitting US president;  namely the US involvement in the overthrow of the democratically elected former president of Iran Mohammed Mossadegh. But to use that very American expression, “where’s the beef?”

    Obama spoke eloquently and forcefully in Cairo as Obama almost always does. However, Obama the presidential candidate has to quickly morph into Obama the leader of the so-called “Free World”  and resist the use of speeches as substitutes for tangible policy changes.

    Originally published on:

    http://daily44.wordpress.com/

  • Single with Baggage: Niagara Falls Getaway

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    For over 22 years I have been travelling on my own; sometimes it’s for business, sometimes it’s for pleasure, and sometimes it is simply to chill. There are many people who aren’t comfortable with the idea of travelling on their own, but I hope that after you read my column that you will know its okay to be “Single with Baggage!”

    I am based in Toronto, Ontario and I needed a 2-3 day get away. For $380.10 I found a Gray Line Tour (a division of Greyhound) for two nights and three days to the Sheraton Falls Hotel in Niagara Falls. The trip departs at 10:00 a.m. from the Greyhound station or from one of the major hotels downtown.

    Between Toronto and Niagara you learn about key points of interest from downtown Toronto through to Oakville, and onward to Hamilton and finally we arrived in Niagara Falls. There were about 20 other people on the bus, and when we got to Niagara Falls, the very unenthusiastic bus driver took us to various key points in Niagara so we could stare at them out of the bus window. Oh and did I mention that it was an extremely foggy day outside? So, I just looked out of the bus window, thinking; “All righty then”.  Next he took us to the Sheraton where we were to enjoy a lunch buffet which was included in the ticket cost. However, since this was my first time there I asked the driver where I would meet the group, and what to do etc. and he was very rude so I decided not to ask anymore questions. I checked into the hotel, and called the tour group and rearranged when I would have the lunch buffet.

    I went into my room, and the first thing I noticed was a damp musty smell. I was tired and wanted to take a nap; except like in the story of Goldilocks and the three bears, both of my beds were not really made up and looked like someone had been sleeping in them. I was quite turned off and immediately called housekeeping and they told me they would be right up. After 20 minutes someone came and made up both of my beds.

    One of the sheets she was replacing had a stain on it!!! So, she had to go and get another one. Lord have mercy! She finally finished and regardless of the smell I took a much needed nap.

    Very much like Broadway in New York City the prices at most regular restaurants are doubled in Niagara. I did manage to get souvenir t-shirts for a very reasonable price, when I ventured further away from the main strip.

    The next morning I made a formal complaint to the front desk about the smell in my room, the beds, and the lamp and clock radio that did not work. I was offered a free upgrade to a room with a view of the falls. I took the upgrade and like George Jefferson I moved on up!!! My new room was amazing, I had a great view of the falls, it didn’t smell, it had a fireplace, and a TV and Jacuzzi in the bathroom.  I finally felt good about my stay.

    Once I settled in I decided to have breakfast in the hotel and ate one of the most expensive basic breakfasts I’ve ever had.  I didn’t have lunch, so I decided to have the dinner buffet. HUGE MISTAKE!  The regular meals were on average $25.00 - $38.00, so I figured I might as well pay the $40.00 for the buffet and have a wider selection. Only thing was I did not enjoy anything that came with the buffet, except for the filet of sole. My waitress was a bit obnoxious and loud and she had stains all over her vest.

    “WOULD YOU LIKE SOMETHING TO DRINK?” She yelled for everyone to hear.

    She continued to yell every single thing she said to me and to the surrounding tables. I am not a snob by any means, but I just think that with the Sheraton you expect a certain quality of service.

    The next day was my last morning at the Sheraton. I woke up early and went to work out in the gym; a very small gym I might add. Two ladies sat at the main entrance and asked me to fill out a form, and then asked me to pay a $10.00 fee. I was like $10.00? Since I was checking out at noon, they decided to let me work out for free. After the gym I went to breakfast and found out that it costs $3.00 for one egg at the Sheraton, so I ate my golden eggs and toast, trying not to think about the cost of a carton of eggs in the grocery store.

    I packed up my things and went to meet the tour group to return to Toronto. There were only four people on my return trip; one lady from Scotland, one from Australia, and a husband and wife from England. The lunch buffet was 100 xs better than the dinner buffet; they even had rice and a nice selection of desserts. We took a few pictures of each other in the dining room, and then had a bit of free time, before we had to board the bus.

    Once we were on the bus I was informed that we were going to the “Journey Under the Falls.”  I thought we were going to the IMAX Theatre, as the schedule had both things listed, but apparently this was a group decision.  I had no idea what Journey Under the Falls was but, I learned soon enough. I am really glad I decided to wear a wig on this trip that could double as a hat and my hair, because as a black woman with natural hair, the journey under the falls would have been detrimental to me.

    We took some stairs and an elevator and then we were literally underneath Niagara Falls with water spraying in our faces and an almost deafening sound. Though it was cold I found it quite fascinating so fascinating that I found myself staring into the cold water while it splashed on me and made my face start to freeze. I took some video and pictures of the falls; instead of buying souvenirs I headed back to the bus to relax. From there we went to different look out points to take pictures and then on to Niagara on the Lake and the Winery where they make ice wine. It really is quite a long tour; 7 hours in total.

    We saw many different sites on the way back and had quite a few stops; I opted out of some of them, but I enjoyed the winery and though I don’t drink much I did taste the ice wine which the region is famous for.

    I came back to Toronto that evening very tired, but feeling like I had truly had an adventurous vacation. I felt like it was more than three days and two nights, and I was

    delighted that I actually enjoyed myself without leaving the country.  And though there were mishaps and the meals were very expensive…I would do it all again as a woman who is Single with Baggage!

    This trip is rated: 3 airplanes (out of five)

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    Anne-Marie Woods www.imanicreativeconsulting.com


  • Book Review: 40 Dayz of Motion

    40 dayz

    Few artists on either the local spoken word or hip hop scene can boast to have the skills to seamlessly navigate between both worlds. Toronto-born and bred artist Motion, a.k.a. Wendy Braithwaite, is just such a rare talent.

    Over the years, she has opened for such renowned artists as Mos Def, Wycelf Jean, Talib Kweli, Jill Scott and more. Her vocal chops have also been showcased on the soundtrack for the film, When Moses Woke(Itoti Productions) which premiered on Bravo! Television.

    And to all that, add published author as well.

    Motion recently launched her latest book of poetry entitled 40 dayz. A follow-up to her book Motion in Poetry, published by Women’s Press in 2002, 40 dayz is an intensely personal and reflective exploration of her journey as woman, mother, lover and world citizen.

    Still ever rooted in her Torontonian universe, Motion takes us back to her Antiguan and Bajan heritage to show how her family, friends and other individuals have shaped who she is.

    Motion has a gift for bringing back days gone by through infusing her reminiscing tales with lyrical smells and scents of familiar experiences. As you are transported back with her in a funkadelic time machine, we encounter Malcolm, Maya and Alice along the way.

    Her piece “dem say” is a prime example of how, in just a few lines, Motion takes us back to an idyllic and more care-free past.

    But eventually, sure as the sun rises from the east every morning, innocence is broken, hope battles with regret and dreams are too often deferred.

    Despite all of that, and perhaps because of those growing pains, one’s sense of community remains a major pillar amid it all.

    This T-dot community that Motion illustrates encompasses it all. From the busloads of people going along with their mundane existence, to the mournful mothers and guilty lovers, all play a part.

    The bustling city landscape she describes is also sometimes a metropolis under menacing clouds. In “hedlines” we find a city under curfew where “somewhere a poet is detained” and a “high court decides the fate of men”.

    Motion depicts a post-911 world where “ownland security” justifies the oppressing rule of a police state. She longs to spend her Friday night watching “pre-war N.Y. on Sex and the City.”

    In a cold mega-city where “skyscrapers grow where green trees used to greet” and “good mornings are swallowed up down fearful throats and stuck-up tongues”, we often find ourselves feeling suffocated.

    But far from wallowing in despair, the bliss of passion, lust and love remains a permanent fixture in Motion’s poetic cityscapes. From jonesing under the Bronx bridges by the Hudson River to fantasies of making love while riding the rocket in the T-dot, she leaves with this burning question: … where is the love?

  • Last Days of Last Days of Judas

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    Stop me if you’ve heard this one.  Pontius Pilate, Jesus and a couple of soldiers walk into a fermenting cellar…

    Sound familiar?  Try this.  Fifteen phenomenal actors walk into a rehearsal hall to remount Birdland Theatre’s production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.  The first production won 5 Dora Mavor Moore Awards (including "Outstanding Production", "Outstanding Direction", "Outstanding Performance by a Female", "Outstanding Performance by a Male", and "Outstanding Lighting Design") and the second only builds on that success.

    Last Days recounts the trial of Judas Iscariot, prosecuted for the betrayal of Jesus in a long-forgotten corner of purgatory – Hope.  The language and rhythm taste like New York, where the play originated, but the themes stand outside of time and place, even when the two are palpable.  The tone of the play would be less at home underscored by angelic choirs than by bassy boomboxes and the sound of dice hitting the stoop.  The stone walls of the Fermenting Cellar do their part to keep your head in the game.   In this atmosphere, what appears to be irreverence is actually a deeper examination of the nature of good, evil, and forgiveness than you’ll get in most churches.

    Philip Akin, Artistic Director of Obsidian Theatre, once again lends his stentorian tones to the role of Pontius Pilate, the aggravated magistrate who ruled against the Messiah the first time around (albeit through abdication).  With so many new cast members, however, it’s a bit like starting all over again, leaving room for the actor to bring new and interesting shades to the role.  Akin is shifting gears a little, coming fresh off his last triumph as director of Andrew Moodie’s Toronto the Good at Factory Theatre.  It does call for a small mental/temperamental readjustment.  “In this thing I got told what to do. In the last I did the telling,” Akin summarized.

    Jamie Robinson steps into the sandals of the Son of Man playing a version of Jesus he describes as “a down to Earth, chilled out home-boy from New York who loves everyone, including the least of his creatures.”  The talented actor is no stranger to classic themes, as recent turns in Medea (Mirvish) and Merchant of Venice (Stratford) attest.  This role sent him back into his New Testament to refresh the basics absorbed in adolescence.  “It is a much more interesting book now than it was then,” observed Robinson.  “Jesus comes across more human than I thought.”  Jesus’ presence is significant onstage, even when he hasn’t got much to say.  Eventually, he goes head to head with Judas, taking it down to “the bare bones of a New York, macho brotherly love and frustration Battle Royale.”

    Zarrin Darnell-Martin plays both one of the Soldiers, and one of the hippest saints ever to hit the stage.  With equal capacities for watchful stillness and raw energy, Darnell-Martin comes correct.  “Playing Saint Monica has made me realise that being a Saint is nothing more than being good, and good people come in every size and shape and sometimes, as in my case, they are ghetto and sassy and wear a bandanna on their head and say mothaf***** every other word! Strength is strength no matter how it is packaged!”  Fellow National Theatre School graduate, Abdu Bedward, in the role of a Soldier, brings the outmoded centurion image down to earth and out to play.

    The play’s stellar cast is full of heavyweights, and accordingly, the production hits a home run.  Directed by David Ferry are Philip Akin, Aviva Armour Ostroff, Abdu Bedward, Adam Brazier, Zarrin Darnell-Martin, Ted Dykstra, Richard Greenblatt, Zorana Kydd, Diego Matamoros, Morris Panych, Louise Pitre, Janet Porter, Jamie Robinson, Shaun Smyth and Christopher Stanton.

    The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

    by Stephen Adly Guirgis
    until April 15, 2009
    The Fermenting Cellar, Distillery District
    Tickets may be purchased online at www.totix.ca
    or in person at the T.O.TIX Booth (Yonge-Dundas Square, Tues - Sat, 12noon -6:30pm). Limited ticket availability at the door (cash only) $40
    Birdland Theatre: www.birdlandtheatre.com

  • Emmanuel Jal: War Child

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    The annual Sprockets Toronto International Film Festival for Children gets underway soon, from April 18th to 24th. As it is the case every year, the festival brings a vast array of engaging films that are sure to appeal not only to children, but also to the more mature crowd. 

    The 2008 film War Child by first-time director C. Karim Chrobog is one such film that is sure to continue to touch viewers. The award-winning documentary chronicles the remarkable odyssey of former child soldier Emmanuel Jal.

    Jal, now an emerging international hip hop artist, believes that he survived extraordinary ordeals in the bloody twenty-year Sudanese civil war in order to tell his story and touch lives.

    In 1987, Emmanuel Jal was lured into fighting with the SPLA (Sudanese People's Liberation Army) rebel army at the tender age of about seven. Along with thousands of other orphaned and displaced children cramped in a refugee camp in Ethiopia, he learned to maneuver an AK-47 and to fight a merciless was against the Arab government forces in Khartoum.

    Born in southern Sudan, where the population is mostly black and Christian, Jal’s view of the world was shaped early by this socio-political, religious, ethnic and economic war. His earliest memories are of Muslim fighters beating his mother and seeing his village raided.

    It is amid this chaos that his father, an official with the SPLA, decides to have Emmanuel board a boat with scores of other children from southern Sudan in destination of Ethiopia. Their hopes of finding peace and a better education in nearby Ethiopia are soon dashed when the overcrowded boat sinks and the majority of the children drown.

    Hi mother killed in the civil strife and his father abandoning him for dead after the boat sinks, the young Emmanuel Jal finds himself in a refugee camp with only his desires for redemption and a better life left.

    The documentary’s most powerful ingredient is the interweaving of archive footage of Jal as a young boy during that time in the Ethiopian refugee camp. We observe him discussing his hopes and dreams as part of a National Geographic reportage from the 1980s. Even then, it was evident that the young Emmanuel had the gift to inspire those around him.

    War Child puts a revealing and humanizing spotlight on the many motivations that lead such idealistic, and sometimes disillusioned, youth to join armed conflicts in war-torn areas of the world.

    From the desire to avenge their family members, to exploited religious and ethnic sectarianism, to the most basic need of feeling part of whole and striving for a purpose, we learn that the circumstances which can lead a child to pick up a deadly weapon are manifold.

    War Child follows Emmanuel Jal all the way up to his current activities as a world-trotting musical force who uses his art to reach out to youth back in his homeland, Europe and America. His amazing story of survival and perseverance through the most amazing odds cannot leave anyone unmoved.

    The full-length documentary will be screened in Toronto on April 21st and 23rd, as part of the Sprockets Toronto International Film Festival for Children, at the Cineplex Odeon Sheppard Grande 7 (4861 Yonge Street). See http://www.sprockets.ca for more details.


    See film’s homepage at http://www.warchildmovie.com/

  • Theatre Review: The Color Purple

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    Jeannette Bayardelle (Celie) and LaToya London (Nettie). Photo Credit: Paul Kolnik

    For nearly a month now, Toronto’s Canon Theatre has been the home of Oprah Winfrey & friends’ acclaimed stage production of “The Color Purple”. Adapted by playwright Marsha Norman from Alice Walker’s award-winning 1982 novel and Steven Spielberg’s 1985 Oscar-nominated film version of the same name, this theatrical incarnation continues to stir souls.

    The Color Purple captures the reality of black women’s lives in the segregated Deep South of the 1920’s and their search for dignity and redemption against all odds. Alice Walker once said, “The black woman is one of America''s greatest heroes. . . . She has been oppressed beyond recognition.”

    Indeed, the life story of the main character, Celie, which we discover through her letters to God and her younger sister Nettie, is nothing short of heroic. At an early age, she is raped by her step father and gives birth to two children who are taken away from her. She is then sold into marriage at the age of 14 only to end up the virtual house slave of Albert, whom she calls Mister, an older man who constantly abuses her physically and mentally.

    Despite her dire circumstances, Celie moves forward in her path to self-discovery and emancipation. She is inspired in her quest by powerful women such as her step daughter-in-law Sofia and Albert’s hedonistic mistress Shug Avery.

    Through Celie’s character, who personifies the downtrodden black female image of the pre Civil Rights era, continually being brought down by her own family, community and society for being “too ugly, too poor and too black”, Alice Walker offers us a powerful tale of redemption.

    What makes the story and the play work is that Celie’s victorious journey is told through humour, sexual innuendo and everyday situations which are timeless. The gossip-obsessed church ladies who help narrate the story are welcome entertainment.

    The show’s set design, music and lighting make The Color Purple an unforgettable experience.  Particularly captivating are the scenes of Nettie’s life in Africa which we discover through her letters to Celie. Also, the entire cast’s vocal abilities and stage presence cannot leave anyone unmoved.

    The Color Purple is showing at Canon Theatre (244 Victoria Street) until March 14th. For more info, see www.mirvish.com.

  • Film Review: Nurse.Fighter.Boy

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    Once in a while, you come across a Canadian film which makes you think: “Why do we need to flock to Hollywood when there is such talent and creativity right here at home?” First-time, and Toronto-based,director Charles Officer brings us just such a movie with Nurse.Fighter.Boy.

    Opening  tonight (Bob Marley’s birthday) and running at the Royal Cinema and AMC Yonge & Dundas, Nurse.Fighter.Boy features an all-local cast which includes: Clark Johnson (as the fighter Silence), Karen LeBlanc (as the nurse June), and Daniel J. Gordon (as the boy Ciel). Significantly, all three actors have been nominated for ACTRA Awards.

    The film is an artistically-shot urban love story which delves into many pressing social issues facing Toronto’s black community … such as youth violence, the importance of black father figures, the lure of fast money and the devastating effect of sickle cell anemia.

    Director Charles Officer and producer Ingrid Veninger successfully avoid the trap of going down the easy road of clichés and stereotypes. The characters and the storyline are credible and skillfully leave us just at the border of our hunger. It would have been easy to overdo it.

    Nurse.Fighter.Boy’s effectiveness can almost be as much attributed to the actors’ strong performances as to the musical soundtrack. Simply put, the music is amazing. Again, we find the cream of the crop of Toronto’s local talent such as a mesmerizing tune from Zaki Ibrahim. Other artists include: Ndidi Onukwulu , K’naan, Citizen Cope, Mikey Dread, Terry Callier and Brightblack Morning Light.

    Go see it in great numbers this week-end as the community’s support will play a great role in the continued screening of this cinematic gem.

     

    See trailer:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3lrG4BZU04

     

    More at www.nursefighterboy.ca

     


    Director Charles Officer will be present to answer audience questions tonight (Feb. 6th) and tomorrow after the 7:15pm shows at AMC Yonge & Dundas and after the 9:30 p.m. shows at the Royal Cinema. See below for full screening details.  

    Royal Cinema - 608 College (at Clinton St.), Toronto - tel. (416) 534-5252

     

    Fri, Sat: 7:00, 9:30

    Sun: 4:30, 7:00, 9:15

    Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu: 7:00, 9:15

     AMC Yonge & Dundas 24 (AMC)

    Toronto Life Square, 10 Dundas St. East, Toronto    

     

     Fri: 2:40, 4:50, 7:15, 9:55

     Sat, Sun: 12:25, 2:40, 4:50, 7:15, 9:55

     Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu: 2:40, 4:50, 7:15, 9:55


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  • Interview with Ethiopian director Haile Gerima

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    As Black History Month starts today, Toronto welcomes Ethiopia’s preeminent filmmaker, Haile Gerima, at Bloor Cinema to kick off a special one-week run (Feb. 1-8) of his inspiring film, Teza.

    A winner of the Best Screenplay and Special Jury Prize at the 65th Venice Film Festival last year, Teza tells the story of Anberber, an idealistic intellectual, who returns to Ethiopian after living in Germany for years. The country he finds upon his return is a far cry from the one he remembers and longed for while abroad. He is confronted by the harsh realities of corruption and political instability as he tries to contribute to Ethiopia’s welfare with his skills and devotion.

    Throughout his career, Haile Gerima has masterfully used the medium of film to tell stories of the African experience from a genuine perspective. His 1993 film Sankofa, which takes a powerful look at slavery from an African/African-American perspective, drew large audiences across the African Diaspora.

    Professor Gerima has been teaching film at Howard University in Washington, D.C. since 1975.

    AfroToronto.com had a chance to sit down one-on-one with Haile Gerima when he was last in Toronto for the 34th Toronto International Film Festival.

     

    AfroToronto: Congratulations on being recognized at the Venice Film Festival. What did winning the Best  Screenplay award for Teza mean to you?

    Haile Gerima: I make films. I dread competitions. The reality of distribution of course is another story.... It’s very hard to compare films. So for me, the most important part was that the people were very thankful that we did the film and people really embraced the film very well... So it was a height for me. It was a very important event.

    AfroToronto: You spent nine years looking for funding for your film Sankofa. Tell me about that process and how difficult, or easier, it might have been to raise funds after the success of Sankofa?

    Haile Gerima: [Sankofa had a successful opening ] but there was nothing to follow it. We don’t have black distribution companies. For Teza, it goes back to 1993 when I first got the seed money to do this film and it took me 14 years to find the rest of the money. It took 14 years to finish the film.... We shot the Ethiopian part and two years later we found more money and shot German part for a week. For me it’s part of my life. I don’t expect; even after the Venice success. We had about five prizes [but] I’m not going to expect anything. I go back again to foot-walk my fundraising to do my next film. So this is a struggle. I have risen to the challenge.

    AfroToronto: Your film Sankofa, which examines the struggle against slavery from a black perspective, was warmly embraced by blacks around the world. The mainstream media only came around after African-Americans lined up around the block to see it. What does that say?

    Haile Gerima: Well this is the whole problem. We were in competition at the Berlin Film Festival in 1993 with Sankofa and the press was not interested in it. We were in Toronto and even Hollywood people were shocked at the kind of audience that we got there....

    I’ve been coming to Canada itself since 1970. The Toronto Film Festival, before it became very Hollywoodish, used to be a small film festival; and then there’s also Montreal. So I’ve been around here but the press is basically Hollywood-mesmerized. They are also white. Most black people have this disillusion that [cinema in North America] is a white experience. And so, they don’t see themselves in the story, in the agony of the story.

    The stories that I make initially are my own obsessions; things that I have to do. It so happens that Black people embrace my films... But, in general, the press in the United-States came around after we began to open it by community power. We distributed our own films. The New York Times, the LA Times, the Washington post, they came after we opened it and created the phenomenon. Not in the festival. They would have helped us in the festival if they even wrote about it.

    But even now here [at the Toronto International Film Festival] with my film having come from Venice, it’s a very uncomfortable place to come to.

    In fact, I came really because the distributors who [handle sales] felt it was very important place and they had to come. So I’m here to support them. But with my experience, after Sankofa, I never wanted to come to the Toronto International Film Festival. I can’t stand the festival. It’s very racist, it makes you feel like you’re not important in this world and that everything is about them. And that is not the kind of environment I subject myself to.

    AfroToronto: It is indeed evident that the Hollywood system promotes films where a mainstream white audience can see itself in.

    Haile Gerima: [In Hollywood, black people represent] tokenistic sidekicks created in their own phantom world. Hollywood is white. And I think Canadians more and more are coming out as part and parcel of that white supremacist cultural milieu.... There’s a certain identification... it’s a common ground. I can see how much they worship each other.... I’m better around a community that embraces me, accepts my imperfect films and encourages me to go towards my next project.... [I create for] people who have the same hunger I have.

    AfroToronto: We’ve heard about the institutional obstacles that Danny Glover has been facing in trying to raise funds to make a film about the Haitian revolution and the historical figure of Toussaint L’Ouverture. Hollywood executives have asked him “where are the white heroes?” What do you make of this?

    Haile Gerima: Black people are the problem because we are not as greedy about our history as white people. We do not fight to tell our own story. We don’t invest in our own story. So to beg them to reject us... we don’t seem to learn. We keep going.

    For me, Danny Glover, I think it is tragic that he is in that state. To me, Mel Gibson did the same stuff with him [in the Lethal Weapon film series]. You do that many movies, you better have some money of your own to keep going. So I don’t get his problem to tell you the truth. He was a side-kick in Hollywood for those movies and you don’t have wealth to do your own movie. I don’t think we learned anything.

    To me, if he was in the same movie as this white boy, Mel Gibson, and this Mel Gibson can even make films intimidating Jewish people in the industry and a black man cannot declare his own thing. Where are the black people we should go to? Where are the black capitalists? All these rich black people that flaunt all over the place their wealth... who are they? Where are they? What do they do for culture?

    We should begin to struggle within ourselves. The elite, the black elite, has failed us again and again and over again. So to me, I really have no sympathy for that class. I do low budget films. I don’t need 30 million dollars. I need small money to tell my story. And I don’t care whether they recognize it or validate it or not. This is a different kind of cinema that I’m interested in.

    AfroToronto: Your latest film, Teza, explores the sense of disillusionment of a foreign-trained intellectual coming back to Ethiopia to use his acquired skills to make his country go forward. Does this film reflect your own experience of being away from the homeland?

    Haile Gerima: No. I think it’s the experience of many people from Africa and even the Caribbean [but more so in my day. Intellectuals went abroad to acquire needed skills for their country]. There’s a different kind of migration from Africa now. There’s an economic migration. But when we left our country in my age, when I was twenty-one, most of the Ethiopians and most of the Africans that I saw in America, they were going to school to take something back. The idea was to go and get [much] modernization and take it back to your country. To build your country.  ... The film is really about that.

    It is not autobiographical although it is shaped by my experience of going home, coming back and the whole community of the exiled. Communities that I associated with in Europe, in America, in Canada even. All these Ethiopians, Africans who stayed behind. What they go through, what it means to go back, how to face the poverty in our country and how do we interact with autocratic regimes in Africa.

    How can we instil our ideas of development? How can we become our own history makers? Why is it that our capacity to become history makers is completely omitted in the topography of political and economic reality of Africa? These are things that obsessed me for a long time. So the film feeds out of this frustration of dislocation.

    AfroToronto: How do we keep the economic and political elites accountable to the people?

    Haile Gerima: “I think for me, it goes back to miseducation. I don’t think we’ve been educated to be history makers. I think Europe and America educated an elite class, including myself, to be the nuts and bolts of this economic global world. And so, it’s very difficult for the elite whose been manufactured to serve a certain historical process to be revolutionaries.

    The problem now is how do you break off? How do you demystify false knowledge and miseducation? How do you liberate yourself individually to create a continent of historical-making process? It is very, very difficult.

    To me it’s not only the government. The government comes out of the cess pool of the elite in Africa. The cess pool of the elite in Africa is pro West, pro globalization, pro colonialism, pro neo-colonialism. It brings it on itself because it has a common history, a common knowledge, a common fate.  It can’t break away from the missionaries who taught us how to think. It’s not accidental that most of our elites come out of missionary schools....

    Indigenous questions, the people’s needs, the people’s demands in fact it’s all converted into an industry. If you look at war, it’s an industry in Africa.  Who makes the money? Besides the military-industrial complex, it’s a global elite now running Africa as bureaucrats, technocrats to implement the idea of globalization for IMF, World Bank, etc.

    Humanitarianism is now an industry.... It debilitates young Africans from becoming history makers. We are always the objectified beggars.

    We are always the objectified people who need.... Every white kid grows up to help some black poor people. Some AIDS black people. So this, in itself, creates a complex on our children; an inferiority complex of enormous consequences where the history-making nerve ends have been decapitated. This is not a joke.

     

  • On My Mind - Internet Dating

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    “It’s not so bad, try it,” they said. After many years of getting older and still being single, I finally joined a black singles site last year. However, I did not give it an honest try and spent most of my time deleting the strange people who wrote me.

    One of my close girlfriends was on the site and she asked me the following questions. “Have you written anyone?”  My response was “No!”  “Have you responded to anyone who wrote to you?” My response was “No!” “Have you sent a smile or a flirt?”  Again my response was “No!” And then in her infinite wisdom my girlfriend said “Then girl you are on the Wrong Site!”

    We had a good laugh after that, and I still laugh when I remember that conversation. I have another girlfriend who is actively dating men from the internet, she imports them from America and travels to see them, and when one doesn’t work out, she moves on to the next. I admire her bravery and her ability to just keep on bouncing back. I am not sure I have that in me.

    I also have two Christian friends who are happily married to men they met on the internet; one met her husband through a Christian dating service, and my other girlfriend met her husband in a Christian chat room. So, I guess it is possible. I realized that the site I was on was perhaps not the one for me. So, another girlfriend of mine who is as cautious as I am about this whole internet thing told me about another Black Singles site.

    So I thought I would give it a try. I filled out the necessary information and paid for a one month membership. Now this next section of my column is going to be dedicated to all the men who joined internet dating sites and are wondering why not many women are writing to them. It is not meant to offend you, and since I am not a man looking for woman, I have no idea if women also have these same antics on line.

    If you are trying to meet someone from an online singles site, here are some basic rules:

    1.     Try not to post a picture of you taking a picture of yourself in your bathroom mirror with no shirt on.

    2.     If you are posting a picture and you decided to photo shop your ex wife or ex girlfriend out of the picture; please make sure that the picture of her hand is still not draped around your neck with no body attached.

    3.     Try to post a picture that is from this decade as opposed to your picture back in college that you no longer look like anymore

    4.     When sending long love messages to a woman you are interested in try to remember not to leave the name of the last woman you wrote the same message to in the body of the e mail. (Pay attention to your cutting and pasting)

    5.     Try not to have a name like Rusty Butt, Loves Tail, or Mandingo 69 when you write to a lady whose profile clearly states her love for God and how important that is to her. (I know its just a name, but on the internet a name means a lot)

    6.     If you write to someone 10 times and they don’t write you back, perhaps they just aren’t interested.

    7.     If your initial contact with a woman is Hi, my name is Mike Smith, give me a call @ 1-555-5555 (If you have had no type of correspondence, how can a lady feel comfortable just calling you long distance?)

    So now to the ladies... if you have found someone that has sparked your interest and you feel ready to take things to the next level of communication … Perhaps initially you should not give them your home phone number and business e mail; give things a bit of time. Maybe have a hotmail or yahoo account that is not affiliated with your personal life. When you have written to them and are comfortable enough to exchange numbers and meet up.

    Try to meet them for lunch, so that it’s in the afternoon, and also make sure that you are in a public place. This way you won’t feel as much pressure.  Also try to let a friend or family member know who are you are meeting and when. Another thing you can do is meet the person with your friends nearby. After that, if there is chemistry and you think that you can move forward, then you can loosen up a bit on your rules.

    When talking to different people about internet dating I found that many feel that dating someone on the internet is no different from meeting someone in the Real World. I think there are similarities, but whether in cyberspace or in the Real World; you should always make sure that you feel comfortable and safe. It seems as people’s lives become busier, the internet is becoming a quick and easy alternative to try and meet a potential partner.

    I still don’t know if this if for me, but I am going to at least give it an honest try.

    Today as I finally decided to write to someone on the site, Internet Dating was On My Mind.

  • Why do I fro? My hair story

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    This just in: the afro is making a comeback! Seriously, everywhere I turn someone is rocking the fro. And not just amongst us sistas and brothas, it is crossing over cultural lines and solidifying its place in pop culture. So, why is it that some of us sistas are afraid to join the curly revolution?

    While I cannot speak for others, for me embracing my natural hair has been a challenge. Growing up I was conditioned to believe that coarser textured hair was not ‘in’, but ‘out’…way ‘out’.  As a child, whenever I would see black females in the media, almost everyone was rocking straight hair. Thus, that became my standard of beauty. I remember getting my first basement relaxer when I was in junior high and let me confess to you all that I was feeling myself. Now straightened, my hair length extended past my shoulders and when there was a breeze, it took flight. My friends and family members often described it as ‘good hair’ (I’ll have more to say on this in an upcoming article).  Boy oh boy, did I love my hair.

    Today I no longer relax my hair and I am still in love with my hair.  In its natural state, it has become my new obsession.  Rest assure that I didn’t always embrace my natural hair.  I decided not to relax my hair about three and a half years ago. I wish I could tell you that I was making some sort of political statement or predicting an upcoming fashion trend, but that was not the case.  I was just tired. Tired of wasting my Saturdays in a poorly ventilated salon, tired of coming out of the salon with a haircut or style that I did not ask for, and just all around tired of giving my hard earned dollars to someone that did not care about the health of my hair.

    So I told myself that I was going on strike from relaxers until I was able to find a good, no make that great hair stylist. And in time, I did. I found a hair stylist so great that with a little swipe from her flat iron, she could whip my kinks into a straight, lustrous mane that still danced in the wind. So I had the permed look without adding chemicals in the mix. I then came to the realization that I did not need to relax my hair in order to wear it straight. I felt like I had it made.

    This past summer, I noticed that my hair was in quite a damaged state. It was limp, breaking and crying to be heard. I remembered Tim Gunn’s catchphrase “make it work” and it was then that I decided to make my head of kinky, coily, nappy, unruly, truly me, head of hair work.

    So here’s my disclaimer:  I am neither a licensed hair stylist nor am I a trichologist. Also, I am not anti-chemical relaxers. That said, I can only share with you what has and has not worked for me. I’m a bit of a product junkie and I’m on a mission to find the right products for my hair. My goal for my hair is to achieve a full head of healthy hair, rock my fro and let you all know that the afro is back. Ladies and gents lets make our fros work!

  • Hit Man: David Foster & Friends

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    It’s hard to find a more accomplished music industry producer than Canadian-born David Foster. This much heralded record producer, singer-songwriter and composer is the creative force behind hundreds of hits since the 1970s. Many such hits most of us don’t even realize he had a hand in.

    With no less than 15 Grammy Awards to his name, Foster boasts a compelling composer resume which includes the following: “Through the Fire (Chaka Khan), Unbreak My Heart (Toni Braxton), Unforgettable (Natalie Cole), I Will Always Love You (Whitney Houston), I Swear (All-4-One), and Because You Loved Me (Celine Dion) just to name a few. Foster has also produced, amongst others,  Whitney Houston, Josh Groban, Donna Summer, Mariah Carey, Destiny''s Child, Vanessa Williams, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Al Jarreau, Natalie Cole, Yolanda Adams, Michael Bublé, and Brian McKnight.

    For anyone who needs any reminding, or education, David Foster’s latest project, the CD-DVD combo entitled, Hit Man: David Foster & Friends is a must own. Although, with only nine tracks compared to the DVD’s impressive 30-song tally, the CD will probably collect a lot of dust.

    I recommend going straight for the DVD. It features a live show taped at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay in May of 2008. David Foster is joined on stage by a star-studded line-up featuring Andrea Bocelli, Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, Josh Groban, Brian McKnight, Eric Benét, Michael Bublé and more.

    Particularly gripping is Brian McKnight’s duo with Josh Groban as they sing David Foster’s 1979 hit song written for Earth, Wind and Fire, After The Love is Gone.

    The 80’s nostalgics like me will also enjoy hearing the tunes from St. Elmo’s Fire and Peter Cetera’s rendition of his old hits form the Karate Kid days.

    Put perhaps the most startling discovery, which alone makes the CD-DVD package worth buying, is the performance of a young 16-year-old Filipino girl named Charice. David Foster reveals that he got a call from none other than Oprah Winfrey asking him to include Charice in his live showcase in Las Vegas.

    As the video below demonstrates, Charice has a very bright future ahead of her!

    http://www.youtube.com/v/dLfW5su5YY8&hl=en&fs=1

    Features

    • CD Tracks:
      1. Love Theme from St. Elmo''s Fire - David Foster, Kenny G
      2. Home - Michael Bublé, Blake Shelton
      3. I Have Nothing/I Will Always Love You - Charice
      4. Bridge Over Troubled Water - Josh Groban, Brian McKnight
      5. Because You Loved Me - Celine Dion
      6. Wildflower - Blake Shelton
      7. Somewhere - Katharine McPhee
      8. Hard to Say I''m Sorry/You''re the Inspiration/Glory of Love - Peter Cetera
      9. Prayer - Andrea Bocelli, Katharine McPhee

      DVD:
      1. Intro - Andre Agassi
      2. St. Elmo''s Love Theme - Kenny G
      3. Can''t Help Falling in Love - David Foster
      4. Beauty/Man in Motion - Michael Johns
      5. Mornin''/After the Love Has Gone - Brian McKnight
      6. Video - Barbra Streisand
      7. Somewhere - Katharine McPhee
      8. Through the Fire - Reneé Olstead
      9. Got to Be Real - Cheryl Lynn
      10. Wildflower - Blake Shelton
      11. Video/Urban Cowboy
      12. Love Look What You''ve Done - Boz Scaggs
      13. Jo Jo - Boz Scaggs
      14. Chocolate Legs - Eric Benet
      15. Hard to Say I''m Sorry/You''re the Inspiration/Glory of Love - Peter Cetera
      16. Amapola - Andrea Bocelli
      17. Because We Believe - Andrea Bocelli
      18. Prayer - Andrea Bocelli, Katharine McPhee
      19. Asturias - William Joseph
      20. Video/Because You Loved Me - Celine Dion, David Foster
      21. I Swear - Babyface, Kevon
      22. Feeling Good - Michael Bublé
      23. Home - Michael Bublé, Blake Shelton
      24. Save the Last Dance - Michael Bublé
      25. Video/Bodyguard - Kevin Costner
      26. I Have Nothing/I Will Always Love You - Charice
      27. Alla Luce del Sole - Josh Groban
      28. Bridge Over Troubled Water - Josh Groban, Brian McKnight
      29. You Raise Me Up - Josh Groban
      30. Got to Be Real

  • The 10 Best African-American Books of 2008 (Non-Fiction

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    The annual ranking

    1. Hope on a Tightrope: Words & Wisdom - by Cornel West

    Hope on a Tightrope earns the #1 spot at the dawn of the new political era of Barack Obama. Why? Because in spite of the uncritical euphoria surrounding Obama’s historic accomplishment, Dr. West has the guts to call attention to the pressing plight of the least of his brethren even before the President-elect has had a chance to take office.

    Plus, the iconoclastic author, in urging the incoming administration to address the concerns of the poor and underprivileged, cleverly invokes “the fierce urgency of now,” the same phrase coined by Dr. Martin Luther King and appropriated by Obama as his campaign theme. Props to Professor West for such a passionate reminder that the struggle for equality couldn’t possibly end automatically upon with the ascension of a black man to the nation’s highest office.

    2. Faith under Fire: A Memoir - by LaJoyce Brookshire

    Everybody is aware of the devastating toll the escalating AIDS rate has been taking on the black community. For this reason, inner city schools all over the country ought to consider adding this memoir to their curriculum as a precautionary measure. The book revolves around author LaJoyce Brookshire’s relationship with a duplicitous brother on the down low who callously put his monogamous wife’s life at risk.

    Only well into their marriage did a bell go off in her head, but by then he already had full-blown AIDS, and she was left in shock by the carousing, carelessness and sexual preferences by a partner she had incorrectly assumed to be a straight, faithful spouse. Not exactly anybody’s idea of a fairy tale romance, but a wake-up call ice to sisters who can’t be too careful, given the rampant spread of AIDS by convicts, intravenous drug users and brothers simply too afraid to admit they’re gay or bisexual due to the intolerant nature of a macho, inner-city culture marked by an intolerance of homosexuality.

    3. Standing Tall: A Memoir of Tragedy and Triumph - by C. Vivian Stringer

    When Don Imus referred to the young women on the Rutgers University Basketball Team as “nappy headed-hos” a year ago, it deeply affected their Coach, Vivian Stringer who “couldn’t shake the feeling that I had fallen down in my responsibility to protect these girls.” What almost nobody knew is that Vivian was recovering from breast cancer at the time Imus’ indefensible remarks thrust her into the national limelight, and that her mother suffered a stroke right in the middle of the controversy.

    So, Stringer never let on that she was going through chemo and caring for her seriously-ill mom while handling the crisis with the utmost poise and dignity. Poignantly written without a whit of bitterness, Standing Tall is as moving a memoir as I ever remember reading. The tears started flowing from the first page and didn’t stop till I finished the book.

    4. Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting - by Terrie M. Williams

    Social Worker Terrie Williams is most persuasive, here, making the argument that life is hard in the ‘hood, that people are suffering from depression as a consequence, and that the time has arrived to remove the stigma in the community still attached to seeking out psychological help. A convincing call for African-Americans to trade in their self-defeating stoicism for some long-overdue mental health treatment.

    5. Don''t Blame It on Rio - by Jewel Woods and Karen Hunter

    Did you know that Brazil has become the favorite vacation destination of a rapidly-increasing number of professional African-American males? Are black women even necessary any longer? Perhaps not, according to Jewel Woods and Pulitzer Prize-winner Karen Hunter, co-authors of this eye-opening expose’ which blows the cover off the clandestine sex trade currently flourishing in Rio.

    The city is apparently a popular port of call with bourgie brothers from the U.S. due to the easy availability of local women who don’t have the attitude or emotional baggage they generally find attached to sisters back home. A rather revealing look at a disturbing cultural trend.

    6. Be a Father to Your Child - by April R. Silver

    How do African-American males feel about fatherhood nowadays? Here’s a hint: Between 70 and 85% of black kids are now being raised by single-moms. The popular notion is that misogynistic gangsta rap might have formed men generally unwilling to shoulder their fair share of the burden when it comes to parenting.

    But before you jump to conclusions, you might want to read this collection of empowering essays by black men of the Hip-Hop Generation who have not abandoned their children. For this uplifting tome, which includes contributions by rapper Talib Kweli, writer Bakari Kitwana and filmmaker Byron Hunt, offers a heartening mix of poetry, prose and pictures designed to reassure skeptics about the prospects of the black family.

    7. The Naked Truth: Young Beautiful and (HIV) Positive - by Marvelyn Brown

    This bittersweet biography chronicles the author’s evolution from being diagnosed HIV+ to feeling desperate, frightened and abandoned to blossoming into a fearless AIDS activist. Now 24, this brave young lady deserves considerable credit for going public and thus putting a face on a still generally hidden and denied disease at a time when African-Americans account for the majority of new infections in the United States.

    8. The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse - by Richard Thompson Ford

    Was it fair for Michael Jackson to turn himself white only to reclaim his blackness when he wanted to sue his record company? According to Richard Thompson Ford, many well-off African-Americans are more than  willing to make inappropriate accusations of prejudice for purely selfish reasons.

    The author concludes that such opportunists who resort to the tactic of playing the race card “are the enemies of truth, social harmony, and social justice.” His solution? “For all decent and honest people” to join in condemning any such perpetrators. Certainly, food for thought in what has recently been dubbed “post-racial” America.

    9. Letters to a Young Sister: Define Your Destiny - by Hill Harper

    Actor Hill Harper received nothing but positive feedback a couple of years ago upon the release of Letters to a Young Brother, his inspirational how-to book for African-American males. Its uplifting message emphasized the value of a good education over the accumulation of material possessions while also stressing the importance of being the architect of your own life.

    So, it is only fitting that he would choose to write a companion text for black females with the help such luminaries as Michelle Obama, Angela Bassett, Ruby Dee, Nikki Giovanni and Sanaa Lathan. This invaluable tome addresses a litany of concerns occupying the inquiring minds of impressionable girls still in their formative years. Overall, an uplifting collection of sage insights aimed at instilling self-confidence, self-respect and self-reliance.

    10. Sweet Release: The Last Step to Black Freedom - by Dr. James Davison, Jr.

    Is it detrimental for African-Americans to continue to think of their struggle for advancement as a collective as opposed to a solitary enterprise? This is the controversial contention put forward by Dr. Davison, a psychologist in private practice in California. He believes that those black folks still viewing reality through a pre-Civil Rights Era prism are only standing in the way of their own freedom.

    According to the author, the key rests in African-Americans breaking the psychological bonds to their racial past by asserting their individuality, a step which he claims “has little to do with racism, prejudice, or discrimination.” A bitter pill to swallow, but so shockingly confrontational that its prescription for black sanity is a must read, despite the doctor’s apparent right-wing political allegiances.

    Honorable Mention

    All about the Beat: Why Hip-Hop Can’t Save Black America - by John McWhorter

    Barack Obama: Making History - Edited by Tanya Ishikawa

    The Chronicles of a Gentleman (The Untold Truth) - by Leroy Sanders

    Company I 366th Infantry - by Harold E. Russell, Jr.

    How to Build a Million Dollar Business - by Richelle Shaw

    Life as a Single Mom - by Stephanie M. Clark

    Life Is a Game - by Jim Copeland

    My True Soul: Exploited, Apprehended & Broken Within - by Shawna M. Harrison

    Why Black People Can''t Lose Weight - by Makeisha Lee

    Why African-Americans Can''t Get Ahead -by Gwen Richardson

    25 Things That Really Matter in Life: A Comprehensive Guide to Making Your Life Better - by Gary A. Johnson

    Worst Black Book of 2008

    A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited about Obama and Why He Can’t Win - by Shelby Steele

    The title says it all. Black conservative Shelby Steele took a calculated risk in publishing a book predicting Obama wouldn’t win. Oops. A bigger blunder than the Chicago Tribune’s “Dewey Elected’ headline prematurely announcing the demise of Harry Truman in 1948. Probably already out-of-print.

  • The Souls of Black Girls: Provocative DVD Discusses the Black Female Image

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    Black women have been so maligned by popular culture, that a black Pulitzer Prize-winner, Karen Hunter, recently posed the question, “Are black women necessary?” How has this shocking state of affairs affected the psyches of sisters during an age marked by misogyny and an embracing of a European standard of beauty?

    These are some of the questions posed by this provocative documentary which suggests that African-American females might be suffering from a form of self-image disorder. Produced and directed by Daphne Valerius, this provocative expose’ features sage contributions from such icons as Regina King, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Gwen Ifill and Chuck D.

    Also contributing are several articulate teens who weigh-in with their heartfelt feelings on issues ranging from dating to skin color preferences to hair straightening to promiscuity to their weights and shapes. The overall point being driven home is that they are generally frustrated by their inability to measure up to an unachievable cultural ideal which places thin white females with hour-glass figures up on a pedestal.

    Out of a sense of desperation to be seen as attractive, some girls admit to compromising their values by engaging in binge dieting and unprotected sex in an attempt to mimic the scantily-clad dancers they see cavorting seductively in rap videos. Ms. King regrets that we have “a whole generation of lost women who don’t that it’s okay to be you.” Meanwhile, Jada reflects upon herself having gone “through a period of shame.” Fortunately, the participants are ultimately optimistic and offer positive solutions, such as Ms. Ifill who proudly asserts “My beauty has value” while finding satisfaction when greeted by aspiring journalists who see her as a role model.

    With Michelle Obama poised to become our First Lady, this proves to be a timely debate about who gets to define what is beautiful.

    Excellent (4 stars)

    Unrated

    Running time: 52 minutes

    Distributor: Femme Noire Productions

    Official Website

  • Interview with Cornel West: Cornel Matters

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    Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 2, 1953, Princeton Professor Cornel Ronald West is one of America’s most gifted and provocative public intellectuals. He is the author of Race Matters, a seminal classic credited with changing the course of the country’s dialogue about justice and equality along the color line. A cultural icon, he is the recipient of the American Book Award as well as more than 20 honorary degrees. Here, Dr. West talks about his new book, Hope on a Tightrope, while weighing in on everything from President-elect Obama to the economy to affirmative action to the controversial notion of a “post-racial” America. 

    KW: Hey, Dr. West, thanks for the time. A mutual friend, Ila Forster, asked me to say hello for her. She was an undergrad when you were a grad student at Princeton. She says that back in the day you would come to parties on campus dressed in a black vest, black slacks, and a white shirt, which is still your uniform. She told me, “The brother has not changed...and that is why I respect him. He’s an intellectual but a down brother just the same.” That has me wondering why you always wear a three-piece suit.  

    CW: Wow! Well, first I want to say hello to the dear sister. We go back years, but my memories of her are quite fresh. Send her my best regards. Secondly, as far as my wardrobe, my role models are jazz musicians and black preachers. The suit connotes a kind of elegance and commitment to excellence, as well as a seriousness of purpose in your chosen vocation. It also connects to a sense of having a cheery disposition but a sad soul due to the mourning of catching hell because of the bigotry and oppression operating in this nation. So, it’s a uniform on the battlefield.   

    KW: What is your general impression of Princeton students and what do you enjoy about teaching Princeton students, in particular? 

    CW: Princeton students are, in a way, similar to Harvard students. They work hard. They’re highly disciplined and very intelligent. They spend a great deal of time trying to read and write well. It’s a joy just being in conversation with them. It keeps me young and keeps me humble.

    KW: I write an annual 10 Best and 10 Worst Black Books List. Ironically, back in 2006, a book to which you contributed, The Covenant, made my 10 best List, while I named The Audacity of Hope the worst book of the year. This was before Obama had declared himself a candidate. I indicted it as the transparent attempt of a guileful politician to be all things to all people.  

