Tuesday, December 31, 2013

0 Reinvent Yourself... Like Sinatra Did

By: Marvin DeBose

"Reinventing yourself" is a concept which I first became familiar with as an 18-year old, reading Robert Greene's classic book, 48 Laws of Power.

Greene, who wrote a chapter called "Recreate Yourself" discussing the importance of being able to change, grow and craft your image in an ever-changing environment. At first, I couldn't fully grasp the concept.

I thought, "Why should you have to recreate yourself are if you're already confident in yourself and your abilities?"

But as I grew older and became more aware of the constant change going on around me, it made more sense. Reinventing yourself doesn't mean being inauthentic or changing what makes oneself unique. It's more of a matter of growing, improving, adapting and gaining new skills in order to stay fresh in an ever-changing world.

Photo courtesy of radiospirits.info 
Reinvention is a topic of which, particularly, many entertainers and artists have become familiar. As time goes on in the changing, unstable world of entertainment, where trends, styles, and even attitudes come and go, stars must be able to grow, develop and keep up with the times. Artists who do the same thing over and over and don't transform or improve their craft often fade into oblivion. An entertainer who best demonstrated the power of reinvention was none other than Frank Sinatra.

In the mid-1940s, Sinatra was at what many people perceived to be as the pinnacle of his career. He'd performed in front of thousands of screaming, fainting, mostly teenage female fans all over the country. He'd been in numerous films which were quite successful. His concerts were so popular that they were known to nearly cause riots. He was a predecessor of what was to come in American popular music.

Yet, as the 1940s came to a close and the 50s arrived, things began to change in Sinatra's career. He starred in a string of unsuccessful films and his appeal as a heartthrob to teen audiences was starting to wane. By 1950, the boyish, youthful appeal which Sinatra once used to his advantage seemed to be gone.

Sinatra, who was by now in his mid-30s, no longer represented youth, he was balding, he was married and his years of smoking and drinking slowly took a toll on his youthful appearance. He had also suffered a hemorrhaging of his vocal cords, altering the one thing which made him a star in the first place; his voice.

Soon, he was dropped from his record label, and amid struggles in his personal life, he fell into a deep depression. Journalists began to write him off as a "has-been" as new, younger singers began to take some of his shine.

Yet, an opportunity sprang up. A WWII-based film called From Here to Eternity was seeking someone to fill the role of a rebellious, heavy drinking, Italian-American serviceman; a role which fit Sinatra to a T. However, this serious, more dramatic role was drastic change from many of the more musical, romantic, typecast roles Sinatra was used to in the '40s. Yet, he realized that this role would be a chance to reinvent his career and his image.

Sinatra eventually got the role and ended up winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance, and that twist of fate opened the door for a changed, new and improved Frank Sinatra.

This unexpected dramatic performance caused many to be take him seriously as an actor, and he regained some credibility in the entertainment world. He also earned a record deal with Capitol Records and slightly changed his sound, largely due to his work with composer, Nelson Riddle.

Out went the youthful singer who performed in front of screaming teens, and in came the older, more seasoned star who performed for sophisticated crowds in venues like Las Vegas and acting in major films.
Photo Courtesy of nbcnews.com

Sinatra would go on to have a legendary career in both music and film and make his mark on the entertainment industry.

But this is not just a story about Frank Sinatra. As we approach the year 2014, this is about YOU.

Since the world is always growing and changing, there is a constant need for us to adapt to these changes and expand our skills.

For example, in the world of academia, many universities have to reinvent themselves to adapt to a new, more diverse, technological generation of students.

In journalism, writers are reinventing themselves to keep up with the evolving field by gaining skills in audio and video production, social media, and photography.

Whether it is in our personal or professional lives, change is something that is constant, and it often shows us that we all face challenges and it reveals to us our deficiencies.

The question is, in what ways will you work to reinvent yourself? What skills will you gain, what new challenges will you take on, how will you adapt to change?

I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

2 Political Labels... and what Really Matters

By: Marvin DeBose

"The liberals are ruining this country", "those conservatives are idiots", "the Republicans are trying to take over", "the Democrats are trying to take control"... Sound familiar?

This polarized, adversarial political rhetoric is something that I see nearly every day. Yet, with so much talk of political groups in this country, it makes me wonder, what do these political labels even mean?

Better yet, what do the people who use them think that they mean?

When you get a chance, ask a few people, "what is a conservative?" Then, ask a few people "what is a liberal?"

What's a Democrat? What is a Republican?

Don't look for Webster's definition, don't look for the political science definition. What are the people's definitions?

Most likely you'll get a wide variety of answers. But with such a wide variety of differing political viewpoints, one must ask, "Why do we need to put these labels on ourselves and others?"

Why does there need to be "Good Guys" and "Bad Guys"? Why do we need to have a "pick your team" mentality?

