• Single with Baggage: Niagara Falls Getaway



    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)


    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


    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


    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

    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


    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:



    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


  • Interview with Ethiopian director Haile Gerima


    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


    “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


    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


    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!



    • 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

      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


    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


    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)


    Running time: 52 minutes

    Distributor: Femme Noire Productions

    Official Website

  • Interview with Cornel West: Cornel Matters


    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


    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.


    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.


    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’?


    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


    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


    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


    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


    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:


  • Exclusive interview with Robert Allicock, stylist to the stars


    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
    Tel:  514-344-0842
    Fax:  514-344-8149
    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

    [1] An administrative division of Montreal

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