    CW: That’s what it is. Strategic and tactical, all the way down. It’s speaking less to the truth as regards to the election, which is to say white moderates, the folks he was appealing to for most of the campaign, because he figured he had black folks in his back pocket, which he did. And we did push him over the top. But the truth still has got to rise sooner or later.    

    KW: What troubled me most during the campaign was how he threw Reverend Wright under the bus after that historic speech in Philadelphia about how he couldn’t abandon him any more than his white grandmother. Since I agreed with much of what Reverend Wright had to say, that had me wondering whether Obama would even want my endorsement, if I were famous, or that of any celebrity who shared my left of center leanings.  

    CW: Well, that was the fear of my close partners, including brother Tavis [Smiley]. I was with Obama from Iowa, from the very beginning. I spoke twice on his behalf back then. But in the middle of the campaign I also spoke at Jeremiah Wright’s retirement, and defended him in his church. I asked what was wrong with his saying Goddamn a nation that had killed innocent people. There’s nothing controversial about that whatsoever. It was interesting because the Obama surrogates had to be OK’d by the national headquarters in Chicago. And they said “no” to most of the black folks who were suggested. Yet, when my name came up to speak in Ohio, they said “yes,” according to one black brother who was on staff there. He was surprised, after all the stuff he’d heard me saying. When he asked why I’d been approved, they told him, “We really believe, that, deep down, brother West really loves Obama. He just speaks his mind. And when he speaks his mind, he actually brings more people.” And, of course, they’re interested in votes. “He brings more credibility, even though Barack knows he’s going to be critiqued when brother West’s there. But he’s also going to get his support because he criticizes in such a way that he’s not going to be trashing our candidate, because he really loves him.” And sho’ nuff, I was invited to Ohio in October by the campaign, whereas there were a number of other folks they rejected, including some members of the Congressional Black Caucus.  

    KW: Why were they rejected, because they had supported Hillary in the primaries? 

    CW: Yes, and because they thought they couldn’t bring big enough crowds, and they didn’t think they would speak with enough passion. They didn’t just want technocrats out there and have only 75 people show up. They wanted somebody who speaks with passion who was going to connect. That’s the only way you get people to the polls.  

    KW: What do you think of Obama’s appointments of Hillary and so many folks from the Clinton administration?  

    CW: We now live in the Age of Obama. It’s such a profoundly overwhelming and in some ways unprecedented moment. I fear that my dear brother Obama might be reluctant to step into his own age. So, he’s falling back on them and recycling them to have some sense of connection to what was before and for their savvy and experience. But I think the crisis is so deep that we’re going to need a much deeper break from the Age of Ronald Reagan. It is understandable that Obama would be hesitant to step into his own age, because if he makes his own break he could be accused of bringing in radicals or inexperienced people. He thinks he needs to make the Establishment feel comfortable. Consequently, the Establishment’s crazy about all the people he’s picked so far. 

    KW: Even the Republicans. And that’s scary to me.  

    CW: Absolutely! That’s very scary. That would make me have grounds for suspicion. However, I do want to give him time. If he really does aspire to what I believe and hope he aspires to, namely, to be a progressive Lincoln, then we have to be like Frederick Douglass to help push him. If he has his own vision, then he could use these folks to push it through. But he has to be bold enough, strong enough and visionary enough to step into his own Age. When he chose Rahm Emmanuel as his Chief of Staff, I wasn’t excited at all. But I do want to give him time, because Emmanuel is such a bulldog maybe he can push progressive legislation through, the way he pushed through NAFTA and the Welfare bill, both of which were disasters for the working people and poor people. So, I’m just being honest about our skepticism. 

    KW: What do you think about Obama’s tapping Larry Summers, another former Clintonista? When he was president of Harvard, his racism and sexism led to a mass exodus of professors, including you.   

    CW: Summers, we know, is just socially challenged. He cannot treat certain people with decency and empathy, and I’m one of them. I don’t like the fact that he could be so explicitly sexist, and that he could trash the black man, and yet all that baggage can now be brushed aside as if it’s completely irrelevant. There’s a double-standard here, because when it comes to considering prominent black figures who constitute any kind of threat to the white mainstream, they’re dropped like a hot potato. Politically, my critique of Summers is the same as my critique of Robert Rubin, Timothy Geithner and Jason Furman. They’re all deregulators who helped contribute to the catastrophe. And now, all of a sudden, they’re supposed to come to the rescue.  

    KW: Why hasn’t he tapped some of the brilliant, progressive economists who aren’t Clintonistas or already part of the corporatocracy?   

    CW: I was on the radio calling for folks like William Greider, Paul Krugman, James Galbraith, William Julius Wilson, Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Joseph Stieglitz. All these are progressive economists. Nobel Prize-winner Paul Krugman, my dear brother and colleague at Princeton, is very important. Of course, the Obama people won’t touch him with a ten-foot pole yet. They will eventually. I think Brother Obama is wise enough to be pushed by events, even if he’s not going to be pushed by his advisors. Those folks are a little too anemic.    

    KW: I have a question for you from Reverend Florine Thompson who asks, “What are three key ways in which President-elect Obama can, as you say, move from symbol to substance? And how does Black America hold him accountable?” 

    CW: Well, for one, I think he’s already made a move towards substance in terms of his stimulus packages. He’s putting a focus on the financial Katrina and the two million distressed homeowners. He’s dispersing funds directly to them. Plus, he’s planning public spending on job creation. And those same people need healthcare independent of their employment, because they’re going under. I’m glad that he’s letting us know that that is the first order of business. This is crucial, because everyday people on the ground level aren’t benefiting at all from Treasury Secretary Paulson’s recapitalization of the banks. A second key is for him to let the world know that America is not going to be behaving unilaterally like a policeman, but cooperating with other countries and the United Nations to achieve a multilateral vision. It’s important that we have a different public face, one that is not consistent with dominating and manipulating, but with listening to the rest of the world. The third key I’d like to see Obama focus on is the plight of children, and to say, “We’re going to wipe out child poverty,” because they are our future, 100%.  

    KW: Reverend Thompson also asks, “How should President elect Obama deal with affirmative action in the 21st century? And have you noticed a racial backlash since Barack Obama won the presidential election?”  

    CW: Well, there is definitely a white backlash, and I’m sure it’s escalating. The good thing is that those racists don’t speak on behalf of the vast majority of whites. That’s a sign of progress. Of course, the press calls it post-racial. It’s not post-racial, just less racist.  

    KW: Since the election of Barack Obama, it''s been said from the pulpit of many black churches that African-Americans are now without excuse regarding their lack of responsibility, high school drop-outs, high crime, illegal drug usage, and other social ills. Reverend Thompson wonders whether you find any truth to this statement.

    CW: Not at all. It’s just right-wing jargon which suggests that somehow we’ve never wanted to be responsible. And those folks who haven’t been responsible, should have been. They didn’t need to wait for Obama to win. The greatest critics in terms of black responsibility has always been the black community itself. So, I think we’ve always had black responsibility. One election doesn’t make a difference in that regard. Besides, a black face in the White House doesn’t mean that the fight against racism is over. There’s still white supremacy, police brutality, and discrimination in the workplace, in housing and so forth to deal with.  

    KW: Some have said that President-elect Obama was "God''s candidate" and that he was divinely appointed. Do you believe that? 

    CW: I don’t think God is in the business of selecting candidates. God is a God of justice. All of us stand under divine judgment. So does Barack. Where Barack is on the side of justice, God is for him. Where Barack is lukewarm towards justice, God is suspicious. And where he’s against justice, God is critical. That’s true for all of us.  

    KW: Anthony Noel, a Muslim brother says, “You, as a person of faith, have made it a point to criticize those of us who condemn homosexuality and its behavior, as being homophobic. What is your basis for such a criticism?” 

    CW: As a Christian, I’m Christ-centric, and Jesus did talk about the quality of love and the quality of relations, and I think that it is possible for there to be mature love between same-sex brothers and sisters.    

    KW: Tony also asks, what is your impression, thus far, of Obama’s appointing so few blacks to positions in his administration? 

    CW: Give him time, but their color is not as important as what they stand for. 

    KW: Yeah, look at Clarence Thomas. 

    CW: Exactly! 

    KW: And Tony asks, does Obama''s support of Planned Parenthood, an abortion advocacy group, in your view, put him in contradiction to his claims of being a person of faith. 

    CW: No. 

    KW: Marianne Ilaw asks whether you think that Obama is more palatable to whites because he doesn''t carry the legacy of slavery and all its uncomfortable baggage, and whether his election will usher in a new era where whites opt for exotic-looking blacks, African and Caribbean immigrants and biracials, over those folks whose ancestors toiled in the fields? 

    CW: No, Obama is a gentle brother with a sweet disposition that doesn’t constitute a threat to white brothers and sisters. Malcolm X was full of rage and righteous indignation. I’m with him, too. I love all different kind of black folks. Malcolm X was a different type of black man from Obama. That doesn’t mean Barack is not honorable. We can appreciate them both. 

    KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy? 

    CW: I do have a joy in my soul for my faith, and friends and family.  

    KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid? 

    CW: Sure. 

    KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read? 

    CW: Shadow and Act by Ralph Ellison. I read all 330 pages of it last night. 

    KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would? 

    CW: No. 

    KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What’s music are you listening to nowadays?   

    CW: Thelonious Monk. 

    KW: My mom grew up with Monk and was lifelong friends with his sister. During my brief stint as a jazz musician back in the Seventies, I played on an album with Bob Northern, aka Brother Ahh, who had played with Monk in the Fifties. Also in our group was saxophonist Pat Patrick who is the father of Deval Patrick, the Governor of Massachusetts.   

    CW: I didn’t know Deval’s father played.  

    KW: Yeah, Pat Patrick’s a giant. He played baritone with Sun Ra for years. He was the cat with the dark glasses. He also played with Monk, Coltrane and Duke Ellington.  

    CW: Is that Deval’s father? Wow! 

    KW: Yep, well, thanks again for the interview and I hope to chat with you again soon about your memoirs which I understand you’ll be publishing next year. 

    CW: Thank you. You’re welcome to come right on in anytime.

  • An Open Letter to Fellow, Patriotic Canadians

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    As a Canadian who has been privileged to travel to dozens of countries throughout the world, and to have lived in the United States for over 4 years, I take great pride in Canada’s moderate, democratic political system. Could it be better? Yes. It could also be a lot worse, and I feel it incumbent upon all Canadians to invest time and effort to protect and enhance discourse and civic engagement.

    At this time of unprecedented political and economic turmoil in Canada, I intend this message to express clearly why I believe strongly that a) the Conservative government should face the full House of Commons and seek its confidence; b) govern justly if it receives said confidence, or step aside if it does not; and c) the Governor General should ask Canada’s Liberal and NDP parties to form a coalition, with agreed upon support from the Bloc Quebecois if the current government does not have the House’s confidence.

    -1-

    Firstly, this course of action is in keeping with the nature and protocol of our parliamentary democracy. A minority government is ‘government’ only in so far as it maintains the confidence of the House of Commons through enough votes to secure a majority. Without this, it is but a collection of MPs, gathered under the flag of a political party. It has no mandate from the people, to govern.

    In the past election, the Conservative Party gained 37% of the vote, from among the 59% of eligible voters who exercized their right to vote. While this is not the place for speculation, low voter turnout, and the minority of votes gained by the Conservative Party mean, in reality, that {quotes}only 21.8% of all eligible Canadian voters expressed their clear preference for a Conservative government.{/quotes} In the context of a turbulent environment, this does constitute a mandate to form a minority government, but is clearly a mandate to govern prudently, with compromise, and respect for the Canadians who, through their vote for opposition parties, withheld a full, majority mandate from the Conservative government.

    In the context of the current economic crisis, with clear examples and counsel from economic, industry and political advisors that decisive action is required by the federal government, the Conservative minority government chose instead to focus its energies on partisan measures that were neither in keeping with clear economic stimulus imperatives of the day, nor in keeping with the stated priorities of the Conservative Party during the election period. This was not merely a careless miscalculation, as many news media outlets have commented, but a very real contravention and break from the trust and mandate given the Conservative Party; namely, to govern in the minority, and through compromise with parties of the opposition in order to gain and maintain their confidence as representatives of the people who elected them.

    {quotes align=right}To characterize the opposition parties'' assertion of their right to form a governing coalition as undemocratic, or not in keeping with the will of Canadians, is a patent falsehood.{/quotes} It is the very embodiment of the will of the Canadian people, as expressed through their votes within our parliamentary system. It is not unreasonable for many Canadians to express frustration with this set of affairs, and to suggest, “well, I didn’t vote for the ‘coalition party’”. To do so, however, is to express frustration with the letter of our democratic system, and to suggest perhaps that change is required. Within that system, however, formation of a governing coalition, where the governing minority does not enjoy the confidence of the House, is the clearest expression of lawful responsibility that could be expected.

    Seen in this light, it behooves Canadians—as frustrated as many of us may be with the nature of our parliamentary system—to demonstrate due respect for the opposition parties which have taken the measures expected of them within our political system. Discussions of whether we want to change this system, based on the central idea of ‘confidence’ is interesting, important and worthwhile. However, it is the conversation for another day, once we have successfully navigated through our current troubled waters. In summary, the facts are:

    a) a minority government, particularly one in the context of low voter turnout, must act judiciously, and in a spirit of compromise in order to gain the confidence of the legislature—the collective of which represents the will of the people
    b) should this confidence be broken, it is the responsibility of the opposition parties to either respond to the request of the Governor General to negotiate a coalition, to take action themselves in proposing a coalition, or gear up for another election
    c) Since it appears that the loss of confidence by the Conservative Party minority government is a formality at this point, the lawful course of action must be for the Governor General to allow a coalition government to govern, or for Canadians to be sent back to the polls.

    In light of developments over the past week, it is highly unlikely that, even with a possible postponement of the legislative session, the minority government will secure the confidence of the legislature. To further extend the current instability and distraction of parliament from the urgent business before it would be careless, irresponsible and damaging. The most appropriate courses of action, therefore, would be a vote of confidence in the House followed by either a quick return to minority Conservative government, or coalition government in the event of a non-confidence vote. A forced election, while a fuller representation of the ‘will of the people’ would overstep parliamentary protocol which dictates that formation of a coalition government be the first course of action. An election would also further prolong a distraction of attention away from the urgent social and economic business of government in a time requiring swift and deliberate policy measures.

    -2-

    Secondly, on the issue of agreement between an opposition coalition government and the Bloc Quebecois, Canadians must not allow themselves to be lulled cleverly into a belief that this amounts to handing power to a party which seeks to tear apart Canada. Calm heads must predominate, and the matter of alliance with the Bloc Quebecois must be considered in context.

    For starters, unless the dynamics of Quebec nationalism change, the Bloc Quebecois will remain a potent and very real part of our political landscape as a country. Personally, I believe firmly in a strong, unified and inclusive Canada—one that includes Quebec. I say this as a bilingual Canadian, and one who respects the desire of Francophone Canadians and Quebecois to preserve their culture and heritage, and for Canada as a whole to be informed by the experience of the French heritage as an integral part of the national mosaic. This cannot be any less for Canada’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. I believe strongly that Canadians from all backgrounds stand to benefit from a unified country, but one which is strong and confident enough to protect minority and diverse opinions, to find inclusive provisions to protect and support this diversity and which places onus on all Canadians to actively seek accommodation and foster and pursue compromise.

    While my calculation and description of the Bloc Quebecois may offend some Quebecois, I hope that the expression of my empathy and my respect for the French Canadian heritage and its significance to me personally and to Canada will be embraced.

    That said, I believe—and I believe that all parties outside of the Bloc Quebecois believe—that the Bloc Quebecois exists to leverage from the federal government whatever is possible for its constituents in the province of Quebec. With the constitutional right to seek secession from Canada as its spark plug, the Bloc will continue to very cleverly play its niche role to represent the minority voice/desires of Quebec within a political context in which it is otherwise likely to receive far less attention. And so, the Bloc sits in the position of deal maker, or deal breaker on many federal issues so long as the people of Quebec give the party a mandate to act on their behalf.

    This is simply a reality of our current Canadian political landscape, and all political parties recognize this. The Liberal Party and NDP are acutely aware of this in the context of their proposed coalition government, and Conservative Party was no less aware of this prior to 2006 when it sought to align itself with the Bloc Quebecois to overpower the minority Liberal government. So, Canadians who are frustrated over the role of the Bloc Quebecois do themselves a disservice by misdirecting this anger toward the current Liberal Party and NDP. They are only undertaking the very real step of doing this peculiar dance that any federal party/government must do in Canada if it does not enjoy a majority.

    In the context of the Conservative Party’s minority government, it is helpful to consider that for any legislation to pass, if Liberal and NDP MPs were not in favour, the government would require the support of Bloc Quebecois MPs. I sincerely ask Canadians to consider: would Conservative and many other Canadians be up in arms, furious over ‘deals with the devil’, ‘alliances with those separatists’ if a minority government was allowed to govern due to the support of the Bloc Quebecois. No. So, Canadians should really take a deep breath, a calm step backward, and recognize the support of the Bloc Quebecois for a Liberal-NDP coalition for what it is…a reality of the current political system, and no different from any action that the Conservative Party would take if it required the support of the Bloc Quebecois to have the confidence of the House of Commons. In the event that the current Conservative government survives, remember this and don’t forget it. Ask the Conservative Party and members of the public who support the Conservatives this question: will they accept the support in the House of the Bloc…a party whose single goal is to tear Canada apart, to ‘destroy Canada as we know it’?

    -3-

    Thirdly, it may be helpful to employ an analogy to enable us to better assess the real threat that the Bloc Quebecois poses to Canada as we know it, versus the threat that the Conservative Party poses to Canada.

    Here’s the analogy.

    Imagine twelve friends decide to purchase a home together and to jointly pay for and manage the home as a means of mutual benefit, comfort and security (confederation). Imagine now that one of these friends (Quebec) secures a provision that, for special circumstances, it will occupy the guesthouse at the back of the property, with full rights to use of the entire property, but with the right, under special circumstances, to subdivide the guesthouse from the property and to go it alone. The catch is that the guesthouse, while cozy, is intimately connected to the main house, and if it were to be separated off, it would need to be rewired for electricity, require new, separate plumbing, and the friend who lives there would have his/her space and personal options for growth significantly constrained.

    Nevertheless, the remaining 11 friends in the main house (it’s a big house, just like Canada is a big country) have agreed to this. They also know that, as unlikely as the friend in the guesthouse is to actually separate, they know that property will diminish significantly in value without the guesthouse and, it actually separates them from the driveway, at the back of the house. So, the threat of a separated guesthouse means a loss in value, a disconnection from another part of the property (the driveway) and a major amount of disruption and inconvenience.

    Now, once per year, the friend in the guesthouse gets together with his co-owners and they go over a renovation, maintenance and expenses plan as a group. Each year, knowing what his cards look like and how disruptive it is going to be if he hires a lawyer to formally threaten separation from the property, he ends up getting a few extra pieces in the annual house plan tacked on for the guesthouse…some sugar to sweeten the pot. Last year it was new eaves troughs, this year it may be a new door. Nonetheless, the group of twelve does this dance each year, and while tempers may flair from time to time, in the end everyone is happy enough, and they all continue to enjoy mutual profit as the value of their property increases. On occasion, some of their neighbours (the U.S.) take a particular interest and concern when the voices start to rise at these annual planning events, but more than anything, they find the whole dance and routine a bit bizarre and keeping asking the 11 people in the main house why they don’t just send in the biggest one among them (the military) to really scare the guy in the guesthouse into acting differently.

    Crudely as I may have described it, that’s the threat from the Bloc Quebecois, in essence.

    Now, consider the same arrangement, 12 friends owning a property, with the same guy out back in the special guesthouse. Now imagine that one of the 11 owners inside the house (the Conservative Party) connects with his neighbour (A major corporation), who has a lot of experience in property management and they come to an agreement. In return for special privileges in the house, and some compensation, he’ll convince the rest of the owners to allow the neighbour to manage the house with exclusive rights. The two of them agree, and in turn, the rest of the co-owners are convinced that they should go for this deal, largely becuase they have grown a bit tired of washing dishes, raking the lawn, shoveling snow and other chores. They like the way the deal sounds, and they jump in, signing the agreement with the neighbour.

    Things start off OK, as the neighbour gets to know the ins and outs of the property, its costs, etc. But soon enough, he sees that water consumption is a bit high, inquires, and finds out that each of the owners is taking a shower EVERY day. This doesn’t seem reasonable since it doesn’t allow him to maximize his returns through the agreement, so, soon enough, showers are limited to three a week. The co-owners are allowed to pay the neighbour $15 for every extra shower though, if they wish. He also sees that while there are perfectly functioning washing machine and dryer in the house, they’re white and don’t look very shiny. He figures that if he can trade them in, at cost, for a shiny red pair, he could install a coin meter and charge everyone in the house $1.50 for each load of laundry.

    He also learns that three times per year, as co-owners, the twelve friends contribute to a neighbourhood BBQ and clean-up project. They’ve established quite a reputation, which has worked out pretty well because the community has taken a strong interest in making sure the household and everyone in it is OK…they would hate to lose this community partner. But the neighbour-property manager sees that expenses for these community events are taking away from household revenue, and might be dipping into his potential profit margin...he has a few projects to implement around the house that he''s going to change the co-owners for. Besides, a lot of the folks in the community support zoning in the neighbourhood only for small businesses, and this has been getting in the way of his own main business: a major dry-goods chain which has identified the neighbourhood as a perfect site for expansion. So, there’s a connection here for him. Contributing to the community events is drawing from his profit line, plus the group it’s contributing to is also standing in the way of his main enterprise. Before they know it, the neighbour has invoked his rights under a contractual clause to withhold household resources for any and all non-household specific items. After some protest, he agrees that any new revenue streams that come into the household can be dedicated to outside activities. The 12 co-owners plan a meeting to discuss which of them will take on a second job.

    While these analogies are suggested in jest and may be a bit crude, they help illustrate the distinct threats posed to the household (Canada) by the Bloc Quebecois vs. the Conservative Party. Is the threat posed by the Bloc real? Yes. But is it likely to happen if all co-owners of the house do the dance each year and play the game? No. As infuriating as this may be to many, if we understand it and act accordingly, it really does not pose a great risk to Canada as we know it. In fact, by agreeing to the dance and certain concessions for the co-owner in the guesthouse, all 12 co-owners have more time to invest in actually figuring out what’s in the best interest of the collective, even if each year the guy in the guesthouse comes out with a few extra goodies. Besides, he often feels alone, and hesitates to come over to the main house sometimes when things go bump in the night because it feels a bit awkward. So, the 11 co-owners are fairly hopeful that at some point in the near future he’s going to tire of the annual dance and become more fully a part of the collective.

    On the other hand, in return for the opportunity to garner some special advantages from the neighbour-property manager (the corporation) and because he also has some special interest in seeing the dynamics of the community change, the one co-owner (Conservative Party) has brokered a deal to have an outside party manage the household. He drew on the frustraitions of the 11 co-owners who hated raking the lawn, doing dishes, shoveling snow and other homeownerly tasks and presented what appeared a simple solution: outsource! But what the co-owners didn’t think about was that the neighbour had little to no investment in the actual functioning and comfort of the household except to the extent that it either draws from or contributes to his profit. When the 11 co-owners signed up for this, they thought they would be getting a hard working guy who would have the house in spic and span condition, leaving them extra leisure time and energy to focus on the fun stuff in life. What they didn’t realize is that the neighbour had his own house to keep him satisfied. He didn’t care whether the house improved…unless of course it got to a state where it was going to affect the health of the co-owners, and thus their ability to keep their jobs and pay him under the terms of their agreement. He''s proposing a re-zoning of the neighbourhood, and many of the shopkeepers who live in the neighbourhood, are going to get pushed out by a new chain store. The co-owners of the house are still figuring out who can get a second job quickest so that they have some spare cash to help the community fight this incursion.

    Committed and concerned as they may be, the Conservative Party is committed to outsourcing management of the Canadian household, trading in Medicare to private interests, private health corporations and insurance companies, which will give the Party special privileges through financial support, and an ongoing pact to make the whole community (Canada) more ripe for its interests. What appears on the surface like a good deal, and draws on Canadians’ frustrations, translates into a scenario where Canadians (the actual owners of the house) are slowly, and incrementally marginalized out of the picture. From decision-making, to ability to actually use and benefit from the shared goods of this collective ownership (the laundry, the shower, etc.), the co-owners are gradually pushed to the margins. There is only one way, under this state of affairs, that any of the co-owners can get ahead: sign up with the neighbour and the first co-owner to become part of this scheme. If they go this route, what has happened to their happy household, build through collective action and investment in the common good and mutual benefit?

    Is this the Canada that we honour and devote such overflowing patriotism to when, in the current context of political and economic turmoil, we express our unreserved support for the minority Conservative government? And, are we really THAT outraged at the opposition coalition (remember, those 11 co-owners of the house) for agreeing to cooperate with the Bloc Quebecois (the guy in the guesthouse)? Remember, the same co-owner of the house who is busy working on an agreement with the neighbour to slowly push the other co-owners out of the deal, and to change the face of the community, is the same guy who understands that if you really want to work on maintaining the house, and do some shared planning, you have to do the dance with the guy in the guesthouse. Do not believe for a split second that the Conservative Party has not, does not, and will not continue to do this dance, working with the Bloc Quebecois when it must.

    Here’s a suggestion. If you support the Conservative Party, and are furious that the coalition of Liberal and NDP parties is making ''''a deal with the devil", do the following: call up or write to your Conservative MP, or to Stephen Harper as Prime Minister. Get them to agree, and send back to you in writing their solemn promise that, if given the opportunity to continue as a minority government, they will not accept the support of the Bloc Quebecois on any of their proposed legislation as a means of securing the confidence of the House of Commons. Ask them to put in writing, with their signatures attached, that they will not do business with “those separatists” because it dishonours Canada and is not what the Party supports.

    If enough Canadian supporters of the Conservative Party do this, and Conservative MPs and the Conservative Party respond, with signed agreements, I will publicly eat this letter, and I imagine scores of others would agree to stand beside me to do the same.

    As a patriotic Canadian, who believes whole-heartedly in the promise and potential of this country, I ask fellow Canadians to take a calm step back from the cliff of raw emotion, from the zing of current PR messages and platitudes (NDP/Liberals are giving Canada to the separatists, being a prime example), and give this some clear thought.

    The Conservative Party was given an opportunity to govern. It was given ample opportunity to observe the current economic crisis take root and sink in, further and further, before presenting a plan to Canadians. It acknowledged publicly, and multiple times, that it recognized the need to run a deficit if necessary. Still, it chose the solemn occasion of a fiscal update, not to provide assurances to Canadians, but to introduce measures that would instill greater uncertainty and provoke and ideological battle. None of its announcements, furthermore, was in line with the key policy priorities which the Conservative Party presented to voters during the recent election. This was irresponsible, a sign of disregard and disrespect for Canadians, and an act of sheer contempt for our political process.

    The opposition parties have, to the contrary, acted in accordance with their democratically mandated responsibilities and found common ground on which to propose government. The fact that it did not take the request of the Governor General to prompt this measure, and that opposition parties were able to come to accord of their own volition, should actually inspire tremendous confidence in the promise and potential of our parliamentary democracy and what may be in store should the Governor General ultimately ask this governing coalition to take effect.

    Through agreed upon composition, and with the written support of the Bloc Quebecois and the moral support of Canada’s fifth party—the Green Party—there is tremendous likelihood that not only would this coalition government, of limited duration, prove a first for Canada, it could prove surprisingly fresh, inspiring and effective.

    I encourage Canadians to support calls for a vote in the House of Commons on December 8, 2008, and as a result, for either the Conservative Party to swiftly resume its minority government in the case of a positive confidence vote, or for the opposition coalition to receive quick approval from the Governor General to assume the role of government, in the event of a non-confidence vote. Please show your disagreement with a call to suspend parliament...an act that has little ground, and has been opposed by at least one former Governor General. Let parliamentary action, and DEMOCRACY take their course!

  • Michelle Obama: First Lady of Hope

    It’s just a couple of weeks since Election Day and already available is this biography of Michelle Obama which includes coverage of her husband’s history- making victory as the first African-American to ascend to the Presidency. Almost as stunning as that amazing feat is the speed with which Elizabeth’s Lightfoot has managed to publish this very timely tome about the First Lady to be.

    Ms. Lightfoot, a Harvard grad who also has a Master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, has worked as a reporter for the Associate Press. Unfortunately, as the author freely admits, she was “been denied access to Michelle and her close friends and family” while doing her research, so it’s no surprise that the final text definitely has the secondhand feel of an observer standing at a considerable distance from her subject.

    Half of the insights made here sound like the casual observations of your average political junkie or couch potato who followed the campaign closely. The rest is comprised of copious quotes from TV talking heads or ordinary folks who might have had a brief brush with greatness, encountering Michelle in some capacity either in childhood, college or during her professional career.

    At least the author never avoids any of the well-aired controversial issues surrounding Michelle, such as questions about her senior thesis at Princeton and her patriotism. In this regard, Elizabeth Lightfoot proves to be very loyal, protective and is quick to defend and dismiss allegations made by detractors as unfair.

    The upshot is that what we have here is essentially a book-length fanzine except sans all the glossy pictures. I’d say it’s a safe bet that a bio of more substance will arrive soon, since the new First Family will undoubtedly inspire a veritable cottage industry of writers to wax poetic about their unlikely achievement.

    Highly recommended only if you’ve been in a coma for the past two years and want to know how a guy named Barack Obama became the President of the United States, or if you’re impatient for a keepsake with a photo of him and his wife on the cover to display on your coffee table. Otherwise wait, because the definitive memoir about Michelle is yet to be released.

  • A Child of the Fifties Reflects on Obama's Win

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    Although Africans were brought to America before the Mayflower, blacks have never benefited from the same blueblood status accorded the descendants of the first Europeans to arrive on these shores. For while the Declaration of Independence asserted that “All Men Are Created Equal,” its hypocritical signers only paid lip service to that lofty notion after they won the Revolutionary War.

    For, over the very vocal objections of Quakers and other dissenters who warned that the stain of slavery would haunt the United States for generations to come, the Founding Fathers opted to weave that evil institution into the very fabric of the young nation, going so far as to codify blacks 3/5ths human by law under the sacrosanct Constitution.

    Consequently, over the intervening years, blacks caught nothing but hell in the U.S., initially as property to be bought and sold, even whipped or raped, at the whim of their masters. When blacks appealed to the Supreme Court for relief from the oppression, Chief Justice Taney only damned them to further misery via his Dred Scott decision which legally declared blacks “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

    In spite of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the freedmen would find themselves betrayed by the federal government when it reneged not only on the Reconstruction promise of 40 acres and a mule but the guarantees of due process and equal protection contained in the recently-passed 14th Amendment. The end of the Civil War also signaled the rise of the Ku Klux Klan whose bloody reign of terror would mark an era of a century of lynchings.

    Meanwhile, African-Americans patiently lobbied the courts for civil rights, but found the road to justice blocked by the bigoted double-speak of Plessy vs. Ferguson and other rulings allowing for “separate but equal” treatment. Such rulings only further emboldened segregationists who strategically proceeded to pass cruel Jim Crow laws designed to condemn blacks permanently to a state-sanctioned second-class.

    As someone who spent his formative years in the Fifties frustrated by my mother’s having to explain that I couldn’t go to this amusement park or that swimming pool because “colored” weren’t allowed there, I remember like it was yesterday watching televised news broadcasts of my heroes being knocked over by fire hoses and attacked by police dogs simply for trying to register to vote.

    So, excuse me for being moved to tears by Barack Obama’s historic Presidential victory, as I reflect upon the endless struggles and sacrifices a spiritually-resolute people have made over the ages en route to this glorious, historic moment.

  • Profile of Michèle Montas, spokesperson for the Secretary-General of the UN

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    This journalist and Haitian political militant is the spokesperson for the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, formerly head of South Korean Diplomats.

    Michèle Montas was born in Haiti, in Port-au-Prince specifically, in a bourgeois family of three children. During her youth, she was forced to flee the country during Duvalier’s regime and settle in the United States, where she completed her Masters’ degree in journalism at Columbia University in New York, in 1969. 

    The following year, she returned to Haiti where her career in journalism began.  She met her future husband Jean Léopold Dominique, well-known journalist who was criticizing the government and was head of Radio Haïti Inter since 1968.   This situation forced the couple to be exiled in New York several years later.  On 28 November 1980, the studios of Radio Haïti Inter were destroyed and all people present at the station were arrested.   Michèle Montas was imprisoned, along with other journalists and human rights activists, and expulsed to the United States with only the clothes on her back.

    During this time, the husband of the journalist was found at the Venezuela embassy in Port-au-Prince, having received death threats.  Two months later, the couple was reunited in New York and their file was immediately taken in hand by Human Rights First. Michèle Montas and her husband were granted political asylum in the United States. The couple was among the first beneficiaries of political asylum obtained through the organization Human Rights First (1).

    Madam Montas accepted the role of journalist in 1980 for the United Nations radio in New York. She oversaw the French sector of the radio.

    Following the fall of Duvalier’s regime in 1986, the couple returned to Haiti and resumed their journalism work for Radio Haïti Inter.  They had to leave the country once again after the coup d’état of 1991 led by General Raoul Cédras, bringing about the demise of Aristide.  Once the latter resumed power, backed up by the Clinton administration, the couple returned to Haiti in 1994.

    Michèle Montas and her husband were in disagreement with the Jean-Bertrand Aristide government and criticized the Lavalas party on the air.  Jean Dominique, Director of information at Radio Haïti Inter, was killed on the grounds of the radio station on April 3, 2000 by strangers.  Following this event, Mrs. Montas found herself at the head of Radio Haïti Inter in the capital city of Port-au-Prince.  She also threw herself into the fight against the impunity of the assassination of her well-known husband.

    The widow was the victim of an assassination attempt on December 25, 2002 in her home.  During the attack, one of her guards, Maxime Séide, lost his life.  Radio-Haïti journalists were also victims to retaliatory measures.   The station was forced to close its doors in 2003.  These difficult events urged the journalist to return to the United Nations.  In New York, she took on the role of spokesperson for Julian Robert Hunte, president of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

    In this manner, in 2003, Mr. Hunte was searching for a journalist from the Caribbean with an international professional reputation and a good knowledge of the UN.  Mrs. Montas was therefore formally hired on.  The journalist spent 13 months as the spokesperson for the 58th session and worked among 14 other professionals specializing in various fields : political, legal or economical.

    January 1st, 2007, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, the newly appointed Secretary-General of the United Nations, began his five-year mandate.  On Sunday, December 31st, 2006, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon appointed Mrs. Montas, internationally known professional journalist, as his spokesperson.  It is important to note that Mrs. Montas became the first official woman spokesperson for a Secretary-General since the creation of the UN (3).  Michèle Montas succeeded Mr. Stéphane Dujarric, from France, who had occupied that role since June 2005.  

    The fact of being a woman played in her favour.  In this regard, the Secretary-General aims at granting a great role to the French-speaking world within the UN.  Equality also represents a primary factor for Mr. Ban Ki-Moon.   He believes it is important that women be positioned among the higher ranks within the United Nations.

    The main functions of spokesperson for the United Nations consist, among others, in insuring a daily media presence and permanent contact with Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, regarding the international issues.  Mrs. Montas deals with complex cases, listens to close collaborators, discusses difficult and sensitive issues, and examines the functioning of the world’s various governments, alongside the Secretary-General.

    She therefore represents a close collaborator of the Secretary-General of the UN and renders accessible to journalists information pertaining to the most sensitive crisis in the world.  The position of spokesperson of the Secretary-General of the UN, as occupied since January 1st 2007, constitutes an important step in the career of Mrs. Montas.   However, she considers the struggle to be the same, whether dealing with the poorest in Haiti, refugees in Darfour, the exploited and oppressed in Somalia or elsewhere in the world.

    Article translated from French by Murielle Swift

     


     

    Training and employment:

    - Mrs. Montas holds a diploma in journalism from the University of Maine, and holds a Masters’ degree in Journalism from Columbia University in New York, 1969.

    - Michèle Montas began her career as journalist in Port-au-Prince for the paper Le Nouvelliste. She later worked as editor-in-chief for the cultural magazine Conjonction.


    - From 1970 to 1980, she worked as journalist for Radio Haïti Inter, the only free radio station in the country.  She hosted the seven o’clock news and several years later became director of the station, in 2000.


    - In the early 1980s, she worked in the French-speaking sector of the United Nations radio, as show host during her exile in New York.


    - The journalist worked for the United Nations in the cabinet of Mr. Hunte for 10 years (4).  During the 1990s and up until December 31st, 2006, she acted as editor-in-chief for the French sector of the United Nations radio.  In this position, she continued to fight for freedom of expression.


    - In 2003, Michèle Montas became spokesperson for the General Assembly of the UN.  
    - On January 1st, 2007, she was appointed as spokesperson for the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon from South Korea.

    Related documentary:

    L’Agronome (2004), a documentary by Jonathan Demme with the collaboration of Jean Dominique.  The portrait of a journalist and his wife, Michèle Montas, who give their points of view on the numerous battles in Haiti and on human rights violations.  Original title, in English: The Agronomist

    Notes :

    (1) For 25 years, this organization has  helped thousands of people fleeing persecution.

     
    (2) January 1st is a significant date of an epic nature  in Haiti and for Black people.  On January 1st, 1804, the island of Saint-Domingue (former name of Haiti) gained its independence.  This former French colony became the first Black state of the modern era and the second independent state of the Americas, following the United States.  It is important to add that Haitians have been able to demonstrate a great level of maturity and stoicism during a time when nearly all peoples of the American continent had not thrown off the burden of colonialism.  Haiti was able to demonstrate to America the first civil code of an independent state (inspired by the Napoleonic code), in spite of the face that this country had experienced the bloodiest decolonization ever known.
    (3) Mr. Ban Ki-Moon followed the second five-year mandate of the former Ghanaan head of the most important world organization, Mr. Kofi Annan.   Mr. Ban  Ki-Moon appointed Mr. Vijay Nambiar, from India, as Chief of his cabinet.


    (4) More specifically, during both exile periods from 1981 to 1987 and during the coup d’état in 1991.

  • Book Review: Hope on a Tightrope

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    As the United States stands poised to make history with the impending presidential election, it takes considerable courage for a very public black intellectual like Dr. Cornel West to refrain from jumping headlong onto the Obama bandwagon. But Professor West has opted to remain true to his core values by sharing the sage insight that an African-American occupying the White House will not automatically mean the struggle for equality is over or that we have realized Dr. King’s dream of a post-racial society where one is judged not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character.

    "We are now in one of the most truly prophetic moments in the history of America. The poor and very poor are sleeping with self-destruction. The working and middle classes are struggling against paralyzing pessimism and privileged are swinging between cynicism and hedonism. Yes, these are the circumstances that people of conscience must operate under during this moment of national truth or consequences.

    We have witnessed the breakdown of the social systems that nurture our children. Our rootless children… have no cultural armor to protect them while negotiating the terrors and traumas of daily life. Young people need a community to sustain them, so that they can look death in the face and deal with disease, dread and despair. These days we are in deep trouble.

    The audacity of hope won the 2008 Democratic primary, yet we are still living in the shadow of the vicious realignment of the American electorate, provoked by the media’s negative appeals to race and gender and the right-wing propaganda that bashes vulnerable groups… Real hope is grounded in a particularly messy struggle and it can be betrayed by naïve projections of a better future that ignore the necessity of doing the real work.  So what we are talking about is hope on a tightrope."

    - Excerpted from the Introduction (pages 1-6)

    In Hope on a Tightrope , an eloquent collection of both audio (on CD) and printed meditations, West indirectly challenges Obama to prove that the “Audacity of Hope” is more than a campaign slogan, asking, “What price are you willing to pay?” And the author goes on to warn that “American politics has a way of grinding the best out of a person” and that “it reduces their prudent judgment into opportunistic behavior.”

    Undoubtedly, there will be many folks who feel it is unfair to ask Obama to focus on the plight of the least of his brethren even before he’s had a chance be inaugurated, let alone revel in the euphoria of his stunning accomplishment. Yet, as implied by the Dr. King metaphor he’s been so fond of quoting on the stump, there is a “fierce urgency of now.” So I say, Dr. West must be commended for so lovingly and frankly reminding Barack of the meaning of that phrase while exploring a litany of themes in a heartfelt manner, topics ranging from leadership to faith to family to identity to education to spirituality to service to social justice.

    A passionate appeal to Obama about his responsibility to the masses and the millions of modest contributors who helped put him in office, plus a timely message that “You can’t save the people if you don’t serve the people.”

  • The Secret Life of Alicia Keys

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    Alicia Keys burst on the scene in April of 2001 with the release of the single Fallin’ from Songs in A Minor, the critically-acclaimed debut album which launched her meteoric rise. A piano prodigy who studied both jazz and classical composition at the prestigious Professional Performance Arts School of Manhattan, the class valedictorian was admitted to Columbia University at just 16 years of age, but soon took a leave to pursue her musical career. Among the many accolades she’s already collected are 11 Grammys, along with multiple American Music, Billboard, Soul Train, Teen Choice, People’s Choice, NAACP Image, Rolling Stone Magazine, VH1 and BET Awards.

    Hailing from Harlem, Alicia was born on January 25, 1980 to Teresa Auguello, a paralegal, and Craig Cook, a flight attendant. The stunning diva is a delicious mix of Irish, Italian, Jamaican and Puerto Rican lineage, and she’s been named one of People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People, FHM Magazine’s 100 Sexiest Women in the World, Maxim Magaizine’s Hot 100 and VH1’s 100 Sexiest Artists.  

    A true Renaissance woman, Alicia is not only a gifted singer/songwriter/arranger/musician/actress, but also the author of a best-selling book comprised of poetry, lyrics and intimate reflections called “Tears for Water.” 

    She made her big screen debut in 2006 playing a seductive yet ruthless assassin in Smokin’ Aces, following that well-received outing with a measured performance as Scarlett Johansson’s best friend in The Nanny Diaries.

    Alicia’s about to make cinematic history as half of the first duet (with Jack White) ever to perform a James Bond theme on a 007 movie soundtrack, namely, “Another Way to Die,” in the upcoming Quantum of Solace. Despite her incredibly busy schedule, she makes time for philanthropic work with numerous charities, most notably, Keep a Child Alive (http://www.keepachildalive.org/main.html), an organization she co-founded which is dedicated to delivering life-saving medicines directly to AIDS victims in Africa. On November 13th, Alicia and some very famous friends will be performing in NYC at a benefit dinner/concert. (For more details, call (718) 965-1111. 

    Here, she talks about her latest film The Secret Life of Bees, a touching tale of female empowerment set in the Sixties at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. She turns in what proved to be the movie’s most memorable performance as June Boatwright, despite being surrounded by a stellar cast which included Academy Award-winner Jennifer Hudson, and a couple of Oscar-nominees in Queen Latifah and Sophie Okonedo.   

    KW: Thanks for the time, Alicia. I’m really honored.

    AK: Thank you, sir, I appreciate that so much.

    KW: I feel terrible, because it’s so late and I understand you’re in Germany and you just came offstage after performing a big concert. You must be exhausted.

    AK: Yes, and you should feel awful! [Laughs out loud] No, I’m good. I’m definitely good. I had a good show, and it takes me a little while to settle down anyway.

    KW: Well, I wanted to talk to you about The Secret Life of Bees.

    AK: I loved this movie, so I want to do this.

    KW: I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but there’s a scene early in the picture where a character silently opens up a tiny, folded piece of paper which says something about the Civil Rights Movement. When I read it, I started crying right then and there, and my eyes remained watery until the very end.

    AK: Wow! Well, I’m so glad that it moved you, because it moved me, too.

     

    KW: The film had so many subtle touches like that which delivered an emotional wallop. Its effective use of space and emptiness reminded me of your music.

    AK: That is a beautiful image, and thank you for comparing it to my music. I appreciate that so much. I agree that Gina [Director Gina Prince-Bythewood] did an amazing job. And everybody involved loved it from the minute they signed on. She created a very nourishing environment on the set, where we just supported each other and wanted to do an incredible job. So, I’m really, really happy about how Gina was able to be so subtle, yet so strong.      

    KW: To me, it was the most important film of its type since Eve’s Bayou. Have you seen that film?

    AK: Funny you should mention it, because I watched Eve’s Bayou prior to beginning work on this one because I felt it would have a similar vibe. Also, I wanted to watch it for the accents, figuring it would give you a nice feel for the regional dialects, given that it was set in the Bayou. But did you know they didn’t do any dialects in that film?   

    KW: I never noticed that.

    AK: That was really funny, but it was still a great movie.

    KW: What did you base your interpretation of June Boatwright on?

    AK: On many things. On my own personal emotions and feelings… on my understanding of my character’s complexities and really wanting to bring them forth even without explaining them. I also based her somewhat on these beautiful pictures we had from this book called Freedom Fighters. There was one girl in it in a black and white photograph who just had her arms crossed. The way she was looking at the camera made me feel, “Wow! That’s my June!” There was something about how hopeful and strong she was, yet closed-off emotionally, that I really wanted to take and make a part of June.

    I also took some inspiration from a really good friend of mine who has a kind of attitude like June has. When you first meet her, you’re terrified of her. You think she’s just the meanest thing, when she’s really a sweetheart, and so vulnerable underneath it all. That’s why she has to be a little tough, because she can’t afford to give all her love away. So, I really took a lot of those firsthand experiences and put them into June, too. She was based on little pieces of a lot of different people and things. 

    KW: Another thing I was impressed with was that there was an arc, not only to June, but to so many characters in the film. That degree of development added to the richness of the cinematic experience. 

    AK: Seriously, that’s true what you say. You see each person start one place and end up somewhere else. How many times do you have a film where so many characters can make such significant transitions within it? So, I agree.   

    KW: I also liked the way the movie made statements about the Civil Rights Movement without hitting you over the head with it.

    AK: True, because you wouldn’t quite say it’s a story about the Civil Rights Movement, but it’s definitely about that era. I’m really proud of that aspect.

    KW: Any truth to the rumor that you might play Philippa Schuyler in the screen adaptation of her biography, Composition in Black and White?

    AK: It’s something that Halle Berry really wanted to bring to life, and that we’ve been working on for a little while. Hopefully, it’ll pan out.

    KW: Born in the Thirties, Philippa was also a child prodigy from Harlem who had one black parent and one white parent. Do you think there are many parallels between your life and hers?

    AK: Honestly, there are fewer parallels than differences. The most obvious parallel is that my mother is white and my father’s black, and that we both play classical piano. What I love about the idea of playing her is that she’s not me, and I’m not her. And that she was this amazing person that too few people know about. {quotes}I’m fascinated by the strangeness of that era, and her trying to perform classical music as a black woman back then{/quotes} when she had to, in essence, hide her identity just to play the music she loved. That confusion of “Who am I?” and “Where do I belong?” is just crazy and is the theme of her story that I really relate to because I think we all kind of want to find where we belong. 

    KW: That reminds me to congratulate you on your five recent American Music Award nominations.

    AK: Oh, thank you.

    KW: Also, congrats on “Another Way to Die,” the new James Bond theme for Quantum of Solace. I just heard that your co-collaborator on the song, Jack White, hurt his neck. Are you still going to perform it on MTV in conjunction with the movie’s release as planned, or will you have to cancel that appearance. I really love the video, although the song is a change of pace for you.   

    AK: I really love the song, too. Well, we really wanted to do that song together, so we’re going to pass at this point. Fortunately, he’s definitely going to heal up and will soon be all right.  

    KW: As a child with one black parent, and one white parent, how do you feel about Barack Obama’s candidacy?

    AK: You know I love it, and that I support him. I’m confident that he’s going to be the next president and I refuse to accept the idea of anything else. There you have it.  

    KW: You not only play piano and sing, but you compose, arrange, act, and write poetry and prose. Do you have a favorite means of artistic expression?

    AK: They rotate [Laughs heartily] They really do. Sometimes, after I’ve been on tour for so long, I start looking forward to composing and creating again. And after I’ve been songwriting for a long stretch, I’m kinda looking forward to going outside of myself and exploring someone else. And then sometimes it’s nice to be able to sit quietly and reflect and write without any specific outcome in mind, to just do it. So, it rotates.    

    KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

    AK: Yes, I’m very happy.

    KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?

    AK: Sure, but I try to push fear out of my mind, because I think you attract what you fear.

    KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson asked me to ask you, what was the last book you read?

    AK: The last book I read was The House on Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood by Helene Cooper. And now I’ve actually just started a novel, Song of the Cuckoo Bird by Amulya Malladi. 

    KW: Music maven Heather Covington was wondering, what music are you listening to nowadays?

    AK: I’m listening to a mixture of Kanye West, Sergio Mendes, Fela Kuti and Common.