How about for a while we just forget those labels, let's forget being a "liberal", "conservative", "moderate", "libertarian"... Let's try being human beings with OUR OWN opinions for a quick minute.

Instead of watching political pundits and listen to them tell us what/how to think, let's try developing opinions based on critical thinking, analysis and an understanding of context.

Most importantly, let's forget judging people's character based off of their political views. Let's judge people's character based on more important things, like their love for other human beings.

I know that idea might sound scary to some people, but I think it's worth a try.

Instead of getting into what someone believes in politically or what button he/she presses on election day, let's ask this: Does this person exemplify a love for human lifeALL of human life?

By human life, I'm not just referring to Americans, I'm talking about a love for ALL human life. I'm talking about human life in places like Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. I'm talking about love for young people living in the dangerous streets of The South Side of Chicago. I'm talking about love for people who are incarcerated, people who are addicted to drugs, people on welfare, people who are homeless, as well as for people who are wealthy.

I'm talking about love for Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Agnostics, Atheists, Deists and all other faiths and beliefs.

I talking about love and a feeling of kinship people from all walks of life.

Now, if a person truly believes in that kind of deep love for humanity, then that's a person who's stands for what I for.

After all, isn't that what really matters?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

0 No, "Mexican" is NOT a Halloween Costume

By: Marvin DeBose

Despite what some people may think, I'm no party pooper.

I know that Halloween is coming up and you want to have a good time.You want your costume to be memorable, you may want to get a laugh, but you might want to think twice before you buy that sombrero for your Halloween costume.

I've been in college, I heard about the parties where people dress up as different ethinic groups whether its a "South of the Border" party or a "hood" party. I've seen the pictures of people on Facebook wearing sombreros and fake mustaches.

But this is bigger than just "Mexican costumes".

Making a costume out of any racial or ethnic stereotype is not funny, it's not clever, and it's never been. In fact, it's offensive, especially to those who are members of the group which you attempt to portray.

...And having a friend of that racial or ethnic group who thinks that your costume is funny (or pretends that it is) doesn't make it cool either.

So that means we don't need to see any of this...

Or this...

Or any of these...

And none of this either...

Now, usually when people get called out on these of costumes for being offensive, there are a common set of responses they'll give:

1) "But, it's just a character, it's for fun!"

Well a ethnicity, religion, race shouldn't be a "character".

When people make "characters" based off of cultural groups, they use stereotypes and create caricatures of the group in question. Therefore, you're likely to already be in the wrong when you decide to wear that costume. These kind of costumes are pretty much walking billboards saying, "Hey, stereotypes and prejudice are hilarious!"

Plus when you make a group of people into a caricature, without even realizing it, you dehumanize that group of people. How? Because you promote the concept of racial/ethnic characters rather than individuals.

2) "Well, I'm not racist..."

Just because you don't hate the race/ethnicity that your costume portrays, that doesn't mean that your actions aren't racially offensive.

Arguments of "I'm not racist, my mailman's black" or "I'm not being offensive, I shook hands with an Iraqi man once" are dismissive of the behavior in question. That's about as silly as someone saying, "I'm not sexist, my wife is a woman!"

When someone calls you out for racially insensitive behavior, that isn't meant to say that you are a horrible person. It's meant to critique (and hopefully correct) your actions which are hurtful.

Being ignorant of how you offended someone is understandable. After all, we aren't all really taught to be culturally sensitive. However, it's how a person goes about correcting that behavior that shows their true character.

3) "Why are you worried about stuff like this, it's just Halloween, can't you take a joke?"

People who say things like this are a part of the problem too.

Just because something doesn't offend you doesn't mean it shouldn't offend others. If you don't understand why something is offensive, just ask why it's offensive. But telling people what to be offended about and not be offended about is offensive and condescending in itself.


Instead of simply saying "it's just a joke", lets ask these questions:

Why do people want to dress up and make a joke out of being another race/ethnicity so bad in the first place?


Why do people find these costumes to be so funny that they're willing to risk offending people just to wear them?

4) "Why can't I paint my face Black?" 

You can research this one on your own... You know how to get to Google don't you? Look up "Blackface".

My Point is... 

Get creative with your costumes. Be funny. But don't go for cheap laughs dressing up as a racial or cultural stereotype.

Like I said, I'm no party pooper. But when the "party" consists of making a joke out of racial and ethnic stereotypes that hurt people, quite frankly, that's a party that deserves to be pooped on.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

2 Philly Native Lives His Dreams at BET

By: Marvin DeBose
September 18th, 2013
Frank 'Franky J' Jenkins, BET Correspondent

The lights are on, the cameras are rolling, and a young man with the tall, lanky build of a basketball player, clad in a retro, red 76ers snapback cap and a blue polo shirt, takes the stagenot an actual stage though. In this case, the stage is a street corner.

