Thursday, April 16, 2015

Actress Amandla Stenberg on the Appropriation of Black Culture

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This little sister asks the provocative question: "What would America be like if we loved Black people as much as we love Black culture?"

Indeed!


Friday, April 10, 2015

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Ronald McNair: Eyes on the Stars

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This StoryCorps animation is not only fascinating because it shows the tenacity of a young Ronald McNair, who became the second African American to enter space, but also because he's from the home of my paternal grandfather, the very small Lake City, South Carolina.


Friday, April 03, 2015

Front Yard Lavender

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Our Front Yard




Thursday, April 02, 2015

Gimme All Your Love: Alabama Shakes

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Brittany from Alabama Shakes is turning out to be one of my favorite modern day singers. Here's "Gimme All Your Love" by the group. Listen to the pause and change in rhythm at 2:25. It doesn't get any better than that!


Monday, March 30, 2015

Bobby Womack: He Made Us Feel It

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1944 - 2014
How I missed Bobby Womack's passing last year, I have no idea. When you think of Soul singers, Womack has to be toward the very top of the list. I found "The Best of Bobby Womack: The Soul Years" at the library recently and have been playing his CD in my car. Like Al Green, Barry White, and Isaac Hayes, Bobby Womack's voice just oozed sensuality and soul.

He would often talk in the beginning of a song to set the stage. Examples of this happen on two of my favorite Womack songs: Woman's Gotta Have It and "You're Welcome, Stop on By." With "Woman's Gotta Have It," he gives good advice on how to keep a woman happy in a relationship, and in "You're Welcome, Stop On By" he shows off his storytelling talents by revealing his pain about a woman who put him second on her list of lovers. He lets her know that she's "welcome to stop on by, but there's somebody somewhere, that may truly need me." This song made such an impression on Chaka Khan that she covered it with the group Rufus the same year Womack's version came out in 1974.

 Across 110th Street is a colorful, gritty yet smooth song about surviving life in the streets. Quentin Tarantino's film Jackie Brown wouldn't have been the same without Womack's song, since it opens and closes the film, supporting Pam Grier's no nonsense, smart, and beautiful characterization of Jackie Brown.

Thank you Mr. Womack for reminding the world of "what a woman needs," for elevating the film Jackie Brown to a place that feels like home, and for letting us "stop on by." Rest in Peace.



Monday, March 16, 2015

The People's Revolution in Wilmington, Delaware

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“This revolution goes on and on!”
— Public Enemy, Say it Like it Really Is

by Alicia Benjamin

Imani Henry of Wilmington, Del. won the Peace First Prize last year when she was 13, for organizing 100 Men Reading, a group of professional businessmen who mentor children through reading. Imani, who had trouble reading because of a birth defect, was matched with male tutors who helped her with reading when she was 9. She soon developed a great passion for books and wanted other young people with literacy problems to get the help they needed, so she started 100 Men Reading.

Imani Henry
Her accolades are well deserved and shine a positive light on her hometown, which has been overshadowed by appalling news such as the “Murder Town USA” label Newsweek magazine gave the city in a December article.

Yes, Wilmington has captured the attention of both Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal over the past few months — not for uplifting stories like Imani’s, but for the high crime rate and devastating effects poverty, apathy, and poor quality education have had on the low-income residents of Wilmington.

The FBI reported that Wilmington, with a population of just 71,000, had a violent-crime rate of 1,625 per 100,000 people in 2013, which includes murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. The national average was 368 per 100,000 people. That makes the city the third most violent among those of comparable size.

Is Wilmington really so bad? Consider this:

• In Newsweek’s article “Murder Town USA,” the publication reported that poor black families are disproportionately affected by crime and violence in Wilmington, which has a 58 percent African American population.

• The police department is 70 percent white and 21 percent black

• The People’s Report, a participatory action research (PAR) project completed in 2013, found high levels of violence, unemployment, poor schooling opportunities, and dropout rates, among the 520 young black men and women Wilmington residents they interviewed.

• At the urging of U.S. Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, the Department of Justice has selected Wilmington, along with Oakland, Calif., Camden, N.J., Chicago, Detroit, and Richmond, Calif., to participate in their Violence Reduction Network. The program consists of federal law enforcement officials coming to the selected cities to study the problems, offering advice and training.

