Michelle Obama and Tracee Ellis Ross Had a Heart-to-Heart Chat on Becoming a Better You, A Better Me and A Better We

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Who’s ready to meet America’s newest pop star? Well she’s already America’s lady love but now it’s without the White House strings attached. As former First Lady Michelle Obama kicked-off her book tour, she’s sharing some previously untold stories behind the curtains as well as her life of Becoming.

Sometimes referring to herself as a “Southside girl” she takes us through her journey and the pages of the book with her signature down-to-earth style. It’s as if she’s talking with a full-house of her closest friends. Even joking of feeling like saying “Bye Felicia” as she departed the White House for the last time.

During her sit-down with Tracee Ellis Ross she had a heart-to-heart chat on going from modest means to being on the biggest stage in the world. Her ‘pop star’ message of choosing people over politics wasn’t just about her childhood dance-steps but also on becoming “a better you, a better me, a better we.”

She’s made clear that running for office isn’t on her bucket list. But she still plans to advocate for those who approach public service with love, honor and service for a common cause. These days it seems there’re those who see public service as being about money, power and fame by any means necessary.

This has been in the spotlight since the Obamas left office. America has its own ‘becoming’ story where progress happened in leaps and bounds but sometimes with backsteps. Much of what we see today seem more about ‘fear and hate’ than about ‘hope and love.’ So our ‘becoming’ needs to deal with:

  1. Voter Suppression
  2. Democracy Subversion
  3. Racial Division
  4. Truth Destruction

Imagine if Doctors today decided that they’re going to make it harder for women to give birth. It would be like doing things that made childbirth harder on mothers and families. When it comes to voter suppression, that in a sense is what we see with some politicians in making it harder on citizens.

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It took a revolution to give birth to the nation. Ever since then the work has been about moving towards a more perfect union. But when some make it harder to vote they’re messing with a key aspect of what it means to be a democratic republic. Democracy subversion gives rise to a breach in trust in government.

Some might remember as a child playing with marbles. The marbles had a certain color swirl to their makeup. Some had more color filled-in while others were clearer in appearance. No matter how a marble looked we didn’t approach one over the other with a supremacy mentality. They were all just marbles.

A mindset of people over politics is one where we appreciate all the marbles. But when racial division gets stoked it’s like trying to separate the marbles or act like there’s ‘color supremacy.’ That feeds into the idea that one color is better than another color. In God’s eyes we’re all just different color marbles.

As kids we also played the telephone game. We’d tell someone a phrase and they’d tell the next person. Usually by the time it got to the end of the line it wasn’t what was first said. But there’s a difference between miss-information and truth destruction where folks make stuff up to deceive and destroy.

That’s where Mrs Obama draws the line. With voter suppression we might have to recall the Voting Rights Act. But with truth destruction our democracy and personal security are at stake. So whether Brooklyn or the Bay Area, Tennessee or Texas we’re still on that road of becoming “a better you, a better me, a better we.”

Tracks: Arrested Development – Tennessee  – https://youtu.be/6VCdJyOAQYM

Lou Rawls – Lady Love – https://youtu.be/a-CwWMXpsX0

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Beto O’Rourke vs Ted Cruz and A Sore Spot in America: What Elections Reveal About The Character and Climate of the Country

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Social Activism

On the day after midterm elections in America, the dust is still settling. Scores of history-making results are being celebrated far and wide. The impact of women in the political process continues to break glass ceilings. Even Muslim candidates and Native American voters stepped-up their game across the land.

But the Senate race in Texas between Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz might be a sore spot in America. Lots of effort was put into giving O’Rourke a shot at winning. Some big-named celebs tossed their support in his corner. This moment made us consider what elections reveal about the character and climate of the country.

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The final push leading up to the elections had a flurry of ads that were sometimes more negative than informative. There was even an ad that was pulled by a few news outlets because it was too blatant. Plus, when the message was checked-out, there were more wrong things about it than there were right things.

In the rush of going about our daily lives it’s hard to get a handle on what the ads are saying that the candidate is for or against. The sum-total of the message doesn’t give the sum-total of the candidate. That can only be understood based on how they plan to serve people, policy, purpose and process.