“This is BET’s 106 and Park top ten countdown, we’re going into another video right now, stay tuned,” the energetic young man says.

He is animated with lively body language as he announces the next video, pausing between phrases and using his hands to accentuate nearly every word, “Lotus Flower Bomb, Wale, Miguel, let’s go!”

But this is just a YouTube video, more specifically, it’s 24-year-old Frank “Franky J” Jenkins’ audition video for the popular BET music video show, 106 and Park back in 2012.

The video has about 1,800 views, far less from what Franky J was expecting.

“My video was not popping,” he says, with a mixed tone of both reflectiveness and humor. He didn’t make the cut for the auditions, yet, that wouldn't be the end of his journey.

Franky J wanted to be a host in some capacity ever since he was a kid. He grew up in North Philadelphia, around 7th and Diamond Sts, gaining inspiration from former 106 and Park host AJ Calloway, as well as Philly DJs and radio hosts such as Pooch Man, Tasha McKee, Mikey Dredd and Uncle O.

He reminisces on how his upbringing in a tough city like Philly shaped him and pushed him into his career.

“It could be discouraging… sometimes people don’t see your visions and your dreams,” he says. “But, it played a big role in my motivation because I wanted to see better and I knew there was better.”

Franky J’s motivation pushed him to pursue his dreams at all costs. At the young age of 17, he was already a host for a local Philly music show, Urban Xpressions.

During his time as a young host, he experienced many of the hardships of the business which further molded him.

”I remember not having the money to go [and cover] shows,” he says. “I used to walk to shows, nothing could stop me from going to a show.”

Franky J went even further in pursuing his dream when he attended Community College of Philadelphia, where he majored in Communications. There, he polished his writing skills, which he sees as an highly significant skill in his career.

“My writing wasn't on key so I would jot things down on pieces of paper until I knew how to set them up [properly],” he says.

Honing his ability to write in a structured manner sparked his growing interest in writing TV shows. It even led him to write the format for Kitchen Music, a cooking show which was one of the first shows he ever wrote.

Yet, Franky J still had dreams to make it big, after he submitted his video to BET for the 106 and Park host audition in 2012 to no avail, he thought he’d have to get back to the drawing board and rework his strategy, but eventually, he'd see things change.

In January of 2013, he received a message on his Twitter account from a woman who left her number claiming to “have an opportunity” for him.

Franky J called her number, yet there was no answer, nor was there a voicemail message. However, the number soon called him back, and on his caller ID, he saw: BET Networks.

“I was still in shock that BET called me,” Franky J says. “[The BET executive] said ‘drop what you’re doing, pack up, we’re gonna bring you out to New York’."

He had been selected to audition for a new BET show, set to premiere in 2014.

After his audition, Franky J finally got the news from the executive. “She told me, ‘You’ve got the job, you aced it,'” he recalls.

Yet, the next thing which he would hear would blow him away even more.

“She asked me, ‘Why are you so nervous, you don’t look nervous in your video?’“ Franky J says,  “I said, ‘What video?’”

It turned out that someone at BET had got a hold of his audition video from 2012 and got it into the hands of some powerful people.

“She said, ‘My boss [Stephen Hill, BET president of programming] saw your video and requested for you to come here,” he says. “She told me that [Hill] said, ‘I don’t know why, but I like this kid.’

Since then, Franky J has been signed to work as a host/correspondent for the BET show, for which he auditioned, that is set to premiere in 2014.Yet, In the short time that he’s been with BET, he’s already had some quite unforgettable experiences, one of them happened early this year.

On the day of the New York premiere of Beyonce’s autobiographical documentary, Life is But a Dream, in early 2013, BET was looking to get correspondents to cover the event. Yet, most of their hosts had already left for the day, except for Franky J.

The BET staff got him dressed up and ready for the star-studded Red Carpet, where he’d get his first real taste of what it’s like to be a BET correspondent.

“My first interview was with [producer and R&B star] The-Dream,” a fact which he saw to be ironic in itself. “I was interviewing The-Dream, while living my dream, all on the red carpet for Beyonce’s Life is But a Dream.”

That night, Franky J got to interview a variety of celebrities from Russell Simmons, to even Beyonce herself.
Franky J interviews Beyonce at the premiere for Life is But a Dream 
Yet, he'd run into one star whose presence presented a once in a lifetime opportunity; Oprah Winfrey.

“She was finishing up with her last interview and security was trying to sweep her away,” Franky J says. “But I yelled to her, ‘Oprah, let me get 2 seconds of your life!’

That phrase caught Oprah’s attention and allowed him to get an interview with one of the most well-known people in the world.

Of course, Franky J credits occurrences like these, and much of his success, to years of hard work and determination, but he also attributes much of his success to his faith.