In “Delaware’s Biggest City Struggles with High Murder Rate,” a February Wall Street Journal article, the writer seems to spend a lot of time examining how the violence in Wilmington “has unnerved some in the corporate community.” In the piece, reporter Scott Calvert points out that about 17,000 banking employees work in downtown Wilmington, and oh my goodness, Vice President Joe Biden’s family owns a house five miles from downtown.

Why should we care about that?

Delaware Attorney General, Matthew Denn, told Calvert that the city’s image may sway existing companies to leave Wilmington and prevent recruiting efforts to attract other companies to move there.

What does this say?

“Their concern with violence is about how it affects them, for the most part,” Dr. Yasser Payne, Associate Professor of Black American Studies at the University of Delaware, told Cappuccino Soul.

“They’re bottom-line driven about profit and economic outcomes. The banking industry is more concerned about stopping violence to sustain their profit margins.”

If they’re smart, they’ll pay close attention to the findings of The People’s Report researchers. Payne, who led the PAR project, trained and led 15 Wilmington residents (21 to 48 years old) from the Southbridge and the East Side communities, to interview 500 respondents who are also from those neighborhoods. The People’s Report shows a link between structural violence and crime in Wilmington.

In his 2014 Ted Talk presentation, “Walk With Me,” Payne said the best way for leaders to help make it better for black and brown people in Wilmington who are being traumatized by violence is by “literally and figuratively, walking with those persons that may be street identified to more deeply understand their lived experiences.”

Payne went on to say, “We must begin to develop interventions with them — not in spite of them. We must begin to find safe ways to stop the vicious structural conditions that work to shape and create a street identity. And then we must be brave enough to allow those observations to inform our notions of help.” The PAR team members, who come from and sympathize with the communities they studied, are expected to come up with ways to help make their communities better.


Professor Yasser Payne and Darryl Chambers, PAR member and doctoral student in the
Criminology Program at the Univ. of Delaware
The findings of the report are disturbing. A majority of those surveyed reported losing at least one family member and at least one friend to gun violence. The researchers discovered that economic well-being and lack of quality schools is predictive of physical violence.

“The study found that nearly 70 percent of men in these neighborhoods between 18-35 were unemployed and nearly 62 percent of the women,” Payne said during his Ted Talk. “We also found at the time of the study that 100 percent of all black boys in the Southbridge neighborhood were dropping out of high school. One hundred percent!”

Payne says structural inequality is inescapable for some people in a capitalist system. “We live in a capitalist society that requires bad schools and unemployment for many in the black and brown community,” he said. “Martin Luther King didn’t die because he was trying to improve race relations, he was assassinated because he was fighting against capitalism,” Payne asserted.

Opening the eyes of the black and brown people of Wilmington about why there aren’t enough jobs for everyone, why the dropout rate in Wilmington is so high, and how they are structurally situated to live in poverty, is one of the outcomes Payne would like to see come from The People’s Report.

Although the media and government officials have been devising plans to curb violence in Wilmington, that’s not the sole issue, Payne said.

“The bigger issue is not violence; it’s the exposure to violence,” he said. “People in these communities are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which is affecting the psyche of individuals and the community as a whole. Most people in low income neighborhoods aren’t violent. Help is needed to protect residents from the violence.”

That’s why some of the comments included in the Newsweek article smack of callousness and disdain.

For example, when Newsweek reporter Abigail Jones asks Corporal Cannon of the Wilmington Police force “what it takes for a child in the worst parts of Wilmington to make it out,” Cannon replies — “Parents who actually give a shit.

This implies that if only parents in Wilmington’s poor communities would just “give a shit,” their children wouldn’t be subject to the ills of the poverty they live in and everything would be alright.

Could it be that parents who can find living wage jobs to support their families; parents who can locate quality and effective schools for their children; and parents who have access to affordable and safe housing might also be able to raise happy, healthy, safe, well-educated, and well-adjusted children?

As Jones and Corporal Cannon and another Wilmington policeman travel around Wilmington streets, Cannon tells the reporter, “It’s not the older ones we’re worried about,” referring to boys they see walking in the streets. “It’s the young 14-, 15-year-olds. They all have guns.”

Do they really all have guns? Is he saying here that all of the young teenage boys in Wilmington have guns and exist only to commit crimes? Sounds like it.

It’s time to approach the epidemic of violence and apathy in Wilmington with ideas like the HOPE Commission started by Charles Madden, and the Cease Violence program, launched by Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams. Madden’s organization mentors former criminal offers and helps them to become productive members of the community. Cease Violence dispatches trained teams to mediate potential disputes that might occur at crime scenes, hospitals, and other locations.