There were major gains for those who want to put democracy and accountability back in its rightful place. But there’s still more ground to cover in response to those things that added a toxic strain to the character and climate of the country. The road ahead might be best understood and travelled by dealing with:

  1. Threat vs asset
  2. Racist vs pluralist
  3. Divider vs inspirer
  4. Darker vs brighter

When O’Rourke was asked about the NFL kneeling protest, his response went viral. This told us much about how he would serve the people. His take showed great awareness or ‘wokeness’ as some might say. But it also said something about how he prefers to see others as an asset and not as a threat.

One problem with politics these days boils down to if we see those around us as ‘others.’ If viewed as a threat, then a more racist approach is applied to policy. If viewed as an asset, then a more pluralistic approach is done. A racist-view tends to see ‘others’ as a threat. A pluralist-view sees ‘others’ as an asset.

When you study great leaders the ones who stand tall above all are those who inspired a generation. An inspirer is someone who adds hope, value or esteem to their role as a leader. A divider usually does the opposite. We have to watchout for those dividers who’re like wolfs dressed in sheep’s clothing.

The difference is seen in their campaign style & process.  Think of it the way a ‘worm’ might be used for fishing or for hacking. The worm on a hook helps to catch a fish. A fish is a good thing. But a ‘worm’ inside a computer system is a bad thing. A divider uses a bad ‘worm’ process in how they campaign.

Sometimes at a fast food restaurant when you place your order you get asked whether you want to supersize your meal. That usually means you can add to your order at a small price. Where we are in our politics today, we need to ask whether we want to supersize our values and ideals as a nation.

If we don’t answer right, then the wolf will try to bring in other wolf-minded figures. They will swoop in and try to divide and even Trump-etize those values and ideals. With the small price to pay of our vote, we can revert to a darker time or move towards a brighter day for our kids. O’Rourke will be back because he’s made for now and for a brighter day!

Tracks: Kirk Franklin – Brighter Day  – https://youtu.be/itbi6V9oFIk

Janet Jackson – Made for Now – https://youtu.be/seh_fZJqB94

Trevor Noah & John Legend Give Voter-Advice That Would Make Us Winners on Jeopardy and at the Polls

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Common Good

It’s hard to watch your favorite show these days and not see political ads in between. With the mid-term elections season in full effect, candidates are trying to make the case to earn our votes. Some ads go negative while others seem fact-based. Then of course there’s commentary that might add some spin.

Even a late-night comic like Trevor Noah made a few points in between the laughs. He and John Legend find time to give voter-advice that would make us winners on the TV show Jeopardy and at the polls. Noah has some experience on seeing politics at its worst from growing up in Apartheid South Africa.

Maybe some of what we see today is media-spin that’s packaged as a PR strategy. Noah might relate to what happens when the politics of a nation has lost its standard and its way in serving the common good. It’s as if living by lying has become the new normal and the political show is more important than integrity.

Then there’s that old saying of ‘cleanliness is next to godliness.’ But with politics at its worst it’s more like ‘hollowness is next to corruption.’ It’s where acts of stupidity get sold as profiles in courage. Just look at what happens when the Oval Office gets turned into a side show and you wonder how low can things go.

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Noah helps us see through the fake of politics. Legend helps us get through the fog. They continue to be advocates for change and models for citizens at their best. It’s one thing to have a PR strategy but they are more about an RP Strategy of Real Power in our roles as engaged citizens. They’d say to:

  1. Use your vote
  2. Raise your voice
  3. Build your vision
  4. See your village

The vote is the best way to represent your interests. Noah says (jokingly) that if votes are suppressed, then folks should register with the other party to avoid being purged from the voter rolls. In a sense it’s how you use your vote the way folks in the ‘60s used their dollars through boycott to effect change.

How is it possible that in at least two statewide races for Governor that a candidate can affect the outcome through actions taken by also being the Secretary of State? That’s not right much less fair. We raise our voices in the public square to show that politics at its worst will not outlast citizens at their best.

That’s what Dr King was trying to achieve during the March on Washington when he gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. He was building a vision around economic evangelism, social activism and hope over skepticism. His vision statement said ‘I have a dream that’s deeply rooted in the American dream.’