    KW: Is there a question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

    AK: No. I always thought that I could figure out a really good answer to that question, but I haven’t found it yet.

    KW: Well, thanks again, Alicia, and best of luck with everything. 

    AK: Thank you so much. Great to talk with you and I’m looking forward to speaking with you again soon. Oh, and Kam, make sure you tell everybody about my Black Ball on November 13th for my organization, Keep a Child Alive,

    KW: Will do.

    AK: Thank you Kam. Take care.

    KW: Bye, Alicia.

      

    FYI: The Fifth Annual Black Ball, a benefit for children and families in Africa with HIV/AIDS, will be held at The Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City at 6 PM on Thursday, November 13th 2008. The evening''s festivities will begin with a cocktail party followed by a seated dinner with extraordinary live performances by Alicia Keys, Justin Timberlake, Joni Mitchell, Jack White, Jennifer Hudson, Emmanuel Jal and some other very special guests to be announced.

    For more info, call (718) 965-1111 or visit: http://www.keepachildalive.org/ 

     

    To see a trailer for The Secret Life of Bees, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XHtNqyCorM 

     

    To see the music video of Alicia Keys and Jack White duet of the new James Bond theme song, “Another Way to Die,” visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hM5UJvnbbuY

    To see a video of Alicia performing her first hit, Fallin’, visit:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=712cMG7DYY0

  • Exclusive interview with Robert Allicock, stylist to the stars

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    Born in Guyana, Mr Allicock is known as one of the most prominent hairstylists in the world. Versatile, he can work with any type of hair: african, caucasian, etc. He provided services to stars such as Queen Latifah, the staff of The Cosby Show, Vanessa Williams, Kerry Washington, Denzel Washington and others. He worked on movies as a hairstylist for The Bone Collector, Love Song, Abandon, etc. 

    He was reviewed in several magazines such as Essence, Panache, Share and in the book Who’s who in Black Canada (by Dawn P. Williams). He wrote also many articles as a freelance beauty journalist for Montreal’s Community Contact newspaper. We met him at his salon in Montreal for this exclusive interview.

    Q.  How old were you when you discovered you had a passion for hair?  Did your family or entourage support you in becoming a professional hair stylist or did they tend to encourage you toward a liberal profession?  

    A.  I was about 22 years old when I discovered that I had a passion for hairstyling. But as a black man, my parents did not agree that I should be part of that industry. They wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer and to have a 9 to 5 job with a stable income. I remember that as a child growing up, my grandparents used to have their own businesses. So I reminded my parents that my grandparents were entrepreneurs. I mean, they sold papers and different things. They were doing very well. So I guess it is in the family and in our blood. I used to be a banker. I did this for twelve years.  But as you get older, you have to follow your dream, your passion.

    And your heart.

    Definitely, and my heart.  And I decided it was time to live my authentic life.  So, I just decided to go for it. My parents still did not agree when I decided at the age of 35 to change my career but I said to them, “Mom, dad, it is my life.”  Now, they are happy.  It has been thirteen years now that I opened my salon (in 1995). They are very proud of my accomplishments. It has been thirteen blessed years. 

    Q.  Can you share with us your migratory journey from Guyana to Canada on a personal basis (if you so choose) and on a professional level?

    A.I arrived in Montreal in 1982. Prior to that I visited Toronto several times on vacation but I fell in love with Montreal on my first visit. I felt welcome here; comfortable, despite the initial language barrier (Mr. Allicock speaks mostly English). I love the warmth of the people. It makes me feel at home.

    I first worked for the Black Theatre Workshop as the business administrator, after that I gained permanent employment at the bank of Nova Scotia during which I took some business courses at Concordia University. I also attended College Inter-Dec where I did my first Hair dressing course. Upon graduation I decided to open my salon immediately. Montreal has been a blessing to me. I love this city. My personal life is well also. I am a proud father of two adopted teenage boys from Guyana. I am a single parent.  

    Q.  How has your Caribbean culture been a benefit to your career? 

    A. I integrated very well in the Black English community. I brought my own style and flavor into the community.  I have been a part of the board of directors of the Black community in Côte-des-Neiges[1] for many years as treasurer. I participated in a lot of local events.  I have been involved in schools. I spoke to the young kids in the community.  I try to be a role model in particular for the Black kids.  I participated in the camps and in their different activities. I also try to encourage entrepreneurship in the Black community. I let them know that I was able to do it and it worked pretty well.  They can definitely do the same thing. 

    Q.  Did you have the chance to have a mentor, and if not, who inspired you?

    A.  I didn’t have a personal mentor in my field but I can say Oprah Winfrey is a woman who definitely inspired me by the things that she does, the things that she says, the big heart that she has.  She is my mentor. I try to watch her shows as often as I can.  I read the books that she recommends.  I really look up to her. 

    Q.  What obstacles did you encounter in your professional and entrepreneurial career and how did you overcome them?

     

    A.  I can truly say that I am blessed.  Since I arrived in Montreal, I’ve done very well.  My first job was to work for the Black Theater Workshop as a business administrator.  After that, I went directly to the Bank of Nova Scotia.  I can say that I have never been out of work.  I opened my Salon (in 1995) before I quit the bank (in 1997). 

     

    I was doing both jobs part time for two years.  In terms of the profession regarding the hairdressing, there have been challenges.  Like many salons, the biggest challenge is finding good employees who would stick around for a long time.  It is one of those professions where there is no professional body helping to regulate the industry.  It is one of the things I would like to help to put in place for the good of the industry.  Personally, I would like to establish that in the Black community.  It is a billion dollar industry (in Canada) and nobody is paying any attention to it.  This is a major income worldwide.

     

    I can add that you must believe in yourself and your profession to succeed in this industry. I am someone who always likes to surpass myself. I make sure that I do my best with everything.  So I got my education in Canada and I did many courses in the hair industry in the US (Atlanta, NY, LA).  This allowed me really to rise above the rest of the industry. I am a perfectionist. This is how I overcame my obstacles.  You have to stay current with what’s going on, and always remember there will be a tomorrow if you had a slow business day. 

    Q.  Did you have to face some prejudice in your field or among your acquaintances, since the hairdressing profession is a feminine domain?

    A.  I had to face the typical stereotypes.  For example, people tend to think that most of the male hairdressers are gay, which is not necessarily the case.  I didn’t let that bother me. Believe it or not most male hairstylist do extremely well in this industry, even though there are more female stylists. The larger operations are mostly owned by men, be it a salon, establishing a product line, or working in the wings of the camera. I observed that lots of women prefer to be styled by men, but not discounting the fact that alongside most top male stylist there is always a wonderful female. I guess that is the great balance right there.

    Q.  You worked for stars such as Vanessa Williams, Queen Latifah, the actors of The Cosby Show.  How did you create a solid network and a rapid rise which led you to work with the top people in the American show business industry?

    A.  The first celebrity I worked with was actress Angela Bassett. She came to Montreal for a media presentation to promote the film How Stella Got Her Groove Back. I was asked to take care of her hair for the day making sure she looked great for the camera. The doors were opened for me after that, my name quickly circulated through the industry. When other African American actresses were coming to Montreal and needed a stylist I was always first on the list. It is the same way I got my first movie contract with Queen Latifah in The Bone Collector that allowed me to become a member of the union. It made it easier to get work in the movie industry.

    So, it is really a question of doing quality work because if it were not the case, you would not have been able to build a solid network.  You have credibility in the show business industry.

    It is definitely the most important thing, doing quality work and being professional. Most of my contracts for the movies were by referrals, so that certainly speaks for itself. 

    Q.  What was your proudest moment in your career and why? 

    A.  One of my proudest moments was the inauguration of my salon in September 1995.  My friends and family told me that is was not the time to open a business because of the economy during that period. Despite what they all thought, I decided to have my salon. The opening was beautiful. {quotes align=right}My family and friends were all there and even strangers came in to congratulate me, it was lovely. That’s when I said to myself these doors would always remain open.{/quotes}

    You were confident.

    Oh yes, really confident. My years in the business are blessed. Other wonderful moments: working with Queen Latifah and Denzel Washington.  When I got those contracts, I was like WOW. Despite what every one thought I knew I made the right move. It was my dream come true. I am very proud of my decision. 

    Q. Do you think that the work of the hair stylist is recognized enough in show business? For example, there is such a creative and excellent amount of work in movies regarding hair styling. There is also a lot of work in terms of research regarding hairstyles, in particular for historical movies. Do you think that creating a category in the Oscars for the best hair stylist in the top movies could be a good idea and a great way to garner more recognition? 

    A. I think that would be an excellent idea since most of hairstyles and trends do come from movies, music videos, etc. If you have the best make-up and a wonderful costume but  the hair is not good, you look bad (Laughs).  In other words, the look (despite all the props) is incomplete without beautiful hair. 

    Q. What advice would you give to young people who aspire to becoming a professional hairstylist and entrepreneur? 

    A. That they are entering into a wonderful industry. It is one that can be very rewarding. You don’t have to be a high school drop out to become a hairstylist. Some like myself became a part of this industry by choice, it is my love, my passion. It is a wonderful thing to be a part of the most Black-owned business in Canada.  We don’t own the groceries stores for example but we do own the Black salons which have been recognized to the point that a popular series about it has been created:  “The kink in my hair” on Global television (in Canada) every Sunday.  It talks about being a Black salon owner, an entrepreneur. 

    So, this is a business where you can leave a legacy behind if you do it right. You must pay great attention to details in the quality of service you offer. Young people must learn about entrepreneurship in this business, they should get an education and take some kind of business courses. More and more people are becoming small business owners; the days of large corporations are fading away with so many cut-backs. It is important that we approach the business of hairstyling like any other business, with at least some concrete knowledge. You can have the independence, a nice salary, a beautiful home and wonderful vacations. 

    P.T:  Mr. Allicock, thank you so much for your time and your substantial sharing.  It was an honor to interview you!


    Salon Robert Allicock

    3541 Swail Ave.,Montreal, QC
    H3T-1P5
    Canada
    Tel:  514-344-0842
    Fax:  514-344-8149
    allicockr@aol.com

    [1] An administrative division of Montreal

  • Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint: One of the finest psychiatrists in America

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    Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint, MD, a leading psychiatrist, grew up in East Harlem, New York. His ancestors were from Guadeloupe and New York City. Dr. Poussaint is a veteran of the civil rights movement, serving as Southern Field Director of the Medical Committee for Human Rights in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1960s. He is the former chair of the board of directors of PUSH[1] for Excellence. Later, he served as one of Rev. Jesse Jackson''s advisers in the 1984 presidential campaign. 


    [1] Operation PUSH is an organization founded by the Reverend Jesse Jackson in 1971

    He is currently a professor of psychiatry at Judge Baker Children''s Center and Harvard Medical School in Boston. In addition to co-authoring Come On People, Dr. Poussaint is co-author of Raising Black Children and Lay My Burden Down: Unraveling the Mental Health Crisis Among African Americans. Dr.  Poussaint collaborated on several of Bill Cosby’s bestselling books.  Dr. Poussaint’s books should be translated into other languages (French, Spanish, Creole, etc).   

    He closely collaborated with Dr. Bill Cosby EdD (as a script and production consultant) on The Cosby Show.  This sitcom was the most-watched television program in America from its debut in 1984 until the end in 1992.  Dr. Poussaint was also a consultant for A Different World  

    He has appeared on numerous channels such as CNN. He is known for his numerous contributions to Ebony magazine.  He has been a frequent guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show.  Through his books and his influence in the media, the legendary psychiatrist Dr. Poussaint gave us a legacy and we are looking forward to his next contributions. 

    By the freelance reporter and legist Patricia Turnier, LL.M (pturnier@hotmail.com).   This article has been translated in French by the same author and published in this language.   

    Patricia Turnier, LL.M. talks toDr. Alvin Poussaint, M.D.:

    P.T.:  Can you share with us your medical professional journey?  How did you overcome the obstacles as an African-American to become a doctor during segregation era in the US and to teach later in one the top university of the world?   

    Dr. A.P.:  I discovered my passion for this field when I was about 9 years old. At the time I became ill.  I had a rheumatic fever and was hospitalized for about three months.  I then spent two months in a convalescent home.  I admired the doctors who saved my life.  This really influenced me later academically.  So when I got back home, it became a fantasy of mine to be a doctor.  I knew that I had to excel at school until college.    

    When I was in college, there were very few African American doctors. Most of them attended Southern medical schools, such as  Meharry Medical College  in Tennessee and   Howard Medical School in Washington, D.C.  I wanted to study in the North where there was no segregation. I stood a chance to succeed with a good record as an African American male.  I received my BA from Columbia College in 1956. 

    After, I enrolled in the medical school of Cornell University in New York City.  I chose Cornell because I was born there.  Symbolically, I wanted to return there where my mom gave birth to me.  I received an M.D. from Cornell in 1960.  I completed my residency at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute and in 1964 I received a  Master’s of Science degree in this same institution.   

    From 1967 to 1969, I taught at Tufts Medical School faculty.  I served there also as director of the psychiatry program in a low-income housing project.  All these professional and clinical experiences helped prepare me for my duties at Harvard Medical School.  So, in 1969 I joined this institution.  I served from 1975 to 1978 as director of student affairs and I was an associate professor in the psychiatry department at Harvard.  Now I am a Professor of Psychiatry and Faculty Associate Dean for Student Affairs at Harvard Medical School.  

    I knew discrimination existed. To overcome the obstacles, I said to myself that I would work as much as I could. The best deterrent for discrimination is excellence.  I had to do everything to make sure it would be difficult to refuse my admission with an excellent record.    

    P.T.:  How important has activism been for you throughout your life? 

    Dr. A.P.:  Activism has been a big important part of my life for a long time. As a teenager, I started to fight for justice.  In college I was involved in the civil rights movement during my studies in medicine.  I was part of the NAACP College Chapter.  In fact, I believe that activism was always part of me. 

    When I finished my training in psychiatry, I was employed from 1965 to 1967 by the Medical Committee for Human Rights. There I provided medical care to civil rights workers and helped desegregate Southern health facilities. When I studied at UCLA, the activists and I wanted changes.  Later I was engaged in Operation PUSH. Throughout my life, I also used writing to criticize and challenge the status quo.   

    P.T.:  In your latest book Come On People you expose with co-author Bill Cosby your assessment and your collective vision for Black America.  You explain how in the past the African American people were able to overcome mistreatment and other difficulties thanks to their resilience. It is said that young black people are not aware enough of the victories of their ancestors and that might have an impact on the negative image they can have of themselves. 

    For example, very few people in the American society know that the first woman law professor of a chartered school in the US and also in the world was the African American Lutie A. Lytle, in 1897.  Do we need a more inclusive education system?What solutions do you see to make young African American people feel that they can accomplish anything?  

    Dr. A.P.:  We definitely need a more inclusive education system and American history has to be corrected.  {quotes}Black stories have not been entirely told.  And it should start at preschool.{/quotes}  It is important also to include in American history, the pre-Columbian period regarding the Natives, the contribution of the Latinos, etc.  It is also the responsibility of the parents to start the education in the home. 

    They should teach their kids black histories, their accomplishments, etc.  This will give them a stronger sense of self-worth and will strengthen their self-image.  The whole of mainstream society should also read those books because it is part of American history and it will develop linkages between the different communities.  By improving the lives of every minority groups, this country can become as powerful as it really can be. 

    P.T.:  What sort of bridges can be created between the black intelligentsia and the African-American youth to transmit their knowledge about their history, their professional experiences and how they overcame the odds?  

    Dr. A.P.:  There are a number of approaches which can be used. For example, the media can invite African American from many fields (doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc). The media should also call on Natives, Latin-American professionals and so on. This would give opportunities for the kids to relate to them. I think it is also important that the black intelligentsia be involved in schools where they can visit and talk to the kids.  They can be life coaches to the youth. The black elite can expose the children to art, literature, travels, etc.  Mentorship, tutorship, Big Brothers Big Sisters programs represent other useful tools for the youth. There are already a lot of things going on but it is not enough.    

    Local businesses, work offices, summer camps, medical clinics, law firms, carpenters or people from any fields should hire young people from the African American community. This would give them the exposure and experience they need. These learning experiences would help them realize the importance of work ethics, etc.  The youth definitely need these opportunities to grow on a personal and a professional level. This is how the black intelligentsia can pave the way for the current and the next generation. The African American elite must pass on their knowledge, experiences and information to the younger generation. This will encourage the youth to keep working to achieve their goals.

    P.T.:  The American Psychiatric Association has never officially recognized extreme racism (as opposed to “ordinary” prejudice) as a mental health problem, although the issue was raised more than 30 years ago.  After several racist killings in the civil rights era, a group of black psychiatrists sought to have extreme bigotry classified as a mental disorder. The association''s officials rejected the recommendation, arguing that because so many Americans were racists (at the time), even extreme racism in this country was seen as normative—a cultural problem rather than an indication of psychopathology (until the 1960’s). 

    In 2002, you wrote an article called: “Is extreme racism a mental illness?” for the Western Journal of Medicine.  What is your position about this issue?  Do you think that social ills like racism or any other bigotry such as anti-Semitism should be included in the D.S.M. IV?  Do you think that clinicians need guidelines for recognizing delusional racism in all its forms so that they can provide appropriate treatment?

    Dr A.P.:  Right now the DSM IV does not include an index on racism, anti-Semitism, prejudice or on any other social ills.  This situation gives no tools to the clinicians to classify them or to allow them to give a diagnosis on the manifestations.  For example, for an individual who has paranoia symptoms about Blacks and Jews with deadly ideas the DSM IV offers no descriptive terms to classify this condition as a disease. 

    The clinicians need guidelines for recognizing extreme delusional racism, anti-Semitism or other forms of bigotry.  This would raise consciousness in the psychiatric profession and in the general public.  These conditions are not normative and those people need mental health care.

    P.T.:  As a psychiatrist and as a media advisor what do you think about the negative images regarding misogyny, verbal or physical violence that we see in some videos or movies?  It is seldom in videos that we see people in a working environment.  We often view people partying all the time in the clips.  What impact these factors can have on the youth psyche?  How can we improve this situation? 

    Dr. A.P.:  My concern is about gangsta rap. I can say that I have no problem with regular hip hop. This beautiful artistic musical form originates from poetry, blues, jazz, funk, soul, etc.  But gangsta rap glorifies misogyny, violence, casual sex or promiscuity, usage of vulgar or derogatory language such as b* and h*. When the youth watches violence, they can become more vulnerable and they can be tempted to imitate what they see. 

    I definitely don’t approve of too much violence or any musical forms that worship aggressiveness particularly among vulnerable and easily influenced young black males because it can create more problems.  It is hurtful in particular toward black women. You can do hip hop and it can be positive. Unfortunately gangsta rap is destructive and it sells. If children behave poorly it is a reflection of adults.  It is imperative that they hear good messages or watch positive images in the media.

    P.T.:  I could add that a lot of young kids don’t know what they really glorify.  They are not aware that baggy pants come from prison where it is forbidden to have belts.  They are imitating others without knowing the root of this trend. 

    P.T.:  The media often portrays the African American community as a monolithic group where three areas of success are presented as options to the youth:  becoming an athlete, a rapper or a singer without giving nuances or explaining the difficulties which might occur (abusive record contracts, problems with royalties, etc).  As a psychiatrist and as a media advisor, what solutions do you see to change this situation? 

    Dr. A.P.:  We need more variety in the media. We have to see more diversity in hip hop and more images of African American people in any field of life.  We already see other kind of images in some programs.  For example, on CNN there are more African American reporters. We can view Black news sportscasters on different channels commenting on football and baseball.  This provides more options to young African Americans.  In cop shows there are some characters with significant roles or more lawyers.  But we could see more of them:  scientists, mathematicians, actors portraying black professors, etc.  We definitely need to encourage that. 

    P.T.:  Do you have a message for young people about how to succeed in general and advice to give to those who are interested in the medical profession?   

    Dr. A.P.: The message that I want to give is addressed to young people but also to the parents.  To succeed it is important to teach the value of education.  The parents need to demonstrate an interest in their kids by reading to them, by encouraging them, by building libraries for their children and by taking advantage of the schools for expanding their knowledge.  Parents have to reach out more often to schools, tutors and mentors. It is important also for parents to use positive reinforcement with their children.  More specifically concerning the medical field, one of the ways to make your mark is to conduct medical research, write and publish specialized articles that can be highlighted in your resume.  

    P.T:  Dr. Poussaint, thank you so much for your time and for sharing your rich store of experience.  It was an honor to interview you.

     

    Books by Dr. Poussaint:   

    Why Blacks kill Blacks (1972), (introduction by Rev.  Jesse Jackson) Emerson Hall Publishers, Inc.; 1st edition  

    Raising Black Children, (originally titled Black Child Care (1975)) co-author with James P. Come, Plume: New York, 1992 

    Lay My Burden Down: Suicide and the mental health crisis among African-Americans, by Alvin F. Poussaint, MD and Amy Alexander, Beacon: Boston, 2000.

     Come On, People: On the path from victims to victors, by Bill Cosby and Alvin F. Poussaint, MD, Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 2007.

  • Toronto Poets and Story Tellers

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    Toronto is certainly a hub of very talented and creative individuals with a lot to offer. Among those are some inspiring black poets and storytellers with both a gift for words and a dedication to uplifting their community with their pen. We have here chosen to feature the following griots: Jane Musoke-Nteyafas, Yannick Marshall, Yemi Aganga, heronJones, and Kathleen James (a.k.a. Strong).

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    Jane Musoke-Nteyafas: Butterflies of the Nile

    Jane Musoke-Nteyafas is no stranger to the long-time readers on AfroToronto.com. Her controversial and engaging commentaries on interracial dating and standards of beauty have garnered much interest. Jane is not only a gifted writer and poet but also remarkable visual artist and playwright. The globetrotting daughter of Ugandan diplomats, she speaks English, French, Spanish, Danish and Luganda.

    Adding to a growing list of awards, which include the Planet Africa Rising Star Award and the Miss AfriCanada Beauty pageant, she was a recipient just last month of the African Canadian Women Achievement Award.

    In her recently published collection of short stories entitled Butterflies of the Nile, Jane Musoke-Nteyafas tackles head on the very contentious issues of colourism, sexual abuse, self-esteem and racist standards of beauty.

    “It is my hope that through my short stories and other writings, I am able to assist young girls and women who have been affected by the lies about beauty...” says Musoke-Nteyafas.

    Butterflies of the Nile explores the many painful stereotypes which rob black women, and African people as a whole, of their beauty and humanity. The main characters of each short story are Ugandan -- in homage to the author’s background and experience. But the refreshing frankness and depth of the characters make them universal. Moreover, as the author points out by saying “it would be nice if people stopped assuming that all black people in Toronto were Jamaican,” the books gives a much-needed diversified Pan-African perspective.

    For instance, “Nakimera’s Love” is a story about the cultural taboo of a Ugandan girl dating a member of an enemy clan. It is a gripping lesson on how the legacies of colonialism, neo-colonialism and the old “divide and conquer” tactics, still affect the everyday lives of black people in the continent of Africa and its Diaspora.

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    Yannick Marshall & Yemi Aganga:  Old Friend, We Made This For You

    “Dear Afrika, it took me four hundred years to understand that I love you, and I miss you very much.”

    - From “Jambalaya” by Yannick Marshall

    Old Friend, We Made This for You is a thought-provoking debut collection of poetry by two talented Pan-Africanist griots who take us into a powerful journey of cultural self-discovery. Yannick Marshall, who pens most of the poems, is a young Toronto-based poet of St. Lucian and Jamaican background. He has lived in Jamaica, St. Lucia, and Botswana. The co-author, Yemi Aganga, was born in Nigeria and currently resides in Lesotho. He has lived in both Botswana and the United-States.

    The two authors’ paths crossed when they both attended secondary school in Botswana during their teens. They join forces seamlessly in Old Friend, We Made This for You to demonstrate the interconnectedness of the Pan-African experience; one voice from Africa and the other from the Diaspora.

    Characterised as “the most exciting and accomplished book of mainly Canadian poetry you will read (and feel) for years” by George Elliott Clark, this collection of poems explores many important themes of the Pan-African struggle, identity and ethos.

    The authors lament the lack of unity in the global African family and how the evils of class and colonial heritage continue to shackle us. From an old man in Kingston, Jamaica who kisses his teeth at the sound of bongo drums, calling it “boogoo boogoo music”, to the soul-stripped inner-cities of America where black goddesses “bleach the melanin off their skin”, Old Friend, We Made This for You is a call for a spiritual return to Africa.

    Are we ready to “shut out the slums, the mills, the factories” when our “revolutionaries debate over wine and cheese?” By asking these questions poet Yannick Marshall makes the salient point that a lasting revolution of consciousness can only be achieved by the masses of the people and through a requisitioning of the barriers of class.

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    heronJones: Telephone Love

    “Folks, pick up the phone! Hear ye some Truth!” says George Elliott Clarke in the introduction of Toronto-based poet heronJones’ book Telephone Love. Indeed, this collection of poems kills you softly by recounting every frustrating, lustful and obsessive details of anyone’s love life.

    Imagine reading on paper all the illogical and downright embarrassing thoughts that traverse your mind when you wonder whether or not you should call a date or lover. Is it too soon? Would I make myself look needy or downright psychopathic? Where would your innermost thoughts and insecurities lead you if you let them run unchecked?

    Well, heronJones crosses that line for you... and then some!

    “Oh Nah girl, I ain’t crazy. Girl you ain’t seen crazy yet.”

    From obsession to redemption, Telephone Love also examines the enthralling experience of finding true love and the heartbreak of feeling taken for granted with the poem “Who Pays the Rent”. The poem “Why Ask” touches of the thin line between friendship with other people and emotional cheating.

    We keep people in our lives for many reasons. Sometimes those reasons are not even known to ourselves. Or is it that we fear looking at the truth head on?

    How do the choices we make affect the people we love? But, like they say, karma is a b**** and love is often the judge, jury and executioner.

    We even find a most ingenious cameo by Mr Jones, callously left out of Billy Paul’s famous song, who is back in the pages of Telephone love telling the fellow meeting Mrs Jones at 6 o’clock at the same cafe: “Cause you see Mrs. Jones, she’s my wife.... Well tomorrow I’ll be waiting there with my AK. ... I will hurt you so much. Yes, I will hurt you so much.” We definitely find heronJone’s remarkable skills as a slam poem in that piece.

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    Kathleen James (a.k.a. Strong): eXposed

    Toronto-based spoken word artist Kathleen Judith James (a.k.a. Strong) says that her work is informed and inspired by African drumming and Caribbean storytelling. One of the authors featured in the T-Dot Griots anthology, she brings a sound appreciation and understanding of Toronto’s spoken word scene as demonstrated by choosing it as the topic of her MA of History thesis from Queen’s University.

    James indeed stays true to her alias with her collection of poems entitled eXposed.

    She truly exposes herself by revealing in “The Slam Exposed” her sudden and helpless feelings of stage fright and dislocation as she initially ventured into the spoken word sphere. But in her piece “My Vision”, she also tells of her strength to overcome the rain and keeping her eye on the prize.

    An overriding theme which many readers will relate to and find inspiration in is the idea of following one’s positive path along a sometime treacherous road full of obstacles and temptations. The poems are classified along the three central themes of: Insecurities, Dreams, Reality and Transitions.

    “My Burden” talks about the gut-wrenching choices to weigh in the face of an unwanted pregnancy. Where do the fears of shame end and where does the guilt of selfishness begin?

    Her “Dreams” poems touch on love both explored and unfulfilled.

    In “Reality”, the poems delve into female empowerment and the need to stand tall in the face of adversity and disapproval.

    Finally, the “Transitions” poems deal with falling out of love and the uneasiness of flailing loyalties and betrayal.

    Needless to say, eXposed makes the reader travel through a wide range of emotions. The question is: how eXposed do you want to be?

  • Examined Life: Being Cornel West

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    One of the most engaging films screening at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival is Canadian-born director Astra Taylor’s Examined Life. The film follows a group of celebrated contemporary philosophers (including Cornel West, Avital Ronell, Peter Singer, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Martha Nussbaum, Michael Hardt, Slavoj Žižek, Judith Butler and Sunaura Taylor ) as they wrestle with ideas amid the backdrop of public spaces with special significance to them.

    What makes Examined Life particularly interesting is that it takes these “rock star” philosophers out of the comfort and remoteness of the hall of academia and into the streets and the hustle and bustle of daily life.

    The purpose of this experiment is to make the point that philosophy, politics, and the world of ideas, are primarily shaped through genuine engagement and dialogue with the real world around us.

    So we follow renowned African-American scholar and public intellectual, sociologist and civil rights activist Cornel West through the streets of Manhattan as he reminds us, quoting Plato, that “an unexamined life is not worth living.”

    Professor West puts it plainly. We are “two-legged linguistically conscious creatures born between urine and feces whose body will one day be the culinary delight of terrestrial worms. That’s us.”

    So the purpose of our existence, while we are alive, is to interrogate ourselves by calling into question all of our tacit assumptions, biases, dogmas, and unarticulated presuppositions in order to become better human beings. In Cornel West’s view, this is a necessary process also in order to keep society’s elites and dogmatists in check and, ultimately, make them more accountable to everyday people. Prof. West continues:“So philosophy itself becomes a critical disposition of wrestling with desire in the face of death; wrestling with dialogue in the face of dogmatism; and wrestling with democracy, trying to keep alive very fragile democratic experiments in the face of structures of domination: patriarchy, white supremacy, imperial power … all those concentrated forms of power that are unaccountable to people who are affected by it.”

    This film is definitely part of your recommended portions of good food the mind and soul.

     

    Examined Life  has one remaining screening at the Toronto International Film Festival on:

    Saturday, SEPT. 13th – 9:15AM @ AMC Theatre (Dundas Square)

  • On My Mind - Angela

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    Today is Wednesday, September 10th, and it’s a very special day because it’s Angela’s birthday. Now I know you are wondering just who on earth is Angela?

    Angela is one of my closest and dearest friends, she is a Pillar of Strength and Wisdom, and she has a warm heart and has helped countless amounts of people, just by being who she is. Angela is someone I admire and her courage and positive attitude is something that I am often inspired by when I am going through my own trials.

    You see my friend Angela has Sickle Cell Anemia. For the past three years she has basically been resting and only once in a while is able to get out and do activities she enjoys; and often times she has to do this from a wheelchair. For her birthday she will be getting a catheter put into her chest so that drawing blood from her arms won’t be so painful. But, Angela never complains, she always finds a bright side to any situation.

    I met her about 20 years ago at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. She was wearing pants that had patches of all sizes sewn on them, and listening to Blondie on her walkman. I happened to love Blondie too.  I just walked up to her and introduced myself, and that’s how I got to know her. Angela is full of life, she’s hilarious, and we have had some adventures together.

    When I met her I had no idea she had sickle cell anemia… but one day when we were hanging out she asked me to come to the hospital with her while she got a transfusion. I remember that we went to the Children’s Hospital, and it didn’t take long and she came out smiling, and she explained to me that she needed transfusions now and then… but I don’t think I understood the full extent of her illness.

    It was a few years later in university as she got older I noticed the change. Angela would have a crisis, and her joints would hurt, she’d be in a lot of pain, but at first she could bounce back quickly when this happened. As time passed though that changed. I remember hearing she was in the hospital, and going to visit her, and not being fully prepared for what I saw.  My strong vibrant funny energetic friend was writhing in pain in a hospital bed; she was very weak and not able to speak well. I was devastated on the inside because I was not prepared for the drastic change in her health.

    Over the years I have adjusted to this period of crisis that comes with Sickle Cell, and spend time praying for Angela’s recovery and her strength. During the years that I have known Angela, she lost her younger brother to the disease; he was only 18 and I know that was a difficult time for her. I don’t know if this was selfish but it was difficult for me too. I remember going to her brother’s funeral and wondering how much time I had with my friend. I began to live in fear of losing her; but I never told her this. As the years passed, I did tell her one day, and she just simply said…”I’m not going to die Anne-Marie.”  You see its like she knew my innermost thoughts the day she said that to me. Over the years, Angela and I have been through it like any pair of close friends, we’ve had our ups we’ve had our downs, but we have an open and honest friendship; and that is a beautiful thing. I truly love her for who she is. My mom is very ill now and because Angela could not go to visit her, she sent a wonderful Pastor and wife team to pray for my mom.

    So in writing this column I just wanted people to be aware that there are beautiful people out there with illnesses or diseases and we sometimes overlook them or don’t keep in contact with them because of our own fears. Please challenge yourself not to overlook someone because they are ill. They often have a better outlook and lease on life than the rest of us.

    In closing I wanted to share the e mail that Angela sent out to her close friends 21 days before her birthday. This will let you know the type of spirit she has.

    "Hello family and friends, my birthday is coming up in 3 weeks!  21 days to be exact.  For my birthday present I'd prefer that rather than giving me a gift, you to do one or more physical activities on my behalf (choose one or more items from my list below) and take a picture while you do so. then send me a card (electronic or hard copy) on my birthday, Sept. 10th, listing what you did for me, and include the pictures. you can do as many items as you wish in the next 21 days! the items listed are things I did when I was healthier. but the item(s) you choose must be something/things that you normally DON'T do. so it has to be specifically done on my behalf.

    i would be SUPER happy to find out what you did.

    my list:

    1-take child from your family on a "quality time" outing (ex. library, bookstore, playground, park, beach)

    2-spend 30min. to 1 hour outdoors

    3-play or watch a baseball/softball game outside

    4-take the bus somewhere

    5-go for a walk after supper

    6-put on some music and boogie!

    7-donate blood

    8-use the stairs instead of elevator or escalator

    9-go to church

    10-give someone a hug and lift their feet off the ground as you do so (in the spirit of the olympics a minimum of 2 inches off ground is required for hug to be acceptable ;-). hint: lift a child)

    11-go to a nursing home and visit a relative of someone you know

    12-get a fresh pineapple and go welcome a new neighbor (or whatever symbol of hospitality you like)

    13-drop by and visit a friend unannounced

    14-make a meal for your mother (preferrably breakfast in bed)

    15-go out for tea/coffee with friend(s)

    16-run an errand for someone

    17-walk a dog

    18-go to the beach

    19-do a handstand

    20-stand on your head

    21-do a cartwheel!  my "21-day birthday challenge" is on starting today!on your mark... get set... GO!

    Today, Angela one of my closest friends was on my mind, and after reading this column I am sure you will understand why.

    To learn more about Anne-Marie Woods please go to www.imanicreativeconsulting.com

  • African and Diaspora Films at TIFF ’08 – Part II

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    MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY, Barry Jenkins, USA

    Director Barry Jenkins’ film Medicine for Melancholy shows an all-too-rare picture of artistically-minded, middle class black people who can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than at a museum. But far from being just an idealistic portrayal of a black bourgeois minority, Medicine for Melancholy offers a realistic view into the lives of imperfect 20-something San Franciscans in search of identity and meaning in a city where gentrification increasingly erases their humanity.

    The film introduces the characters of Jo (Tracey Heggins) and Micah (Wyatt Cenac) -- who find themselves waking up in the morning, following an alcohol-infused one-night stand, not remembering how they ended up together. Micha tries to convince Jo (who initially lies about her real name) to join him for breakfast and try to get to know each other better.

    Despite her apprehensions, given the fact that her well-off live-in white boyfriend is away in Europe, Jo acquiesces to Micha’s desire to explore a deeper connection. Through their bohemian interactions around San Francisco, Jo and Micha, in Barry Jenkins’ words, discuss the “modern complexities of living as a declining minority in America''s major cities.”

    Their deeply philosophical discussions are set in a beautifully shot background of “indie” San Francisco. The film adeptly exposes the reality that, in the midst of all this culture and buoyancy, one can walk dozens of blocks without seeing a single black face.

    Call it a classic urban romance with a DuBoisian twist.

     

    Medicine for Melancholy screens at the Toronto International Film Festival on:

    Tuesday, SEPT. 9th – 8:45PM @ AMC Theatre (Dundas Square)

    Wednesday, SEPT. 10th – 5:45PM @ AMC Theatre (Dundas Square)


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    YOUSSOU NDOUR: I BRING WHAT I LOVE, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, USA

    Youssou Ndour is an internationally renowned singer-griot from the West African country of Senegal. His country’s preeminent musical export, he became know to a wider audience through his collaborations with Peter Gabriel and the hit song “7 Seconds” with Neneh Cherry. Time Magazine named him among the world’s 100 most influential people.

    Several years in the making, Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love is a film that chronicles the controversy surrounding the release of Ndour’s album entitled Egypt in 2004. The making of the Egypt album was a deeply personal journey, and humanistic statement, for Youssou Ndour. He composed it with the idea of promoting a more tolerant view of his native faith of Islam.

    Despite winning a Grammy Award in 2005, many in his own homeland of Senegal denounced the album as blasphemous.

    A devout Sufi Muslim, Youssou Ndour felt frustrated with the negative perception of Islam around the world and wanted to use his music to redress the balance. But conservatives in his country denounced him for releasing the album during the holy month of Ramadan. Still, in Youssou Ndour’s mind, “Egypt is more than a country … it’s a concept.... a concept of coming together.” 

    Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love has one remaining screening at the Toronto International Film Festival on:

    Saturday, SEPT. 13th – 3:45PM @ Scotiabank Theatre (259 Richmond Street West) 


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    SKIN, Anthony Fabian, South Africa

    Skin is a powerful real-life story of Sandra Laing – a black woman born to white parents in the middle of Apartheid’s heyday in 1955 South Africa. In a truly surreal biological twist of faith, Laing’s birth was the result of a gene leap from an unknown black ancestor in the family history of her Apartheid-supporting Afrikaner National Party parents.

    Needless to say, Laing’s life was not without struggles. Her tormented existence led her, at the tender age of 15, to elope with a black man – which caused her to be disowned by her family and entire community.

    In the film, the role of Sandra Laing is played by Oscar-nominated actress Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda). Skin leaves no stones unturned as it tackles all the underlying thorny issues of institutional racism, its link to religion and what really constitutes a human being’s identity and sense of community.

    When the science of genetics throws such a major societal curveball, the unraveling of raw human emotions is a fascinating process to watch on film.

    Skin has two remaining screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival on:

    Wednesday, SEPT. 10th – 9:30PM @ AMC Theatre (Dundas Square)

    Saturday, SEPT. 13th – 9:45PM @ Scotiabank Theatre (259 Richmond Street West)

  • Third World Ghetto

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    Not So Far From Home: Light and Glass by Moses Kofi, is a photography series of experimentations and discoveries on the perception of poverty. The showing uses various methods and materials to contrast and explore photography taken on location in Trinidad depicting the dichotomy of the environment there from luxury automobiles and a state of the art shopping center, to decaying infrastructure.

    Moses explains that he wanted to examine and exhibit how people here, in Canada often view the poverty and distress of people elsewhere as more interesting and more authentic than the similar poverty that exists right here around us. This involves the glamorization of poverty and ghetto life, which he uses shiny materials to convey, as well as how people choose to distance themselves from the realities of poverty, by placing more importance and urgency on social issues occurring abroad.

    The exhibition also included several installation pieces using old televisions where the moving images on the screen were covered by semi-transparent stills, filtering the colors and images passing through. This was a particularly inventive and interesting commentary on the role of the media, via the medium of television, in affecting our perceptions of poverty. This also makes a bold statement on the power of controlling the medium and using the medium to promote a new message; a message of art, and perhaps a message of truth. Filtering and censoring the images on the screen forces the viewer to either surrender to the still image, or observe themselves as they struggle to see past the still to what is happening behind it, considering how the public may often look past the truth to the flashier images that seem more exciting, especially from a distance.

    Moses Kofi is a self-taught photographer residing in Toronto. He is of Trinidadian lineage, and on his most recent journey there, when he look the stills, he found himself questioning his own choice to do this series on poverty there, as opposed to something a little closer to home, which evolved in to the title of the exhibition. Not So Far From Home is a refreshingly honest and unpretentious showing of a young man’s investigation of society by way of self. His disregard for the customary state of things makes his point of view quite unintentionally avant-garde, and completely unique. It feels as though Moses Kofi is sharing with the world his journey and growth as a man, as a black man, and primarily as an artist, and as a witness, it is thoroughly appreciated and feels absolutely necessary.

    Find Moses Kofi at www.moseskofi.com.

  • African and Diaspora Films at TIFF ’08 – Part I

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    The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is back for its 33rd edition this year and is set to run from Sept. 4-13. TIFF ’08 will feature over 500 films from around the world. As we do every year, AfroToronto.com now brings you a run-down of the African and Diaspora films programmed at the festival. We will also showcase films featuring noteworthy performances by cast of African descent.

    For this first part of our TIFF African and Diaspora films round-up, we will briefly highlight the following three films: Miracle at St. Ann by director Spike Lee (adapted from the novel by James McBride), Secret Life of Bees by director Gina Prince-Bythewood (adapted from the novel by Sue Monk Kidd), and Teza by renown Ethiopian director Haile Gerima.

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    MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA, Spike Lee, USA

    Miracle at St. Anna tells the moving story of four African-American soldiers from the famed all-black 92nd Infantry Division, also known as “Buffalo Soldiers”, stationed in Tuscany, Italy during the Second World War. Their lives take an unexpected turn when they suddenly find themselves stranded behind enemy lines, and cut off from the rest of their unit, after one of them tries to save an Italian boy.

    The film’s director, Spike Lee, developed the screenplay for this $45 million budget film from the acclaimed novel by James McBride. Saying that “there''s really been a bad job of documenting the contribution African-Americans made to this country [U.S.A]”, Spike Lee seeks to put on screen the little-known history of sacrifice and courage demonstrated by black soldiers during World War II. Lee also actually had two uncles who served in World War II although they did not see frontline combat.

    There was a well-publicized war of words between Spike Lee and Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood recently when Lee pointed out, during this year’s Cannes Festival, that Eastwood failed to include black soldiers in his two 2006 World War II movies Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. After Clint Eastwood retorted by telling Lee to “shut his face” and Spike Lee responded by calling Eastwood “an angry old man”, the Walt Disney Company bosses (who picked up the U.S. rights for Lee’s film) stepped in to broker a truce – fearing bad publicity. “But it''s over. I said what I had to say. He believes what he believes. And that''s that” said Spike Lee.

    But more than just being about correcting what’s not been done in the past, Spike Lee says to the U.K.’s Telegraph that the interest in Miracle at St. Anna “is that the Second World War was the last war that the U.S. was right about. It was fascism versus democracy. You were on one side or another.”

    Lee spent eight weeks filming on location in Europe.  The film features gripping battle scenes backed up with musical score composed by Lee’s long-time associate Terence Blanchard. The leading role originally slated for Wesley Snipes was taken over by Derek Luke after Snipes was forced to leave the film because of his highly-publicized tax evasion trial.


    Miracle at St. Anna screens at the Elgin Theatre on Sunday, Sept. 7th @ 9pm.

    Video URL: http://www.imdb.com/rg/VIDEO_PLAY/LINK/video/screenplay/vi3152609561/

    Website: http://miracleatstanna.movies.go.com/ 


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    SECRET LIFE OF BEES, Gina Prince-Bythewood, USA

    Another film adaptation of a popular novel at this year’s TIFF is director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s Secret Life of Bees. Backed by an all-star cast including Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Hudson and Dakota Fanning, The Secret Life of Bees takes us back to Civil Rights-era 1964 South Carolina.

    A 14-year-old white girl, Lily Owens played by Dakota Fanning), escapes from her abusive father and brings along her African-American caregiver, Rosaleen Daise (played by Jennifer Hudson). She seeks refuge in a nearby town with the Boatwright sisters (Queen Latifah, Sophie Okenedo and Alicia Keys) – who are African-American beekeepers who own a honey business.

    The film tackles the predictable drama surrounding the setting of a white teenager living with four black women in a South Carolina still haunted by the ghosts of segregation and Jim Crow laws. The story is based on the popular 2002 novel by Sue Monk Kidd.

    Playing the role of a beekeeper in the film, Queen Latifah says that shooting this film was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of her life. In keeping with her character, she extracted honey from real bee hives, surrounded by thousands of stinging bees, without any gloves or protective mask. “I''ve done all kinds of stunts. I''ve driven all kinds of cars. I have shotguns and I have snowboarded. The bees win” she says. 

    Secret Life of Bees screens at Roy Thomson Hall on Friday, Sept. 5th @ 6:30pm.  It hits theatres on October 17th.

    Website: http://www.foxsearchlight.com/thesecretlifeofbees/ 

     



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    TEZA, Haile Gerima, Ethiopia/Germany/France

    The latest film by acclaimed Ethiopian director and Howard University professor Haile Gerima, Teza, chronicles the return of an Ethiopian intellectual to his birth country. After completing his post-graduate studies abroad in Germany, Anberber returns to Ethiopia full of hopes to be able to contribute to his country’s development with his newly acquired knowledge.

    However, he finds himself somewhat disillusioned by the harsh realities he confronts. In fact, Haile Gerima takes the name of the movie from an ancient Abyssinian riddle: “Seehade Agegnehuwat - Semeles AtaHuwat,” which means I found it when I was leaving - I lost it when I was returning.”

    Returning to Ethiopia during the war of the 1990’s, Anberber finds a land decimated by the actions of the military junta and the policies of Mengistu HaileMariam’s Marxist regime. Gerima exploresAnberber’s sense of powerlessness and feeling of being uprooted and disconnected from his own people.

    A pan-African philosopher at heart, Haile Gerima is known for exploring in his films the issues and history relating to the experience of the African Diaspora. He is a strong believer in telling stories from the perspective of African people from the continent itself and from the Americas. He is best known for producing and directing the critically-acclaimed 1993 film Sankofa, in which he delved into African resistance to slavery.

  • On My Mind - Dating

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    Yes, dating is on my mind. Because I have actually had some dates, which is pretty much a rare occasion. I have also found out that perhaps I am not ugly in Canada like my last column suggests. Some of you follow my monthly columns and perhaps some of you are reading me for the first time. I have the freedom here to write about whatever is on my mind. Today the topic of dating happens to be on my mind. I actually had two dates in the month of June; and its lead me to think about some things. How do some of us view dating? I actually enjoy dating; I get all girly girly about it… you know a bit nervous and excited. I try to look cute, even if it’s a casual sort of environment. Casual can be cute.

    One of the dates I had, I was having a bad natural hair day, and I was a bit late…ONLY A BIT! Because I was trying to fix my natural hair gone wild, and then just as I got the hair looking good, I spilled toothpaste on my top.  I don’t know if I mentioned this but I am a bit quirky. I am not ashamed of this fact, I accept my quirks, but I had already changed my first top due to a stain that happened when my lipstick accidentally fell on my left breast, and when I tried to clean it, a large brown wet spot was formed, which did not look good, so I changed my top.  Since I was running late, let’s say that I left my apartment with a wet stain, on my second top, and again on my chest, but this time in the middle and I just prayed that with the streetcar window open, that it would be dry by the time I got to the restaurant.

    I have a friend, (okay you know how people say they have a friend, but it’s really them, it’s really not me… I do have a friend), I would say that she is a serial dater; while I have hardly dated over the past three years of being single she has dated quite a bit. But the end result is the same, I may be more particular, and not as many men speak to me, but she still has not found her night in shining armour either. My philosophy on dating is that it’s a fun time, and a chance to get to know a potential friend. That’s me, old fashioned; I don’t really look beyond the date. Now, mind you I wasn’t always like that. But with age comes wisdom and with a few broken hearts, when you only have one, comes a huge reality check. At the end of the day it is what it is.

    If a man likes you, he will call you and ask you out. If you go on one date and he wants to see you again, he will call you and ask you out again. Wow, imagine that all that wisdom and I still have not read the book, “He’s just not into you!” My first date in June was with a man from Philly… cool guy well put together (whatever that means) but at the end of the date; I figured he’s just not into me… I was thinking after the date about how I might come across to men, so I called one of my guy friends to ask him. He was like, “girl a lot of men ask me about you, but they think that you don’t even like men.” At first I was like “uh what do you mean?”

    Then I thought hold on a minute… 1. I am always friendly, 2. I smile and if anyone speaks to me I would speak… 3. I also say hello to men and smile every day… So then I said, “You know what if they are interested in me they should step to the plate, be a man and not be intimidated.”

    So then I started thinking more I mean you hear it all the time… you see it on single sites or read it… a man wants an independent woman!!! But does he really?

    Does he really want a self employed, independent sister who has been single for a while, no children and presently no baggage?

    I don’t know what men want, but I know one thing, I am in a place for the first time in my life, where I am fine being single, and I am fine if I meet someone too.  My eyes are always open (even when I’m sleeping)… just kidding. But, seriously, my eyes are open; I have even worked on my shyness when it comes to meeting people in public events or on a plane. (Whew last week I flew to Bermuda and whew… met a fine and very nice brother on the plane, for the first time in 25 years of flying, a gorgeous man sat beside me)… Okay sorry I was having a flashback, now back to my column.