“God is everything,” he says.  “I wouldn’t be anywhere without him and I couldn’t get through anything without him.”

These days, Franky J, the once local teenage TV host from North Philly, lives in Brooklyn, NY., and has goals such as hosting the BET Awards as well as writing and producing shows.

Despite his already impressive experiences, he says the fact that he’s beginning to live his dreams hasn’t really hit him yet. Yet, he stresses the importance of having a dream.

“Believe in your dreams, we get these visions for a reason, it’s because that’s what we’re supposed to be doing in life.”

Friday, September 13, 2013

3 The Misunderstood Brilliance of Tupac Shakur

By: Marvin DeBose
September 13th, 2013

"Now I understand what you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
...They did not listen, they're not listening still
Perhaps they never will..." -Don McLean, Vincent

In 1971, folk singer Don McLean wrote the song, Vincent, which was a heartrending tribute to the talented, yet, personally troubled 19th century painter Vincent Van Gogh. In the song, McLean vividly describes the artistic talents of Van Gogh distinctly remarking on his "Flaming flowers that brightly blaze/Swirling clouds in violet haze".

Yet, what is most memorable about this song is how McLean speaks about Van Gogh's personal struggles from a voice of empathy and recalls how under-appreciated and misunderstood Van Gogh was.

The depth and raw emotion contained in this song would end up influencing the work of another artist who would become troubled in his own right. That artist, who, coincidentally was born in June of the same year in which McLean birthed Vincent, was none other than Tupac Amaru Shakur.

Seventeen years ago today, Tupac died at the young age of 25, at the height of his career.

However, when Tupac died on September 13th, 1996, I was only 6 years old, so I only vaguely knew of Tupac's work in his lifetime. I wouldn't really become familiar with his work until I was about 10 years old.

It all began one day when my dad picked me up from school, and in his car he was playing a hip-hop CD and I was awestruck by the sound of a rapper's voice.

The voice was loud, bold and full of rage with coarse, colorful language. Then, I heard the rapper start to go on a brutal, profanity-laced tirade, dissing famed rapper, the Notorious BIG, his crew, Junior Mafia, as well as his record label, Bad Boy Records.

As a loyal Bad Boy/Notorious BIG fan since the age of 5, I was shocked, and that's when the voice yelled, "...And if you want to be down with Bad Boy, then f*** you too!"

I thought to myself, "Who is this guy?" When we got the home, my Dad ejected the CD from his CD player and I saw that it read: TUPAC, Greatest Hits, Disc 2.

It turned out that I had just heard Tupac's classic 1996 diss record, "Hit 'Em Up".

I thought, "Damn, this is Tupac?" Even though I'd just heard him diss one of my favorite rappers, his fiery spirit and passion had just blew my 10-year old mind. After that, I began to listen to both CDs of the 2-Disc greatest hits set and I was amazed. Never before had I heard such raw emotion and versatility.

The same guy who could deliver lyrical death threats to his enemies was the same guy who could write a emotional tribute to his mother. The same guy who could playfully rap about "getting around" with the ladies could write a song about how we need to "heal our women" and "be real to our women". The guy who could write about the pitfalls of the street life could write a song comparing the activism strategies of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.

Like many people, at first, I just viewed Tupac as the bald headed, tattooed, bandanna-wearing, finger-gesturing caricature which is usually promoted in the media.

However, the more that I listened to Tupac's songs, watched his interviews, read about his life and how he dealt with police harassment, false accusations, and even family problems, I realized the complexity of who he really was.

Today, for many people, Tupac is nearly seen as the patron saint of hip-hop. Yet, during Tupac's career he was one of the most misunderstood artists of his generation, and to a certain extent he remains so to this day.

We often see the pictures of Tupac spitting at reporters, flashing his middle finger, getting arrested or engaging in behavior commonly associated with criminals. Yet, Tupac, a rapper who famously claimed, "I never had a [police] record until I made a [rap] record" was far from a criminal.

An angry Tupac spitting at reporters circa 1994
One of the biggest things which people fail to realize about Tupac is the fact that he was an intellectual. He was a voracious reader; a student of history, philosophy, poetry and literature. Despite the fact that he dropped out of high school in his senior year, he spent most of his life educating himself.

"There should be a class on drugs. 
There should be a class on sex education, a real sex education class...
there should be a class on scams, there should be a class on religious cults, 
there should be a class on police brutality, there should be a class on apartheid, 
there should be on racism in america, there should be a class on why people are hungry, 
but there not, there are classes on... gym, 'physical education', 'let’s learn volleyball'."
-Tupac Shakur at age 17 

Tupac was a scholar at heart, and for some, this fact might cause confusion. After all, this was the same man who flaunted a tattoo on his stomach that read "THUG LIFE". Yet, even those two words reveal another layer of Tupac's complexity.