King was trying to help us see our village. Someone once said “look at a person the way they are and they remain the same. But look at them the way they could be and they become what they should be.” As you build the vision and see your village you see the skyline and success-line emerging in the distance.

Take ‘Politics at its Worst’ for $100, the answers would probably cheapen the value of public service. Take ‘Citizens at their Best’ for $500, the answers would raise the value of our civic duty. History shows that sometimes we have to reach-out and touch and sometimes we have to fight the powers that be.

Tracks: Yolanda Adams – Reach out and Touch  – https://youtu.be/OnLZZW1HCgs

Isley Brothers – Fight the Power – https://youtu.be/8QZvoOqUkqw

Dream it Forward – John Bunn Tells His Story of Being Jerked Around by the System and How He’s Approaching Life Now

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A Stroke of Courage for Standing Tall

In the space of a week, two stories hit front page news that have people shaking their heads and demanding accountability. First came the tragic death of Botham Shem Jean who was killed in his Dallas apartment under questionable circumstances. His family wants answers as co-workers grieve his loss.

Then came the viral video of John Bunn who was recently released from prison after 27 years for a crime he didn’t commit. These stories once again brought front & center the challenges of the justice system. One person is taken out by a law enforcement officer and the other is jerked around by the system.

It’s hard to imagine being one of those individuals, but it could have been. With Bunn having the murder charge wiped from his record he’s trying to stay positive about his future. In one sense it feels like the system is ‘sorry but not sorry’ when situations like these keep happening. What can we learn from it?

Well there’s the hometown tale of a tourist wanting to know more about making Jerk Chicken. That person asked the question, how do you know which chicken is the jerk before you cook it? But the gravity of these justice matters asks, ‘how do we know the system is jerking folks around before it happens?’

Bunn explained that he was intimidated by a police detective who was someone in a position of power. Some people are made to believe that if they confess that they’d be taken care of. Others have even been tricked into going on record with information that wasn’t really the facts of what happened.

But Bunn is a model of courage that makes him stand tall even in the eyes of J.K. Rowling. Maybe that’s because his new lease on life gives inspiring lessons for living life forward, understanding it backward and enjoying the now. He did time for a wrong he didn’t commit. But he also spends time doing right by:

  1. Setting the record
  2. Dreaming it forward
  3. Squeezing the moment
  4. Breaking the clouds

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(Photo Credit: CNN)

During the court hearing prior to his release Bunn was heard telling the judge that he was confident of his innocence. He knew the truth was on his side and that it would eventually come to light. It’s been said that when you do right it will come to light. Bunn was setting the record straight for himself and the system.

While behind bars he remembers falling in love with reading. He says this gave him the chance to take his imagination beyond the walls. He may not have seen how paying it forward could be of any help at the time. But he made it through his nightmare situation by expanding his mind and dreaming it forward.

Bunn says he wants to use his experience to fulfill a greater purpose. So he started a library program for prisons. He also spends time speaking to elementary school kids about the importance of their education. He’s squeezing the moment by turning tears of pain and anger into life-juice that’s like liquid gold.

These situations tend to leave a cloud hanging over those affected. But Bunn’s doing what pilots do on an overcast day. They use on-board instruments during takeoff. That’s their go-to move for breaking through the clouds. Bunn is using his talents and other human/social instruments for breaking the clouds as well.

The system can never replace the time taken from Bunn. There’re still gaps in justice that can make a grown man cry and should make a caring nation weep. No matter the complication or indignation we have for a lowly or unfair plight, Bunn chose to ‘breath out, breath-in’ to keep his spirits up from the neck up.

Tracks: Zion I Kings – The System ft Pressure & Akae Beka  – https://youtu.be/3ZaHo_UFW0o

Rihanna – American Oxygen – https://youtu.be/Ao8cGLIMtvg

Aretha Franklin – The Queen of Soul Was Rock Steady from Start to Finish

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Tribute to an Icon Who Made us Groove

Most of us can remember where we were when certain major news stories hit the airwaves. It could be the day of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, the passing of Michael Jackson or Prince. These events leave us thinking about what our loved ones or music icons mean to our everyday experiences.