    I think the fact that a man from Toronto asked me out after meeting me at an event, last month was a wonderful thing; especially after the column I wrote. This actually had me in shock. But it was a nice shock, and it was very nice to be asked out on a date by a man who actually lives in my city. So, ladies there is hope, I have decided to not focus on being negative, but to say hello, that’s right I still smile, even when people don’t speak. I even decided to stop saying, that I would NEVER meet a man in Toronto, because who knows, perhaps I will.

    So, today though I am presently not dating, dating was on my mind!

    For more information on Anne-Marie Woods please go to her website www.imanicreativeconsulting.com

  • Cougars & Cubs: The Older Woman/Younger Man Phenomenon

    Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, Halle Berry and Gabriel Aubry, Madonna and Guy Ritchie, Tameka and Usher, Janet Jackson and Jermaine Dupri, Eva Longoria and Tony Parker, Tina Turner and Erwin Bach, Ivana Trump and Rossano Rubicondi, Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon. What do they all have in common?

    The fact that the women are the older ones in their relationships.

    The dating scene is definitely changing. Dating options are widening for both men and women as old societal stereotypes are being challenged. There is a continuously growing trend of older women with younger men not only in Hollywood, but in the mainstream. A 2003 survey conducted by the National Association of Retired Persons revealed that one-third of single women in the USA between 40 and 60 were dating younger men and the numbers have increased.

    Men have been dating much younger women for centuries, but when it comes to women dating younger men it is still considered a very controversial subject. This is a scene so fascinating and debatable that numerous books have been written about it, magazines have cashed in on it and even CNN did a profile on it called Older Women Younger Men, Can it Work? in September 2007. Oprah dedicated an entire show to the topic called Older Women in Love with Younger Men. Samantha on “Sex and the City,” and Gabrielle on “Desperate Housewives” portrayed the phenomenon as well. In the movie the graduate, a young Dustin Hoffman has an affair with the older and mature Mrs. Robinson. More recently in the 2005 movie Prime, Uma Thurman plays a career driven professional from Manhattan in her late 30’s who is wooed by a young painter in his early 20’s.

    Is It Really A New Trend?

    While it may seem like it’s a new trend, perhaps one would more accurately say that it’s a more publicized trend. Whilst Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher caused shock waves years ago when they started dating, it’s actually more common than most people think. Judy Garland, Mae West and Liz Taylor notoriously dated and married younger men. Other well known celebrities in this club are Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins (12 years difference); Mary Tyler Moore and Robert Levine (18 years difference); Julianne Moore and Bart Freundlich (9 years difference); Daryl Hannah and David Blaine (12 years difference).

    Are Cougars Cradle Robbers?

    Whereas Mr. Right has always been defined by society as older, the definition is quickly becoming outdated. The expression “cougar” and “cradle robber” make it sound predatory, but that could not be further from the truth. The older woman/younger man relationships are mutually enjoyed. Although the term “cougar” makes it seem like it is the women who are pursuing, in most instances (of course with a few exceptions) it is actually the younger men who pursue the older women. In fact many younger men initially lie about their ages (adding a few years) in the hopes of getting the older women, leading to the women being shocked when they find out. But increasingly many women, who in their 20’s would have balked at the idea of dating younger men, now find themselves more open to dating younger men.

    When one mentions older women with younger men, many people have images of “cradle-robbing” women in their 60’s poaching on teenage boys but we are not referring to pedophilia or child molestation in this article. We are referring to relationships between two consenting adults.  Moreover the allusion “dirty old woman” loses traction, because the “cougar” phenomenon is not limited to women over the age of 40. Even women in their late 20’s and early 30’s are increasingly dating younger men. Why?

    Why Are There More Cougars And Cubs Relationships?

    By the time they are in their thirties, many women have curved out their niche professionally, are financially successful and are ready for relationships, now that the educational and financial achievements are out of the way. In other words they have been there and done that. They are making money, they are independent and don’t need to look for a man to provide them with a financial safety net. They are looking for companionship. Others are newly divorced and joining the ever-increasing pool of women looking for men. And there are others who are just looking for no strings-attached fun with available younger men. But the cincher is many of the men their age are married already, attached or divorced with kids and an ex-wife. Many of the older men they might have considered are looking for young women in their early 20’s. So the odds are very slim for finding partners.

    Enter the younger men.

    What Is The Attraction?

    The general stereotype is that these relationships are purely sexual. But many of these couples actually end up in long term relationships and some even married/in common law relationships with kids for example Halle Berry, Julianne Moore and Madonna. However, there is a lot of truth to the sexual angle. As women age, they learn more about their bodies, feel more comfortable and secure with their sexuality. On average women reach their sexual peak a lot later than men. This peak is reached anywhere from the late 20’s to early 30’s and lasts well into the 50’s and 60’s for many women. So many women find sexual compatibility with men who are a lot younger than they are. It’s a win-win situation for both sides of the equation. Add to that the fetishization and fantasy on both sides of having sexual relationships with a younger man or an older woman, and the results are deliciously explosive.

    “Younger men are eager to please. They focus a lot more on the woman’s sexual pleasure and in turn enjoy the experience,” Explains Natasha a 33 year old divorcee who has been dating a man ten years younger than her for two years, “they are less hang up about their egos and willing to learn what it takes to make a woman sexually happy. They also have stamina.”

    Older women are also seen as taboo and forbidden fruits, which ups their attractiveness and sexiness to younger men.

    But beyond the sexual slant, many older women are looking better every day with medical advances, better diets and exercise regimes. An average 40 year old woman today looks younger than a 40 year old woman 20 years ago. Add that to the growing fact that it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference between say, a woman in her early or mid thirties and a woman in her 20’s. One can conclude that women are taking care of themselves more and as a result, looking and staying younger a lot younger than they were several years ago. Society’s image of what is a vital, vibrant, attractive, sexy woman has been stretched.

    Brigitte, a social worker and widow in her mid 40’s was married to man who was almost 10 years her junior. She points out that ever since she was in her 30’s she has always had younger men after her. Even now in her 40’s, most of the men who approach her are in their 20’s. Of course the fact that she looks a lot younger than her age helps.

    What Makes Younger Men Consider Older Women?

    On the flip side a lot of younger men look deceptively older than their ages. But despite their youth, not all younger men are hopelessly immature and looking for a drunken one night stand. Some simply have a preference for older women. Younger men also find older women interesting, mature, experimental, fun to talk to, financially settled, and more adept sexually.

    Two men who were interviewed in the article Cougars Go Mainstream by Allison Werbowetsky on filly.ca explain the dynamics from the younger man’s point of view. Michael James who was 24 at the time muses that older women do not play mind games. He says they know what they want and they're out to get it.

    The other man Dan Mackenzie, who was 27 says,

    "Hot is hot…If a sexy woman gives me the eye from across the bar, I'm sure as hell is going over there, no matter how old she is.  And cougars are hot anyways. [Cougars are] hot older women…But it''s really more of an attitude than age thing.  It's just a sexy woman with a whole bunch of confidence.”

    Michael a 29 year old journalist says that he has always been attracted to older women because he finds something very sexy about them and he relates more to them intellectually and emotionally than women his age. He also adds that the sex drive of the older women he has dated is more compatible to his. The oldest woman he has dated was 15 years older. Kenneth who is 25 says he prefers older women because they come with less baggage and he is attracted to strong women. He also points out that they are less frivolous than his counterparts and very confident with their own sexuality and bodies, a fact that he relishes.

    In general many older women feel that younger men value their independence and success more. Generational changes can change the perspective of relationships. Many younger men in their 20’s grew up with successful, working mothers, while many men in their 40’s most likely may have had stay-at-home mothers, and so both groups of men would view and treat the same woman differently. The fact that women tend to outlive men their age by about 10 years also changes the dynamics. From that vantage point, having a younger man translates to less years alone for the woman once they reach their senior years together.

    He/She Makes Me Feel Sexy

    One of the biggest pluses on a psychological level for the women involved in this type of relationship is the perception the younger men have of them. Younger men find them sexy and have no qualms showing it.

    In the article Younger Men, Better Sex - Older Women Are Discovering The Attraction Of Younger Men on 48 hours part of CBS News, Dr. Jennifer Berman, a urologist and sister to Dr. Laura Berman, a sex therapist and one of the USA’s foremost experts women’s sexual health elaborates on this. She points out one of the biggest benefits of such a relationship.

    “Feeling beautiful. Feeling attractive. Feeling young. Being appreciated as a woman for all that you are and all that you’ve learned and all that you’ve become,” says Dr. Jennifer Berman. “We’re starting to pay real attention to helping women reach their full sexual potential. For women, it’s part of their femininity. It’s part of their self-esteem. It’s part of their general power.”

    For women who may have come from failed marriages and relationships with men who are their age, finding out that younger men find them attractive and sexy is definitely an ego booster. It’s definitely not what society teaches. This level of feeling good is two sided as well. The fact that an older woman may look at a younger man and consider him attractive and sexy is equally as appealing to the younger men who are involved with the older women.

    So Is The Older Woman/Younger Man Match A Marriage Made In Heaven?

    Like any relationships, the older woman-younger man couple does come with its issues. Depending how large the gap is, having to deal with the parents and family of the younger man may prove rather challenging for the couple. Also, going against the societal norm and dealing with the flak of societal biases and stereotypes is a hurdle, especially for many women. Society dictates that women should feel ashamed or dirty for dating men younger than themselves, a chokehold so strong to overcome that many women often reject what could have been a great partner based on that premise.

    In the article Older Woman, Younger Man Relationships, Women Have More Options Than Ever – Including Men by Star Lawrence on WebMD, Kathryn Elliott, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, explains to WebMD. “We are victims of inner-critic constrictedness. We think we should only weigh 120. We should marry people within two years of our age. We pathologize anything that isn''t within those shoulds.”

    Once that barrier is broken there are other considerations that an age gap can create. If the woman is no longer of child-bearing age and the man wants children that can be a relationship breaker. But other than that they would face the same issues any other couple would face.

    Certainly there have been disastrous cases of doomed older women/younger men relationships, like in the case of Vivica Fox and Fifty Cent or Terry McMillan and Jonathan Plummer, but that is no different from the many other disastrous older man/younger women relationships that abound. The older woman/younger man relationship requires just the same ingredients that any other relationship does; compromise, communication, understanding and patience mainly.

    Positive Proof That Love Is Priceless At Any Age.

    Susan Winter is the co-author of Older Women Younger Men: New Options for Love and Romance. At 53 years, she has been in a relationship with a man almost 20 years younger than her since 1992. Prior to that, she was with two younger men, one 16 years younger and the other also 20 years younger. She published her book on a study based on her personal interviews of 200 of such couples. In all the cases, it was the men who had initiated contact and some of the couples she met had been together for 25 years or more, with the average length of the relationships being 13 years. At the end of the day, for many couples, age is just a number.

    So for the older women who may have considered younger men but have hesitated because they are paralyzed by what people might say, this comes as good news. The options are not quite as slim as they think. Once the hoopla has died down, many of the older women/younger men couples seem happy and accepted by society.

    Cameron Diaz did it with Justin Timberlake, Courtney Cox Arquette did it with David Arquette, Comedienne Fran Drescher (the nanny) did it with a man 16 years her junior for 4 years, Cheryl Crow did it with Lance Armstrong, Gwyneth Paltrow did it with Chris Martin, Joan Collins did it with Percy Gibson, Cher did it with Tom Cruise, Chili did it with Usher, Goldie Hawn did it with Kurt Russell. Older women/younger men relationships, also called May December relationships are here to stay. So women, would YOU consider a younger man? Men, would YOU consider an older woman?

  • On My Mind - NEVER BEEN PLUCKED!

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    Two years ago I worked with single parents and a few of them were really into hair make up and beauty. I remember when one of them said, “Please Anne-Marie just let me pluck your eyebrows, they would look so nice.”

    It’s true I was never plucked before, I am not sure why. All three of my older sisters plucked. I remember when my niece was very young, she locked herself in the bathroom and used my sister’s razor to shave her eyebrows; much to everyone’s horror.  But amazingly she did not cut herself (she must have been about 3 at the time). She managed to mess up her eyebrows though, and had to wear eyeliner, and she proudly said, “Now my eyebrows look like mommy's.”

    I didn’t realize that I was one of the few people who plucked, waxed or as I now know about who threaded. I think I had an innate fear of plucking my eyebrows. I went with a girlfriend once to a salon and she had her little moustache waxed, and she broke out in hives. That had to be about 15 years ago but the memory of it is quite vivid.

    I never plucked in junior high, high school or in my adult hood, and I thought my eyebrows looked fine. I don’t have a unibrow, they aren’t too thick, and they have a natural arch. As a matter a fact I had my very first pedicure about 4 years ago. (I swear I did not have hammer toes either, I take care of my toes and feet.) I had my very first manicure about one year ago. See, I just paint and take care of my nails on my own.

    I guess I am not what you would call a girly girl. I am a jeans and t-shirt, nice long sleeve top kinda gal.  I like to dress up and be girly for special occasions, I could not imagine strutting in heels and wearing a lot of make up and doing these things all the time. I like some lipstick and eyeliner, and the full make up is for the stage or a special occasion. To me a manicure or a pedicure is like a luxurious treat, that I award myself with a few times a year. Now admittedly when I was about 18, I was a girly girl, I used to go to work at a recreation centre in fancy clothes and jeans and heels and wear make up all the time.  With age this habit definitely died down. Now back to plucking

    I had a photo shoot about a month ago, and the day I went with the make up artist she began to look at my eyebrows. She asked if she could pluck. The nerve! I immediately went into a bit of a panic.  I mean after all this would be my first time, I’ve never done this before, and why did this lady want to pluck me. She asked if she could just pluck a few hairs before the photo shoot.  I asked, “Will it hurt?” “No.” she said. The photographer too became excited about the idea of me being plucked. And so at the tender age of 40 I closed my eyes and leaned back my head and said, “Okay but just a few.”

    She proceeded to pluck maybe a total of 6 of my eyebrow hairs, and she got so excited with each one that came out.  It did hurt; I jumped and flinched with each pluck, wondering why women go through these things in the name of beauty.  After she took out about 6 hairs on each eyebrow, she was elated, the photographer too.  They ooed and awed about the difference it made in my face; while I simply stared in the mirror and didn’t see any difference.  But that little session of being plucked, just a little bit sparked a curiosity in me that I didn’t want to admit.

    I know that one of my good friends and my sister gets their eyebrows threaded.  I didn’t even know what threading was, but after being plucked just a little and seeing people get their eyebrows waxed, threading sounded so nice and painless.About a week after my photo shoot I was in Newark, New Jersey and New York City.  In Newark, I went to a salon to get a manicure and pedicure, and I was telling my friend Tracy, that I’d never been plucked.  The salon where we were specialized in waxing and she actually tried to convince me to get my eyebrows waxed.

    There was no way in the world; I was going to get waxed.  But again something had been sparked inside of me, a new sense of adventure, curiosity even. I began to look at all the women everywhere I went, on TV, in the mall, on the street, in the salon and realized that almost everyone HAD BEEN PLUCKED! And so, I went to Manhattan on the weekend and stayed with my good friend Hannah, she lives in this really cool neighbourhood and as we walked up the street I told her about my eyebrows, and how I decided I would get them threaded.  She told me that there was a place in her neighbourhood and all they do is threading. When we went out the next day she showed me the threading salon, and I stuck my head in and said, “Does it hurt?” the lady said “No.”  I said “Okay I am going to come back later but please be gentle I have never had this done before.”

    We hung out all day and then, I went back to the salon, like a brave woman and sat in a chair and watched women get threaded, it looked painless, and I sent a text to my big sister, telling her I was about to take the plunge.“NEXT!”  It sounded loud in that small threading salon as the lady pointed to me.  I got up slowly, afraid to admit I was scared of this process, and sat in the chair. She got me to put my forehead back and put some type of ointment on my eyebrows, had I known what I was in for, perhaps I would have asked her to apply orajel.  I didn’t want to act too scared because there were about 4 other women waiting to be threaded by this lady, who seemed to be the best.  Then, it happened and I was horrified. I thought that I would feel one light pull at a time, but it was like a human threading lawn mower going across my eyebrows, it made my eyes water, and I thought to myself, “my sister didn’t tell me anything about this.”

    I don’t even have hairy eyebrows, so I did not understand where she was taking all these little pieces of hair from in that zipping motion… zzzzzzzzz…. Zzzzzzzzzz   ….. zzzzzzzzzzz I heard as that thread ripped out little rows of my hair over and over. Zzzzzzzzzzzz zzzzzzzzzzzz, and I wanted to cry out but I just kept my hands in a tight fist.  And then it was over, she brought the chair up and I looked in the mirror, everyone around me smiled, I told her “this was my first time.”  She said “oh, well now you are EYELICIOUS!”  Eyelicious?  What on earth is eyelicious?  I didn’t feel eyelicious, my eyebrows were stinging and when I looked in the mirror I thought I looked like a curious clown who had an upper eyelift. I no longer looked like me, who was this lady with her eyebrows arched so high she looked like she was posing a question?  But instead, I smiled, paid her my money and wanted to go out and buy big round dark glasses to cover my eyebrow faux pas. So, I did it, I did something I’d never done before I GOT PLUCKED!!! OKAY OKAY I got threaded, and after about 5 days, I liked my new look.

    I stepped outside my box, I did something I swore I would never do, I have crossed into the world of girly girlyness ß I know this is not a word, but it’s my word.  I am back in Toronto now and on Tuesday I went to a place where I knew they did threading to find out how much it cost, and this morning I am going back there to get my eyebrows done again.

    To learn more about Anne-Marie Woods please go to www.imanicreativeconsulting.com

  • Africa Must Produce or Perish

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    Imagine that it is May 25, 2063, the 100th anniversary of Africa Day, a day for reflecting on Africa’s successes and failures. The newspaper headline announces, “Last Remaining Oilfield in West Africa’s American Territory Dries Up.”

    The article continues: “The last patch of rainforest will soon be empty land scarred by oil pipelines, pumping stations, and natural gas refineries. Wholesale pollution will be the environmental legacy for future generations.

    “Africa’s offshore oil reserves will ebb away. Abandoned oil wells could well become tourist attractions, and oil-boom settlements will be transformed into derelict ghost towns.

    “In a world without oil, air travel will disappear, and people will voyage overseas on coal-powered ships. Farmers will use horses instead of tractors, and scythes instead of combine harvesters. As crops diminish and populations soar, famine will grip the globe. With no means to power their vehicles, parents will be housebound, without jobs, and children will walk to school.”

    This scenario could become a reality, because we no longer have an abundant oil supply. We know oil exists in limited quantities and that most oil wells dry up after 40 years. It is as certain as death and taxes. Rather than debate the exact year when we will run out of oil, I prefer to imagine that we have already run out. It may come sooner than any of us expect. Our heirs will thank or curse us for how much oil we left for them. Instead of asking, “When will Africa run out of natural resources?” we should ask, “When will Africa  be unable to export raw materials, either for lack of our own oil or because foreign markets have themselves dried up?”

    A $100 bar of raw iron is worth $200 when forged into drinking cups in Africa, $65,000 when forged into needles in Asia, $5 million when forged into watch springs in Europe. How can this be? European intellectual capital – the collective knowledge of its people – allows a $100 raw iron bar to command a 50,000-fold increase! It could be said, therefore, that a lack of intellectual capital is the root cause of poverty.

    Without African intellectual capital, iron excavated in Africa will continue to be manufactured in Europe and exported back to Africa at enormous cost. To alleviate poverty, Africa needs to cultivate creative and intellectual abilities that will allow it to increase the value of its raw materials and to break the continent’s vicious cycle of poverty. Poverty is not an absence of money, Rather, it results from an absence of knowledge.

    In oil-exporting African nations, multinationals such as Shell (selling rigs for a 40% royalty on exported oil) are getting rich, while the oil rig workers remain poor. Instead of addressing the underlying causes of poverty – minimal productivity resulting from a lack of intellectual capital – Third World leaders have focused on giving false hope to their people.

    We need less talk about poverty and more action to eliminate it. So how do we do this? Education has done more to reduce poverty than all the oil companies in the world. So it is disheartening to realize that few leaders believe that their people’s potential is far more valuable than what lies beneath the soil.

    Intellectual capital, not higher wages, will eliminate poverty in Africa. If we all demand higher wages, we will end up paying the higher wages to ourselves. Intellectual capital will result in the creation of new products derived from new technologies. The end result will be not just a redistribution of wealth, but the creation and control of new wealth.

    And Africa’s power to reduce poverty will open the floodgates of prosperity for millions of people. One catalyst for such prosperity could be telecommuting. If 300 million Africans could work for companies located in the West (just as millions of Indians do), then both regions would benefit. The strategy would be to recognize the labor needs of the global marketplace, and enable Africa to fulfill those needs.

    For example, tax preparation experts living in Africa, where labor is cheaper, could fulfill the needs of US-based accountants. Furthermore, the time difference could allow for a fast turnaround in service. It is clear that knowledge and technology is crucial to alleviate Africa’s poverty.

    Africa will perish if it continues to consume what it does not produce, and produce what it does not consume. The result will be a depressing cycle of increasing consumption, decreasing production, and increasing poverty. We are missing a golden opportunity by not using the trillion dollars earned by exporting natural resources to break Africa’s cycle of poverty.

    We are at a crossroads where one signpost reads “Produce” and another reads “Perish.” We risk becoming like the driver who stops at an intersection and asks a pedestrian,

    “Where does this road lead?”

    And the pedestrian replies, “Where do you want to go?”

    “I don’t know,” the driver replies.

    “Then it obviously doesn’t matter which road you take!” replies the pedestrian.

    If we adopt the same attitude as the driver, Africa will have lost its chance to “choose” its future.

    For decades, power in post-colonial Africa rested in the hands of those with guns, not those with brains. We were not always at war with our neighbors, but we were always at war with poverty. And we spent more on guns than on books and bread.

    Africa’s choice is clear: produce or perish. However, it is important that we do not blindly choose the lesser of two evils – producing what we cannot consume or consuming what we cannot produce. We can avoid this. My wish is that by the end of the 21st century high-end products in New York City will sport the label: “Made in Africa.”

    We cannot look forward to our future until we learn from our past. Five thousand years of recorded history reveal that technology was ancient Africa’s gift to the modern world. Forty and a half centuries ago, geometers in Africa’s Nile Valley region designed the Great Pyramid of Giza, the last of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. That man-made mountain remains the largest stone building on Earth. It is an icon of engineering, and testifies that Africa was  once the world’s most technologically advanced region.

    It is absolutely imperative that Africa regain its technological prominence, which will enable it to produce what the world can consume. When we do that, Africa will finally be eating the fruits of its own labor. When Africa has regained its technological prominence, the world’s leaders will seek it out. And, like a rainforest renewed, Africa will flourish again.

    Excerpted from a speech delivered by Philip Emeagwali to the African community in Valencia, Spain on May 11, 2008.

  • Sprockets: Tricks aren't Just for Kids

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    When I first heard about sprockets, I didn't really know what to think. It was a pretty low-key introduction. I met with my editor over brunch at Seven West. You know the spot around the corner from the Shoppers’ drug mart, just off Yonge, one block south of Bloor. Right, well, after a coffee and a plate of cold fries, he breaks out his movie assignments for this month. As it turns out, he was getting ready for a trip and wanted to dump a pile of flicks in my lap - sure, why not. Then he reached back into his bag and pulled out two more discs. "Oh, and these are for Sprockets." He said. "Sprockets?! What's that like some sort of film festival for gear-heads?" I asked. "No, it's actually a film festival for kids, like TIFF, only minus the adult contingent." He didn't actually say that last bit, I ad-libbed.

    From my treasure trove of new movies, the first one I popped into the DVD player was the eleven minute short, I Want to Be a Pilot. It's quite possibly the most depressing, gut-wrenching and heart-breaking thing you could see in such a short period of time, without any severe scenes of human suffering. Director Diego Quemada-Diez sheds some light on the life a young boy in Africa. His dream: to be a pilot and leave his destitute life behind. Perhaps a little melodramatic, but the truth of his plight will surely move viewers, especially children, to think, if not reflect on their fortunes in this life. We take too many things for granted here in North America, and this film succeeds as an appropriate eye-opener for an audience of all ages.

    Somewhat along the same line, in so far as thought provoking documentary cinema presented at Sprockets, is Darius Goes West: The Roll of His Life. Quite possibly the most educational movie at this year’s Sprockets film festival, the immensity of this film goes beyond words. It’s about a fifteen year old boy already well on his way to losing the battle with Duchene Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), who embarks on a cross-country road trip with twelve of his friends. He’s a fighter, who at a very young age, has accepted the reality of his situation and still finds the courage to realize his dream.

    Director and close friend to Darius, Logan Smalley, takes us on a roller coaster ride from petting gators in a swamp, feeding giraffes bananas in a zoo, to praying Chihuahuas in a parking lot. No jokes here, just trust me, it makes for an entertaining cinematic experience. The catalyst for this adventure: trying to get Darius’ wheelchair “tricked out” on MTV’s hit show Pimp My Ride, in California. Along the way, the boys also document their trip as a means to generate awareness and support in the fight against this terrible disease, not sympathy. On more than one occasion, we see the true mark of this young man’s character. For him, the hour for finding a cure has long since past, but there is still hope for the generation to come, and he knows it. En route, the boys build some unbreakable bonds as they discover the awesome power of friendship.

    After ninety-four minutes of footage, three rap songs, an RV breakdown, a day at the beach, an afternoon of spelunking, some river-rafting, a hot air balloon ride, some tattoos, a messy run in with some wasabi, and a harrowing storm chase, Darius’ wheelchair finally gets a much needed make-over. Well, actually, his original electronic chair broke down beyond repair, and was left for scrap. Luckily, some sponsors and a custom designer at East Coast Choppers came to the rescue and Darius’ ride got some new spinners.  In the end, we learn that MTV will never help us solve anything, but we can help ourselves and each other – thank you Darius!

    The festival runs until Friday, April 18th. FYI: due to the overwhelming response, there has been a venue change for the showing of Darius Goes West: The Roll of His Life to make it more accessible for everyone interested in attending. You can see it this Thursday, April 17th, at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. The scheduled start times of the screenings remain unchanged. For more information on Sprockets, movie listings, etc., click to www.sprockets.ca . To learn more about Darius and the plight of those suffering from DMD, click to www.dgwknowaboutit.com . Or, forget about other people in pain, switch over to MTV and see what that does for your understanding of the world…

    Price:$6.60 Children under 18, $10.61 Adults
    For more information call:416-968-FILM

  • Book Review: Don't Blame It on Rio

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    The Real Deal Behind Why Men Go to Brazil for Sex

    “Black women were once at the center of black men’s lives, as wives, mothers, lovers and partners… However, in this generation, black women have become somewhat of a nuisance, a burden, and perhaps even a pariah in black men’s lives…

    For the first time ever, large and growing numbers of black men have the option to ask what they perceive to be a legitimate question: Are black women necessary?

    This book is not only going to deal with the question ‘Are black women necessary?’ It will also take a look at the broader question of why black men are looking for something they think is outside black women.”

    Excerpted from the Introduction (pages 2-8) 

    Did you know that Brazil, the country with the largest concentration of people of African descent in the Western hemisphere, has become the favorite vacation destination of a rapidly-increasing number of professional black men? Apparently, they’re flocking to Rio de Janeiro for more than a little rest and relaxation on a sun-drenched beach.

    The country is now also a popular port of call with bourgie brothers due to the easy availability of beautiful Brazilian women (“Halle Berry on steroids”) who don’t have the attitude or emotional baggage they generally find attached to sisters back at home. Some of them describe attaining “a level of physical and sexual intimacy, a sort of sexual healing, that they see as lacking in many of their current relationships with black women.” Consequently, they don’t mind having to venture to Rio de Janeiro repeatedly for “an experience that they think are denied them by black women in America.”

    We have Jewel Woods and Pulitzer Prize-winner Karen Hunter to thank for blowing the covers off this clandestine sex trade currently flourishing in Brazil. For these two investigative journalists interviewed dozens of the peripatetic African-American men, many leading double lives, in preparation for co-writing Blame It on Rio, a rather revealing look at an emerging cultural phenomenon,.

    And exactly why is this generation of black men with money so fond of Brazilian women? The authors blame a variety of contributing factors. First, the fact that they grew up watching hip-hop music on BET which groomed them to expect a rainbow coalition of gorgeous models eager to satisfy. And that utopian fantasy is just a plane ride away, since “Going to Rio is like walking into a rap video: scantily clad women, gyrating and fawning over every man in sight.”

    Another factor is addressed by an African-American physician who found salvation in Rio from sisters’ bad attitudes in the States. He asks point blank, “Where else in the world is a black woman’s attitude accepted as the social norm, except in America?”

    Next, the issue of anger is raised, with the observation that, “In complete contrast to the warm and affectionate demeanor of Latin American women, the most prominent characteristic of black women is anger.” Here, Woods and Hunter again blame the entertainment industry for causing black men to view their women with contempt by perpetuating the mammy stereotype by having “Tyler Perry, Martin Lawrence and Eddie Murphy “ put on a fatsuit and a dress to solidify “the image of the fat, loud, rude black woman.”

    Other chapters explore widespread rejection of black women over their frigidity, obesity and Christianity. The participants in the project are so relentless and rabid on their indictment of the African-American female, I couldn’t help but pause periodically to wonder whether this was all a joke, since I’ve never previously heard anyone mention Rio as a sexual retreat.

    Despite all of the dissing, the authors are ultimately optimistic about black male-female relationships, though they suggest that professional brothers are in dire need of an extreme makeover. They close with a list of “Ten Things Black Women Need and Want,” including understanding and truth.

    A controversial expose’ about a shocking trend likely to divide and devastate the Hip Hop Generation along gender lines in the absence of constructive conversation capable of paving the path to honesty and reconciliation.  

  • On My Mind: Ugly in Canada and Cute in America

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    Now, that I have your attention, let’s talk shall we. I am one of many single women living in Toronto. Prior to living here I resided in Nova Scotia and again lived the single life. I have been in Toronto over seven years now and can count on one hand only the amount of times someone actually asked me out on a date. 

    I have written many columns poems, and monologues about how people especially in the Black Community treat one another.  “Why is it we don’t say hello?”  I have talked to many people and they all say the same thing. “Things were different in the 70’s and 80’s in Toronto.”

    So, my question is how can we bring that back? If my self-esteem were based on the brothers saying hello to me, giving me a compliment or asking me out, I would have no self-esteem; so thank God it is not based on those things and that I have strong self esteem.

    However, this leads me to what is on my mind this morning. Growing up in Nova Scotia I was used to not really dating anyone from there, because there is a true Black Male shortage there. I dated from age 18 – 25 and then it was pretty much over. It is a haven for a single men, as there are a lot of single Black Beautiful women there.  But, now I’m in Toronto, and my eyes are open, but even if I say hello to a man they don’t speak, they look the other way or they don’t respond.

    In December, I wrote a poem called “Another Wasted Hello”, and I performed it at Al St. Louis’ showcase When Words Are Spoken. Performing this piece was somewhat painful, as painful as it was to write. The whole premise of the poem, is about me saying hello to a brother on the street who when he passed me turned his head the other way. This happens to me all the time actually. I already have a piece about the women called Brush By and Cut Eye; which speaks about the nasty looks that Black women give to other Black women.

    I am not sure why this happens, but I am glad that I have a positive outlet like writing, songs and poetry to talk about it. If you follow my columns you know that I recently turned 40 and was having a few issues with the number 40… but I decided to celebrate my new milestone with the most awesome 40th birthday party. I wanted to keep the celebration going so I went to Atlanta, Georgia for a week after my party to stay with my good friends there. I have been going to Atlanta once or twice a year since 1996. I have been traveling to the states since 1988. I lived in Philadelphia in 1997.  While I lived in Philly I actually only dated one man for a short period of time, but that was fine, because if I went out dancing, men asked me to dance.

    If I walked down the street people told me hey sister you look beautiful today. I basically went from a Zero to a Shero; even a homeless person in the states will pay you a compliment on the street.  I was only in Atlanta for one week, during that week, I was asked out on a date. I went out to jazz clubs and to places to just listen to music with my girlfriends there, and just sitting down at the bar… a man sent the bartender to ask the beautiful lady what she wanted to drink (that beautiful lady was me) now mind you I don’t drink so I ordered my sprite and held up the glass and thanked the man across the bar. (Ironically this man ended up being from Toronto originally, but he now lives in the ATL).

    I was also asked to dance, and just had conversations and male attention all night. When my girlfriend and I left I said to her, “you know it was nice to just go out and be appreciated as a woman.”  This never happens to me in Toronto. I took it for what it was; no one was trying to take me home or anything they were just simply appreciating me, and it made me feel good inside. I am not sure what has happened in Toronto, I ran singles events for two and a half years in this city called Blingles… and I had to take a break for a few reasons. It was so difficult to get Black men to attend, and I could not understand all of the negativity towards something that was set up for fun and social interactions with singles aged 30 and up.

    I started Blingles for the same reason; I could not understand why it seemed that Black men and Black women didn’t talk to one another. The title of this column is somewhat exaggerated, however that is what it is like for me.  I live in Canada, where I feel there are no prospects, and then I cross the border and everyone is talking to me…. they can’t believe I’m single, they don’t understand why, they want to know what is wrong with people in Canada. So I just said you know I am going to write a poem called Ugly in Canada and Cute in America, and then that poem turned into this column. So here is my challenge to people reading this column.

    1. Say hello if you see someone male or female…

    2. Smile it won’t break your face I promise…

    3. If a Sister says hello to you don’t just walk by her say hello. I hope that these things aren’t hard for you, if they are please check yourself, it’s not that deep, like I say in Brush By and Cut Eye…

    JUST SAY HELLO, Hi Hi Hi. PS since writing this column I was down on Eglington West to buy some hair products… so I would like to add THAT MEN DOWN ON EGLINGTON WEST do Speak!

  • Djimon Hounsou Interview

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    Djimon Announces Plans to Pop the Question

    Born in Cotonou, Benin on April 24, 1964, Djimon Gaston Hounsou emigrated from West Africa to Paris at the age of 13 with his brother Edmund. Homeless, the strikingly-handsome 6’4” hunk led a hand-to-mouth existence, till he was discovered by French fashion designer Thierry Mugler who hired him as a runway model.    

    After spending time strutting up catwalks all across Europe, Djimon made his way to Hollywood to take a shot at showbiz. He first found work in music videos, appearing in everything from Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” to Madonna’s “Express Yourself”. His big break came in 1997 when Steven Spielberg cast him in Amistad as Cinque, the lion-hearted, slave revolt leader.

    Djimon subsequently received critical acclaim for his work with Russell Crowe in Gladiator and then opposite Kate Hudson in The Four Feathers before landing Academy Award nominations for In America and Blood Diamond. The versatile thespian has also appeared in Eragon, Biker Boyz, Tomb Raider 2, Constantine, Beauty Shop and The Island.

    Last year, Djimon returned to modeling, showing off his hot chocolate bod in Calvin Klein’s international underwear campaign. Apparently, someone does get between him and his Calvins, however, since for the first time in his career, Hounsou has been landing in the tabloids, all because he’s been romantically linked to Kimora Lee Simmons, President of Baby Fat Fashions and ex-wife of hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. Despite rumors that Kimora might be pregnant with little Djimon, Jr., the couple were not yet ready to make an announcement at the recent premiere of Djimon’s new picture, Never Back Down.

    KW: What interested you in playing this character, Jean Roqua, in Never Back Down?

    DH: If anything, my love of the sport. That was my special attraction to the story. Beyond that, the challenge of portraying Roqua who had some demons that he needed to face and deal with. Plus, I liked his relationship with the young men and women coming of age who were having a hard time dealing with their own issues and trying to overcome them.    

    KW: I was really pleasantly surprised by this film. Going in, I was expecting it to be just a remake of The Karate Kid, but it really stands on its own. Plus, as usual, you bring a certain presence to the film that elevates the whole production.  

    DH: Well, like I said, started with my love of mixed martial arts. I was hoping that I would come across a venue with that as a theme. Then, the producers sat down with me and convinced me that it would be a great story.

    KW: So, was your love of martial arts as a fan or as a participant?

    DH: Well, it was mostly as a fan that I was drawn to the project, but I’d also taken classes. So, I already had a great affinity for the sport.    

    KW: What did you have to do in preparation for the role?

    DH: A lot of training, obviously. There was so much that I had to learn about the sport. One of the things that came in handy was the fact that I had studied kung fu and boxing for so many years while growing up in France. When I came to America, I didn’t really pursue them as heavily, but I definitely continued to appreciate a whole new aspect of the sport, which was mixed martial arts.

    KW: I knew you’d been a model in France, but I never knew you studied martial arts?  

    DH: Yes, I did. Even while modeling, I was still practicing kung fu, and boxing, as sports.

    KW: Was there anyone that you based Jean Roqua on?

    DH: There’s a certain spirituality that comes as a result of practicing the sport for a long time. What I was looking for was certainly someone with the right demeanor. So, I watched Royce Gracie and the Gracie family. The Gracies were known to be the best in Jiu-Jitsu, especially in mixed martial arts. That name resonates with anybody who knows about mixed martial arts. Royce is the man, because of his understanding of the forces of nature, the spirituality, and the mental discipline that comes as a result of needing to survive this training.

    KW: What sort of diet, exercise regimen and spiritual path do you follow?

    DH: Meditation, mostly. The work that we do, you really need to keep yourself centered while you’re in the process of it. It’s very difficult.

    KW: I can imagine, especially because you’re always on the road, living in trailers for long stretches at a time, and not always having access to the healthiest of food.

    DH: Yeah, plus you’re going back and forth between movie sets, and having whole new groups of people that you’re dealing with on a daily basis. It may seem glamorous, but it’s really hard to remain centered when you’re hopping from place to place. It’s very challenging.   

    KW: I see you’ve recently returned to modeling for Calvin Klein.

    DH: [Chuckles] Why not? If anything, Calvin Klein is the iconic company in terms of fashion. They do have iconic images for their campaigns. They shot it so beautifully.

    KW: When is your next film, Push,coming out?

    DH: I actually just wrapped Push. But that has so many special effects, that I think there will be quite a bit of time before it’s released.

    KW: You and Kimora looked like quite the loving couple at the Never Back Down premiere. Are you planning to pop the question any time soon?

    DH: Uh, well, you know, she’s the best candidate. So, eventually, yeah.

    KW: Congratulations! Would you describe yourself as happy?

    DH: Yes, very fulfilled.

    KW: I call that the Columbus Short question, because he told me that no interviewer ever asks him that.

    DH: Yes, no one does, actually. Yes, I am happy, and I have many reasons to be extra-happy nowadays. Life is calm, and the career is good and taking its course. And things are moving, things are moving ahead.

    KW: Is there any question that nobody ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

    DH: [Laughs] Yeah, I remember that question. You’ve asked me that before. You’ve caught me off-guard again.

    KW: What message do you want people to come away with from Never Back Down?

    DH: That we all have our issues, that no one gets away from facing their own issues, so that we can advance. Nothing is given lightly, and everything has a repercussion, as you’re evolving. And, if anything, the sport itself is a great training, not only physically, but the mental discipline that it requires. The gym can serve as an excellent place where kids, and young men and women can really empty their issues right on the floor. It’s amazing the spirituality that you get as a result of practicing and enjoying the sport. That’s another plus.    

    KW: Well, thanks again for the interview, Djimon. I really appreciate it.... Best of luck with the film, your family, and all your endeavors.  

    DH: You’re most welcome. Thank you very much, sir. Until the next time. Take care.

  • On My Mind… Black History Month

    This is a column that I actually wrote last year, but the topic is still heavy on my mind, so I had to re submit this column and add a few things to it for your information. It’s that time of year again when many of us are quite popular, because suddenly we are an integral part of not only Canadian but World History. However, as I always say “Every month is Black History Month for me.”

    In many ways I am tired of the marginalization of this month, but that does not mean that I don’t think the month should be celebrated or that the importance of Black History month is trivial in any way shape or form. I don’t feel that members of the African Canadian population marginalize the month… but often times it is during this month that many of us who do work in the schools, or who do performances become very popular. That in itself can be a bit frustrating especially if you do work that is important all year round.

    So, then I say without the marginalization some of our children or children of other cultures would never learn anything about our history. Why?

    Unfortunately, we are not a part of the history books, English books, or many other important documents in our miseducation system yet, but there are some changes happening slowly but surely.  So, until that happens... What I find fascinating about Black History Month is some of the dialogue that happens around this time; sometimes with our youth or other people who ask the sarcastic question “Why did we get the shortest month of the year?” That question alone tells me that many of us don’t know our own history or where Black History Month even comes from.

    So, for those who don’t know.

    Black History Month was started by Dr. Carter G. Woodson and it was not given to us.  Dr. Carter G. Woodson was an African American and a very learned man. He was a graduate with Honors from Berea College in 1903, he earned an undergraduate degree and MA from the University of Chicago by 1907 and four years later he was awarded a doctorate from Harvard University.  It is Dr. Carter G. Woodson who started Negro History Week in 1926 during the second week of February; not because it was the coldest month of the year or the shortest month but because the great orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglas and President Abraham Lincoln were both born during the second week in February. Negro History Week was later changed to Black History Month in 1976 by the Association for the study for Afro-American Life and History.

    In Canada Black History Month was not officially recognized by Parliament until December of 1995; motion forwarded by Jean Augustine.  Now here’s another fact that many of us may not know.  In the United Kingdom Black History Month happens in the month of October, and I have wondered why for a long time, and wanted to include that in my school presentation. So, I’ve done a bit of research on Black History Month in the UK.The Greater London Council (GLC) member Addai-Sebo is credited for putting forward the concept of a Black History Month in Britain, and turning it into what we recognize today. Taking his cue from the American example, he wanted to permanently celebrate Africa''s contribution to world civilization. He also organized some cultural events with colleagues at the GLC and decided that this idea had to be institutionalized. Black History Month UK style was born.

    Politicians from all over the UK joined in this undertaking. The first Black History Month event in the UK was held on 1 October 1987. Later, the events spread to other parts of the UK and included other non African ethnic groups. In October I had the pleasure of performing in Birmingham and London, England for Black History month events and it was an awesome experience.

    Last week my dear friend in Australia sent me this official announcement:

    TO ALL AUSTRALIANS

    On this 26th Day of January 2008, in commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of the proclamation of SURVIVAL day, it is hereby announced that the month of JULY 1-31st is now proclaimed BLAK history month in Australia.

    From this day forth and for all years to come, JULY will remain a month of significance and symbolism for the unity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nations, in celebration of Australia’s rich, vibrant Indigenous histories and cultures.

    JULY will provide an opportunity for ALL AUSTRALIANS to recognise the true Australian identity, giving Schools, Government, Multicultural Australia and most significantly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities the opportunity to respectfully promote greater awareness of the diversity, innovation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander splendour.

    Australia’s BLAK history month, will join the worldwide celebration of Black History Month, giving a greater international profile to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations, alongside Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

    The Australian community is hereby advised to BLAK out JULY in their diaries annually as a month of pride and celebration of all tribal groups and people throughout Australia and the Torres Strait.

    Last year I found myself live on the air with CBC''s radio show Here and Now. Professor George Dei from the University of Toronto and I took part in a very short interview and the theme was “Black History Month” what’s in a name.  I was out of town when an article had been written in the NOW magazine about exploring different names for our month.  I am from Trinidad and Tobago via England and spent my formative years in Nova Scotia where they call it African Heritage Month and have held Black History Month celebrations since 1984.

    Here in Toronto I receive many e mails that welcome me to celebrate African Liberation Month.  The topic what’s in a name was an interesting one.  One of the questions asked was “Is A Name Important?”  I was also asked to pick a name.  Like many of us of African Descent, well I know I still do it… I use both terms Black and African Canadian, we have moved away from the term Black with Africentric Education which teaches us about an African centered World. Africa, the birthplace of all man and woman kind, and of course there are so many negative connotations with the word Black.

    However, because I grew up using the term as a youth until about 1983 or so when learned more about my history and culture, I too have moved away from it, and may not use the word so much in my presentations, but it has been ingrained.  Something, perhaps I need to look at.

    The month is here, I am proud to be celebrated as a part of World History in Canada, but I look forward to a day, when African, Caribbean, Canadian - History taught in the schools is not only in the month of February; to the day when my contributions to Canada and the world are celebrated all year round, when the history of African Nova Scotia is written up in the study guide to become a Canadian Citizen…presently, what is written there tells nothing of African Canadian’s contributions to the history in Canada. Once that happens in February I will have even more cause to celebrate my history.

    African Canadian People have had a presence in Canada since the 1600’s so let’s continue to work together to educate, document and talk about our History, Herstory, Ourstory.  So until then HAPPY BLACK HISTORY MONTH, HAPPY AFRICAN HERITAGE MONTH, AND HAPPY AFRICAN LIBERATION MONTH!

  • African Footprint Comes to Toronto

    Blue Woman

    This week, the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts will host African Footprint – South Africa’s longest-running show, seen by over 250 million people. This diverse and dynamic group of 30 singers, dancer and drummers largely hailing from Soweto, was originally put together in 1998 by British-born South African performer and producer Richard Loring.

    As the North-American tour’s presenter Corey Ross explained to AfroToronto.com, African Footprint arrives in Toronto following triumphant show dates in New Orleans and New York. African Footprint had the distinction of being the first international show in New Orleans since Katrina. “Despite the fact that the floor was warped by the flood and electricity was intermittent, they did a fantastic performance” he says. They also received a lot of media coverage and celebrity attention. “The first thing they did when we arrived in New Orleans is that they stopped traffic and they threw a parade for African Footprint” Ross adds.

    African Footprint first caught international attention just over a year after the original group of 30 performers began intensive vocal and dance classes. The group was invited, in 1999, to perform on Robben Island before Nelson Mandela for the Millennial Festivities, on New Years Eve 1999. Following this groundbreaking performance broadcast around the world, African Footprint went on to play for seven years in South Africa, toured for 2 1/2 years in Europe and performed many times in Australia, China, Israel and India.

    AfroToronto.com had the opportunity to speak one on one with a few of the show’s truly talented performers. For the electrifying drummer Shana Kokwane, the experience of traveling the world and bonding with the entire cast hailing from different cultural and linguistic groups has been a life-altering experience. “I’ve met a lot of celebrities, I think this is fun!” he says.

    As the consul of South Africa in Canada, Ms. NF Nojozi, expressed to AfroToronto.com, the warmth, excitement and generosity of spirit exhibited by African Footprint’s cast is a genuine reflection of her country’s cultural fabric. Speaking of the rousing drumbeats and choreography, Ms Nojozi says: “it is something unique to our African culture and to our African past. The rhythm. The South African drum. In Ms. NF Nojozi view, culture is a peaceful weapon that South Africans use to great effect to share part of who they are with the world.

    However, there is definitely something unique and even at times controversial with the concept of African Footprint. That is to say the decidedly multicultural aspect of the production. It is in fact a marriage of African and European styles or choreography and music. Richard Loring looked to white choreographer Debbie Rakusin and black  choreographer David Matamela, who already had an established working relationship, to bring the two traditions together on stage as seamlessly as possible. In speaking about the particularities of also working with a multi-racial body of performers, David Matamela says that some of the white cast had more difficulty with the traditional African dance rhythms. But before long, white and black cast members found a remarkable chemistry.

    When I asked the South African cast members how they dealt with the varying perceptions of an African show presented by a largely white team of producers, Dance Captain Zakhele Tham’sanqa Nkosi eloquently replies:

    “The concept of African Footprint (the show) is that it is celebrating the cultural diversity there is back home. Sometime when you go to other places, they say that it’s a show of black and white people. And some people will ask the question, are there white people in Africa? … People have their own different views of what Africa is. …

    The show wasn’t created by Richard by himself. He came up with the concept and the idea. But the show had been created by a number of people. Both black and white. Often people look at who owns the show … oh it’s a white man, okay fine. Why would a white man do an African show? We’ve had all these questions … we have experienced those things. But moaning about it, pointing fingers about it [does not serve anything].”

    Making an analogy about his heart that could beat just as well in his body as in a white man’s body, Nkosi make the argument that we are all one human race. He further buttresses his argument by referring to the great migration of people from the south of Africa to populate the centre, the north and the rest of the world. “If you look at the continent of Africa, it is shaped like a foot - hence the show African Footprint.”  In Zakhele Tham’sanqa Nkosi’s view, African culture is thus a universal culture.