The phrase he popularized "Thug Life", which was famously used and repopularized in the 2008 film, "Pineapple Express", actually held deeper community-rooted meanings, one of them being an acronym which Tupac said stood for "The Hate U Give Little Infants F**ks Everybody"I know, it sounds crazy, but it actually makes a lot of sense sociologically, hear me out...

What Tupac meant by the "THUG LIFE" acronym was that the negativity, violence and hatred which society feeds our youth eventually manifests itself in social ills.

Tupac also saw "THUG LIFE" as a philosophy of pride and dignity for the young, poor urban youth of America. He constantly argued that the idea of THUG LIFE was not a celebration of crimes or the dictionary's definition of "thug". Yet, this philosophy was similar to that of the Black Panther Party, of which his mother was a member, who mainly focused on organizing the "lumpenproletariat", the lower classes of society to get them to work for the advancement of their communities.

“To me 'thug' is my pride... Not being someone who goes against the law. Not being someone that takes, but being someone that has nothing and even though there is no home for me to go to, my head is up high, my chest is out, I walk tall, I talk loud. When I say thug ... I mean the underdog."
-Tupac Shakur

A common mistake that many people make when looking at Tupac's life is overlooking the fact that he was a work in progress. Like all of us, he had personality flaws and he made many mistakes. However, the man was much more than the sum of his flaws.

He was a young man who was still growing, learning, maturing and finding his way in life. Now that I'm in my early 20s, as Tupac was during his career, I realize how young he actually was to have such remarkable influence on so many people. Then, I think about what he could have been had he lived longer.

Entertainment icon, Quincy Jones, who knew Tupac well (based largely off of his romantic relationship with his daughter, Kidada Jones), once made this profound analogy related to Tupac's potential:

"Tupac died at 25. 
If Malcolm X died at 25 he would have been a street hustler, named Detroit Red. 
If Martin Luther King died at 25 he would've been known as a local baptist preacher. 
And if I had died at 25 I would've been known as a struggling musician, 
only a sliver of my life's potential."

So, my message to those who are interested in not only "2Pac", the artist, but Tupac Shakur, the person, is to learn about him and the image which the mainstream media often promotes as this one-dimensional "gangsta rapper" who "lived and died by the gun" (as many insensitive, unoriginal journalists were fond of saying after his death).

Learn about his mother's activism and his family's history, listen to his early songs, listen to his words, go beyond his image and learn about his message and then you can understand who he really was and what he was trying to say.

"Now I understand what you tried to say to me... 
They did not listen, they did not know how 
Perhaps they'll listen now..." -Don McLean, Vincent

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

2 5 OTHER Things Dr. King said at the March on Washington

By: Marvin DeBose

50 years ago, on August 28, 1963, a quarter-million people gathered in Washington D.C. for the historic March on Washington. As I expected, a great deal of the focus and discussion surrounding this event is centered on Martin Luther King Jr. and his "I Have a Dream Speech". 

As historic and significant as that speech was, a rather disturbing fact is that we are only taught to remember a small part of that profound speech, particularly, the last few minutes of it.

What's problematic about this is that leaving out the earlier parts of the speech neglects a large part of King's message and leaves him in what scholar, Michael Eric Dyson, called "a timeless mood of optimism", ignoring his calls to actions as well as the historical context which led to his dream.

Here are the 5 OTHER things that Dr. King said on that historic day:

1. "This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism... Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children... It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment... 1963 is not an end but a beginning."

Here, King is quick to remind us that the March on Washington was not a time to become content in the fight for justice. He clearly states that this march is far from a culmination of a movement, but the start of one. Basically he tell us that "The struggle ain't over, it's just beginning, keep working!" Maybe this part of King's speech needs to be played on TV more often.

2. "...the Negro still is not free... the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition."

Here, King discusses the plight of Blacks in America stating that nearly one hundred years after Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, "Freedom" is something for which African Americans still have to fight. He mentions issues like segregation, poverty and discrimination, which are all issues which still exist to this day.

3. "In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote... that all men -- would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness... America [gave] the Negro people a bad check, a check that has come back marked 'insufficient funds'... But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt."

King is pretty much using the metaphor of a "bad check" as a way of saying that the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are merely symbols of the hypocrisy of America. Especially when many marginalized groups of people still had to fight for "life" and "liberty" in this country centuries after those documents were written. Yet, his refusal to see the "bank of justice" as bankrupt shows his hope and faith in America's potential to change.

4. "There are those who are asking...'When will you be satisfied?' We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.... We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity..."