Then of course there’s the news of the passing of Aretha Franklin. She became known as the Queen of Soul for her musical prowess that started at a young age. But it’s not only remembering where we were when that news first broke. It’s also about how Ms. Franklin made us feel in our coming and going.

Long before Video Music Awards were a thing, Franklin was a chart-topper on the Billboard scene. She became the youngest inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. She’s also the most decorated female Grammy winner of all time. That’s another way for saying Franklin was ‘rock steady’ from start to finish.

As the tributes pour in from past Presidents & showbiz figures, we remember Franklin as a person whose music through soul went beyond the mold. Her work was not limited to one genre of music. Franklin made hits across pop, gospel, R&B, jazz and even a little country. If for nothing else her music had S.A.S.S.

Ms. Franklin didn’t get lost in the diva-girl persona that seems to cloud some artists. Her music was usually built around a Storyline. In some cases it became Anthemic. It had a Soundtrack quality to the groove. But it also had Swizzle by delivering ‘soul with sizzle.’ That‘s the Aretha many came to love.

Recording artists, music industry pioneers and fans might not all agree on whether Michael Jackson was more talented than Prince. But they’ll likely agree that Franklin was in a class of her own. She left us with memories from her music that’ll be around for a long time. She also left us some takeaways from her life.

When it comes to the intersection of American history and pop culture Ms. Franklin might also want us to:

  1. Raise our voice in local as well as high places.
  2. Raise our value in a career game and other spaces.
  3. Raise our volume of impact that leaves a legacy for the ages.

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Franklin had the chance at an early age to develop her singing voice at her father’s Church. After honing her chops there she went on to become a hit-maker and crowd-pleaser. She even had the chance to sing at the Inauguration of President Barack Obama wearing that fancy hat which is now at the Smithsonian.

When you look at her music you find the evolution of a career across three record companies. Columbia Records introduced us to her voice as sales weren’t quite through the roof just yet. Then Atlantic Records took us through mid-career as she became a household name. And still the hits kept coming.

Then there’s the partnership with Arista Records which brought a more hip sound to her music. This is probably the period for which her work speaks volumes. More people both young and old came to fully appreciate her longevity in the music biz. Her Kennedy Center Honors in 2015 was like icing on the cake.

Many remember that moving performance of Natural Woman that had the audience drooling at her feet. Even The Obamas were on a Franklin high. So the jury might be out on whether the favorite female artist these days is Cardi B or Nicki Minaj. But there’s no mistaking that Ms. Aretha Franklin was Soul Sister #1.

Tracks: Jennifer Hudson – I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You) – https://youtu.be/6BWU5dCYHkY

Fantasia – Aretha Franklin Tribute – https://youtu.be/bRWzzaB-Png

Lebron James and Dak Prescott Set out to Raise their Impact in the Game and Voice off the Field

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Social Commentary – Common Reasoning

The dust might have settled on news that Lebron James is leaving Cleveland and going to LA. But long before announcing that move, ground was broken for the building of a new school. With the arrival of opening day for the I Promise public school, James hasn’t forgotten that he’s just a kid from Akron.

While NBA basketball is in its off-season NFL football is in its pre-season. The rookies get their feet wet and work thru the early jitters while veterans like Dak Prescott work thru some of the normal drills. Pros like James and Prescott are always looking to raise their impact in the game and voice off the field.

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So it’s not surprising that both would sound-off on matters of social injustice. Prescott’s take on the NFL player protests seems to line-up with those who see it as a distraction where the kneeling has been over-played. He feels it’s time to move-on with the business of scoring touchdowns and winning games.

James says he has become more outspoken since the Trayvon Martin tragedy. This hit close to home because he has two boys. But he’s even more disturbed by how Sports has been used recently by some as a divisive force. He prefers it to be a way to unite and celebrate as a positive force.

One way to look at this ongoing challenge is whether we’re dealing with ‘America Turned-up or America Turned-out.’ The things that James is doing to support and empower his community represent America turned-up. The excitement about his move to the Lakers is certainly going to have fans turned-up.