    African Footprint is a show not to be missed.

    DETAILS

    Dates: Feb. 7-9, 2008. Visit www.sonycentre.ca for full performance schedule.

    Location: Sony Centre for the Performing Arts (formerly The Hummingbird Centre for the Performing Arts) - 1 Front St. E., Toronto, Ontario

    Tickets: $27.50-$82.50 plus applicable service charges

    On sale NOW – visit www.sonycentre.ca for schedule and pricing details

    GROUPS of 10 or more call Group Entertainment at 416-393-7463,

    Toll-free: 1-866-737-0805 or by email: groups@sonycentre.ca

     

  • Theatre Review: Intimate Apparel

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    Since it’s opening over a week ago, Obsidian Theatre’s latest production, Intimate Apparel, by the gifted 43-year-old African-American playwright Lynn Nottage, has been an undisputed hit with both the audiences and the critics. For those who have not yet had the chance to experience this enthralling theatre experience, Intimate Apparel plays until February 3rd.

    Set at the turn of the last century, Intimate Apparel tells the truly timeless story of every human being’s longing to be loved. And through love, or in spite of it, exploring the journey to realize our deeply-held passions and ambitions.

    Esther Mills (Raven Dauda) is a deceptively demure 35-year old gifted seamstress who designs and sews intimate apparel for New York high society ladies and prostitutes alike.

    Behind her conservative and even naïve demeanor, we soon discover a very driven soul eagerly determined to realize her dreams before time catches up with her.

    Too many times a bridesmaid and never a bride, and too often the silent and compassionate confidante, Esther longs for the day when she will stop looking outside her glass shelter as just the passive observer.

    Then, unexpectedly, a series of letters from a would-be lover far away working as a labourer on the Panama Canal, George Armstrong (Kevin Hanchard), addressed to Esther send her on a whirlwind of emotions.

    This very well crafted play, under the direction of Philip Akin, does a great job of drawing the audience in by doing what theatre at is best is supposed to do. That is to engage the audience emotionally with believable situations and dilemmas that are easy to relate to.

    Judging from the vocal reactions of some audience members, it is clear that many women had known Esthers, and way too many Georges too, in their lives -- or even saw themselves in Esther.

    Intimate Apparel explores the age-old human inner debate one faces when confronted with the choice to lose sight of the comfortable shore in order to sail into a fearful unknown.

    In Esther’s case, she eventually returns to the safety of the dry shore. But one is left to ponder whether or not, in the end, she found greater freedom by having dared to venture into the choppy seas and leaving her dreams to drown.

    Is having tasted the freedom to love and dream and then losing it worse than never having known that feeling, or illusion of it, at all?

    The final presentations of Intimate Apparel are playing from Tuesday until Sunday at Berkeley Street Theatre.

    Presented by Obsidian Theatre Company
    Berkeley Street Theatre
    (Upstairs)
    26 Berkeley Street
    (416) 368-3110

    Friday January 18 – Sunday February 3, 2008
    Tuesday – Saturday: 8:00pm
    Saturday & Sunday: 2:00pm
    $20.00 - $30.00
    $12.00 for preview performances
    $15.00 for Student/Arts Worker/Seniors
    www.obsidian-theatre.com

  • Oscar Peterson: Simply the best

    The memory of a legend lives on. Toronto, provided a send off worthy of a hero last Saturday, a send off forever etched in our psyche. As one of the thousands who lined up to pay tribute to Dr. Oscar Peterson, I will remember the spirit of camaraderie and joy possessed by the attendees, all reflecting on the influence of Oscar’s work.

    Those of us in line simply knew of him, listened to his albums, saw him play, attended or worked at the University he lectured at.

    Unfortunately, many in this crowd would be disappointed.I came pretty close to being one of them, but the sense of unity, the essence of diversity, that feeling of pride will be most remembered about that day, for it’s the most accurate representation of who Oscar was.

    His story as told by jazz icons Quincy Jones and Nancy Wilson is one of a talented, hardworking, charismatic individual, a credit to the world of Jazz as well as Canada. Governor General, Michaelle Jean provided the opening address, describing a warmhearted gentleman, proud of his community and proud of his roots.

    An island themed rendition by the CBC’s Gregory Charles was an engaging and unique homage again showcasing not only Peterson’s diversity but Canada’s as well. The most moving tribute came from Oscar’s 16 year old daughter, Celine Peterson. She described her father as a role model, a friend, a motivator; amusingly, one who wore her dresses, a man who gave her the opportunity to travel the world, a father she someday wanted to walk her down the aisle.

    It became clear to me that while we mourned the death of genius, those of us familiar with losing a parent at a tender age will realize that Celine’s loss is all the more heartrending, for it’s the time when you most need a father, when you most need his strength. With this in mind, many of the evenings contributors offered their support to Celine Peterson and the rest of the Peterson clan.

    Being surrounded by Canadians of all classes, creeds and colour, from Adrienne Clarkson to Lincoln Alexander from Valerie Pringle to Measha Brueggergosman. I knew that this was a life changing tribute, a clear demonstration that one can unite, affect, as well as entertain all people by being Simply the Best.

  • 40 is the new 20!

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    Is it really all downhill from here?

    Hello 2008 and Hello big Four Oh! Yes, this is the year I turn 40 … if I were a pessimist that means my best years are already behind me. Check this out:

    • Aerobic Capacity peaks during your 20s and 30s then drops as much as 10% per decade
    • Maximal heart rate decreases as you get older
    • Physical strength peaks at around 25 years of age, plateaus through 35 to 40 years of age and then declines at an accelerating rate
    • Calcium loss can begin as early as age 30
    • Sexuality peaks at 35 for women and 18 for men
    • Mental acuity peaks between the ages of 30 and 35
    • Total amount of sleep declines as you get older
    • Starting at the age of 25, the basal metabolic rate drops 5% every decade.  In other words, you can look forward to losing 1/2 to 1/3 of a pound of muscle every year while gaining at least that amount in body fat
    • Your brain loses up to 20% of its neurons after the age of 45, making it significantly smaller and less useful
    • Cholesterol increases with age
    • Blood Pressure (like taxes) tends to increase as we age.


    O.K. – have I got you thoroughly depressed … is this really what we have to look forward to?  Should we all just give up and curl up on the couch with a bag of Doritos in one hand and a bag of Oreos in the other?

    Thankfully that’s only half of the story; I’m no pessimist – I consider my glass half full with more to come. Here’s the good news:

    The best preserved 65-year-old may out-perform a sedentary 25-year-old!

    It really is a matter of how you take care of yourself.  Healthy eating, regular exercise, a positive attitude, plenty of rest, drinking enough water, healthy relationships and minimizing stress can decrease all of the ‘natural’ effects of aging?

    I plan to attack my 40s with more vim and vigour than ever.  It’s true -- 40 is the new 20 (maybe it’s the new 30, but I feel like I’m 20).  I will run my first marathon this year and fully intend to have my best year ever.

    So what’s wrong with downhill?  I’m going to use that hill to go tobogganing, skiing, running and whatever else I can do on a hill.

    Who’s with me? Let’s use this year to change the statistics on what aging means. Make 2008 your healthiest year ever!

  • An Ode to Sister Betty

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    Two weeks ago he tried to run her over with his car.

    Last week he was inside her body saying exactly what her fragile heart and emotionally unstable mind needed to hear.

    This week, I felt it was necessary to turn around and go back down the yellow brick road to see exactly where it was this Black woman lost the ability to love herself.

    I’ve always felt that I lacked the self-esteem I envied in other women, yet when I think of Sister Betty*, I see that I am wrong.

    For many Black women, the stress of waiting for their Black prince (or princess) often proves too much. For some it begins as a debate within themselves, resulting in the decision that they will settle for the man (or woman) who is almost perfect but is lacking a few things, which are often the very important and necessary things.  Others, having given up long ago decide that they will jump onto the next train that comes along, even if its destination is hell.

    Betty never knew what hit her.

    Beelzebub** who knew how to recognize a woman with false confidence moved quickly.

    First were the demeaning comments about her appearance; next came the insults about her family; then the vicious rumours that he spread in order to kill the self-esteem that was already half dead; then the infidelity, which everyone (including herself despite her delusions) knew was inevitable.

    The physical abuse started one day when out of revenge, having discovered that he was cheating (again), Betty lied and told him that she had cheated too.

    Later when she retold the story in my car, on our way downtown, surrounded by other women, she laughed at the irony, while we shook our heads in disbelief.

    Although she is convinced that this monster is her lover, any naked and opened eye could see that she is being abused.

    Over the course of a year I’ve witnessed Sister Betty, whose potential as a woman was obvious, deteriorate into a mass of living pity. Her hunger to be loved at all costs at times is so visible, it’s repulsive. The sister formerly known as fierce is now so desperately in love that she would do anything to keep him.

    Estranged from most of her immediate family, Betty really has no one and so she loves Beelzebub with a frightening grip. She is an intricate and sporadic liar, finding it necessary to fabricate life to avoid dealing with the commonly known fact that her life is a tragedy and that she is being abused.

    He doesn’t hit her often, just when he is really angry. She loves him and she is truly convinced that if she stays long enough and takes enough abuse he will one day learn to love her in the same way.

    Last week a verbal altercation between my sister and Beelzebub escalated into a fistfight. My sister (who at the time was Betty’s roommate) fought because Betty was completely incapable of doing so herself; having given away all of her power.

    Unlike Betty, my sister boasts a one hundred and fifty pound frame and put up a fair fight, lifting the gremlin and sending him crashing to the floor. Once the fight was over, Betty ran after her would-be murderer screaming, “Oh no. Now he won’t come here anymore.”

    The fight was so raucous that the neighbors called the police.

    My sister, having forgotten how necessary it is to protect your face in a fight was tending a swollen lip when the officer arrived. Beelzebub had already retreated to his lair and so Betty, afraid that my sister would press charges, approached the officer in the lobby and told him that my sister attacked him because she was crazy.

    * Not her real name
    ** Not his real name


    My sister had no intentions of pressing charges because quite honestly, he didn’t beat her up. Physically, she was his match and had put up a fair fight. She welcomed the swollen lip in exchange for letting him know that he was barely a man and was a fool to think that hitting a woman who was barely 90 pounds would make him one.  That however, was irrelevant. Betty didn’t know if my sister would press charges or not and what she had done in the lobby was treason in the highest order.

    Betty didn’t know (and still doesn’t know) that the officer told my sister about the conversation in the lobby.

    Sadly, she is not the first or the last woman who will sell her dignity for pennies at the flea market.

    The most interesting aspect of all of this is that you would never know that Betty was so tragic if you saw her. Having mastered fake self-esteem she knows how to hide. Only those close to her or who have witnessed an episode of abuse would know how tragic she truly is.

    My sister has given up on Betty, her loyalty having been trodden by swine.  I however can’t say indefinitely that she is doing the right thing. I pity Sister Betty viciously, having once been in a place where lies were the truth, all in the name of maintaining my relationship.  Although I’d never been verbally or physically abused, my ex-boyfriend’s compulsive lying became emotional abuse.  At the time, I truly believed that I couldn’t function without him in my life. These days, the thought simply makes me laugh.

    Last year, I truly believed that she would eventually leave him but that belief is long gone. After abortions, sleepless nights and STI’s; I’m starting to believe that Sister Betty probably won’t ever leave, and if she does, it won’t be for long. Even sadder, is the fact that the demon is in several other relationships with several other women which she knows about and chooses to ignore.

    He’s said and done everything imaginable that would make a rational person abandon ship. But I realize that this is not about rationality. This is love.

    So who’s to blame? Betty’s father and brother have been sad individuals since my sister and I were young. She is re-living the mistakes that her mother has already made.

    As a friend of Sister Betty, do you lend an ear when she calls you almost weekly to tell you what he’s done? Do you grant her requests to call him from your cell phone after she’s called him fifty times with no response? Do you advise her not to listen when she informs you that his own mother told her that he doesn’t love her and that she should leave him? Do you visit her at home when she is bedridden for two weeks, nursing an STI even the doctor has never seen before? Do you stay up all night with her when numerous women are calling her cell phone claiming to be his girlfriend? Do you encourage her dreams about her future when you know he makes his money illegally and it is simply a matter of time before he goes to jail? Do you maintain a friendship with her when she has clearly told you in word and in deed that there is nothing she wouldn’t do for him?

    My sister has counseled Betty through all of these things and can no longer be her therapist and bodyguard.

    Sadly, I’m not quite sure that Betty truly understands that they’re decade-long friendship is over; forever. To my sister, “chicks before dicks” was never merely a phrase.

    So what can be done for the women that we all know who, like Betty, hate themselves so much that they would put up with anything in the name of love? More pressing is what needs to be done about men like Beelzebub who build their self-esteem by mentally, emotionally, verbally and physically abusing another human being?

    Too often the blame is placed on the woman who just can’t say “uncle” in the face of such overwhelming abuse but the real question should be why do certain men believe they have the carte blanche to quite literally trample a woman’s spirit?

    There are many theories as to why Black women often settle for venomous partners. The blame usually falls on the lack of good father figures, racism, or the media. But before a venomous man can enter into a woman’s life, the woman’s self-esteem must already be low in order for her to believe that he is the best she can and will ever do.  Despite many other contributing factors, for a lot of Black women the most disrespectful and esteem crushing man out there is the Black man.  Whether it is a father, a brother or the brothers around the way, many Black women lose their self-worth at the hands of the men who look like them.  Despite how difficult it is to voice and how desperately sisters want to defend brothers, at times defending them is pointless and unrewarding. I’ve witnessed the ending of friendships and sisters publicly fighting like animals over the love and loyalty of a brother so worthless that if the trans-Atlantic slave trade was still in existence today, these men would be the only free Black men around, because NO ONE would pay money for them. Harsh, yes I know, but a reality nonetheless.

    Voicing this is always difficult. I can hear the cry’s of “Uncle Tom” even as I write this, but it needs to be said.  A Black woman is expected to support her man in all times of trouble but what if the man himself IS the trouble? Do we stand by him despite his disrespect, his abuse, his disloyalty, his dishonesty?

    Mentally, I am still on the yellow brick road and I have yet to find Betty’s self-esteem. Even if I can pinpoint the exact spot where she dropped it, should I or anyone else be the ones to give it back to her? Is that even possible? Or should I draw a map for her through encouraging words? Or should I simply keep walking in hopes that one day she’ll come looking for it on her own?

    For my sister, the decision was final; she would not continue to be the Caesar to Betty’s Brutus. She realized that Betty must be saved by her own hand. On that night, lines were drawn and their friendship was simply a casualty of the war. All is fair in love and war…right? I’m still not so sure….

    I must end by saying a loud THANK YOU to all of the brothers who are nothing like the Beelzebub’s of this world and who are equally as outraged by their lies, their cheating and their abuse. YOU ARE LOVED.

    Bridget Antwi | Freelance Contributor

  • On My Mind …Countdown to age 40

    All right where did the time go?  In less than two months I am going to be 40 years old. (sighs)… I have had no problems aging.  When I turned 30 I was rejoicing, at 35, I was like “Hey, Bring it on.” When I turned 39, it was another birthday, but something about turning 40 has me stumped.  I told my Godmother how I felt and she said you have two choices die or get on with it.  Now that’s one way to look at things.

    Since death is not an option for me I have decided to get on with it, but to examine why I am feeling this way.

    1. Two weeks ago at my contract job my co worker asked me how old I was, and when I told him I was 39 he said… “Oh my goodness you’re the same age as my mom! No, but you look good though, you look good.”
    2. I was at an all day meeting last week and a young lady who I thought was around my age, was telling me of an incident that occurred when she was in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I was telling her that I could not believe that these same things went on.  When we used to go out back in the day, the same things happened to us.  She asked me when this was… and I responded “uh 20 years ago.”
    3. Since I was 18 years old I  always liked the color auburn in my hair; I am not only dying my hair because I like the color, but to hide the grey.
    4. I was listening to flow 93.5 one morning and they said that women who were single, never married and not in a relationship by the age of 35 were a red flag for men and  had something seriously wrong with them.

    When I listened to what they were saying, I didn’t even understand where they were coming from. I am almost 40 very single, no children and not dating.  See that I embraced the words “I am almost 40.”  I don’t feel that I’m single because anything is wrong, I just have not met the right person yet, and living in Toronto, that’s a feat within itself.  I have been a bit more pro active this year. I initiated and went on a blind date; no sparks flew, but I gained a friend. However, other people seem more concerned with my single status than I do. I have come to accept the fact that, I am single, and feel that in time I will meet someone; and hopefully it will happen before I am 75.

    Now, there are things I love about my age.  For example, I do not look my age, and I have a young sounding voice; so it’s always nice to hear that people think I’m 29 or 30 years old.  Because if I was almost 40 and people thought I looked 60; that would be a problem!  I also understand what they mean about life beginning at 40, because I have weeded out almost all negative people from my life, and have absolutely no time for foolishness.  I don’t deal with negative vibes in friendship or business relationships. I learned to say “NO” and mean it many years ago, but now, I have become comfortable knowing what my limitations and my boundaries are, and I don’t feel guilty anymore when I set these parameters up.

    Even with family, I have learned to stop trying to please, and just continue to live my life; trying to please people can really take away from your own goals, and life objectives and it can also be very stressful. I have learned to not walk around with thoughts and ideas about what someone may have said and why.  This pent up frustration, only leads to more stress.  When things happen, I still ponder on it for a short while, but I will take the time to call the person to deal with the problem (if they are important enough), and if not, I will just let it go.

    That’s been the hardest life lesson, learning to let things go; not letting negative situations or people take over my train of thought. So, I now understand what they say about life beginning at 40.  I have also heard rumors about your sex drive increasing after this age… so far I can’t speak to that rumor, so we’ll leave that topic alone.

    So, all in all I feel good about the person I am and what I am doing. My new company is doing well, my performance career is starting to take shape, I paid off my student loan this year, and I have seriously learned to live day to day and that God will work things out, and work it out he has.  So, I guess, it’s not so bad. I seem to be having problems with the number 40 not the age. 40… it sounds so old doesn’t it?  Half a lifetime, wow… little old me, almost 40 years old. The fact is we really don’t know how long we have, so like my Godmother said, I do have to get over it.

    Now, the question is what else can I do to get over this numbers game? I thought of finally getting my license when I turn 40… but when I got the driver’s handbook that dream was over. (It takes about two years before you get your final license)  Then, I thought I would go on a cruise… but I saw a documentary about women who go on cruises alone… so that idea was squashed.  I think I’ve got it. I am going to have a party, a real one, I’ve never had a party before, I just always go out to dinner and invite friends, but since, I am struggling a bit with the number 40, I might as well bring it in with a BANG. And after the party, I plan to travel to my favourite city (well one of my favourite cities), Atlanta, Georgia and celebrate my birthday again with my friends there.  That’s it, I will just keep celebrating all year, live life to the fullest, because in reality none of us know how long we really have… and before I know it the year will be over and I’ll be 41.

    Today, well actually not just today for the past three months, turning 40 has been on my mind, but after writing this column, I actually feel better about the number.

    Please check out www.imanicreativeconsulting.com

  • Rebels With a Cause

    Pound's Editors talk about their new book "Enter The Babylon System"

    So where did the name Babylon System come from?

    The name Babylon System is an old school Reggae term. When doing the magazine early on, we wanted to have a political section in the magazine and we thought Babylon system was a good representation of that, so the column started off really simply where we would collect information that was already researched and available and compile it in our own way. Chris [Christian Pearce Senior Editor of Pound Magazine] really started to get more complex with it, started to do interviews and really do new investigative reporting and that’s when it really grew.

    How did you pick the subject matter?

    It was supposed to be about a lot of things, not just guns. But when we got together with the publishers, they said “this is great, but this would be a 3000 page book so pick one subject”. And we thought firearms and gun violence comes up so often in Hip-Hop. We never even tried to talk to people about it. Everyone's got a story and it’s something we need to talk about.

    What does this book mean to Hip-Hop?

    One of the main things we wanted to do was bring back the relevance of Hip-Hop as a political voice. I think a lot of people have forgotten everything Hip-Hop brings to the public discourse. It’s so much more than what we see on the music channels. Everybody thinks that’s what Hip-Hop is and that takes away from the credibility of the culture. Chris and I said No, you know what? There are still real stories to be told and we want to claim some of that back for Hip-Hop and show that Hip-Hop has a voice to contribute to the whole community.

    How did you work through the controversy surrounding the book?

    It was just a question of finding out whether or not I had done anything to make me liable and I hadn’t. It has been a tactic of the gun industry to intimidate people, journalists and other people within the gun lobby that don’t toe the line. It’s just a familiar motive for them to scare people off the trail.

    What does this mean for Pound magazine and the Hip-Hop community?

    For Pound it’s good. It’s a shot in the arm for us. We’ve been doing it for a long time and it was starting to become stagnant, a bit routine. This [book] refocuses and reenergizes us. It gives us more exposure, so it’s good for the brand.

    For Hip-Hop, it’s a challenge for people to read the book first and second to ask ourselves some questions that the book gives rise to; should we really be promoting the brands of manufacturers that flood our communities with firearms? Is that really something wise or productive to be doing? To be shouting out RUGER and GLOCK who doesn’t give a shit about what happens to young minority youth in the cities while they’re out in the suburbs sipping martinis and profiting from our misery.

    Are you calling for a Jay-Z-like boycott on firearms?

    I guess so. It’s along those same lines. That’s like an indication of Hip-Hop realizing the power that it has. That’s the other part of the challenge; people realizing that we have the power and accept responsibility for how we’re using it; not making any excuses about it’s just entertainment or the parents have to take responsibility. We’ve heard all that before. Sometimes the parents aren’t there to take responsibility and sometimes it doesn’t come across as entertainment. People get it twisted. So we have to be responsible for all those possibilities.

    From Hip-Hop heads to political junkies, Rodrigo Bascunan and Christian Pearce strive to provide the means to comprehend a seemingly impenetrable system.


    Enter the Babylon System is available now at www.amazon.ca

  • Book Review: Come on People

    Meet the Press

    Come on People:
    On the Path from Victims to Victors
    by Bill Cosby and Alvin F. Poussaint, M.D.
    Thomas Nelson
    288 pages, illustrated
    ISBN: 978-1-5955-5092-7

    “For the last three and a half years, I have been holding community call-outs in cities around the country... This book will cover selected topics that mirror the concerns of the different people-- rich and poor, young and old, educated and uneducated, married and single—who attended the call-outs. The trials of black people are at the core of Come on People.
    In this book, we look at the issues with an eye on what we need to do to help our youth and re-energize our neighborhoods to move in positive directions… We can change things we have control over if we accept personal responsibility and embrace self-help.”
    - Excerpted from the Introduction by Bill Cosby (pg. xvii-xviii)

    Ever since Bill Cosby delivered what might be called the historic Ghettoesburg Address in Washington, D.C. during the NAACP’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision, there’s been a big brouhaha brewing in the black community in the U.S. over his controversial remarks. On one side, you have those folks who applaud the successful entertainer/role model for having the courage to send a no-nonsense tough love message, while others resent the general tenor of what they feel was a diatribe by a bourgie brother who has lost touch with his roots and is now allowing himself to be used by right-wing conservatives simply to blame the victim.

    Certain public intellectuals, like pro-hip-hop Professor Michael Eric Dyson, have wondered aloud whether Cosby and the black middle class might have lost their collective minds. However, in Come on People: On the Path from Victims to Victors, Bill manages to mount an admirable defense in collaboration with Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint while elaborating further on just what he meant.

    Like latter-day Booker T. Washington, the authors call for African-Americans to embrace self-help while shedding self-destructive behaviors. Never mincing their words, they state their positions on any number of subjects, unequivocally.

    For example, when it comes to Ebonics, they say, “Shaky grammar can project ignorance, even hostility. This means it can make your kids look dumb to many people.” They also argue against the use of the N-word, explaining that it “is a vile symbol of our oppression by slave masters” whose meaning can’t be changed by altering its spelling or pronunciation slightly, ala rapper Nas who recently announced that the title of his new album about to drop in December will be “Nigga.”

    This timely opus reserves perhaps its harshest criticism for the purveyors of this musical genre, stating, “The enemy—namely the bad guys in the gangsta rap industry and their white enablers—is calling this a culture.” It then proceeds to question the wisdom of calling anything a culture that promotes misogyny, immorality, anti-intellectualism, irresponsibility, black-on-black crime and the breakdown of the family.

    The Cosby’s agenda here, though powerfully persuasive, might still fall on deaf ears due to its non-negotiable tone and because his adversaries are equally enthusiastic in their embrace of the diametrically-opposing values. Clearly, he and Dr. Poussaint are honestly more concerned with rescuing youngsters at risk than with making peace with the defenders of the antisocial, patently suicidal alternative.

    Ultimately, in a cultural war, you have to pick a side, and I suspect that most parents who truly love their children will consider straight talk of this nature not only appropriate but downright necessary in the face of the degeneracy directed daily at African-American youth in the battle for their bodies and minds.

  • The Jena Blowback

    pic

    Symbolic Use of the Noose as the New N-Word

    Ominously, there’s been a frightening backlash building in reaction to the mammoth demonstration in September supporting the Jena 6, those Louisiana teens charged with felonies during a raging local controversy which arose over the use of a noose by white high school students to intimidate their African-American classmates. The fallout started soon after the New York Times (which, by the way, has never considered even one of the dozens of op-eds submitted by me “Fit to Print”) gave D.A. Reed Walters all the space he wanted to spew his racist rationalization for his selective “all-black” prosecution.

    Walters only fueled the simmering fires by reiterating his basic contention that “the placing of the nooses on the schoolyard tree… broke no law.” The Times, by giving Walters a forum without allowing equal time to any attorney with a well-reasoned counter-position, effectively decriminalized as just a harmless prank what was in this attorney’s legal opinion a patently heinous, hateful and illegal act. This coded cultural message has, in turn, only served to embolden bigots with evil in their hearts, leading to an explosion of threatening chatter at white supremacist websites.

    One neo-Nazi outfit posted the names and addresses of the Jena 6 on its homepage, exhorting followers to “drag them out of the house,” ostensibly to lynch them. “If these blacks want a race war, they will get one. Bring it on!” warned a poster at Stormfront, an online community catering to Ku Klux Klansmen.    

    Next, noose incidents started being reported all across the country... hanging on a black professor’s door at Columbia University… at other college campuses… in a black Coast Guard cadet’s bag… in a police station locker room… on a sanitation truck’s rearview mirror… ad infinitum… ad nauseam…

    Remembering his utter ineptitude during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I have to wonder why Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is sitting on his hands again. Why hasn’t there been a rush by Federal authorities to arrest the homegrown terrorists behind this rash of hate crimes, and to take down their websites dedicated to inciting violence against blacks? I just pray he acts before the burgeoning Jena tensions metastasize, because if there’s any lesson we learned from New Orleans is how easily official apathy can translate into misery on a mass scale.  

    pic

    Finally, I would be remiss if in my remarks I didn’t take a moment to castigate comedian Katt Williams (no relation) who recently strolled up the red carpet at the BET Awards proudly sporting a noose around his neck. Needless to say, that tasteless display is in no way a fashion statement worthy of emulation, but the shameless, self-hating behavior of an attention-craving media whore who deserves to be shunned before he encourages the substitution of the noose as the symbolic equivalent of the just-buried N-word.


    Lloyd Kam Williams | Op-Ed | e-mail

  • Tyler Perry Interview

    Director pic
     
    Inspired Tyler Talks about Life
     
    Born on September 13, 1969 in New Orleans, Tyler Perry overcame a challenging early life marked first by child abuse and later by homelessness to become a writer, producer, director, and actor extraordinaire. He credits Oprah Winfrey for encouraging him to turn his soul-searching diaries into a play, I Know I’ve Been Changed.
     
    Although most folks might merely associate him with the sassy, senior citizen character Madea, Tyler has also blossomed into a creative genius who’s the brains behind an enviable entertainment empire disseminating inspirational messages on stage and in film. His impressive screen credits include Woman, Thou Art Loosed, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Madea’s Family Reunion and Daddy’s Little Girls.

    Here, he reflects on his latest opus, Why Did I Get Married, a thought-provoking meditation on marriage co-starring Jill Scott, Janet Jackson, Tasha Smith and Malik Yoba.

    KW: Hey Tyler, thanks so much for the time.

    TP: Oh, absolutely. How are you?

    KW: Great, how are you? You must be exhausted from all the interviews.

    TP: We’re holding it together. It’s all good. I’m having a great time.

    KW: What made you pick this play of yours to adapt to the big screen at this juncture?

    TP: That’s a good question, because I don’t plan to do all of them. I’m always wondering what’s happening in the community now, what’s happening with the people. And with the divorce rate being so high, and with the family needing some sort of uplift or boost, I think that’s where I’m going to be for the next few movies… talking about family, relationships and marriage. And I thought the best way to start is with marriage.

    KW: You have a knack for creating authentic African-American scenarios exploring serious themes with a certain gravitas we just don’t see anywhere else. Where does that unique gift come from?

    TP: I just have so many stories to tell and there’s so much that we are as black people with many different sides to it. I think that a lot of people are focusing on only one side of who we are. But it’s such a rich culture that anyone would be doing a disservice not to look at all sides of it. So, this way of storytelling has come from being on stage and having an immediate connection with the audience, to now having it in film.

    KW: There’s a distinction in the quality of your contributions like Woman, Thou Art Loosed, Madea’s Family Reunion and Daddy’s Little Girls which are very rich films that give people goose bumps and made them cry. So, I see your work as really standing out as a cut above.

    TP: Wow, that’s really great to hear.

    KW: Since I don’t see an existing template or formula for what you’re doing, what do you tap into for as the source of your originality and genius?

    TP: First of all, the messages are very important to me. I don’t just want to do film for the sake of doing film. And it’s never been about money for me. It’s always been about “What can I leave to uplift and inspire?” Even when I was doing plays early on. So, that’s where it comes from, first of all. It’s about, “What message can I bury into a great story?” And I think it’s resonating with people because so many folks are looking for answers. So many people are searching. So many want love and hope and romance. In my own life, finding that forgiveness has been very important. And that’s where it seems to begin with me for a lot of what I do.

    KW: Why didn’t you produce Why Did I Get Married as a musical?

    TP: I don’t think I’ll ever do a movie musical. The closest I’ll come is my film A Jazz Man’s Blues which is about a jazz singer in the 1940s. There’s a lot of jazz and big band music in it, but it’s not a musical. I don’t think that’s my forte.

    KW: Will you be appearing in A Jazz Man’s Blues?

    TP: I am. I’m playing the singer. And my hope is to have Alan Arkin or Sir Ben Kingsley to play the Jewish Holocaust survivor who befriends him and then turns him into one of the biggest jazz singers of all time.

    KW: And you’ll be reprising Madea in Meet the Browns, right?

    TP: Yeah, and then I’m going to follow that up with Madea Goes to Jail, and then we’ll see what happens after that.

    KW: You’re from New Orleans. How do you think things are going down there in terms of the recovery?

    TP: I was speaking with the Mayor [Ray Nagin] when I was there in July and I think it’s horrible that the money that’s supposed to help the people is wrapped up in so much bureaucracy that it can’t get to those who need it the most. And I think it’s terrible that people are saying the city’s back 100% when, if you venture two blocks off the beaten path away from the area of the Mardi Gras or the Superdome, you’ll find over 70,000 people still in trailers, some of them full of formaldehyde and causing formaldehyde poisoning, and nobody’s talking about it. I think it’s horrific.

    KW: What prompted you to purchase the former slave plantation used as the setting for the reunion in Madea’s Family Reunion.

    TP: No, that’s not so. I don’t own it.

    KW: Why’d you decide to film on that location?

    TP: The land was so rich. I had no idea it had been a plantation. We were doing shots one day, and I was walking past that cabin and I noticed some graves. I asked the caretaker about it, and he said, “Oh, all these people were slaves.” I was like, “Are you serious?” And he takes me over to a plaque that said, “There were once 150 slaves on this land.” So, it was profound to sit there in the kitchen of the big house with Cicely Tyson and Dr. Maya Angelou and to have them talk about their struggle to get to where they are. It was so rich and so powerful… It’s something I’ll share with my children.

    KW: Did you have any reservations about casting Jill Scott, a singer, in a lead role in Why Did I Get Married, since it’s her big screen debut?

    TP: Once she auditioned for me, I had no doubt. Her audition was great, but the first day she came to work was so incredible it made us all go, “Wow! She carries this with her?” Wait till you see her performance. You’ll be wondering, “Who is this woman and why hasn’t she been doing this much longer?”

    KW: How hard is it for you to act, direct and produce a movie simultaneously?

    TP: It’s not that difficult for me, because all sides of my brain need to work. I’ll ask myself, “Was that the best take you could do, Tyler?” I’m always very critical and very honest with myself. And once I get a yes, I’m ready to move on.

    KW: How was it working with such a large ensemble cast containing so many stars like Jill Scott and Janet Jackson?

    TP: They were all very respectful. The thing about it is that sometimes I encounter resistance from people about the same age who feel like they’ve been in the business longer than you and should be further along than you. But I had none of it here. I had so much support from this cast, especially the guys. And their support meant the world to me, because it’s usually the guys that I have the issues with.

    KW: As someone who overcame a very tough childhood, what advice do you have for anyone trying to make their way out of dire straits?

    TP: What worked for me was nothing but my faith and belief in God. Still, to this day, I pray constantly. I think I pray more now than I did then. I tell people to pray and to work as hard as you can.

    KW: Are you happy?

    TP: Every day, yeah. I spent the first 28 years of my life being completely miserable. So, I’m grateful every day now, especially being in my late thirties heading into my forties. I’m really happy.

    KW: Is there any question you’ve always wanted to be asked but are never asked?

    TP: [Chuckles] You know, I’ve never thought about that. The questions I’m asked usually cover it pretty much.

    KW: I know you make your home in Atlanta, but nosy Jimmy Bayan needs to know where you live when you’re in Los Angeles.

    TP: In the Hollywood Hills.

    KW: Where do you expect to be five years from now?

    TP: I’d like to own a network, one featuring positive, reinforcing television programming. So that when you turn it on, everything you see, whether you know it or not, there are so many subconscious messages that by the time you turn it off you’ll be so inspired you’ll feel that you can take on the world.

    KW: Wow! I want to invest in that.

    TP: That would be a good investment.

    KW: Well thanks for the time, and good luck with this film, Tyler.

    TP: Thank you. Bye.

  • Jill Scott: The Why Did I Get Married Interview



    Born on April 4, 1972, Jill Scott, an only child, was raised in North Philly by her mother and grandmother. After graduating from the Philadelphia School for Girls, she worked two jobs while attending Temple University where she studied teaching for three years before dropping out after being disillusioned about the profession.

    Next, she bounced around in a variety of odd jobs until she met with overnight success as an R&B singer. Her very first album, Who Is Jill Scott, which was released in 2000, went double platinum, and the rest, as they say, is showbiz history.

    Now, she not only has a new CD, The Real Thing, but can also currently be seen in theaters making her impressive big screen debut in the United-States' #1 movie at the box office, Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married. Here, she talks about her role as Sheila, a woman stuck in a loveless marriage with an abusive husband.

    KW: What interested you in this project?

    JS: I couldn’t stop reading the script. It was funny, and it was truthful. And being a married woman, you get an opportunity to see yourself on paper, or onscreen. So, I thought, “This is good. I want to be involved.”

    KW: How would summarize the plot?

    JS: Why Did I Get Married is about four couples who, every year, take a retreat together. And they’re there, basically trying to save each other’s marriages, as well as their own. It’s honesty and counseling through friendship and camaraderie. And this year, the stakes go way high, because there’ve been some secrets going on, and it’s all coming to a boiling point.

    KW: Tell me a little about your character.

    JS: I play Sheila. Sheila is unhappily married, although she doesn’t know it, I don’t think. She’s married because that’s what she believes God wants  for her. She does love the man, but it’s not necessarily reciprocated.

    KW: How did you feel about wearing a fat suit for this role?

    JS: That’s been really interesting. I’ve never, well I won’t say never, but it’s been a long time since I was a small girl myself. I’m on average about a size 14. My character is about double my size, about a size 28, so I wear a lot of padding over the course of the film. And it’s been interesting the difference in the way that people look at and talk to me when I put Sheila’s costumes on. It was very interesting to see that.

    KW: How would you describe Sheila’s relationship with her husband?

    JS: Mike [Richard T. Jones] is harsh. Mike is cruel. Mike is a very mean-spirited guy towards his wife who loves him. When the scenes are over, I know that he’s definitely trying his best to hurt Sheila’s feelings. Or maybe he’s not even trying. He just doesn’t care. I’ll say that. He just doesn’t care about Sheila’s feelings at all. Richard’s such a great actor that when he says things, it feels like he means it. Afterwards, he always hugged me or kiss me, or crack a joke and say, “You know I don’t mean it.”

    But it was really great for the film, because every time he said something, I felt affected by it, which was great for my character as well.

    KW: How would you compare acting to singing on stage?

    JS: Acting and singing aren’t that different, at least to me, anyway. When I’m singing, I have to be really honest with the music and with what I’m feeling. I want every word to come out as truthful as possible. And it’s the same way with acting. I just want to be honest with what is written, and try to make it come to life as you do with a song.

  • Disrespecting the Black Woman

    The Connotations of Don Imus, Isiah Thomas, Music Videos and the B-Word

    Why is it that black women and their images are increasingly ignored, stereotyped, overlooked, typecast, disapproved of, denigrated, disrespected and rejected without mainstream media firestorm condemning it? The cases where this occurs are endless. The general silence, indifference and complicity of the Black community when it comes to disrespecting black women is alarming. With the exception of icons such as Oprah and magazines such as Essence, seldom is the portrayal of black women in the mainstream media positive.

    Never-ending Negative Portrayals of Black Women

    MTV aired a cartoon to young Saturday morning viewers entitled “Where My Dogs At?” which had black women squatting on all fours, tethered to leashes. Naomi Campbell, one of the most visible black women, who despite her successful modeling career is mostly mentioned when its about her cell phone attack on her workers. Halle Berry, despite her spectacular role as Dorothy Dandrige, won an Oscar for being a lose woman in “Monsters Ball.” Omarosa is portrayed as a controlling and ruthless witch. Women, competing for Flava Flave’s love are portrayed as goldiggers, cheap and sleazy in “Flava of Love,” and the only black woman in “Desperate Housewives” is portrayed as a vile psychopath who chains her disabled son in the basement.

    To top that Magazine ads frequently employ colorism; favoring light-skinned Blacks over brown-skinned ones, instead of celebrating the differenced in a balanced manner. To boot, many music videos use Black women as hypersexualized props for the fantasies of male rappers, with their “catchy factory-produced, hot-selling” beats. It’s in these same videos that (some) black men call black women bitches and hos. In no other music genre are Black women constantly disrespected by the very men who should be honoring them.

    What was Don Imus Thinking?

    The increasing numbers of disgraceful, disrespectful and demeaning videos, photographs and movie clips with disparaging images of black women were unheeded for decades until the climax of the Don Imus Era. Don Imus, a leading radio talk show host was fired for making derogatory racial comments about a collegiate women''s basketball team on his nationally syndicated program. He referred to members of the Rutgers University Women''s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos,” causing a public outcry from thousands of already fed up Black women and men.

    The radio host tried to remove some of the attention from himself, saying, “that phrase originated in the black community - I may be a white man, but I know that these young women and young black women all through that society are demeaned and degraded by their own black men and that they are called that name.”
    Isiah Thomas’ Insult: Is It Different When White Men Call Black Women “Bitches?”

    On the heels of the Don Imus scandal was the Isiah Thomas controversy. New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas, also known as Zeke, shocked viewers and fans worldwide by displaying blatant sexist, ignorant behaviour when he was sued for berating the Knicks Executive – an African-American woman, Anucha Browne Sanders with expletive-filled tirades. She sued him for sexual harassment.

    Thomas, the two-time NBA champion guard lashed out at her by announcing, “Don't forget, you f——— bitch, I'm the president of this f———- team,” In March 2004, Browne Sanders said he also berated her by saying, “What the f—- is your job? What are your job responsibilities, you f———- ho?”

    In a videotaped deposition played for the jury at the sexual harassment trial, Thomas said he drew a distinction between whites and blacks when it came to the word bitch. Asked if he was bothered by a black man calling a black female “bitch,” Thomas said: “Not as much. I’m sorry to say, I do make a distinction.

    “A white male calling a black female a bitch is highly offensive,” Thomas said. “That would have violated my code of conduct.”

    The public reaction? National and international outrage. CNN-coverage. A coalition of African American leaders, led by Najee Ali of Project Islamic Hope, condemned his usage of the word bitch while referring to black women:

    “Isiah Thomas owes black women a public apology….That type of statement and mindset that Thomas has is ridiculous and should be condemned. There is no distinction in disrespecting black women. It’s not acceptable for anyone to use vulgar and disparaging remarks when addressing black women.”

    Hip Hop Calling Women Bitches and Ho’s

    Some segments of hip hop music calling women bitches and ho’s is old hat, yet it is not less painful. In these videos it is rare to see Black women portrayed as anything other than lap dancers and strippers. The visual and lyrical disrespect of black women has been a hot debate topic for the last two years, culminating into shows and articles like; the CNN coverage – “Hip-hop portrayal of women protested,” the CNN: “Hip-Hop is it Art or Poison?,” The Essence Magazine “Take Back the Music Campaign,” and the BET NEWS Presents “HIP HOP vs. AMERICA, a Powerful 3-Part Special Addressing the Current State of Hip-Hop,” and the “Oprah Show Town Hall,” where a panel of experts discussed the issue, opening up about racism and the denigration, marginalization and sexual exploitation of women.

    Rappers are feeling the heat and feel the need to explain themselves. Rappers such as Snoop and some of his peers have admittedly called women bitches and ho’s in their lyrics, but in the MTV article by Shaheem Reid, with reporting by Rahman Dukes called “Snoop Says Rappers And Imus Are ''Two Separate Things,” he quotes Snoop as explaining that there is no parallel to what Imus said:

    “It’s a completely different scenario,” said Snoop, barking over the phone from a hotel room in L.A. “[Rappers] are not talking about no collegiate basketball girls who have made it to the next level in education and sports. We’re talking about ho’s that’s in the ‘hood that ain’t doing sh–-, that’s trying to get a n—a for his money. These are two separate things. First of all, we ain’t no old-ass white men that sit up on MSNBC going hard on black girls. We are rappers that have these songs coming from our minds and our souls that are relevant to what we feel. I will not let them mutha—-as say we in the same league as him.”

    Nelly, who has received a lot of criticism for “Tip Drill,” says that he respects women and that he is not a misogynist.

    “I’m an artist. Hip-hop videos are art and entertainment…As for how women are shown in the videos, I don’t have a problem with it because it is entertainment…. Women are in the videos by choice. No one knows what a particular woman’s situation is, what her goals are. Being in that video may help her further those goals. Several women who have been in my videos have gone on to do TV appearances and movies. No one can dictate other people’s choices and situations.”

    Realities set aside, perhaps rappers like these could help women further their goals by portraying less dancers and strippers and reflect more of the diversity of Black women. Women have choices but please show the different aspects of women, not just the sexualized, booty-shaking one. Black Women are more than that. Many of the women in the videos are women who are merely seeking acceptance, appreciation and value in a society that affords them none of that. Many are marginalized, poor and desperate. It would be nice if these same rappers offered them opportunities but did not compromise their dignity and respect.

    Rappers Who Do Not Call Women Bitches and Ho’s

    Black women love Hip hop music. Hip Hop music itself is NOT the culprit. As Yvonne Bynoe author of two books: “Stand & Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip Hop Culture” and the “Encyclopedia of Rap and Hip Hop Culture” puts it:

    “The main focus of this brouhaha is not hip hop or rap, but the commercially successful subset of these genres that has transformed the public image of Black Women from flygirls to bitches, tricks, ''hos and chickenheads. This is the same sector of hip hop that has mainstreamed stripper culture, reduced the value of women to their body parts and mocked the importance of love.”

    Yet not all hip hop artistes disrespect Black women with their lyrics. There are legions of rappers who do not subscribe to the disrespect of black women, however they don’t get listened to as much as the ones who spew multimillion-selling misogynistic lyrics. They don’t sell as much. In her article, “Keeping it in the family: Eminem is under fire for denigrating Black Women. That’s the job of Black Rappers,” Helen Kolawole, published in The Guardian on Monday November 24, 2003, she writes:

    “There are also male rappers, such as Mos Def and Common, who resist dick-swinging bravado. But, as the feminist critic Bell Hooks points out: ‘Mass media pays little attention to those Black men who are opposing phallocentrism, misogyny and sexism… Alternative, progressive Black male voices in rap or cinema receive little attention - their voices are not celebrated in patriarchal culture.”

    Black Women Fed Up of the Disrespect

    Black women and many black men have had enough of the name-calling and disrespect. They are tired, fed up and angry. Is it any wonder? Many Black women are well-educated, well-spoken, talented, well-raised, ballerinas, writers, artists, business owners, doctors, engineers, lawyers and homeowners, who are also hardworking, sensual, beautiful, faithful, loving, intelligent and creative. What they hate is how they are portrayed and disrespected in the media and in real life. Being portrayed primarily as gold diggers, highly-sexualized, cheap and strippers is an injustice to Black women.

    Yvonne Bynoe in her article “Rappers and Oprah: Rappers Aren''t Feeling Oprah''s Love: Should Oprah reserve the right to refuse some of the foulest-mouthed, woman-bashing rappers to be on her show?” reported that in early 2004, Motivational Education Entertainment (MEE), a Philadelphia communications firm, released a nationwide study of 2,000 “urban” teens. She maintains that:

    “The authors of the study concluded that, overall, the teens in their survey believed Black females are valued by no one. The vast majority of the teens received their perceptions about life from the rap they regularly consumed. The study states that one of the most relevant changes in the hip hop generation (from their civil rights and Black power movement predecessors) is an open disdain for Black Women.”

    Point in case. The psychological and emotional effects of these demeaning images and the constant disrespect of Black women cannot be positive. It sends a disconcerting, detrimental message to the youth in the Black community. It cannot help but detrimentally influence the psyche of Black women, men and impressionable children. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X did not die for the right for Black women to be called bitches and ho’s.

    Enough of the Disrespect!

    Dr. Melody McCloud who has served as a media consultant and contributor, providing medical advice and commentary to numerous network and cable television outlets—CNN and others; also radio programs and/or publications and is publicly outspoken about the negative imagery of Black women says:

    “We''ve gone from ‘My Cherie Amour’ to “bitch, ho, slut and whore.” This is unacceptable. This must stop. ……Denigrating and disrespecting Black women is not a sport…Black boys need to… learn to speak to girls and women respectfully. And Black girls/women need to stop allowing men to speak to them in any which way and again, stop participating in disrespectful deeds…”

    Dr. McCloud could not have said it better. Black women are mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, and friends who want to be loved, valued, respected and appreciated. Let’s stop the disrespect. Let’s stop the name-calling. Let’s learn to respect each other. Let’s unite to create a better and more respectful image of the Black woman.

     

    Jane Musoke-Nteyafas is a Columnist with AfroToronto.com. She can be reached at janem@afrotoronto.com


    "There is no greater beauty than the real you."
    Jane Musoke-Nteyafas
    Arts/Literature/Entertainment Columnist
    http://www.afrotoronto.com | http://www.ugpulse.com

  • Diary of a Tired Black Man

    Logo

    Incendiary Melodrama Examining Tensions between Brothers and Sisters Arrives on DVD

    In recent years, numerous revenge-themed Hollywood adventures have seemed to take a certain delight in portraying black men as unreliable womanizers undeserving of any respect, like the sort of losers always airing their dirty linen any day of the week on The Jerry Springer Show. From Waiting to Exhale to Two Can Play That Game to Diary of a Mad Black Woman,these female empowerment flicks have generally left brothers not only browbeaten but in need of an image overhaul. Now, help has arrived in Diary of a Tired Black Man, a fascinating half-documentary-half melodrama from the very talented Tim Alexander.

    At the point of departure, we find James’ (Jimmy Jean-Louis) being dogged by his ex-wife (Paula Lema) and her Amen chorus of self-righteous girlfriends because he arrived to pick up his daughter with the white woman he’s currently dating. Without reacting to their verbal attack, he calmly pauses to let them know that he had been, and still is, an excellent, if unappreciated provider.

    Rather than continue with the rest of his modern morality play, at this juncture the ingenious director came up with a brilliant cinematic device which only heightens the already palpable tension. He freezes the action here and periodically throughout the story for revealing man-in-the-street interviews featuring fan reaction to the couple’s heated exchange.

