Ava DuVernay Works to Bring Closure for Five Harlem Men and Exposure to The Injustice That Was Handed Them

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Social Commentary

It was the Spring of 1989 when their lives made headlines. Five boys from Harlem who became known as the ‘Central Park Five’ were accused of a brutal crime. The story was branded as a ‘park wilding’ with them being taken in for questioning. But the story was a big cover-up for political gain.

Fast-forward to present day, as the woke film director Ava DuVernay works to bring closure and exposure to the injustice that was handed them. Even after DNA evidence came back without a match to any of them, the prosecuting attorneys still went ahead to frame the story in a way opposite to the facts.

So DuVernay with the support of Oprah Winfrey as an executive producer, decided to produce the Netflix special ‘When They See Us’ to tell the true story. Her approach was one of looking at the criminal justice system from four angles: policing, prosecution, parole and the prison industrial complex.

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She got high praise from Tyler Perry, Levar Burton and others for the project’s cinematic depth. Her social justice work aims to open eyes, inform minds and touch hearts to inspire broader change. This project fits that mold and begs the question, “What if the ‘Black to America’ story were told with similar gusto?

This summer commemorates 400 years of that journey which began around August 1619 at Jamestown Virginia. The upcoming ‘America in Color’ Report presents a new way to see history, family, culture, country and social issues with a better picture quality for a higher level of citizenship.

One way to unpack the 400-year journey is by the 7 phases, 3 communities and 2 questions that overlap the story. Parts of the story call for celebration, parts describe periods of determination and parts of the story include racial oppression. It’s a story of ‘strong citizens’ and their ‘citizen shining moments.’

Many Americans know a more recent idea of strong citizens which got its start after Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast in 2012. As elected officials visited some affected areas in New Jersey, a sentiment began to surface. The point of pulling together to recover and rebuild was later phrased as ‘Jersey Strong.’

This caught-on in other areas across the country, including after the Boston marathon explosion where we heard ‘Boston Strong.’ The idea of strong citizens may have started during some of the darkest times in the ‘Black to America’ journey. But it also shows up today as a ‘Hometown Strong’ feeling.

So having an ‘America in Color’ perspective means seeing the larger storyline with a similar kind of truth-telling to better understand American history from five angles: Justice, Political, Education, Immigration & Tax systems. This helps to give a better picture quality for seeing social issues more clearly.

DuVernay said in a recent Oprah chat that she changed the name of the project from ‘Central Park Five’ because she wanted to present a new take for how the story is told. Well, ‘America in Color’ is a new name for how the ‘strong citizens’ story is told and #WhenWeShowThem represents what it means to survive and even thrive no matter the personal/social challenge.

Tracks: Mary J. Blige ft Nas – Thrive  – https://youtu.be/98YJEr9NaXc

Koryn Hawthorne ft Lecrae – Unstoppable – https://youtu.be/us7hvF6lsoc

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Wake Up America! Here’s What to Do When Your Brackets Get Busted or Your Politics Gets Haunted

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Social Commentary

Lots of folks woke up today with one of two questions on their minds. One is “what happens next, now that their March Madness bracket got busted?” There were upsets in the early rounds. Duke had a close call in winning by one point against UCF with a last second rebound, but the Sweet 16 looks strong.

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Others woke up with the question of “what happens next with the Special Counsel’s report now that their politics got haunted?” The report is raising cheers in some circles and concern in others. It’s hard to know whether things will get swept under the rug or just swept-up in the frenzy of this political climate.

Those who study history and pop culture know there’s always been an aspect of the social/political back-and-forth where sports can help us see through the layers of the issues of the time. We see that in recent news of an agreement reached with the NFL on settling the collusion lawsuit filed by Colin Kaepernick.

For Kaepernick, the agreement didn’t come with as much money as some had hoped. But it closed a chapter in the collusion part of the story. It took a couple weeks before the agreement dollars became public. Some wonder what might happen in politics if the Special Counsel’s report isn’t made public.

To understand how sports helps explain social issues of our time, just look at the question of “what is collusion?” Maybe the settlement agreement between Kaepernick and the NFL didn’t quite explain that term. To satisfy the public’s need-to-know here’s why collusion isn’t a question that gets answered easily.

First, collusion is a kind of ‘wink wink’ that’s hard to describe. Kaepernick’s reason for bringing the lawsuit is to callout the league for keeping him out of the game because of his social justice protest. Now, exactly how they might have done that is hard to describe legally, just as in the case for a political campaign.

It doesn’t mean collusion didn’t happen. It’s just hard to describe and thus hard to prove that it happened. Second, collusion is a symptom that’s hard to diagnose. It’s obvious to fans that Kaepernick was kept out of the game unfairly. But how do you diagnose the effects of that action on the overall game?

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Intelligence officials say a foreign power interfered with the 2016 Presidential elections unfairly. But how do you diagnose if that interference had a provable effect on the outcome of the elections? That’s the ‘grey area’ that makes the actions hard to prove legally even though it obviously happened in plain sight.

Lastly, collusion is a kind of bargain that’s hard to dismiss. Think about those times when you’re shopping, whether at the mall or at a car dealership. You see a sign on the store window that says, “closeout sale, everything must go, 90% off.” Or the car salesman drops the price so low you can’t turn away.

That’s some of what we see from the Special Counsel report. Those who flirt with collusion will settle for the lowest of lows in their actions as a ‘wink wink’ in the political game. Since collusion can be hard to describe, diagnose or dismiss, we might miss the fact that it can bedevil our culture/politics like a plague.