Once again King reminds us that as long as injustice exists, the struggle still continues. Notice he's not just talking about integrating buses and restaurants. King goes much deeper and talks about dignity and recognizing people's humanity

5. "Unearned suffering is redemptive"

This was King's way of reassuring all of the people who had faced violence, jail time, and ostracism as a result of their fight for justice. He's basically telling them to not let the hardship of the struggle get them down, since that is the only way that they can achieve progress. It echoes what King's predecessor Frederick Douglass once said, "Without struggle there is no progress."

Call to Action
I recommend that people actually read and study the words of leaders like Dr. King, and also listen to the speeches of others involved in the March. Study the history which led to the March, read about what happened in it's aftermath. Learn why Dr. King would 4 years later say that his dream "turned into a nightmare".

As Dr. King's speech showed, August 28, 1963 wasn't just about one man's dream, it was about challenging a harsh reality. It wasn't just about holding hands and singing "We Shall Overcome", it was also about taking steps to actually overcome injustice.

It wasn't a day of celebration in order for people to end up marching for some of the same issues 50 years later, it was an urgent call to action. The question is, in the legacy of the "Dream" of King and many others, what action will you take?

Monday, August 26, 2013

1 Miley Cyrus and the Perception of "Hoodness"

By: Marvin DeBose

Many of us saw last night's rather cringeworthy performance by Miley Cyrus on the MTV Video Music Awards. In fact, I don't know what was more appalling, Robin Thicke's zebra-striped, Beetlejuice-esque suit or Miley's "dancing".

Will Smith and his kids saw it, and they looked like they just saw the box office numbers for "After Earth".

But there are countless things that are wrong with not only Miley Cyrus' performance, but with her whole persona... and people's perceptions of it.

Miley, who was once a Disney sweetheart and a teen idol is now one of the raunchiest, most controversial performers of her time.

Miley has recently talked in interviews about how she loves "hood music" and how people think she's trying to be the "white Nicki Minaj".

Well what exactly is "Hood"? Is it a place? Can you find it on Google Maps?

And who are "hood people"? And what exactly is "hood music"? Who's a part of "hood" culture?

Let's be honest. We know that good ol' Miley Ray from Nashville is talking about Black culture, whether she admits it (or realizes it) or not. Simple and plain.

The truth is that what Miley's doing right now is promoting a gimmick, a persona or character contrived for marketing purposes, kind of like what professional wrestlers do. She's just acting out her media-influenced idea of what a "hood" girl is.

It's similar to what minstrel show performers would do in the early 20th century... except they'd take it a step further and dress up in blackface to portray their idea of a "hood" character.

And the problem is that her erratic behavior, similar to the minstrel shows of centuries past, often represents a twisted, myopic, stereotypical view of what Black culture is all about, especially that of Black women.

And people's criticisms of her are subtly reflective of those views.

People say, "Miley is acting so ghetto these days" or "I liked her before she became a hood rat".

Here are a few things that Miley, and some of those who criticize her, need to understand:

1. When you use terms like "hood" or "ghetto" as adjectives synonymous with stupidity and a lack of sophistication when, in reality, you have minimal understanding of the lives of people who actually live in places considered "hoods" and "ghettos", you are being offensive.

2. Everyone from the so-called "hood" or "ghetto" doesn't a) act recklessly b) use/glorify drugs nor do they c) start "twerking" anytime a camera is on and music is playing. 

There's nothing wrong with Miley admiring aspects of hip-hop culture, Black culture or any other culture,  but when you completely misrepresent a culture (see: cultural appropriation) and label it as "hood", especially in today's America which already has issues with stereotypes and generalizations, that's when we have a problem.

Friday, August 23, 2013

0 Youth, Teachers and Parents Rally for Education in Philly

By: Marvin DeBose
August 22, 2013

Nearly 1,000 parents, teachers and students marched in the Center City section of Philadelphia this afternoon to protest the state budget cuts in education approved by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett.

The large group, mostly clad in red shirts, marched through the busy streets of downtown Philadelphia, all the way up Broad Street for a rally outside of the School District of Philadelphia Education Center, where, at 5:30 p.m., the School Reform Commission (SRC) would have its final meeting before the beginning of the school year.

Youth groups lead the way in this march of nearly 1,000 people

SRC, which manages the School District, is a committee which was established in 2001, when much of the control of the School District of Philadelphia went from mayor appointed school boards to state-appointed committees.

The group is largely responsible for the policy management and finance of the School District of Philadelphia. Some see the SRC as being responsible for a $304 million deficit in school funding due to state budget cuts, which led to cuts of about 3,800 School District employee positions in June.

The participants of the protest, consisting of various organizations, including Action United, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, as well as youth groups, Youth United For Change and the Philly Student Union, rallied at the School District of Philadelphia Education Center where numerous speakers touched on some of the issues which they saw as being pertinent as it pertained to public education.

Red-clad protesters march on Philadelphia's Broad Street in the midst of rain

"Brothers and sisters... I'd like to report a robbery," one speaker said. "The SRC has stolen our students' education."