    So, essentially half of what we see is an intriguing documentary of everyday folks from all walks of life weighing-in on the battle-of-the-sexes. And those remarks, ranging from the profane to the profound and from the silly to the sobering, prove to be every bit as telling as the film’s fictional front story.

    For instance, a young woman quick to question whether there are any good black men out there refers to the married guy she dated for two years as “typical “and an “effed-up, trifling-ass Negro.” Yet, when asked why she even entered such an ill-fated, illicit liaison in the first place, her only answer is that she “fell in love,” leaving the audience to conclude that she’s just as much to blame for her lot in life as all the black men she’s just dissed.

    Overall, the movie does tend to come down harder on females than on males, even though it doesn’t let brothers off the hook entirely. Cleverly-edited to keep the audience on the edge of its seat, the movie flits back and forth between frank dialogue and the riveting tug-of-war between James and Tanya.

    With both the factual and fictional parts of the picture equally absorbing, anticipate feeling emotionally drained in the end, yet also inspired to discuss the degree of dysfunction permeating African-American relationships. While Tim Alexander is quick to say that “Diary of a Tired Black Man is not a movie, it’s a message,” I found it so thoroughly entertaining that it obviously must be both.

    Excellent (4 stars)
    Unrated  
    Running time: 108 minutes
    Studio: ScreenTime Films

    To purchase a copy of the DVD, visit: http://www.tiredblackman.com/

  • On My Mind: A Charitable Spirit

    Columnist pic

    Are you someone that has a Charitable Spirit? Are you able to say no to people? Do you feel that you always have to jump in and save the day? Does your faith make it even more difficult for you to turn things down, or not want to help people?

    I have this problem and it has only become clear to me recently. I learned how to say no many years ago, after suffering from burn out on more than one occasion from taking too many projects on. However, recently, I noticed that I want to help people and sometimes too much. This wanting to help has lead to these situations: Taking on a contract that only paid me a fraction of what I was worth, putting myself out there with a potential partner and jeopardizing a contact I have with an important organization, and it caused me to say yes to a young person who wanted to do a project with me at a most inopportune time.

    Normally, I don’t even notice my patterns but because I was working on a huge project that took up most of my time and energy…I was able to really notice these things. Why did I take these outside projects on?

    When you are focused on a project or a production and working long hours to complete it one of the last things you should be doing is trying to save the world. I don’t know where this comes from. For some perhaps it’s an innate desire to be liked or needed… for me I think it’s this desire to save people, and to find anyway possible to help them.

    I have always been a communicator, perhaps sometimes an over communicator, and I claim this. I always check up on people, to make sure they are okay, invite people over for dinner, and to be honest this is not something that is reciprocated. As a matter a fact in seven years of living here only three people have ever invited me to their homes that have been invited to my humble abode for dinner. I have cooked for many people… I enjoy cooking to be honest and I really enjoy cooking for other people… but this year, I did not do it at all. This is not to say I will never cook for anyone again, I will still hold my thank you dinners, for people who helped me on projects, but I stopped trying to rescue people.

    So, I am working on curbing my Charitable Spirit. This does not mean I am not going to help people anymore because that is part of my nature. But, it does mean that I am going to stop and think when a youth asks me to do a project, that I don’t only take it on because they are a youth… that I make sure that I can give 100% and that I am not sacrificing, sleep, some type of compensation, and other projects because I feel the need to save the world.

    I am learning to set boundaries for myself…and this is not an easy process.

    Now they say life begins at 40, and I am months away from that landmark, and I am noticing that as I get closer to it I am getting clearer about my boundaries and being honest about my feelings. Being honest comes with a price, but I like the price. I think it’s so much better to say: “I am not willing to do this anymore; it is not a healthy way of working.”  “I am sorry, I thought I could help you, but your lack of input to this project, means that I will not be able to continue”  “I am sorry but I am very busy with another project, so unless you can compensate me for my time, I will not be able to create that presentation for you”

    See, I am learning to set boundaries to look not only at my self worth, but to be self aware. And you can say those phrases… repeat after me “I am sorry but I am unavailable at this time.”  You can do it… come on the more you say it the easier it gets.

    Just writing this column was difficult for me this morning, I have been thinking about this for weeks… after a very difficult phone call with a project that I should never have taken on. I know there have to be other people out there who are dealing with this situation. I can’t be the only one… am I?

    This morning having a Charitable Spirit was on my mind…and after reading this I hope you understand why.

    www.imanicreativeconsulting.com

    Anne-Marie Woods is a Columnist with AfroToronto.com

  • Pimps Up, Ho's Down

    Book cover

    Book Review: Pimps Up, Ho's Down: Hip Hop's Hold on Young Black Women

    by T. Sharpley-Whiting (Author)

    “I believe we have reached a fascinating, and predictably retrogressive, moment in American pop culture regarding class, gender, and race. As a member of the Hip-Hop Generation, I am continually intrigued by the ways in which hip-hop sets the tone for how women, myself included, think and act...

    This is not a book that chronicles rap lyrics and sexism. That line of inquiry has been vigorously pursued and will continue to be a touchstone for dialogue about hip-hop generation men and misogyny… Rather Pimps Up, Ho's Down aims to cast the net wider and deeper…

    The book addresses the male-dominated culture of hip-hop and the various ways in which young black women connect with that culture… I recognize that the madness visited upon Hip-Hop Generation black women comes as much from their own communities as from without.

    Sexual vilence, sexism, beat-downs, sexual dishonesty, anti-lesbianism, and the legacy of color prejudice all hammer away at self esteem… This book attempts to explicate where hip-hop culture contributes to these distinctly female difficulties.”

    - Excerpted from the Prologue (pg. xviii)

    Author picture

    In the wake of Don Imus being fired for his insensitive comments about black women in the months past, there have been renewed complaints in certain African-American circles about gangsta rap for its similar demeaning depictions of females. Therefore, you probably couldn’t ask for a more timely release of a book than Pimps Up, Ho's Down: Hip Hop’s Hold on Young Black Women by T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting.

    Its author, a model-turned-professor and director of the African-American and Diaspora Studies at Vanderbilt University, not only has her finger on the pulse, but shares a cornucopia of novel insights here. Most folks are already familiar with the well-aired complaints about hip-hop by such monitors of American culture as Stanley Crouch and Bill O’Reilly. What makes Ms. Sharpley-Whiting unique is not only that she’s a black female but that she admits to being conflicted as a fan of the controversial genre.

    Capable of dissecting the subject from the inside out and from a variety of angles, she serves up a string of salient insights in the process, such as when echoing Imus’ self-defense that gansta’ rap is merely a reflection of generally-accepted values. “Hip-hop culture is no more or less violent and sexist than other American cultural products,” she argues. “However, it is more dubiously highlighted by the media as the source of violent misogyny in American youth culture.”

    Highly recommended as a seminal tome likely to usher in a promising new era of honest intellectual debate about the imminent head-on collision between hip-hop and emerging, black feminist thinking.

  • Elizabeth: The Sanitized Version

    Elizabeth

    One of the most highly anticipated films to have its world premiere at the 32nd annual Toronto International Film Festival this year was Indian-born director Shekhar Kapur's follow-up to his 1998 critically acclaimed film, Elizabeth. About a decade later, Shakur returns with Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

    Actress Cate Blanchett reprises her role as Elizabeth I and is joined by Clive Owen in the role of the famed English explorer, poet, writer and courtier Sir Walter Raleigh.

    As I sit at the inaugural press screening of this epic film last Sunday morning, I am wondering how or whether director Shekhar Kapur would tackle, or dance around, the issue of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. I thought it unlikely that a film exploring the Golden Age of Queen Elizabeth I would not explore England's forays into the New World.

    Sure enough, we find in the character played by Clive Owen, Sir Walter Raleigh, a dashing adventurer who charms Queen Elizabeth with his magnificent stories of reaching land after a long period of time basking in the sheer immensity of the ocean. There, he would found England's first colony, Virginia, in honour of the Virgin Queen.

    As one of the journalists at the film''s press conference at Sutton Place Hotel later that morning would say: "This is a very sexy film. Extremely sexy." It was indeed evident that director Shekhar Kapur was more concerned about bringing sexy back to the story of Queen Elizabeth I's Golden Age than actually being historically accurate. Speaking about his choice to cast the hunky Clive Owen in the role of Sir Walter Raleigh, Kapur says:

    "Raleigh was free. Raleigh was uncontrollable. Raleigh was sexy. Raleigh was timeless. Raleigh was a pirate. Raleigh has certain aspects that I knew needed and actor that could represent all of them. He wasn't just macho. He wasn't just a man who came in to beat everybody up. He was a man who actually represented a man's masculinity. Essential masculinity. And that was Clive."

    Early on in the press conference, I had an foreshadowing of the defense line maintained by the people behind the film regarding its historical inaccuracies. Oscar-winning actor, Geoffrey Rush, who plays the role of Sir Francis Walsingham in the film, was quick to point out that he doesn't "have any time for people who say this is historically inaccurate." He adds: "it's about metaphor and not documented evidence being presented [and] clinically laid out academically. We have libraries for that. But having said that, I think this film is very true to the broad issues of this particular phase of the historical Elizabeth's life."

    But with any historical epics, the filmmakers should have the responsibility to respect some very basic tenets of historical accuracy. Elizabeth: The Golden Age fails miserably to do so; particularly with its deliberately misleading portrayal of Clive Owen's character, the historical figure of Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618).

    In the film, Sir Walter Raleigh is depicted as a fearless explorer and pirate who terrorizes enemy Spanish ships at sea. He brings back the fruits of his looting to Queen Elizabeth I. There's an evident desire in the film to show him as being the courageous, unconventional and dauntless soul who offers Elizabeth a glimpse into a life she longs for but could never attain. In director Shakhar Kapur’s vision, Raleigh valiantly comes to the rescue of Queen and Country against the menacing Spanish Armada in a great naval battle that saved Queen Elizabeth I's rule in 1588.

    While there was indeed a historical Sir Walter Raleigh who had gained the special favour of Queen Elizabeth I, and even her much-heralded love and affection, he was mostly known as a poet, explorer and lover of the arts rather than as a feared pirate and warrior. In fact, he did not even fight in the decisive battle against the Spanish Armada in 1588. The extent of Sir Raleigh's contributions to this pivotal British naval victory against the Spanish was providing England with an 800-ton ship, “The Royal Ark”, in exchange for an IOU of £5,000. That ship was chosen to lead the attack against the Spanish Armada.

    But Sir Walter Raleigh was never on that ship. In fact, even Britain’s National Maritime Museum states it clearly:

    Did Walter Ralegh fight against the Spanish Armada?

    Walter Ralegh was interested in seamanship and navigation. With his new wealth he built a warship which he named the Ark Ralegh. He later gave this to the Queen who changed the name to the Ark Royal. This ship later became the flagship of the English fleet which fought against the Spanish Armada under the command of Lord Howard of Effingham. Although Walter Ralegh did not command a ship, he was a naval adviser to the Queen and helped Sir John Hawkins to implement improvements to the design of ships, an important factor in the success of the English fleet against the Spanish.

    So who was that fearless pirate who inspired Elizabeth: The Golden Age’s director Shakhar Kapur and who was instrumental in the film as defeating the Spanish Armada? His name was Sir Francis Drake, an infamous pirate and slave-trader whom the Spanish called "El Draque" (the Dragon).

    Sir Francis Drake, born (1542-1596), was a contemporary of Sir Walter Raleigh and also one of Queen Elizabeth I’s most notorious pirates. He was a cousin of the reputed slaver Sir John Hawkins. Together, they made the first English slave-trading expeditions under the blessing of Queen Elizabeth I. The British royal family had major connections with the trade of enslaved Africans from the time of Elizabeth I. The initials “DY” (Duke of York) were branded on hundreds of enslaved Africans bound for the Caribbean.

    One of the major reasons for Sir Francis Drake’s hatred of the Spanish and his relentless desire for revenge stems from an episode in 1567. During one of his expeditions to New Spain (Mexico), the Spaniards captured a cargo of enslaved Africans on one of Her Majesty’s slaving ships. Hostilities immediately flared between Spain and England afterwards.

    There is a climactic scene in Elizabeth: The Golden Age where Clive Owen’s character, supposedly Sir Walter Raleigh, has the brilliant idea of setting British ships on fire and unleashing them towards the anchored ships of the Armada in order to scatter the Spanish fleet. Historians credit Sir Francis Drake with that exploit. However, Shakhar Kapur unabashedly usurps that episode from Sir Francis Drake’s life and puts it in the hands of Sir Walter Raleigh in his film; while in actual fact Sir Raleigh was safe on land – just in case history is of any significance here.

    It’s no mystery why Shakhar Kapur would have chosen to make Sir Walter Raleigh more appealing by only selecting the “sexy” attributes of Sir Francis Drake’s life and persona and conveniently electing to bypass the whole slavery issue in his film. Or maybe he had Sir Francis Drake in mind at the outset and decided to sanitize him by labeling him in the film as a poet, and romantic renaissance man. Only her knows that.

    The fact remains that despite repeated references to the British colonies in the New World and Trans-Atlantic voyages, not “once” does the film mention the barbaric Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade of enslaved Africans perpetrated by the British.

    So I decided to raise the issue at the press conference for the film during the festival to see what Shakhar Kapur would have to say.

    After giving a sarcastic “thumbs up” to my mentioning to him that this year marks the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Stave Trade in the British Empire, he first tries to justify the lack of references to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in his film with “budgetary concerns” of all things.

    He goes on to say to me that Sir Walter Raleigh was not so much a pirate as a “businessman pirate” who owned different kinds of ships. Kapur claims that he “didn't consciously put him (Clive Owen) in the role of Drake.” He adds that the Sir Walter Raleigh from his film “was a true renaissance man. He wasn't Drake. Drake was a man dedicated to the sea and power. And Raleigh was far greater than that.”

    In his final argument, Shakar Kapur tells the press in the room that if we read about Walter Raleigh, we will realize that Sir Raleigh “was executed because the Spanish saw him as the greatest threat. Ultimately one of the reasons why a treaty was signed between Spain and England and one of the conditions was that Walter Raleigh would be executed. So you understand how much the Spanish hated him.”

    Again, this is very misleading.

    In the year 1616, long after Queen Elizabeth I had died in 1603, Sir Walter Raleigh was released from jail in the Tower of London (after having been put there in 1603 by King James under suspicions of treason) in order to lead an expedition to Venezuela in search of El Dorado. While there, his men sacked the Spanish outpost of San Thome on the Orinoco. “That’s” why the Spaniards demanded that Sir Walter Raleigh be executed. Not because of some revisionist and fictional act of bravery against the Armada in 1588.

    Those who “don’t have time for historical accuracy” should not pretend to make historical epics.

    I highly recommend Elizabeth: The Golden Age for those interested in Clive Owen’s pecs. Otherwise, please take it with a giant medieval block of salt.

     

    Meres J. Weche is one of the founders of AfroToronto.com. He is also a Resource Person to the Committee for the Ontario Bicentenary Committee on the Abolition of the Slave Trade. He can be reached at mweche@afrotoronto.com


    Click here to view the “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” press conference at the Toronto International Film Festival

    Related article by same author: The Dictatorship of Remembrance


    "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" opens in theatres on October 12th, 2007:

    See trailer

    Official site 

  • On My Mind: Got to keep moving!

    On September 18th 2005, while dancing at the infamous Kwame Young’s party, I had my last dance to old school. I have choreographed and been in musicals, and for anyone who knows me they know that I love dancing and music. That was the night that changed my life.

    Imagine needing your knees for your livelihood, but finding out that you not only have a torn meniscus but that both of your ACL’s (major ligaments in the knee) are torn, and that you have arthritis as well. “It’s not so bad, it’s not so bad” my surgeon kept saying, when I got the final results of another MRI after my scope on my left knee “It’s not so bad.”  I asked him, “Will I ever be able to dance again?”  he said “Oh no no dancing and no funny stuff”  I am not sure what funny stuff is but the point is that I now have to be careful everyday. There is replacement surgery for the ACL but he says what I have in there now is good enough.  So, I have had to change my life. I spent about a year on crutches or a cane, because now that I was injured I could no longer audition and I had to look for full time work.

    It’s amazing the survival instinct that kicks in when something is wrong… there are two approaches you can take, you can be upset and cry everyday or keep movin! I have decided to keep moving. I cried though, oh believe me I cried.

    The clarity that can come to you when you are forced to be still and one of your natural abilities has been taken away.  For instance, I now know exactly what I will pursue career wise and though I have had to modify things creatively it’s actually been a positive experience for me.

    After spending so much time on crutches or with a cane, I am just proud and happy to be able to walk again. I say that I am the happiest walker in Canada. I can’t do stairs properly, and can’t walk long distances, because my knees get very sore for at least a few days after… then there was the week I decided to kneel at the alter at church. (Remember the commercial I’ve fallen and I can’t get up), well I knelt down and was like uh will I be able to get up?  I did get up but my knees suffered for two weeks. So now during the alter call, I stand.  Basically, I have had to completely modify my lifestyle.  I no longer audition for theatre, but I started a creative consulting company where I can help others create, and perform… and I still have my spoken word, where I can emote on stage and don’t have to worry about a lot of movement. I have my health, my hands my toes and a body that works.  I have learned to count my blessings even more than I had before. And I have learned to keep moving. You see, no matter what happens to us, sometimes it’s an illness, or an injury, sometimes it’s circumstances that happen in our family or disappointments with our friends, but the long and the short is that we have to keep moving. We have to find a way to focus on the positive and keep moving through the hard times, pain, trials and tribulations. We have to think about the things we are still able to do and not give up on life or living. Our time here is short, so find a way to Keep Moving, we’ve got to Keep Moving.

    This morning as I was getting ready to go the gym, where I can no longer work out the way I used to, I thought about what I can no longer do, and realized, that was the wrong attitude because  I have  to KEEP MOVING!

  • Bacardi gets wild with graffiti

    Bacardi Campaign

    Bacardi and Graffiti art not an obvious partnership, however, with both their emphasis on innovation as a common thread they worked together in highlighting street art and celebrating the launch of Bacardi Superior Rum Elixir. The Graffiti Alive installation is the first Graffiti showcase put on by Bacardi Superior Rum Elixir.

    Graffiti or street art has been around for quite some time, but is commonly represented as the lesser known staple of hip-hop culture, as one of the four main elements along with the Mcing, DJing, and Breaking.

    cently, Bacardi’s Graffiti Alive competition put a bright spotlight on this art form with a live Graffiti Installation running over a 2 day period.  Gathering crowds watched as the Fox and the Fiddle’s North wall was used as a blank canvas, by some of Toronto’s most talented Graffiti artist. They came together to first compete and then collaborate on 27 by 17 foot mural of Bacardi Superior Rum.

    The competition began with Graffiti artist from around the city, each having a half hour to give their version of the Bacardi Superior Rum Elixir. However, this was not well received by a few of the artist.  Certainly time constraints are not uncommon to Graffiti artist. Lets face it making your mark on public property can be, restrictive. But, the space limitation as well as material restrictions placed upon the artists were not boundaries they were expecting.

    Many expressed frustration over a lack of creativity. One veteran graffiti artist Duro, explained it as such “it’s like writing a resume in 10 words for these artist.”

    The first round produced work that was adequate but not quality Graffiti. A few artist were understandably disgruntled, obviously torn about  making some cash versus selling out or allowing corporate types to hijack their culture.  Angel said it best “ I, hustle for the cash, they hustle for the flava”

    And yes, Bacardi certainly got flavour, with a mish mash of styles and motifs all within the confines of the Bacardi logo while showcasing each artist’s unique talent. According to the organizers of the event the completed mural would continue with the explosive elements of the current Bacardi Superior Rum advertising campaign.

    Each artist wanted their piece to stand out  therefore each piece exploded with colour and where design were restricted they tried their best to bring out individuality with edgier tags.
    In the end, despite initial clashes of corporate and artistic interest, eight deserving artist were picked to complete the mural at the Fox and the Fiddle. The image now on the wall  is of a towering bottle bursting forth with Bacardi Elixir, a representation of a photo from the advertising campaign.

    The mural represents Bacardi’s vibrant and experimental nature says Brand manager Lisa Jazwinski but it also represents the evolution of Graffiti Art. Corporate interest in Graffiti may be an indication of how relevant the art from still is despite its lack of prominence. Bacardi’s Graffiti Alive competition proves just how much life, passion and creativity goes into street art.

  • Desiree Marshall: The genius behind Afrodelik Designs

    Afrodelik article picture

    I attended the Toronto Naturals Hair and Beauty show in late May, and I must say that I had a great time. It wasn’t just the information that I received about natural hair care products that I appreciated, it’s that I found, after years of searching, the most perfect t-shirt!

    As I walked around the room soaking up all the culture, I saw tons of vendors selling their products. But there was one thing that stood out for me.  Being a self-proclaimed “funkdafied chick,” I am drawn to anything that oozes a cool 70s vibe.  When I spotted the cutest t-shirt with a character that looked like she was straight out of a blaxploitation film, I had to get a closer look.

    I ran up to the rather friendly girl who was selling the t-shirts and asked where I could find more of the fashions. She said that the company is Afrodelik and she was the designer.  She also informed me that she currently only sold them at events.  Surprised, I told her that I not only wanted to get my swagger on in her t-shirts; I wanted to share her talents with all of Toronto.  I proceeded to ask her if I could interview her and she graciously accepted.

    We met in a quaint restaurant in Little Italy and talked and talked like we knew each other for years. We both love all things 70s, we both shun anything with a logo, and we are both a bit chatty.

    What I found out about Desiree Marshall is that she’s a free spirit who chooses to not only create great looking t-shirts, she wants to provide us with a history lesson as well.

    When did you start drawing?

    I actually started drawing when I was ten years old.  My brother was a great artist and I was really impressed with the things that he could do.  It kinda made me think of my creative side, so I decided to try drawing and I realized that I loved it.  I used to draw Disney characters—goofy, Mickey Mouse.  

    As I got older I started drawing these caricatures.  I did some of Run DMC, Tracy Chapman, Prince—all of the people that I really loved.

    When did you start designing t-shirts?

    In my early 20s I started thinking about starting a t-shirt company because I thought that it was the best way for me to express my art.  It was fun and I wanted to do something that was fun.

    I would use puffy paint to draw the characters on the t-shirts.  Once the t-shirts were done I would just keep them.  I never wore or sold the t-shirts.  I would show them to my parents and sister and brother, and then hang them in my closet.  I still have them.

    I took a little break from drawing and I worked as a customer service rep.  On my lunch I would draw. I would use their paper to draw my characters and use their photocopy machine.  I was constantly drawing while I was doing my job.

    When I drew the caricatures of the celebrities I was told that I needed permission to reproduce them on t-shirts.  And then I thought, “I could actually create my own characters!”  So I spent a while creating my own characters.

    During this time I had an art book that someone had given me, and I started drawing these characters.  That’s what I did when I got home from work.  I would draw and draw.  I loved it! I drew everyday until I filled the book.  I saw this progression in my art work.  I was like, wow!  It went from these really bad caricatures to something that actually looked like it could be sold.

    What motivated you to start your own line?

    I registered the name and I started doing my t-shirts, but actually instead of painting them by hand, I drew them by hand and took them to a screen printer.    I thought that it was a great product, but I still didn’t sell them! I would wear them, but not sell them.  I thought of it as a hobby, not as a true business.  For me I think that it was kinda scary to start a business.  Even though I registered the name, I thought that I would start the company later.

    When did it become a legitimate business?

    In November 2006

    How did it evolve from a hobby to a business?

    I lost my job in March 2006.  I was a video editor for a TV broadcasting company and I seriously couldn’t wait to get my ass outta there! But I didn’t have the courage to leave.  So I kinda asked for it. I used to go to work like I didn’t want to be there.  I gave off that energy to the Universe, so I eventually got laid off.  Even though it was a sad day, deep, deep, deep, down I was very happy.  I thought that it was the opportunity for me to do what I want, so I applied for this government program.  It’s a one year program and it teaches you how to start your own business. I’ve been doing it since September 2006.  I’m still in it and I have a mentor.

    The other great thing that happened was on my last day of class, I had to do a presentation in front of 5 business people that I never met before.  They give you feedback on your presentation.  This one woman……I knew she connected to what I was saying.  She gave me her business card at the end of my presentation.  She called me the next day and said that she was doing this program on TV about life coaching and she wanted to coach me through my business.  I was like, “thank you!”  It was a sign for me.  It made me feel that it was the right time to start my business.  I’m still filming it.
    How did you come up with the name?

    It took me about 6 months to come up with Afrodelik.  I’m a bit of a perfectionist.  I wanted something that fit me……fit me right.  A lot of the names I came up with had the word “Afro” in it.  I love the 70s era!  I love the coolness of it.  I could relate to those women.  I thought they were sexy and hot. I think the coolest women, to this day, were the ones with big afros.

    Was it important for you to do a line with an urban flair?

    Yep, because Afrodelik is not just clothing, it’s educational wearable art.  It educates people about my culture.  For me it was my education about myself.    Growing up I went to a French school and I didn’t have a lot of black people in my surroundings.  I didn’t learn anything about my history…nothing.

    When I started thinking about Afrodelik, I thought about doing it for kids. I wanted to at least help black children know about their history.  That’s why I do collections—the Afro City one is fun and funky, and the other one I do is called Africa.  In the Africa collection I feature African cultures . All of my tags have some information about each of the designs .    I’m here to educate the best way that I can which is through my art.  Whether it be humourous or serious, I feel like I have a job to educate people—kids and people outside my community. I want to make a difference in the world.

    How do you sell/promote your clothing?

    I finally have my website up and running. It’s www.afrodelik.com and you can purchase items from the website.  The e-commerce site will be available very soon, but you can still contact me via e-mail or by phone to purchase my products. I even make house/office calls. Since I’m just starting out, I sell my t-shirts at events. I try to find events, like Afrofest recently, that I feel would be a good fit for me.

    To promote my line, I gave a couple of t-shirts to P. Diddy, Amerie, Jill Scott, and just recently Eric Roberson and Meshell Ndegeocello.

    What are your plans for your line?

    I’m still in the beginning stages, but I don’t just want to stick with t-shirts. I love t-shirts and it’s the best way for me at this time to express my work, but I want to go to hoodies, caps.  I also want to go into a more sophisticated line.  I want to have my artwork on nice shirts using luxurious fabrics. I want it to be classy. The African collection is a bit more elegant and I can see it embroidered on fine fabrics.

    After speaking to Desiree for an hour and a half, I unfortunately had to wrap up the interview.  She was a pleasure to interview, but more importantly, I knew from the moment that I left the restaurant, that her company will be very successful.  You go, girl!

  • On My Mind

    I Can’t Afford to Work for Free

    I’ve been self employed for many years now as a performance artist and a freelancer. I have now taken the steps to be able to live solely from the services that my company provides and not have to do full time contracts for others. One of the major steps I took was graduating from the SEB program a self employment business program offered through HRDC. It was an amazing program and it enhanced many of the skills I already possessed, but also made me really look at my worth as a business woman.

    Over the years I have always been amazed at the amount of requests to do things for free, everything from performing, emceeing events to teaching workshops. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do a lot of volunteer hours for causes that I believe in, it’s a personal choice what projects I get involved with. Years ago when I sang with Four The Moment we used to get a tremendous amount of requests to perform at benefit concerts. We would meet once a year to decide on our concerts/tours for the year and we would agree to do three benefits a year.

    I remember when I was working full time at CBC radio, I got a call one day to create a piece and perform for an annual banquet. When I told the person my fee for creation and production he said “Oh you mean I have to pay you for what you do?” For some reason, I always remember that comment and it happened about 5 years ago. Being self employed means I spend about 12 – 15 hours a day developing programs, or packages for organizations, sending out e news letters, or developing project proposals, and doing cold calls and cold e mails and having meetings with potential clients. Out of all that hard work, I may land a few contracts each month. I am not sure people understand what it is like to be self employed and to work hard towards a future goal. On top of that I’m a performance artist, so the fact that I fuse business and artistry is a phenomenon that many don’t quite understand.

    Artists are what keep a society alive and vibrant. Cultural and artistic outlets are what help us maintain a healthier lifestyle. More and more people are discovering that arts and creative programming can also help our youth. But, when they need to cut a program or when they have budget cuts…unfortunately, usually the arts go first. For years I have heard people very close to me tell me that “artists are flighty” that I wouldn’t understand I don’t work full time, etc etc… I was just quiet while I received this negativity, I didn’t feel it was worth my time or energy to explain how hard I work. Or that not all artists are the same. I do work full time, as a matter a fact I put in more hours than most people who work 9-5. Also I started out working 9-5 in the not for profit sector, and have often done full time projects over the past 20 years but when it all boils down to it I prefer to work for myself.

    Working for yourself and having that entrepreneurial spirit requires, hard work, dedication, commitment, strong self esteem, a strong business sense, thick skin, and so many attributes I cannot list all of them today, or that will take up the entire column. What this means though is that with the amount of time and effort we put into creating a project or workshop or landing a contract, does not allow us much time to work for free.

    Very much like my singing group I do three pro bono projects a year. I also provide discounts because many not for profit organizations and schools cannot afford my rates, but any true business person knows that if you continuously do business or provide your services for free, you cannot get ahead. Just yesterday I called a good friend who ran his business by doing work for free and giving his friends discounts, his business was closed down, and he’s been struggling ever since. I told him that if I ever get to the point that I can invest in his work, that I will but he can’t do things for free anymore; not to the point of his company’s demise.

    When I host events I often need volunteers for that night or if I have performers I will try to give them an honorarium. If I hold an event with volunteers, I will give some sort of perk i.e., media attention, their bio in a professional program, and promotion of their companies or their arts background. Most of my artist friends and I have a barter system where we will help one another out, in exchange for services or a hook up… we will hook each other up; so to speak.

    This month I have received about seven requests to teach for free, and I have had to turn them all down. I just cant’ afford to volunteer my time. I recently spent about 10 hours developing a piece to present at an event, and I didn’t even feel appreciated for the hard work that I put into my presentation. So that’s another thing if you ask an artist to develop something for you, get them a thank you card, take the time to read their bio, or promote them, in some way, that will make them feel good for volunteering their services.

    I can remember Ricardo McRae doing a fundraiser in Toronto, when I was fairly new to the city and yes, he asked me to volunteer, but he did it the right way. All artists had promotion prior to and during the event, he had a green room set up for us with food and water and refreshments. Though I was a volunteer for a great cause, I also felt appreciated. Last weekend I volunteered my services for another event, and they gave me a certificate of appreciation. See, those gestures make you feel good about volunteering.

    So today working for free was on my mind, and though I will continue to volunteer my time and services to causes that are important, or even at times to aid in marketing and networking for my business. The long and short of it is that to be a successful business woman, I just can’t afford to work for free.

  • Morgan Freeman: The "Evan Almighty" Interview

    Born on June 1, 1937 in Memphis, Tennessee, Morgan Freeman is keeping extraordinarily busy for an academy Award-winner who has recently turned 70. The peripatetic septuagenarian has numerous upcoming films on the docket, including the three being released later this year, The Feast of Love, The Last Full Measure, and Gone, Baby, Gone, a murder mystery which will mark Ben Affleck’s directorial debut.

    In 2008, he’ll be co-starring with Jack Nicholson in The Bucket List, a Rob Reiner road comedy about a couple of terminally-ill patients who make a break from the cancer ward. In Wanted, he’ll play an assassin in an action adventure along with Angelina Jolie and Common. In The Dark Knight, a sequel to Batman Begins slated for a blockbuster release next summer, he’ll rejoin an ensemble cast comprised of Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Eric Roberts, Aaron Eckhart and Gary Oldman. And he’s already attached to rendezvous with Rama, an adaptation of the sci-fi best seller by Arthur C. Clarke.

    Here, he talks a bit about his current flick, Evan Almighty, where he’s reprising his role as God.

    KW: Did you have any second thoughts about agreeing to play God?

    MF: I got the feeling a long time ago, that eventually someone was going to come up to me and say, “We want you to play this role.” I wondered, “What am I going to do?” If it was a straight role, I wouldn’t do it, pure and simple.

    KW: Do you enjoy working with Tom Shadyac as a director.

    MF: My coming back to it has everything to do with the filmmaker. I really like Tom’s head… the way he thinks… what he thinks… what he does… and what he’s attempting to say. I want to say the same thing, so we usually wind up on the same page.

    KW: How would you describe his directorial style?

    MF: I’m not that keen on being directed. If you give me a part, I gotta assume that you think I’ll do it, rather than be a conduit. However, Tom has a way of infusing his direction with… he’s like, “Try it for me.” It’s like, “Okay, I’m going to do you a favor.” Also, generally, he’s on. He knows exactly what he sees and what he wants, which is very helpful. Playing this role, I might have a tendency to get too serious. So, one of his constant reminders to me was. “Just keep it light,” which was really right.

    KW: What’s the significance of god’s inspiring random acts of kindness in this picture?

    MF: The idea is that a random act of kindness will lead to another and another and an exponential spreading. It’s like, I will do something good for you, and because of that, your belief in human generosity and interaction grows. So, you may not do anything for me… you may never even see me again, but you’ll be more than willing to perform an act of kindness for someone else, if you see a need. And that just keeps moving.

    KW: How was it co-starring opposite Steve Carell?

    MF: He’s a professional. By professional, I mean not only is he good at his craft, but he’s dedicated to it. And he himself is a terrific human being. I find that’s very prevalent in this business. Most of the people I worked with, 99.999% of them are just that… terrific people… lovely to work with.

    KW: You seem as enthusiastic as ever about acting.

    MF: I always have a great time working. I so enjoy doing it. People say, “You’re going to work.” And I think, “No, the work is in looking for work.” After you get it, you’re just going to play. So, these are situations where I’m just having a great time, and hoping that everybody around me is having just as wonderful a time.

  • The Dictatorship of Remembrance

    Why the Westminster Bells Did Not Ring At Notre Dame

    “The central tenant of the commemorations is focused around european actions, gradually resolving european inactions by european politicians.”
    - Toyin Agbetu, “Jesus Says Sorry: The Anatomy of a Political Apology for Slavery” p.16 - The Ligali Organisation, February 2006

    “As we understand it, Plato’s “reason” is the denial of spirit. Reason functions to control the more “base appetites” and “instincts.” The European view of the human being begins to take shape here. It is a view that was to grow more dominant through centuries of European development and that was to become more and more oppressive in contemporary Western European society, where there is no alternative view offered. For Plato, self-mastery, like justice in the State, is achieved when reason controls.”
    - Marimba Ani, Yurugu: An African-Centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior, p. 32.

    This year marks the 200th Anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. On March 25th 1807, the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act received royal ascent (became law). It is conservatively estimated that between the fifteen and the nineteenth century, 12 million enslaved Africans we forcibly taken across the Atlantic ocean in slavers ships to toil in plantation fields in the Americas. Three million of those enslaved African perished during the course of the infamous Middle Passage.

    Much of the bicentenary’s commemoration has been focused around the celebrated British abolitionist William Wilberforce (1759-1833). A parliamentarian hailing from a wealthy British merchant family from Kingston-upon-Hull, Wilberforce began meeting with a group of a dozen men in 1787 inside a London printing shop with the goal of ending slavery throughout the British Empire. But while Wilberforce eventually succeeded in getting the Slave Trade Act passed in the House of Commons in 1807, slavers ships kept marauding the Western coast of Africa for several years until the Emancipation Bill of 1833.

    But even then, the shackles would not be loosened.

    After being granted a compensation of £20 million in government bonds ($2.2 billion in today’s term) [source: Adam Hochschild (2005) Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves], the plantation owners were allowed to keep their enslaved Africans as “apprentices” forced to work for no wages for their masters for up to six years. Then, on August 1st, 1838, the estimated 800,000 African men, women and children across the Empire were officially freed.


    Guess who’s coming to Mass

    Fast forward to March 25th, 2007 at London’s Westminster Abbey, where William Wilberforce is buried. The scene is the official Bicentenary commemoration ceremony of the 1807 Slave Trade Act attended by the Queen of England, Prime Minister Tony Blair, Church of England officials, and hundreds of Britain’s high society.

    As the audience was being led into prayer for the confession and absolution of their sins, Toyin Agbetu, 39, a reporter and a campaigner for Ligali, an African-British human rights organisation, rose up in protest. In front of a stunned audience, he began shouting: "This is an insult to us." Turning his attention to the Queen and Tony Blair, he demanded that Britain apologise for the shame and injustice that the British Transatlantic Slave Trade was. He also condemned the African Christians present for taking part in the ceremony and urged them to walk out.


    STEPHEN HIRD/AP PHOTO

    Much has been written in the months since Mr Agbetu’s headlining protest. But much than a mere PR bombshell, Mr Agbetu’s outburst tore at the very fabric of what continues to be an essentially Eurocentric bicentenary commemoration year.

    In a paper that Toyin Agbetu wrote over a year ago entitled “Jesus Says Sorry: The Anatomy of a Political Apology for Slavery” through his organization, Ligali, Agbetu declares:

    “We will not support and will actively campaign against any commemorative events themed around the actions of a eurocentric abolitionist movement until:

    • The British government and church make a formal apology for their leading role in the institutionalisation of the forced enslavement and commercial exploitation of African people.

    • The British government and church recognises and sanctions local government support for a national African Remembrance day (currently marked in August) incorporating a national call for three minutes silence at 3pm.”


    From Subject to Agent: The Power to Define Reality

    As the quotes at the beginning of this article from Toyin Agbetu and author Marimba Ani delineate, the struggle facing those committed to the proper commemoration of the millions of enslaved Africans who suffered through the Transatlantic Slave Trade is clear. It is to ensure that African people are seen as agents, rather than subjects, in their own fight for freedom. As Afrocentric scholar Molefi Kete Asante points out:

    “Afrocentricity liberates the African by establishing agency as the key concept for freedom. I am most free when I am most active on the basis of my own volition. Even if I am active and believe myself to be free under the will of another, I am not truly liberated. … Furthermore, the opening of the cultural discourse to the topic of African agency pushed through the conception of African people as subject rather than object in the European experience. For the non-African, the Afrocentric idea positions intellectual discourse in the African agency that is often denied by Eurocentric conceptualizations of our roles.”
    - Molefi Kete Ansante, The Afrocentric Idea. pp.21-22

    What Toyin Agbetu was basically protesting at Westminster Abbey was the complete lack of recognition of the essential role that African people have played in the struggle for their own liberation. The disproportionate focus of the bicentenary’s commemorations on the role of William Wilberforce completely negates and devalues, for instance, the pivotal influence of the Haitian revolution of 1791-1804 in bringing about the end of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

    The problem with any historiography is that it is often told and written by the victor, or at least by those with the power to define the prevailing paradigm.

    The enduring mythology of that fateful day in 1787, under an old tree near Croydon, England (as portrayed in the 2006 film Amazing Grace) when the young Prime Minister to be William Pitt convinces the evangelical Wilberforce to lead the anti-slavery movement – as being the defining moment in the eventual freedom of enslaved Africans is an entirely Eurocentric pillar.

    Even John Ralston Saul, in his book Voltaire’s Bastards, clearly warns against the Western tendency to rationalize history through self-interested reason:

    “It is a general weakness of men delivering ideas that they are able to convince themselves their words represent a break with the past and a new beginning. In the early stages of a revolution, history is at its most malleable. Disorder and optimism combine to wipe out those truths artificially manufactured by the preceding regime. At the same time, they usually wipe out the memory of any inconvenient real events.”
    - John Ralston Saul, Voltaire’s Bastards (The Dictatorship of Reason in the West).p.38

    What commentators often fail to point out is that William Wilberforce was a staunch evangelical conservative who was very aware, and protective, of his privileged rank in British society. He was “against increasing the tiny number of Britons with the right to vote … and dismayed by members of the lower classes or women who questioned their assigned places in the social order.” [Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains, p.124]. Thus, it is questionable that Wilberforce would have been particularly sympathetic to the kind of anti-clerical liberation of African people happening in Hispagnola (Haiti) at the time or as eager to fight for social justice for the newly freed Africans.

    Where were the bells at Notre Dame de Paris in 2004?

    In his written declaration cited earlier, Toyin Agbetu refers precisely to the need for the British government to recognize a national African Remembrance day in August. Not a single European nation heeded UNESCO’s call to recognise August 23rd as the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. The date of August 23rd commemorates the landmark 1791 Haitian revolt of enslaved Africans against the French slavers. As Agbetu reports, while the British government allotted tens of millions of pounds to mark Wilberfest, a mere sum of £5,000 was granted to an inter-ethnic community organization towards commemorative events between 23 and 29 August, 2004.

    The Haitian Revolution lasted from August 23rd 1791 to January 1st 1804. The catalyst for the revolution was a particular Vodou ceremony in August 1791 performed at Bois Caïman by a charismatic spiritual figure known as Boukman. They slit the throat of a pig, drank its blood and swore death to all French colonials. After 13 years of bloody rebellion, on January 1st, 1804, the leader or the first Black republic in modern history, Jean-Jacque Dessalines, gathered the people around him at the city of Gonaïve’s Place D’Armes and declared that Haïtians were now a free people. The revolution in Haiti inspired many other enslaved Africans’ uprisings throughout the Spanish possessions, other Caribbean nations and in Louisiana. The Haitian Revolution can even be credited for the Louisiana Purchase in April of 1803 since the French, aware of their loosening grip on the Caribbean, saw less of an interest in struggling to keep Louisiana.

    Every January 1st , while most people celebrate New Year’s Day, Haitians around the world traditionally enjoy and share amongst them a pumpkin soup called “soup joumou” in Kreyol. During the slavery days in Haiti, only the French colonists could enjoy this delicious soup. The enslaved Africans, for their part, had to make due with bread soup. So symbolically, on January 1st 1804, in the city of Gonaïves, Dessalines ensured that a huge supply of soup joumou was available for everyone present to enjoy. It was also a sign of unity.

    The real significance and impact of the Haitian Revolution is that it was conceived, carried out, and assumed entirely by enslaved Africans. The European powers were not the catalysts nor the agents of change. As a result, the new nation has been isolated and the subject of scorn and prejudice by the world ever since.

    In 1825, Haiti was even forced to pay reparations to France for the losses of its slaveholders to the tune of 90 million gold francs (a value of $21 billion USD today). For a hundred years, Haiti had to pay monetarily for its own independence.

    It is therefore little wonder that, on the bicentenary of Haiti’s successful enslaved peoples’ revolt in 2004, the French government did not have a lavish ceremony in Notre Dame cathedral in Paris to commemorate. This freedom fight had not been waged on their own terms. Europe was not the agent of change.

    As we observe the Bicentenary of the British Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, let us be mindful that Haitian Revolution marked the first time in that era when “whites saw a slave revolt so massive they could not suppress it, and for the first time blacks saw that it was possible to fight for their freedom and win.” (Hochschild, Bury the Chains).


    EVENT NOTE:
    In commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, The Canadian Association of Black Journalists presents: Toyin Agbetu, the political activist who shouted down the Queen and Prime Minister Tony Blair during Britain''s bicentenary service, in conversation with Toronto Star Columnist Royson James.

    Thursday July 5th, 7pm
    Oakham House - 55 Gould St.
    Doors open at 6:30 p.m.
    Admission: $15
    FREE to CABJ members.

  • Laila Ali: The Daddy’s Girl Interview

    Laila Ali was born in Miami Beach on December 30th, 1977 to Muhammad Ali and his third wife, Veronica Porche. The most famous of The Greatest’s nine children, Laila’s the only one to follow in his footsteps into the boxing ring, On her way to the top, the statuesque, 5’10”, 175 lb. cruiserweight

    whupped Jackie Frazier, daughter of Joe, in the first Pay-Per-View fight featuring females in the main event.

    She hoped to have a showdown with George Foreman’s undefeated daughter Freeda who retired suddenly after taking a pounding from another pugilist in the first loss of her career. Laila currently reigns as the women’s world title holder, having compiled an impressive 24-0 record, including 21
    knockouts.

    With no credible challengers left, she opted to try something completely different type, ABC-TV’s Dancing with the Stars. She and her partner, Maklim Chmerkovskiy received a perfect score for their rumba, and came in third overall in the popular series’ competition. All the national attention led to recognition of Laila’s feminine side, and she was recently named to People Magazine’s 100 Most Beautiful List for 2007.

    The accomplished 29 year-old, now completely out of her father’s shadow, is also the author of a motivational book entitled “Reach!” She often makes public appearances as an inspirational speaker before young women in need of a role model.

    Laila is currently engaged to former NFL star Curtis Conway, and the loving couple has plans to marry in Los Angeles next month. She is the subject of the documentary, Daddy’s Girl, a documentary about her life which will air on TV One on Father’s Day, June 17th, at 8PM.

    KW: Hi, Laila. The first thing I have to ask you is, did you know that your dad was here in Princeton a few days ago?

    LA: No, I had no idea. I’m just so busy.

    KW: They’re calling him Dr. Ali, now, because he was awarded an honorary degree from the University at graduation.

    LA: Oh wow, that’s cool!

    KW: I met him twice before. The first time was way before you were born, back in 1967. He was training in Manhattan for the Zora Folley fight. A teacher who knew I was a fan took me to see him work out. Muhammad’s sparring partner at the time was future champ Jimmy Ellis, and we watched them go a couple of rounds. And while I was there, another future champ, Joe Frazier, who was up and coming but not very well known at the time, came in, loudly demanding a title fight. Ali talked some trash, leaned over the ropes and snapped Smokin’ Joe’s suspenders, asking him what made him think he could put up a good fight, which made everybody there laugh. The other time was in the early Eighties in Beverly Hills when he was driving a Rolls Royce convertible down Rodeo Drive. All the pedestrians on the street started chanting Ali, Bomaye! [meaning “Ali, kill him!” This was the phrase that the people of Zaire chanted while he was training for and again during the George Foreman fight.]

    LA: Oh, I just loved that car.

    KW: Why did you decide to make the bio-pic Daddy’s Girl?

    LA: Well, it wasn’t my idea. Reggie Bythewood was the producer. It was his baby. He pitched the idea to me. I didn’t really know what was going to come of it, as far as how it was going to turn out. He started doing the footage and following me around, and I’m happy with the way it came out.

    KW: This is pretty honest documentary. In fact it opens up with you saying, “My father may have been the greatest boxer, but he definitely wasn’t the greatest father.”

    LA: Well, I don’t think that I necessarily would have chosen to start it out that way.

    KW: Oh, that’s the way it was edited.

    LA: Exactly, but people have to understand that, to me, that’s not a negative statement. Obviously, it sounds like it is, but there are a lot of parents out there who wish they would have done things differently. And, like I said, my dad would probably be one of the first ones to say that.

    KW: Yet, you still followed in his career footsteps. Did you think that you were going to be a boxer while you were growing up?

    LA: No, though I’d always been an aggressive person, and had a competitive spirit. I saw women’s boxing on television for the first time when I was 18, and that’s when I wanted to do it. So, it didn’t come from me watching my father. I didn’t know the sport existed; therefore, I wasn’t really interested in it until I saw it.

    KW: Do you think there might be something genetic about your interest, since Freeda Foreman and Jackie Frazier, daughters of George and Joe, became boxers?

    LA: You also had Archie Moore’s daughter in the sport before I was, Ingemar Johansson’s daughter, and Roberto Duran’s granddaughter. So, it’s the same as with anything else. There are women, and there are men, who are just going to happen to want to fight, though I think my having some success in my career definitely forced the issue with some of the other girls. But I’m the only one now who’s still fighting. I guess they tried it, and it didn’t work, or there was something they didn’t like about it. So, they moved on, and I’m the only one that actually has had any staying power and became a world champion.

    KW: You’re the undefeated world champion, 24 and 0, is it time to move on and parlay that success into something else?

    LA: Well, I definitely reached my goals, and unfortunately, it’s left a void in how I feel about my career, because it wasn’t as challenging as I would have liked it to have been on the way up, as you saw in the documentary. It would be very difficult to continue to train hard and remain motivated after some of the situations I ended up in. I never intended to box forever, and always planned to move on to do other things. So, I’m pretty much where I thought I’d be right now, undefeated and a world champion.

    KW: How about your sister Hana? Think she might enter the ring?

    LA: [Laughs} No. None of my siblings have an interest in boxing. I’m the only one.

    KW: You have also done some time in jail, which makes me think of Paris Hilton, because usually people from a prominent family figure out a way to avoid ending up behind bars.

    LA: I definitely wouldn’t compare myself to Paris Hilton.

    KW: Do you want to talk about your case?

    LA: When I was 15, I hung out with some girls who were shoplifters, and I decided to do it myself, even though I had money in my pocket. And I got in trouble. I spent time in a juvenile hall. I think a lot of people try that but don’t get caught. I happened to get caught. You might have just found that out, but that information is not new. I’m the one who pretty much put that out there years ago about myself.