Tracks: Erykah Badu – Didn’t Cha Know  – https://youtu.be/Np21rH7Ldto

India Arie – Get it Together – https://youtu.be/QpiWkSa19eI

What Happens When History Repeats Itself? It Kinda Shows us Something about the Mood in America

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The shock is still being felt in some circles from the news out of Chicago over the past few weeks. Some feel disappointment and pain that it happened in Black History Month when we’re supposed to celebrate black excellence. Maybe we can turn this into something that ends the month on a high note.

From comments on social media and the cable shows, it seems the storyline so far is that the players involved got caught up in the money-game, but on the sticky side of things. It might be a case of history repeating itself. The mood almost feels like a flashback to the O.J. Simpson time of media coverage.

The question then was if the glove fits. In the current situation the question might be if the story fits. But how about we see this moment of pain in a different light as we reach for new levels in social progress, professional growth and commercial gain? It helps if we understand the hustle and bustle of the time.

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A black history flashback to the Gold Rush of 1849 gives clues on moving ahead. That period for slaves mining gold, later led to economic growth and social change. On the economic side there were three groups that grew out of that situation; gold-money holders, working-class players and business leaders.

On the social side there were issues of race and class as we sometimes see today. With class it’s often about whether one group sees itself as better than the other. With race it’s often about issues of freedom, opportunity, equality and justice. The mood in America often ebbs and flows around larger issues of:

  1. Cultural Identity
  2. Law & Order
  3. Social Privilege
  4. Public Service

Some folks question the role race plays in America’s cultural identity. With this year being the 400-year anniversary of slaves being brought to the U.S., it’s hard to know the history without understanding the journey through Settlement, Slavery, Independence, Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow and Civil Rights.

These phases in American history bought different levels of pain and progress. They also came with different encounters with law & order. A ‘war on crime’ has sometimes been used as a cover for policies that imperil certain citizens and communities. It’s given reason for people to cry-out against the system.

A certain mood in America revolves around the question of social privilege. There’s even a sub-culture that believes the new ‘native Americans’ are the white working-class. Because of social change, they feel they’re being treated like the original native American Indians, so they want to ‘take their country back.’

The current field of announced Democratic candidates running for president is 10 and growing. Some wonder if that’s overkill or if it’s just a new level of interest in public service and higher office. While elections might come and go, the public service work as citizens of a more perfect union never ends.

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So, while we sometimes have heart-wrenching moments of pain, we can use a black history flashback to the Gold Rush of 1849 to move forward. Without appearing to preach, we can do like those before us by getting past fear, doing the hustle thing, beating tough challenges and maybe even saying Hallelujah!

Tracks: John Legend – Preach  – https://youtu.be/k0r1AJMK79g

 

Alicia Keys – Hallelujah – https://youtu.be/W1sJKnQmjrM

Senator Kamala Harris & Cardi B Using Their Voices for Social Justice Like Two Sides of Dr King’s Dream

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Social Impact

It’s an important day in the life of America when people reflect on the social impact of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King’s national holiday sheds light on the words and wisdom from his work. For many there’re moments that stand out among a catalog of quotes, like the timeless four words of “I Have a Dream.”

This year the holiday is also when Senator Kamala Harris decided to make an announcement using four words when she tweeted “I’m Running for President!” During her appearance on ABCs Good Morning America, Harris added a personal view in saying she’s doing it for the people because “I love my country.”

Those words might easily connect with folks who think about the love King had for the people. That’s also where Cardi B comes in with her take on what’s happening with the Government shutdown. Cardi’s colorful view which went viral might also be summarized in four words; “this mess is whack.”

Harris and Cardi B are using their voices for social justice like two sides of Dr. King’s dream. Harris brings her immigrant heritage from India and Jamaica, while Cardi B’s hometown heritage is from the Bronx. Harris went from Attorney to Prosecutor to Senator while Cardi B went from the streets to major beats.

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There’re things from King that might inform Cardi B (and us) on how we take social action. There’re things from King that can inform Harris on her political aspirations. King knew our walk might take different paths but our work should help with economic, social and neighborhood-rising issues in these ways:

  1. Scholar
  2. Activist
  3. Griot
  4. Empowerer (or Empower-her)

Before Dr. King became a national-figure he spent time becoming a trained scholar. Not everybody will choose the path of getting a degree in philosophy but most of us can study a subject enough to get a Ph.D. in lifer-education. This way we’re not becoming ‘dumb and dumber’ but instead mover and shaker.

As King traveled the country he saw more examples of what kept America stuck in the racism quicksand. This led him to becoming more of an activist. An activist is to social change as a catalyst is to a chemical reaction. Sometimes sparks fly, but after a while, things change from the current state to a new normal.

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These days we’re reminded not to mess with ‘girls from the Bronx.’ That’s how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez put it after a political commentator choose to come-at Cardi B. Cortez took us back to earlier pop culture griots named the Sugar Hill Gang, as musicians, poets and storytellers who maintain an oral tradition.

There’s a feeling in social and political circles that a new kind of candidate needs to arise for the 2020 Presidential elections. We can’t continue on the current path where the leader acts like an emperor. We need to look to those who’ll be more of an empowerer of the community or an empower-her of the nation.

All it takes is four words to get our social-justice juices flowing. Harris made her presidential bid with the words “I love my country.” Cardi B shared her concerns with “this mess is whack.” Four words describing Dr. King as scholar, activist, griot and empowerer might help us to keep runnin’. Just think about the ‘what ifs’ and where we’d be without his ‘love for the people.’

Tracks: India Arie – What If  – https://youtu.be/Ae-i31wWxEo

Naughty Boy ft Beyoncé, Arrow Benjamin – Runnin’ – https://youtu.be/eJSik6ejkr0

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

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