There’s another side to America we’re seeing lately that feels like America turned-out. Consider the news story of a neighbor calling police on actor Ving Rhames saying he’s an intruder when Rhames was in his own house. It’s a reminder of the cultural perception of ‘white is always right and black is always whack.’

On a deeper level, it’s a hint of what could be happening when we see a mound of dirt around a tree that’s not growing or appears to be dying. At first it might look like a big ants nest. However upon closer inspection by turning over the soil, there’s a whole bunch of insects and worms crawling underneath.

That kind of ‘America turned-out’ might be revealing an underside that’s been underground and has been tuned-over in a divisive social climate. As someone on social media put it, it’s like calling 911 has become customer service for people’s fear, hatred and bigotry. That’s the stuff that’s crawling underneath socially.

James, Prescott and others in pro sports set out to be not just players in the game but also impact players off the field. For them it’s about giving youth the chance to realize their full potential. It’s about helping folks stay on the straight and narrow as opposed to getting caught-up in the crazy of tomorrow.

There’ve been so many stories across the country of people being reported to police for strange reasons. From college campuses to gated communities the social insects & worms have been turned-out. So when we say ‘This is America’ do you see it as America turned-up or America turned-out? It’s a no brainer!

Tracks: DJ Khaled ft Justin Bieber, Quavo & Chance the Rapper – No Brainer – https://youtu.be/kxloC1MKTpg

Rudimental & Major Lazer – Let me Live – https://youtu.be/L08uxunfLi4

How Roger Goodell and Channing Dungey Remind us that The Culture War Impacts American History and Dramatizes the American Story

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Social Commentary – Common Reasoning

In the span of a week we’ve seen hot-button social issues jump-off like popcorn. The responses took center stage in this modern age of social media. With the new NFL ‘kneeling policy’ and ABC canceling of Roseanne we see how the culture war impacts American History and dramatizes the American story.

First, NFL commissioner Goodell announced a new policy that would penalize players who didn’t stand during the national anthem. The Player’s union wasn’t happy to learn about it the same time the rest of us did. Now players will have to protest by remaining in the locker room or suffer the consequences of a fine.

Then there’s ABC’s response to Roseanne Barr’s tweet of a racist remark about Valerie Jarrett who was an official with the Obama administration. The show’s cancellation has caused Barr to suffer the consequences of ‘what was she thinking!’ ABC is saying it’s more than just about branding TV shows.

These days we find there’s a battle for ratings that might get tied-in to the cultural wars of our time. So how did we get here? Some think it’s an aspect of the social backlash coming from some ‘identity’ groups that have been feeling left-out or unheard. But that’s how others have told their story before.

When you flash back over the last 100-year history, you find certain events that might explain the ‘what when and how’ in modern life. Going as far back as pre World Wars there was the period governed by isolationist views of ‘not our problem’. This eventually led to some global clashes we read about in history.

Then there was a period governed by segregationist views of ‘separate and unequal’ in American life. This led to the period of civil rights clashes culminating in the 50s and 60s. More recently it seems nativist views have taken root in a weird sense of patriotist, anti-elitism or even anti-intellectualism.

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The recent decisions by the NFL and ABC Entertainment helped remind us that we’re having ongoing culture wars. In a sense there’s the idea that the First Amendment is in flux. But a more important aspect in the culture wars is seeing how it impacts American history and dramatizes the American story.

Imagine how the protest of NFL players has been turned into a culture war around the anthem or the flag. The real story behind the protest is about civic injustice. Think about how the cancellation of Roseanne might get turned into a culture war of ‘what-about-ism.’ In other words ‘what about this guy or that time.’

It’s like dating over a period of weeks and months. You get to learn bits and pieces of a person’s history. Some of this includes where they were born or where they went to school. You’ll find out more about whether they have siblings. After a while you get to know the essence of a person based on their story.

We appreciate American history by seeing through the plot of the American story. This can help us move past the culture wars. People use patriotism to reflect a sense for the ‘what when how’ in American history. But being in touch with the ‘why’ gives meaning and essence to the American story.

Tracks: Rudimental – Toast to Our Differences – https://youtu.be/o_zg-JLjs5I

Kelly Clarkson – Meaning of Life – https://youtu.be/BspHjvU11y4