    KW: Why so?

    LA: Because, for me, it’s the only way to talk to other girls, and to try to help them. I actually wrote a book about my upbringing and what I’ve been through. It was just something that I did. I believe everything happens for a reason, and I’m going to use it in a positive way. That’s why

    KW: How did you enjoy doing Dancing with the Stars?

    LA: It was a nice change for me, to do something glamorous, but challenging. I had a lot of fun doing it.

    KW: It must have been a lot different from getting hit in the ring. You must have hated that part of being a boxer?

    LA: I think it’s just that you’re not a boxer. Anyone who’s not a fighter would say that, whether you’re a man or a woman. It’s hard for me try to explain to a non-boxer that it’s a sport. It’s part of a game in which you don’t want to get hit. Obviously, when I get hit, it doesn’t feel the same as it would for you to get hit. That question continues to be asked over and over again, and I’m sorry, but I really don’t have an answer for it.

    KW: That’s okay. What was it like being raised by such successful parents? Afterall, you’re dad was The Greatest and your mother was an accomplished equestrian in her own right. Did you feel pressure to succeed, too?

    LA: I don’t feel pressure. I just grew up around people who had a lot of confidence and drive, and I have the same. Any pressure on me comes from myself.

    KW: What advice do you have for anybody who wants to follow in your footsteps?

    LA: Don’t do it! No, I’m joking. I don’t really try to tell people whether they should fight. It’s definitely not for everybody. I think that if you do want to be a fighter, then you need to work harder than everybody else, and make sure that you surround yourself with good people, especially if you’re a woman. You’ve got to find a team that takes you seriously as a female fighter, and is not going to rush you into the ring before you’re ready.

    KW: Laila, thanks for the time, and congratulations to you and Curtis on your upcoming wedding.

    LA: I appreciate that. Thank you.

  • On My Mind: The Telephone

    Now many of you may wonder, just why the telephone is on my mind this week. To be honest it’s been on my mind a lot lately, but primarily since my move to Toronto six years ago. Now this could be a huge generalization about this very large Metropolis city, but it seems that people here don’t like to communicate on the telephone; they seem to prefer inhuman contact via e mail rather than a good old shoot the breeze, how’s the weather conversation. Okay you got me, I do like to talk. But, in that way I am old fashioned. I prefer good old fashioned communication. (Yes, I still have dial up). Some people laugh because I use dial up, but hearing the various problems associated with having wireless accounts I am proud to have my dial up. (Okay okay I just graduated to a CD player a few years ago). Don’t tell anyone but I tried to hang on to that cassette walkman as long as I could before it got embarrassing at the gym. I finally bought a CD walkman and of course now people have ipods, and before that mp3’s I figure by the time I make that investment people will have a microchip attached to their ear. I do however, own a cell phone, and I recently upgraded to a flip phone; imagine that!

    I still write letters, I admit my penmanship is not the best because of the many years of creating scripts, proposals and other projects on the computer. But, I found a great font that expresses what I think I could write like, if my penmanship were great and I use that. I still send Christmas cards in the mail; those I actually write in and sign by hand. I mail thank you cards to friends or to clients. I write letters to family and friends, and yes I post them with a stamp. I am not saying that I never use e mail to communicate, but I really do prefer old fashion modes of communication, when it comes to friends or family or things that are important. (Okay okay you got me again, I uh still have floppy diskettes).

    And now back to the telephone. I have a few friends, some new, some who moved to Toronto recently and I have noticed a trend. They never call me to say hello, they will e mail me to ask how I’m doing or what’s going on with me; and it makes me very uncomfortable. If you are a friend, a true friend, how hard is it to just pick up the phone even once a month and dial a number. In the past few weeks I have completed a life changing course, I have become drastically ill, and I had to deal with the anniversary of my sister’s passing. Do any of these so called friends know this? No. The funniest person is the one who always writes me saying that they’d like to meet up sometime. But, how can we meet up if you never call me? I have also tried to call them, but they never pick up the phone and are never available. So, there you have it: MISSION IMPOSSIBLE. I was told by them that they are not a phone person. I on the other hand, don’t understand friendship via internet communication unless you live in another area code; for which I have a great solution, because I also have a very good long distance phone plan (smiling).

    So, maybe I have missed something as I grew older, maybe back in the day my friends never liked to talk on the phone but they had no alternatives. Is it just me? Or is synthetic communication a problem for anyone else?

    Today, home very ill, with no one calling me to see if I was all right. (Except my family who I called long distance to let them know and the two friends in Toronto who actually answered their phones)… the telephone was on my mind.

  • The Revolution Will Not Be Funded


    “Many white-led social justice non-profits proclaim, in everything from their mission statements to their funding proposals, that they are committed to improving the social and economic conditions of the oppressed communities in which they operate. But… the white leadership of the progressive philanthropy movement actually protects white wealth and undermines the work of oppressed communities of color… They act as brokers between the capital and the oppressed people of color who were exploited to create it...

    They simply help [the rich] manage their money- and assuage their guilt for having wealth accrued from the stolen and exploited labor of people of color… More specifically, white people become more invested in protecting white wealth than in advancing oppressed people of color’s movements to reclaim and redistribute wealth.”

    Excerpted from Chapter 5, “The Filth on Philanthropy”

    Have you ever wondered why poverty persists in America, despite the existence of so many incredibly wealthy charitable organizations, some of which boast billion-dollar endowments? For instance, after Hurricane Katrina, non-profit corporations undoubtedly benefited from a fund-raising bonanza, given that the entire country had been moved to open their wallets by the failure of FEMA and every other federal and state agency to respond to the disaster effectively.

    Yet, here it is over 20 months later, and the poorest folks from the Gulf region remain unable to return to their homes and are probably permanently dislocated. To get a clue as to understanding the woeful performance of philanthropies, may I suggest The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex.

    This anthology of revealing essays was edited by Incite!, a collective also known as Women of Color against Violence. This incendiary tome brilliantly blows the covers off the non-profit racket, indicting it as being in bed with a power elite whose primary interest is in maintaining the status quo.

    As proof, the authors point out that in 1955 charitable giving totaled just $7.7 billion, but by 1998 (the last year that such statistics were compiled) that figure had risen to $175 billion. One of the unintended consequences of this generosity is that foundations now strategically direct how their grants get disbursed, which means that most money is allocated with strings attached.

    Apparently, some charities even masquerade as progressive while pushing an arch-conservative agenda, such as The Rockefeller Foundation which has been misleading in its supposed effort to fight world hunger started 30 years ago when there were less than a million starving people on the planet. According to this eye-opening opus, the Foundation’s true mission was to control political insurgency and population growth.

    The upshot is that today there over 800 million people who go to sleep hungry daily, and the book blames the Rockefellers for using contributions to bankroll a “massive global restructuring of agriculture” which “destroyed the livelihoods of millions of farmers and villagers that had been in existence for hundreds of years.”

    The Revolution Will Not Be Funded indicates that “critical to the success” of such schemes is the deliberate “use of people of color as endorsers of these tactics.” In sum, the sisters behind this enlightening expose’ earn high marks for compiling a critical inquiry into an unregulated industry long-presumed to be dedicated to the public interest, which unfortunately, more often than not, ostensibly functions as a pawn of big business and the ruling class.

     


    The Revolution Will Not Be Funded:
    Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex
    Edited by Incite! Women of Color against Violence
    South End Press
    272 pages
    ISBN: 0-89608-766-8

  • Twilight Café Brings Home Drama


    Sarah and Stanley have two kids, two lives and an explosive history that comes between them at every turn, forcing out the present.  From the moment Sarah steps into Stanley’s Twilight Café, visiting Trinidad from her new home in New York, the first domino is felled which sets off a chain reaction of reliving and revisiting.  The visit evokes poltergeists of the past to possess the two participants with old questions and powerful cultural dynamics.

    In Twilight Café, Tony Hall’s writing is at once conversational and poetic, exposing the internal passion of personal history along with the external weight of all their baggage – all of our baggage, because the conflicts are all too familiar.  The playwright recognizes the destructive potential in ‘playing along’ without resolving deep seated issues whether in politics or personal life.  Perhaps the relevance of the experience he depicts explains Hall’s ability to engage audiences on the street, the stage, the radio and in lecture halls.

    The Jouvay Popular Theatre Process, developed by Tony Hall through his work at the Lord Street Theatre in Trinidad, uses the ritual and imagery of carnival, and invests it with the gravity of the artform’s political, spiritual and cultural roots, quite aside from its perceived function as a celebratory rite.  The carnival tradition is connected with archetypes in folklore, with resistance and with the history of calypso music itself, as deftly explored in Jean and Dinah... Who Have Been Locked Away in a World Famous Calypso Since 1956 Speak Their Minds Publicly, which Hall co-wrote with Rhoma Spencer and Susan Sandiford. The JPTP method incorporates some of carnival’s recognizable elements into the process of creation and production, including masquerade, improvisation and rhythm.  But he also goes deeper to invoke “ the secret, subterranean, survival strategies of the emancipation traditions.”

    The story in Twilight Café is cyclical, exemplary of the repetitive pattern of human interactions it is illustrating.  From the premise of a nuclear family with conventional breadwinner/housekeeper roles, the stability of that household balance is threatened and what follows is a deconstruction of the parts that make up this whole.  The breadwinner/housekeeper are and have been husband/wife-father/mother-son/daughter, the impact of each experience echoing through the next.  Each of the performers takes on the challenge of traversing shifting sands, as the story trips across various masculine and feminine social prototypes and their attendant inconsistencies.

    The cast of this production are well equipped to manage the range required by their various roles. David Collins (The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God, The Sheep and The Whale) and Raven Dauda (Da Kink in My Hair, She Never Bought Me an Easy Bake Oven) play characters walking a tightrope between vulnerability and volatility which makes for a taut atmosphere.

    Twilight Café won five Cacique awards for theatre in Trinidad and Tobago, (outstanding actress, set design, lighting design, sound design and original script).


    Donna-Michelle St. Bernard is a Freelance Contributor for AfroToronto.com. She can be reached at donna@afrotoronto.com


    TWILIGHT CAFÉ [The Last Breakfast]

    by Tony Hall
    Directed by Rhoma Spencer
    Featuring: David Collins &Raven Dauda
    Set, Costumes and Props: Julia Tribe
    Sound Design: Nicholas Murray
    Lighting Design: Michelle Ramsay

    The Great Hall Downstairs (formerlyThe Theatre Centre)
    1087 Queen Street West (At Dovercourt)

    Time: Tuesday to Saturday at 8:00pm Sundays @ 2:00pm

    Tickets will be available at T.O. Tix on the web www.totix.ca, by phone at 1-888-222-6608, in person at the T.O. Tix booth at Yonge and Dundas Square or 1 hour before showtime at the door.

    With Twilight Café,Theatre Archipelago builds on three years of creating theatre from the Caribbean Diaspora.  Artistic Director Rhoma Spencer has brought stories from the islands to North American stages as a playwright, director, actor and stand-up comic, always from the company’s “no boundaries” stance.

  • On My Mind: Rock Bottom

    There is something about hitting Rock Bottom that gives you clarity in life. Now to me I’ve been to that place a few times before. You know the place; you can’t pay your bills, nothing seems to be working out, you don’t feel secure about anything, finances, your future, and life in general. Yes, I have been to this place before, they call it the Valley…well I have rolled around in the valley gathering rocks and stones and some dirt and I have the bruises to prove it. I found out that due to my knee injury I can no longer run or dance, which translates to no more theatre or film work for me, because the movements of my knee are now very limited. Theatre and performing is a huge part of my life. My degree is in theatre, I’ve done countless plays, and I used to choreograph and I just love dancing. But, that part of my life will now have to be put on a shelf.

    Back in January of this year I sat in the Rebecca Cohn Arts Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia with three other women I sang with for twelve and a half years. In another part of my life I sang in an Acapella quartet called Four The Moment, we toured all across Canada at various folk festivals and music festivals and we even sang in Germany, New York Lincoln Centre and at the Saint Lucia Jazz Festival. In 2003 we reunited to open up for Dr. Maya Angelou for the second time in Toronto at the Sky Dome Theatre. That part of my life seems so far away now, 1988 – 2000. So, there I am sitting in the concert hall being honoured for my work of activism through song. This was supposed to be an amazing feeling a great feeling, but I didn’t feel great, as a matter a fact I sat there in a daze feeling somewhat upset by the event. While at the Cohn, they showed footage of all of our contributions to the Nova Scotian community through a short video of vignettes of our lives on stage and working in various communities. There I was on the screen with the young women in my theatre company that I ran from 1996-1998. They also had footage of me singing with various bad hair styles from the 80’s to the 90’s. As I sat there however, I continued to feel worse. Then, they called our group to the stage; we talked a bit and sang a short medley of our tunes. Just prior to that moment we watched the Nova Scotia Mass Choir, do amazing arrangements of our music. It all seemed surreal to me, I was up there singing to a hall with at least 1000 people in it, and I didn’t feel excited, I just felt overwhelmed and unhappy. Then during intermission I went out into the crowd to find my family and ended up feeling like Brangelina (Brad Pit and Angelina Jolie). People wanted to take pictures everyone was calling my name, and I couldn’t find my family in the crowd. The evening ended and Shauntay, who used to be in my theatre company, came up to me and said… “Anne-Marie without you, there’d be no me,” which made me immediately burst into tears. I had no idea what was wrong, why I felt so upset, I was convinced I was just overwhelmed by having lived long enough to be honored for work in a community I no longer lived in.

    I went back to my hotel and continued to be upset the next day and for the entire period of my two week stay in Nova Scotia. I made a journal entry trying to decipher just what on earth was wrong with me. It was about a month later that I determine I was feeling displaced. Going back to Nova Scotia symbolized who I was through all of the contributions I made to youth and in to the community, but I have outgrown my life there. Living in Toronto, I just didn’t feel satisfied with the societal things I deal with here. So, I felt displaced, not belonging anywhere. My Employment Insurance had come to an end, I had only one school booking for February, and after a conversation with a close friend of mine, I decided I was leaving Toronto; out of here, see ya, au revoir, bye bye, no more, aloha. The only problem was I had nowhere to go.

    So, as I often do in my apartment I just yelled out to God… “okay God, I’m done here, (bad grammar I know but I was home okay) okay God I’m done here, I will go to Japan for a year and teach English, pay off all my debts, and come back in a year’s time and work on my education degree. God are you listening? I will just leave. All these things I have are material they can be replaced, you tell me what to do. Then I said God I will give my notice for my apartment on March 1 st and leave Toronto the end of April.” I said all of that out loud to him cried a bit but just turned it all over to God because I was sick and tired of struggling and I just felt like things weren’t coming together for me in the right way.

    What’s interesting about being in that state of mind is that I was serious, ask anyone I talked to over that two week period … I was ready to go (again for the 100 th time). On Sunday February 18 th , I had an epiphany while talking to my cousin Gale (who I am convinced is my Muse) I came up with this amazing idea to start a Creative Consulting company. I was telling her how I was sick of struggling, and how I was hooked up to so many people, organizations and even industries, but for some reason I couldn’t seem to get ahead. I jotted down my idea for this company while talking to her and venting my frustrations.

    Long story short or short story long; once I had the clarity of starting this company I began to get calls to teach and do workshops with different community based groups in the GTA. The month of March where previously I had no work was now fully booked. Hmm. Next, on Monday February, 26 th , I received an arts grant that I applied for in November. Other positive things started to happen. I actually made enough money in the month of March to cover all of my rent and bills, and I ironically had nothing booked for the month of April or May. On March 28 th , I found out that I got into the self employment program I had applied for. So for the last two weeks I have been in an accelerated business course learning everything about business, marketing research, social styles in business, computer applications, you name it I am learning it all from well established entrepreneurs.

    My life has completely changed in a two month period. I went from being displaced and struggling to having income support for a year and perfecting the skills and business sense I have had for many years. I am happy, I am not leaving Toronto (at least not right now) and I know my company will be a success. When people see me now, they notice a difference in me and they ask me “did you read the Secret” and I tell them “no, but I have faith and I believe in God and that’s no Secret”. Apparently, I had to hit rock bottom. I was willing to leave my apartment and my home that I’ve known for the last six years, sell everything and go to Japan. I was not content, and I really had no idea what was in store for me. Now I feel truly happy and blessed and I can’t remember the last time I felt this way. In church we learn to turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones. And I believe that’s what happened to me, I was rolling around in the valley and now I am step step stepping (bad knees and all) up towards mountain top and forward into my future.

    So today hitting Rock Bottom was On My Mind, but tomorrow is always a better day.

  • Don Imus

    There Must Still Be Something Out of Kilter

    “That's some nappy-headed hos there, I'm going to tell you that now, man [laughing], that's some... woo!”
    - Don Imus describing the Rutgers Women’s Basketball Team, 2007

    “That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman?

    Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?

    Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ''twixt the Negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon.”
    -- Sojourner Truth at a Women's Rights Convention, 1851

    Make no mistake, Don Imus knew exactly what he was doing and to whom when he and his creepy cohorts chose to belittle the achievements, to question the femininity, and to smear the reputations of the members of Rutgers Women’s Basketball Team. He picked on them because he figured he could get away with it, as usual, because they were black, because they were female, because they were powerless, and because they were defenseless and ostensibly without the political clout to hold him accountable for the venomous, vituperative attack, no matter how baseless or profane.

    Had Imus disparaged females from, say, a predominantly Jewish basketball team as “hooked-nosed Hebe hos” before going on and on about how masculine and unattractive they were and comparing them to dinosaurs and grizzly bears, there would be no need for me to write this article, and no ongoing debate about whether or not he should be fired, because network execs would have yanked him out of the studio and handed him his walking papers on the spot. Despite Imus’ claim that he’s an “equal opportunity offender,” both he and his on-air sidekicks are well aware of the unwritten rules as to which gender and ethnic groups it’s acceptable for them to ridicule.

    The Imus Show already had a disgraceful history of demonstrating insensitivity specifically towards black women prior to this incident, such as the occasion on which the host referred to PBS-TV nightly news anchor Gwen Ifill as a “cleaning lady.” Then there was the time that his sports reporter, Sid Rosenberg, suggested that tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams were better suited to appear on the cover of National Geographic than Playboy.

    So, it’s no surprise that Rosenberg, an admitted crackhead, was again one of the willing participants in Imus’ latest lame, white male-bonding opportunity at the expense of the dignity of these innocent, highly-accomplished African-American females. Also chiming in with approval was executive producer James McGuirk who called them “jigaboos.” The only more insulting slur I can think of is the N-word. The message this inveterate racist Imus is so fond of delivering is that no matter what odds black women manage to overcome in a society which undervalues them by design, he is always ready to remind them of this country’s color-coded caste system by resorting to inflammatory, offensive stereotypes.

    Curiously, he showed surprisingly-little remorse while defending himself in a transparently-phony non-apology during which he instead went on the offensive. "I may be a white man, but I know that... young black women all through that society are demeaned and disparaged and disrespected... by their own black men and that they are called that name," he arrogantly asserted.

    I don’t know what bizarro world Imus is talking about, because I have never referred to any black woman as a “ho,” and I have never witnessed any other black man doing so, except in movies and music videos. Thus, it is very telling that Imus is apparently citing as the source of the inspiration for his callous remarks gangsta rap and blaxpoitation flicks which most African-American males routinely complain about but have no control over their mass marketing.

    By contrast, consider the fact that Michael Jackson was successfully pressured to recall a CD containing the anti-Semitic invectives “Jew me, sue me” and “Kick me, kike me,” and to re-shoot its video and to re-release the song with different lyrics. Just because blacks do not enjoy the same sort of leverage as entertainment executives, does not mean that African-Americans endorse the misogyny running rampant in rap and the rest of the entertainment media.

    Rather, the mercenary aspect of crapitalism is at fault, as it allows the almighty dollar to set the programming agenda. Never forget, this is a culture which exploits the human condition for profit.

    The Rutgers women shouldn’t expect much to come from their meeting with Imus, except for maybe more salt in their fresh wounds. Unfortunately, productive communication can’t occur until both parties to the conversation respect and understand each other. Impatient to get his job back, Imus is likely to approach them in a results-oriented fashion. They, on the other hand, as soulful spiritual folk, will undoubtedly be process-oriented and content only if they can somehow connect heart-to-heart.

    Despite his millions of listeners, Imus has already proven himself to be woefully out of touch with the pulse of the country, isolated and hopelessly adrift on an anti-intellectual ice floe without a moral compass. Isn’t it obvious that at the dawn of a historic era when the nation sits poised perhaps to elect either its first black or first woman president, there is absolutely no reason why this bigoted, over-opinionated Neanderthal should ever be behind a coast-to-coast microphone again, let alone consulted to participate in the discussion of the indefensible words which ought to bring down the curtain on his career?

    Either it’s ovah for Imus, or, as sister Sojourner Truth said so many years ago, there must still be something out of kilter.

  • A Winter Tale

    An Interview with Frances-Anne Solomon


    Frances-Anne Solomon (left) with ReelWorld Film Festival founder Tonya Lee Williams

    This week marks the launch of the 7th Annual ReelWorld Film Festival. Opening on Wednesday, April 11th, 2007 and running through Sunday, April 15 th, this year’s festival will feature 66 films from 13 countries, 8 world premieres, 2 international premieres, 34 Canadian premieres, 15 headline feature films, 6 French language titles, 26 documentaries, and 41 shorts. The opening film of this year’s ReelWorld Festival is director and producer Frances-Anne Solomon’s A Winter Tale.

    A poignant drama taking place in Toronto’s Parkdale working-class neighbourhood, A Winter Tale examines the aftermath of the tragic shooting of a 9-year-old boy who falls victim to a bullet meant for a drug dealer. Frances-Anne Solomon endeavours to take us into a soul-searching examination of the root causes, and healing process, needed to tackle the problem of so-called Black-on-Black violence among Toronto’s Black youth.

    With a stellar ensemble cast helmed by veteran Canadian actors Peter Williams and Michael Miller, and Caribbean stars like actress Leonie Forbes of Jamaica and stand-up comic Dennis “Sprangalang” Hall from Trinidad, A Winter Tale promises to bring an authentically multi-layered narrative to the screen.

    AfroToronto.com recently had the opportunity to sit down with the hard-working Frances-Anne Solomon to gain some insight into the vision behind A Winter Tale.

    She began describing the very organic process behind the 4-year long journey to bring A Winter Tale to the big screen.

    “I began working on the project which is about the inner life of Black men in the city because, at the time (4 years ago), there was a lot of so-called black-on-black violence that was being reported in the media. Black men were being portrayed as being monsters. And I thought that it didn’t resemble anything that I knew, or the people that I knew. … What I was seeing in the press didn’t correspond with what I know of my community.”

    As Solomon goes on to explain, her project sought to look at these people, these characters, from inside rather than from the outside. The process demanded a lot of research. She began by interviewing about 25 young men in the community of different ages, income, class, occupation and background. That essentially formed the basis of the project. Many of these men talked about coming to Canada with high hopes. Some arrived in the sixties and seventies. While other younger immigrants came to these shores in the eighties and nineties. But the constant experience seemed to be towering difficulty to make their own opportunities or to find opportunities.

    Quoting Frances-Anne Solomon: “In a society that prides itself in being multicultural, there are a lot of barriers. Particularly, I found, for Black men. And that’s what they were talking about. But they were talking about it from a lot of different perspectives. … I wanted to put together a storyline that would interweave the stories of different men.”

    The interviews served to highlight the striking reality that, as Solomon indicates, “there’s a very high percentage of Black men who have been excluded by the education system and who have been criminalized from a very young age. And when you talk to these young men, there’s a confusion of feelings about what’s happening to them. They don’t really know what to do in order to find their way out of a kind of complex mesh of what is essentially systemic racism in this society.”

    As young Black men make up a very high percentage of the prison system’s population, there’s a perception that Black men are dangerous or bad.

    “So, a couple of the youth workers that I spoke to said that they felt that what would be useful would be a support group … that men need support. So setting up a support group for men where they would have an opportunity to talk about what was going on for them [would be beneficial]. To share their feelings about what was happening to them with other men would be a very useful thing. So that was the birth of the idea of the central character of Gene (played by Peter Williams) who’s a 40-something social worker who remembers his own father’s dream of coming to Canada during the Trudeau era when the doors opened and Canada was being called the land of opportunity. The just society. The dream of a just society” as Frances-Anne Solomon relates.

    So the character of Gene Wright falls back on the memory of his father’s dream and tries to set up a group where men in his Parkdale neighbourhood can come together and talk about their dreams and their frustrations. The idea of the Black men’s support group is the backbone of the story.

    To achieve that all-important sense of authenticity for the project, Solomon put out a call to actors in the community with the purpose of reflecting the multi-cultural reality of this country. She recalls how, in 2004, about 90 actors lined up around the street to audition for a half-day. “The place was packed. It was quite something. And of those people, I’d say that half of them were wonderful actors” as she recounts.

    After putting together a team of 14 actors, Solomon started sending them into the community to talk to people. She also encouraged them to share their own lived experiences with each other. As she goes on to explain:

    ”So they brought their own experiences of living in Canada to the development of their characters. And story workshops where we kind of built the story through improvisation. After the workshops, I would go and write. Put together the story and weave it together. And so it was a very organic process. Obviously, I had a story to start with, and I had an idea of the characters in my head based on my research. But once the actors came on board, they brought their own integrity, they brought their own language and so, little by little, we put together this framework of the script. Which is really built on the lived experiences of people in Canada. Both from a research point of view and also from the point of view of the participation of the actors.”

    Director's Bio

    Frances-Anne Solomon is a director, producer and writer in film, TV and new media. She is the founder and president of Leda Serene Films, and artistic director of its sister company, Caribbean Tales, a nonprofit company developing multimedia educational tools that draw on Caribbean heritage storytelling. She is an award-winning filmmaker, writer and producer whose credits as a writer/director include Lord Have Mercy! (VisionTV, 2003), Peggy Su!What My Mother Told Me (Channel 4, 1995) and Bideshi (British Film Institute, 1994). She is the President and Artistic Director of the two companies she founded, Leda Serene Films and CaribbeanTales and has also worked as a film and television producer for the BBC. (BBC Films, 1997), What My Mother Told Me (Channel 4, 1995) and Bideshi (British Film Institute, 1994). She is the President and Artistic Director of the two companies she founded, Leda Serene Films and CaribbeanTales and has also worked as a film and television producer for the BBC.

     

    For more information, visit www.ledaserene.ca, www.awintertale.ca, www.caribbeantales.ca, www.literaturealiveonline.ca

    A Winter Tale has been chosen to launch the 2007 ReelWorld Film Festival.

    Screening Dates, Times and Prices:

    80 Front Street East (@ Jarvis)

    Purchase advanced tickets on-line:

    Reel World Film Festival

  • Let My People Go

    I had the opportunity to attend Nathaniel Dett Chorale’s latest offering, Voices of the Diaspora: Let My People Go at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, George Weston Hall.  The evening commemorated the 200 th anniversary of the abolition of the Slave Trade in the British Empire (March 25, 1807).

    First allow me to confess, I still believe in magic.  You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.  Founder and Artistic Director Brainerd Blyden-Taylor welcomed us to the evening with the news that we were celebrating the Chorale’s 9 th birthday, calling it “a little dream that grew,” causing me to reflect on the niche this organization has carved out.

    They’re atypical to say the least.  The Nathaniel Dett Chorale are Canada’s first professional choral group dedicated to Afrocentric music, performing classical, spiritual, gospel, jazz folk and blues. The group of 21 world class vocalists have performed at events honouring Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Muhammad Ali, and is about empowering, building bridges and dissolving barriers.  I count five people I know in the lobby, four of whom I’m surprised to see here.  Then again, who exactly do you expect to see at a performance of African American music rendered in a classical form?  A survey of the audience spoke to the form’s broad appeal, bringing people of all ages and ethnicities out on this bitter cold night for the NDC experience, including a group of youth who met with the artists prior to the show.

    If you have ever been to a performance by this accomplished ensemble, I need not describe the little swell in my chest when we were asked to stand for the Black National Anthem.  The uncommon arrangement of Lift Every Voice and Sing that followed introduced us to the wide range and unconventional turns we could expect throughout the evening, as familiar words and melodies from the African American canon were expanded, exalted and elevated through the choir’s distinct collective voice.

    Equally unique treatments give Wade in the Water and Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel a feeling of familiarity and discovery at the same time; so much is happening within the technically complex framework that is also compelling on a purely emotional level. With their singular style and mandate, I sense that this balance has been key to the chorale’s longevity.

    Blyden-Taylor’s mark is indelibly written on the performances, which are as a whole both passionate and elegant. He speaks and conducts with a dignified, suppressed energy and supplies just enough contextual preamble to let us all in on the concept behind an oratorio without giving a lecture – a neat trick.  (It’s a musical composition for orchestra , vocal soloists and chorus , different from opera in that it does not have scenery, costumes, or acting and tends to have religious subject matter). The oratorio The Ordering of Moses, composed by R Nathaniel Dett, comprised the second half of the program.

    Choral pieces March of the Israelites and Go Down Moses raised me out of my seat like a plant bending towards the light of the sun, and while the chorus’s unified voice is a moving signature, there are some beautiful surprises that unfold dramatically.

    Melissa Davis is flawless in Listen to the Lambs, both a powerful voice and a commanding presence at centre stage. Alto Ali Garrison stands out all the way through the evening, embodying the soul projected through her voice, palpably living the sound.  In the oratorio, soprano Neema Bickersteth’s lead on Come let us praise Jehovah and tenor Larry Sowell’s heart rending Lord!  Who am I? absolutely shine at a point in the program when you think you’ve seen what everyone can do.

    The Nathaniel Dett Chorale’s success is clearly no fluke.  Its members, some of whom do not share the African heritage that informs the repertoire, share among them an impressive array of academic credentials and prestigious awards.  Their namesake, Nathaniel Dett, had a calling to preserve and disseminate music that carries a vital aspect of our culture, to allow these pieces to evolve and persevere.  For some audience members the evening recalled an aesthetic consistent with their Caribbean upbringing, infusing a colonial model with African diasporic salve.  For all present, Lift Every Voice and Sing was an uplifting and unifying event, bringing us down into the valley and back out again together. The dream is alive.

  • Griots t’ Garage

    Uplifting the African spirit

    "Jazz fusion at its finest engaged the Harbourfront during KUUMBA this year. Pounding beats, electrifying back drops and a lively audience made for an incredible evening.

    Needless to say, in their North American debut the Griots t’ Garage blew us away. To begin there’s a DJ supplying the break-beats, a trombonist and a camera guy on stage; this should have been the first indictor that this evening would not be routine.

    Described as part tribute, part documentary and part concert, Griots t’ Garage is a new age multimedia experience certainly a novel approach to jazz. With live-on-the-floor footage and visual projectionists it’s clear that this group thrives on innovation. They’ve also be known to use elements like Jazz dancers and percussionist in their act. However on this night it would be front man, Dennis Rollins’ musical dexterity that captivated us. It was obvious although constantly evolving with the use of hip-hop, garage and funk beat Griots t’ garage stays true to its Jazz roots relying heavily on Rollins’ skilful trombone solos.

    Dennis Rollins is not afraid to work, he moves across the stage never losing step with the beat. Transitioning from one song to the next, making the underrated trombone an even more arresting instrument than I thought possible. He blows, he smiles, he jumps all the while teasing us with standards like “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing”.

    According to the Griots sound engineer Stephen their goal is to wrap the music around the audience to make each performance something new.

    “What I enjoy the most is the experience even tonight was completely different, it’s nice to come in, take on a challenge and be successful at it.”

    The Griots performance was unlike anything I imagined one could experience listening or watching a jazz performance. Radical images of black activist flash on screen as the beats build to crescendo, virtually without pause melancholy tunes coincide with colorful kaleidoscopes. With each transition it leads one to ponder whether the image tells the story behind the music or is the music the backdrop to the images transmitted on screen.

    The jazz impresario, Dennis Rollins explained the meaning behind the music.

    “It’s a way of connecting back to my home, connecting right back to Africa taking a journey as many places I can. All musical genres that I’ve been trying to cover all have the same connection- they all have the drum of the heartbeat.”

    Dennis was also kind enough to express his thoughts on performing in Toronto for the first time.  “I’m really enjoying the culture here in Toronto, there’s a real community spirit and obviously because it’s black history month I’m seeing a lot of brothers and sisters all celebrating -that’s what life is and it’s beautiful to see that here.”

    A melting pot of the blues, modern jazz, ancient African rhythms and funky garage grooves the Griots t’ Garage melodic expedition is worth a listen.

    Adele Ambrose is the AfroToronto.com Arts Editor. She can be reached at adele@afrotoronto.com.

  • King: A Graphic Novel

    "King" by Canadian graphic novelist Ho Che Anderson, is a unique biography about civil rights legend Martin Luther King Jr.

    King is boldly told in the graphic novel format ("comic book" to the uninformed), which may draw initial pause from some readers, and that''s a shame.   While widely respected in other cultures (most notably Japan), the graphic novel is seen as a format primarily for children in North America - sad considering the medium''s ability to tell interesting and unique stories for adults.  Books such as Watchmen, 100 Bullets and Preacher are examples of excellent material written for adults.

    There are many things to like about King.  The dialogue is strong, and gives the reader a sense of being present for conversations that took place during key moments of the civil rights movement.

    Anderson dramatizes instances in Dr. King''s life, including interactions with his inner circle and family, in order to add texture to familiar historical events.  It''s a form of historical fiction that Anderson weaves seamlessly into the story.

    He also uses this technique to incorporate interviews of average people into the book, who comment on how Dr. King''s actions were perceived at the time.

    Anderson ''s black and white art is striking, abstract and makes excellent use of shadows to convey mood and tone while occasional splashes of colour emphasize dramatic events.  Several panels in King are so well done that they should be displayed as paintings.

    In spite of King''s beautiful visuals, the actual storytelling was not as strong as I would have liked.  I wasn''t able to get a sense of the developing story through the visuals, which caused the story to lack a sense of momentum.   As a result, King depended heavily on dialogue to advance its story and left me feeling in some instances that it may have worked better as a traditional novel rather than a graphic one.

    Anderson presents snippets of Dr. King''s family life, back room negotiations, and touches on his alleged infidelity- but I would have liked to have seen more impressions of Dr. King through a deeper focus on the personal elements of his life.  I think it''s important that a biography teaches the reader something new about its subject or presents them in a way that gives the reader a different perspective.  King didn''t do either for me.  Admittedly, this is difficult considering that the spectre of Martin Luther King Jr. looms so large in history.

    Originally published in three parts over the course of 10 years, King is a worthwhile read, but perhaps because of the way it was written, the story felt uneven.   King was obviously a labour of love and the research that Anderson put into this book is impressive, but the storytelling struck me as being too straightforward with too few revelations.  Still, King is a good starting point for those who don''t know much about Dr. King and want to learn more.

  • Help! My Teenager Wants to Be a Video Girl

    It’s been a hot topic for eons.

    Hip-hop culture and its misogynistic exploitation of women has been a source of contention and red-hot arguments. The exploitation of women in hip-hop culture has perpetuated the stereotype of Black women as promiscuous and oversexed, to the detriment of Black women all over the world.

    It was not until Curtis Benjamin, Executive Director of It’s Cool To Be Smart Inc, heard his 14 year old daughter, who watches 106 and Park, a popular show on BET, say that she wanted to be a video girl that he realized just how dire things were. Shocked by his own daughter’s revelations, as well as the number of negative images he saw on 106 and Park, Benjamin decided to create It’s Cool To Be Smart Inc with special focus on raising the self-esteem of little Black girls and helping them to grow into proud, self-confident, self-respecting young ladies. On his daughter’s video girl ambitions, he says,

    “I think it’s the video image that the girls like. The bling bling. A lot of girls want to be liked. They want to be celebrated and show [off to] their peers.”

    Understable. It’s been glorified beyond recognition. But is aspiring to emulate a video girl/vixen a healthy choice?

    Is Hip Hop Soft Porn?

    Many hip hop videos have the signature rapid-fire images of women wearing next to nothing and dancing like strippers. These women are being used as props, backdrops and sexual objects for many rap artists. Much of the music and many videos explicitly perpetuate negative highly sexualized images of Black women. Almost every hip-hop video that is regularly run today several sexually suggestive breast and behind jiggling women (usually surrounding one or more men) wearing flimsy bikinis, with the cameras aimed on their provocatively dressed body parts. In fact some of the dancers are actual strippers. This is the job of a video girl or video vixen depending on what you want to call it.

    Is it soft porn? The answer is up to your discretion as a reader.

    Misogynistic ideas and practices are not new phenomena in North America. These are ideas from history which have unfortunately been passed down to today''s hip-hop youth. For example, it is common knowledge that during slavery Black women were frequently forced to have sexual relations with any male who wanted her. This included slavemaster’s, sailors, overseers, and fellow slaves. Black women were sometimes used as breeding instruments to give birth to more human property, and at other times forced to have sex to pay the for their food, the safety of their children, or to be treated less cruelly on a daily basis. The price for the survival tactic? Their bodies.

    But it is sad that although Black people have made great strides in history and have spawned amazing women like Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Madam C.J. Walker and Phyllis Wheatly; today, in this day and age, we are still being bombarded with ignorant music videos and magazines which portray Black women as no better than prostitutes. Considering that one in five records sold is a hip hop one, and that the majority of the hip hop videos shown perpetuate the oversexed Black woman, the odds of it stopping are bleak. The image of the oversexed Black woman is selling like hot potatoes. But there is more to the Black woman than being a sexual being.

    Is Hip Hop Being Scape-Goated?

    The magazine Ebony’s March issues, in the article Raising Our daughters – Countering the Effects of Today’s Negative Images of Young African-American Females discusses how among African American girls, the problem of low self-esteem has been stimulated by a blitz of negative influences including those in magazines, music videos and hard-core lyrics that degrade women.

    In the same issue Dr. Johnetta B. Cole addresses the violence, sex and disrespect in some hip hop songs in her article, What Has Hip Hop Done to Black Women? In the same article, she says,

    “I strongly believe that hip hop is more misogynistic and disrespectful of Black women and girls than other popular music genres such as the blues. The casual reference to rape….the soft porn visuals and messages of many rap videos are seared into the consciousness of young Black boys and girls at an early age. They are harmful to Black boys and men because they encourage misogynistic behaviors…”

    Then she goes on to say,

    “What value can there be in descriptions of Black girls and women as “bitches,” “hos,” “skeezers,” “freaks,” “gold diggers,” “chickenheads” and “pigeons”? What could possibly be the value to our communities to have rap music videos that are notorious for featuring half-clothed young Black women gyrating obscenely….?”

    Even CNN saw it fit to showcase a documentary called Hip Hop: Art or Poison? on February 21, 2007 at 8:00pm. Paula Zahn introduced the prime time show with the following words,

    “Hip-hop has been accused of glorifying violence, objectifying women and promoting homophobia, and at the same time has been praised for reflecting the realities of urban life. We bring the controversy ‘Out in the Open.’ Shocking images and lyrics have America asking if hip-hop has gone too far.”

    Has Hip Hop Gone Too Far?

    Perhaps Asha Jennings can give her opinion. Asha Jennings, a former Spelman Student mentions that two years ago, she saw a video by Nelly called “Tip Drill” where among many offensive things, we see a man swiping a credit card in the crack of a woman''s behind. Jennings was so offended, she started a movement to change the way Black women are portrayed in hip hop videos. She said,

    “I want people to start critically thinking about how these images affect Black women today. We''re telling people, they''re bitches and hoes and sluts and not worthy of respect. And that''s exactly how society is treating us.

    In response to readers like Jennings, Essence Magazine launched a campaign to take back the music. The Editor of Essence, Angela Burt-Murray said,

    “I think the current state of hip-hop is basically stuck on one note, the degradation of women, the glorification of a culture that seems centered around pimps and prison.”

    Cori Murray, Arts and Entertainment Editor of Essence said,

    “We aren''t attacking hip hop. There are still very good things in hip hop; I love hip hop…….Misogyny in hip hop, however, is running rampant….. What’s popular in hip hop is misogynistic and headed toward porn…..If we [Black women] start telling them, ''Stop calling us that,'' or, ''Stop showing us that way,'' think about what could happen,” she says. “We have so much power. I doubt these guys are going to turn their backs on us.”

    What do some men say?

    On the CNN show Germaine Dupri was quoted as basically saying take your televisions off if you do not like it. He forgets that these music videos are on at 3:00pm when a lot of children (unsupervised and supervised) are watching. Russell Simmons says that America is a violent and oversexed country. That''s the sad truth. And rappers are reflections of -- sometimes reflections of the sad truth. Byron Hurt, Director of the documentary Hip Hop: beyond Beats & Rhythms -A Hip-Hop Head Weighs in On Manhood in Rap Music ,– whose documentary critiques the music he loves, especially its depiction of women says,

    “What you''re seeing mostly, though, is, you''re seeing repetitive images of women as boy toys, as sex kittens, as sex objects. And I think that''s a problem.”

    Michael Eric Dyson, humanities professor at the University of Pennsylvania says,

    “That is, first of all, misogyny and sexism are big business in American culture. The degrading of women is from time and memorial. So hip hop visualizes it and vocalizes it in a very violent fashion. I have no defense for that -- misogyny, which is the hatred of women; sexism, sentiments expressed against women because they''re women; and patriarchy, which assumes that the man''s life supplies the norms to everybody else.”

    So, Scapegoat Or Not?

    Hip hop is a culture, albeit a youth-driven one. There is actually a generation called the hip hop generation, which includes people in their 30’s and below. Black people are a rhythm-driven culture and the music industry knows that. Hip hop seduces us with its banging beats and uses that aspect to make us buy its products. When hip hop started in its raw form, it was started by Black and Latino youth, encompassing rapping, mixing, break-dancing, b-boying, and graffiti-writing.

    It was in its initial stages rap music, a form of poetry that is said over musical instrumentation. Back then it was all about positive messages and was a social and political voice with groups like KRS-One or Public Enemy. Then it slowly went mainstream and became a lifestyle, pervading music videos, fashion, slang, the club scene, commercials and the universal way in which young people socialized with one another, which was a good thing. However, recently rap music has earned the hard core reputation of being brutally violent, and misogynistic.

    Women To Blame Too?

    It is also true that no one puts a gun to the heads of the females used in the videos. Nobody puts a gun to the heads of the women who flood dance clubs and backstages of concerts and display the willingness to do anything sexually with musicians simply to earn money, clothes, jewelry, drinks or just to feel privileged and desired. But does this have to be the prominent image of Black women which is exported from North America? Is that going to continue to be the dominant way that many rappers portray women? Can’t the women be portrayed doing some cleverly choreographed Aliyah-esque or Missy-esque dances? And why aren’t singers like Mos Def, Talib Kweli, K-os, K’naan and Common selling as much as their misogynistic counterparts?

    Of course, not all rap songs are misogynistic and not all Black men speak and think this way, but large percentages within hip-hop culture do. We cannot put all the blame on hip hop. That is certain. But we must recognize the corrosive effect that rap culture has on Black culture in general. Record companies and shareholders are making a lot of money, but does that really excuse those rap artists and executives from the responsibility of their words? The name calling disrespects, dehumanizes, and dishonors women.

    It is true that not all hip hop music is bad. It is true that long before hip hop came along, many musicians talked about sex, drugs and violence. But the slut images and verbal abuse projected onto Black women by hip hop lyrics and videos are not doing anyone any good, especially young men and women.

    CNN transcript of Hip Hip: Art or Poison: 

    http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0702/21/pzn.01.html

  • Stony the Road She Trod

    The "Polished Hoe" interview with Alison Sealy-Smith

    >> Photo by David Hou

    The latest theatrical adaptation by Obsidian Theatre of Austin Clarke’s Giller award-winning novel, The Polished Hoe,officially opens tonight at the Enwave Theatre. The Polished Hoe is set in 1952, on the post-colonial West Indian island of Bimshire. The name Bimshirecomes from a Bajan dialect term for Barbados. A woman named Mary-Mathilda (played by Alison Sealy-Smith) reveals to a slightly bewitched police officer, Percy, how she came to murder Mr Belfeels – one of the island’s most powerful and ruthless sugar plantation owners. Mary-Mathilda had been his mistress and had given him is only son, Wilberforce, who was a successful doctor on the island.

    While the post-colonial political undertones of these times may not be so obviously outlined in The Polished Hoe as one might find in Austin Clarke’s Growing Up Stupid Under the Union Jack, we are still uncovering the subtle layers of “Little England’s” tortured contradictions. My truly enlightening conversation with Alison Sealy-Smith, who brilliantly reprises her role as Mary-Mathilda, revealed many undercurrents, artfully woven into The Polished Hoe,that are still lingering in Barbadian society and the African Diaspora as a whole.

    Sealy-Smith contends that this theatrical adaptation of Clarke’s novel is quite different form the book is the sense that “it boils everything down to its essence.” In response to my question of what brings her back to this play, Alison Sealy-Smith says that part of it is the fact that The Polished Hoe tells a story about the Caribbean that hasn’t really been told. That is, we all have a rather idyllic picture of the Caribbean nowadays with the iconoclast imagery of Bob Marley, reggae music, beautiful women and beautiful white sand beaches. However, the journey from slavery, through its abolition and on to these modern-day independent and self-reliant islands, is somewhat of a missing link.

    “That is a journey that I think that Mary-Mathilda can take us on” Alison Sealy-Smith says. But she cautions: “I think history lessons are kind of boring. I don’t know that I really want to come into a theatre for somebody to give me a history lesson on post-colonial Caribbean ethos. … Who needs that?”

    Indeed, the experience of Mary-Mathilda that is described in Austin Clarke’s The Polished Hoe is, according to Sealy-Smith, “a voice we had not actually heard before.” She adds: “[People] often say that there’s nothing new under the sun but, of course, for all of us in theatre seeking to tell stories … what we’re looking for is a story that has not actually been told.” This untold story of Mary-Mathilda resonates with Alison Sealy-Smith not only as an actor and a Barbadian, but also as a Black woman.

    “All these contradictions that this woman was. To see a Black woman in the setting of a plantation house where she is actually the mistress and then to figure out how she got there was absolutely compelling for me. I wanted to get on that journey as a woman and as an actor. I had to figure that out. And then as a Barbadian, what you started to realize is that, if you wanted to be metaphoric about it, the book and hopefully the play hints at that, is about a side of Barbados society, a side of the Caribbean, that we have not actually really seen. It felt to me that we have an instinct for what slavery was like. Even if we haven’t been told about what slavery was like in the Caribbean, we certainly have around us enough images of Black work and slavery that we have an icon in our head of what slavery means. … But if we can manage [to delve into] this woman’s very personal, and slightly anguished, journey from fieldhand to mistress of the great house. If we can somehow get a feeling, an inkling, of what it was like to bring the Caribbean into being. What it meant to move from slavery to full independence, then I think we’ve done our job. It shouldn’t happen so much as an intellectual exercise.” as Sealy-Smith elaborates.

    What the play seeks to convey is essentially the coming of age of a people, and all the aspirations and contradictions inherent with the shedding of a colonial identity, through the personal odyssey on Mary-Mathilda. Alison Sealy-Smith keeps returning throughout the interview onto the concept of “the cost” of independence and liberation – real or illusory. Expanding on this notion, Sealy-Smith says: “Part of what I think The Polished Hoe does is … point out to us what the cost is. What price women pay to get something to be and to raise the sons to afford the kind of opportunities for somebody like Wilberforce to go away and study and be a doctor of tropical medicine and all of that kind of stuff.”

    >> Photo by David Hou

    “I’m not a Black woman”, I say to her, but, somewhat playing the devil’s advocate, I point out to Sealy-Smith how Black men often bemoan how Black women seem to somehow have it easier than their brethren climbing the modern-day corporate ladder for instance. It may be perceived that women are less of a threat to the powers that be? We also discuss, in passing, her award-winning portrayal of another aspect of the Black woman’s experience in her role as Billie in Djanet Sears’ Harlem Duet -- in which case, the Black woman’s experience is of being abandoned for the symbol of that same oppression.

    She answers: “I guess it’s interesting … Djanet as a Black woman was examining this idea because basically Harlem Duet, in its simplest form, is a break-up story. The relationship ends, the woman gets dumped and what she has managed to do of course is turn on it a lens of racism internalized and outward. This is interesting that a man, a Black man, through Austin Clarke [has done similar service] and his story I think has actually helped. … I feel sometimes as though we pay almost lip service to this idea of what Black women have done for the race. We talk about it all the time. Like: “What would we be without Black mothers, where would we be?” And there is, I would imagine, and I am not a Black male, but I guess I can kind of understand about sort of the resentment issue about how much Black women have done and how it seems just easier for them to get things done. But do we actually think about the cost? To her? Or do we only ever look at the benefits. Do we only ever see the community that she has managed to keep together? Or the opportunities that she has afforded her sons or whatever? So part of what The polished Hoe does is that it makes you look at the cost, at the price, that women pay.