Noticing the moderate police presence at the entrance of the School District building, the speaker turned and asked, "Officers will you please go in and arrest these representatives of the governor?"

The youth had a large presence at the rally as well, with students from all over the city some speaking about their views on public education, and many others handing out flyers and petitions.

During the rally, protesters got to hear from one Philadelphia youth currently adapting to the changes in the school system, Othella Standback.

Standback, a Philadelphia high school student and member of the Philadelphia Student Union, is being forced to attend Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin High School this year after her former high school, University City High School Promise Academy, was closed largely due to the budget cuts.

"In a few weeks I'll... [have to] adjust to being a school with 400 more students and I'll have to figure out how to build relationship with new teachers and other staff," Standback said. "Since this is my senior year I should be focusing more on graduating and what I'm going to do after high school."

Standback also reflected on the staff layoffs which the budget cuts intensified in many schools.

"How can a school have no counselors, no extra-curricular activities or nurses?" Standback asked. "A building with only teachers and security is not a school at all, it's just a prison."

The rally even attracted youth from outside of Philadelphia, like Trey Murphy, a teen from Baltimore who is a member of the Alliance for Educational Justice and the Baltimore Algebra Project, a youth-ran organization which advocates math literacy and student rights for Baltimore students.

"I find it to be a disgrace what Governor Corbett and the City of Philadelphia are doing to these students," Murphy said. "It's evident that the state of Pennsylvania and the City of Philadelphia have failed these schools, these students and these teachers."

Parents, teachers and students alike are still fighting for government funding to increase the quality of education. One speaker said, "We've got to keep this up," in reference to the energy directed towards this cause.

Action United, an education advocacy group, has scheduled another rally for Tuesday, August 27 at 9:45 a.m. starting at their office on 846 N. Broad St. In this rally, they plan on discussing corporate control and privatization of public schools.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

0 Questlove: The man and the musician

There are some artists who simply make music, and there are those who live music. Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, drummer, producer and co-founder of hip-hop band, The Roots, is clearly the latter. In his compelling memoir, Mo' Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove, he gives readers a glimpse at his personal and musical roots (I couldn't wait to use that pun).

Mo' Meta Blues gives us a look at not only Questlove, the musician, but it gives us a rare in-depth look of Ahmir Thompson, the man.

Readers get a feel for his introvertedness as well as his calm, collected demeanor as he discussed his career highs and lows and his journey to help develop The Roots' career.

Questlove discusses the influence of music in his early life with stories of his father's music career in the 1970s and being on the road how he traveled all over the country long before he even reached stardom himself.

There even exists a humorous account of a young, frightened, screaming Questlove running into and running from the rock band KISS in a hotel lobby during one of his dad's tours.

In certain chapters of Mo' Meta Blues, Questlove also includes lists of songs which were the soundtrack to his life in the particular period that the chapter discusses. He stunningly reflects on how these songs affected him, what stood out about them and how they related to that time in his life.

An interesting, recurring theme throughout the book is Questlove's admiration for the music talents of Prince. He discusses Prince lyrics, sexual themes of his music, provocative album covers and even buying his albums as a child and having to hide them from his newly-religious parents, who banned Prince's controversial music from their household. It's likely that this memoir will gain Prince many new fans.

Overall, Mo' Meta Blues is a fantastic literary journey of a master of his craft which is cleverly woven with brilliant musical analyses and enlightening, profound, and often, amusing stories, such as Questlove's account of going to a rollerskating party hosted by Prince or witnessing the wild hotel antics of comedian Tracy Morgan.

This reflective work, recalling the life, career and influences of this music aficionado is sure to impress many readers and make them appreciate music even more.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

0 Why Kendrick Lamar took "Control"

By: Marvin DeBose

"In Hip-Hop, the weapons are lyrical. 
To be the best you challenge the best and the blessings are spiritual" 
-Nas "Rule"

In the past 24 hours, ironically a few days removed from the 40th birthday of hip-hop, the internet has been buzzing with talks of Kendrick Lamar's groundbreaking verse of Big Sean's "Control".

In the song, Kendrick issues a fiery, cautionary message in a nearly growling voice to all of his peers in hip-hop about his place in the game.

For an idea of how hard Kendrick went on this verse, let's use this example: Remember how LeBron James played in the NBA finals after his headband came off?