But, as Payne said, it’s not just about violence. He recounted a visit to a family’s home in the Riverside projects. “There was extreme poverty in this apartment,” he said. “We saw 15 children living in the home. These are third world living conditions — literally! And nobody cares about it. ‘Nobody’ meaning the powers that be.”

It’s time to feed the families and children in Wilmington’s low-income neighborhoods, not just nutritious food, but quality education, protection from violence, living-wage jobs, hope for the future, and a brighter day.

A luta continua.

100 Men Reading mentor reads to students in Wilmington, Del.
“Walk With Me”: Professor Yasser Payne’s Tedx presentation (2014)

The People’s Report: Wilmington, Delaware (Cappuccino Soul, May 2013)

Friday, February 06, 2015

The Get Down: Hip Hop, Punk, and Disco Drama

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I'm looking forward to this upcoming Netflix series, created by Baz Luhrmann and Shawn Ryan, which incorporates the birth of hip hop, punk, and disco in 1970s New York City.


Monday, February 02, 2015

D'Angelo and The Vanguard: Performance Art on Saturday Night Live

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I have to admit, I didn't really hear this song until D'Angelo and The Vanguard played it on Saturday Night Live over the weekend. I've enjoyed it many times, as I've listened to it in my car. But on Saturday night, D'Angelo and his group really brought it home for me. It's hard to make out what he's saying on a lot of the songs on Black Messiah, his latest CD, unless you listen as you read along to the lyrics.

I've always been more into the music than the words of a song -- I just love great musicianship and really get into what the different instruments are doing, and the harmonies. But with "The Charade," I did myself a disservice by not really paying attention to what D'Angelo was getting across. Well, he and his group did that astoundingly well on Saturday Night Live as many of them wore T-Shirts that read, "I Can't Breathe" and "Black Lives Matter." For those who don't know (and I don't know who that could be), these phrases are reminders of the murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, both shot and killed by police officers. The musicians also raised their fists in the Black Power salute, periodically and in unison. To give the image more force, D'Angelo stood in front of a chalk outline drawn on the floor. The song starts off with subtle guitar licks, but the TV images were stark. They had me at "I Can't Breathe."

On this number and many of the tunes on Black Messiah, D'Angelo invokes Prince and Marvin Gaye. He's got Prince's Minneapolis flavor with guitar player, Jesse Johnson (from The Time), he's got a falsetto similar to Prince's, and he's got the Artist's drummer, John Blackwell. He does voice layering like Marvin Gaye, seemlessly harmonizing with himself, like Gaye did on so many songs. But he's got his own passion, intentions, and talent that make Black Messiah a masterpiece. It certainly rises above anything I've heard in years, from anybody.

What D'Angelo and The Vanguard did on Saturday Night Live with "The Charade" was pure performance art. They took us somewhere, made us feel, and inspired us to do something -- at least I hope so.

Check out the performance here:



And here are the lyrics:

The Charade (lyrics by Kendra Foster and Michael Eugene Archer)

Crawling through a systematic maze
And it pains to demise
Pain in our eyes
Strain of drownin', wading into your lies
Degradation so loud that you can't hear the sound of our cries (doo, doo)
All the dreamers have gone to the side of the road which we will lay on
Inundated by media, virtual mind f----s in streams


[CHORUS]
All we wanted was a chance to talk
'Stead we only got outlined in chalk
Feet have bled a million miles we've walked
Revealing at the end of the day, the charade

Perpetrators beware say a prayer if you dare for the believers
With a faith at the size of a seed enough to be redeemed (doo doo)
Relegated to savages bound by the way of the deceivers
So anchors be sure that you're sure we ain't no amateurs


[CHORUS]
All we wanted was a chance to talk
'Stead we only got outlined in chalk
Feet have bled a million miles we've walked
Revealing at the end of the day, the charade


[BRIDGE]
With the veil off our eyes we'll truly see
And we'll march on
And it really won't take too long
And it really won't take us very long

Friday, January 30, 2015

Timbuktu: Oscar Nominated Foreign Language Film

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I must see this film. The images, music, and people are beautiful. I really want to know who these people are.

"These images of "Timbuktu" quietly, passionately argue for the richness of life against the intolerance of those who would suffocate it."
-- The Associated Press