    I wanted to be very careful that Mary-Mathilda is not seen as another victim … [as in] women who have been exploited sexually and otherwise. That’s been done and, like I said at the top, what interested me was the idea to do something maybe a little bit new. And although I think that Mary-Mathilda is as easily categorized as a victim of White oppression or male sexual exploitation, as it might seem on the surface, I think if we have done our job right in terms of what we’ve managed to pull from the book and put into the play, we should be questioning some of her choices.

    Tying back the story of Mary-Mathilda to the broader Caribbean post-colonial context, Alison Sealy-Smith point out:

    “What I am hoping is that at some point, when people leave [the theatre] and they’re sitting at the cafes and the bars along their way home or in the car or on the streetcar, that part of what they’re talking about is (and maybe this will be more apparent to those of us of Caribbean extraction, but I hope other people see it too) what does this mean about the price that the Caribbean have paid for being these shining jewels of the Caribbean sea who now reap huge benefits from tourism dollars?

    Somebody was telling me the other day that Barbados has been called “the most successful Black-run country on the planet.” I don’t know where they got that from. I don’t know what that’s based on. But I would just say that whatever island whose coming out of slavery … with that particular label, it behooves us all to look at how they got there and the price that was paid to get there. We don’t get something for nothing. … I don’t think you come to the theatre with a bunch of questions and by the end of The Polished Hoe, you’re suddenly going to understand the Black woman (laughs) or all of Caribbean history a lot more. Maybe but that’s not my job. I think is probably to tell the audience to maybe start asking questions that may not have occurred to them before about the Black woman, about the Caribbean experience.

  • Catching Up on the 411 with Dwayne

    By now, many in Toronto know his name. He is an accomplished author, award-winning poet, entrepreneur, and an amazing entertainer. In his various mediums of work, he speaks of the many
    injustices and issues that plague our society today including racism, sexism, violence, materialism, and poverty, just to name a few. But many may not even realize that Dwayne Morgan is also active in the community as an avid public speaker, trying to help grow our most precious asset: our youth.

    Dwayne spends much of his time speaking to youth about various social issues, and pushing for active participation to help implement some of the changes that our society needs. He has spoken at over 100 schools in the nation, and also works closely with the 411 Initiative for Change, a non-profit organization geared towards providing educational entertainment for children and youth in our schools. Established about 3-4 years ago in Ottawa, they now have a presence in both Ottawa and Toronto. Last year, Dwayne toured across Canada with them on an HIV awareness initiative.

    Dwayne says that he has had a great response from both youth and faculty for his speaking endeavors. He credits this to the fact that many of the topics that he covers revolve around events in his own life.

    "The kids are always really receptive, because I don't speak down to them, or look down on them. I speak about things that are relevant to them; they can leave and apply what they've learned. I speak at their level. They even hit me up on myspace and write me with feedback about what I've talked about, which is really positive." Dwayne says.

    Dwayne also states that he receives equally positive responses from teachers and staff when he speaks. He also receives a lot of messages from teachers who provide him with not only positive feedback and praise, but also many referrals to speak at other schools and events.

    "I get great feedback from the teachers as well; about the impact I've had on them and the students. Because my messages are universal, not only students can get something from what I say. I talk a lot about identifying what changes they would like to see in society, and try to encourage people to take action against some things they see that they don''t necessarily agree with."

    In addition to social issues, Dwayne also talks with youth about making plans for success, and about some key elements that he has used to become successful in his field that he feels can be applied to any other field with the same results.

    "It just comes down to having an idea, and being willing to put in the work behind that idea." Dwayne says. Having founded his own entertainment company, Up From The Roots, over a decade ago, Dwayne is no stranger to hard work or great ideas. In the interest of reaching a larger number of youth to spread his messages, and in celebration of Black History month, Dwayne has created an inspirational seminar called Planting the Seeds of Positive Change. In association with Knowledge Bookstore, A Different Booklist, and the 411 Initiative for Change, the main purpose of this seminar is to help students explore how we can all create positive change in our lives and communities through literacy.

    It ventures to teach youth how they can affect positive change through literacy, effective decision-making, and finding positive means of self-expression, as well as creating an awareness and appreciation of the things they can do in their own communities to create change.

    "This is my first such event. I spend a lot of time being invited to schools to speak, and never end up being able to fit everybody in. I figured that if I came up with an event where the students can come out and hear what I have to say, the teachers could bring the students to me." Dwayne says.

    Stating that he never has any "scripting" when speaking,he feels that by speaking from the heart, he is able to keep his subject matter fresh and relevant.

    "As things come up in society, I will always use examples of current things so that kids can relate to the topics I discuss. None of my talks are static; they change all the time, so anything happening in our society at the time will likely end up a topic of conversation at some point." he says.

    And even though much of Dwayne's focus is on social issues that he himself feels strongly about, he insists that his purpose is not to convince anyone to adopt any specific focus, but rather to encourage people to identify what is actually relevant to them, and act on it.

    "I leave it up to every individual to decide what is important to them. It's a matter of ''what are you passionate about right now?'';so that years from now people can read or learn about your contributions in this world as part of it's history."

    Planting the Seeds of Positive Change is taking place on Friday, February 23rd 2007 at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts (27 Front St. E.), with the first session taking place at 10 am and the second at 1 pm.

    For more information about this event, contact 647-284-9135 or visit www.stlc.com For more information about Up From the Roots, please visit www.upfromtheroots.ca
    For more information about the 411 Initiative for Change, please visit www.whatsthe411.ca.

  • Is There Such a thing as Picture Perfect?

    Looking at Beauty through a Microscope


    Dove''s campaign for Real Women - courtesy dove.ca

    Throughout the ages, women''s bodies have been manipulated to fit the latest fad. We've been trussed up, pumped up, corseted and bandaged. Waists have been pinched, skin bleached, ribs removed. The fat sucked out, the silicone injected in.”--- The Body Shop International

    Every period holds its own standard of beauty, and it’s clear that with the evolution of each stage, the standard has continuously changed. The Mona Lisa for example did have hanging, exposed, and over-sized cleavage and would have been considered overweight by today’s standards. The Victorian and Georgian era women as well would be considered overweight and unattractive by the same standards. In fact, the corset which Victorian women used to enhance their figures deformed the internal organs making it impossible to breathe, in or out of the corset. Because of this, they were always fainting. Marilyn Monroe as well, although she was an icon during her days, would be considered overweight and therefore not as attractive today.

    There can be no denying that the 20th and 21st centuries have seen a gigantic upsurge in the importance placed by Western societies on physical beauty, specifically when it comes to women. The fashion, cosmetics, plastic surgery, cinematic, advertising, weight-loss and even the food industry have all cashed on the preoccupation that most women have with physical appearance. Never has there been a bigger proliferation of special weight-loss diets, clinics and pills, anti-ageing creams, fascination with counting calories, promotion of perfection through plastic surgery and exercise routines that most people have trouble sticking to.

    Ideal Beauty or Curse?

    Many women and girls look at the ‘picture-perfect’ women portrayed in magazines and cannot help but to compare themselves, to the high cheek-boned, slender, cellulite-free athletic-looking women and find that they fall very short. Very few women can naturally match up to those glossed up images of perfection. Psychological studies have revealed that many of these false images leave women feeling depressed, guilty, inferior, self-conscious, insecure, vulnerable, inadequate and ashamed to say the least. The idealized standard of beauty is destroying the same people that it is trying to celebrate.

    Enter bulimia and anorexia. For a disturbingly long time, people that are anorexic and bulimic have been promoted as sexy and beautiful. Being thin is being advertised as fashionable, sexy, healthy and happy to the exclusion of other body types. People like Twiggy and Paris Hilton are naturally thin. That is their body type. So for the rest of the women who are not naturally like that, and they happen to be the majority, it is only a representation of a small minority.

    But being thin is not a crime. What is damaging is fact that the degree of thinness has gone overboard, with many women doing unnatural things to stay thin. It is a vicious circle of forcing the body towards a goal that is near impossible for the body to maintain. An editorial review of Naomi Wolf’s book The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used against Women points out that “Naomi Wolf argues that women''s insecurities are heightened by these images, and then exploited by the diet, cosmetic, and plastic surgery industries. Every day, new products are introduced in the marketplace to ‘correct’ inherently female ‘flaws,’ drawing women into an obsessive and hopeless cycle built around the attempt to reach an impossible standard of beauty.”

    Yet nowhere do these advertisers who promote this limited and unrealistic ideal of beauty, admit the fact that according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, in the UK alone about one woman in every hundred suffers from bulimia nervosa and only slightly less have anorexia nervosa. According to University of Cincinnati researchers, it is estimated that nearly 10 million American females - and 1 million American males - have an eating disorder. 150,000 women die yearly of eating disorder-related diseases. In Canada, according to Statistics Canada, 1.5% of British Columbians over 15 are at risk for developing an eating disorder in any given year—that''s more than 50,000 people in British Columbia and about half a million nation-wide. Is it cause for alarm? Even young women in Africa are succumbing to these diseases.

    Promoting the Lie of Being Picture Perfect

    Cindy Crawford had been quoted as saying that even she does not look like Cindy Crawford when she wakes up. Tyra Banks also once said “I’m not ugly, but my beauty is a total creation.” In the Canadian-owned Glow Magazine July/August edition, Ashanti the African-American R&B singer mused that the one of the biggest mistakes women made was getting too caught up with the idea that they have to look like someone famous to be beautiful.

    Indeed there was a time when make-up and stylists were the only enhancement that models used, but the digital computer edge has raised the stakes. Airbrushing, where computer specialists digitally brush away ‘imperfections’ like blemishes, wrinkles, cellulite, extra hairs, stretch marks and pimples gives a false impression of ideal beauty, making it even harder to attain. Along the way, the world’s image of beauty has become dangerously distorted.

    While there is nothing wrong with promoting beautiful people, there is something wrong with portraying unrealistic images of beauty. There is something warped about presenting a singular idea of beauty where the models are all one-size-fits-all. When most women walk on the street, they see a variation of body sizes, heights and shapes. But this is not reflected in most women’s magazines.

    Cultural Definitions of Beauty

    The truth is beauty is hard to define. Whoever coined the expression ‘beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder’ summed it up best. In certain African countries, like Sudan , women who bear scarification marks on their bodies and faces are considered beautiful, whereas they would be looked upon as horrific in some other countries. Many ethnic groups in West, South, East and Central Africa, as well as many Caribbean countries consider bigger, curvaceous women to be beautiful - but these women would be considered “fat” by Western standards. In some Nordic European cultures tall, skinny blue-eyed, blonde women are considered beautiful, while in others like the southern Mediterranean ones, voluptuous brunettes and red heads are.

    In the Masai culture women who are bald and adorned with colorful jewelry and paint are deemed beautiful.  In certain Australian Aboriginal communities, painting their entire faces with bold colours is beautiful. The Padang women in East Asia place rings (which can weigh as much as eleven pounds) around their necks as a sign of beauty. Because of this they are referred to as giraffe women. The Kayapo people of the Amazon often use scarification marks, mark their skins with ritualized patterns, tattoo, pierce their noses, lip and ears and use body paint as a symbol of beauty.

    Change in the Horizon?

    Many people criticize Dove’s Real Women Have Curves campaign as a political and covertly financial one. The campaign presents positive advertisements highlighting women of various sizes in an effort to raise women’s self-esteem. Whatever the intentions, the efforts to properly represent all kinds of women must be applauded.

    There is no ideal beauty because it comes in all sizes, shapes and colours. More than ever, it is imperative that the celebrity community, which is the benchmark for beauty, starts re-evaluating what is beautiful. The fact is they have a large impact on teenagers and women all over the world and their decisions can make a difference. Trend setters like the fashion and movie industries need to make a concerted effort to promote healthy self-images. Granted, celebrities like Jill Scott, Beyoncé Knowles, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Kate Winslet are promoting healthy body images but more of an effort needs to be made.

    Aishwarya Rai the Indian actress is considered by many as the most beautiful woman in the world. Yet women like Halle Berry , Angelina Jolie, Beyoncé Knowles, Liya kibede, Jennifer Lopez, and Ziyi Zhang, although they all look different, are all beautiful in their own right. There may very well be even more beautiful women than them in the villages of Tibet , Siberia , Rwanda , Ethiopia , Fiji , Paraguay , Cuba , or Uganda . But because they are not publicized, for the moment only famous women will make the 100 most beautiful people in the world. Ironically, even this list changes every year, with the flavour of the year suddenly taking the backseat to one who may have been the 5th most beautiful one year and the 10th most beautiful in another year

    It is comforting to see that Spain has taken an initiative to stop their models from being anorexic. However, the changes must also come from individuals. Being anorexic or obese, which are both at extreme ends of the strata, are not healthy for anyone. But there is a lot in between which represents many healthy sizes. We, as individual women must love ourselves as we were created. At birth we were all given wonderful bodies, which do so many wonderful things for us. We must take care of our bodies, but not abuse them. We as individual women should focus more on being healthy, as in opposed to skinny at the expense of our health. We as individual women should celebrate the various sizes we come in and stop striving for unrealistic goals that leave us frustrated and unhappy. We can stop this cycle of damage by demanding change, but it all starts with us.

  • On My Mind: Black History Month

    It’s that time of year again when many of us are quite popular. Suddenly we are an integral part of not only Canadian history, but world history. However, as I always say, Every month is Black History Month for me.

    In many ways, I am tired of the marginalization of this month, but that does not mean that I don’t think the month should be celebrated or that the importance of Black History month is trivial in any way. I don’t feel that members of the African-Canadian population marginalize the month. But often times, it is during this month that many of us who do work in the schools, or who do performances become very popular. That in itself can be a bit frustrating, especially if one does work that is important all year round. So then I say, without the marginalization, some of our children or children of other cultures would never learn anything about our history. Why? Unfortunately, we are not a part of the history books, or many other important documents in our “Mis-education System” yet. But there are some changes happening. Slowly but surely.

    Black History Month fascinates me because of some of the dialogue that happens around this time of the year. Sometimes, our youth or other people ask the sarcastic question “Why did we get the shortest month of the year?” That question alone tells me that many of us don’t know our own history or where Black History Month even comes from. So, for those who don’t know… Black History Month was started by Dr. Carter G. Woodson and it was not given to us. Dr. Carter G. Woodson was an African-American and a very learned man. He was a graduate with Honors from Berea College in 1903. He earned an undergraduate degree and MA from the University of Chicago by 1907. And four years later, he was awarded a doctorate from Harvard University. It is Dr. Carter G. Woodson who started Negro History Week in 1926 during the second week of February; not because it was the coldest month of the year or the shortest month but because the great orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglas and President Abraham Lincoln (who issued the Emancipation Declaration in 1865) were both born during the second week in February. Negro History Week was later changed to Black History Month in 1976 by the Association for the study for Afro-American Life and History. In Canada Black History Month was not officially recognized by Parliament until December of 1995 through a motion forwarded by then MP Jean Augustine. Now here’s another fact that many of us may not know: In the United Kingdom, Black History Month happens in the month of October. I have wondered why for a long time. I also always wanted to include that fact in my school presentations. So, I’ve done a bit of research on Black History Month in the UK.

    The Greater London Council (GLC) member Addai-Sebo is credited for putting forward the concept of a Black History Month in Britain, and turning it into what we recognize today. Taking his cue from the American example, he wanted to permanently celebrate Africa''s contribution to world civilization. He also organized some cultural events with colleagues at the GLC and decided that this idea had to be institutionalized. Black History Month UK-style was born.

    Politicians from all over the UK joined in this undertaking. The first Black History Month event in the UK was held on 1 October 1987. Later, the events spread to other parts of the UK and included other non African ethnic groups.

    Recently, I was live on CBC Radio’s Here and Now with Professor George Dei from the University of Toronto on a very short segment themed “Black History Month: What’s in a name?”. I was out of town when an article had been written in the NOW magazine about exploring different names for our month. I am from Trinidad and Tobago and grew up in Nova Scotia where they have officially called it African Heritage Month for quite some time and where we celebrated Black History Month since 1984. Here in Toronto I receive many e-mails that welcome me to celebrate African Liberation Month. The CBC Radio title: “What’s in a name?” was an interesting one. One of the questions asked was “Is a name important?” I was also asked to pick a name. Like many of us of African descent, I use the terms Black and African Canadian interchangeably. We have moved away from the term Black with Africentric Education which teaches us about an African-centered World. Africa of course is the birthplace of all man and womankind. And there are so many negative connotations to the word Black. However, because I grew up using the term as a youth until about 1983 or so when I learned more about my history and culture, I too have moved away from it and may not use the word so much in my presentations. But it has been ingrained. Something, perhaps I need to look at.

    The month is here and I am proud to be celebrated as a part of World History in Canada. However, I look forward to a day, when African, Caribbean and African-Canadian history taught in the schools is not only in the month of February. I look forward to the day when my contributions to Canada and the world are celebrated all year round. I look forward to the day when the history of African Nova-Scotia is written up in the study guide to become a Canadian Citizen. Presently, what is written there tells nothing of African-Canadians’ contributions to the history in Canada. Once that happens in February, I will have even more cause to celebrate my history. African-Canadian people have had a presence in Canada since the 1600’s. So let’s continue to work together to educate, document and talk about our History, Herstory, Ourstory. So until then, HAPPY BLACK HISTORY MONTH, HAPPY AFRICAN HERITAGE MONTH, AND HAPPY AFRICAN LIBERATION MONTH!

  • The Love Album

    An interview with Dione Taylor

    It’s Valentine’s Day week once again. For many people, this is the time to reflect on the ghosts of love past present and future. Somehow, it’s quite fitting, on a personal level, to have recently met with Toronto-based critically acclaimed Juno-nominated jazz and blues vocalist Dione Taylor. Unbeknownst to her, as she sat on this vintage sofa in my old-Toronto office speaking about her “love album”, my mind traveled three years back to an early fall Sunday night at College Street Bar in Toronto’s Little Italy. I was a regular there for Dione Taylor and her soul and funk band Soular’s amazing live weekly performances. That was the night I started seeing my last serious girlfriend -- as Dione Taylor was belting out a soulful rendition of my favourite singer of all time, Sade. One of those soundtracks of frozen moments in your life.

    I still remember the unique touch that Taylor gave to the anthem song “The Sweetest Taboo”. Although I had played this song on my vinyls and CD’s countless times over the years, I still remember how Dione Taylor made me experience this song in a whole new way. Now, I had the pleasure of rediscovering Dione Taylor through the spectrum of her first true love: Jazz music.

    While her sophomore album, I Love Being Here with You,is a strictly jazz album, the complexity of her soul, R&B and blues harmonies background is evident. Taylor certainly doesn’t believe that music should be the prisoner of arbitrary boundaries. As she puts it: “Why should an artist be forced to just do one style of music? It seems very limiting to me.” This boundless love affair with music is reflected in a wonderful way in her new album.

    For instance, she shares her soul-searching experience of spending two weeks, a year ago, with one of her album’s producers, the legendary Doug Riley, at his home in Prince Edward Island. “I spent two weeks over there with him and just relaxing, listening to music of old Doug Riley recordings, old Dr Music (Riley’s band) recordings and it was really nice to find out the history of him and also to bring that history into my music. Like for example [the track on I Love Being Here with You], “He’s Funny That Way”. That tune was actually recorded by Dr Music – which was his group over thirty years ago.” Taylor immediately knew that she wanted to record it and Doug Riley was more than happy to see that song find it’s way, through a new incarnation, in I love Being Here with You. “That’s what I mean, it’s like blending the past into the future” says Dione Taylor.

    As Taylor sifted, along with Riley, through over two hundred songs that people had brought to them and also songs that she had written herself, other classic songs (older and more contemporary) found renewed life in her new album. In particular, Prince’s Nothing Compares to You. “It’s a song that I have always loved. I love Sinead O’Connor’s version. I love Prince’s version” says Taylor. Her bluesy rendition of this song is truly beautiful and original. As I admitted to her, it’s already on my iPod.

    Shedding light on her philosophy with covering classics, Dione Taylor explains: “If I’m going to do a song that every one knows already, I want to do it in a way that people are surprised. And I want to make it into my own. And it’s funny because when people first hear the song they’re like “I know this song, I know it.” And then they can’t figure it out until the chorus. Then they’re like “Oh right!” … So then I’m like “yes!!” I want to shock people, I want people to be taken aback a little bit.”

    Dione Taylor has indeed been pushing the boundaries since a very young age. She started piano lessons when she was four years old. Growing up as a preacher’s kid in Regina, Saskatchewan, the church was a potent and fertile ground for her burgeoning talent. As Taylor recalls: “I just always remember being at church and always being around music. Always being at choir practice. Music was so important in our family and in the church especially. … There isn’t another place where you can go to (unless it’s like a club or bar -- but when you’re a kid …) where you can go and sing at the top of your lungs and sort of discover your voice. So what was really cool about church is that you could just go and just sing and just free yourself. It was something that I always looked forward to. To sing in church.”

    Later inspired by the likes of Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, Dione Taylor kept nurturing her love for jazz music. Back in Regina, she listened to a lot of radio and discovered wonderful players like Don Thompson and Brian Dickinson. Realizing that they lived in Toronto and also taught at Humber College, she made the decision, in 1996, to move to the big city. Taking us back to those days, Dione Taylor remembers: “Well, I had just finished school at university and I wanted to find myself … like everyone does at that age. I wanted to go to the big city. I wanted to experience life in a different way. It’s weird, I love Regina and I loved growing up there, but I knew there was a bigger bowl. And I wanted to be more around people who looked like me and who didn’t look like me. Different cultures. And it’s something that I really really wanted to explore.”

    Soon after graduating from Humber College, Dione Taylor released her first album, Open Your Eyes in May of 2004. Looking at the road she’s traveled so far, Taylor says:

    “I think this album, I love Being Here with You, is a lot more bluesy. When I recorded my first album, I was right out of school, about a year after I graduated from Humber and very tired. I was in a very different headspace then. It’s such an intense program musically. And I think I was just kind of overwhelmed. … I’m so proud of that album because I got to record it so fresh out of school and got to work with some amazing players. But this album, I love Being Here with You, it’s been a couple of years. So I’ve had some time to sort of relax and also meet other singers, other songwriters in the city and collaborate with them. That was really cool because it sort of put me in a different focus, a different headspace. A little more bluesy, a little more soulful. I think that’s the main difference between the two albums. I mean it’s still jazz obviously. But I think it’s a little more on the bluesy side.”

    “All the songs have to do with love. Whether it’s love for another person, love for yourself, love for a friend. It’s my love album.”

  • On My Mind: Hair

    Hair? I know what you’re thinking; now why exactly is hair on Anne-Marie’s mind today? Well, two weeks ago, I could not find my braider to put extensions in my hair, so I decided to do it myself. It took me two days to put in those afro kinky twists. I was at the point where I could no longer take twisting and opening my natural hair. My fingers hurt, so I needed a break. Prior to putting extensions in, I was ready to cut all of my hair off, or put in a relaxer, or do something drastic. I was having one of my HAIR DAYS as I call them.

    It was ten years ago, in 1997, that I decided to go natural. It wasn’t for any deep political rebellious reason either, and it wasn’t because I’m a spoken word artist, or because I’m an activist for community development or youth issues. And it wasn’t because I sang with a woman with locks for years either. I went natural because I lived and worked in Freedom Theatre in Philadelphia that year, and almost every woman I worked with had natural hair and I thought they looked beautiful. For years I had wondered what I could do to my hair if I went natural. For years I just wondered about my hair to be honest.

    I started out of course like most little black children with the hot comb experience as a child. I would get my hair washed every Saturday, which was quite the chore and then on that same day, my mother would faithfully burn my right ear; the combination of Vaseline in my hair (Yes! I said Vaseline) and the heat from the iron comb, just always caused that extra sizzle when she reached my right ear, and without fail, the comb would touch and burn my ear. I developed a complex when it came to my Mom pressing the right side of my hair. I would flinch every time she came near that ear.

    Then when I was about 13 or so, I remember one of my Mom’s friends putting a relaxer in my hair. I was so excited. A relaxer meant no more hot comb. I sat in our kitchen excited and then that lady put the relaxer in and proceeded to rub the treatment into my scalp. If you know anything about relaxers, then you know that you don’t’ rub a chemical into the scalp. At the end of that process, I not only had a relaxer, but a series of scabs and chemical burns all over my scalp. I don’t remember much after that, except that my big sister Wendy cut all of my hair off to look like a boy somewhere between my grade eight and grade nine year. And I remember crying for a long time in front of the mirror.

    It was around that time that my Mom and I went to see Cambridge. In Nova Scotia, if you wanted a Jheri Curl, you had to go to Soul Clippers and see Cambridge. He had the best Jheri Curl in Nova Scotia and Soul Clippers was the best Black Hair Salon in the province. I must have done the research, because I seemed to know that I needed that curl. I thought I asked all the right questions too as they put that product in my hair, and I got those shiny wet silky curls that caused pimples to break out on my forehead. But what I remember the most about my first Jheri Curl was the name TCB and the cost. After they did my hair, I had to call my Mom to come and pick me up.

    “How much did the Jheri Curl cost?” she asked.

    I believe at the time it was $70.00.

    “SEVENTY DOLLARS????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” she screamed through the phone in her resounding Trini accent.

    I was so embarrassed because I knew we didn’t have a lot of money. But secretly, I was also excited, because I knew I couldn’t give the Jheri Curl back.

    I went from the TCB Jheri Curl to the Care Free Curl and then finally I graduated to Wave Nouveau. What a great name! Wave Nouveau.

    So basically I had a curl from 1983 until 1997. Yep and I have pictures to prove it. Now what’s interesting about having a curl is no matter what they call it you still have the same problems:

    a) a greasy pillow,
    b) messed up collars
    c) when it is foggy out your hair can turn white from the activator, (and all your white friends want to know what’s wrong with your hair)
    d) when you go out dancing, the Jheri Curl juice can drip in your eye and almost make you blind
    e) if you don’t have the products and it’s sunny out your hair can dry out and can lead you to have a Jheri Curl attack. ( Clarification: a Jheri Curl Attack is when your hair dries out from the product and you look like a scare crow and you will do anything for a squirt of Jheri Curl juice to rescue you and your hair).

    So, is it not surprising then that being surrounded by beautiful women with natural hair in 1997, I too decided to take the plunge. I had a curl because I really was not into doing my hair and there’s that whole curling iron thing to worry about. Then, I’ve never really been one for going to the salon; mostly because I could never afford it.

    Now, being natural is something else, it takes more work than any type of hairstyle I’ve ever had in my life. So, it’s ironic that someone who doesn’t like doing hair and had a Jheri Curl for years now spends her time with her fingers in the hair all the time.

    I’m in Nova Scotia now, visiting. And just before I got here, I got a free CD offer from Rogers Cable, and I chose to get the India Irie CD, because I had seen her video “I Am Not My Hair” on BET. I’ve been playing that song everyday, and smiling to myself. I’m smiling because I think in some ways, that I AM MY HAIR! Oh, I’ve tried not to be my hair, but it’s become very important to me. I can’t leave my place with my hair looking bad, on those days I rock the head wrap. To wash and do my hair is a two-day ritual, because my natural hair is plentiful. If I have to go out to an event I have to plan to twist my hair ahead of time and then open it just before I go out to achieve that special look (that will only last for that one night I might add). So I AM MY HAIR. It’s on my mind and it’s on my head.

    On the weekend, I was at my friend Kim’s house. It was about 8 pm and we were all sitting around after rehearsing for a concert where we would perform. This was the scene in the kitchen: Delvina was twisting the roots of her locks. Monica was putting a fall in Kim’s hair. I was talking about how long it took me to put in my own extensions, and the children were happily playing with their cornrows and other natural styles of hair. I learned that a fall is a partial wig that night, and then we all talked about,… you guessed it… HAIR.

  • Indecent Proposal

    It’s strange. I was just thinking about her the other day when I walked by a women’s clothing boutique over a windy new year’s day morning. A headless mannequin was wearing this stylish body-fitting pink top with that seductive cascading pattern of pink cloth going down the mannequin’s figure like a tightly-woven series of raging ocean waves.

    I would have recognized that pink top anywhere.

    It was our secret for the last year. She would only wear it for me. And would always walk by every morning she came in to the office wearing it. Without fail, and with a couple of quick eyelash battings, she would seductively give me that look that said: “I’m wearing your top today”. I would smile every time and it would literally make my day.

    At that moment in front of the women’s boutique, I wondered how she had spent the holidays and about how I never really got to say goodbye just a few weeks before. Then, just a couple of days ago, to my great but delighted surprise, she called.

    “Hi handsome stranger, you disappeared on me. Did you run into a sexy woman who whisked you away or something? Is that why you didn’t come to say goodbye?”

    She didn’t have to say who she was. I knew it was her. It was classic “L.L.”.

    Let me explain.

    “L.L. Cool MILF” was an underground nickname that a few of the guys at the office had come up with for her. “L.L.” was a senior executive and department head at the company I used to work for until recently. Although she was a no-nonsense businesswoman with a York University MBA and that much-coveted corner office, she was also a well-liked boss who always brought positive energy to the workplace. For many of us men in the office though, she was a goddess.

    The breakdown of her nickname is quite simple. It stands for “Lucy Lopez Cool MILF”. The “L.L. = Lucy Lopez” comes from the fact that she’s a gorgeous Asian woman (i.e. Lucy Liu) with the killer body and booty of Jennifer Lopez. Even with the fashionable tailored suits she always wore, her curves were evident. As for the MILF part, I won’t get into the specific details of the acronym (see movie American Pie) but she got that part of her nickname because she is a sexy married woman in her mid-forties with three kids.

    Because of the respect and authority that her position entailed, and also the fact that her husband would make frequent office visits to pick her up for lunch, all her male admirers in the office naturally kept a safe distance.

    But something happened about a year and a half ago that change all that for me.

    As I heard her speak over my cell phone on that brisk January day, I imagined her exquisite full lips slightly curling as they always did when she was being somewhat naughty.

    The infamous pink top

    Now back to that watershed moment of about a year and a half ago. It was the first time I had ever seen her wear that pink top. It was a very tasteful yet revealing top which had a killer effect. I’m not even sure if anybody else had noticed it in particular since I hadn’t heard any comments about it from the guys that morning. But it certainly caught my eye. She had a dark navy body-hugging suit jacket on top of it but had left her jacket unbuttoned.

    I remember exactly what she was doing at the time. She had her head down faxing a document and I was walking down the hall towards her on my way to grab a coffee. I purposely slowed down my pace as I got closed to her. My gaze must have gotten heavy because she looked up. Then, there were those few seconds which seemed to last an uncomfortable eternity where my eyes were fixed on her chest as she looked at me. When I finally walked by her, I said “very nice top”.

    At this point, I was already thinking about updating my resume and looking at other job opportunities.

    But little did I know that this instant was just the beginning of a heated and somewhat dangerous flirtatious interaction that would last well over a year.

    As my stomach was still rumbling from what had just come out of my mouth and where my eyes had been, she softly bit her gently curved lips, raised her chin sideways as she look down towards me at the corner of her eye and said: “So you like my top eh?” She then lifted her hand from the fax machine towards her chest, covered her cleavage and said with a smile: “You’re a naughty boy.”

    I just smiled back and picked up my pace again because I “really” needed my coffee now.

    I had started the game but I had no idea how hard she would eventually play. Just a few days later, I went to her office to get her signature on some papers as I often did. But this time, the tension was obvious. I stepped behind the desk next to her chair as I leaned over to go over some details on the document she had to sign. Once she was ready to sign, she had to reach in her drawer to get her official stamp. But I was still standing there next to her obstructing her access to the drawer. I nearly hit the floor when she flicked her hair from the left side of her face, looked up at me with that same mischievous stare and said: “Could you please move, I don’t want to grab the wrong thing.”

    If she was any other woman, “it would be on” after a comment like that. But she was my boss. On top of that, her husband’s picture and her daughter’s high school graduation portrait were sitting on her desk staring at me.

    Soon after that, every time we were alone in her office, “something” would happen. First, there were the stash of fruit candies and treats which she said were great for my “manhood”. Then, there were the recurring personal questions about what was going on in my love life.

    I looked forward to going to that corner office as often as I could. A few weeks later, she wore the pink top again. As soon as I walked in her office that morning, she placed her forearms flatly on her desk, pressed her arms close to her body, then slightly moved forward as she told me: “Did you notice I’m wearing your favourite top again today?”

    I would let her push further and further in the game while being the passive beneficiary of the flattering attention. I just wasn’t sure how she would react if it came from the other way around the same way it was coming at me.

    Then I started to test the boundaries.

    Fridays were casual day at the office. Everyone wore jeans. I always looked forward to Fridays to see my L.L. wear her usually tight-fitting jeans. One Friday, I was coming out of from the photocopy room down the hall from her office and saw her walk by on the way back to her desk. As I came out of the photocopy room, I was walking behind her in the hallway. She wasn’t wearing a jacket so the view from behind was unblemished. She wasn’t aware that I was behind her yet. After thinking about it for a few seconds, I uttered out loud: “hummm hummm hummm.”

    We were almost at the end of the hallway and at her office door at that time. She had no doubt who it was behind her even before she turned around. She squirted her eyes at me and pressed her lips with an amusing look as she deliberately slowed down as I was approaching. Keeping the same walking pace, I ended up softly bumping right into her as she waved her hair toward my cheek. We stayed there for a few second at the door of her office. I even was so bold as placing my hand on her hips. Nothing was said but we both knew that it would not be a good idea for me to go into her office today. While my hand was still on her hip, I slightly pinched her side, smiled and winked and went on to my daily business.

    A few days later, her husband had come in to the office to pick her up for lunch like he usually did once in a while. By some odd coincidence, the three of us took the same elevator down to go to lunch. It was my most uncomfortable elevator ride ever. But her husband was very friendly and chatty with me as usual --- totally unaware of the tension in the elevator.

    Even after that episode, not much had changed. The flirtation kept going. In a way, it was now a lot more exciting because neither of us knew where the boundary really was anymore. I’m not sure either of us really wanted to find out.

    Recently, I moved on to another job. She was actually shocked and saddened to hear it from someone else during a manager’s meeting. She said that she was not only my boss but also a friend and that she hoped we would keep in touch. I wasn’t sure how that would work so I just politely said “sure”.

    We never really got to say a proper goodbye because things got busy and our paths did not cross the day I left.

    When I got the unexpected call from her this week to meet for lunch next week, I realized that without the concrete barriers of work and our boss/employee relationship, we may now be entering into a very slippery slope.

    She is a married woman after all with a great husband and beautiful kids. But I said yes to her lunch invitation.

    I wonder if she'll wear our pink top next week for our lunch.

  • Dwele Reflections


    >> Dwele (Photo by Adele Ambrose).

    Detroit’s smoothest soul brother stopped by Level night club to celebrate Soul Kitchen’s Anniversary. Although there were a few rough edges, the evening was indeed a soulful one. Sexy, engaging and humble, Dwele shares a few thoughts on life and his music.

    What or who is the greatest love of your life?

    My mother, then my brother

    Which talent would you most like to have?

    I wish I could dance, I wish I was on some Usher Shit. I could just pull that out of my hat and just blow everybody’s mind.

    What is your current state of mind?

    Right now, I’m really thinking about this next album trying to decide what direction I’ll take it in. I’m kinda at a crossroads, am I going to do Jazz or am I going to do Soul hip-hop. That’s where I’m at right now.

    What do you consider your greatest achievement?

    The most recent album

    What is the trait you most dislike in others?

    Dishonesty

    What is your greatest extravagance?

    Electronics, gadgets. Whenever that new Mac computer comes out, I just gotta have it.

    Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

    “You know what I’m saying” – I’m working on that.

    If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?

    A bird

    What is your most treasured possession?

    My first house

    What is your favorite occupation?

    I haven’t had too many jobs in my lifetime but I really enjoy, and really miss flipping pizza. When I go into Restaurants and see people preparing pizza I just wanna go in the back and flip a pie. The music is a given, of course you know that’s what I love, that’s my first love [but] outside of music I really want to flip a pizza.

    Where were you flipping pizzas?

    I was managing at a Papa Romano’s in Detroit.

    What is your most marked characteristic?

    I’d probably have to say, because I hear it a lot --My beard and my lips. I try to hide myself; I put the glasses and the hat on, and still get recognized. Yeah, I may have to cut my beard off…..

    What is the quality you most like in a woman?

    It really does vary but I have to say I like a woman with a sense of humour, a woman I can laugh with …..I like flapjacks too.

    What do you most value in your friends?

    In my friends I have to say I most value their truthfulness, to be a true friend you have to be able to speak your mind.

    What is your motto?

    My motto, “The motto of the wise is be prepared for surprise”

     


    Adele Ambrose is an arts columnist for AfroToronto.com. She can be reached at adele@afrotoronto.com.

  • The Search for "The One" - Part II

    The ups and down of portofolio diversification in the "dating" market

    “When structuring an investment portfolio, received wisdom declares it prudent to diversify. In a diversified portfolio, by definition, the various categories will out-perform or under-perform depending on the market environment.  So, a diversified portfolio never truly maximizes on any given market; its structure is designed to perform modestly well in nearly all circumstances.”

    - Richard Mock's "Money Lures" from:
    "Show Me the Money, The Dollar as Art" Exhibition 2002-2003

    This being RRSP season, I recently met with my financial advisor to go over some of my investment options for the upcoming year. Not that I have tons of money or anything, but it’s always a wise thing to both plan ahead and occasionally take stock of one’s current financial situation to make sure we are moving in the right direction. One thing my financial advisor does once in a while is assess what he calls his clients’ “risk tolerance.” By that he means determining how aggressive or conservative you are when it comes to investing your money. Do you fee comfortable placing large sums of cash in riskier investments that have the potential to give you much higher returns but at a cost of greater risk? Or do you prefer to place your money is safer investments like savings bonds and GICs?

    Of course, nobody is ever really either a fully gun-ho risk-taker or a constantly fearful and risk-averse penny pincher who would rather keep their money under a mattress or a savings account. Most people prefer a combination of safer and riskier investments. As the old saying goes, never put all your eggs in one basket. That’s where the concept of “portfolio diversification” comes in.

    The wisest thing is to spread your assets between a series of moderate to more high-risk investment options. Like my financial advisor says, your risk tolerance will change throughout your lifetime based on where you are in life and what your priorities are.

    As we were having that conversation about portfolio diversification, I couldn’t stop laughing in my head because a group of my guy friends and I often use the “portfolio diversification” concept to analyze our dating patterns.

    All of us in the crew are in different dating investment strategy stages. The married guys are the ones who have now placed all of their equity into a fixed-rate mortgage. This is, in principle, a long-term investment of 25 years to a lifetime. Then, there are the singles guys like me who are still playing the market. For us, the single guys, portfolio diversification is the name of the game. Until we find that suitable high-interest-yielding non-transferable savings bond that we can eventually invest into a mortgage, we dabble in stocks, mutual funds and even GICs (Guaranteed Investment Certificates).

    In our portfolio diversification lingo, Sister#3 from my blog is a volatile stock. We call her “Nortel Networks.” For those of you not familiar with the volatile history of this Canadian technology company, back in the mid-to-late 1990’s Nortel Networks stock was the darling of everyone. The price of the stock kept inching up further and further as the company went from success to greater success. Then, the bubble crashed. Tons of workers were laid off and the stock plummeted. Thousands of investors lost they shirt. There were accounting scandals and heads rolled. More recently though, the company seems to be coming out of their doomsday period. Leaner and meaner, armed with new management, they promise a bright future once again. It remains to be seen.

    As you may recall from my blog, my experience with Sister #3 (Nortel) was somewhat similar. Much like Nortel Networks, I came to know her over a year ago as a high-valuation stock in my circles’ dating market. She was being talked about by a lot of my friends as an attractive stock with lots of portfolio growth potential. She can walk into a room by herself and turn heads. She sure isn’t a junk bond because her fundamentals are solid. Educated with an unmistakable aura of sophisticated sexiness, she was a must have in my portfolio. But, again as I explained in the blog, the stock crash very quickly and unexpectedly from the very first date. Nortel’s rapid devaluation left me totally a gasp and confused. I was facing a very aggressive market with strangely very little room engage in even productive conversation. So I quickly abandoned my Nortel stock.

    In a strange twist of events however, not even a couple of months later, Nortel was offering a new IPO (Initial Purchase Offer) and started calling me out of the blue to buy in again. Once again, the fundamentals over the phone seemed very strong. But I was very weary about investing into Nortel again. But since I received the new Nortel Networks IPO right after I had cashed out of my Charlotte GIC following lower than expected returns, I decided to reintroduce Nortel into my portfolio.

    Much to my delighted surprise, Nortel has been keeping on largely exceeding my own market expectations ever since – now five months later. We actually had a board meeting between the two of us at a restaurant and I was pleasantly surprised when Nortel disclosed a full audit of the reasons behind her unexpected valuation crash during the previous quarter. Her honest and genuinely apologetic report, which came about completely voluntarily and without any outside compliance pressures, was a very welcomed breath of fresh air. Usually, high valuation stock companies aren’t in the business of justifying their market downturns. But our internal audit process, which has since become a two-way street, was most beneficial.

    Despite all that though, I must say that although I have fully forgiven lady Nortel for her unexpected stock crash, I am still concerned that it could have ever happened in the first place. What would stop it from happening again? Undoubtedly, as the stock keeps performing well, I can definitely see reinvesting some of the lady Nortel capital gains into a high-yielding GIC and even a mortgage.

    I am still analyzing the stock.

    Although my Nortel stock now figures prominently in my portfolio, it is still part of a mutual funds category which also includes another amazing stock which I was referring to in Part I of this article and that you haven’t yet met.

    I call her Lady Google.

    Of course, everyone is familiar with Google. The term Google, referring to the popular online search engine, has even made the dictionary as in “Googling” someone. Much like the real Google, my lady Google started out as a project. Actually, our initial interactions, starting towards the end of this year’s first quarter, were work-related. Even though Google was evidently very attractive from the time I met her, any dating impulses I had were superseded by lady Google’s outstanding functional capabilities as an effective business partner.

    My initial restaurant board meetings with lady Google started mainly with searches involving words like: “efficiency, planning and feasibility.” But as our interactions began taking place in other more relaxed settings, I started Googling words like “shows, movies, dates” and got some great search results. I started developing a whole new set of bookmarks and before we knew it, the homepage of our relationship had changed.

    Needless to say, the market unanimously agrees that Google is a hot stock. With no visible sign of a crash in view, lady Google’s stock valuation rose exponentially. Lady Google even attended a home audit at one of my friend’s headquarters, with many of the major shareholders in my group of friends present and very much impressed them with her fundamentals. Soon, my portfolio became much less diversified and Google began looking like it could become the sole beneficiary of all my assets.

    But what about Nortel? The future projections of that stock, despite a troubled history looked excellent as well. On the other hand, complications were looming with the feasibility of purchasing exclusively Google stock. Some of the Google stock portfolio were quite suddenly migrating to another stock exchange out of town. Google’s stock migration, temporary or not, meant that I would need to look at them as future purchase options -- since I am currently unable to purchase any stock out of town. Moreover, I am not even sure if I would be entirely willing or even allowed to purchase the foreign Google stock anyhow given the circumstances. Merger and acquisitions discussions with Lady Google weren’t yet at that level when the Google stocks moved out of town.

    So in the final analysis, various factors, some within and some outside of my control, have allowed me to keep exploring my portfolio diversification dating strategy. But as the quote at the beginning of the article says, “a diversified portfolio never truly maximizes on any given market.”

  • Book Review: A Hand to Guide Me

    Legends and Leaders Celebrate the People Who Shaped Their Lives

    "Every individual you are about to meet in these pages has remained humble, and that’s been my mantra for as long as I can remember… and it’s something I’ve tried to model for my children as well. But if there’s one lesson to be learned from the voices you’re about to hear, it is that it’s not only on us. It’s on the folks around us as well.

    And mostly, it’s on our ability to keep open to their example. That’s the underlying message in these pages, that you can draw a line from every great
    success back to some rock-solid foundation. A parent. A teacher. A coach. A role model. It all starts somewhere.

    And for me, that somewhere is with God.”

    -- Denzel Washington in the Introduction

    Denzel Washington tapped a most impressive collection of contributors for this project, including Presidents Clinton and Carter, Baseball Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Yogi Berra, NBA Coach Phil Jackson, Academy Award-winner Whoopi Goldberg, American Idol Ruben Studdard, Muhammad Ali, and emerging ingénue Kerry Washington, to name a few. The idea behind the book was to have each person share a refection about a mentor who meant a lot to them.

    While each of the stories is certainly sincere and touching in its own way, the problem, for me, is that there was a certain sameness to the narratives style from entry to entry. The source of the problem probably has to do with the fact that one person, Dan Paisner, was hired to conduct the interviews and to shape the tone of the text.

    Dan is a very gifted ghostwriter who has co-written autobiographies with New York Governor George Pataki, Mayor Ed Koch, TV Judge Glenda Hatchett, actors Malcolm Jamal Warner and Anthony Quinn, World Trade Center Survivor Daniel Picciotto, TV Weatherman Willard Scott, talk show host Montel Williams, and FBI Hostage Negotiator Clint Van Zandt. But his hand starts to show here when asked to condense 74 different celebs. The upshot is that A Hand to Guide Me begins to feel like you’ve read it already after a few chapters, due to the diverse personalities having been flattened out in a similar fashion.

    Thus, this inspirational tome is likely be best enjoyed if consumed at the rate of no more than one memoir a day over the course of several months. That way, you might not notice how much the authors resemble each other.

  • Heartbeat Hotel

    Recently, I decided to take advantage of my hard-earned vacation days and head down somewhere warm. I checked out the Flight Centre board in my work building’s underground mall and picked Costa Rica. A couple of weeks later, I landed in San Jose and found my way to a small but comfy hotel. The room had a big bed covered with beautiful white sheets and fluffy pillows. I take off my shoes and lie down with my arms crossed behind my head. As I breathe in the warm misty hair, I glance outside towards a big open set of French doors revealing a large common balcony with a beautiful view of the city.

    Suddenly, my already beautiful view gets taken another notch up by a beautiful and shapely woman who walks by along the extended balcony running across the hotel floor. She stops right in front of my room’s open balcony doors, turning her back to me, and spends a few minutes gazing down the horizon. She’s wearing a long tight-filling thin cotton skirt which let through some of the sun rays which had been bathing my face until this most welcome interruption.

    I know she must have sensed my presence but she doesn’t acknowledge me for a couple of minutes. She just lifts her left bare foot from her thin leather sandal, and seductively runs it up and down her right leg. She extends forward as if to look at something under the balcony and there was no longer any doubt that there was nothing between that long thin cotton skirt and those curves that would give Michael Schumacher a tough time negotiating on the racing track.

    She leans back over from the balcony’s ledge, turns around and gives me a smile as she catches my eye. She’s wearing a white scarf over her head and I now notice that she’s carrying a bucket of soap water in her right hand. Within seconds she’s gone.

    The next day, a few minutes before I get ready to go out for my breakfast, I hear a knock on my door. It was her again. This time, she’s carrying a fresh supply of blankets and pillows. I smile and thank her. I turn around and study the tourism map on my desk as she proceeds to change my sheets. I was still busy making my itinerary for the day when she is done and, before she leaves, I feel her hand gently slide across my waist as she playfully pinches my left love handle. She then proceeds to leave the room with a chuckle.

    So now I’m beginning to think that the previous day’s balcony episode may not have been so accidental after all. I take my keys, lock my room and head just across the hall to the welcome desk to leave my keys. As I’m checking out, she was there chatting with the hotel manager. I smile at both of them and the manager gives me a look that was unmistakable to any red-blooded man. So within a nanosecond, I suddenly got the picture. I got a deal alright with this small hotel.

    Just to make sure I wasn’t crazy, I brought the topic up with an American tourist around my age who was there for a week. He was somewhat shocked when I told him my about experience because he said another hotel maid was being extremely “friendly” to him as well. Long story short, after some investigation with other hotel guests and even some cooperative hotel staff, I came to find out that the maid jobs at this small but upscale hotel were highly sought-after jobs by local women hoping to meet affluent tourists. There were stories of maids marrying off Americans and moving to California or New York. Apparently, some of these maids were educated women looking for a way out of Costa Rica. All of them were beautiful.

    When I came back to Toronto a couple of weeks later, some of my female friends were appalled that the hotel would knowingly, not only allow, but actually tacitly encourage this form of “basic prostitution.” But, ironically, that same week I came back into town, there were ads in the Metro for th