Well, in this song, it's safe to say that Kendrick's proverbial headband came off, check it out:

"I heard the barbershops spittin' great debates all the time bout who's the best MC? 
Kendrick, Jigga and Nas
Eminem, Andre 3000, the rest of y'all new n*ggas just new n*ggas, don't get involved...
I'm usually homeboys with the same n*ggas I'm rhymin' wit

But this is hip hop and them n*ggas should know what time it is
And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big KRIT, Wale
Pusha T, Meek Millz, A$AP Rocky, Drake
Big Sean, Jay Electron', Tyler, Mac Miller
I got love for you all but I'm tryna murder you n*ggas
Tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you n*ggas
They dont wanna hear not one more noun or verb from you n*ggas
What is competition? I'm tryna raise the bar high
Who tryna jump and get it? You better off tryna skydive"

Now some people were confused by this verse, some took it as being disrespectful to the artists he mentioned, some saw it as a foolish publicity stunt, but what people need to understand is that what Kendrick did was simply utilize one of the aspects which hip-hop was founded upon: Competition.

These days, many people have negative views of competition in hip-hop because they tend to associate hip-hop battles with personal feuds and violence. However, history shows that hip-hop's competitive spirit is isn't as violent or negative as it may seem.

Originally, hip-hop battles were simply used as friendly ways for artists to sharpen their skills, and in many it was used for artists to prove their skills. It could be compared to a sparring match between boxers, or a pick-up between basketball players.

Some of the pioneers of hip-hop were born out of this legacy of competition. Hip-hop legend Kool Moe Dee's prestige as an artist rose from his battles with MCs in New York in the early 1980s. Renowned hip-hop artist, KRS-ONE was put on the map through his song, "South Bronx" which dissed legendary Queens rapper MC Shan and Producer/DJ Marley Marl for what he perceived to be a failure to acknowledge the birthplace of hip-hop, The Bronx.

Rappers Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, LL Cool J and many others took friendly competitive jabs at one another during the primes of their careers.

Even 50 Cent's claim to fame was his 1999 song "How To Rob", in which he jokingly rapped about robbing many of the top hip-hop stars of the time.

Nearly all of the greats had to put their lyrical skills to the test at one point or another. Even in what is considered by some to be the "Golden Age" of hip-hop, one of the greatest rappers of all time had to defend himself to maintain his status as "The King".

"This goes out to those that choose to use disrespectful views on the King of N-Y 
F**k that, why try? Throw bleach in your eye. 
Now you're Brailling it, snatch that light sh*t, I'm scalin it...
Ain't no other kings in this rap thing, they siblings 
Nothing but my children, one shot, they disappearin'"

-Notorious BIG "Kick In The Door"

Today, we're entering another Golden Age in hip-hop, where there are many young, hungry, talented lyricists competing to be the best. Kendrick understood this and his verse was a clever, strategic move which distinguished him from the rest of the pack while upping the lyrical standards for rappers everywhere.

Kendrick is a student of hip-hop and his verse on "Control" proved that. Now, the student is ready to do some schooling.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

3 What Family Reunions Mean to Me

By: Marvin DeBose

Yesterday, I attended my family reunion, which my family coordinates annually out in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park. 

It was a sunny, yet cool day. People danced to songs like "The Electric Slide" and "The Cupid Shuffle". Smiling, energetic sweat-drenched young children played dodgeball and had sack races in the fields.

Yet, while I was helping to serve food, I got the opportunity to do a little bit of people-watching and I began to notice something disturbing among some of the family members. This was the fact that many didn't seem to understand now appreciate the importance of a family reunion.

This lack of understanding and appreciation was largely evident in people's actions. Some didn't make an effort to meet family members they might not know. Some family members sat away from where most of the family was congregated and, quite frankly, some people seemed to just be there for the food.

I thought to myself, "How is this a family reunion, if the family isn't uniting?"

This bothered me because I see family reunions as being very important, especially for Black families. The reason why I find it so important for Black families is because many of us come from a culture where much of our lineage and history was stripped from us.

When I say "stripped from us", I mean that in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, much of the history, customs, indigenous languages and names of people of the African diaspora were neglected, rejected, and literally beaten out of us.

Additionally, during slavery, Black families were often intentionally broken up. A mother's children might get sold to another plantation, husbands would be separated from wives, and fathers would be taken away from their families.

We often forget that some of the first Black family reunions were coordinated by runaway slaves who escaped  plantations in the night to seek their loved ones, risking their lives in the process. 

This is why historically, family reunions were nearly seen as sacred events for Black families because of the deeper significance they held as it related to our past.

Black families may not be able tell you exactly what country our ancestors came from. We don't have too many centuries-old family crests or heirlooms, but we do have each other, and each member of our family is a valuable resource. Everyone from the infants to the elders has an important role within our families. 

Understanding our family history and strengthening those family connections is how we rebuild the history that was stripped from us and create a stronger sense of community. 

On top of that, regardless of cultural backgrounds, our family is supposed to be our source of pride, our dynasty; something which we hold to high esteem.

Therefore, we have to cherish and respect the opportunities that we have to connect with our family members. To be unappreciative of that is a disservice to those who came before us who would have gave their lives just to be reunited with family.

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